Countdown to Spiderverse: When to Stop Reading Comics: Nic
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Spider-Man fan. Whether it be the Raimi movies, the MCU, or The 90s Animated Series, Spider-Man’s been a part of my life. However, while I own a few trades centered around complete narratives, my exposure to Spidey, and superheroes in general, comes from adaptations. Superhero comics can be a very daunting commodity if you’re not prepared for it, so don’t blame yourself if the commitment turns you off.
Positive - How the Story Evolves
Superhero stories that persist for decades do so because their worldbuilding and stories are captivating. With Spider-Man, his life before and after the death of Gwen Stacy, his first true love, is fascinating because it launched a massive turning point in what kind of stories could be told. Pre-Gwen was where Green Goblin rode around on a witch’s broom, and Post-Stacey has Spider-Man going up against a serial killer. There’s also the value in seeing characters age. Flash Thompson, the proto-typical 60s schoolyard bully, developed into Peter Parker’s friend, an amputee war veteran, and gained superpowers as Agent Venom. However, there are plenty of reasons to stop reading comics, both objective and subjective.
The most objective reason to stop reading comics is, of course, money. Let’s say the basic tenets of living month-to-month (lighting, water, gas, rent/mortgage, etc.) are $1,800 - $2,500, assuming that everything works fine and doesn’t break down. The average costs of a single-issue superhero comic can go between $3.99 and $4.99 for this year so far. That’s between $48 and $60 a year for ONE book. Let’s use Spider-man as an example. Over the years Spider-Man has garnered well over seven titles to his name, including but not limited to: Amazing, Spectacular, Sensational, Web of-, Peter Parker the-, and adjectiveless. In the 90s, Marvel had twisted that knife further into reader’s wallets by releasing multi-part stories over Spidey’s multiple titles in a 2 year arc called The Clone Saga. For a more modern example we can use Batman as a relevant example with DC Comics’ New 52 launch. This event launched 4 Batman titles, including Detective Comics, Batman, Batman & Robin, and The Dark Knight. While theoretically each book focuses on a different aspect of Batman (whether as a detective, a superhero, a father, or a cash-in on The Dark Knight Trilogy), the audience only has so much money to go around.
Now then, if you make enough money to cover living expenses, that’s not automatically a reason to spend money on comics. If you have a friend with a comic collection or a library near you, that’s a good free way to read comics. That’s how I first read Watchmen, Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and Azumangah Daioh. Also, youtube reviewers have made comic stories more accessible. Linkara has covered the origin stories detailing every member of both The Avengers and The Justice League of America, and ComicsExplained has covered modern stories like Dark Knights Metal, Dan Slott’s Spider-Man (Spider-Island, Superior Spider-Man), and Nick Spencer’s Captain America (aka, Nazi Captain America). These reviews can help you figure out if these comics are worth your time.
Silver Screen Alternative/Tv’s Cheaper
No one’s saying you need to take your money and spend it on comic books. While the MCU has only existed for 10 years (compared to the comic’s 80 years), having that history to draw on allows filmmakers to bring the best parts of Marvel to a wide audience, and to great success. Even before the MCU, Sam Raimi was able to bring modern sensibilities to his Spider-Man Trilogy and blend them with the best part of the 60s stories and style for his movies. While a movie might cost more than a comic (The usual matinee is about $7.50), one good movie every two to three years keeps fans wanting more. Outside of movies, Marvel has plenty of Live-Action and cartoon shows you can check out at little to no extra cost (looking at you, Netflix). The stories don’t have to be contained just to the comics.
If you’re still aching to read the actual ink-and-paper yourself, nothing’s going to stop you from reading a book you like...unless the writer leaves. Dan Slott’s last issue of Spider-Man came out a couple months ago, with Nick Spencer writing the current run. Slott’s 10-year run on Spider-Man has been contested, but it did churn out fantastic-sounding stories. Spider-Island gave all of NYC spider powers; Superior Spider-Man gave a villain an honest shot at being a hero, and Peter Parker got to run his own company, finally living up to his potential. Spencer certainly has his own ideas, but after HYDRA Cap, I would want to wait awhile before determining how good his run is. Time apart can do people some good.
So, let’s talk about subjective reasons to stop reading comics.
Even when writers have an idea for their stories, comic editors can come in and totally mishandle and damage audience goodwill. The first is One More Day, where after failing to save Aunt May from dying, Peter sells his marriage with Mary Jane to what is essentially The Devil. Joe Quesada, then Editor-in-Chief of Marvel, claims Spider-Man sacrificing something personal in order to save a life is heroic, but that’s still over 20 years of history becoming invalid. The second story is The Clone Saga, a story that was only meant to last three months ended up going for two years and spanning over multiple titles. The intended ending was for Peter and Mary Jane have a happy ever after with their newborn daughter, but then got dragged back into his continuous superhero life with their daughter being stillborn for good measure. Given how badly the character can be messed around with, it turns me off from fully committing to the books.
Adaptations Do It Better / Some Stories Can’t Be Topped
Some people, like me, dislike the never-ending nature of mainstream comics, which is why it’s easy to gravitate to adaptations. The series finale, “Spider Wars,” involved Peter traveling parallel worlds in order to stop a version of himself who became a villain that gained the ability to destroy everything. One of the alternate selves Spider-Man meets is basically Peter Parker with Tony Stark’s wealth and influence. At the climax, Peter knows he can’t beat his evil self, so he brings someone who can: Iron-Spider’s Uncle Ben. And Uncle Ben is able to talk Evil Peter down, capturing the essence of who the character is: a man whose tragedy will never let him skimp out on doing good.
One thing about long-running franchises is how they adapt to reflect culture. Miles Morales is a Black-Latinx character created in 2011 to inherit the title Ultimate Spider-Man after that book’s version of Peter Parker was retired. While it would be easy to be overt about his race, creator Brian Michael Bendis wrote Miles as “[not wanting] to be ‘the black Spider-Man,’ I want to be Spider-Man!” Regardless of how you feel about Bendis’ direction there’s no denying that a person of color supported by an intact, loving, biracial family and headlining a legendary superhero title is political in and of itself. Miles isn’t alone in Spidey’s diversity bloom, as recent years have given a version of Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman/Spider-Gwen, the Korean-American Cindy Moon/Silk who has a sort of Kimmy Schmidt thing going on, and, while his most recent book was cancelled last year, Irish-Mexican Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 made a resurgence. Characters like Spider-Man mean different things to different people, and there are so many ways to be Spider-Man that no one would blame you if you stopped reading Peter Parker’s books. If anything, this new diversity demonstrates the elasticity of the character’s core and helps make up for the limites Marvel has placed on Peter Parker.
So, there we have it. The reasons to not buy comics come down to money, different ways to experience the stories, different contexts to view the characters, the feeling of the character being lost or compromised, and what a character means changing over time and affecting people in different ways. I’m certain there are other reasons to not read comics, but that doesn’t mean to give up your love of them. I still love what Marvel’s doing on tv and at the movies, and I’m going to see them whenever possible for as long as I can. Just remember that you have your limits, and it would do you good to learn them.