I’ve never stopped collecting comics, but since moving away from Chicago and the best comic shop in the world, Amazing Fantasy, five + years ago, the way I read them has changed. But then the way a lot of us read them, and the way they are written, has also changed in the last ten or so years.
I used to go to A-F every Friday afternoon, hang out with Mike the store’s Mgr, and go home after an hour or so’s conversation to read my books for the week. When I moved I tried to find this same kind of atmosphere here in LALA Land it was to no avail – the shop I ended up going with for about a year occasionally missed books for my pull, a problem possibly resulting from the fact that the staff was often too busy playing RPG’s in the back half of the store to field questions or simply say ‘Hey’ (or apparently, pull the correct books for the correct customers). Around this same time was, to me, the point at which the industry itself really felt as though it had given itself over 100% to the write-for-the-trade technique. Now, this is not a bad thing, but concurrently I went back to Mike and set-up a once-a-month mailing system (they pull my books all month, then ship them to me last Wednesday of the cycle, free of S&H to me). With trades coming out shortly after six-month (i.e. issue) storylines finishing, a lot of readers I knew switched altogether from buying single issues to instead wait for trades. This seemed dangerous to me (still does) – if everyone does that how long before monthlies disappear? And really, reading comics monthly is a ritual that’s been with me since the fourth grade – even if only for nostalgia I long to preserve this ritual in light of everything else that has changed.
Then I started noticing that with a lot of the books I get, with my weekly cycle thwarted I still ended up waiting until the arcs finished before reading them. Part of this was because I began to feel like I didn’t remember nuances and even sometimes specifics from month to month. This may be a case of a couple decades worth of partying catching up to the ‘old brain or perhaps it wasn’t that at all. I talked to others and they seemed to have the same issues with reading monthlies. Then I realized that along with the write-for-the-trade M.O. a lot of the way we consume stories has changed with the times. TV shows write-for-the-season (mostly always have, but with a post-Sopranos emphasis on uber plots) and then many of us simply sit down and watch the season in a matter of days. Things are compressing with the way we ingest stories and I think it’s definitely affected how our brains handle the older methods of delivery for some of this stuff. With me going from weekly to monthly to six-months reading paradigms, the way I was reading was changing regardless of how I tried to keep it from doing just that.
Recently I became friends with a guy who works at another comic shop out here in the Southbay. Along with my monthly order, A-F always sends me a comp copy of both the regular and the Marvel Previews, and it is with those pieces as light bathroom reading that I keep abreast of most of what happens in the comics world at large. The Marvel previews regularly serves as good old fashioned eye-rolling fun, as I read about the convoluted hijinks of a lot of characters I once followed adamantly and eventually put aside in favor of non-franchise writing*. But now here was my new friend telling me I should come into the shop and check a few things out. He told me about a couple of titles he was currently into, all either Marvel or DC, and thought I should check them out. This seemed intriguing to me, the idea of having a place to pick up a few supplemental books weekly. So the other day I went in to the Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach.
I ended up leaving with more than I would have thought. It’s one thing to keep this stuff at bay when you’re not looking at it in person. It’s another when you’re in a shop and something jumps out and catches your eye. Maybe it was just me lamenting on not reading monthlies anymore, but here’s what I picked up even as I was eating my words.
SHIELD – I don’t have the slightest idea what some of this book is about yet, apparently it spins out of events over in Jonathan Hickman’s FF. I don’t think I’m ready to go as far as to read that, but strange and non-linear as it is, I’m digging this here SHIELD book. Admittedly part of that is no doubt because Nicola Tesla is a character, and other than Tesla being, to me, one of the most fascinating figures in history, I always love well-done alt history. What else can I say about this book? Um, Isaac Newton is a bad guy, Da Vinci a good guy, and Tony Stark and Reed Richard’s fathers are involved in this era-hopping, Morrison-esque secret society saga. I’m hoping this pays off – I’m not familiar with Hickman’s work and as much as I like this so far I feel there is definitely the danger that he may be aiming for a Morrison-like sense of non-linear clusterfuck, but could easily not make it. We’ll see.
Moon Knight – Brian Michael Bendis may be the most over-worked dude in comics right now, but he’s still got the chops. I liked the first couple of years of his New Avengers, until the continuity began to unravel the more Marvel forced one-after-the-other crossovers onto all the creators (and readers). I have a soft spot for Bendis when he works with brilliant Alex Maleev and sure enough, their take on ol’ Moony, while perhaps a little cumbersome in the exposition, seems interesting enough to keep me coming back to the team that gave us the remarkable Daredevil and Alias runs ten years ago and now the pretty hardcore Scarlett, which has been one of my monthly subscriptions through A-F since its inception. I’ve only read the first two Moony’s so far, so we’ll see, but I think this will work enough to keep me coming back.
Venom – This one was a bit harder to buy. Whenever I break character and delve into something like this from a big company I invariably have that moment where I think, ahh, ya got me! Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, etc, etc. But I’d been seeing the write-ups on the new Flash Thompson as Venom, working as a government super-solider for a while in those previews and somehow, someway, it looked interesting. I guess it’s because although I never read any of the Spider books full time I did read them off and on in the 80’s and Venom has always been a character that I LOVE. Unfortunately he is also a character that is almost NEVER done well, so usually we get something as grossly ridiculous as Venom: Lethal Protector (UG!). This new book though, while being kinda cartoony, well, I bought one issue and didn’t hate it, so again, we’ll see…
Secret Avengers – Warren Ellis. That was the only thing that got me to buy this. I read the issue, didn’t hate it, didn’t like it, may buy another one if the book isn’t mixed up in all of this fear itself stuff.
Dollhouse – Loved the show as Joss Whedon’s masterful homage to Claremont-era Uncanny X-Men (yeah, Joss, if I ever meet you I’m going to buy you a beer or ten and we’re going to sit down and talk about Uncanny from say 185-about 270 or so ‘cuz I KNOW you grew up reading it and love it as much as I do sir!!!) and think it could possibly do a lot better as a comic than either Buffy or Angel did.
Rinse – this one is more my usual speed. The first promising issue of a money-laundering crime comic on the BOOM imprint. Looking forward to it.
So there – I didn’t have to completely eat my words, but my gruff cast-aside the big guys exterior has been lowered for a moment. Marvel, please don’t make me regret this.
* And what I mean by that is writing that is not necessarily constrained by the types of problems that are offered up in monthly books such as the X-Men. Yes, I always go back to the X-Men, because Marvel really broke my heart when I realized that once Chris Claremont was gone, they were simply going to string everything along forever, never wrap anything up without eventually undoing it, and increasing all the best characters’ exposure until they are absolutely over-written and over-stayed in their welcome (hmmm… I’m looking at you Wolverine).