Let the Great Experiment Begin!

          backissuesHello 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!

         img080 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! 

          img081Legion 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.

Wrap-around covers
Are super cool

          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.

          img084Generation 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.

         img085Manhunter #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.

          img086Jon 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!

35 thoughts on “Let the Great Experiment Begin!”

  1. This is an excellent article idea. Looks fun too. As kids we didn’t always have the opportunity to get issues from the beginning of a series (mostly because they were numbered in the hundreds back then), but also because parents don’t care about stuff like that. Whenever I had an opportunity to get any comics as a kid I was definitely a beggar first and a chooser second. Sometimes this lack of control could have magical results. I miss that. We should all take a little gamble with our comics choices again and make a habit of it too.

    1. Wasn’t it the best when you grabbed a random issue and loved it?!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article iroberts, you should definitely go out and try this, then come back here and share the results.

  2. “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 ”
    Said it before and I’ll keep saying it now:

  3. “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.”
    Ditto to the sentiment above!!!!!!

  4. I used to do this when I was younger but haven’t in a really long time, I might have to go to my LCS sometime this summer and try it again.

    Also, I cringed a bit at the part about not knowing Kitty had a dragon (he’s a space dragon named Lockheed), you should for sure check out some more Kitty Pryde stories, she’s an awesoem character.

    1. If you really want to talk quality Lockheed the early New Mutants issues with Sienksy (sorry can never spell the name) when he used to roll with Majik are straight up rad and some of the best X-Men stories ever created.

      1. I was this close to taking home a New Mutants book, specifically because Sienkiewiczs was the artist, maybe I’ll go back and grab it.

        1. That is well worth your time my friend. I will be writing about one of those issues in the very near future if you can catch my drift.

    2. Yeah my X-Men knowledge is pretty paltry, this was the first time I’ve ever read a comic with any X-men in it. I will definitely be looking for more Excalibur books, so my Kitty appreciation should only go up 🙂

            1. Hahaha I kind of love the Space Bullet. It’s like Kitty Pryde sacrificing herself for the greater good and thus becoming one with the infinite. Temporarily that is as all these things are.

                1. Word. Yeah very heart wrenching. One of the high points for the X-Men as a whole but that’s pretty much accepted across the board now.

                    1. It’s a woman that can walk through walls and has a pet purple dragon. What’s not to love?

  5. Great article. Especially as you enjoyed Excalibur so much. I am a HUGE fan of Captain Britain and Alan Davis. My favourite character and my favourite artist and the two together… A perfect match. Never was an artist/writer born to be paired with a single character more.

    I really encourage you to go out and hunt down more of these issues. But just beware and only stick with the Alan Davis drawn issues. This title started really strong and Claremont managed to get the feel just right and play to Davis unique strengths as an artist and although the title manages a couple of OK issues when Davis is replaced with fill in artists, once the cross-time caper begins it does meander a bit and that’s when you need to stick to the Davis issues and ignore the rest.

    Once the Cross-Time Caper ends Davis is off, but is tempted back as both artist and writer from issue #43 and that’s when this title really comes into it’s own. Davis fixes all the continuity issues with Captain Britain and ties up dangling plot threads and puts together the perfect package that is a joy to read.

    And if you enjoy all that then hunt down the original UK Captain Britain run all pencilled by Davis, with scripts by Alan Moore and various other writers. Comics at their finest.

    I’ve gotta completely agree with Patrick, Comics were definitely better in the 80’s.

    1. Thanks Streethawk, I’m on a mission to get my hands on more Excalibur books. Thanks for the tips regarding story quality.

      I’ll eventually check out some Captain Britain solo stuff as well, he seemed like an interesting dude. So is his power set pretty much super strength, or is there more to it?

      1. Captain Britain’s powers are magic based, bestowed on him by Merlin. He has links to Otherwolrd and is a member of the Captain Britain Corps. Unlike the Green Lantern or Nova corps. it’s one Captain per each Earth across the multiverse. Our Earth being Earth 616, a concept created by Alan Moore. His original powers were strength and agility and he carried a Quarterstaff, much like Captain America had his shield. There were four buttons on the hilt. The first extended the staff, The second projected a force field, the third an energy blast but we never found out what the fourth did.

        Merlin replaced the staff with the Star Sceptre. As well as projecting a force field this enabled flight (originally Cap vaulted about using his original staff). When Merlin sent Captain Britain and Jackdaw from Otherworld after he helped The Black Knight and King Arthur, the sceptre was merged into Cap’s new costume. While the powers were in him, the micro-circuitry in the suit amplified his powers, giving him super strength, a degree of invulnerability, flight and a force field.

        Over the years this has been kind of messed up, the force field sort of vanished, the costume kept changing with no regard to it’s original purpose…

        You know how it goes. So now he pretty much has super strength and flight. It kind of depends on who’s writing him and what knowledge they have of past events. Remender had a good grasp on things with a four part Otherworld arc in Uncanny X-Force and when he wrote Captain Britain in Secret Avengers.

