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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:



I’m often puzzled by things I read on the internet. Like how critics or reviewers “struggle” to get through work they clearly don’t like in the slightest. I guess they’re compelled to. But man, why would a regular reader do that? Maybe I’m stingier with my time and if something’s not clicking, I’m likely to leave it by the wayside, no matter how many people say I’m making the mistake of a lifetime. Sometimes I come back to such works later and things click, but that’s not always the case. Or even often.

If the movie is torture, then don’t watch it. Easy. I’m not big on consuming something because it’s good for me. Again, you may not have the demands on your time that I do (says I as the Labrador lies across my feet in an effort to get me to notice that it’s been all of three hours since I exercised it last). Consume all the stuff you want or don’t want to, then. But please don’t complain how hard it was to get through to the end when you magically though it’d fix itself. Things go wrong at the ending more often than not. It’s like adding kids to a marriage that’s already crumbling. Don’t do it.

Another thing that I find confusing is when people who are clearly and squarely steeped in mainstream comics, over a lifetime of reading, say things like “superhero comics are not inaccessible.” People, that’s a lie. If you’ve been following them for more than ten years, you cannot say things like that and expect to be taken seriously. Just get that thought out of your head. Because the fact is that most superhero comics aimed at readers of ages 15+ are indeed largely opaque. Accept it. Own it.

It’s not an all bad thing. That means that stories can be spread out over six months and you won’t have all the distracting in-story continuity reminders (often referred to sneeringly as “exposition.”) The expectation is that you the reader has the job of bringing yourself up to speed. The recap pages help a bit, but they can’t do it all. There’s years of backstory (though often the reader will only need a passing familiarity with things to get by) to process.

Of course, this even assumes you know which book to pick up if you want to read a simple SPIDER-MAN story. How many Spider-Man comics are coming out in a month? Are the stories still being spread across three different titles or if you pick up #445, will you be okay having just read #444? WEB OF or plain vanilla SPIDER-MAN? Personally I’d recommend MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN, but you may have to work to find it. Stories are in and out, done in one. Minimal continuity, tell the story, move along.

This is not to say that multiple-issue stories are a bad thing. They’re not. 22 pages isn’t enough to tell more than the most barebones story and have any room to fill out character. Six stories of 22 pages each are harder to write than a single story of 122 pages. This is a simple fact. So my hat’s off to the writers who can do done-in-ones month in and out.

However, just because you can answer without thinking as to which issue of which SPIDER-MAN is the most “current” issue of the ongoing story doesn’t mean that a kid (even a smart kid) is able to figure out where to start. The recent example given is that NAURTO is easier to catch up on than SPIDER-MAN, even though NARUTO has some forty volumes out there. But you know, they’re numbered one to forty, right there on the spine. Pretty sure that SPIDER-MAN hasn’t attempted anything like that, even in the ESSENTIALS FORMAT, because you still have the troubling problem of AMAZING or PETER PARKER? Which SPIDER-MAN is on first?

“I dug the movie, now what?”
“Wish I had a good answer for ya, kid. Here, try this MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN. Read the issue with Goom. It’s funny.”
“Thanks, creepy old guy.”
“Don’t mention it. And I’m not that old!”

Oh, and Marvel isn’t alone in this. How many Batman books? How many Superman books? How many books to get the story from FINAL CRISIS? Tell you what, just read ALL-STAR SUPERMAN instead. You’ll be happier for it.

I don’t begrudge the publisher’s desire to make some money from their properties. I do, however, take issue with the fact that it does make things harder for new readers to jump in. And this is no old problem. Same thing with X-MEN back in the day. Most of the books didn’t really have enough of an individual identity to really make it evident which way the new people should jump. So they read SANDMAN instead. Some of ‘em even kept reading comics after that ended.

Some of them even became initiated into the weekly readership of comics. They gathered trivia on their favorite characters, they know where Jean Grey committed suicide (or whether it was a clone that did it, or if it’s a clone now, or something), they know that the new Captain America is going to be the Heroes Reborn Cap (which, by the way, will not get national attention—when you cast off the “hey, we’re new and more realistic comics”, you can’t use the old tricks to get people out of a case of the deads. Personally I hope it’s the TRUTH Cap, but I’m not taking money on it.) But when you know what even half of this means, it’s much, much trickier to say things like “comics are totally accessible” and be believable. HELLBOY is pretty accessible, assuming you can find someone to direct you to the currently-superior BPRD. Numbered spines work if you’re trying to spin a big yarn on a monthly and trade basis.

But please, understand that not everyone is the same as you. Some people don’t know Wolverine from Sabertooth. Some people don’t know the Hobgoblin from the Green Goblin. Some people think that SWAMP THING begins with Adrienne Barbeau and ends with Heather Locklear. And maybe they want to learn more about comics. Maybe they even want to learn more about superhero comics. So please, make it easier on those tender souls. 

Matt Maxwell

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