Extensive series limit reader opportunities
IÂ often hear from non-comic book readers that they donât read comics not out of a lack of interest, but out of intimidation over where to begin.
This complaint isnât completely unwarranted.
Narrative arcs within various series can be complex and many people donât want to just jump into the middle of a story. After all, there are more than 650 issues of the Amazing Spider-Man, and even to the well-versed reader, the X-Men storylineâs continuity is jokingly described as a mess.
Even if there is a comic that someone wants to read, the fear of having to read the back issues might be overwhelming.
Comic book companies have attempted to address these concerns to attract new readers, but new readership accessibility comes as a catch-22. Every year the âBig Twoâ â DC and Marvel â launch brand-new series. The problem, however, is that these are almost always tied to that yearâs big crossover storyline.
Marvelâs Siege miniseries was a culmination of half a decade of stories, and it led to a series of books under the âHeroic Ageâ banner, almost all of which play out of events from Siege that new readers might not be familiar with.
Similarly, even after â spoiler alert â DC Comics âkilled offâ Bruce Wayne after Final Crisis, the new group of comics all continued in the contextual aftermath of that series and Grant Morrisonâs Batman RIP storyline. In that sense, it seems as if almost every new series needs some basic understanding of what has come before.
This is really a problem that only applies to comics set within a long, continuous plotline; these are series that have been going on for years and are designed to keep going.
On the other hand, series such as Vertigo titles DMZ or more independent ones such as Scott Pilgrim have fixed endpoints. Theyâre meant to be read from the start; thatâs really the only jumping-on point.
The issue is that as a creative industry, comic book companies want to show growth and progression of characters and stories. Episodic procedurals donât really appeal to most dedicated readers, so stories instead build on one another, characters, age and mythos and continuity develop.
Itâs a lot like watching Lost. For those following along, itâs great. For those who arenât, itâs a pain.
Itâs not as if comic book companies donât try to draw in new readers. Superhero movies and other films based on comic books, such as Sin City or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, come out every year. And every year, comic industries re-release the comics or put out new storylines and series to draw in moviegoers. Sometimes they work, but in many cases the series are still marred by a wall of the overwhelming undertaking of large series.
At the turn of the century, Marvel launched its Ultimate line, taking iconic characters such as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and giving them fresh starts, disregarding previous storylines.
These were reinvented for the new millennium and unencumbered by past stories. These series, however, soon built up their own continuity, making it increasingly more difficult for new readers to pick up in the middle of any given series.
DC Comics tried a big gamble to pick up new readers last year by launching its âNew 52.â It was a complete re-launch of its line, with every series starting with a new number one and new storylines to get readers engaged.
Some of these work. Scott Snyderâs Batman is very open to the uninitiated, but Green Lantern still plays on the story elements from the last few years. Still, it showed a full commitment to getting more people into comics.
Comic books unfortunately have a very limited reader base. But with the popularity of superhero movies, blockbusters and a resurgence of the horror genre, comics are more sought after than ever. And with the digital world making them easily available, there needs to be more effort from the companies to clearly offer opportunities for new readers to jump on. This doesnât have to come at the expense of continuity or story; comics just need to stop being so insular.
Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column âPanel to Panelâ runs Thursdays.