Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shock Follows Shock!

You only have to glance through a bunch of comics covers in sequence in any one series to see how often boxed captions were used to hook you into buying an issue--particularly in the silver age books, where readership numbers for those early issues were important, and Marvel couldn't yet count on word-of-mouth to do the lion's share of its promotion. A few of them promised some sort of shocking development that was going to change a character in some way or otherwise have a startling impact on them--but those captions had to be used sparingly, otherwise the book would get to a point where it would come across as crying wolf. And you really can't have your characters go through life-altering moments every other issue. (Though that's never stopped soap operas, I guess.)

Since we recently touched on the "No! Not YOU!" hook, it seemed fitting to spend some time with its kid brother:

When you think about it, just about all of these "shocking" captions are cut from the same cloth. In one way or another, you're going to be hit with the unexpected--some development that's more serious than the norm and that you didn't necessarily see coming. Other such captions that come to mind would be:

But a shock ending was always so much fun because the damn thing practically dared you to flip to the end of the issue and find out what the bombshell was. So in this post, I'm going to be the bad guy FOR you, and actually show you what the shock endings are in the examples you'll see. And you won't have to worry about having any guilt whatsoever.

Unless you continue reading, that is.

Okay. First, here's a shock ending I always felt should have been a shock ending, but wasn't captioned as such on the issue's cover. It's from Fantastic Four #121, where the Silver Surfer has just defeated the menace called Gabriel, who announced that the world was soon going to meet its end. Gabriel proved to be a robot--so the question now was, who or what created it?

Come on, look at that lead-in! The identity of this guy is going to be revealed on the next (and final) page of this issue, and we already feel shocked. You're telling me this next page doesn't deserve a shock ending caption?

That page should be in 3D, that's how shocking it is.

Another example that quickly comes to mind would be from the 100th issue of Amazing Spider-Man. I have to admit, that final page was definitely shocking:

(Don't you just love how the final page banner at the bottom twists the knife and reminds you that you've indeed seen something truly shocking?)

One of the earliest uses of a shock ending (if not the earliest) was this 1962 issue of Strange Tales, where an escaped prisoner is recaptured and tells the story of a two-headed monster that could change its form to anything. The guards take a "yeah, sure" attitude, until their prisoner changes before their eyes:

It's only through a chance lightning strike that the guards escape certain death:

So you can either assume that the "disguise" of the monster was the shock, or that the literal shock came from the lightning that killed it. Either way, it was a pretty wasted use of the shock ending caption. These kinds of endings which took unexpected turns were par for the course for these monster comics, so there was really no new ground broken here which elevated this particular ending above any others in terms of shock value.

Other so-called shock endings in more contemporary comics fell short, as well. For instance, this issue of Tomb of Dracula, where Doctor Sun traps the Lord of Vampires and "shockingly" fills the room with holy water:

Shocking? It's not like this is the first time where Dracula has been faced with death. And all he has to do is to change shape and fly through the opening where the water is pouring through. The truly shocking part was probably this "death trap" ending, in a book where the quality of the story was usually more sophisticated.

Another less-than-shocking ending was in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, where Spidey acts to save John Jameson from plunging to his death:

The shocking aspect to the scene presumably applies either to Jameson's apparent death, or the mysterious circumstances in which he disappeared. Either way, I'm not exactly gripping my seat here.

So let's get back on track with this issue of Fantastic Four, where the issue's last page greets us with a shocking sight, indeed:

If you were shocked instead by Roy Thomas's use of yet another unnecessary pop culture reference, I feel your pain--but in time, you'll learn to just wince and move on.

There was of course this shock ending from the last What If? story reviewed here, where Thor's former love is seduced by his father, becomes his stepmother, and, by the way, Queen of Asgard:

Nothing that Odin does should shock me anymore, but he outdid himself this time.

Finally, there's this example from X-Men, which skirts around the "shock ending" wording but still lets you know on the cover that the ending is going to be jarring. In this case, Warren Worthington's parents drive to Xavier's school for a visit with him, and are received at the door by the team's deadliest enemy, if cordially:

I'd qualify that as "shocking."  Though maybe the Worthingtons just hoped they took a wrong turn.


Doc Savage said...

My senses were shattered by the Hulk-Thing ending, but the only thing shocking about it is that Roy Thomas thinks Ben Grimm would be an Elton John fan. I doubt Ben got over Glenn Miller.

Comicsfan said...

Yes, precisely.

Doc Savage said...

Then again, Roy Thomas thought Hank Pym was a follower of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, so there ya go. Wonder if maybe Reed Richards is a big fan of Bootsy Collins in Thomasworld.

Iain said...

Magneto looks like he is about to burst into total bad movie villain laughter in that last panel and what a twisted face too. ^^

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