Here’s some numbers for you.
In September last year, DC comics relaunched their entire line of comic books. Every single series they had was cancelled and some, were replaced with new number one issues. Some of these restarted the character’s stories entirely, some merely continued albeit with new creators and artists. The New 52, it was called. It’s been a huge success for DC, so long now stuck in the mire of line wide events and universe changing crossovers that never achieved anything.
As a comic book reader, I was geared up to enjoy a lot of these series. But those numbers, let’s get to them.
Of the 52 new number ones released, I picked up 13. I read around 40 through friends, but I only bought 13. Of those thirteen, I went on to buy the second issues of 10 of the series. Only 8 made it to the third issue for me, and only 7 got the first five issues bought by me. Re-reading the opening storylines of these comics, I’ve dropped another two.
This is all prologue to talking about comics and the nature of being a comics fan. The series I dropped were dropped because the story wasn’t keeping me interested, because the writing wasn’t as good as others. Some of the comics I kept buying and have now dropped were because the art was incredible (it really was beautiful stuff) and the writing was so-so. In the end, writing came first and I stopped buying it. The ones I’m sticking with, I’ll come to in a second. Being a fan of comic books and being a reader of comic books means you fall into two categories:
1) You are a fanboy/girl. You love these characters and always have, you follow their every move in every comic and you treat every story as canon. You hate the fact that Batman shot Darkseid, that Superman went for a walk across America and the girlfriend in the fridge still bums you out (seriously, what the fuck was that about?). You can forgive writing and art, because you first and foremost care about the characters and their story. You are the daytime soap viewer of comics. You keep the industry alive.
2) You follow artists and/or writers. You pick up a title when a writer you admire starts work on it and you leave almost immediately after they finish the story they are telling. You demand high quality all the time and if you don’t get it, you complain. You’re probably killing the industry because, let’s face it, not everyone is as brilliant as Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison or Brian K Vaughan. You become disillusioned quickly and start calling things graphic novels. You die alone, weeping into old copies of Morrison’s JLA run, crying “why can’t it be like this?”
I fall squarely into category two. I started reading comics because writers I admired (Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon) as a teenager, were writing X-Men and Batman and both the child in me, and the teenager I was, loved that. But comics draw you in, sucker punch you and tempt you. They put things on the covers that say,
“EVERYTHING CHANGES!” and “YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS ISSUE!”
…and you believe them.
They promise big interesting turns of events that never come and everything always stays the same. Tony Stark will always get drunk, Captain America will always be fighting against someone mysterious from WW2, Wolverine will always be the best at what he is, Jean Grey will just keep on dying. Comic book editors are afraid of doing interesting things, afraid of moving things forward in any way. They have stopped looking at these books as stories, and look at them now as brands.
That’s why I slot myself in the second category. Better to read a well written tale with a start and end, than delve into decades of cross continuity that in the end, will only ever matter for a blip in time.
And what does this have to do with the six titles I’m buying at the moment from DC? They are by writers I love, they are experimenting with these characters and doing interesting things with them. Things that before the big relaunch, they wouldn’t have been able to do. Batman, by Scott Snyder had an issue in which pages turned and twisted as the titular character explored a labyrinth, Animal Man by Jeff Lemire is just insane and Brian Azzarello has made me care about Wonder Woman for the first time ever.
It’s not a game changer, nothing ever is in comics, but it feels fresh and new. It feels, dare I say it, experimental.