This actually started with a post on the Comic Book Resources Forums.
It was posted in the Image Comics section and it read, "I'm a DC/Marvel Guy, but I wanted to try something new. What would be a good comic that I wouldn't be confuzzled by that comics history?"
It's a fair question and it got me to thinking - what's happened to our comics? And I don't mean just Image comics - what's happened to all of our comics?
When I was a young man, buying back issues was nearly impossible. There were no comic book stores to be found and the local Rexall drug had one spinner rack with recent comics on it. If you missed an issue you were shit out of luck. There was an issue of the "Incredible Hulk" that I was convinced that they simply skipped because the pickle they'd gotten ol' greenskin into was such that it seemed impossible for him to have gotten out of.
Okay, that that was a bit of a digression.
But the point I started making and didn't quite get to was that comics used to catch you up to speed in as brief a period as possible. A simple caption and off you went. These days it seems there's simply too much to keep track of - or at least it seems that way.
How much is too much?
I was talking to a fellow a few years back who had picked up a then-recent issue of the "Avengers" and he found it somewhat baffling and to him what made it especially confusing was the summary of the previous issue. The information intended to clue readers in on what they missed in the previous yarn was, he felt, irrelevant to the story at hand and he thought it got in the way. It was too confusing for a new reader and unnecessary for an old reader who would have been familiar with the previous story. He felt a simple, "Well, I'm glad that ended so nicely" would have been enough. It would have told you that another adventure had come to an end without overwhelming the reader with irrelevant information that didn't add anything to the adventure at hand.
I wouldn't know. I skipped it entirely.
But there's a point to be made there. How much information do we really need?
When a reader picks up, say, "Batman," it's it's simply not possible for them to start at the start and, even if they did, the entire series really doesn't make sense as the continuing life story of one man. That being the case, it's necessary for writers to make things easy for readers to start reading. When Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee did their "Batman" yarn, the previous few years of Batman weren't required reading in order to grasp what was going on. And they shouldn't have to be. Ideally, readers should be able to jump on at any point and be entertained.
Ditto everything else.
I mean, the Savage Dragon had one mother of a back story, but it would be an insurmountable task to try and give readers the entirety of it each and every issue.
I was thinking about that a lot when I was writing the issue of "Savage Dragon" guest-starring the characters from Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' "Wanted" book. How much do I say? What's important? What do you, the reader, need to know about these guys? It was made even more complicated as I tried to work in characters and plot lines from the "She-Dragon" special. There ends up being multiple Earths, multiple dimensions and realities and even alternate versions of the same characters (to complicate things even more).
Is it enough to say, "This is Savage Dragon - he's he's a good guy" and, "These guys? Not so good"?
At what point do your eyes start glazing over and you start nodding off?
And when do things become unimportant? Again, as an example, the characters from "Wanted" make a guest appearance - how many need to be referred to by name? How important is it that you know what their powers are? How much do you need to know about their relationships with each other? Even in the "Wanted" series, the bulk of the characters went unnamed. They were window dressing or props. So, if it's not important there it must not be that important in my book. But where do you draw the line?
Prior to Alan Moore taking over "Swamp Thing," the previous writer found it necessary to recap Swamp Thing's origin in 17 out of 19 issues.
Seemed like overkill to me.
The biggest beef I hear, when readers talk about comics, is the intricacies of the given universes. A few years back, I wrote some comics at Marvel and DC and later wrote and drew some stuff at Marvel and I must admit that I felt thoroughly lost and in one case, I blew it in a spectacular fashion. I was just trying to revive sasquatch - how was I to know his past was such a quagmire?
I can just imagine how a reader might feel.
And how confusing it must be to a person who's read a few "Essential Spider-Man" books and tried to reconcile the events with those in the current run of "Amazing Spider-Man." It's no easy task. And asking any writer to wade through 40 to 70 years of comic book history is simply too much to ask for.
A possible solution might be to force writers who insist on tampering with past events to read the comics in question, but even that isn't infallible all the time.
And yeah, I get it, whoever's writing the book just wants to write an entertaining story, but in a universe where they pride themselves on continuity it really ought to make some sense.
Certainly, the comics from Image are not more cumbersome than those published elsewhere. I do think most people could simply pick up a title that strikes their fancy and try it out. In most cases, I think they'd be pleasantly surprised and, in many cases, relieved that there isn't a universe of back stories to get familiar with.
And for those books that have been going on a while, I think there being more available stories is terrific. If I tried out a book and enjoyed it, I'd be ticked pink to find out that there were over a hundred more issues of the book out there to read. I can recall trying to fill in runs of "Daredevil," the "Fantastic Four," "Kamandi," the "Demon," the Forth World books and the "Incredible Hulk." What a blast it was to hunt those down (this was, of course, sometime after my days haunting the Rexall drug in Fort Bragg, mind you - there were no back issues to be found in that establishment). These days I'm still trying to fill in a few runs here and there.
I don't mind trying to sort things out. Hell, I don't even mind being confused - I know that I'll get caught up to speed after a few issues.
But I'm not you. You may feel otherwise. Figuring you out is part of my job. Telling stories that keep you coming back for more is another part. Sometimes I do that pretty well, other times, not so well.
We're all doing the best we can.
But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.