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The Death of Long Form Storytelling in Comics

26030872I just finished reading the third volume of Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange series and, so far, so good. Chris Bachalo’s art is a great fit for a Doctor Strange comic and he and Aaron made a good team while working on Wolverine and the X-Men a few years back.

But, what surprises me the most about this Doctor Strange comic is that we’re three volumes in and a fourth is on it’s way in October. While reading the first trade paperback, I assumed Aaron would be around for a least a second volume. After all, most series at least last for twelve issues to get that one-two-punch setup of two single volumes of trade paperback and, then, the later released “definitive” single edition.

Three volumes, though? With a fourth on the way? What’s with this extended storytelling? Who does Aaron think he is? Chris Claremont? (Chris Claremont is a comic book writer who wrote X-Men comics for seventeen years straight. You can get the joke now.)

Of course, I don’t really think of four volumes as an extended run but it’s not far off. Twelve issues seems to be the magic number for most series before they get the reboot and a new first issue. I’m sure that helps sales, as most people would be more willing to pick up a first issue rather than a thirty-second. But, I’ve begun to have setup fatigue.

439383-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_See, with every first or second issue, we need a setup. The writers have to explain why this new series is different than the previous series, even if it’s just one Hulk book from the next. Yes, last year’s Uncanny X-Men was about our heroes on the run in Antarctica, so we needed to reboot the series so we could place our heroes on the run in London. It’s different. And we have to spend forty four pages explaining why it’s different.

With DC Comic’s Rebirth event, it hit me harder than ever before. Wonder WomanThe Lies was fine and entertaining, but I’ve read so many first volumes and origin stories of Wonder Woman that I just couldn’t care anymore. The same thing goes for the new Justice League comic. Instead of a new story, I have to read six more issues of introductory action and be reminded who these characters are again and why Batman chooses to fight crime dressed as bat.

Team book, like the X-Men and Justice League, are the worst for this because each incarnation of the team has to have a reason to exist and a new lineup of heroes. I can’t count how many X-Men comics I’ve read that are just characters walking down halls, welcoming back Iceman for whatever new direction they’re going with. But, solo heroes still get annoying, with constant first issues of Batgirl leaping from buildings, talking about how much she loves being a hero. All reminder, no momentum.

51FM5Cut0PL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_What happens, with this setup fatigue, is I stop caring and I don’t let myself get invested. It’s partly because these stories have little overlap and almost none of them carry over. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men comes back to mind because that lasted for a while, filling up eight volumes. That’s one heck of a run in these days. But, as soon as the series was over, almost all the work that he was doing with Wolverine as a character was ignored. Series that run for less time are even worse investments. Iron Man is obsessed with rebuilding his company’s name in one series, two months later he couldn’t care less in the reboot. Why should I care for one setup when the other is one the way?

What we lose is a sense of purpose, that these stories matter. Villains no longer have plans, they simply attack because it can fill two issues with action. Subplots are largely ignored. Not to keep singing the praises of Wolverine and the X-Men, but over the course of that series, Jason Aaron was able to tell lots of small stories throughout. There was a time, such as with Chris Claremont’s X-Men run, where you could have Mastermind working in the background for a year and still not reveal is full plan to drive Jean Grey insane.

1157943-av1Maybe superhero comics aren’t going to be that type of story anymore. Brian K. Vaughan rarely writes comics that don’t last ten trade paperbacks. Fables, by Bill Willingham, lasted for twenty two volumes and spin-off titles. Sure, Scott Snyder wrote on the New 52’s Batman for the whole run, but he’s also been writing American Vampire for years.

Times have changed and I don’t mean to sound like I want “the good old days” back (I least hate thinking I sound old). I just want good stories. Comics are episodic with many having no end in sight. But, when we’re constantly starting over, that lack of ending is getting exhausting. It has to do with the fact many comics used to run hundreds of issues, so we just went along for the ride. Imagine going on a road trip for two days and how enjoyable it could be with no traffic and some great music. Now, imagine being on that road trip and the driver keeps stopping the car every hour, turns around and goes back twenty minutes and pick a new route. You have to repeat the music too. Also, I think he keeps slamming on the brakes for no reason. Dad’s are the worst.

All the Books Show: Episode 93 – Wonder Woman

One more week and we’re right on schedule!

This episode we talk about the history of Wonder Woman, her comics and media representations. It’s a geeky episode, but Wonder Woman is cool so it’s all good!

 

ww1chiangI really did end up loving the Brian Azzarello run of Wonder Woman comics. It started off rocky and the weirdness of all it put me off. I think the problem was, when it was released, it was so different than the other stories being published in the New 52 and I was looking for anything to make sense during that terrible time. But the second volume really won me over and now I think it’s one of the best series they’ve done and my favorite run of the character. You just have to read it like a Vertigo title, or an Elseworld story.

Did we leave your favorite Wonder Woman story out? Favorite episode of the old Justice League cartoon? Let me know!

You can follow us on Soundcloud, Youtube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

All the Books Show Episode 79 – The Medium

So, what are we talking about this week? Graphic novels! Now, every week, in our Bookmark segment, Nic and I always have at least one graphic novel we’ve just read and talk about for a bit, but this week, we really focus on this medium.

