Destroying Comics Part 3, Myth of the New Reader Friendly Superhero Comic

Those of us who read superhero comic books thrive on confusion.

Originally, I was going to go into what the comic book reader can do to help save the medium we love so much.  But I was ambushed by this crazy illness which has laid me up for a few days.  As I often do when I'm sick, I looked to my comic book collection to help me pass the time.

Apparently, my illness is from Earth-2, as I've done nothing but read DC stories involving the pre-crisis multiverse.  The fact that the previous sentence made sense to a bunch of people is a pretty good indication that we superhero fans love totally insane comic books.  And we should embrace that.  It's what makes superhero stories great.

It's also what makes the idea of a superhero comic that is "new reader friendly"crazy.

First, you have to ask the obvious question: new to what?  There are ultimately three different types of "new" readers that a superhero comic could attract: new to the title, new to the genre, or new to the medium.

If you're looking to get people who already read superhero comic books to read a specific superhero comic book, then making it "accessible" is beside the point.  We don't want something simple; we want to be submerged.  If we polled comic book readers to find out what comic book was their first, I would bet fat sacks of cash that 99% of those first issues were not "new reader friendly" issues.

We don't read superhero comics because they're accessible.  In fact, we read them for the exact opposite reason.  Chris Claremont ruled the sales charts for decades with Uncanny X-Men and I'm pretty he had 3 or 4 plots going at one time that made absolutely no sense.  I'm still waiting to find out why Polaris suddenly lost her powers and became super strong.

My 1st issue of X-Men
Sure, it makes sense to try to make each individual issue as self-contained as possible, but that's ultimately impossible, given that comic books are episodic; dropping the elements that make it a serial would no doubt alienate the people who are reading those comics because of them.  I love self-contained stories as much as the next comic book reader, but people don't go to their local stores every Wednesday because they're eager to read a one and done story; they go because they want to read what happens next.

So perhaps the new reader we're going after is new to the genre.  But think about that.  How many people do you know who read comic books that have never read a superhero comic?  Given that 99% of what gets published these days are superhero comics, there can't be more than a handful of comic book readers out there who haven't at least dabbled in superheroes.

Then is the "new reader friendly" superhero comic book aimed at those who have never read a comic book before?  It must be, right?

But how is that possible?  We've already seen that superhero comic books don't attract new readers; it's a niche genre and the same people who love Spider-man movies don't buy Spider-man comics unless they're already doing so.

Periodically, the "comics for people who don't read comics" meme makes the rounds, and the vast majority of the books on those lists are something other than superhero comics.  Watchmen might show up, but even then it's in some part due to the fact that it's a finite series.  At one point Ultimate Spider-man was a popular answer, but now?  Where would someone brand new to comic books even begin?

Superhero comic books are not going to bring in new readers and I would like them to quit pretending otherwise.

I know that sounds counterproductive, but does Thor or Captain America or Batman need a dozen new limited series when a movie comes out?  Those stories can be incorporated into the regular titles.  The only reason they're pushed out as new books is to take advantage of the added press that a movie brings, but when has that worked?  All it does is alienate the people who already enjoy those characters because suddenly they're being asked to buy yet another comic book each month.  Not only that, but how essential are these stories?  Are they being green lit because they're important, or because the Big Two want as much product on the shelves as possible?

I know this seems at odds with my criticism of event comics.  But my problem with event comics isn't that they're steeped in continuity, it's that they appear to be the sole component of the comic book industry's business plan.  Do the epic, sprawling stories, but don't do it as a way of making more money by gouging the fan base.  Embrace the fact that superhero comics are an insular niche.  Give superhero fans what they want, but don't take advantage of them.

And in the meantime, focus the "new reader friendly" efforts on genres that can actually attract new readers.