Feature Article

The Comic Book Conundrum

How Do You Keep Up?

by Melissa Minners



            When I was a kid, comic book collecting was a fun and engaging pastime.  I loved to read about my favorite superheroes from month to month.  Even if I missed a month, I could always figure out what was going on by reading the following month’s issue.  Some of the comics had tie-ins with other titles, but for the most part, the story arcs remained within one title.  Star Wars comics were ideal in that the storyline couldn’t be continued in any other comic book series.  As long as you bought the monthly issues and the annual, you were guaranteed to know the entire story arc. 

            Now, however, comic book collecting has taken on entirely new proportions.  It’s not just fun anymore.  Now it’s an outright adventure – a costly one at that.  Stories that begin in one title may span various other titles, the reader forced to hunt down every issue to avoid missing anything.  With the number of heroes getting their own spin-off comics, this can become one arduous task indeed! 

            Fans of specific characters will find that they can no longer collect one series.  Sure, you will have to buy a few comics from the other series to keep up with the continuity of the tale, but that ain’t all folks!  Are you a Batman fan?  Well, get a pad and paper, because here’s a list of just a few of the titles you’ll need for your collection:  Batman, Detective Comics, Legend of the Dark Night, Gotham Knights, Superman / Batman.  Those are only the series that actually star Batman.  He regularly appears in these series as well: Batgirl, Birds of Prey, JLA, Catwoman, Gotham Central, Justice League Unlimited, Nightwing, Robin, and more!  Love the X-Men?  Well, let’s see…there’s X-Men, New X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, District X, X-Statix, Mystique, and more!

            And just when you think you have caught up with the storyline of any given series, the writers toss you on your fanny by inventing a new storyline that negates all others.  A good example of this is DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths, which spanned most of DC’s superhero titles and turned the DC Universe over on its ear.  Superheroes you’d thought were dead had counterparts on other worlds.  Some characters that you had grown accustomed to lost their lives in the series.  It was a mess!  Yet, out of the mess grew new storylines, new heroes and consequently, whole new comic book series were born. 

            This growing trend of reviving dead heroes in a comic book series happens often enough to rival television soap operas!  Heroes long-dead are born anew.  Hey, you just thought they were dead!  Really, this and this happened so they never did die.  Or maybe they were dead, but someone found a way to resurrect them.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of passing the mantle off to another character who adopts the same name but has a whole different past and way of doing things.  Or sometimes the writers say – yeah, he died…we know…but what if things had happened differently.  So they start a whole new series – same characters, but maybe they put them in an alternate universe so they can change what happened to them or – better still – refuse to acknowledge that the other series ever existed and start anew.

            The folks at Marvel Comics helped us out a tad by giving us a resource that made an attempt to explain all that was going on in the Marvel Universe.  In The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, each page would contain one character with vital statistics, powers, history, and a full-frontal picture of the character.  In 1984, the series ended with a two-part special detailing the deceased and inactive members of the Marvel Universe.  Then came the Deluxe Edition of the handbook which contained not two, but five comics chock full of deceased characters.  However, Marvel soon decided to limit the content of this series (Hallelujah!  Something I can collect easily…if I had the desire to, that is.).  Of late, the Official Guide to the Marvel Universe has been focusing on specific families of characters, such as the X-Men, The Women of Marvel, Golden Age, and more. 

            DC Comics also made a valiant effort to assist its readers in catching up on storylines by issuing a Who’s Who series of their own.  There’s even a book out there that gives tons of information on the different characters, their counterparts on parallel Earths, story arcs, etc.  However, by the time you hunt these resources down and read them, things will have changed so much in the DC Universe as to make them obsolete.  In fact, I can guarantee that as you are reading this very rant, superheroes are being born, meeting their demise, mutating into something else, or contemplating their retirement from or return to superhero-dom.  *Sigh!*

            And don’t think that by buying the trade paperbacks or graphic novels of your favorite series you can catch up on things. Hell no!  First off, many graphic novels only contain certain storylines from a specific title.  Any continuations in other titles will be lost to the reader unless he or she buys the missing links.  Plus, there are only a handful of these trade paperback or graphic novels available for any particular series.  Some series may not have trade paperbacks at all. 

            It’s a brilliant marketing technique that the comic book industry is using.  It virtually ensures that certain titles will have guaranteed sales at any given point in time.  Unfortunately, I for one have trouble keeping up.  I simply don’t have the bank roll to do so.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about the rise in price of the comic book.  The artwork, storylines, and paper quality of comics have vastly improved over the years.  Of course, lovers of Silly Putty would beg to differ over the paper quality, but they wouldn’t be planning on keeping the comic books they buy for very long anyway.  The price is on par with the craftsmanship and so, I don’t have a problem with it.  But who has the money to shell out each month on dozens of titles just to ensure that you keep up with the continuity of each story?  It can run upwards of $20 a month for certain story arcs!

            And where do you put them all when you’re building such a collection of epic proportions?  I used to store my comic books in a small Rubbermaid tote.  Now, I have a huge Rubbermaid locker, threatening to explode thanks to my obsession with the comic book series, Birds of Prey!

            So what can we do to keep up without losing our shirts in the process?  We can try to catch up via message boards and sites on the worldwide web.  Or, we can stay glued to eBay, watching for folks who are selling entire sets of comic books in an effort to buy back the shirts they’ve lost!




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