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Issue #330

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #330

MOVING TO TRADES?

I have far too many comic books. They litter an increasingly large footprint. They cascade down piles and cease to fit neatly into long boxes. They have no more place to run and hide. There’s just too many. I buy anywhere from 10 or 20 of them a week and read a half dozen right away, saving the rest for “when the story is complete,” never exactly making it to that mythological place. Occasionally, I’ll drop a series from my pull list because the backlog has become too great and it would take too much time to play catch up.

I find myself thinking of that pipedream we’ve talked about for years, where series cease to be monthly and come out in thick volumes when individual stories are complete, in regular intervals. It’s the whole “Supermanga” theory again. I look at my pull list and see what titles I’m getting and how they are available, and I realize that the time might finally be right to make a move towards complete stories and trade paperbacks.

I took a look tonight at the last 20 comics I’ve purchased and notice that 15 of them are guaranteed trades, or have had trades of recent storylines published. Others are iffier. It doesn’t look like BAD GIRLS, for example, will ever be collected in a trade. The six issue mini-series has been cut down to five, and low sales is the educated guess for why that happened. But would it really be so bad to not own that mini-series? Isn’t there enough to read already? I could read AVENGERS, the ULTIMATE titles, ASTRO CITY, Y: THE LAST MAN, and most of the others about once every six months in a collected form. ASTRO CITY will take a little bit longer, but I’ll probably get a hardcover out of that, in return.

In some cases, the trades will be cheaper. In others, it’ll cost slightly more. (Check out the price points on most Marvel trades.) I probably wouldn’t save much space for the comics, themselves. Six issues in a trade takes up about the same space as six issues in “floppies.” I’d save space and money on bags and boards, though.

I’ve already started in small numbers. I’m reading UNCANNY X-MEN as it comes out in trades. I’ve moved to the hardcovers for PUNISHER after the second volume came out. If another hardcover never presents itself, I know there will still be the trades available to read. I gave up on the bi-monthly installments of BONE a year or two ago.

But I can push it further now with more examples. WOLVERINE is an easy choice. Greg Rucka writes in solid story arcs that always read best when done in one sitting. I’m reading QUEEN AND COUNTRY that way now. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN isn’t the same book that Jenkins used to write when Mark Buckingham was in there, but I’m still enjoying it. It just doesn’t float its way to the top of my reading list immediately on the weeks it comes out. I can move that to a trade on my reading list. THE AVENGERS I enjoy when I do get around to reading it, but I’m behind on it again. Trades are just about guaranteed there. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has been available in trades since JMS started. I think I can switch over after issue #500.

Some decisions are harder: I really like Y: THE LAST MAN every month. Waiting six months would be difficult. Bendis’ ULTIMATE titles and ALIAS and POWERS are all best-selling trades, but I can’t imagine giving those up every month. POWERS gets extra points for the funny letters columns. The CrossGen books are iffy, in light of recent financial difficulties. Warren Ellis recently indicated that DC isn’t all that interested, financially, in reprinting three issue story arcs. Some of his mini-series may thus not be reprinted for awhile, if ever. The best chance to get them is to buy the issues as they come out. If I don’t also buy the trades further down the road, I won’t be taking up extra space for the same story. Maybe the point of this whole column is that you should read what you choose to read in the best possible form it is available in.

There are scattered one-shots and independent books that benefit from my monthly purchases. The one-shots might never see reprint as part of a larger whole. The independent books may need every individual sale to keep them going. Cash flow is a bigger issue there.

The manga titles that I read are monthly trades already. LUPIN III, BATTLE ROYALE, and IRON WOK JAN can still be regular parts of my reading material in the form they’re already in. I’ve always read BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL in trade form, also, since I started so late to it. It’s not like there will be larger collections of those collections.

Then there are companies like AiT/PlanetLar and Oni Press, who both get my dollars for their original graphic novels over anything else.

I find myself now in the position where I could relatively easily drop half my monthly reading load in favor of their eventual trade paperback reprints. The only thing I have to hope for is that this bookstore market keeps up and the publishers are going with this trade economy for the long haul. What if this is just the latest phase of a continuously sinking industry? If something goes wrong and trade programs pull up short, there might be problems.

Right now, though, I’m excited at the idea of a weekly shopping list consisting of a half-dozen monthly titles and a couple or three trades. I won’t be anywhere near that yet, but I’m moving more in that direction. It’s not just talk anymore.

Now I just need to find ways to manage the stacks of comics I have here right now. Details, details.

