Hello, darlings. This entry is not going to be accompanied by images, mostly because I’m not entirely sure what images could illustrate the points I’m trying to make here, and also because I’m writing this from my work computer and have no relevant images saved. I do hope you’ll forgive me.
With the recent release of the Wonder Woman movie, a lot of people, myself included, were inspired to get in on the comics. So we go to the nearest comic book store and head to the DC shelves, and see an entire shelf devoted to Wonder Woman, with dozens and dozens of series dating all the way back to her creation. Where to start? Well, we could go with publication order, but that’s kind of like trying to watch every episode of classic Doctor Who before starting on Nine. Kind of unrealistic. We could start at the beginning of a particular writer’s series, but when we crack open the first volume, we find characters and references from previous series that we don’t expect from a volume one. Surely picking up a first volume, or first issue, should mean we’re equipped to start reading the story and become engrossed without having to study for it.
But nah, that’s not how the comic book world works.
A more specific example. After the Wonder Woman movie, wanting to explore more of her world, I asked a friend who loves comics even more than I do (although we definitely love different genres of comics…) where to start. No other form of media requires this, by the way. You wanna start watching Game of Thrones? Start on episode one. You don’t even have to read the books first, they explain everything. Want to watch Fargo? You don’t have to have seen the movie first, you’ll know what’s going on. Wanna start reading Lord of the Rings? They pretty much cover the important stuff from The Hobbit so you’ll know where everybody stands.
Comics? Nope. When I started reading the series my friend recommended to me, I knew about three characters, and the rest were from previous DC comics that I hadn’t read. This wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d worked some sort of introduction in for these characters. I had no fuckin’ idea who Cheetah was, I didn’t know what the hell she and Diana were talking about. Some things I could gather, but others I was still in the dark about and had to Google. Call me old fashioned, but I for one think you shouldn’t have to have Google at the ready the entire time you’re reading something just to understand what’s happening. But maybe I’m an old soul.
When I saw the name ‘Rebirth’ on a bunch of DC’s new comics, I felt an instant sense of relief. Rebirth! That meant it was all fresh, all new! I would be able to read it and understand it because it was a fresh start!
Hahaha, I think the fuck not!
Turns out, as I learned reading the introductory volume of Rebirth, you pretty much had to have read Flashpoint beforehand. So I went and read Flashpoint, but there were plot points from previous comics referenced in that as well that I was in the dark about. So I sort of just shuffled through Flashpoint, and although I really did love it and got a lot out of it, I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I would have if I had all that background info. But I’m assuming, had I gone after the background info, I would have been met with the same thing. And then more. And more. Until I was back in the days where Robin didn’t wear any pants and Harley Quinn wasn’t even a twinkle in Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s eyes.
And dammit, I just wanted to read some Wonder Woman comics!
Geekdom of all sorts has a sort of… let’s call it notoriety, when it comes to new members, particularly geekdom that revolves around the ‘classic’ aspects: comics, video games, tabletop games, et cetera. It’s a well-known fact that women and girls in particular often feel unwelcome from spaces dedicated to these, even and perhaps especially online spaces. We’re held to a higher standard than male fans of the same things, and a lot of the times saying we’re a fan of something is followed by an unsolicited pop quiz to see if we’re a real fan.
But the truth is, a lot of younger male fans can’t even pass these quizzes, because there are like twenty-five canons and everything has been retconned at least twelve times and there are ten Robins and like 200 people who’ve been in the Justice League and anybody trying to dip their toes into comics are either forced to stay in the kiddie pool or pushed into the deep end without any floaties.
Now Kell, you’re probably thinking, is there really any way to fix this? Surely you aren’t implying every current comic arc just up and STOP in favor of a true fresh start, beginning all the way back with origin stories and continuing from there?
Well, I’m not gonna lie and say I wouldn’t totally love that. Think of all the new faces we’d get in the fandom. Think of the kids, the tweens who’d be able to read these comics and wait anxiously for the next issue because they’ve traveled with Diana and Bruce and Clark from the beginning of their adventures as heroes! But yeah, I know it’s unrealistic. Comics are a long and well-loved tradition, and abandoning the history of these characters is a big thing to ask.
But I feel as if there’s a lot of things that can be done to make entry into the comic nerd club a little easier. Blurbs at the beginning providing info on past plots necessary for understanding the current one, for example, reminiscent of, “Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Footnotes that actually say things other than “See Issue 5 of Justice League” as if that’s helpful and not just the beginning of a wild goose chase of complicated plots and character development.
As much as it pains me to admit this, since I’m a DC girl through and through, Marvel seems to have a better grasp on keeping new fans up to date. Maybe it’s because their media empire is bigger, maybe that makes reaching out to as many new readers as possible a priority. Either way, another series I started recently was Miss Marvel, and I had almost no problem keeping up with it. Even though I was new to the world of Captain Marvel and her history as Miss Marvel, so was Kamala Khan, the new Miss Marvel herself! We were figuring shit out together, she and I, and the only things that really needed explaining were who Captain Marvel was and that Kamala was a huge fan. Boom. Both things covered, let’s enjoy the ride. It merits saying, however, that this might be less of Marvel’s overall outlook and more of G. Willow Wilson’s writing. Thanks for looking out, girl.
And other comic writers, take note.
Are these the bitter ramblings of a girl too dumb to follow complicated plots? Eh, maybe. But I do think that we’re currently living in the golden age of superhero media, and that DC and Marvel alike could stand to make the origins of these superheroes more accessible to potential newbies. I feel like it’s not a radical concept, not having to do an hour of homework before settling down to read.
What do y’all think about this? Has being overwhelmed stopped you from reading any long-running superheroes? And if so, how do you think publishers could remedy this? Let me know what you think!
Meanwhile, I’ll be in the corner with my Image comics.