Ask Chris #8: Epic Runs and Super-Hero Furniture
Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That’s why we’ve given Senior Writer Chris Sims the
punishment pleasure of stepping into the grand tradition of the Answer Man as he responds to your reader questions!
Q: I picked up Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson v1 and it is as good as you say. Why are creators not given epic runs anymore? —deadlytoque
A: First of all, good choice in starting the Simonson run.
As I’ve said before, it’s easily my favorite run of comics, right above Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” and whatever issues of Batman I happen to be reading that week. And one of the reasons it’s so good is what you mention: It’s a truly epic run, not just in the sweeping appropriately high-stakes storytelling, but from the sheer amount of it. Simonson wrote “Thor” for five years, and as such, he was able to play the long game with his storylines, juggling a complex cast and weaving together multiple plot threads. He’s the guy who made you care about Volstagg, and whose best moments in the run aren’t only about Thor himself, but Balder and Skurge the Executioner. And a huge part of why those stories are so great is that he had the time and the room to let things play out the best way they could. And also, you know, that Simonson was and is a phenomenally talented creator.
Today, however, things are a little different. My “Awesome Hospital” co-writer Chad Bowers and I have often had conversations where we lament the demise of the Long Run, specifically in the rise of creators signing on to for just a six- or twelve-issue arc. The evolution of comics over the past 70 years has gone from issues with multiple short stories to single-issue stories to single-issue stories that were united in a larger arc to story arcs made up of issues that were dependent on each other, and coupled with the rise of the bookstore market and paperbacks (neither one of which is a bad thing), the focus for a lot of creators has shifted to writing finite stories that can be read as a single volume.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that, but a side effect is that every team that signs up to do a single story wants to tell THE story of that character, with the end result being that you get the same damn comics over and over and over again. The ultimate example of this — for me, anyway — is Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s “Hush.” If you’ve never read a Batman comic before, it’s perfectly fine, because you get everything you want to see from Batman. There’s a (terrible) mystery, he fights the Joker and Catwoman and Poison Ivy and a shirtless Ra’s al-Ghul, he throws around batarangs and stands on gargoyles, it’s the whole bit. But if you have read other Batman comics, you’ve seen it all before and you’ve seen it all better.And you can’t even really blame Loeb and Lee for that: If you know you’ve only got 12 issues, then you’re going to want to play with all the toys, and with as popular as Lee is, putting him on “Batman” without letting him draw all the big villains would’ve been plain stupid. But the end result is the same: a series of constantly re-released Greatest Hits albums where everyone’s retelling the same stories because That’s What This Character Is, instead of bothering to try to advance things at all. And it’s not limited to Batman by a long shot: How many stories have we gotten since “Crisis On Infinite Earths” where Superman fights a guy named “General Zod” who has no relation whatsoever to the various other Generals Zod running around? I’ll give you a hint: Five.
It all comes back to the paperbacks: Everyone wants to have something evergreen like “Batman: Year One” or “Watchmen” because those are meant to be the gateway drugs. They’re self-contained, so for the average reader who doesn’t read comics but wants to try them, they’re not the commitment that weekly or monthly books demand from fans, and the idea is that they’ll like what they read and come back for more. And obviously, that works very well for some people. You could argue that the defining feature of “Year One” and “Watchmen” isn’t that they’re self-contained, but that they’re actually very good, and you’d be right. But that doesn’t get them sold in stores.
Look at “Preacher” or “Sandman,” two comics that are both incredibly well-done and generally pretty consistent throughout long runs. I will guarantee you that the first volumes of both of those comics outsell the rest put together, and probably by a gigantic margin. Not because people read “Preacher” v.1 and decide that it sucks, but because a lot of them just can’t be motivated to go grab the others, no matter how much they liked it. Being able to jump on something with no prior knowledge required is a strong selling point, but the side effect is that it’s also easy to jump off.
