Newsletter #123: Snyder on Sequels
My take on what makes or breaks a sequel in film (and comics)!
Hey guys, it’s Scott.
It is Saturday, February 25th. Jack, our 16 year old, is taking the PSAT in his room, which is just totally shitty and I feel terrible for him. And then our 11 year old is at a sleepover at his close friend's house and Quinn is happily looking out the window at the snow. I am taking Jack on a quick father/son trip to Colorado tomorrow, we're gonna go skiing for a few days. He has next week off and Emmet does not, so Emmet is very angry about this, but I'm going to take him with me on a trip in March somewhere of his choosing, probably to some kind of spring training thing before the opening day of the Yankees season the last day of March. We're gonna be there, that was his big Christmas gift—a block of tickets for this year, including opening day, and I'm bringing my parents too. So it should be really, really fun! But that's kind of a family update. I'm nervous about going away. The two of us we get along great generally, but of course like, a dad and teenage son can sometimes be so cliché that if I wrote it you'd be like, “you're a terrible writer,” where it's like:
“How was your day, son?”
“Yeah? Anything interesting happening?”
“Dad, why are you always on me?!”
And other times, it can be really great and open and affectionate and all that stuff, so we'll see. But overall, he's a wonderful kid, and I'm proud of him. Wish us luck!
But I was going to talk a little bit today, I thought, about sequels. Because lately, I've seen some really good ones, and I know people are saying that the Creed sequel is really highly anticipated and I can't wait to see it. I love that series. I think it's one of the best subsequent series, if not pure sequel, from a franchise ever.
But it got me thinking also about how sequels are really important to consider if you're thinking about writing comics, because sequential writing, periodicals, the way that comics come out still, whether or not you're releasing them arc to arc or you're releasing them every month, essentially, every arc builds on the last one. You're writing sequels all the time—you're writing sequels in a mini way issue to issue, but really in a pure way, you're writing them arc to arc. Every arc is almost like a season of television or a film that then you're building on for the next one. Sometimes that means going bigger and crazier, sometimes that means scaling back, but to me, I was thinking a lot about it, and I feel like every good sequel has some combination of like, four key elements:
It has something new to say, it's not just the same message over and over again done in a similar way.
It pushes the characters forward in some way, where essentially they're up against something that challenges them in a way that causes them to develop and grow and evolve.
It expands on the mythology and the world of the series. So either you get new characters, new revelations about the mythology of the series itself, new villains. It’s things that bring that whole ecosystem of story up and make it bigger and more robust.
A little bit more nebulous, but I'd say growth. Again, it’s a bit more of an abstract idea and an intangible thing (more on this later).
So first, it has something new to say. Sometimes it says the wrong thing, but usually it's kind of an extension, or an expansion, of the message that the first story set. So something like Top Gun: Maverick, to me, builds on everything that Top Gun was about. Top Gun is about curbing curbing your emotions and your anger and your daredevilry and all of that, to grow up a little bit and learn how to be responsible. Top Gun: Maverick is the opposite—Top Gun: Maverick is really about having the confidence to be able to let go of the rules a little bit and and be instinctual, embracing the nature of what Maverick as a character is, so it has a different thing it's saying, right?
Similarly to me, some of the best franchise sequels ever—James Cameron, obviously, is a master with the Terminator and Alien sequels, but then there’s also the Toy Story movies (up until 4).
So for me, each one of the Toy Story movies has something new to say on built on the last one about the stages of parenthood where you have to, essentially, continually accept that there's going to come a time where your kids are going to grow up and they're going to abandon the things they loved at childhood and sometimes that means your relationship to them is going to change and you're going to have to pull away. In the second movie, it's really about coming to terms with your own mortality in that regard with Woody. And then the third, it's about letting go—letting go of childhood and being able to being able to be okay with yourself. To me, the fourth movie is kind of an example of when a movie or a story has something to say that doesn't quite fit.
I felt, personally, like that sequel in particular gave us a message or a sort of point that people don't want for that franchise, necessarily—trying to convince people that Woody would be happier away from his friends and family, but in a romantic relationship, feels sort of an odd twist on the things that were being said. Similarly, Cars 2 says something in the Disney canon that doesn't quite match up with the messaging of Cars.
On the other hand, there are things that say very, very different things than the first story set, like the new Mad Max. Mad Max: Fury Road takes a huge leap from the old one. It has some of the same themes, it has some of the same ideas, but ultimately this one has a very different set of messaging than the first one, and he's very different character. So it’s something new to say in the world.
Secondly, character development. You want to push the characters to a degree that doesn't feel redundant. I think one of the things that one of the franchises that, until the TV show Cobra Kai, felt like it was getting redundant in some ways and not pushing the character to a new spot was The Karate Kid. Certainly, he's learning new things and I think the trimmings of the second movie make it look like growth, but it's kind of the same lesson over and over again. The character isn't really growing so much, just kind of repeating the same things.
