Let’s face it, we all have our own particular reasoning for the comics we buy and the comics we don’t. We all have our irrational connections to a given series or to our favorite characters and we all make certain jumps in logic when shopping for funny books. But in recent years, a new and somewhat disturbing phenomenon has developed -one that ranks some comics over others, claiming that those books somehow “matter” more than others. But what does this really mean? It is more of a personal preference, or is there something engrained into a book’s publication that makes it “matter” more? There are no concrete answers here, but there are enough bits of evidence to speculate a little bit.
For the sake of this particular article, let’s focus on the recent treatment of a wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated, critically acclaimed comic that proved to be a financial dud. I am speaking, of course, of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s innovative, all ages take on Marvel’s favorite Thunder God. The book, as fantastic and acclaimed as it was, will see its 8th and final issue published this coming week because, in an industry where a book lives or dies based 100% on the amount of copies sold, it did not live up to standard. In short: the sucker didn’t sell.
There are a few reasons commonly given for this particular cancellation. Sure, with 18,000 Thor books on the shelves (in an attempt to get 18,000 Thor trades onto bookstore shelves and mobile book fairs by the time the movie launches in May), one (or seven) are bound to fall through the cracks, especially ones with family friendly content focusing on a love story between an ancient Norse God and a museum curator. If this was the only set of reasoning used, I would buy it (I’d be disappointed and angry and want to rage on nerd face with my fist of rage, but I would buy it). However, what I do NOT buy is this logic that because the book was out of continuity and all ages that it did not “matter.”
Now what does it mean to “matter”? The most common understanding of the term is that the book does not have a direct impact on the main story thread running though the majority of a given company’s headlining titles. This thread is usually established by one of the many line-wide event comics that claim to “change *insert universe* forever” for about a year or so until the next event that makes the same claim. While both of the Big 2 are guilty of this, Marvel is unquestionably more defined by the model than DC is. Usually, these events set the stage for stories to come following the event and most (if not all) of the MU core titles adhere to the story established. Now, this kind of inter-title continuity certainly helps create an overall cohesiveness that is to be admired. However, does this mean that every single title that touches the event thread is essential reading? No. In fact, sometimes a book with an event banner on it won’t relate to the story thread at all (case in point: Brightest Day or, even worse, Avengers Disassembled).
However, most fans that exist past a certain point on the dedication scale are overcome with an intense desire for “the full story.” An incomplete run on a book or line of books is like a stab to the heart for some. Herein lays the dilemma: throwing a banner on a ton of books creates the implication that they share the same story, whether they do or not. This tactic activates the collector’s mentality in most fans. The more books that become must buys for completist purposes, the less of a window there is to buy ancillary books, regardless of whether or not they tell a great story. As much as we may want to, most fans can never afford to buy every single good comic out there, so choices need to be made. Sadly, it doesn’t even matter how many Thor books exist on the shelves, Thor: The Mighty Avenger did not dovetail from Marvel’s latest event or have anything to do with its current banner status quo, and so it got left on the shelf.Continued below
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way trying to say that everyone should try and buy every good comic; it’s just not feasible. We all have budgets and I should hope that most of us are able to prioritize comics according to our means. Simply put: choices need to be made. No one needs to buy EVERY comic out there, and I’m sure most people (publishers included) will agree with that. Some comics DO need to matter more.
Now, I hope this is not too ghastly of a suggestion, but if a comic is going to matter it should not be because its part of an ongoing plot thread, it should matter because it matters to YOU. Yesterday, a good friend of mine insisted that I should be picking up a certain book. Now, I recognize that this book is of a great quality; however it pretty much bored me to tears. Looking into the future, I just did not see a reason why I needed this book as a part of my collection and I could honestly say that I could live a universally happy life without reading it. My friend responded by reminding me that the book would be leading up to Marvel’s next event. Now, I have longbox after longbox full of event tie-ins that I read once, realized had a flimsy connection at best to the event story, and never thought about again. Frankly, I am done with that particular buying habit. I’d rather have my boxes full of books that I want and actively want to re-read and share with my friends and loved ones, not some random tie-ins bought to complete a run.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, this guy just shoved 1000 words down my throat to essentially say “buy the books you like.” Think about it though: how much money have YOU spent on comic books you had no genuine connection to; no genuine desire for other than the almost irrational compulsion to have a complete run? This doesn’t just apply to event comics…what about books that switched writers or storylines that you suddenly didn’t care for? Admit it; you recognize one of those situations. They, in a lot of ways, define the difference between hobby and outright addiction, so maybe using a few more words to delve into it is worthwhile, even if it’s such a simple idea like “if you don’t like it, DON’T BUY IT.”
We are stronger than our compulsions, and that is a fact.