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Monday
Dec142009

Why Can't Comic Books Grow Up?

Advance warning: spoilers occasionally appear.

I've gotten into comic books - again - recently. I'd started following a few titles a couple of years ... Hellboy, Futurama, that sort of thing. I discovered, and got hooked onto, the Fable Series, and of course eagerly devoured any Mike Mignola work.

Recently, I got into the Blackest Night event from DC. I did so because I wanted to get back into reading Superman & Batman titles, and Blackest Night happened to be the big DC event of the year, and although it primarily concerns Green Lantern, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Now, 3 months into my reading of Blackest Night, and stand very firm on two pet peeves:

First, I HATE cross-overs!

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a cross-over refers to a storyline that spans multiple titles. Thus, a tumultuous event like Blackest night has impacted other DC franchises, leading to Superman: Blackest Night, Batman: Blackest Night, Flash: Blackest Night ... and well, you get the picture. Until recently, I'd only purchased the Superman & Batman cross-over titles, since, well ... those are my favorite characters (qualifier: see #2 below).

But then, I picked up Blackest Night #5 (the main title in this arc), and I took one look at the first page and went "Umm ... The last time I saw GL, he was whisked away from JL headquarters, and now, he's reunited with all the other color Lanterns.  ... Did I miss something here?" Turns out, I did. I missed Green Lantern #45-48 (or something in that vicinity), according to the friendly staff at Midtown Comics. And thus, I had to buy titles of a series I have absolutely NO interest in following.

"But hold on", you say! "Why is that such a pet peeve?". It's because a cross-over should not rely on other titles to develop major plot points. The writer has to be able to keep the central threads contained in one title/ series, and use the cross-over titles to fill in any incidental gaps. You don't want to alienate the reader by forcing him to invest more cash in titles normally not followed just to make sense of what's going on!

Don't get me wrong - I think Blackest Night is a fun event. The visuals are gorgeous, and it's generally well-paced. I'll definitely be following it with bated breath until the very end. I think it might be DC's plot device to resurrect Bruce Wayne. Or at least a bridge into a story arc that sees his return to modern times (that's right, he's not dead. Just wandering around in prehistory. Lame, or what?!)

Ahem ... to return to my original point. Cross-overs suck.

Second, comic books need to grow up.

If you've picked yourself off the floor from when you fell off your chair laughing, read on for an explanation.

The reason why I lost interest in comic books in the first place can be summed up in one word: escalation. Superheros kept getting stronger. And villains too. Next thing I know, each story arc deals with the next big cosmic entity threatening to destroy the universe as we know it. And smaller arcs just reduced the scale of things ("end of the city as we know it", etc.). And that's why, when I finally got back into comics, it was to read unconventional titles, and I loved them. Fables, Hellboy, Sandman, and so on. And that's because those comics focused on characters not action. Each story arc saw some humor, some drama, some action, and above all, some major character development. Especially in Fables. I kid you not, I cannot put into words how Fables TPB #1 blew me away, conceptually, and for the amazing writing.

And that's why I get a little bit depressed when I read the latest crop of Superman or Batman titles (as an aside, there are like 5 separate Batman series now. WTFF?!). These venerable DC titles seem to revel in garish action. I have no idea why ... is it because modern youth has the attention span of a gnat and needs to be entertained with pretty, petty baubles? If you want to see these titles written well, pick up any story arc written by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, or Frank Miller. It will change the way you read comic books, I guarantee it.

Which is why, although I'm digging this Blackest Night event, a small part of me rebels for the quality of writing and the seeming over-emphasis on the afore-mentioned gorgeous visuals. It's all style. No substance.

And that's why comic books need to grow up!

-------------------

As an aside, I cant thank the friendly staff at Midtown Comics enough. I've visited many different comic book stores in NYC, and I've had my fair share of Comic Book Guy moments. Not so with Midtown Comics ... friendly, professional, helpful, and quite knowledgeable. There are a couple of minor peeves though: I have an online account with them, and shipping is by time (biweekly), not by number of titles. Depending on the vagaries of the comic printing schedule, I can get as many as 10 titles per shipment, or as few as 2. And the shipping cost is the same. I've paid $8 shipping for a heavy box of comics, and for a single issue. To quote Eric Cartman, "You're breaking my balls, man" ... and the second peeve is that they need to tune into a better FM station instore. I thought it was an endlessly looping mix tape piping over the PA the first few times I visited the store!

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