Avengers: Infinity War is on Netflix now, which means I finally watched it! (No spoilers in this post, though.)
(Okay, it’s only a year since the release. Feels like longer. Maybe because time has passed so slowly these last few years…or because Marvel’s dropping new films within months of each other these days.)
Infinity War is the 19th — I had to look that up — the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve been coming out for 10 years now.
Me, I saw the early ones ages ago, missed a chunk of the middle, and haven’t done any rewatching. Or hanging out in fandom to keep up with all the details and theories and continuity.
I’ve caught the more recent films. A bunch of them (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel) work as standalones — introducing a new set of characters and taking the time to develop their place in the world. They do have references to earlier continuity, but they make great, accessible jumping-on points for new viewers.
…and then there’s Infinity War, which takes all those characters with their pre-established arcs/conflicts/powers, throws them in a blender, and expects you to keep up.
Which would be a mess, if not for this thing I was noticing and appreciating almost immediately, which is: the movie is really, really good at Very Short Recaps.
As the plot leaps from one Cool Flashy Action Set-Piece to the next, new groups of characters keep getting thrown together — and in the middle of conversation, they’ll get a line or two that reminds you what their deal is. Maybe it’s about their arc from previous movies. Maybe it sums up their relationship to each other.
Whatever it is, it comes up organically in the conversation. And it’s not a whole expositional detour — it stays short and snappy, then they move on quickly. The writers and actors pack as much characterization as possible into the phrasing/delivery itself. And it’s almost always funny.
So I don’t know how much difference these tidbits would make to someone who watched Infinity War cold. (…well, I do think they’d still get the laugh.)
But for viewers who do have MCU background? These are an amazingly effective way to go “hey, you know that movie you watched five years ago? We’re going to highlight the important part real quick, and jog your memory about the rest along the way.”
Webcomic writers, we’ve gotta learn from this.
When you’re releasing a webcomic — or a single long-form story in any format, but comics are the one I care about — it’s easy to think, hey, nobody’s going to start reading at chapter 19. Anyone in chapter 19 would’ve started from chapter 1! (Probably true.)
So whatever events/characters/details were established in earlier chapters, the readers are clear on those from now on. Right? (…not so much.)
And then you end up doing things like “have a Dramatic Reveal with a character who last appeared five years ago, and it leaves no impact because 99% of readers don’t remember who that is.”
Granted, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction, either. Don’t rehash the same interactions every couple of installments, or keep repeating the same exposition in the same way — as if you think readers are starting fresh with the latest chapter. If you’re straight-up copy-and-pasting, it’s gonna get noticed.
Sometimes it makes sense to insert a designated The Story So Far page. Have a short list of all the characters and plot points, like it’s the beginning of a new manga volume. Readers who feel comfortably caught-up will skip right over it, confused readers will dive in, and everybody’s happy.
And in general, for long-running webcomics, I absolutely recommend doing the Infinity War type of recap.
Assume that your reader has gone through the whole story, and remembers it…vaguely. Any detail from previous chapters/arcs that’s about to be important, work in a short, funny, in-character way to bring it back up. You’re not re-establishing it from scratch, just calling it back to mind.
(…one of the nice things about doing Leif & Thorn print volumes is that they create built-in break points. The start of each one, like the start of a new movie, is my cue to regularly work in a stretch of extra-focused recapping.)