I’ve mentioned it in passing on several occasions, going all the way to my very first blog post: It’s been nearly a decade since I last touched a comic book, and I only started to get back into reading them in December of last year, around the same time I started this blog. However, I never actually disclosed why I stopped reading comics in the first place, figuring that such information was both unimportant and unnecessary, especially given the nature of my blog thus far, which – albeit still new – for created for the main purpose of writing reviews of titles I’ve either bought or enjoyed. However, I’ve found myself ruminating on this question myself, only to learn that the answer – at least on a subconscious level – was a lot more multifaceted than I previously realized.
Why did I stop reading comics for nearly a decade?
Originally, I was ready to simply leave the answer to the loss of free time that comes with post secondary, and eventually the workforce. Anyone working a 40+ hour work week knows that your free time quickly gets tossed out the window as the demands of life take precedence. One finds themselves living off of coffee and donuts, not having enough time to go to the gym or get regular hours of sleep, and the hobbies you once liked continue to fall to the wayside. While all the above applied for me (except the coffee part. I hate coffee), a few trips down memory lane reveal that I had other reasons for putting comics back on the shelf, all of which I hope to disclose once for all, before (hopefully) never having to bring it up again. But first, it’s best that I begin this saga by giving some background information…
Part I – The Beginning
Recently, I read Action Comics #1, the first comic issue to feature Superman (and apparently Comixology found it was a good idea to only include the 14 page Superman story, while forgetting the other stories altogether), and Superman’s origin is told on a single page. I get it: nobody likes an origin story. I should point out from the outset that, while I enjoyed comics just as much as the next kid, I was never what one might call an enthusiast. Sure, I read comics, a lot more than the most people I knew, but I was never fully submerged into the subculture. There are many famous titles that I’ve never read, and many well established publications that I simply didn’t care about for,such as Dark Horse, Image, Valiant, etc. I rarely frequented comic book stores, only attended one convention (as an adult), and most of the comics I enjoyed were from the school library. Overalls reading comics was a hobby, just like playing video games or painting or fishing is a hobby for some people.
Nonetheless, it was a hobby that I enjoyed, right from the very beginning. My very first comic experience was Calvin and Hobbes, a newspaper strip written and drawn by the legendary Bill Watterson. I was only two years older than Calvin was when I first read the strip, in a collection called Scientific Progress Goes Boink, which was quickly followed by Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, and Revenge of the Babysat.
I immediately fell in love with the comic strip, which ran from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. What I loved the most about this masterpiece was that Calvin was so similar to myself; it was as if Watterson had created his character with me in mind. Both Calvin and I hated school, and despite knowing big words, our grades were poor, and our math skills were even worse. Yet we both had a sense of humour that tended to land us in trouble, we both had to deal with bullies, and we both had a very vivid imagination, which often served as an escapism tactic from the mundane experience of day-to-day living.
Part II – How The West Was Lost
Then came the superheroes.
One of the greatest parts of being a kid in the nineties was the plethora of cartoons to watch after a scholarship day or weekend. This obvious included the myriad superhero animated series that took over the airwaves, courtesy of Fox kids, YTV, Cartoon Network (for trips to the United States) and Teletoon. The king of all the hero cartoons (and it goes without saying) was the Emmy award winning Batman, the Animated Series, which was later re-christened The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Sure, not every episode was great (anyone remember Baby Doll?) but for me, it set a standard that few cartoons since then could match, although a few did come very close. I also enjoyed watching Superman, Batman Beyond, The Justice League, and its successor Justice League Unlimited. On the Marvel side, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and the X-Men helped to round out my weekly roster.
By the time I got to the fourth grade, I decided to read the corresponding comics of the heroes I enjoyed on the big screen. I loved Batman and Superman the most, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Geoff Johns’ run on Teen Titans. Chuck Dixon was another favourite, as I also loved the Robin solo series, and other members of the Bat family such as Nightwing, Catwoman, and Birds of Prey were classics in my book; most of these titles lasted until the New 52 relaunch.
