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Cronin Theory of Comics – Serialized Fiction Is Judged Individually

I get it, Paul Dini, you think that, when Countdown is read as a whole, then the early lame issues will be transformed into a strong opening in the vast tapestry that is Countdown.

However, serialized fiction does not work that way (at least not according to the Cronin Theory of Comics, that is, natch). An individual comic, if it is bad, does not suddenly become good because it tied into a bigger story.

You can choose to tell a graphic novel, or you can tell a serialized story. If you tell a serialized story, you have to live and die with each serialized part of the story. If they are bad individually, then they are bad. The story as a whole might very well be good, but that doesn’t make Countdown #51 good because Countdown #25 might be.

A whole pile of exposition meant to pay off months from now just makes this a whole pile of exposition with zero pay-off.

That’s not a good comic book.

It might very well make a good comic book epic, but individually, they are not good comic books, and that is how serialized fiction is judged – as a whole, yes, but also as each part individually.

To suggest that the readers who disliked it are just being impatient is pretty close to being an insult to the folks who paid $3 a pop to read set-up for LATER issues (and heck, in one issue, they paid to get a scene that already appeared in an earlier comic – the Karate Kid/Batman fight).

That is, if anyone keeps reading past these first few dreadful issues.

67 Comments

I couldn’t disagree more with you this time, Brian. I don’t mind the slower pace of the early Countdown issues, and I think they must be judged as part of the larger story.

Why does it have to be a satisfying issue in-and-of-itself? Why is that a rule?

It has to offer just enough to tempt readers to keep buying (which it has, I think–Monitor continuity agents! Everything you know is wrong! Karate Kid!), and it has to work when read as a whole (which it might not, but let’s not rush to judge).

Be patient, or don’t read Countdown. Those seem to be the choices, and it’s okay to choose the latter.

Why does it have to be a satisfying issue in-and-of-itself? Why is that a rule?

Because it is serialized fiction.

That’s how I feel serialized fiction works/SHOULD work.

Each installment is part of a larger story, but is enjoyable on its own (it does not have to “stand alone,” just be enjoyable on its own). Like a Dickens story.

Again, though, as I carefully point out in the title, this is my personal take on it. I wouldn’t bring it up if if everyone agreed with me, because then I couldn’t call it my theory now, could I? ;)

Brian, you’re 100% right. The nature of good serial fiction requires what Danny Fingeroth calls “a discrete unit of entertainment.” Simply put, one installment should be a satisfying experience in and of itself, not just in relation to all of the other installments.

Why? Because if I buy an issue of Countdown, or any other serialized story, I’m paying for that comic to entertain me now, not later. If it’s only going to be worth my money after an issue that comes out six months from now, why not just wait six months and buy both issues together? In other walks of life, if someone asks you to pay a little bit now for something that’s useless unless you pay for the rest of what they want to sell you, that’s called a scam. I don’t see why comics should be any different.

And it’s possible to tell a satisfying 22-page story within the context of a much larger whole narrative. See Bone, Preacher, Watchmen, The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck… y’know, now that I think about it, just about ever Eisner nominee for “Best Serialized Story” ever. Hell, some manga artists do it in 11 or so pages, constantly.

Or, to put it another way: They’re giving us shitty comics now to prepare us for the good comics coming later? Great. Call me when the good comics get here.

It’d be a neat trick if later issues of the series somehow made me think that the three issues I’ve already read weren’t completely lame.

As part of the trick, those later issues would have to magically appear in my house, because I doubt I’ll be buying them.

Simply put, one installment should be a satisfying experience in and of itself, not just in relation to all of the other installments.

I hear next they’re just gonna try releasing comics one page a week. After a month you get an awesome story.

I haven’t read Countdown.

But I think the “Individual Books Meant to Be Read As A Larger Unit” model worked pretty well for Cerebus.

Or the group effect of reading a bunch of issues together made up for the lameness of individual issues.

I think the reason people don’t realize each individual piece of a serialized story needs to be good is because that has not been the case with comics for the most part. But if we look at another area of serialized fiction, television, it becomes clearer. The closest model would probably be ‘Heroes’. Would an episode of ‘Heroes’ that was just excruciatingly boring and poorly written become good when watched with the entire season? I would say no. So, why would a single poor issue of a comic story be better when read in the trade?

Yeah, the “Heroes” example works well for me, because I watched the first four episodes, was bored out of my skull, and stopped watching it altogether.

I think Grant Morrison said once that “every comic is someone’s first comic” and, by that, each one should be individually enjoyable on its own merits.

I think thats a good rule of thumb.

In Countdown’s defense, the first two issues sucked, but the third issue was better. Not great mind you, but it actually held my attention and I was actually interested in reading it. Let’s see if they can keep it that way.

In Countdown’s defense, the first two issues sucked, but the third issue was better.