The idea of this episode is to suggest graphic novels for those who don’t like superheroes, or maybe even graphic novels in general. If you think superheroes are silly and not worth your time, that’s great! Stay away from Spider-Man comics. But if you think that genre is all that makes up the world of graphic novels and the art form, get ready for a wild ride!

 

We talk Sandman, Usagi Yojimbo, Y: The Last Man, The Walking Dead, Saga, Paper Girls, Transmetropolitan, Fables, Ex Machina (actually, a lot of Brian K. Vaughan) and a lot more. It’s just another topic that I’ve been training my whole life for. If you want more from me on this, I wrote a blog a while ago about this very subject! Find it here.

We also talk book news and other events, including NBC’s list of books to read during Black History Month.

So, let us know what you think. Did we leave your favorite graphics out? Did this not win you over AT ALL. What else should we talk about?

You can follow us on Soundcloud, Youtube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Being an X-Men Fan is Great

I want to get real and talk about the X-Men.

Back in 2000, I hadn’t read a single comic book. Fourteen years later, that seems ridiculous, but it was true. I was just a geeky thirteen year old who was into Pokemon and Animorphs. It was a random article in my Disney Adventure that turned me on to the X-Men movie. I remember reading the article and thinking back to a picture book I had as a kid that had the X-Men. There was also the old 90’s cartoon that I only ever watched an episode or two of, but those few had stuck with me.

This was also around the same time that we had a computer that could get on the internet regularly so I could start looking into the movie. I think the first X-Men movie was the first movie based website I ever visited. I checked it out, read about the characters and I slowly starting getting into the world. ABC Family even started showing the old cartoon series again. It seemed like the right time but there was still too much information for me to get a hold of. I used to think that Gambit charged items with electrical energy. I was a fool.

When I discovered that my library at the first three Essential X-Men, you can bet it was a big deal. It was like they for placed there just for me to find them right then. These were the first Claremont issues, meaning I didn’t have to lose interest in the X-Men like I would have if they were the Stan Lee comics. These issues introduced Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler, and brought Wolverine, Banshee and Sunfire into the mix. Because of this era, I have a soft spot for the two latter characters, and my personal favorite team includes this era. The second volume of the Essential line had what would become some of my favorite stories, with Alpha Flight, Days of Future Past, Proteus, the Dark Phoenix Saga and the Wendigo, and it all lead to other great stories in future volumes.

Seeing the X-Men movie was huge event for me, even though I was a newly minted fan. It was the first superhero movie I went to as my own choice, the only other one before that was when my whole family saw Batman Forever. It was also the first movie that wasn’t a Jurassic Park movie that I went into with prior fandom, no matter how new. It had the X-Men, it was cool and it made me want to believe Xavier’s school was real.
I even use the first X-Men movie as a flagpost in my life, that I can divide my years in before and after that movie. It’s crazy to think that I was fourteen when it came out, and now it’s fourteen years later when the new one is hitting. I’ve lived the complete second half of my life as an X-Men fan. After the movie, I devoured as many comics as I could, buying back issue from my local store and using ebay to get whole chunks of certain series. One of the first complete runs I had was the Age of Apocalypse event and that was as awesome as I could have hoped.

X2: X-Men United nearly broke me into pieces. The first time I saw the trailer, I wasn’t expecting it and my leg started shaking like crazy. When I rewatched the trailer, I basically had an adrenaline rush that made my whole body fall apart. I couldn’t handle the wait; in between I worked on some X-Men fan fiction, reread my favorite stories, played the fighting game on the PS2, watched the animated series on VHS tapes my mom found online and watched the little clock I downloaded on my computer tick away to that Friday night. In the theater, I thought I lost my ticked and had a near heart attack but it was just hiding in my pocket. When the movie started, and Xavier started speaking and Nightcrawler started taking out the White House, I couldn’t stop smiling and that didn’t change until the end of the movie. No longer was I just some newly won over fan with no idea what was going on, I was a hardcore fan with long boxes and fanwork to prove it.


I even edited this together because I love the movies so much.

I love the X-Men. When I was a teenager (and now) I wanted nothing else than to find out I was a mutant and to go live with them. Coming from a broken home that was going through even rougher moments than what broke it, the surrogate family that the X-Men made was a wonderful dream. I wanted to have friends I could trust with my life and they would trust me with theirs. I wanted to fight for a cause I believed in and Xavier had won me over. Being an X-Man would have given my seventeen year old life the meaning I was looking for.

But even now, knowing what I refused to believe back than, that I will never get to be an X-Man myself, I still love the world. The characters are my favorite, the world is incredibly rich and complex, the villains are misunderstood and the heroes are conflicted. I’m never going to be not an X-Men fan. Even after being burned by X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine I still found excitement for the series, which was good since the next two were much better. I still have hope, however slim, that I can finish a few books, get noticed by Marvel and be given the chance to write for the X-Men. But even if that never happens, I’m still happy knowing they’re out there.