So I mentioned recently that I cancelled all my comic subscriptions and I picked up the last batch the other day. Aside from dropping six nerd points and losing 50 XP, why have I decided to forsake the four-colour kingdom? It’s simple really: they’re juvenile nonsense and they don’t respect the reader.
Comic fans are right now throwing their mouse across the room and cursing my name. They’re invoking the greats and the classics of the genre. And I won’t argue with them. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, for instance, stands as a perfect example of the type of mature, deep, beautiful pictorial storytelling that comics are capable of. But, alas, comics like that are the exception. But it would be so easy to make that exception the rule. But what’s so bad about comics anyway?
Let’s start with the constant need for violence. Take Marvel’s Civil War as an example. A disaster claims the lives of a school full of children after a typical superhero/supervillain clash. The American public demand that heroes register themselves, undergo training and become accountable for their actions. The story possesses real potential for exploring the value or lack thereof in sacrificing freedom for safety. But, instead, the writers opted to show Iron Man and Captain America beating each other up.
Worse than the wasted opportunities, though, are the retcons. A retcon (retroactive continuity) is a storyline that rewrites the character’s history. Famous retcons include:
• Green Lantern Hal didn’t go insane with grief after his hometown was destroyed; he was just infected by a yellow space bug made of fear.
• After Aunt May is shot, Spider-man chooses to save her life by letting a demon change history so that he never married Mary Jane.
• DC Comics jettisons decades of history to restart every title with a new number one. All so they can make Superman a sulky teenager. Oh and not married to Lois Lane.
And, of course, the worst sin of all: the revolving door that you and I call death. Superman, Batman, Captain America, Hal Jordan, Hawkeye, Colossus and so many more have died only to come back to life. If someone dies in a comic, they will come back. It’s almost a law of physics.
These problems all have a single cause and fixing that would make comics worth buying. That cause? They don’t end.
All good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. That allows for growth, for development, whilst cutting out any extraneous nonsense; after all, you’ve only so much space to tell the story, so there’s no room for pages describing the colour of the wallpaper. But comics don’t end. The stories go on and on and on. Writers scrabble to fill pages with anything they can. The easiest filler is a fight. But that gets old fast. The second easiest thing is to kill the character but, hey, they can’t sell Batman for too long without Batman. So back he comes. And, of course, you can actually tell a story, let things grow and change. But a few months later a new writer comes along who didn’t like that change so they change it back. And this happens over and over and over.
A lot of comic writers claim that comics deserve to be taken seriously. They’re wrong. Some do. But most don’t. Not until publishers stop selling issue 576 of Spider-man and start selling proper stories. That doesn’t exclude a man in spandex. But it does include a beginning, a middle, and an end.
It demands it.