Why I will no longer buy Detective (Batman) Comics

>> Friday, January 9, 2009

I broke the other day. I read the two latest installments of Detective Comics (the classic flagship Batman title) and The Flash (my favorite superhero character) and was so disappointed/upset that I snapped. I decided that day, after much agonizing, to drop my subscription to both comics, despite having a run of Flash that goes back to the early 80s, and a run of Detective that goes back at least to the mid-90s.

A few of my comic book-reading friends asked me to explain my sudden and somewhat violent reaction, so I thought I would blog about it.

I should say at the outset that there are a number of factors in this decision, and that this has been building for some time. My grievances in both cases are largely separate. That is, for the most part I have a different beef with Flash than with Detective. But I will say that overall, both titles have been spotty in the last year. That's to be expected in a serial, as writers and artists change. But my biggest problems have been with the overall design and course of the characters and the books, and for that I fault the editors at DC.

Let's start with Detective Comics, as that one doesn't raise my blood pressure nearly so much. Detective has seen some pretty exceptional authorial runs in the years I've been reading it, highlighted, in my humble opinion, by Greg Rucka's long run, and Paul Dini's recent go at it. What triggered my cancellation wasn't really the writing or the art; it was that Detective, as one of DC's major books, falls prey to too many crossovers. Crossovers are events that spill over into multiple books. Sometimes these are minor crossovers--like all the Bat-books featuring the same on-going story--and sometimes they are great universe-spanning events that drag everyone into the fray.

Just this past month, Detective featured the first half of a story that will be finished in Batman, the other major Batman title. A title I don't subscribe to. Next month's Detective story also promises to be continued in Batman. Yes, there are multiple books with the same star character. Superman has two books of his own too--Superman, and Action Comics.

As a friend reminded me, the multiple books for a single character problem is not nearly so bad as it once was. Back when I started reading and collecting comics in earnest in the early- to mid-90s, there were no fewer than four ongoing Batman titles you had to read if you wanted to keep up with Batman's ongoing story: Detective Comics, Batman, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, and Batman: Shadow of the Bat. Legends, at least, told stories from Batman's early career, and so could usually be skipped if you were hard-up for cash. But the others formed the basic continuity of Batman's life. If you wanted to follow Greg Rucka's exceptional "No Man's Land" storyline, for example (which chronicled the fallout in Gotham City after a devastating earthquake) you had to subscribe to all four books. If you only subscribed to one, you got one fourth of the story. For an entire year.

Worse, beyond the main storyline in the four major Bat-books, there were the ancillary stories that arose in the Bat-family of titles. The events of "No Man's Land" spun off into Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, Azrael, one episode of JLA, and even one episode of Young Justice! You didn't have to read any of these to follow the main storyline, but you knew you were missing something if you didn't. And it's not much better today. When I click on "Batman and Related Books" on my online comic book provider's site, it currently lists the following continuity titles: Batman, Batman: Confidential, Birds of Prey, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Robin, and Simon Dark. And that's not counting the seven mini-series in continuity!

What's a fan to do? Either buy them all and be happy but broke, buy a few and be interested but often confused, or buy none of them and wait for the graphic novel compilations.

Which is what I'm going to start doing. The same friend who reminded me that things aren't as bad as they once were (and he's right, to a degree) also told me that he only subscribes to 20 books a month across the major comic book companies, and still manages never to miss anything. Twenty books a month! Oy! Counting Detective and Flash, I was subscribing to just seven ongoing comics, and that was already a pretty expensive habit. Each of the five comics in my last subscription box was $2.99 each. Twenty books at that price would be sixty bucks! A month! That's $720 a year! That's about what we were paying for cable before we dumped it.

I can't do that. I won't. So my alternatives are to continue to collect a book which might, next month, be part of a good self-contained story, or might just as likely be the beginning or end of a story in another comic title I don't subscribe to; or drop the subscription and just prowl the new graphic novels at the bookstore looking for story collections I can follow all bound together in one volume that are less-expensive than buying the comics separately, easier to store and reread than bagged and boarded comics, and often laden with extras like commentary and early art.

The choice is pretty obvious, when I separate myself from the "collector" mentality, which is pretty preposterous in its own right. Like baseball cards, most comics are worth less than what you paid for them the minute you walk out of the store with them. You'll spend far more money speculating on what might one day prove valuable than you could ever get back selling off your rare comics, unless you're like my friend Glenn Abbott who happens to own a Wolverine first appearance because he liked buying and reading Hulk comics when he was a kid.

So I did it. Yesterday I went to my online dealer and clicked the little "x" beside Detective. I love the character of Batman--as does Jo--but DC has made it impossible for me to subscribe to just one book and follow his adventures.

This has gotten long, so I'll save my Flash rant for later. Besides, you've got better things to do today than see a fanboy cry...


Dahlia January 9, 2009 at 5:58 PM  

Crossovers can be really annoying. Like Marvel's Civil War comic, it had the longest shopping list of other comics you needed to buy to get the whole story (needless to say, I only bought the 7 issues of Civil War).

Kirby3131 January 11, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

I had no idea. None. I have never read a comic in my life, but I have known people who do and I always wondered why they had so darn many of them. I'd be pretty frustrated too if that was done with some of my books. (To finish the story, purchase...)

Congrats on putting that X where it belongs (in your opinion) It sounds like a good decision.

Tim Byrd January 12, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

Batman is probably my favorite character in any medium, and I'm with you 100% on this.

I love comics, but several years ago forced myself to stop buying them regularly. The price of the things in general was a factor (at $3 an issue, and say ten minutes to read each, we're looking at a basic expense of about $18 per hour, which is significantly higher than any other form of entertainment I spend on), but the crossover syndrome you write about was even more an issue.

I enjoy big sprawling tales, and organically developing universes...but I hate when the actual story jumps from title to title, forcing you to buy everything to follow it. If the publishers would just run these events without doing that, I wouldn't mind. I'd just read the main event storyline series (like "Civil War" say), and the series I might be reading anyway containing related events concerning the characters I'm interested in.

I'm also a proponent of the graphic novel collections. I have a shelf full of Marvel hardbacks (mainly various Ultimate titles and Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men), and a couple of shelves of paperback collections (most notably of late: Buffy Season 8).

It's a shame really, because I think the quality of comics in general is higher than it has ever been.


Tim Byrd
www.DocWilde.com, home of the Frogs of Doom

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