But to get back to your original question, the idea that there are no long runs anymore just isn’t true — there are plenty. It might not seem like it when you think of Simonson on “Thor,” since that was also the era of Frank Miller’s “Daredevil,”John Byrne’s five-year run on “Fantastic Four” and Chris Claremont’s sixteen years on “X-Men,” but most of the best-selling titles in comics right now are part of long runs. Counting “Rebirth,” Geoff Johns has been on “Green Lantern” since 2004, and before that he was on “Flash” — a book that he’s back on now — for 61 issues. Brian Bendis has done over a hundred issues of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” masterminded the Avengers since 2004, and wrote over fifty issues of “Daredevil” before turning it over to Ed Brubaker, who himself has had a 53-issue (and counting) run on “Captain America.” And lest we forget, Garth Ennis did eight years on the Punisher. Eight. Years. All runs that are actually longer than Simonson’s.
Talking this over with pal Andrew Weiss brought up a good point, too: It’s not just the top-tier characters that have enjoyed long runs, but also what are (sales-wise) the second- and third-tier books: Pak and Van Lente on “Incredible Hercules” (the closest thing to Simonson’s “Thor” we’ve seen in a long time), Abnett and Lanning on “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Jeff Parker on “Atlas.” These are characters that have less pressure on them to conform to What They Should Be, and don’t lend themselves to the Greatest Hits run, which is why those titles are some of the most dynamic and enjoyable books on the stands
So yes, Virginia: there are long runs.
Q: Rate their chairs by combined comfort & style: MODOK, Metron, Hector Hammond, Korvac, Shaper of Worlds, ’90s Professor X. —EastWes
A: As someone who sits hunched like Gollum over a computer keyboard all day, I’ve put a lot of thought into this over the years.
And now, the quick hits:
Q: What is your beef with Centaurs, anyway? I’m not hating or anything, I’m just curious. —Einar, via email
A: I couldn’t point to anything specific, I just straight up don’t like them. I’m generally not a fan of most mythological creatures that are part-human/part-animal, like satyrs and minotaurs, but Centaurs… I don’t know. They’re stupid and I hate them. I cannot offer a better answer than that.
Q: Format question. Absolutes or Omnibuses which do you prefer? —RvanceTal
A: I’m actually not a huge fan of either. With very few exceptions, I’d almost always prefer a paperback to a nice hardcover, if only because they’re just physically easier to tote around or read in bed. I love DC’s Kirby Omnibuses, but I’d be just as happy to get those stories in a softcover rather than with the added premium of a dust jacket–especially given how much of my job involves throwing them down on the scanner and trying to hold them flat.
I do have my share of both, though, so for the record: Absolutes, if only because some of the Marvel Omnibuses are so thick that they’re just unwieldy blocks of paper.
Q: How do you cull your collection of old comic books when space and/or moving becomes an issue? —ouranosaurus
A: That’s a tough one. As you might expect, I’ve got a pretty sizable amount of comics laying around the house, and it’s especially difficult to cut down, not just because I love this stuff so much, but because there’s a huge chunk of my job as a blogger that’s based on having a huge library at my disposal so I can grab panels from whatever I need to illustrate a point.
Really, though, the only way to do it is to go through your stuff and ask yourself “Am I ever going to read this again? If I want to read this again, can I grab it in trade?” Or, if you’re me, “Do I already have this in another format? Do I really need these four volumes of “Absolute Sandman” even though the paperbacks totally don’t have the new coloring?” If the answers are no, yes, yes, and no, respectively, toss it. Sell it back to your store, slap it on eBay, or give it to a kid to start him or her on the path to loving comics too.
Q: Has Archie ever fought Nazis? This would settle a bet —MichaelNoonanG
A: Actual Nazis? I don’t think so. But he did fight racism several times in “Life WIth Archie” and “Archie at Riverdale High,” the two “serious” Archie comics from the ’70s. So that’s something!
That’s all we’ve got for this week, but if you’d like to have your question answered on ComicsAlliance, tag it on twitter with “#askchris” or send us an email with “Ask Chris” in the subject line!