I’ve had several conversations on my comic book podcast, Trade Secrets, about continuity in long-running comic books and how “mainstream” books differ from creator-owned works. It became very apparent to me this week, when I realized that my subscription list at my comic shop contains only a single Big 2 comic book: Rick Remender’s Captain America.
I grew up on comic books, but I never really grew up on the Marvel or DC lexicon like many kids did. I’m not sure what it was that kept my interests away from them, but they just never grabbed me like other books. Before I started getting comics of my own I’d read my brother’s books, which consisted mostly of Vigilante and ElfQuest. When I started buying my own stuff it was related to my favorite cartoons, so my first comics were Transformers and G.I. Joe.
When the ’90’s rolled around and Image was born, I was all about the first few comics they made. I was a humongous Spawn fan, and I really enjoyed The Savage Dragon. I had collected some of the lesser (at the time) Marvel books like X-Factor, but Marvel’s premier books and DC’s stuff just weren’t my thing. Over time, I even began to drop my favorite Image books, because I kept losing interest. Stories dragged on and on and there was never any resolution to anything. Everything was a cliffhanger, and for every plot thread that closed, two opened.
When I look at my current habits in consuming all kinds of media – be it books, television, movies, or comic books – I realized how much I want endings. I don’t want to be indefinitely strung along by a character’s plight. People don’t live forever, and when I see that Peter Parker is still in his mid-thirties after 60 years of comics, or that Bruce Wayne is still the same grumpy, mid-40’s playboy he was in, well, the mid ’40’s, I just lose interest. No matter how good an individual story might be involving those characters, they’re never going to end. I’m never going to get any kind of closure.
I don’t generally watch TV shows that are still running anymore (and I’ll limit this statement to dramas, because sitcoms don’t really count). I have become reluctant to go to a movie that I know is part of a series that won’t be finished for years (a perfect example: I haven’t seen The Hobbit yet, and I probably won’t watch any of that series in theaters). I won’t start a book series unless I know there’s a definitive end to it, which is why I haven’t started The Song of Ice and Fire yet.
I no longer collect comic books from the Big 2, because I know that no matter how much I love a story or a creative team, that story is never going to be the end of the story, and the creative team will be shuffled around at some point.
Marvel NOW! was the first time in a long time that I was excited by mainstream Marvel titles. The creative teams were astounding and it looked like they were going to give a fresh take on some of their tried-and-true heroes. I picked up Uncanny Avengers, Avengers, and Captain America, and quickly realized that I got caught up in the hype and may have made a mistake. I dropped Uncanny Avengers pretty fast, and this last week dropped Avengers. I’m going to stick with Captain America for a little while because it reminds me heavily of Remender’s Fear Agent (one of my all time favorite books) and it’s effectively an “elseworlds” or “what if” title that will hopefully come to a reasonable conclusion.
But that’s just it: Although Marvel NOW! and DC’s New 52 represented new beginnings for these long-running franchises, they still don’t represent any kind of ending. There is no promise of self-contained stories. There is still no permanent death for characters. No meaningful aging, and rarely any lasting growth. There will never be any closure.
And I can’t stand the thought of that. Continuing stories with characters that I love are great, but I want even the longest ones to END at some point. I need to know that there is a denouement, and that I’ll get some satisfaction that my favorite character’s actions were actually meaningful. They don’t have to be heroic or even happy, but without an ending, nothing has any meaning. There’s no arc It’s just a series of false heartbeats in an eternal flatline, and while the first few might represent some semblance of hope, eventually cynicism sets in and there’s no longer any reason to care.
So now, if I don’t have at least a decent inkling that an ending is coming, I won’t partake until something is already over. I don’t watch ongoing TV shows until they’ve ended anymore (with Supernatural being the one exception right now). I don’t start book series unless I know how many books the author intends. I generally don’t watch movies that I know don’t have some semblance of a wrap-up. And I don’t collect ongoing comics anymore.
I’ve fallen in love with independent and creator-owned comics of late. When people look back on the best comics ever made, most will shout to the stars about books like Preacher and Y: The Last Man and 100 Bullets. All books which are great because they’re self contained. They’re stories – not just ongoing background noise. I’m not saying that there haven’t been phenomenal stories told within the pages of Batman or X-Men or Captain America. But the longer a series runs and the more creative teams are given access and input, eventually those older stories get twisted, ignored, or outright shit on.
When I know a book has an ending, I’m all over it. My favorite books right now are maxi-series like The Sixth Gun and The Massive and Fatale and Locke & Key. These are series that have the best of both worlds: long runs that allow for spectacular development, and a definitive arc that comes to a real conclusion.
It’s possible that I’ll become invested in these stories only to find out that the author is incapable of developing an ending that lives up to their ideas (which is my typical experience with Brian K. Vaughn). But I’m willing to take that risk, because – even in that terrible instance – at least it will be over. And maybe once each one of these stories is finished, I’ll look forward to more work from those creators, because they will show me that they’re capable of telling interesting stories.