Are Comic Books Accessible For New Readers (Part II of II)
By Kurt Evans
To recap in case you missed the last article, a few weeks ago I realized that I am now reading far fewer comic books than I had been three years ago. And, out of curiosity, I went to my local comic book shop, purchased twelve titles that I used to read, and decided to begin critiquing them based on readability, new reader accessability, and overall quality of the work.
Last week, I found that, out of six titles (Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Impulse, Captain America, Iron Man and Generation X), only one was worthy in my eyes to begin purchasing on a regular basis. Considering the state of the industry, that is a bad sign. Hopefully, the six titles I will be reviewing for this article will be a little better. They are X-Men #106, Wolverine #153, Uncanny X-Men #387, Aquaman #68, Avengers #34, and Fantastic Four #36. Once again, I will now issue a very heavy SPOILER WARNING. So to begin:
Written by Chris Claremont; Drawn by Francis Yu, Dernick, and Williams
There was a time when I was an avid fan of the X-Men. I believe I have every issue from around #280 through the Onslaught storyline. However, as I have grown older I've realized that even those stories were fairly weak compared to the past glory that was Claremont and Cockrum/Byrne. Unfortunately, Claremont's return didn't live up to his pre-departure days, and as it is well known, he has been fired off the major X-books.
X-Men #106 is a giant-sized issue telling the story of a mutant named Domina. Domina, the chieftain of the warclan of Neo, is out for revenge because her daughter was killed in some barely-mentioned battle. The X-Men are in the way of her vengence. Basically, the issue consists of the X-Men attempting the infiltrate a fortress and battle some mutants, probably to save humanity again. However, I found there to be very little backstory and the motivation behind the events were confusing.
It seems that yet again this is another title that has fallen victim to readership exclusivity. If a reader hasn't been following along for at least half a year (and possibly longer than that!) the book makes little sense and the continuity is confusing. I really had NO idea what the point of that story was. It will be a long time before I buy another X-Men title, although I may be willing to give the new creative teams a chance.
Written and drawn by Steve Skroce
Back when I was reading the X-titles, I avidly collected Wolverine as well. I believe I dropped the book sometime after Legion went back and killed Xavier. #153 is the conclusion to an ongoing storyline apparently about revenge and Wolverine trying to find his love, Yukio.
The story, which is Steve Skroce's last, is an Asian adventure consisting of two crazed kung-fu girls out for revenge, or something. It's really pretty hard to understand exactly what's going on, except that Wolverine is out to help Yukio and keep her from being hurt.
I just have to take a moment to ask one question. Would it really be two hard to dedicate an extra page or two an issue to recapping? Whatever happened to the characters explaining the situation through dialog? This is just yet another issue where I'd have to go and buy months and months of backissues just to get caught up, and that's no way to obtain new readership! I would say that I hoped the new creative team would do a better job, but that creative team would appear to be Rob Liefield, so I'm going to reserve my hopes for something more likely to occur. Like an end to world hunger, and a disarming of all nuclear weapons.
Uncanny X-Men #387
Written by Chris Claremont; Drawn by Salvador Larroca
As mentioned above, I previously collected X-Men titles from around #280 of this series up until the Onslaught series. After that, I got tired with the books. Then, the legendary Chris Claremont returned to the titles, sparking hope amongst frustrated fans. I think he's let those fans down.
Uncanny X-Men #387 starts off with a cliche. To paraphrase John Byrne, the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix stories were tremendous and probably some of the best X-Men stories ever told. That is, they would have been if Chris Claremont hadn't gone back and reused the storyline again and again. Thus, you could say I was a little frustrated when the first three pages were dedicated to The Phoenix. On one hand, Larroca can draw one awesome Jean Grey. On the other, the story was mostly a Dark Phoenix rehash, consisting of a D'Bari out for revenge for Dark Phoenix's destruction of his planet. I'll give Claremont props for explaining the story and for showing some character interaction, but I can't forgive him for rehashing on Dark Phoenix...AGAIN.