SPEAKING OF COLLECTIONS

NEX X-MEN VOLUME 2 is the latest hardcover from the Grant Morrison-revived mutant franchise. Whereas UNCANNY X-MEN strikes me as a character-based soap opera in which plot takes a back seat, NEW X-MEN strikes me as a proving grounds for Morrison’s much-vaunted high concepts, but at the cost of the character development. How this affects your buying decision is all a matter of taste. I prefer the character stuff, so this book disappointed me in some ways. Some of its concepts and their execution made up for that, though.

X-MEN is a tough gig to take. It’s Marvel’s #1 franchise, even more so now with the successful movie franchise. But it’s always been about the illusion of change. Magneto dies and comes back. The Sentinels are destroyed and rebuilt. Professor X walks, then he’s back to a wheelchair, and then he walks again. Scott and Jean love each other, then they aren’t so sure. Then they get back together. We see all of that in Morrison’s NEW X-MEN, but it’s better hidden underneath a new status quo of the Xavier Institute as a full-fledged educational environment for teenaged mutants, with the X-Men founders on board as teachers. The public is aware of them, and the ramifications for that are partially explored. Morrison ups the sex ante, including a telepathic affair and budding young love of a mutant kind in the woods behind the school.

Morrison finds ways to explore his new ideas by introducing a fresh batch of new mutants. These aren’t merely humans with funny powers, but fully mutated beings that look like strange creations of a 1950s horror movie experiment. You have disembodied brains, quintet telepaths, see-through blobs with skeletons, and more. Their biggest problem is that their powers and positions are so interesting and so well examined that their personalities get left behind. The “Riot At Xavier’s” storyline is the closest the characters come to being emotionally charged, if not sympathetic. Even then, though, it’s mostly under someone else’s control.

While there are a couple of isolated single-issue stories, they aren’t character builders. They emphasize a theme of mutant isolationism and separation. It isn’t until the last few issues of this second volume that I even cared about the characters or thought their personalities mattered one bit. Even the much-vaunted “Riot” storyline took place at an emotional distance, where the only question was what combination of tricks would fix the situation.

There are a couple of exceptions to all of this. This biggest is Morrison’s pet project: the Scott Summers/Emma Frost relationship. It weaves in and out of all the storylines in this volume, before coming to a head about three-quarters of the way in. I’d add Jean Grey to this mix, but her Phoenix powers are more a means to an end, and never really add up to much. In fact, it’s the least of the ideas. Morrison may know what he’s doing with the powers as he’s writing, but they didn’t come across all that well to me.

The revolving door at the Artists Entrance also proved to be a distraction. I liked Phil Jimenez’s work the most, but you also get story arcs in this book from Frank Quitely and Igor Kordey, plus issues from John Paul Leon, Keron Grant, and Ethan Van Sciver. The book only holds 12 issues of story, but uses five different artists. This isn’t an anthology book. Some artists work better for their storylines than others. Leon does a great job with his story. Jimenez’s art is clean, powerful, and consistent. Kordey’s art was produced at such a frantic pace that even Kordey practically apologized for it recently.

There’s one other point I need to bring up about the art. I never made much out of the Internet furor over Marvel’s desire to make the comic book Wolverine look more like the movie version of the character. In this book, though, I see now where all the furor came from. Wolverine goes from looking like the Ultimate version of the character in one issue to being a Hugh Jackman clone in the next, his last appearance for the volume. I didn’t like either. Keep the Ultimate look in the Ultimate books, and let Hugh Jackman dominate the look in the movies. Comics are their own thing and should have their own look.

A bigger problem with the collection is that it ends on a cliffhanger. It stops in the middle of a story arc revolving around a murder mystery. I don’t want to wait a year to see the conclusion to this one, but I’m not going to let that work out in Marvel’s favor by buying a trade, either. I’ll just remember to reread these last couple of chapters before opening up Volume 3, whenever that should be solicited.

The hardcover book, itself, looks and feels great. The oversized pages add to the hyper-detailed art. The use of the covers as issue breaks works well. There’s even a nice step-by-step explanation of how the comic is put together. You can see the pencils, inks, and colors that way. For $30, it’s a nice package. This is Marvel’s best format decision in the 15 years that I’ve been reading comics. It has all the quality of the Marvel Masterworks volumes, but without the expensive price point.

NEW X-MEN is a cool comic that shines for its fresh ideas. Sometimes, though, I’d like to see more of a focus on how those ideas affect the characters more. It’s just a personal preference. If you feel like you’ve seen all that can be seen with characters that have been put through an improbably soap opera-like existence for forty years, then this might be right up your alley.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday, October 14.

Various and Sundry has been updated all week with a look at FRIENDS, THE FAR SIDE, news of the return of THE AMAZING RACE, an update on AMERICAN IDOL, problems with the music on the second season DVDs for DAWSON’S CREEK, and a lot of oddball bits of news and links. (C’mon, you know you want to see Kirk fight Picard!)

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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