        I thoroughly recommend picking up some more issues of Excalibur and Captain Britain’s old Marvel UK solo stuff.

    1. That is awesome! So was I correct in my assumption that he is some sort of soldier/spy? I wish a publisher or Grell himself would reprint these stories, I’d be all over a collection, even if it was just a greatest hits or something.

      It does not surprise me that you liked these books Reed, they seem right up your alley.

      1. I believe IDW collected the comics in several volumes. Sable was a former Olympic athlete who became a bounty hunter/solider of fortune/mercenary after his family was killed in Africa. He also wrote children’s books under the pen name “B. B. Flemm”, not to be confused with my pen name of “B.B. Gunn”.

  6. Oh, and it’s funny that you say that Jon Sable seems like a TV show that would feel right at home on Saturday nights in the 80’s.

    There was in fact an very short run Sable TV show that lasted 7 episodes. It was an odd beast and the lead seemed rather miscast. It struggled to find it’s identity through it’s brief run but really managed to find itself in the 7th and final episode, but then they killed our hero off.

    I used to have the series on old VHS tapes but who even has the means to play those now? Nowhere near the quality of The Human Target with Rick Springfield (a great show from Bilson and DeMeo) but it’s worth a look if you ever get the chance and you like obscure short run shows.

  7. What a great idea, bluth! I haven’t bought random comics since i was a kid and I’m pretty sure I still have that Excalibur issue in the attic. I’m going to try this out and see what I come up with.

    Btw, this was my favorite part,

    “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 :)”

    Damn right ,we should always know who’s ass is better! 😀

    1. Thanks hanson, I’m glad you enjoyed it, I hope your treasure hunt goes well.
      It’s awesome that this is inspiring people to try the random pick-ups again!

      In regards to the ass debate, I’m happy to see my attempt at humor worked, you never know when typing this stuff if people will laugh or think you’re weird 🙂

  8. What an amazing coincidence, Tyler because I tried something like this yesterday as well. I had a little time to kill after work and decided to stop in Half Price Books. Rather than go for the bagged comics, I went for the cheap .50 cents non bagged issues because I was feeling especially scrooge like. I ended getting Blue Beetle 3 and 4, some random Bryne Superman issues and a Booster Gold.

    I’ve only read Blue Beetle issues so far but its refreshing change of pace as his adventure was down to earth and nothing cosmic in any way.

    As for your selection, I’m with Ian(surprise) in that Excalibur with Davis is easily the best run in that series. I sold my entire set on eBay during one of my many decluttering phases but wished I had kept at least the Davis issues now. A few of them are on TPB if I recall so you can always go that route if needed.

    Legion of Super Heroes is near and dear to me so it’s disappointing you didn’t enjoy this particular issue but I think you would enjoy the earlier issues before they went into the deluxe format issues like they one you purchased. They weren’t nearly as cluttered with heroes as they were later.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the Elementals because I use to read it on a regular basis as well but it too got caught in the decluttering phase of my life. I’m sure you can find a nice set on eBay fairly cheap these days.

    Generation X was up and down if I recall when I read the series but they had some great artist on them including Bachalo and Dodson during its production.

    Overall I hope your experience inspires others to follow suit. I much rather plop the cash down for some classic nostalgia rather than some of the big summer events the Big 2 have going on now.

    1. Haha, yes I too conducted this experiment with what I found in the 50 cent bins 🙂

      I won’t rule out Legion winning me over with a collection down the line, but yeah this one issue didn’t do much for me. I will give them another shot someday.

      Elementals is rad, I’m definitely going to hunt down some more issues of that. I’m glad you enjoyed the article Jeremy, we should all give this exercise a try every once in a while, it’s a lot of fun.

    2. You got rid of your Excalibur issues? Dude! I have a complete run although anything that doesn’t involve Davis is a total dud. But the Davis issues are some of my favourite comics ever. But then I live for Captain Britain.

      Good choices on the Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Byrne Superman issues. Some real favourites of mine. There’s some other books that I’d never part with.

      I’m with you on the Levitz/Giffen LoSH run as well. It was better before it went Baxter but a great run from the Legion’s best creators.

      1. Yeah I have a ton of long boxes and made decision to trim my collection down. And like you said, Excalibur ran for 125 issues but only the Davis runs were any good so it axed. Thankful they have those runs in tradepaperback and I plan on getting those when cash permits.

  9. Ha! Yeah, covers were the deciding factor back in the day. Then, interior art became most important as I grew a little older (the 90s was a paradise for young bucks like me who valued visual stimulation above all else). Story didn’t become most important to me until it was too late in the mid to late 90s when I walked away from comic books because of terrible writing like Clone Saga, Knightfall and the all-time worst comic book storyline : DC VS Marvel which pitted our favorite heroes against one another and then ultimately spliced them together as hybrids for some stupid reason. Bat-Wolverine? BARF.
    The only time I really roll the dice with what I’m reading these days is when Image has a new series, but even then my decision is based on the premise and creative team. I actually try at all costs not to judge things based on their respective covers. Comics or otherwise. 😉

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