Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

On "New Reader Friendly" Comics

Invincible #42, written by Robert Kirkman, art by Ryan Ottley

I've mentioned before that I feel somewhat betrayed by She-Hulk of late. You see, I ignored my staunch "No Marvel" stance to read about the wacky adventures of Jen Walters, and her foray into the world of superhuman law. And until last summer's Civil War crossover thing, the series did an excellent job of keeping the story focused, fresh, and funny.

But I should have known better. There's a reason I stay away from the boys and girls in tights, and it is that I have neither the time nor inclination to keep abreast of things that S.H.I.E.L.D did five years ago. I barely know who they are now, yet She-Hulk keeps insisting that I TRY to know, which is not what I signed on for.

But apparently, the comics industry is aware of this problem, and is taking steps to remedy it in the form of "new reader friendly" comics. These aim to catch readers up quickly, within the context of the ongoing story. Brady brought me the latest of these for the Image comic, Invincible, as an experiment to see what a mythology-hatin' comics reader would think.

I think it sucked.

The first five pages involved a bunch of astronauts talking about the main character, a college kid who happens to be, well... invincible. It was like reading the first chapters of the Babysitters' Club #482, Mary Anne and the Tainted Lunchables, where we learn that Kristy's stepdad is loaded, that Claudia has a creamy complexion despite her junk food addiction, and that Mallory is lame.

While Invincible #42 did manage to pack a huge amount of information in a relatively small space, it didn't do so in a way that made me want to buy the next issue. Which was probably the important part.

Weirdly, at the end of the issue there was a synopsis of the series written in straight-up prose that was actually good. Maybe if this went at the beginning there wouldn't be a need for so much clumsy establishing dialogue. Then again, if this went at the beginning, a new reader might just skip it.

In the sixth grade, all my friends were obsessed with a soap opera called Santa Barbara, which featured a huge and screwy cast of characters not entirely unlike the Marvel Universe. Tired of being left out of their lunchtime speculations about Cruz and Eden's kidnapped baby, I began to tune in. For the first two weeks, everything was terribly confusing, but I perservered, motivated at first by external factors (my friends), then later, by a genuine investment in the stories and characters.

So, I guess what I'm saying with that little anecdote is that "new reader friendly" comics are not the answer because becoming a fan of something has to take place naturally. You pick up a comic book because you like the reviews or your friends are all reading it or the art appeals to you, and after a period of initial confusion, you catch on. If the comic book is worth its salt.

Invincible only has 40-something issues, and that was too much to be handled gracefully. I'd hate to see what one of these issues would look like in Marvel-land. Then again, that's why they just restart the books every few years. All I'm sayin' is even Santa Barbara never resorted to such crude mercenary tactics.

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