It saddens me that comics have become so mainstream in the last 10 years, and no, not because I’m looking down my nose at everyone that’s into them now, saying things like, “They aren’t real fans,” or anything. Far from it. I love that the culture has expanded, and become so loved by so many new faces. I love that comics are becoming more diverse and broadening their horizons to be more inclusive to different races, cultures, and genders. What really saddens me, is that as more eyes have fallen on the comic industry, I feel as though comics themselves haven’t become any easier to break into and become a part of. There’s so many stories, timelines, and events that it can be nearly impossible to know where to start, and that’s coming from someone who has been reading comics all his life.
Do you like the X-Men? Awesome! Well… maybe you should read an older story, since at the moment they’re all technically dead from a psychic genocide. Oh, you like Spider-Man? That’s perfect! Just uh… which one do you want to read? Oh, and if you want to be current, you might want to read this $50 graphic novel story about how all of the Spider-Men across the multiverse got together to… well, I won’t spoil it, but it has some important context that might be lost if you just jump in.
These may seem like nitpicky comments, but my point is that comics, at least to me, seem to have gotten more complex and interwoven in the last few years, in so much as I feel like trying to break back into them is a nearly insurmountable task. Reading classic tales is easy enough, with many of them being reprinted and sold at a wide variety of retailers. But jumping into a current story? Being caught up on the tales happening now? That is no mean feat.
I started buying comics when I was in middle school. The first comics I bought were issue #118 of New X-Men and Superior Spider-Man #9. The first problem I ran into was the idea of coming into the middle of a story. Being in middle school, it was nearly impossible to try and find, let alone buy the previous 117 issues of X-Men that I had missed to put together the full picture of the story I was reading. As for Spider-Man, I quickly realized that the run I picked up was non-canonical, a side universe that didn’t matter to the grander continuity of the Marvel Universe. Also, the story and art were bad, but that’s personal preference. On the one hand, I knew of no way to possibly catch up on the story I was missing, and on the other, I had no clue how to tell which stories were and weren’t part of the “cannon”. And I was 12, there was my lack of funds to think about, which I did, the dozens and dozens of times I frequented the mall.
Now, I’m not 1000 years old, only 501, and I am aware that digital comics have made things a lot easier for the comic reader. It’s comforting to know that with a few clicks, and a not so small sum of cash, I can fill out my back catalogue, or snag an entire run of some character I’ve been meaning to read. It also makes it easier to start at the beginning of certain series rather than just picking up wherever the current issue at the comic shop is. The problem I’m left with now is scope.
A couple of years ago, the Marvel Universe was condensed, and a lot of side stories were ended, bringing the cannon into one easily definable line. Many, if not all stories, started over with new issue 1’s, a great starting point, and a fresh place to pick up for new readers. But there are more problems with this than it seems. Say, for instance, that you wanted to read Wolverine. You’ve seen the X-Men movies, he’s gotta have a killer comic, and hey, everything just started over, right? Well, you had to deal with the idea that Wolverine is technically dead, and that the two Wolverine comics available focus on his daughter who has taken up the “Wolverine” moniker, and an older Logan from an alternative hellscape timeline brought into the current cannon and feeling out of place, and devoid of purpose. That’s not to say that whether stories are bad, they’re both awesome, but maybe you can see what I’m getting at here.
You saw the new Venom movie and you’re itching to read more. Sweet! Do you want some old runs of his one-off comics from the 90s? How about the time he was a space knight? Or when he was more or less an assassin for the government? There’s always plenty of options with comics, but how do you know where to pick up, and what’s part of what timeline? Luckily, there are some guides out there, though mostly from third party sites. Marvel doesn’t do the best job of keeping their titles in order. For example, there’s a run of Thor I’ve been trying to collect for years. Most of the problem stems from the fact that the title of the run changes multiple times, though the story keeps going. Oh, and also, sometimes the title is the same as the title of other Thor spin off stories, so they get easily confused when trying to look them up online.
More and more I feel the pull of comics. I’ve loved them all my life, and with all the movies, shows, and memorabilia available everywhere, the allure of the books always pulls me back. But every time I come back, I fall into the same conclusion that I’d be better off not reading along with issues as they come out, but rather, just wait the few months to a year for when the graphic novels come out, and read them all at once. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice, but it still makes me a little sad when I go to a comic shop and see all the single issues lined up on the wrack. I’d love to read them, I just have no idea which ones are spin offs, which are part of some big event, and what’s even canonical anymore. For the casual comic reader, the easiest thing to do seems to be to sit, wait, and watch for deals on Amazon.