Benson, Grumpy Old Comics Reader #1:
"Paul Levitz and the Mystery of Decompressed
So a few
weeks ago I read an article in the Comic Shop News. The interviewer
had asked DC Comics’ President and Publisher, Paul Levitz,
how the comic industry had changed since he had last regularly
written an ongoing series. (The occasion is his return
to writing JSA -- editor) Mr Levitz stated, “The
last time I was doing this, I had just written for Legion
maybe the first five issue story ever done for DC, the ‘Earth
War’ story - at least the first one in a bunch of years.
Now of course five and six parters are very common.”
got me to thinking. Paul Levitz is right, stories and sub-plots
now take forever to conclude but are comic books better
I’m going to say no. These ongoing stories may keep
the rabid fan hooked, but where is the newbie supposed to
I first began reading comics I could for 25 cents go to
the comic Collector’s Shop on W. San Fernando St.
in San Jose and buy a complete story. I would usually pick
the one with the most heroes on the cover. Marvel Two-in-One,
the Brave and the Bold, Justice League of America
or Teen Titans were always a good bet. Depending
on the cover the Avengers, Fantastic Four or Superboy
and the Legion of Super-Heroes might make the grade.
If there was more than one member of the Green Lantern Corps
on the cover or a JLA/JSA cross-over it was a no
brainer. Sometimes there was even an 8 page bonus story
staring Green Arrow or the Atom or somebody else that didn’t
currently have there own title.
very frustrating even on the rare occasion when it happened
to get to the last page and see the words “to be continued.”
I had no idea when my father would take me to the comic
book store again. I would have been very turned-off to the
medium if every time I bought a book it meant I had to return
to the store a month later to see how it ends.
how long it seemed between Halloween and Christmas when
you were a kid? Now imagine trying to remember to pick up
the latest issue of the Ultimate Amazing Web of Peter
Parker’s Spectacular Spider-Man #427 or were
you supposed to buy the Amazing Peter Parker’s
Ultimately Spectacular Spider-Man Web #338?
Comics #252 Supergirl was introduced. She’s on
the cover but her story was actually the third story in
an issue that also introduced Metallo into the Superman
mythos and had room to spare for a Congorilla story. In
8 pages Supergirl landed on Earth, met Superman we were
introduced to Zor-El and Argo City and she established her
identity as Linda Lee. How much do we know about today’s
Supergirl after numerous appearances and her own ongoing
origin of Spider-Man was told in 15 pages. In Detective
#27 the world was introduced to Batman and Commissioner
Gordon. By the time Batman #1 was published we
had Robin, the Joker and Catwoman. Does Nightwing even have
a Rogues Gallery or a meaningful cast of supporting characters?
If the new Batgirl vanished tomorrow would anyone even notice?
Is there a writer or artist in comics today who can even
tell a complete story in only 8 pages?
blame Frank Miller. I liked what he did on Daredevil
but his cinematic style of story telling has influenced
others into telling stories with an emphasis on style over
substance ( I also blame Frank Miller for the wave of anti-heroes
and “dark” stories that are being addressed
now in Infinite Crisis but that is best left for another
Levitz back in the day wrote the “Great Darkness Saga”
that introduced Darkseid into the 30th century. It lasted
only 4 issues but it truly was a saga. One of my favorite
stories of all-time (Adventure Comics #369 and
370) was a two-parter that introduced Mordru to the Legion
of Super-Heroes. The back-story for Mordru was done so well
(in just a couple of panels) that I spent many years look
for the “first” appearance of Mordru only to
realize that I already owned it.
books are not the only victims of an inability to tell a
complete story or develop characters in a short amount of
time. By the third episode of Star Trek it was
already clear who the characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy
were. The viewers knew how they would react in certain situations
and they stayed consistent throughout the lives of those
characters. Star Trek: The Next Generation did
not get good until the Third Season. Deep Space 9
did not find a voice until Worf joined the cast and they
went to war. Voyager never got good and Enterprise…well,
it was cancelled before the writers were able to get anyone
to care about the characters. If Shakespeare was alive today
there is no doubt that Hamlet would be told as
it’s determined by the marketplace. Maybe older fans
desire a “soap-opera” to get hooked and draw
them into the store month after month. I’m guilty.
There are books that I have read for years and I honestly
can’t tell you why. I don’t think that I regularly
collected every issue of a title until Wolfman and Perez’s
New Teen Titans. Prior to that I mostly bought
books by which one had the coolest cover. I was 10 but something
in the Wolfman/Perez Titans made me come back and
have to buy every issue. I was hooked.
stories, however, did not take months or sometimes years
to tell. “A Day in the Life” (New Teen Titans
#8) was one issue. Deathstroke the Terminator first appeared
in issue #2 and did not appear again for another 8 issues.
“Who is Donna Troy?” was told in one issue.
a TV anthology series be produced today with truly original
characters and situations each week? Rod Serling did it
for years. M. Night Shyamalan was able to do it for one
trend in decompressed story-telling is both good and bad.
It can add visual excitement to a story but it can also
stretch out what use to be one story into several issues.
Today’s society is characterized as having a short
attention span. The trend in decompressed story-telling
seems to contradict this notion.
we may have is a nation so starved for true entertainment
that we are willing to except it spooned out in small doses
over a very long period of time. Don’t expect the
industry to change. As long as we keep buying to “see
what happens next” they’ll keep making money.
That is, of course, until we all die and there is no one
to replace us because they never began reading comic books
in the first place.