Thoughts On Sorting Ten Zillion Comics|
Now that I'm organizing my sprawling comics collection, I am noting several things:
They say "you can't judge a book by its cover," which is patently untrue, but it is true that you can't judge a comic book by its cover. What I have discovered, however, is that you can consistent tell how good a comic is by its range of covers. No individual cover will tell you the story, but after you've sorted through twenty issues or so, the gestalt will tell the tale.
Good comics start with a cover look, good or bad, and keep to it fairly consistently: The logo stays the same, as does their overall choice of things they show on the cover. If they're a fan of showing huge, muscular portraits, that stays the same, and if they prefer wide-scale action shots with blurbs ("Is THIS the end of OUR HERO?"), then that also stays the same. Even the overall color palette is reasonably consistent. The artists rotate, of course, but it's clear there's some overall plan.
A bad comic, however, generally realizes it's not working somewhere between issue 7 and issue 20. (Or, in the case of a lot of Vertigo lines that have been popular only because a good writer was on the case, issue x+7 to x+20, where "x" is "the issue the good writer left.") It is then that it begins rapidly cycling through logos, guest artists, cover styles, and - God help us - the painted cover, all in a frantic effort to find its own identity. It begins trying wilder experiments (usually as the writer/artist teams degrade) that are uglier and uglier until it eventually meets a much-deserved death.
In This Issue, A Comic Dies!
So, too, is the fascinating matter of The Last Issue. I've actually begun plucking the last issues of prematurely-cancelled series out of the pile and reading them, since they're usually fascinating.
See, most comics series are designed to run for about thirty-six issues, maybe forty-eight, before they run out of gas. Cancel one before that period, and there will be hanging plot threads that they don't know how to wrap up. There are several approaches:
a) OMGletsfinishthisnow. This is usually done when you have sixteen issues of plot to get through but you got the notification yesterday, and you don't want to let the readers down. Thus, you cram entire issues into a single panel and have gigantic revelations so everything gets tied up. What you get feels like one of those "On Lost" episode summaries that comes just before the real episode starts.
b) Screw you guys, I'm walkin' home. The "death with dignity" approach happens a surprising amount, wherein the creators simply tell the stories they've chosen to tell and changing nothing in the face of their impending doom. Sometimes the only clue that this is, in fact, the last issue is the lack of a "next issue" blurb (or a brief "see ya" in the letters pages).
c) Huh? Some comics are so bad they get cancelled in mid-story. The creators didn't even see it coming, which means that you get a frantic apology on the last page of the book, including a) a shout-out to everyone they worked with, b) a lament over the stories they had in mind, and c) an explanation of why this book failed in the marketplace. Most notably, they never fucking include d) what was going to happen next.
d) Fuck it. Burn the place. This is my favorite; the creators decide if they're getting cancelled, they're going for broke in the five issues they've got. These are always exciting issues, since they no longer have to worry about keeping the place tidy for the next writer who might hop on-board; major characters die in ugly ways, huge and world-shattering things happen, and, yes, dogs and cats living together.
My favorite by far was the end of Swamp Thing, which (I believe) Mark Millar was writing at the time. They got the pink slip and had the vegetal Swamp Thing decide that humanity was the cause of all of Earth's problems, and so he killed everyone on earth, one by one. All that was left were some astronauts on the moon, trying to get in touch with NASA... and turning around to see the Earth had the face of Swamp Thing.
Doesn't get any better than that, folks. Just don't try.
The Classiest Ending
Incidentally, the best ending cover of all time was Dazzler, the Marvel series created because disco was huge in America and Marvel's marketing department determined that we'd all go nuts for a disco-themed superhero. So we got a beautiful mutant rocker who rollerskated and made laser light shows.
No, I'm not kidding.
Someone at Marvel must have had a major hard-on for her, though, since they tried to resuscitate Dazzler every three issues for about forty issues. In a notoriously bad issue, they actually had Galactus fall in love with her.
But everyone still hated her; even other comics despised her. You'd put Dazzler on the rack at night, and in the morning you'd find her issue standing in the middle of an empty space as the other comics had crept away, ashamed to be associated with her. Eventually, they cancelled Dazzler.
However, I have to give Marvel props for their honesty. On the final issue was a large white blurb that said, "BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT! THE FINAL ISSUE OF DAZZLER!"
Ya know, you'd think that Archie vs. Punisher would be the oddest crossover in my collection... but it's really not. Yes, I do have the issue where Frank Castle, vigilante of death, goes to Riverdale High and begins slaughtering criminals. But it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek even then, and was expected to sell as a curiosity.
My strangest comic is actually Spider-Man teaming up with the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time players from Saturday Night Live. That's right; Spidey teams up with Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner to fight the evil of The Silver Samurai, right in NBC's studios.
Don't make me scan the cover.