Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #4 by Drew Barth
It’s hard to talk about comics without mentioning specific runs of things. Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing, Paul Cornell and Pete Wood’s Action Comics, etc. “Runs” as they’re typically known are portions of longer running series where a writer, artist, or writer and artist team continue that series by either following along with what previous creators did or create their own new stories. Some of these become iconic in the superhero genre due to how they reinvent well-established characters and make them new icons in their own right or use the space to introduce new characters and stories that would become series mainstays. These runs are the lifeblood of the genre as they are the baton-passing point between creators to do what they wish with these characters.
But then runs are kind of complicated. Moore and Bissette’s Swamp Thing begins at issue #20 in the series and Walt Simonson’s Thor (as the writer and artist) begins at issue #337. To an outside reader it may seem like beginning to read those runs would leave them confused in the middle of a story, but that doesn’t happen. Some of these most iconic runs also serve as jumping on points. The creators utilize the world they’ve been given to work on character arcs that have definitive beginning and ending points that a reader could stop if they’re inclined. It’s why seeing a new run on Aquaman by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Robson Rocha, beginning at issue #43, is both a continuation of comic tradition and a breath of fresh air (water?) for the character.
This run begins with an amnesiac Aquaman after two larger events in his series, Drowned Earth and Sink Atlantis, so he’s a bit of a blank slate right now. As always, this is the kind of perfect jumping-on point for readers that are new to either the character or the series itself if they were fans of the recent Aquaman film. But because this is a completely new team, with Kelly Sue DeConnick who is the writer of the most iconic run of Captain Marvel of the past few decades, they can potentially shape the character in completely new ways.
And this is good. These runs can bring in new readers and people who may not even like the character but like the direction they’re going in or the writers attached. I myself had only ever picked up a couple issues of Geoff Johns’ run on Aquaman years ago but didn’t stay on board(!) due to the story not really appealing to me. But while making a completely new series and starting fresh with a #1 issue still happens, they’re typically miniseries with planned ends. Here, though, there’s room to expand the character, grow the story, and experiment just a bit more with who that character is and what they can get away with in a mainstream superhero comic.
Another run happened a few years ago that typifies this idea of experimentation and growing a character. Catwoman—a series that hadn’t been handled all that well at the start of DC’s New 52—received a new team: Genevieve Valentine, Garry Brown, and, later, David Messina. Instead of the thief and occasional Batman love interest, she was now one of the crime bosses of Gotham City with all of the mafia and backstabbing drama that entailed. This run was another one of those jumping on points and I absolutely jumped on when I heard about it. The series had a new direction and a new team and the run was spectacular. Catwoman hadn’t really been the best written series out of DC due to no creator giving her a definitive run since Ed Brubaker in 2002. But it was Valentine, Brown, and Messina’s run that made me a fan of the character and made me want to seek out other work that did something interesting with the character along the same line as turning her into a Gotham mob boss.
And ultimately that’s what a good run is supposed to do. A good run will pique the interest of a reader outside of the normal audience for a specific comic. A good run can make someone a lifelong fan. A good run, like Grant Morrison’s Batman epic that encompassed multiple series, can further cement a love for an already strong character. These longer series tend to keep selling based off of buyer’s habits—it’s why they’ll never truly disappear—so a publisher taking advantage of those potentially guaranteed sales to keep pushing superhero comics forward is always needed. We drive out stagnation that can keep a character or a series from wallowing in the same story lines and rehashed plots over and over as well as bring new readers into the fold. And if there’s anything comics still needs, it’s new readers.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.