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.

A whole load of X-Men

I started this post as the Image Comics Expo was taking place, and found it impossible not to get distracted. Stunning creative teams developing unique high concepts for a publisher that is already releasing some of the best comics around. It felt like a real statement of intent from Image: we want to properly compete with Marvel and DC for your money, and we’re going to do that by bombarding the market with books you’re not going to be able to resist buying. What an excellent strategy!

Anyway, back to that massive haul of comicbooks I recently retrieved from the family home. There’s a fairly random mishmash of Uncanny X-Men and X-Men in the piles pictured above, running from the early 1990s (just after Chris Claremont left the books) to the early 2000s (including Claremont’s disastrous return to the line), most of which was purchased on eBay a few years back during a period when I was attempting to fill in gaps in my collection. There’s also a few Uncanny X-Men Annuals, a couple of Onslaught one-shots, and the New X-Men and X-Factor instalments of the Messiah Complex crossover.

Then there’s Gambit volume 3 #2-6, #8-9, and #12. Launched in 1999, Fabian Nicieza did a great job writing the character, and for the majority of its 25 issue run it was the best X-Men book around (which isn’t saying much given the quality of the other titles at the time, but still). Cancelled as of issue #25 (just a few short months before Grant Morrison redefined the X-Men concept), it remains the longest running Gambit series. Alas, volume 5 won’t be challenging it for that accolade, having been cancelled with #17.

Oh, and not forgetting X-Force volume 1 #1. Actually, maybe we will forget it. Which is fairly easy for me, given that I’ve never read it.

Review: New Comics – Sunday April 7, 2013

Age of Ultron #4 – The pace picks up a little this issue, as the separate groups of surviving superheroes manage to escape America and head to the Savage Land. Given how little has actually happened by this point, the decision to gloss over their presumably dangerous journeys from various points of the US to Antarctica with an “eight days later” caption seems baffling to me, especially after the previous three issues were almost entirely given over to building the tone of the story at the expense of tangible developments.

At least Bryan Hitch has a little more to do this time out. After three issues where he was mainly depicting rubble and destruction, there’s a bit more variety to the locales he’s asked to draw, and his version of the Savage Land feels suitably exotic, even if we only get a glimpse of it.

Almost in spite of myself, I remain interested in seeing where the story is going now that the first act is over and the plot seems ready to kick into gear. Still, it’s difficult to shake the sense that this is a non-essential event story which, at 10 issues, has been artificially stretched beyond its natural life.

Indestructible Hulk #6 – Bruce Banner’s continued efforts to put his scientific knowledge to positive use prompt an exploratory trip to Jotunheim, realm of the Frost Giants, where he believes he’ll find a metal that could help eliminate Earth’s dependency on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the inhabitants aren’t too happy about his appearance. Thor (albeit not the present day version) turns up to offer an assist, but he’s soon dispatched so the issue can end with Hulk lifting Thor’s enchanted hammer, Mjolnir.

Mark Waid is clearly having fun with this title, which seems uninterested in any bigger picture. The previous two issues were an excuse for Hulk to fight villains underwater, whilst this arc does basically the same thing but in a mythical setting. The traditional setup of Hulk books – Bruce Banner on the run from the authorities, with Hulk an unwanted presence who threatens to break out at the least opportune moments – never allowed much room for levity, but by turning that on its head and making him an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Waid is free to explore the character of Banner from a different angle (as a genius scientist who would’ve surpassed everyone in the Marvel Universe but for his anger issues) whilst setting Hulk loose in situations where he can genuinely do some good, leaving the reader to sit back and enjoy the destruction.

Walt Simonson turns up on art, which given his history with Thor is a nice touch. There’s a definite retro slant to his work without it feeling dated, and most importantly it is full of the energy needed to propel this kind of story. Another good issue.

Superior Spider-man #7 – When first announced, the ‘Doctor Octopus has taken over Peter Parker’s body’ development didn’t really interest me, despite my faith in Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos as creators. But the positive buzz surrounding the relaunch started to win me round. I managed to pick up #6 by mistake, after it found its way into my standing order stack without me noticing, but I was planning to hop on board with this issue anyway.

The plot revolves around the vigilante Cardiac, whose criminal activities belie his positive agenda – he steals Kirbytech so that he can provide innovative medical treatment to people the hospitals can’t or won’t treat. However, whilst Peter Parker knows this and sympathises, Otto Octavious sees things more black and white, and has no qualms about taking him down – with lethal force if necessary. Meanwhile, Parker’s mind is still buried deep within his body, but starts to break through just a little in this outing. The issue ends with a confrontation with the Avengers, who are concerned about their teammate’s recent behaviour, and want to medically assess him to make sure he is who he says he is – which of course is the last thing Octavious wants to happen.

