A month of comic exploration

When I was a kid, I regularly read Whizzer & Chips and Buster and occasionally read of the Disney comics, but I never got into the DC/Marvel worlds – probably because they were too expensive and I was quite happy with books.  Over the years I occasionally flicked through a comic, and I was vaguely aware of the major storylines, but never a regular comic reader.  Over the last month, I’ve tried out the comic world.

My journey to comics began (a while ago) with Firefly, Buffy, Fray, and Dollhouse – I enjoyed these stories, and, especially with Firefly, it was nice to have unanswered questions answered, but they certainly weren’t as enjoyable as the TV series themselves.  (Most books set in a TV universe that I’ve read, e.g. Highlander and Buffy, felt much the same, although books set in a film universe, like Star Wars, were much more enjoyable).  I’ve continued with these, and Buffy Season 9 (and Angel & Faith) are worth reading, even if they aren’t up to the standard of the best episodes of the TV show.  I’ve also started working through the classic (i.e. set during the TV series) Buffy and Angel, and the post-Angel, pre Buffy Season 8, Angel/Spike series, although only a limited number of these are available in digital form so far.

It seems that cancelled (or even in some cases, ongoing) TV shows are popular fodder for comics.  I also tried Castle, Doctor Who, BattleStar Galactica, and Farscape, with basically the same experience: enjoyable, but not great.

I also discovered several series of comics in the Ender’s Game universe.  I’m not sure whether the comics that are based on the novels introduce anything new, so I haven’t read those, but there are several that are totally new stories.  These comics had several advantages: Orson Scott Card is my favourite author, I’ve very familiar with the Ender universe, and there were many comics already available, so I could get immersed in the story rather than just get my feet wet with an issue or two.  I highly recommend these to anyone that’s a fan of Ender – it would be interesting to know whether the comic versions of the novels are more approachable to some readers; they might be a good place to start.  I’m certainly planning on continuing with any new issues that are released (Formic Wars: Silent Strike is still in progress, and it seems likely there will be more after that finishes).

I tried a few comics outside of universes that I was already familiar with and only disliked one of these (Milk+).  I dislike jumping into the middle of a story, and I wasn’t so eager to try comics that I would spend hundreds of extra dollars and hours moving through hundreds of back issues, so my selection was limited to stories that were new, nearly new, or newly spun off from an existing series.

  • The Manhattan Projects is drawn in a style that I don’t particularly enjoy, and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly interesting.  The twist at the end was fairly predictable, and didn’t leave me with any great desire to find out what happens next.  I doubt I’ll read any more of this series.
  • The Superfun Adventures of Jax was quite enjoyable.  There seem to be only three issues, unfortunately – these wrap up the introductory story, but there could easily be more set in this world, and the characters and setting were interesting enough that I would certainly read more issues if any do get created.
  • Supurbia is apparently the Desparate Housewives of the superhero world (I admit that I do watch Housewives, although I don’t love it).  The appeal here is that this is a superhero world, but it’s a new one, where I don’t need to know (or feel that I need to know) years of backstory of each character.  It seems like the series will focus more on the partners of the heroes than the heroes themselves, but that’s still potentially interesting.  I wasn’t captivated, but I’m tempted to continue: I expect I’ll probably try the next couple of issues, and then decide if I want to continue with it or not.
  • Saga, from what I understand, was a fairly large launch (I don’t know enough about the comics world to know why).  The story was more interesting than Supurbia (although both seemed to be trying, rather ineffectually, to shock the reader), and if it was (the start of) a novel, I would certainly continue with the series.  I’m not certain about this one either: the first issue was clearly only setting things up for a large story, and so there wasn’t enough of anything to captivate me or demand that I check back.  I expect I’ll do the same here, and give it an issue or two more.
  • Fairest is a spin-off from Fables, and while the official word is that you don’t need to know anything about the backstory, I definitely felt that there were things I ought to know (who is that army? what have they been doing? who is the wooden guy? what’s Ali Baba’s backstory? who was the white lady?) that I expect are known to readers of Fables, rather than things that will be covered as Fairest continues.  I generally enjoy stories that are loosely based on myths/legends/fairytales, so, although the first issue didn’t hook me completely, I’m planning on continuing this for a while at least.  I’ve considered starting Fables as well – I tried reading the latest issue, but was totally lost, so would probably need to start back at issue #1 – that’s a pretty expensive proposition, so I’ll wait to see whether Fairest is really great or not before I do that.
  • Grimm Fairy Tales: The Jungle Book is, from what I understand, a new story, although there are many other Grimm titles (if I understand correctly, these stand alone, but all retell well-known stories in a particular way).  Not much happened in issue #1, but it was interesting enough that I’ll probably continue with this, and I’m curious about the other Grimm titles, which are likely more complete, so more easily consumed.

