Why I haven’t given up on comics

My fellow blogger on this site, Robin has yesterday written a post on why he has given up on comics. Many of the points he makes are very valid, they are all objections to the state of the market that I have felt myself, both as a comic shop manager in what some people call the dark days of the mid-Nineties, but primarily as a fan. A total, unrestrained fan. However, I felt driven to respond in defence of my favoured medium, as I think we may be reading in very different fashions.

Let’s take these points one by one.

1) Rising Costs

If I was to be honest, I cannot argue with this one.  Over the last decade the cost of my weekly pull has steadily risen alongside the rise in the price of paper. Of course, variant covers, special editions, and tie-ins all increase the bill, but I remain reasonably immune to the former two. (My weakness is the latter.)

However, as the world shifts more and more to digital technology, I can see that cost falling again, not that it has yet to any considerable degree. The politics of not undermining the traditional local comic book shop still manages to keep the price of digital content inflated beyond what it needs to be, and that is understandable. Who doesn’t love to have the physical comic in their hand? The smell, the feel of the paper all enhance the experience. Yet many years ago, I started running out of storage space and began the process of releasing my collection back into the world. (Thank heavens for eBay!) As a lover of the medium, whether I read it on the screen or in physical form does not bother me too much, and honestly? I now prefer the digital. They are so much easier to store.

2) Increasingly ludicrous depictions of the human form

Yup, got me there as well.  Yet then again, look at the various styles throughout history. This is no different to the manga-style eyes of the Nineties, or the more cartoony artists of all generations. It is a fad, it will pass, and many artists will just totally ignore such fashions and draw in a style that they feel comfortable with.

3) Too much hype, not enough depth

Now I can understand this one, but I have just come to expect that hype with every event, story or mini.  I do not feel it is new, many comics used to beat their own chests. Why, you only have to look at many of the Marvel comics of the Seventies to see exactly the same process occurring.  The thing that is different is the quantity of that hype, for which there is only one cause.  This is the internet.  There’s a great quantity of everything, and if you are into the comics sites, then you will see even more hype. After all, isn’t that what they are there for?

Now Robin also noted how fast the lineups change in the team books.

Case in point: how often do superhero teams like the Avengers, the JLA, and the X-Men change their rosters? These teams are revolving doors, with a single line-up never lasting long enough to let the characters stretch their legs and see how the new mechanics work between heroes who are suddenly working side-by-side.

Maybe we look at the stories differently.  I see both members and non-members as consistent members of the cast.  These titles are tales of a part of a well established world, through which various characters pass through regularly. In my view, once an Avenger, always an Avenger.  Moondragon may be part of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Two-Gun Kid may be back in the Old West and who knows where the Living Lightning is nowadays, but all three are Avengers, and thus part of the Avengers story. Change in the real world can be rapid, but when we look at the big guns like the Avengers or the JLA, then many of those characters have their own titles to back them up, or minis to focus on them. Change can and should be rapid when it happens in the comics world. If that were not true, then mini-series like the Fallen Angels would never have happened.

4) Throwing endless ideas at the reader is not storytelling

No, it’s not, but then that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Again, it depends on what you are looking for. This was the point that I really want to tackle, with great passion.

Introducing twenty new characters in a single story arc is not storytelling. Coming up with cool new ideas is not storytelling. Giving superheroes new powers is not storytelling. If characters don’t emote, if they don’t grow and change, if they don’t experience things that we as readers can relate to… then you don’t have a story. You have mind-blowing ideas and lots of cool imagery, sure, but there’s no substance.

I agree with every word of that, but on the other hand, I am in love with the throwaway concept. If these are introduced at a consistently high rate to the detriment of the core story, I am behind that statement 100%.

Yet every throwaway concept can be taken by a later writer and expanded upon. Look at how much we know about Boom Tubes nowadays? Look at the Legion Of Super-Heroes, that grew from such inauspicious beginnings. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the entire catalogue of work by the great god of comics Jack Kirby, whose work was peppered with such concepts that were repeated so often, they became standard fare, yet we still knew very little about them.

A shining example of this was Morrison’s Final Crisis. You either loved it or you hated it. I belong in the former crowd. I love the stories that tell you enough for the story construction, yet leave that much more left unsaid, inviting you to complete the peripherals of the story in your own mind. From such fertile soil is the best fanfic grown, and the future epics we have yet to see. I can read Final Crisis again and again, and every time see a new aspect that captures my attention.

I want to see the history of Wonder World from the JLA Rock Of Ages. Just because it was destroyed, does not mean it is finished. After all, wasn’t it not on some plane perpendicular (or some-such) to ‘our’ space-time. I want to see more of the Legion Of Legions as glimpsed in the backdrop of Flex Mentallo. I want to return to the world of DC One Million. (Erm, can you detect a theme here?)

Looking at the older stories, character development is not always a pre-requisite to me. Sometimes, the character can remain the same, as the world changes around them. Change for change’s sake is not a good thing. (I’m not sure if I agreeing or disagreeing with Robin there.)

I want my stories to have a beginning, middle and end, some consequences, (though not always for the central character) and even more importantly, to give that sense of recapturing that childhood wonder of whole new worlds that I first felt when reading Crisis On Infinite Earths, Squadron Supreme, or the Fantastic Four.

Long Live The Throwaway Legions!

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Darren Burr
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A devoted follower of the comics industry and their characters since a child, Darren now plays in many media but always returns to characters in skin-tight costumes beating each other up on the page. Radio host, blogger, fanfic author and producer of You Tube content, Darren idles away his days until his digital conquest of the world is complete.

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