The issue is a nice subversion of the typical ‘hero learns that the criminal vigilante actually has a selfless purpose’ plot. Slott’s approach to Spider-man has always been traditional, combining a humorous slant, plentiful inner monologues, and subplots bubbling away in the background, but when done well that really is the best thing for the character. Meanwhile, Ramos has toned down his tendency toward distortion a little since his X-Men days, and the results are wonderful – his artwork is still exaggerated, but the cartoony look perfectly suits the title. I’m officially on board.

Thanos Rising #1 – The problem with writing a miniseries based on a supervillain is simple: how do you make the reader care about a character whose stock and trade is evil? Jason Aaron treads familiar ground by starting with Thanos’ birth and moving him through to adolescence, showing how the actions of other people helped push him down a bad path. His mother rejects him at birth due to his strange appearance, believing him to be evil, and his father is too preoccupied with his own work to pay his son any attention. In a neat twist, his classmates embrace his differences, but the manipulations of a mystery character mean Thanos’ innocent, trusting nature ends up having tragic consequences.

Aaron’s strength here is in crafting a nature vs. nurture story featuring a number of well-trodden archetypes and somehow making it feel fresh. He doesn’t overplay the more inherently melodramatic scenes, and tweaks the formula just enough that the end result is satisfying without being derivative. Simone Bianchi’s art is strong, selling the Eternals as alien beings that followed a similar evolutionary path to humans, and Simone Peruzzi’s muted colours help ground the story as more of a coming of age tale than fantasy. Unfortunately, the most important page of the entire issue falls a little flat; depicting the moment that helped change Thanos’ outlook toward life, it doesn’t quite capture the horror of the incident. Whilst that’s likely because of the “teens and up” rating rather than any failing on the creators’ part, it’s still a little disappointing. Nevertheless, this is a very solid opening issue that does a good job creating empathy for a character we know grows up to be a bad guy.

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.

What the Postman Bringeth! #1

This week I went a little crossover crazy. Firstly, I bought the entirety of the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover, spanning Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, and X-Factor. Brilliantly, all 12 issues were still in the sealed bags they were originally packaged in, way back in 1992-93. Secondly, I picked up the four issues of the untitled X-Men/Ghost Rider crossover from 1992, which ran through X-Men #8-9 and Ghost Rider #26-27.

Now, the 1990s X-Men era is not a popular one. Dropped plots, endless crossovers, editorial interference, and the over-expansion of the line resulted in a lot of comics that are not fondly remembered. Nevertheless, it’s my era – the point at which I first came to comics – and so naturally I have a certain affection for it.

Back in the 21st century, with people raving about the new Hawkeye series, I figured I’d pick up the first volume of the trade to see what all the fuss is about. It’s always exciting when a couple of talented creators take a B-list character and craft a viable ongoing series, so Matt Fraction and David Aja deserve a lot of credit. Here’s hoping it lives up to expectations.

Finally, I’m not entirely sure what inspired me to buy The New Eternals: Apocalypse Now, a spur-of-the-moment purchase of a title I didn’t even know existed until I stumbled across it on eBay. I guess developments in Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force and Uncanny Avengers have reinvigorated my interest in Apocalypse as a character, and hopefully this one-shot will delve into the complicated minutiae of his existence.

What’s in the boxes?

As mentioned in my previous post, X-Men material accounts for the bulk of the content. Uncanny X-Men and X-Men are well-represented; of the 800+ issues of the two titles, I currently own somewhere in the region of 600 (although that total does include trade paperbacks). Another highlight is the entirety of Brian K. Vaughan’s Ultimate X-Men, an excellent run that ranks amongst the best the line has ever seen. Also present: several miniseries, including X-Men: Deadly Genesis and X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong.

As for the rest, there’s a fair chunk of the first 50 issues of The Walking Dead (which will probably be making their way to eBay in the near future, given the success of the TV show); a significant proportion of Ultimate Spider-man; around 50 issues or so of Amazing Spider-man, starting from the Brand New Day relaunch; and all eight issues of Secret Invasion. Not the most eclectic mix, especially considering the odds and ends that I’ve accumulated over the years, but plenty enough to keep me busy.