Ah, but did the third issue make the first two suck any less? :)

I think Grant Morrison said once that “every comic is someone’s first comic” and, by that, each one should be individually enjoyable on its own merits.

I think thats a good rule of thumb.

It is a good rule of thumb. But it hardly describes his own writing at all…

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 25, 2007 at 2:04 am

I hear next they’re just gonna try releasing comics one page a week. After a month you get an awesome story.

It’s called the ‘Bendis Model’, but at the end of the month you don’t have an awesome story, you’ve got the first part of the ‘run’, so you’ve got to pick up the next month’s pages as well.
And get this, at the end – he doesn’t even wrap it up!
You’ve gotta buy the next guy’s pages as well!
It’s genius!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 25, 2007 at 2:05 am

I think Grant Morrison said once that “every comic is someone’s first comic” and, by that, each one should be individually enjoyable on its own merits.

I think thats a good rule of thumb.

Actually, it was Jim Shooter, which is why 80′s comics normally take a page to set it all up.
However, new people stopped buying, fans complained about rehashing (because bad writers make it tedious, as opposed to good writers who make it effortless) and it all got thrown away, and the market continues to shrink.

But I don’t even think the first three issues of Countdown WERE lame. They didn’t have a million things going on, but they set up the main conflict of the series right away and moved along nicely.

I usually despise decompressed storytelling as much as everyone here, but plot points did occur. Characters were introduced. Things did happen.

I haven’t been disappointed so far. Why have you?

Sorry, but I think you’re completely and totally wrong, here.

There was no exposition anywhere in the first three issues of Countdown. That’s half its problem; it’s a comic written for people who already know what’s going on. Sure, if you already know that they retconned in that the Pied Piper and the Trickster were brainwashed by the Flash into reforming, and that it wore off, leaving them criminals who aren’t trusted by their fellow Rogues, that thread makes sense. Sure, if you know that there are 52 universes, and a Monitor for every universe, and that Donna Troy, Ion, and Nightwing were supposed to have died during ‘Infinite Crisis’ but didn’t, that thread makes sense. Sure, if you know what happened to Mary Marvel at the end of ‘Infinite Crisis’, and if you know how Black Adam got his powers back and what he’s doing in Gotham, that thread makes sense. (What do you mean, they haven’t explained that part yet?) Sure, if you know…um, actually I don’t know what’s up with Karate Kid and the JLA. What exactly is all that about? The comic explains _nothing_.

DC’s incestuous fanboy mentality strikes again, I’m afraid.

Well said, Brian.

I’d add a subtlety to this that it’s especially important to apply this concept to the first few issues of a book whose intent is to get a readership on board for a year. 52 did it well–its first six or eight issues really sucked me in despite some weaker later issues.

You could kinda forgive them slacking around issue #10 or so and start offering books that need the context of the others to really become crystal clear. But to do so with issue #1 and #2 of a major series is not only poor writing, it’s poor marketing. And to DC, that’s possibly even more worrysome, because this book can’t be cancelled after twelve issues if readership drops preciptiously.

I definitely agree with Cronin’s overall point. The early issues of 52 were set-up issues, as well. But in that case, there were “minor” characters at the core of the series with new status quos to introduce, etc. It was still “set-up”, but it was intriguing.

Countdown feels like treading water that I’m supposed to pay attention to, because some line of dialogue is going to be a clue to the “mystery”.

With that said, I’ll read it. I hate myself.

The big difference between Cerebus and Countdown (other than that Cerebus is, as a whole, possibly the finest work ever in the comics medium, which I suspect Countdown won’t be) is that the first 20 or so issues of Cerebus were totally stand-alone, 30 or so after that were at least comprehensible as a first issue if you’d not read the others, and almost *all* the rest were paced so if you’d read the previous issues you’d at least get something satisfying out of that issue.
With a few exceptions (the ‘pissing’ issue for example) Sim didn’t start ‘writing for the trade’ until maybe Going Home, and even then each new storyline had a very clear introductory issue which would let a new reader jump on (even The Last Day).

I dropped this series too. I’m hoping that when favorites like Mr. Miracle and Ion show up, I’ll be able to grab random issues and still understand the story. I can’t justify buying FOUR full-price comics a month that aren’t as good on their own merits as four other monthly comics would be.

“In Countdown’s defense, the first two issues sucked, but the third issue was better.

Ah, but did the third issue make the first two suck any less? ”

No, not at all.

I can’t speak to the quality of COUNTDOWN because I haven’t read it, and after seeing the initial reviews, I don’t plan to.

But I strongly disagree with your assertion that each issue has to be a gem in and of itself to make a total series worth it.

Here’s how I see it: Regardless of what’s going on the world of comics from a purely economic standpoint, the medium is growing in terms of who’s playing in this sandbox, and what they’re trying to do in it. Sometimes you have novelists who like the idea of affixing imagery to their prose, sometimes you have filmmakers who view comics as a static version of their own artform, sometimes you have superhero geeks who grew up on DC and Marvel and want to pay homage to the comic book creators of old, sometimes you have artistes who want to push the boundaries of what comics can do in terms of experimental visual artistry… the point is that the door’s wide open when it comes to what you can and can’t do with the panel graphic artform.

