Friday, November 18, 2011

I might get back into reading comic books. That worries me.

For years, I read superhero comics fairly regularly. I'd estimate that my total collection is roughly a third X-titles (X-Men, X-Factor, etc.) a third other Marvel titles (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, etc.) and a third DC and other publishers. My comic-buying probably peaked during college or shortly after. Since then I've lost interest in series when they got bogged down in Kudzu Plots*, or when I missed a few issues and couldn't get back into it, or for many other reasons.

So by six months ago, the only monthly comic book I was buying at all regularly was Invincible, and occasionally picking up one or two issues of X-Factor. The only comic book store I liked was an hour out of my way. I'd make an afternoon of going over to that neighborhood once a month or so, sometimes with my girlfriend, for the comics plus other shopping or eating out in the area. I was pretty much happy with that. But over this past fall, three events have coincided**.

(1) DC Comics relaunched its entire line. (Sort of.) This includes a relaunch of Blue Beetle, which I liked until it was cancelled a couple years ago, and reboots of lots of classic stuff that potentially could turn out to be interesting to anyone who even vaguely cares about the genre.
(2) Marvel Comics revamped the X-Men line. Like I said, I liked the X-Men family of comics in general a lot, and what seems to be the two "main" titles of this relaunch are both especially interesting to me. Cyclops' X-Men as an all-heavy-hitters paramilitary team actively aspiring to global peacekeeping? A series with Wolverine of all people as a teacher, and it also includes a bunch of other characters that look fun? Awesome.
(3) That store an hour out of my way? It moved to a new location, less than a mile from my place. If I go grocery shopping after work, the comic book store is on the way there.

So both major publishers are doing new things I find interesting right now, shopping for comics is more convenient than it ever has been, I've already bought several issues of different titles, and as I said at the start of this post, yes, I consider this bad. I'd say there's two reasons for that.

One problem is that I feel I should avoid getting back into comic books as a hobby. It's not that I care about being "too geeky" or something, it just seems like not enough bang for my buck. For the price of five comics I could instead get a trade paperback, a movie ticket plus a drink, two nice beers at a bar, or spend half the day playing Magic: the Gathering at a Limited event. For something that I'll read in 10 minutes and probably will never find out how that storyline ends because it's a decompressed comic*, that is simply a waste of money.

The other problem is that these comics in particular don't seem that great. I bought them because the cover is flashy and I liked the characters and/or title five years ago, but when I read them, it's just "meh". These days almost all comics are decompressed, and more storylines than not are crossovers. More specifically, forget about my own personal priorities, the first issue of the new Superman series was not worth the cover price by any standard. (Maybe I'll expand on that in a future post.) Uncanny X-Men's first issue was little better; it too is just scene-setting, but at least the scene it sets is more interesting. The new Blue Beetle would have been decent as a truly new comic, but as a revamp of the previous title it seems to have lost everything that I liked about it.

It's not all bad, of course. I liked the Wolverine and the X-Men, and still might try out some more new or recently revamped series. If six months from now I just go to the new store once a month, make a beeline for Invincible and leave, then I'll still have come out ahead. But in the past month I've bought a dozen issues of seven different series, and more than half of them made me think "I could write a better story than this", "Where's the rest of it?", or both. This is not a good sign.

* Throughout this post, any word or phrase that's not easily understandable can probably be found at
** For more references on the comics world, see... pretty much anything by MGK with the "comics" tag at this blog. Not that I agree with him about every bit of it, but it was all interesting.

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