On the other hand, a movie like Aliens, and we'll return to this one, but a movie like that has a character, Ripley, who goes from wanting to, essentially in the first movie, just escape and survive, to somebody who confronts all of her fears not only about the Xenomorphs, but also develops a family. And what I'd say is one of the worst sequels of all time, in my opinion, sorry, but Alien³, which does away with all the character growth, all the mythology to reduce it (along with the cast) and and ultimately give a message that the series didn't need. But with the character development, you haven't faced greater odds.
I think, in a lot of ways, Rocky is a really good example of a series that tends to do that up to a point and then falls off, and then returns with Rocky Balboa and that stuff and then Creed.
So expansion—expansion of the cast of the mythology, for me, a good example of something like that is Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones brings in new characters, Temple of Doom brings in Short Round, Willie Scott, etc. The second one expands the scope of things with with Indy moving past just Nazis in WWII. The third one and brings in his father and deepens that whole thing. The fourth one tries to do it with Crystal Skull attempting to settle him down and bring Marion back and give him a kid. It doesn't quite work for all of its zaniness, but you see where they're trying to go with it.
Again, expansion—for me, Aliens is a perfect example. Aliens hits all the bases and has a new thing to say. It has character development, it has expansion of the cast with the Marines, but it also has expansion of the whole biology of the creature, the mythology that you've learned, that there is a queen, and how the things reproduce, all of this stuff. So expansion, I think, in that way where the world becomes bigger.
Now, one example of a movie that's out came out recently that feels like it's not that but really works in in different ways—Prey from the Predator series. I loved the movie Prey. And people could make the argument, essentially, that it's a reduction because it's just one Predator and one new character. It doesn't bring back the old cast, it doesn't show multiple spaceships, multiple things the way some of the other Predator and Alien vs. Predator movies started to go. But what I'd say is that it does expand—it expands the timeline, it shows how the predators essentially first came here. And the Predator in that movie itself is something really strange. It's a different breed, different masks, different helmet, different thing, different tools. And so it's an expansion of the concepts, even if it's kind of a reduction of the cast and a reduction of all the multiple elements that are in a lot of the other films.
So lastly, it's kind of nebulous thing, growth. Prey is a really good example, in my opinion, of a series showing growth in the way that it understands itself enough to give you a film that might feel like a step backward, or something reductive, but it's what that series needs to give texture, to sort of start it in a new place that's going to allow it to go forward. Creed, perfect example, again, it has growth. It does all the things we talked about before, it hits more of the bases than a movie like Prey because Rocky is back, so you have character development whereas Prey, you don't have that kind of character development. But at the same time, it takes it back to a place and away from the bombast, away from a lot of those things. It reduces the cast, also, by having Adrian gone, having Paulie gone, all that stuff, and then moves forward in a way that the franchise needs to grow. It has it has a perspective on itself that allows it to evolve, that lets it move forward, and yet start over at the same time.
So you'll see a lot of comics do this sometimes where you take a one-shot. That's what I'm doing in Nocterra, and I do the Blacktop Bill Special, or we do the Val Special. We're going to do a new one about the whole history of our series in June called the Genesis Special. But it's taking taking a turn that might seem like it's sort of making things smaller, making things quieter, but you're actually taking little moves to give perspective on the series and allow it to then burst out of the gate in a new way later. It's an understanding of your series itself so that you're making a move with each one where you might forego some of those four elements for other ones, for smarter decisions that will allow for a renaissance for your series itself, or a bigger expansion by virtue of not having blown it out of the water in this one thing.
So again, most great sequels, in my mind, have a number of those things at once—Toy Story 2 & 3, Top Gun: Maverick, Creed. If you look at good comics, look at series that you love, from Saga to other long running series like The Walking Dead. For me, I think the longest thing I did series-wise was American Vampire. So arc to arc, in-between issues, all of that. Try really hard to follow those same priorities. But to me, again, good sequels have some combination of those four things, and the ones that really fire on all cylinders have most of them in spades or really dive into a couple of them in a very self-aware way.
So I'd love your thoughts on this! Some of your favorite sequels, post them here in the comments. Some of your favorite sequels in comics also, like the way things build arc to arc to arc. I'd love to know how you see that reflected in our own medium. So anyway, listen, have a great weekend. I'm going to be a little bit off-radar for people that are meeting in the Black Jackett Club. I know you know this, but I'm not here Tuesday, like I said. So we'll pick up on Friday and the week after. If you get a chance check out Canary #5, we’re incredibly proud of it. It's the penultimate issue, it's out now from Comixology. And yeah, just thank you guys again. I love doing this and it gets better every month!