Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #140 by Drew Barth
Black & Blue & Gold
Anthologies are an oddity in comics. They used to be the most popular formats for telling stories—many beloved pre-Code horror series were anthologies—but then they seemed to drop off. Anthologies still exist, to some extent, but they’ve become rarer as the years go on. That’s why it’s been so nice to see DC continue the anthology tradition for the past twenty-five years. Starting with the first volume of Batman: Black and White in 1996 to its recent relaunch in 2020 to the establishment of two new anthologies in Superman: Red and Blue and Wonder Woman: Black and Gold, their commitment to anthologies seems cemented.
But why anthologies? Both major publishers have dozens of series running concurrently with long-running story lines with many beloved characters. But that’s the snag, isn’t it? Many of these longer running series are rather impenetrable to the outside reader—if you haven’t been a fan for the past few years, there’s not a lot of space to jump into unless you want to do some Wiki-diving for a few hours. This is where anthologies come in. As many of them are single stories told over less than ten or so pages, anyone who is new to a character can jump in and find something to enjoy.
And it isn’t just for the benefit of audiences that anthologies exist. Almost every creator out there has a Batman, or Superman, or Wonder Woman story they want to tell in them, but as great as they all would be, even major publishers can’t support thirty issues of a single character each month—even though it does seem like that with Batman most of the time. These anthologies allow many creators to really flex their storytelling abilities as they have such a confined space to work with. You could tell a great Batman vs. Bane story in a hundred issues, but how much better could it be in eight pages? And for many creators, this is a space to not just mine those story ideas they may have been sitting on for years, it’s a place to showcase their talent to readers who may not be familiar with their work. There is so much in each issue of these series that is new and refreshing that it’s hard to think that they’re not on regular pull-lists.
While anthologies seem to go in and out of style depending on the year, having the two major comic publishers keep a commitment to putting out anthologies is quite nice. While many longer series do allow creators to really dig into a story, these anthologies let creators breathe a little more and experiment with what their version of many of these long-running characters can look like. And, of course, seeing these characters in different situations can act as a jumping-off point for creators in the future to go back and dig deep into different aspects of the character. What are comics and anthologies like this if not opportunities for even longer-running collaborative storytelling?
Get excited. Get anthologized.