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Friday, August 30, 2013 

It may be a good time to read comics, but not with superheroes

The Mass Media, the student paper of Boston University, published a fawning item about why now is a great time to read comics, but it's all predictably superficial, and they don't seem very concerned about how crossovers have proven to be the worst thing that could happen to mainstream:
Superheroes are everywhere. Unless you’ve been sitting in a cave recently, you’ve probably seen superheroes on television, in the movie theatre, in a bookstore, plastered on a candy wrapper or soda can in the supermarket, or on some promotional poster in any populated area. Today, America is a land of superheroic media, even if you aren’t reading comic books.
Ever thought about how difficult it is to find comic books, even at bookstores? Comics were largely rejected by bookstores in the mid-90s and relegated to specialty stores. Not only that, the publishers made little or no effort to get back into the major league ball game. The paper doesn't explore that, though.
In this article, I want to try to convince you, if you aren’t already a comic enthusiast, that comic books are something you should be reading, or at least paying more attention to. [...]
I'm afraid he doesn't convince much, as we'll soon deal with below.
We’ve just come off the summer movie blockbuster high, and we got a hefty dose of comics on film: “Man of Steel,” “The Wolverine,” “Iron Man 3,” “Kick Ass 2,” “R.I.P.D.,” “2 Guns,” and probably some I’ve forgotten. Right off the bat, being entertained by any of these movies is a great reason to head to a comic bookstore and pick up something related to any of these movies.
Anybody who liked the movies is going to be sorely disappointed if what they pick up in the comics stores happens to be brand new, and not the classic material. Kick Ass 2 is one adaptation whose source material is most definitely not worth the bother.
Summer is typically also a blockbuster time for comics, but the summer of 2013 was sort of meh for comics. Instead, it was mostly a build up for the fall. Both DC and Marvel used their summer publishing schedule to set up events that will be shaking up their comic book universes, namely the Forever Evil (DC) and Infinity and Battle of the Atom (Marvel) crossover events, which will tell universe-spanning stories across multiple titles.
If this is what they're promoting, they've failed to cite a serious problem: the price. Even alone, most of these titles already cost 4 dollars, a lot of money to pay for something padded out for trades, and thanks to editorial fiat, the writers can't tell a stand-alone tale, even if they wanted to. But even more hilarious is this:
One of the biggest reasons people stay away from comics is the numbering system. Who wants to read “Spawn” #236, “Invincible” #104, or, heaven forbid, “Batman” #698? “Won’t I be missing, like, hundreds of important plot points?!” Luckily, both DC and Marvel recently (within the past two years) rebranded themselves, so that with few exceptions, DC’s comics are now around issue 23 this month and many of Marvel’s comics are below issue 20.
Why would anybody with a brain want to read Spawn at all? One of the crummiest writing efforts from early Image. And since when was anybody worried about the numbers? The relaunches, which they fawn over, were part of a strategy to draw in the speculator market, who think #1 alone guarantees a fortune in the future. But it's already proving a false hope, particularly if the story is badly written.
And if that’s not less intimidating, I can say from experience that many comic books are written to be reader friendly at the start of any new narrative arc (roughly every three to five issues). Marvel’s comics now include an introduction page catching the reader up on recent events! Brian Michael Bendis’ two X-Men series and “Guardians of the Galaxy” are great examples of easily accessible stories.
I'm starting to question the honesty of this writer, since a lot of today's tales are as many as 6 issues en toto, and Bendis precipitated the padded tone for today's approach to writing and publishing, for trades. As if they couldn't just publish several self-contained stories and put them together in one trade. But the biggest problem with his writing is that it's just plain awful. And they're not very easy to access at all.

The pages telling what happened previously aren't new either. Back in 1997-99, Marvel put something like that in their pamphlets, one of the not too many better ideas they had at the time.
This very week, in fact, is a great time to pick up a DC comic. “Forever Evil” is starting, which means for this month only all of the titles are on a sort of hiatus. Why? Because the super- and not-so-super villains have taken over the titles! Now you can pick up “Batman #23.1 The Joker” or “Wonder Woman #23.1 Cheetah” and get an introduction your favorite heroes’ archenemies.

Marvel is doing something similar with two separate events. “Infinity” is an event which has the very foundation of the universe being ripped apart by the Mad Titan, Thanos. Hannah Means-Shannon of BleedingCool.com recently wrote an article about how Marvel’s “Infinity”is tailored to being inclusive to new readers, and I think it’s a great place to hop into the Marvel-verse.
Okay, now I know he's not serious (and neither is the BC site). Why must everybody read crossovers, especially ones whose only purpose seems to be celebrating evil, and aren't built on organic character drama? Crossovers have become the curse of the medium, and aren't helping it one bit. The heroes are no longer recognizable, and the "events" seem like little more than excuses to put them through the wringer, plus indulge in meaningless, badly written nostalgia. And worst, they cost a lot of money.

College students deserve much better than this tripe.

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The relaunches show how marketing strategy has changed since the Silver Age and earlier. Back then, publishers would try to avoid numbering a comic at issue #1. EC, in particular, would change the title and continue the numbering sequence (e.g., Saddle Romance became Weird Science, War Against Crime became The Vault of Horror). That was partly to evade paying a fee for second class mailing for a new title. But it was also because first issues of new series did not sell well, because they were an unknown quantity. Presumably, if a kid saw Hulk #102 (formerly Tales to Astonish) or Thor #126 (previously Journey Into Mystery) or Flash #105 (continuing the numbering from the 1940s version), he would assume that it must be good, since it had apparently lasted over a hundred issues. The first issues of Jimmy Olsen and Justice League were published without numbers on the covers. Today, of course, they cancel and reboot a series, to draw in speculators who assume a first issue will become valuable. A high percentage of customers are now investors; fewer and fewer people actually read the comics.

The relaunches start the numbering sequence over, but they often seem to retain the loose ends and plot threads from the old continuity, making the new version more confusing than ever. And the emphasis on long serials and line-wide crossovers and tie-ins means that you have to buy consecutive issues of several different titles to avoid "missing, like, hundreds of important plot points."

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