Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Comic Books I Have Tried to Read

For most of my years collecting comic books I've been a fan of Marvel Comics. Not only does Marvel account for the majority of my collection, I've been able to justify a few oddball purchases here and there because (I reason) it all gives me a better understanding of Marvel. As a Marvel freelancer, there may yet be a way to justify my owning NFL Superpro, Night Nurse and Druid.

Around 2002 I began to seriously examine comic books outside of Marvel, hoping to broaden my horizons (and palate). While I've developed a lot of new favourite books in the near-decade since then (Usagi Yojimbo, Supernatural Law, Rex Libris), many new books I've tried out never panned out beyond the first issue. These superfluous #1s in my collection are a bit of an embarrassment to me.

Now, often publishers will lower the price of their first issue to draw more readers ($0.25-1.00) and I've bought into this numerous times. As the inexpensive issue #1 has almost never led to becoming a monthly follower, I'm trying to curb such purchases. At any rate, excluding such aforementioned books, here's a sampling of comics whose first issue...was my last issue. I'm not intending to insult any of the proceeding titles, rather I'm delving into my sometimes-flighty reasons for ignoring a comic and (perhaps) illustrating how important it is for a first issue to win over the audience, especially when the audience is new to the characters and their universe. If any of my statements seem ignorant or damning, just imagine the stories I could tell about comics I gave up on while they were still on the rack; further, just imagine how comics like these appear to the novice comic book fan, as opposed to an old die hard like me. As it has been said, every comic book is someone's first...and last.

Human Defense Corps#1 (DC Comics, limited series)

What Is it? Spinning out of a recent line-wide DC crossover (which I hadn't read), the Human Defense Corps were normal foot soldiers being sent up against the many and varied extra-normal threats of the DC Universe.

Why Was It My First Issue? As an old fan of G.I. Joe, I was interested in the concept and eager to see what kind of menaces the Human Defense Corps would have to face.

Why Was It My Last Issue? Unfortunately, the Human Defense Corps' primary antagonists were some sort of mystical characters from the DC Universe and it wasn't really what I was interested in.

Outsiders#1 (DC Comics, ongoing series)

What Is it? Spinning out of a minor crossover (which I hadn't read), the Outsiders were a relaunched team of "proactive" heroes out to get the bad guys. In this issue, Arsenal & Nightwing gather their team.

Why Was It My First Issue? I'd been enjoying writer Judd Winnick's work on Marvel's Exiles and I felt ready to try out a DC Universe super hero team book.

Why Was It My Last Issue? Well, the word "proactive" has never lead to anything worthwhile in the history of fiction (hyperbole?). Given the team's remit some of the members (Jade) didn't seem to belong. I was also really put out by a new character introduced here, Grace, who's shown to be a bouncer at a club frequented by monsters which only prompted me to wonder why, if the Outsiders were out to clean up on crime, they didn't start with Grace's place of business. But I think it was the last page appearance of Gorilla Grodd which convinced me this was just another DC super hero team book.

Wildguard: Casting Call#1 (Image, limited series)

What Is it? With a set-up like a reality TV program, a panel of judges examine dozens of super heroes to see which are worthy to join the Wildguard.

Why Was It My First Issue? The reality TV-like concept caught my notice and I struck by the potential for humour and drama in the concept.

Why Was It My Last Issue? This issue had to juggle introducing dozens of new characters. Todd Nauck was absolutely on his game when it came to designing them, but by the nature of the concept, you couldn't become particularly attached to them. It's still a great concept I'd like to see again.

Villains United#1 (DC Comics, limited series)

What Is it? In preparation for a line-wide crossover (which I didn't read), most of the DC Universe's super-villains have joined forces under the leadership of Lex Luthor and others; however, the members of the Secret Six refuse to join them.

Why Was It My First Issue? The lineup of villains on the cover intrigued me and I was already becoming a fan of writer Gail Simone.

Why Was It My Last Issue? The contents didn't match the cover; when I found out it was actually a Secret Six mini-series I bailed on the project.

Red Menace#1 (DC Comics, limited series)

What Is it? During the McCarthy era "witch hunt," a super hero gives up his secret identity to the government as a show of good faith; it's just the beginning of his problems.

Why Was It My First Issue? I've always been interested in seeing super hero comics tackle McCarthyism, perhaps because in the actual 1950s the super heroes either avoided the issue or played along with the "red menace" rhetoric.

Why Was It My Last Issue? That said, this comic seemed more interested in being a noir drama (perhaps in graphic novel format) rather than being a super hero comic book.

Stormwatch PHD#1 (DC Comics, ongoing series)

What Is it? Set in the Wildstorm Universe, a variety of non-costumed people are recruited to serve in an anti-superhuman crime task force.

