I ordered these two from amazon to cover a brief in-between books embarrassment. I'd been meaning to read them both for a while, and I thought that a couple of comics collections would just last the few days between finishing Moxyland and the arrival of Far North.
Also, they were cheap. Both books cost about twelve quid, including postage, which I think is pretty good value. This pleased me, because among my many frailties and quirks, I am rather parsimonious. I hope I'm not so around friends, or where generosity to others is expected, but in respect of my own indulgences I am rather careful with my money.
For this reason, I've always felt a bit odd about the price of comics collections. I realise it makes no sense at all, because even if they seem expensive, they're still cheaper than collecting pamphlets. Six pamphlets will put you back about eighteen quid, depending what they are, while an album of collected issues is typically about ten or eleven pounds for the same pages of story. All you miss out on are anti-drug and army recruitment ads.
It's partly the illusion that three quid is a small purchase, where ten is a big one, but there's something about the slow drip of story from the monthly schedule that builds anticipation. I read each pamphlet a couple of times, and frequently do “catch up” sessions where I read a collections-worth in a sitting. It's the length of time between purchase and satisfaction that makes the difference, I think. What makes the collection seem expensive is when you've finished it by the time you've got home. The pamphlet keeps on giving over many months, although there's something perverse, about paying extra for the masochistic pleasure of waiting.
As it happened, these two were hand-delivered to us by our local post man just as the four of us were on our way out. When we were a few streets from the house, about to cross over the railway line into Brockley, the Postman came up and asked if we were the family from Number 90? He was just heading round to deliver a package, but if we were on our way out, he said he'd give it to us now, rather than write out a missed delivery card. He stopped his regular round and we all walked back with him to his little trolley, where he dug out our package.
If we hadn't encountered him, or if he'd just ignored us or not remembered who we were, I'd have to have had to have waited a week for my wife to them up from the sorting office, but as it was I was able to enjoy them right then and there. After we'd looked at the house we were viewing, we took the kids to the play ground where I ripped the amazon packaging off and got started, book in one hand and pushing a spinning tire swing with the other.
By the time we'd progressed to the climbing frame, I'd nearly finished We3. This isn't a testament to my speed reading, but to the brevity of We3. As I'm sure you know already (as I'm the last comics fan on the planet to read it, I think) it's the story of three experimental weaponised animals. They escape from their lab and go on the run in a quest for freedom that's been compared to Watership Down and An Incredible Journey. Animals don't talk much, and so the story is told mostly in, pictures, making this a pretty quick read.
Morrison and Quitely let the illustrations do the work, exploiting the visual aspect of the medium to the limit. There's a lot of borrowing from the cinematic vocab of establishing shots, wide-screen action scenes and drama expressed more through facial expressions than those easily mocked *chokes*, *gasps* and *sobs* that characterised the old fashioned approach.
There's as a little as possible of the author sneaking through – the dialogue is what it is, the world is as it is so richly depicted by Frank Quitely. Instead of relying on a caption to tell us, Stan Lee-style, what to feel, each beat is carefully measured – from the panicked chequer board of the animals escape from the lab to the moment of the full double-page spread as the three animals flee into the countryside. It's an effect that rewards re-reading. The brevity of the script allows you to connect with story on a visceral level that sends you careering through it without a rest.
Standing in the park, there, I began to get a bit worried I was going finish this in the grass, and sunshine and drifting chip wrappers of a Deptford playground. So, while holding a tiny hand to steady the child jumping stump to stump on the climbing frame, I took a peek at Civil War.
I found myself powering through this one, too, even though it's fairly heavy on text. It's dialogue rather than captions, presenting a pretty straight-forward story that doesn't require much thought to follow. In between big super-hero bash-ups, characters occasionally stop to deliver info dumps to keep you up to date with the plot, but finesse is not the point here. It's a story about stuff happening, not about emotional engagement of any but the most cursory sort. On the surface there's a a debate about the ethics of super-herodom, but really it's all about continuity.
Civil War – and the Marvel Universe events since – are the current acme of a way of telling stories invented by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the sixties. Cross-overs started as a way of promoting new characters in the companies established titles, and a gimmick to attract "true believers" into the fold. Stan had a knack for running gags and knowing winks at his audience, which fostered a kind of intimacy with the reader. "We know it's crazy, but we all love it too," Stan seemed to saying. Whenever you got the reference in an "... as seen in issue #87 of Invincible Iron Man", it felt like being part of a club.
The continuity approach was codified by Roy Thomas in the seventies, and in the 80s the first co-ordinated cross-continuity events appeared. In the nineties, the rise of the trade paperback collection provided a venue for short-runs of books with a limited story arc, first within series themselves, and ultimately leading to a proliferation of short series written with the collection in mind.
In short bursts, minor characters can get a brief moment in the sun in a limited story line without either the publisher having to make a an open-ended commitment. If they do well there's a chance of a relaunch off the back of it, and if not, the loss is limited, and think this has led to more risk being taken with the characters over the last few years. On the other hand, they can be useful to reset characters, returning them to their roots after a period of change and, quite often, actual death (as has happened with DC's Blackest Night has will happen as the end of Marvel's Siege storyline).
I really like these big events. It's like the biggest team book in the world, with a cast in the hundreds and all kinds of intricate webs of intrigue and plot. Instead of forming a loyalty to a book or a character or a team of characters, I'm just following a storyline. I'm reading the Avengers at the moment, and if you do that you have to buy into the whole Dark Reign/Seige storyline. If I didn't buy into that story, I wouldn't buy the comics. It's the soap opera continuity and the delicious agony of waiting that keeps pamphlets appealing for me. These collections are useful for reading things I've missed, but I don't think they'll ever replace pamphlets in my heart!
Well, anyway. we returned home from the park and I might have dozed off for a while in the afternoon. I finished We3 that evening, and Civil War ran out on Tuesday. Still, I'm glad I got them when i did, and then my friend the post man brought me a Fortean Times and finally, last Friday, my copy of Far North.