The Levitz Paradigm

I woke up early this morning, and I don’t have much to do today, so I’m going to do some pointless blogging. (You’ve been warned.) I stumbled across a reference to the “Levitz Grid” this morning, with respect to Warren Ellis’ writing on The Wild Storm. That led me down a somewhat interesting path. The Levitz Grid / Levitz Paradigm is a system Paul Levitz devised when he was writing Legion of Super-Heroes back in the 80s. Gene Ha wrote it about it on a Google+ post a few years back. The grid has apparently also been used by Jonathan Hickman, for his Fantastic Four run, and Alan Moore, for Big Numbers. There’s a little bit more about the Levitz Paradigm at the Forbidden Planet blog. And a short write-up from Paul Levitz himself at his site.

I was a big fan of the Legion in the 80s. Back when I was buying comics with the money I was making at my minimum wage McDonald’s job, it was one of only a few books I was buying every month. I spent some time last summer reading a big stack of Legion comics, and wrote about that here and here. I saw Paul Levitz last week at NYCC, at the Will Eisner panel, and he seems to be doing well. (Speaking of which, I should really read his book on Eisner.)

The kind of plotting described by the Levitz Paradigm is, in some ways, very popular today, though usually in a more compressed form than Levitz used on Legion. Writers rarely have the space to let plots play out over multiple years, the way they could in the 80s, when nobody thought about trade paperback collections or six-issue arcs. Now that I think of it, the reason I’m enjoying a few of the books I’m currently reading probably has a lot to do with the fact that the writers have been allowed to stretch out a bit. Ellis’ Wild Storm is planned out as a 24-issue series. Though he’s writing it in six-issue arcs, they’re not really stand-alone stories. I think you’ll need to read all 24 issues to get the whole story. A number of the DC Rebirth titles fit this mold too, helped along by the biweekly schedule. I’d put Batman, Detective, and most notably Deathstroke in the “extended Levitz Paradigm” category (for lack of a better name). These three titles have all lasted for more than 24 issues, all without switching writers. And, while they’ve all been structured with discrete named arcs (as is common today), they’ve also had undercurrents and subplots that have crossed arcs.

I haven’t been reading much from Marvel lately, but it seems like they’ve been sticking more with a paradigm based on big events like Civil War II, Inhumans vs X-Men, and Secret Empire. I am curious about what’s going to come out of Marvel Legacy, but I’m not too optimistic about that. It doesn’t seem like they’re leaving much room for subtlety or long-term character development. Maybe I’m wrong though. I’ll keep an eye on reviews, and if anything seems promising, maybe I’ll look into it.

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