Thursday, July 9, 2009

Can Marvel & DC make it any more confusing?

One reason comics have limited and even lost their audience is the tendency of the Big Two to create cross-over stories that take an unusual amount of dedication to simply find the books. Storylines flip-flop through various series, rely on seemingly unrelated stories and use non-obvious or even incoherent numbering/naming. (The most infamous and controversial recent example is the killing of Max Lord being shuffled to an issue of Wonder Woman rather than Infinite Crisis. The manager of my comics store gave me a heads-up because otherwise I and most readers would have no idea a major story event happened somewhere completely else. She told me to just stand there and read it.) I'm not even sure what the publishers are thinking. I get the idea of a big event story or even smaller ones that affect several characters but how can this be a good way to read the books? One unintentional effect is that many people will just wait for the trade rather than trying to pick their way through the maze. After the first flush of movement into the trade market a few years ago the Big Two continue to show that they just don't understand it, despite this most likely being their real future.

For instance, some current Marvels advertise Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia which will alternate between two issues each of those titles. Fair enough even though this is usually pretty annoying to me if you're only reading one series. But Utopia has more traps. It starts with an issue titled Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia before the four regular series issues and then concludes with one called Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus. So if you read Dark Avengers #7 will you already be in a story that started with Utopia? And I'm guessing that there's something to tell you the story ends in the Exodus issue. But that's not all. Marvel decided to add an epilogue called Dark X-Men: The Confession #1. Why is an epilogue numbered 1? I'm guessing the event leads to a new ongoing though I can't find confirmation - in any case that probably wouldn't be the title (confession?). Basically we end up with a seven-part story that appears in comics with five different titles, only two of which are sequential. I didn't even mention the tie-ins: three issues of Dark X-Men: The Beginning and two of X-Men: Legacy (the latter was previously called New X-Men and before that X-Men but is not the same as the series called The X-Men aka The Uncanny X-Men - clearly Marvel doesn't have a marketing department or even much common sense).

I recently read a one-shot called Timestorm 2009-2099: Spider-Man which teamed the two dates' Spider-Men and should have been the kind of goofy time-travelling thing I'm a sucker for. The issue even says "one-shot" on the cover and has a #1 but the opening page is several paragraphs of text explaining how we got to this point in the story. Uh, what? A one-shot that continues another story? It gets worse. The issue does come to something of a conclusion but not entirely since it apparently continues in another "one-shot" devoted to the X-Men. Apparently these are related to a Timestorm mini-series that I had successfully ignored but the whole thing shows poor planning.

Something similar to the Utopia mess happened with the New Krypton story. Ten issues spread among four series (Superman, Supergirl, Action, Adventure) is bad enough but there it started with a Superman - New Krypton Special (this isn't counting a lead-in that appeared as Superman's Pal - Jimmy Olsen Special). And part three of the story was Adventure Comics Special - The Guardian. Admittedly the Guardian issue was completely worthless but still that's not exactly making this easier to follow. I heard from some comic store people that many readers missed issues or weren't clear about reading order despite the fact that they were trying to follow it. The issues did have a little diamond with the number of the reading order but that's all it was: a diamond and a number. The diamond didn't indicate "New Krypton" or anything that might tell you what it was for. (Turns out that this numbering has continued into current issues of those series though I'm not sure if there's some kind of meta-story, haven't been reading them since even though I read New Krypton it wasn't interesting enough to continue.)

When it came to the recent Battle for the Cowl event DC tried to follow recent thinking that the story should be in a separate series as well as any tie-ins so that a reader can read just the basic series and have all they need but then pick up anything else that seems interesting. Which I appreciate and so far managed to avoid most of the Secret Invasion and Final Crisis tie-ins. But the final issue of Battle for the Cowl relied so much on the tie-ins that I had to go back to see if I'd actually read the previous issue.