Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Reading By Issue

Cover of Hawkeye Volume Three, L.A. Woman Cover of The Trial of Jean Grey, a Guardians of the Galaxy and All-New X-Men crossover

Back in the day, I read single issues of everything. I bought random comics from thrift stores and liquidation centres, and I purchased a small handful of fresh-off-the-press monthlies.

Trade collections weren’t a big thing back then, and the few that were available generally cost upwards of $30. Single issues were my only option, and I embraced them with an open heart until the sad, sad day when they became too expensive for my budget.

Thankfully, trade collections went down in price soon after. Y'all know that's how I read nowadays. I either get trade collections or I wait until an arc's worth of issues is up on Marvel Unlimited. I haven’t bought a paper single issue in well over a decade, though I do buy most of my digital comics by issue after each story arc wraps.

Trades changed my life. They taught me I don't like to wait; or rather, I prefer to wait half a year or so for a longer story than to wait a month between each piece of the puzzle. I enjoy the story more that way.

Or so I thought.

My original plan for Marvel Unlimited was to read exclusively by arc, same as always, but I’ve broken away from that model with four series to date: HAWKEYE, ALL-NEW X-MEN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and UNCANNY X-MEN.

It all started with HAWKEYE, and it was a mistake. I thought #13-18 formed a complete arc, so I dove in as soon as #18 went live in the archive--and instead of a full story, I got several bits of two larger storylines that alternated on an issue-by-issue basis. And even though the wait for additional issues wasn't ideal, I didn't enjoy HAWKEYE any less for it. It wasn’t the end of the world.


I tried it with ALL-NEW X-MEN next. I’d had a ton of fun with the series and thought it might be worth trying a monthly schedule with it. Take myself back to my comics reading roots, you know?

Again, the world failed to end. Again, my enjoyment factor remained solid.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY received the treatment next, mostly because I needed Cancerverse answers as soon as ever I could get ‘em. I may or may not continue reading this title by issue after I know everything I want to know about Nova’s fate. I haven’t decided yet.

Finally, I broke down and started reading UNCANNY X-MEN on a monthly basis. I’m enjoying it nearly as much as ALL-NEW X-MEN, and it’s the same thing there: reading by issue still keeps it fresh and interesting.

I don't intend to implement this reading style with everything--I still prefer to read by arc when possible--but it's nice to know I’ve got the option if I fall in love with another series down the road.

Even though reading by issue hasn’t hampered my enjoyment, it has required a few mental adjustments. Foremost among them:

The recaps at the start of each issue have become important

I’ve spent the last nine months ignoring the recaps at the start of each (recentish) issue unless they did something particularly special. SHE-HULK’s are entertaining; ALL-NEW X-FACTOR’s include updates on Peter David’s family; HAWKEYE’s ask the reader to question why she even keeps reading them, because she really should have figured out the score by now.

When it’s been a month or so since my last issue of the comic in question, though, recaps really do make a difference. The usual "here’s what this comic is about" paragraph doesn’t hold much value for anyone with a basic familiarity with the series, but the plot summary helps me out a lot. It jogs my memory and tells me which past events I ought to keep fresh in my mind as I read, much like the Previously On segment at the start of an hour-long TV drama.

I can’t wallow

I’ve grown used to wallowing in comics. I’ll settle in with my arc's worth of issues (or my trade collection; whichever) and spend an hour or so immersing myself in that world, with the occasional break between issues so’s I can tweet any feels I may experience.

In contrast, it takes me seven to ten minutes to read the average single issue; a blip in time, with no chance of another dose for the next month or more.

I’ve got to adopt a different mentality going in. No wallowing; no quick gratification should I experience a particularly moreish moment. I’ve gotta take what I’ve got, enjoy it, and accept it’ll be a while yet before my next dose.

I’m more aware of peak moments

It’s not so much that I’ve been unaware of them prior to this, but reading by issue had made me even more conscious of how exciting comics are. Something must change in each issue. There’s no time to waste on contemplation or infodumps, and few issues are composed entirely of quieter moments. When you’ve only got twenty-two or twenty-four pages a month, you’ve got to give the audience at least one major fight, shocking revelation, or character development opportunity.

Ideally, of course, each issue is packed with such things, but sometimes you do need to take a step back and spend a little time establishing the world and all that.

Still: excitement is king. Let your characters stop and consider their situation, sure, but pepper their dialogue with witticisms and pithy banter. Let them calmly discuss their relationships, but drop a major truth bomb or two at the least comfortable moment. Maybe push everyone into a fight, with a villain or with each other. Something has to change before the issue ends. No time-outs allowed.

Do you prefer to read by issue or by arc? What are some challenges you’ve encountered with each method?

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