All in all, the artwork is what made the story work. And as mentioned, the story itself WAS well-written. It was merely the story itself that upset me. However, beggars cannot be choosers, so I will proclaim this issue a surprising winner and move on to the next book to be reviewed.
Written by Dan Jurgens; Drawn by Steve Epting
I used to truly enjoy the Aquaman stories as presented by Peter David. Unfortunately, David wound up having some problems with the editor, and took leave of the book (and so did I, in the end). About two years later, it is Dan Jurgens helming the now-cancelled Aquaman (I'm pretty sure #75 was the last issue).
It seems that Jurgens is presenting the story from a future perspective (what with Tempest -the former Aqualad - telling the story with a little white in his hair). From what it looks like, I've stumbled into the middle of a war story between Aquaman and the queen of Cerdia (whoever SHE is). Aquaman has been in battle with the Ocean Master, and continues the battle in this issue in order to save Tempest's daughter (who he is narrating to).
The story isn't bad. It's not inspiring by any manner, but unlike his work on Captain America, Jurgens gives enough recap to allow any new reader an understanding of what is going on. Aquaman was definitely readable here, but not inspirational, and I doubt I'll go and collect any of the unsold back issues at my comic store.
Fantastic Four #36
Written by Carlos Pacheco & Rafael Marin; Drawn by Pacheco
The Fantastic Four was actually one of the first comics I ever read back in my middle-school days. Unfortunately, it was during the time of Defalco and Ryan, so compared to say the Byrne run, I didn't have much to read. I never really collected the FF, except through back issues (I now have almost the entire Byrne run and even the previously mentioned Defalco and Ryan run, which I bought for cheap in the 50 cent bin).
In this issue, the Fantastic Four are up the the usual. They're in the process of battling Diablo the Chemist (oooh, a Chemist! Scary!) to save the city. While the art here is also a saving grace, the writing does not go into detail to explain how they got there or what Diablo's plan is. Basically, they battle and are captured by Diablo, but through sheer will, the Thing manages to break his bonds and save the day.
Once again, it is the art that saves the day, but not enough. I admit, my curiousity in the Fantastic Four may be enough for me to buy another issue in the future, but probably not until Jeph Loeb takes over the writing chores. I admire Pacheco's love of the Fantastic Four, but I don't think that love quite survives the writing process. Hopefully Loeb will improve the book.
Written by Kurt Busiek; Drawn by George Perez
I think I've missed out with this book. Widely proclaimed to be extremely well-written and drawn, I did in fact pick up the first half dozen issues after the Heroes Return storyline, but dropped it for reasons I cannot remember. Big mistake, as I will now have to scour the back issue bins for George Perez's pencils, as #34 is his last issue on the series.
Busiek does an impressive job right off the bat. The first page is a recap to what is obviously the end of an extended story, and I surely would have been lost without it. Basically, the notoriously power-hungry Count Nefaria is bent on ruling the world, and the Avengers (and their extended allies) are out to stop him. However, he proves to be extremely hard to defeat, up until the Avengers do what they do best - work together as a team! It takes a tremendous effort, but eventually they manage to damage the Count, and after his bomb fails to do the damage he expected, he is defeated (and possibly destroyed) by his own leaking ionic energy. Wonder Man is seriously hurt in the process, but the Count was defeated!
Truly an entertaining story, The Avengers proves to be a great team up book. I doubt that every story is that good, but I imagine that they're all at least close in quality. And while it is sad to see George Perez take a break from the book, it is refreshing to note that his replacement is the ever-talented John Romita Jr., who will surely do as good a job. All in all, the Avengers is a book I might start collecting. To say the least, I'll buy another issue!
All things told, my little research project was very disappointing. Of 12 books reviewed, I only enjoyed four stories, and only one story enough to consider collecting that title on a regular basis. It seems that both Marvel and DC are too exclusive and are telling too many multi-part stories without enough recapping. Of course, that is no new news, but I will write an extended article on my findings shortly. Be warned, it will be highly critical.
Well, enough for now! Perhaps in the next article I should also list the titles I enjoy! Until then, happy reading!
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