Hello friends, this week at The Banana Stand I’ve decided to journey into the world of back issues with a little experiment. I’ve noticed that a lot of readers–myself included–are allowing continuity and the desire to read every issue affect the way they approach comics, and I think this is causing us all to take things a little too seriously, especially numbering. It’s proven that a shiny #1 on any issue results in a bump in sales, and this is largely because we’re scared to just jump in and enjoy a comic like when we were kids. Sure big issue numbers are intimidating, but that shouldn’t cause us to pass over a story we’re interested in, just because it’s not the beginning.
It was this observation that caused me to try out the old method and just grab some books that looked cool, and see what happened–numbering be damned, I want freedom! I visited a couple comic shops and rummaged through a ton of back issues with the goal of grabbing comics that I was not familiar with, paying little attention to the numbering, so I could experience them for the first time like a new reader. There were a few differences, like the fact that I did pay attention–when allowed–to creative teams and cover art, which provided me at least some insight into what I’d be getting into. After shuffling back and forth, I ended up taking home about thirteen books that I was curious about reading but had little to no knowledge of; I wasn’t able to cover them all, but I think we have a fair sampling of my adventure here. The only way I can think of to structure this is to go book by book, and give my take. As always I’ll try to justify my opinions with reason, and discuss what I liked as well as disliked about each, but I’ll be pretty succinct because otherwise this will be a long-ass, possibly boring article 🙂 Sounds good right? Cool, well here we go!
Excalibur #3 By Chris Claremont and Alan Davis: This was actually even more enjoyable than I was expecting. I picked this because we have some blokes from across the pond who’re regulars around here, and I’ve read their comments about how awesome Captain Britain is, and this series as well. Though I’m not a regular X-Men reader, so my only familiarization with these characters is from the movies. I recognized Juggernaut on the cover, and Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde and Phoenix from random encounters over the years; I had no idea who Meggan was, nor did I know her powers, but that was all covered, so no big deal. The art was–unsurprisingly–great, Alan Davis is well regarded for a reason, the dude can draw some beautiful action sequences, and when things slow down he handles character work with just as much aplomb. Facial expressions and body language were clear and appropriate for the scenes, overall it was a well paced, and the layouts were basic but effective.
Story wise, Claremont does a fine job. Having never read anything by him previously, his reputation surely preceeded him, but I feel like he lived up to it for the most part. This issue saw the team thwart a jail break by guest star Juggernaut, move into a new base inside a lighthouse–which I thought was pretty sweet–then they did a bunch of regular folks stuff; you know, like fight about bathroom schedules, deal with possible alcoholism–by lighting said alcohol on fire with a dragon–and some relationship drama to round things out 🙂 I never knew Kitty had a dragon and now I think I like her more–I’m a sucker for chicks with dragons thanks to Daenerys–Nightcrawler also seemed pretty cool, and Captain Britain is a whisky hound which earns him points in my book. Overall I’m definitely interested in reading more about this team, so when Marvel announces Kieron Gillen’s new series this year, I really hope it’s ALL-NEW Excalibur Now!
Legion of Super-Heroes #5 By Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Steve Lightle, and Larry Mahlsstedt: I chose this issue because I had heard good things about the Legion, and thought a heavy space adventure book would be cool to check out. However, I didn’t think this was that successful in making me want to read more. I also know jack shit about Legion of Super-Heroes, but aside from some pretty cool art, this book was confusing and I never really found any footing in the narrative. I realize this can be a problem when you just jump into a book, but the hope is even if you don’t know all the idiosyncrasies of the characters, you still enjoy what happens. I think a lot of my problems stem from this book having around 20 different people in it, none of whom seem to know what’s going on, and it was hard to tell who was a hero and who was a villain.
There are a plethora of powers being used, some of them are pretty Deus Ex Machina, and others are explicitly staged to confuse the characters, and in turn the reader. For example, the book ends with a villain declaring they tapped into a legionnaire’s brain and learned their secrets, so they’ve trapped the remaining heroes in another universe in a bubble, and no one can save them. I suppose after reading a few more issues, I could understand things better, but this didn’t make me want to get the next one all that much. I do think the premise is cool, I’m down for a space opera, but maybe this is one series where starting from a beginning point is better for overall enjoyment.
Elementals #28 By Bill Willingham and Jill Thompson: This was probably the biggest surprise for me, because even though it’s creator owned, the credits are not on the cover. The manager at my shop informed me that it was Willingham’s first creator owned book; which piqued my interest along with the cover, but I had no idea Jill Thompson did the art, and it was lovely. Thompson’s style was still developing here so it looks closer to her work in Sandman, than any of her gorgeous watercolor stuff I’m more familiar with. Even with the rather bright colors from Kurt Mausert, Thompson is able to maintain a dark mood for the pages, and that works well with the script by Willingham, which is very much a horror story starring super-heroes.
