Comic Confusion and Frustration

For several years, my lovely wife has given me a graphic novel for Christmas. Before we had our daughter, I’d enjoy spending Christmas Day next to the fireplace reading. (That’s more difficult now with a four-year-old.) Although I read comic books as a kid, I never got into them deeply, and so I have a decent working knowledge of major characters and their universes, but not much more beyond that.

This year, I requested (via Amazon wish list) and received Invincible Iron Man Vol.1: Five Nightmares, which collects Invincible Iron Man issues 1–7. Tony Stark (Iron Man) must discover who is using his technology to build nuclear-yield human bombs and, of course, stop the villain. I read it in bits over a couple of days (electronically on my iPad), and decided to buy the next volume using some gift credit I also received.

At the beginning of Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2 : World’s Most Wanted Book 1, a page catches the reader up on the story so far, and here we come to the problem:

“And then the Skrull invasion came.”

Followed by four paragraphs describing a virus that wipes out Stark Industries and disables the Iron Man suit, and the rise of an organization headed by Norman Osborn that supplants S.H.I.E.L.D.

What the hell? I went back and checked to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently skipped over a chunk of the first volume, but no, it’s issues 1–7. Volume 2 contains issues 8–13.

I imagine longtime comics readers are shaking their heads, or chuckling, or nodding in knowing sympathy. But for someone who doesn’t own subscriptions to comics, I have no idea where all of this other very important drama occurred. My only guess is that it played out in another title, or a set of tie-ins and cross-promotional stories, and I’m sure the whole endeavor was designed to boost sales of those titles.

But that explains why I’m not a regular comics reader. There isn’t any indication—unless I missed some fine print somewhere? Where’s Smilin’ Stan’s footnotes when you need them?—that the rest of the story occurs elsewhere. Instead, I’m plopped into the middle of what seems like an entirely different title. Especially in these compilation volumes, which one presumes are bought by people like me who don’t have monthly subscriptions or visit comic stores on a regular basis, a little storyline site map would be immensely helpful. (And would encourage more sales.)

I’m enjoying volume 2 so far, but because of this I doubt I’ll pick up volume 3. Instead I’ll continue to remain at arm’s length from what is actually a dynamic and interesting media, and wait for another graphic novel, probably something self-contained, to arrive next Christmas.

  1. Andrew Laurence January 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Series comics are essentially soap operas. They used to be good about giving actual citations to titles and issue numbers, right there in the comic. But that seems to be rare these days.

    Unfortunately, we’ve become used to TV-style series metadata (thank you, NetFlix!), and the comics form just isn’t geared that way. As the graphic novel form took off, publishers have taken to bundling storylines into a graphic novel, but even then it’s not a self-contained story, but cherry-picking certain issues out of a longer form.

    So… yeah. Stick to graphic novels that were originally written and packages for that form.

    Or, pick a title and a creator run and start working through it. (Unfortunately, that’s another tactic which the publishers don’t make easy.)


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