Why Was It My First Issue? I had become a great fan of writer Christos N. Gage and had yet to read a Gage comic I didn't like. The concept of non-super heroes combating super crime held some appeal.

Why Was It My Last Issue? This was the first Gage comic I did not like. The series relied on too much prior knowledge of the Wildstorm Universe...which probably has a lot to do with the eventual collapse of Wildstorm. I was completely unprepared for the many references to preexisting characters and past events. I was also put out by the last page, where the team are revealed to have a traitor in their ranks; I wished the series could have at least given me a chance to develop an affinity for the cast before tearing them down. Finally, because this issue was spent introducing the cast one at a time (to give them proper identification to the reader), there was no sense of what the series' actual content would be like.

Justice Society of America#1 (DC Comics, ongoing series)

What Is it? Relaunched after a brief hiatus, this continues the adventures of the DC Universe's first team of super heroes, now mentoring a baker's dozen of proteges.

Why Was It My First Issue? I had followed the predecessor series JSA in the past. I eventually quit reading it, but I felt the new issue #1 was a good chance to see if things had changed.

Why Was It My Last Issue? Nothing had really changed, especially where writer Geoff Johns was concerned. Throughout JSA I had been frustrated by the superficial changes the title was constantly experiencing - new costumes, new codenames, members leaving, members joining, members dying, members resurrecting (kind of a decompressed Axe Cop) - to the point where I found myself wishing the series would just settle down and tell some stories about the Justice Society, rather than the senseless fluctuation of the status quo. In this issue #1, I could see things only growing worse as the already-sprawling cast gained several new members. I decided Johns was more interested in the idea of a Justice Society comic, rather than producing a Justice Society comic.

Lobster Johnson: the Iron Prometheus#1 (Dark Horse, limited series)

What Is it? A 1930s pulp-style hero (set in the same universe as Hellboy) battles occult threats.

Why Was It My First Issue? This is only one of many attempts I've made to become a regular reader of Hellboy; I've been interested in reading Hellboy since I saw the first live action film, yet the comics almost always leave me cold. The attraction here was that I knew Lobster Johnson didn't have much back story already established so I would probably find a fairly approachable story.

Why Was It My Last Issue? Like most Hellboy universe properties, something felt "off" to me. I can't connect to the characters or the world they inhabit, much as I'd like to.

The Next Issue Project#1 (Image, limited series)

What Is it? Creators pay homage to 1940s comics with an issue designed to resemble the hypothetical "next issue" of a long-dead 40s comic book.

Why Was It My First Issue? The concept and larger page size were appealing, as were the names of contributors Bill Sienkiewicz and Jim Rugg.

Why Was It My Last Issue? In retrospect, the presence of Bill Sienkiewicz should have been my first indication of this title's mixed message. Some stories were written and drawn to look like a vintage comic; others were much the same as a 21st century comic, simply employing long-vanished characters; still others broke entirely from the original character concepts to envision them as something else. While I enjoyed a number of the features in this first book, the inconsistent message swayed me into steering clear of the rest.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance#1 (DC Comics, limited series)

What Is it? The self-indulgent Super Young Team of Japan are out to make their mark as the DC Universe's greatest long as they don't actually have to make an effort.

Why Was It My First Issue? Although I didn't read Final Crisis I had heard of Super Young Team on various blogs while the event was running and they sounded like a clever concept. Creators Joe Casey and Chriscross were a reliable team, to boot.

Why Was It My Last Issue? I was seriously unprepared for this comic. I didn't expect Casey's story to skewer its cast so immediately and constantly. The Super Young Team spend the first issue talking about how they're the greatest super heroes of all time, but do nothing to prove it. Undermining the cast seemed to be the point of the series, but I couldn't deal with such unlikeable characters. I suppose I thought it would be funnier?

Turf#1 (Image, limited series)

What Is it? In 1920s New York, gangsters, vampires and aliens collide.

Why Was It My First Issue? I had enjoyed Jonathan Ross' TV special In Search of Steve Ditko and was interested to see if he could write comic books.

Why Was It My Last Issue? Well, I learned more about Turf from the solicitation text than I did in issue #1, which is seldom a good sign. To my astonishment, Turf takes a ludicrous concept and plays it straight, delving into the internal politics of vampire clans (which are fascinating to all the Masquerade players, I suppose) and gradually building up a conflict between them and the mob. And there might be an alien wandering through two pages. I came for Grand Guignol and found I'd bought Samuel Beckett.

Hawks of Outremer#1 (Boom!, limited series)

What Is it? Adventures of the Crusader hero Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, from the pen of Robert E. Howard.

Why Was It My First Issue? It was a light week for me at the comic shop and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket. The Crusades trappings caught my eye.

Why Was It My Last Issue? It occurred to me that as I prefer to delve into the original source material when it comes to adaptations that I really ought to read the original Hawks of Outremer by Howard for myself.

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