Written By Cadeem Lalor
The popularity of Marvel and DC Comics almost leads to word association. Superhero comics are often tied to one of the two behemoths, since they are the oldest producers of superhero comics. However, it is this longevity that leads to one of the biggest issues of the big publishers. The plethora of comic book titles, events, authors and timelines for each character can make jumping in seem overwhelming for prospective readers. Not to mention relaunches such as the ultimate comics for Marvel, and rebirth for DC. These relaunches can serve the practical purpose of giving newcomers a fresh start, but that impact quickly fades once the new series reaches a certain point. In the case of the ultimate universe, catching up with sixteen years of comics is better than fifty, but can still be daunting. In the case of DC, I have heard great things about Rebirth, but it appears some of the most poignant moments I have heard of would not be as effective without some prior knowledge of certain story-lines. Entries on this site, such as the lists by the Commander, acknowledge this problem and are meant to provide recommendations for tackling the medium. However, the fact that lists like these are necessary attests to the issue. Before readers get their pitchforks, I want to clarify that I am not trying to criticize the format of superhero comics or their rich history and diversity. I am only saying that, objectively, it does lead to of the strengths (in my opinion) that smaller imprints such as Vertigo and Image Comics have.
The last comic series I read was Vertigo’s Y The Last Man, a post-apocalyptic story where all male mammals spontaneously die, except for Yorick Brown and his pet monkey. I heard about the comic, it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take another series on. What convinced me was seeing that it was only sixty issues. One weekend later, I binge read the entire series. It wasn’t only sixty issues because it got cancelled, but because that was the end of the story. Yorick’s journey ended, and the series ended with it.
I am also currently reading Image Comics’, The Walking Dead. Although the series is longer, currently on issue 155, it is likely to be a more straightforward read than decades of comics from other characters.
Marvel and DC titles do of course have graphic novels, or certain series for each character, like The Dark Knight Returns and the ongoing Injustice series. These stories can either be an alternate version of a character or simply an isolated story arc. These can provide a great introduction to characters but can also lose some impact for new readers. In the case of Injustice, the set up to the story is rooted in references to Doomsday and Scarecrow. If someone reading the series didn’t know the characters, then the story could lose its effectiveness. Some of these self-contained stories, do not really function as self-contained ones, still requiring some level of knowledge from other comics. Of course, this is typically only an issue for more popular characters like the Justice League, with (relatively) smaller titles such as Transmetropolitan being truly self-contained.
With The Walking Dead and Y The Last Man, all of the world building is done within the series. There are no related tie-ins, background info or even general comic knowledge that needs to be consulted. The story can simply be followed with one issue after another, with no need to switch between events. I do not have a problem with burying myself in the history of DC and Marvel. I know that for many people, the sheer variety is what draws them to comics. They look forward to seeing how a new writer handles their favourite characters. They don’t dread having to catch up, they look forward to it. The success of Marvel and DC Comics makes it clear that many people may not even see the limited stories of Vertigo and Image as a strength. I do look forward to reading more DC and Marvel comics, and getting more caught up with the stable of writers and stories available. This viewpoint is very subjective, I only hope that readers may be able to understand my point of view.