Single issue issues

Ah, the single issue format. Clearly the single issue I’m obsessed with at the moment. But in fairness, it’s a debate that doesn’t rage quite as fiercely as it ought to. So after the positivity of the last two posts, let’s explore a few of my pet peeves, all of which I’ve had inflicted upon me in recent weeks.

4. Jam issues – Paul O’Brien’s thoughts on the matter perfectly encapsulate how I feel. What is the point of jam issues, exactly? Who do they benefit, given that they don’t benefit the reader? The approach almost never enhances a story, or in the case of All-New X-Men #25 results in inessential filler, which means you’re selling people an inferior product just for the cachet of saying “look how many fantastic creators are working on this issue!” So the publisher gets bragging rights, a higher-than-normal quota of people get paid for their work, and the reader gets something like All-New X-Men #25, which contains a few shining moments amidst a whole heap of pointlessness. For $1 extra. Thanks guys!

3. Fake-out oversized issues – Ah yes. In this instance, the pleasure of picking up a hefty floppy (apologies for the imagery) is mitigated once you get about halfway through and realise that a huge chunk of it is filler. So is the case with Superior Spider-man #31. With a cover price of $5.99 for the final issue of the series, it seemed natural to assume that the creators wanted extra pages to tie up their story in a satisfactory manner (that’s certainly what the issue solicitation implies, albeit by omission). Not the case: aside from a handful of extra main story pages, the remainder of the issue consists of a Christos Gage/Will Slaney coda featuring material that could have been tackled in the upcoming Amazing Spider-man relaunch, as well as the Silver Surfer story from All-New Marvel NOW! Point One #1. No complaints on the latter front (as I’ve previously discussed, it’s a great way of promoting titles that could use an extra push), but padding the page count with unsolicited content from unsolicited creators is poor form.

2. Unexpected price rises – Want to finish reading Forever Evil? Well, you’ll have to pony up an extra dollar for the final issue. It’s a massively cynical move – DC knows that just about everyone who has bought the preceding six issues is going to buy the seventh, and thus has decided to milk the fanbase for more money. The aforementioned Superior Spider-man #31 fits into this category, too, albeit with the extra material serving as a flimsy justification for the increased price. Either way, not a good method of engendering goodwill from paying customers.

1. Fill-in issues – I direct you to Tom Brevoort’s thoughts on the matter. His argument is thus: if issues are late some people complain, but if fill-in issues are released other people complain. In his own words, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Now, it seems to me that one way not to be damned would be to stick to the original schedule. If you release the solicited issue on the solicited date, people have no reason to complain. Of course this isn’t possible 100% of the time, but I’m honestly not sure where he gets the idea that people will be heading to Marvel HQ with pitchforks in hand if an issue is one or two weeks late.

But if an issue is running even later, serious questions have to be asked of everyone working on the title, from publisher to writer to editor to letterer to artists. Why promise a monthly schedule if you can’t deliver it, or if the creators involved can’t stick to it? Why hire creators who can’t deliver work to a monthly schedule for a title you want to release on a monthly schedule? That’s not the reader’s fault, it’s the publisher’s, so why release peevish statements that suggest the reader’s expectations are to blame?

Fill-in issues are a poor substitute for what was originally solicited. At this point, no-one is reading Superior Foes of Spider-man because they’re happy to snap up anything featuring Spider-man’s Z-list enemies. They’re reading it because Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have crafted an offbeat story that’s unlike anything else Marvel is publishing, a low stakes screwball comedy with an original voice and a unique visual style. But two fill-in issues later – #10 was perfunctory, #11 was crap – as a reader it’s hard not to feel as though Marvel is more interested in my money than in delivering the title it originally promised. #9, the last issue by the regular creative team, was released on March 12, 2014. #11 was released on April 9, 2014. Why the hell has Marvel felt the need to release two fill-in issues in less than a month? The answer is as depressing as it is obvious: they like money, and know that people reading the series aren’t likely to skip these issues.

When I finally get round to writing my piece/essay/treatise on why I’m almost entirely abandoning the single issue format, one of the reasons will be so that Marvel and DC get less of my money. Because honestly, when they treat readers in the ways described above, it becomes pretty clear that they don’t deserve it.

Review: All-New X-Men #10

In All-New X-Men #10, the Uncanny X-Men show up at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning on a recruitment drive, which doesn’t go down well with Wolverine and faculty but does result in a few defections (one of which is left as a cliffhanger, although there are enough clues along the way to make it obvious who it is). Meanwhile, the subplot with Mystique, Sabretooth, and Lady Mastermind continues to build, with the trio of villains amassing a large sum of money by robbing banks. Their illegal activities are having the added side effect of stirring up anti-mutant sentiment, a concept Marvel seems keen to reintroduce now that new mutants are springing up again.

As has become the norm for this series, it’s another talky affair; the only action scene is an illusory fake-out, and the rest of the pages are given over to people having conversations on a front lawn (as happened in Uncanny X-Men #3, come to think of if). But that’s actually fair enough, given that the title doesn’t star a combat team and that much of the tension of this issue is based on the possibility of violence breaking out between the two factions.

By this point Brian Michael Bendis has a decent grip on the cast – his take on Emma Frost has noticeably improved since the early issues, I’m particularly fond of his Kitty Pryde, and the character work across the board is strong. And whilst Stuart Immonen’s strength with action sequences has largely been underutilised thus far, he handles the quieter moments ably, injecting a sense of vibrancy into even the most static of scenes.

The only drawback is that I’m beginning to wonder if the title hasn’t drifted away from its supposed premise. The hook at the beginning was that the original X-Men have been brought to the future in an attempt to show present day Cyclops just how far he has fallen. This issue touches upon that, with his younger self confronting him, but unsurprisingly the older Scott Summers isn’t interested in being lectured by a teenager. Which is perfectly reasonable – what self-respecting adult would take advice from their teenage self? But dismissing the arguments of the original X-Men so easily fundamentally undermines their function: by all appearances, they’ve failed in their intended mission, meaning there is no compelling reason for them to not just go back to their own time. The next few issues really need to establish the direction All-New X-Men will be moving in going forward whilst injecting a newfound sense of purpose.