The Elementals are a team of super-beings that–you guessed it–all have powers based on the four elements, water, fire, air, and earth. They’ve been called to a town in Oregon where all the inhabitants have been turned to a brittle stone, frozen in time by some sort of monster, who has been sprung from containment by a deranged scientist. As I said before it reads very much like a horror story–which is right up my alley–and by the end I was left wanting more. I’m pretty sure you cannot find this book collected anywhere, so I’ll be forced to hunt through back issue bins till I can find more, which is fine and I’ll definitely be doing so when I get the chance.
Generation X #7 By Scott Lobdell and Roger Cruz: Well it would probably take you about two seconds to guess what decade this book came out just by looking at the artwork. I’m not a very big fan of the nineties aesthetic, and this book is so freakin’ nineties it’s amazing. Every
caricature character is drawn with outrageous proportions, and the largest fused teeth veneers money cannot buy. Seriously, I couldn’t tell who had the better ass, Jubilee or Banshee!–comics should not have me raising questions like this, we should always know who’s ass is better. I eventually settled on Jubilee, but not without some debate 🙂 So anyway, I’m not a fan of the art, but I won’t hold it against Mr. Cruz, he was probably just following suit to earn a paycheck in the decade of crosshatches. There were some pretty nice layouts, I’ll give him that, and I think I caught a subtle Calvin and Hobbes homage amongst the pages of Monet St. Croix’s coloring book, which is pretty cool if that was the case.
I will say that if even though it lacks an art style I enjoy, the story was good enough for it’s target audience–teens–and I’m sure 1993 Tyler would’ve probably enjoyed this more than 2014 Tyler did. The story ended with a decent cliffhanger, and the humor throughout kept a solid tone for a younger audience book–I found the humor pretty lame for the record–which was probably a goal of Lobdell. I don’t care to read more, but that has a lot more to do with my personal taste than any shortcoming by the creative team or the issue; I think it did a good job of allowing those interested to jump aboard without much confusion.
Manhunter #33 By Marc Andreyko and Michael Gaydos: This was an interesting book, I’d never even heard of a Manhunter that wasn’t from Mars, so I thought “what the hell, let’s see what this is all about.” I also wanted to try out a few books that were from the last 10 years or so 🙂 I thought the art was good, nothing amazing, but it reminded me a little of Alex Maleev or John Paul Leon; it was gritty, with plenty of chiaroscuro and thick, confident lines. The images were pretty static, but I enjoyed the layouts, and the story beats throughout the action provided a decent sense of motion from panel to panel.
The story was good enough, but I got the feeling that DC, or maybe Andreyko–I obviously don’t know for sure–felt that Kate couldn’t sustain a book on her own, because they seemed to mention other heroes and villains a fair amount, and she was part of a team–Birds of Prey?–it seemed, because she was in contact with both Oracle and Huntress during her mission. Overall, I thought the story was pretty cool, I wouldn’t necessarily seek out more issues, but if I knew someone who had them already I might borrow them to see how the story progressed. Kate seemed like a cool character, though she did get a little too quippy for me at times, but strong women in comics are rare and she seemed to fit the bill, so I assume some girls/women out there enjoyed having this book out. I do think the book did a good enough job for a new reader to hit the ground running and just enjoy the story from here, which is what I was looking for in doing this experiment, so there’s that.
Jon Sable, Freelance #26 by Mike Grell: I’ve seen plenty of Jon Sable in back issue bins before, so when I spotted this one, I had to grab it. The art was somewhat rough, but I think that reflects the paper quality and production more than the skills of Mike Grell, who is super talented. I’m not sure if this was a good issue for the uninitiated, because it seemed to be a flashback tale of Jon’s father from WWII; I didn’t mind this in the least though, because it was a cool story. There were moments where one needed to suspend all levels of disbelief, like when a plane is shot down by a character with a machine gun who was hanging off the side of a cliff. My favorite moment however, involved an intimate night of camping and the line, “Is Spam an aphrodisiac?” For the record, the answer was a definitive yes 🙂 and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard reading a war comic.
In all honesty, I would definitely check out more issues of Jon Sable: Freelance, it seems like a cool war/spy story that would be right at home on TV Saturday nights in the eighties. This particular issue was a one shot, which worked out perfectly for me, but unfortunately I still don’t know exactly what the titular Jon Sable actually does in his own book.
I had a pretty good time with this experiment, and I hope that you all enjoyed reading about it. I had a chance to check out some books I had no previous experience with, and as a result I’ll probably be on the lookout for some trades or other issues of some of these comics in the future. My main goal was to show that sometimes getting hung up about continuity and reading the “whole story” gets in the way of just having fun reading comics. I’m sure most folks reading this were forced as children to just jump in and go from whatever issue you happened to find, or get from a sibling. You can still do that today, and the best part is if you like what you read, you can then seek out a trade or previous issues to catch up on what you missed pretty easily. I encourage those of you who’re hesitant, to go out and try this yourselves, it was pretty fun, and quite a few of these surprised me and were pretty awesome.
Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts about my experiment, or any of the books I covered. The whole point of this is to stimulate discussion, so have at it. Are you a slave to the numbering, or do you already enjoy grabbing random issues? Speak up NBC! faithful, I want to know. As always, thanks for reading!