I quickly noticed that unlike the cartoons, which are softened up and streamlined for a younger audience, the comic books, especially mid to late 90’s titles, made no such readjustments, save for The Batman Adventures, which were modeled after the Animated Series. The themes were more major, the female characters more sexual, the violence was more intense, and the writing, well, it wasn’t “cartoon TV language”, streamlined for a mainstream fan base. In fact, that’s probably one of the reasons why the Watchmen live-action adaptation didn’t do so well with critics; they were so true to the source material in terms of dialogue, that it became increasingly obvious that comics scripts don’t transfer well to the big screen. Maybe that’s another reason why I didn’t submerge into comics as a boy, although reading Calvin and Hobbes did prime me for handling a more mature vocabulary.
On the Marvel side, I wasn’t that too invested as a reader; I read whatever Spider-Man graphic novel I could get my hands on, I enjoyed X-Men (especially Wolverine, since we’re both Canadian), and I took my liberties with the Hulk and Daredevil. The only exception was Civil War; by the the time I was in middle school, Marvel’s Civil War was in full effect, and I was in turn glued to my local comic book store, much to the annoyance of my parents, and myself after a while…
However, by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was through with most Western comics, preferring to read manga instead, which had its own section in the school library. Sure, many Western comics still hold a special place with me, but when I stopped reading them, it was largely out of annoyance and frustration towards various issues, which I’ve tried to arrange below from least to worst.
1. Numerous Titles Running the Same Story:
Not too long ago, I did a review on The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus, a review which was admittedly grounded more in nostalgia than pragmatism. However, using the original story as an example of my own childhood frustrations, imagine visiting your comic book store in 1992/early 1993 – which was the peak of the speculation era on Comics, by the way – just to collect the original run on the Death of Superman in single issue format.
Well, Wikipedia did the work for me. Here’s the reading order for the Death of Superman, ending with the issue where the Man of Steel actually dies (as opposed to his inevitable return some 9 months later):
- Prologue: Approaching Doom
- Superman: Man of Steel #17 “Here Be Monsters” (Nov-92)
- Superman, vol 2 #73 “Time Ryders” (Nov-92)
- Adventures of Superman #496 “Truth and Consequences” (Nov-92)
- Action Comics #683 “The Trail of the Jackal” (Nov-92)
- Act 1: Doomsday!
- Superman: Man of Steel #18 “Doomsday! Part One” (Dec-92)
- Justice League America #69 “Down for the Count” (Dec-92)
- Superman, vol 2 #74 “Countdown to Doomsday!” (Dec-92)
- Adventures of Superman #497 “Under Fire” (Dec-92)
- Action Comics #684 “… Doomsday is Near!” (Dec-92)
- Superman: Man of Steel #19 “Doomsday is Here!” (Jan-93)
- Superman, vol 2 #75 “Doomsday!” (Jan-93)
Hopefully, the above list proves my point. Imagine my frustration trying to keep up with the typical superhero story, when each hero had several overlapping ongoing titles, with a new story arc, bouncing around from one title to the other every month. For example, a story that began in Uncanny X-Men would be picked up in X-Men. “Why can’t there be one title for one series?” I used to wonder, not truly understanding why the comic industry did this as a kid.
In fact, it was one of the reasons I preferred the spin-off series highlighting supporting characters; they were far more linear and self-contained, often with fewer crossovers, compared to more mainstream titles.
Which brings me to my next point:
2. Endless Writers/Artists Rotation
Really appreciate the kind thoughts and words as we build toward the end of my run on Action Comics. I’ve been able to work with some great creative talents over these last 45 issues and I’d like to think we did Superman proud and set him up for a strong future.
— Dan Jurgens (@thedanjurgens) February 2, 2018
Admittedly, the writer or the artist of the comic wasn’t as important to me when I was a kid, and it didn’t seem all that important to the editors either. I just saw a tweet by on of childhood favourites – Dan Jurgens – who announced that he’s ending his run on Action Comics, which I reviewed the first two volumes of. Now that he’s leaving, it feels like the 90’s again (except Jurens was writing Superman Vol. 2, while it was Roger Stern who wrote Action Comics then).
As a young kid, you don’t really care or even notice, because most of the comic’s plot goes over your head in your younger years. However, as you get older, you begin to emphasize plot more, and not all writers/artists work at the same level of quality. Some writers aren’t as astute, and some artists don’t make work that’s as aesthetically appealing to others.