The two largest problems I had were (1) everything is so established! and (2) there’s too much time between issues.  Not everyone shares my view, and I’m not suggesting that you should, but I like to start a story at the start, and rapidly consume it.  I do watch some TV shows as they air week-to-week, but I consume more digitally or on DVD entire series at a time.  With books, I endeavour to purchase entire series at once, rather than wait (potentially years) for new books to be released, although here too there are some series that are still being produced that I’ve caught up with everything that’s already available.

These are difficult goals to achieve with comics: there aren’t that many series that are new (in fact, last week, I couldn’t find any comics that I wanted to read, even for free), which means that if you want to start at the beginning, there’s a lot to get caught up on before you can reach the point where everyone else is.  Exacerbating this, comics seem expensive to me – a single digital issue tends to be around NZ$2.50 and only have as much ‘content’ as a twentieth or less of a novel (and I can easily find novels for low prices, via sales or second hand, whereas I can’t do this with comics; someone in another country who isn’t reading digitally might find that easier).

Once I did find and catch up with a series, the month-long wait between issues is very annoying.  I don’t particularly like the one-week break between TV episodes, which are much more ‘content-rich’ than a single comic issue, so waiting four times as long for less new material isn’t a pleasant experience.  Perhaps people that don’t read as much or people that read so many different comics that they always have new issues every week wouldn’t have this problem, but it certainly makes comics less appealing to me than TV or books.

I haven’t mentioned at all the most well-known comic form: the traditional super-heros (i.e. X-Men, Batman, Superman, the Hulk).  I love a large, well-established, universe with a lot of backstory, so I suspect that I would really enjoy these.  However, these have more back issues than anything else that I looked at, and there are so many variations, reboots, and spin-offs that I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly start.  It might not be true, but I felt that even if I started from a reboot (e.g. the New 52) I would need to read dozens of different titles in order to follow the larger story.  Perhaps one day I’ll give this a go, but for now I don’t have the time, and I’m not sure that I’m compelled enough to spend that much money, either.

I did try two of these. Scarlet Spider features someone who seems to have roughly the same abilities as Spider-Man, but isn’t Peter Parker, who is the only Spider-Man I’m familiar with, and has some sort of history with the regular Spider-Man.  It seemed like a perfectly good action super-hero comic, but I certainly felt strongly that there was a lot of back-story that I was missing and that would have made the comic make more sense.  I doubt I’ll continue with this.

Finally, Avengers Assemble is a reboot (I think) of the Avengers (I’m familiar with a few of the members, to a certain extent, but not really familiar with the team at all).  I again felt that there was much that I ought to understand from previous comics (wherever this was spun off from) and didn’t, and being an issue #1 most of the story felt like it was setting up things to come rather than captivating me right then.  I suspect that an established franchise like The Avengers can afford to do this, since they’ll have a huge readership no matter what, whereas something totally new (e.g. Saga) needs to try harder to get people past issue #1.

Overall, it was an enjoyable month, even though I felt that I wasn’t able to try as many comics as I would have liked, and have ended up with few plans to continue (other than Buffy, which I was already hooked on).  If you’d like to try it, check out the “ongoing comic book grant”, over at meta: interest has built a bit since I signed up, so you might not be able to get a place immediately, but if you start a few comics on your own and ask and answer questions on the site about them (and anything else), then you’ll likely get a chance eventually.

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