Unfinished Business | Gold Digger v3 #74-99
This story picks up right where the last major arc left off — Cheetah is stranded in quasi-space, and as she tries to make her way home with Crescens and Ancient Gina, young Gina and Penny try to open a gate for her from our dimension. Of course, there are plenty of obstacles in their way, like a rogue Dynasty ship that sees Cheetah and Crescens as raw material for their soul furnace, an ancient Saurian weapon that needs to be permanently deactivated before Gina and Penny can activate their gigantic Beta Key, and the fusion of Dreadwing and Professor Peachbody, who sees his chance to rid himself of young Gina once and for all.
But gosh, think about it. This is one continuous story which starts when the Lich-King transports Cheetah and Tiffany to Oblivion in Gold Digger v3 #60. Or wait, maybe it starts earlier than that, when the Lich-King is accidentally summoned to the Diggers family smackdown of Tanya in v3 #38, and realizes Tiffany could potentially serve as his vessel. Or maybe it starts back in v2 #41, when Gothwrain starts laying the groundwork for his escape to Myth Arcadia. Or maybe it starts back in Ninja High School v2 #57, when Professor Peachbody is exiled to the Precambrian Eon, where he eventually merges with the time-displaced corpse of Dreadwing. Or maybe it starts way back in the Mangazine v2 #11, when Gina and Brittany first encounter Dreadwing and defeat him.
No matter how you look at it, this is one long story — at least three years long, and up to seventeen years long if you're feeling generous. So how do you keep that fresh? How do you keep readers reminded of everything that's gone before? How do you stop readers from feeling that you're pointless dragging a story out so you can resolve it in a milestone issue?
Admittedly, it's not easy, and there's been times when Fred Perry has failed. For a while in the mid-70s I was totally lost — the individual issues were so dense and elliptical that close reading was required to follow even the simplest plot thread, and the delays between issues made it hard to keep the story fresh in your mind. But for the most part he's done an excellent job of moving the story forward at a pace that keeps you enthralled without forcing you to look at the big picture and realize how slowly things are moving.
For the most part, all Fred does is simply break each story down in to a series of arcs from two to four issues in length (with the occasional major arc lasting up to six issues). He tries to alternate light stories with heavy stories, stories that focus on the past with stories that focus on the present, and stories based in other dimensions with stories set on Earth. If a character is going to be important in the near future, he tries to make sure that they get a small supporting role a few months before they seize the spotlight.
For instance, a breakdown of these twenty-five issues would result in the following nine arcs:
Issues #74-78: A break from the main story as the Jade-based characters all fight over some strange politicking, though the main purpose is to remind us that Dreadwing is still out there collecting weapons to use against Gina.
Issues #79-80: Single-issue stories reminding us what Penny is doing on Earth, and what Cheetah is doing back in quasi-space.
Issues #81-83: Gina and Brianna break the law to acquire a power source for their rescue efforts, but are caught and forced to deal with the psychological, moral, and legal reprecussions.
Issue #84: A light-hearted continuity-free story that serves as a nice break from the heavy drama of the issues surrounding it.
Issues #85-87: While everyone else works on opening a gateway to quasi-space, Julia and Debra try to take revenge on Zero for smacking them around during the last major arc. Zero's origins are revealed, and Dreadwing finally reveals himself to the rest of the cast.
Issues #88-90: The Explorers' Society descends into an underground labyrinth to try and deactivate Gigliathon, the Saurian weapon that keeps threatening their rescue effrots.
Issue #91: Madrid escapes from her lunar prison only to wind up in the clutches of Fauntleroy's wives. This is another momentary interlude, but also one intended to keep some characters fresh in our mind so that they can be involved in major revelations later.
Issues #92-4: The Explorers finally reach Gigliathon and learn some surprising facts about draconian history. Dreadwing sets a trap that strands Gina in quasi-space and causes the Explorers to waste their time on Zero while he steals Gigliathon. Ancient Gina is finally revealed to be a reformed Madrid in disguise (though there may be more than one "Ancient Gina" running around).
Issues #95-100: Reunited in quasi-space, Gina and Cheetah must battle through a Dynasty armada to return home.
Most importantly, the majority of these story arcs have satisfying, definite ends that reinforce the perception that things are humming along. You don't run into a situation like the mid-teens of Bleach, where lots of things happen but the plot doesn't move forward, or the lastest Marvel mega-events, where the plot keeps moving forward but nothing actually seems to happen. Even the arcs that don't have a definite resolution plot-wise tend to end in important emotional resolutions. For instance, while the Explorers only manage to eke out a temporary victory in issue #90, the real thrust of the issue is Brianna finally recovering from the emotional issues she's been dealing with since issue #73.
I can see why Marvel and DC don't have similar structures for their titles — the individual issues are a big mess that don't break down nicely into trade paperbacks (or at least, not into the slim 6-8 issue paperbacks that Marvel and DC like). On the other hand, the simple structure and rules Fred follow allows for a lot of improvisation and variety that makes for a gripping month-to-month reading experience.
Your Gratiutous Pop Culture Reference for the Day
I'm pretty sure this is someone's fetish, and I'm also very glad that I don't know that someone personally.