I know intellectually there’s no right way to enjoy things, nor right things to enjoy. This doesn’t stop me from judging those who spend their time vegging out in front of Eastenders or Hollyoaks, however.
It also doesn’t stop me mourning the choices of those who neglect awesome one-shot stories or those that have an end in sight in favour of staid, what we’ll from here on in refer to as ‘Hero Books’.
Disclaimer: There’s plenty of people I know who manage to straddle both sides of the fence on this and good for them, but I’ve also met many that are too hopelessly bogged down in Hero Books to even be aware that there’s an alternative.
A Brief History of Comic Book Consumption
Maybe my views are the product of the way I got into comics. After getting a firm grounding in the likes of the Beano and Dandy in my early youth, my cousin introduced me to Hero Books and many a holiday was spent binge-reading his gargantuan collection.
Back home, I was on a diet of packs of four from my local newsagent, which delivered an abundance of 90s titles that were hit and miss, but thankfully mostly hit.
I got an education in the big-label classics, as well as emerging titles from relatively new labels like Shadowman, Archer and Armstrong, Bloodshot, Youngblood, the Harbingers, Strikeforce Morituri and more. This staple was topped up with the fairly regular purchase of Marvel reprints and the odd DC addition.
While I can’t remember exactly where I started on relatively short-run series, one of the first was Neil Gaiman’s indefatigable Sandman, which simply blew me away. Then I was off, searching out and absorbing everything I could get my hands on in this area.
And don’t get me wrong, I’ll still gladly hop back into a run of some of my old favourites or drop in for the odd label-wide event, but Hero Books just don’t hold the same appeal for me anymore.
To regurgitate an often-cited fact, in entertainment – things tend to get worse as time goes on – take Weezer, Battlestar Galactica and Total War games as some disparate examples.
Fanatical fans will always clamour for more, no matter how much tripe they’re fed and this is usually to the detriment of the property in question.
I find this to be especially true for ‘classic’ Hero Books, like Spiderman, Superman, Batman – et cetera. And while creative teams can definitely breathe new life into these and make you remember why you loved them in the first place – there’s only so much they’re able to do within the confines of the book in question without fundamentally changing it.
And when they do take a step outside the box, it’s usually only a matter of time until things revert to the status quo (I’m looking at you Death of Superman and subsequent 90s electric Superman, Captain America’s ‘assassination’, Batman following Final Crisis, et cetera).
I get that the Hero Books we’re talking about feature larger than life characters, but there’s only so much stuff that can happen to an individual – real or fictional – before they become hopelessly burdened by the sheer depth of their past.
Take Peter Parker for instance. Everything has happened to him and then some. He’s been cloned, teleported every which way in time and space and most recently had his brain invaded by his nemesis, Doc Ock. But even now, there’s the implication that he’ll claw his way back from this and resume swinging around the New York skyline in the not-too-distant future.
He’s like the Phil Mitchell of comic books. Creative teams are burdened with the weight of all the things that have happened to him, and are unable to eke out much in the way of a completely original story, leading to the inevitable…
Reboots can be an easy way to sidestep in-universe retconning and I’ll freely admit I’ve been excited and enthralled by many aspects of Marvel’s Ultimate and DCs New 52 endeavours. These let creative teams step outside the box, inflicting sweeping, long-lasting changes on the universe as a whole.
However, this is also where they fall down a bit. Take the time that Magneto went all doomsday in Ultimatum and the momentous devastation became something of a footnote afterwards. And so on with Reed Richards and Tomorrow’s Children ruining Europe, the goings on with The People in China, et cetera.
By fundamentally altering the world in such a way, reboot heroes can no longer operate within the confines or niche that spawned in the first place – negating the whole affair to some degree. I’d question the need to bother with reinventing an existing world in this way, when a new one would’ve done just as nicely.
Is this decision informed by financial constraints and the disparity in attention that an entirely new title would garner (compared to that of a reimagining of an old favourite)? Or is it simply a kind of shorthand way to inform the prospective reader of what they can expect of a certain title in advance?
Either way, I think these creative efforts could be better put to use. As io9 reader akbarius beautifully summed it up in a recent discussion thread:
“No more reboots. EVER. Just … let them die. Let them grow old and senile and die.
Stories should be allowed to end. END. Superman, Batman, Capt. America, Wolverine… they’ve had their day in the sun. Think of something new, better, different. You don’t even have to leave the Universe you’ve created. Just let time flow through it. There will be plenty of stories to tell.”
So what’s the alternative? Aside from the above suggestion, I’d advocate supplementing your literary diet with a healthy helping of some awesome one-shots and new series.
Admittedly, there’s not an inexhaustible supply of these updated each Wednesday, but if you’re a first timer, there should be more than enough to keep you occupied for a good stretch.
As for where to start, a few favourites I’d heartily recommend include:
- Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
- The Boys
- The Manhattan Projects
It might seem idealistic, but it’s only if enough fans vote with their feet and their dollar (or pound as the case may be), that there’ll be a chance to precipitate a change in the industry, however slight.
Are you a hardcore Hero Book fan, a fence straddler or a graphic novel purist? Whatever your tastes, I’d love to hear what others’ thoughts are on this topic, so be sure to leave a comment below.