Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Silliness: Why I Stopped Collecting Comic Books

I was a comic fan long before it was cool to be un-cool.  I hid my ID as a comic book collector as it felt too geeky as a teen to make public.  I tended to collect the mainstream stuff, though, with a focus on Spidey and X-Men.  I quit collecting in 1996.  I remember this because that was when I had a new expense that crowded out the comic books--diapers.  But that was not the real reason I stopped.

I stopped for two basic reasons, but could have been a third. 

First, cross-over disease.  Marvel and, apparently, DC (I didn't collect DC much) got in the habit of developing special "short series" where characters crossed over into other books or new mini-series were developed.  This, was of course, to maximize sales, but it maximized my frustration.  I was reminded of this today by a tweet (h/t to Jacob Levy) that pointed out a fun cracked article that highlighted a key X-Men issue (Wolvie gets Colossus good and drunk and then beaten up) that was a result of one of these series:

It has its roots in Secret Wars, and while most people remember that as the crossover where Spider-Man got a new costume that wanted to fuck him so bad, it became the most popular villain of the '90s, that was far from the only notable event. The whole idea was that there would be a big change for every book, so everyone reading Marvel Comics would have to pick up Secret Wars in order to find out what the hell was actually going on. This is basically the formula that modern superhero comics are built on, which makes it the most diabolical and successful supervillain plot of all time.
Indeed.  This led to a proliferation of comic books, which increased the $ spent, and I got tired of having to buy many books to follow one character.

Second, clone disease.  I quit when Spider-man was apparently not the real Peter Parker.  Ug.  I hate clones, as they are almost always a dodging plot device that leads to bad stuff (no accident that Clones are mentioned in Star Wars but only rear their ugly heads in the prequels).  I almost stopped reading the series of Star Wars books that took place after Return of the Jedi since clones were featured. 

If I had stuck around for a while longer, I would have then quit due to re-boot pandemics.  Yep, the editors let the writers of comic books write themselves into a box.  When they realized that they were trapped, they re-booted the character or the entire series or the entire universe.  Why should I care about anything in this universe if it can be re-set any time they feel like.  Well, a new universe with the old characters re-set means that I have nothing at stake anymore so good-bye. 

This, of course, also occurs with the movies: two sets of Spidey's, three sets of Batman (if we include Adam West's version), three sets of Superman with the new one in a few weeks, three sets of Hulks (including the Avengers' version which is, thankfully, superior), and so on.  Much of this is driven by the need to keep the rights to the character (Spidey), but it diminishes the value.... unless they do it really, really well. I was not happy with a new Spidey series, but Emma Stone and, oh yeah, Andrew Garfield made it work.  The new Superman is probably better than the most recent one, but will still probably fall short of Christopher Reeve's.  Then again, I watched all three Superman non-animated TV series (the original, Lois and Clark, Smallville).  Well, the second one had a lot more to do with Teri Hatcher, but anyway.

I guess I tolerate the TV/movie reboots because there is a chance that the new version is as good or better than the old. My completely half-assed take on comic books is that never happens.  More importantly, if you follow a comic book, you have years and years and dozens and dozens of issues invested, so a new version rips out all that investment.  I hate that.  Do you?


Karl said...

There's a great book that came out recently called Marvel Comics: The Untold Story which addresses many of the problems you identify. On the surface it's profit, obviously if the Clone Saga runs across four or five different books then Marvel gets more money. But there are also other motivations at play, namely that the core audience for comic books, especially in the Golden Age, is adolescent boys who in less than a decade will have moved on to more important things, so it makes sense to reboot characters frequently to allow new readers to jump on. But I think the reason for all the reboots I'm most sympathetic with is that most comic book characters aren't written with an end point in mind. As readers we can't fathom a world where Batman or Superman or Spidey hang up their capes (imagine the outrage), but we also are extremely pissed when a year or so after the Death of Superman the status quo is effectively restored. It's a Catch-22.

I say this having given up on mainstream comics myself. But not all hope is lost. There are some phenomenal non-superhero comics out there right now that are doing fantastic things with the medium. Brian K. Vaughn's Saga, Nick Spenser's Morning Glories, and Joe Hill's Locke & Key (which ends this summer). And now many of these titles are available for digital download at reduced prices, making a little easier to justify.

Nick said...

I've only really started buying superhero comics the last few years, so I've not yet experienced the reboots and crossovers (and I don't intend to). I only go for the short, limited stories though (such as 1602) as I haven't found any of the superhero stories interesting enough to warrant long-term following.

I dislike having stories rebooted if I've invested a lot of time and interest into the previous version (such as the Abramsverse rebooting of the Star Trek-verse). When it comes to some of the movie lines though, I am fine with accepting them as separate continuities when enough years have passed, such as between the 1980-90s Batman movies and the 2000-2010s Batman movies). In those cases, I see each continuity as a separate storyline, another author's take on what has become an iconic/archetypal story.

That being said, one of my favorite comic book series is Knights of the Dinner Table, which has maintained an ongoing multi-layered storyline for the past twenty years or so and still goes strong.

Anonymous said...

I collected Marvel titles from the late 70's to about 1993-1994. I also quit for the same basic reasons: 1. Story lines were not as good, 2. Cross-overs, 3. multiple titles, 4. art was not as good and 5. price. The Marvel from the 70's and 80's was incredible. I knew pretty much everything about the Marvel Universe. I even tried out the "New Universe" for about a yeaer. I sorta kick myself for stopping as I could now have over 30 years worth of Spider-Man and X-Men...but there is that pesky reboot thing too that happened after I stopped. I collected them for the stories. Not for future profit. The stories were awesome such as the Hobgoblin where they kept you guessing for YEARS on who he was. I still have all mind and will pull them out to show the kids whenever a new movie comes out. I do miss the 80's Marvel.

Unknown said...

I started reading/collecting in 1970 and through grade school/High School,college and early in my broadcasting career. I stopped collecting in 1996 with Marvel's 1st reboot of the original line. DC's reboot in 1986 with "Crisis on Infinite Earths" was well thought out, and made things better..for a few years and that fell apart. Marvel did it for profit only.

I still collect back issues. but my collection stops with 1996.