Comics and Context (#SFWApro)

One of the problems with reading TPBs plucked off the shelf at the library (or for that matter browsing individual issues at Barnes & Noble) is the lack of context, compared to when I read them regularly.
First off, I’m less likely to know or have any emotional attachment to the character. I tried reading an issue of Avengers Arena but the protagonists are a group of characters I don’t know at all so their struggles and internal relationships didn’t hook me. Browsing a reboot issue of Teen Titans worked better for me as I knew at least the past versions of the characters.
Second off, if there’s an overall story arc, I may not know what it is. Though neither of those is necessarily fatal: I’ve picked up TPBs in the middle of story arcs or with unfamiliar characters and enjoyed them (e.g., Atomic Robo). But it’s definitely a factor (I have much more appreciation for the idea continuity can be a barrier to new readers than I used to, though I also think the argument’s far from conclusive).
And third there are cases when they’re part of some grand story arc or company wide Big Event. Removed from context, like BATMAN: Gotham Underground, they often feel a little pointless. I don’t get the satisfaction of reading the payoff (that book led into the Salvation Run miniseries which I don’t have, and didn’t care for much in any case) and after a few years whatever Big Sweeping Changes were triggered have usually faded away.
That said, in rereading my personal Green Lantern and Flash collections, I’ve read crossovers into big events past, I haven’t had that problem. Mostly because they stand on their own—they play into the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Millennium, but they have their own internal arcs and a resolution. So maybe if a story doesn’t work in context, it’s the fault of the story, or of the big event. Case in point, my recent reading of Amazing Spider-Man: American Son by Joe Kelly and Utopia: Avengers-Xmen by multiple creators, both set during Marvel’s Dark Reign era of a few years back.
The premise was that Norman Osborne, the former Green Goblin, has saved the world from an alien invasion. As a result, he’s wound up the supreme overlord of America’s national-security apparatus, outlawed heroes who don’t cooperate (during this period, super-heroes had to register with the government) and created his own team of Avengers composed of bad guys (Wolverine’s son as Wolverine, Bullseye as Hawkeye, the Void as the Sentry, Norman fighting as Iron Patriot).
In the Spidey tie-in, Norman’s trying to recruit his son Harry to the team; Spider-Man is trying in both his identities to talk Harry out of it. The Avengers/X-Men story has anti-mutant riots in San Francisco lead to Osborne proclaiming martial law and trying to shut the mutants down.
Dark Reign didn’t impress me much—even though my comics store let me browse freely, I skimmed most of the issues when it was coming out. Reading now that it’s all over, it falls even more flat, plus it’s been long enough I was fairly confused (I’d forgotten the Avengers weren’t themselves). So I wasn’t blown away by either book, but the Spider-Man entry was reasonably readable. The struggle between Norman and Peter for Harry’s heart gives it an emotional core.
Utopia just reminds me of all the reasons I dropped most of the X-books in the 1990s. Fight scenes which are pretty much mindless spectacle, mutant and human clashing, mutants proclaiming they’re not going to take it any more, tons of supporting characters who get zero chance to show any personality … in short, a murky tedious mess.
Being read out of context doesn’t help, but even if I’d read it when it came out, I’d have thumbed it down.

1 Comment

Filed under Comics, Reading

One response to “Comics and Context (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: More TPBS | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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