Perhaps I was just spoiled by newspaper strips such as Calvin and Hobbes, which usually had only one writer/artist from their inception (whether or not the creators had assistance/ghostwriter is a different story, but to be fair, I know manga/manhwa artists do this regularly). Savage Dragon has had the same writer/artist from day one, but for the larger, more successful characters, this sadly wasn’t the case. I just reviewed all 6 Volumes of Wonder Woman: The New 52, but by Volume 7, an entirely new roster of writers and artists (Meredith Finch and artist David Finch, respectively) had taken over the creative responsibilities.
While some creators could be trusted to create fabulous artwork and tell amazing stories, but when a rag-tag team of such creators, all with varying levels of talent, come together in a single volume, it can be a bit distracting. One story is dark and mature, while the next issue is light-hearted and campy. One story has amazing, breathtaking artwork by a seasoned artist, the next issue features an amateur; or, more often-than-not, cool cover art, with sub-par artwork for the remainder of the issue.
Not to mention that different creators tend to make the characters they’re writing for into their own image. SJW Marvel is a perfect example of this; Ice Man (Robert Drake) was the biggest ladies man in Marvel (along with Daredevil), and then SJW’s turned him gay out of nowhere…
I’m beating a dead horse by this point, but I’m sure you get the idea.
3. Continuity Issues – a.k.a the “C Word”
With a slough of writers and artists writing and drawing on character, continuity issues were imminent throughout various series (look up Donna Troy, for an infamous example). As an occasional DC reader, I was annoyed with the concept of the multiverse, which I had originally/wrongfully believed was eliminated in 1985 with the Crisis on Infinite Earths story arc.
However, once a writer got the reigns of a character (ie, Superman), they would often add their twist on the characters personality, origin, death, or future, without much regard for consistency with the standard mythos. The solution to prevent – or a the very least, gloss over – continuity inconsistencies was two fold. The first approach was the concept of a multiverse: Earth One (which is back again…*sigh*), Earth 2, Earth 22 (Kingdom Come), Earth 23 (all the superheroes are black)… the list goes on and on.
In other words, after the 12 part psycho drama of Crisis on Infinite Earth, which resulted in a “New Earth”, it wasn’t long before the very confusing multiverse concept came back in the DC universe, playing a huge role in very convoluted story lines.
The other option was Crisis, the infamous “C word” in my personal lingo.
Crisis was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, namely 2008’s Final Crisis, and it was then that I started a nine year hiatus from reading not only DC, but all Western comics altogether, reducing my comic readership to manga for a year, until quitting comics completely until 2017.
Sure, that may have been an extreme reaction, but since I didn’t read comics religiously, there were times where I had to spend time playing catch up for a few volumes where my favourite heroes were concerned. That said, I felt that I had wasted my time altogether. What’s the point of catching up or following a series when none of it matters anymore?
Not mention these massive crossovers led to the cancellation of some of my favorite series. Both Robin and Nightwing (and Birds of Prey)were cancelled in 2009, which also added to the final straw. Unsurprisingly, two years after that, The New 52 launched in 2011, and I just didn’t care anymore at the time. “How long is it before I have to start over?” While Rebirth is technically not a reboot, it does seem to be a product of the Flashpoint crossover, where there are alternate timelines (again), with different possibilities for the DC heroes (Again), and merged alternate universe’s into one (AGAIN!!!) and resetting the issue numbers (expect Action Comics) to issue on… AGAIN.
At least the New 52/Rebirth titles I’ve read so far are actually good, to be fair.
It seemed that Crisis stories followed a pattern:
Step One: DC has numerous writers and artists working on a single character/series, each of them going a completely different direction while taking their own liberties.
Step Two: The aforementioned liberties take their toll, resulting in confusion for the fan base and continuity errors. Not to mention an expanded/inter-conflicting multiverse.
Step Three: A Crisis Series is created to rectify the continuity errors, and bring the DC Universe back to basics.
Step Four: The entire DC Universe reboots.
I remember seeing Final Crisis on shelves when I was in high school, and I also remember getting frustrated at the mere thought of it. For one, hearing that Batman “dies” in the end of the story, I knew that he’d pull a Jean Grey and come back to life eventually, as is the case with most dead superheroes. Second, I knew the DC Universe had a reboot planned, a seeming staple with these drawn out Crisis stories.
It’s it’s not like Marvel was much of an alternative…
Continued in SECTION II…