It wasn’t always this way. Time was, comics were just an affordable and disposable entertainment medium, and specifically one for kids. Kids have short attention spans, so the entire story must be told in a very short duration of time. They must be cheap. They must be relatable and simple to understand. This was fun and enjoyable for both kids and young adults, but now, thanks to the British invasion, growth of the indies, the establishment of Vertigo, the boom of the TPB and bookstore markets and the concept that “comics aren’t just for kids”, it’s now the case that comics can be whatever the hell you want them to be. Go in a well-stocked comics store and compare the variety to what you got on a drugstore spinner-rack fifty years ago.

Because comics are so much more diverse, the way stories are told have to expand and mutate as well. Here’s the catch: there’s only one allowable format according to the collectors, and it’s the 32 page floppy. To quote Frank Miller: “I’m a slave to fucking mylar.”

So now, we have novelists, painters, filmmakers, and musicians all using comic books as their pallete, yet we’re in the awkward situation of continuously trying to wedge stories into the pamphlet format. It’s not going to work every time. It’s just not feasible.

Azzarello’s 100 BULLETS or Gaiman’s SANDMAN are great examples of series where an individual issue can be sloppy, difficult, or just not entirely fulfilling, but when you include them into the larger story that goes on for 3 issues (or 6 issues or 50 issues or 100 issues) they work perfectly. Reading them individually is like picking up a book, reading a single chapter from the middle, and then dismissing the whole book outright. What you’re doing is like looking at a 1″ by 1″ square of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and complaining that it’s just a paint swirl.

Granted, I strongly suspect that COUNTDOWN will be complete shit and not worth paying for, but I have no problem with their choice of format. Every novel has chapters and every piece of art has sub-sections. This model has now replaced the classic “done in one” model in some cases. In some cases, it really works well. Refusing to read comics in the module they were intended for probably will result in diminished returns for you, but it doesn’t lessen the quality of the work.

Oops. I spelled the word “palette” incorrectly, and that’s not even the right word. I meant to say “canvas”. My bad.

“If it’s only going to be worth my money after an issue that comes out six months from now, why not just wait six months and buy both issues together? In other walks of life, if someone asks you to pay a little bit now for something that’s useless unless you pay for the rest of what they want to sell you, that’s called a scam. I don’t see why comics should be any different.”
-Michael

Hey, great idea. That’s why almost all of what I read is in TPB format, purchased at a book store.

Hmm. I spent all of last night trying to think of examples other than Cerebus of comics that don’t work as individuals and work well as parts of a whole.

Didn’t find any.

I do know that I disagree with both of Sleeper’s examples.

Sandman? I think each and every issue had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I can’t think of *ANY* of the 76 issues that didn’t have something to offer. Sandman just works. Works great as individual issues, works better as a whole. Pick a random Marvel Comic and there’s a 95% chance it’ll be a better example of this phenomena than Sandman.

(I also think that the current storytelling approach most common to Marvel books is directly ripped off from Cerebus.)

100 Bullets? At it’s peak, early on, 100 Bullets was composed of very good single issues.

I bought Volume Three in singles and trades, and it worked very well as both.

As the story got more complex, harder to follow…

And worse…

The individual issues stopped working as well. The trades are MORE comprehensible and LESS mediocre than the single issues.

But I was looking for examples of book where crappy individual issues turn into something good as a whole.

And I don’t think 100 Bullets qualifies.

Love and Rockets is often completely impenetrable for new readers, but once you HAVE that knowledge most of the individual issues work really well.

And then, like Cerebus, even if you don’t understand the story it’s phenomenally well drawn. (Jaime’s stuff, at least.)

In THEORY I agree with Sleeper.

In practice, well, I can only come up with one exception to an otherwise iron-clad rule.

Speaking of which

With a few exceptions (the ‘pissing’ issue for example) Sim didn’t start ‘writing for the trade’ until maybe Going Home, and even then each new storyline had a very clear introductory issue which would let a new reader jump on (even The Last Day).

Yeah. Fair points. Cerebus was really accesable for a long time. But I think it started losing ground well before Going Home. I picked up a few stay, non-concurrent issues from circa the end of Church and State Volume II and was all “What the hell is this?”

Likewise, if you’re coming into the series with any preconceptions at all, I can’t imagine that picking up individual issues of Melmoth would be particularly satisfying, until you get four or five of ‘em together and start seeing the big picture.

(And I *STILL* have no clue how that arc fits in with the rest of Cerebus, but I read it in trade and it was really good as a thing-unto-itself.)

MarkAndrew – You might be on to something. I’ll see if I can’t think up some more examples.

Feel free to disagree, but I think ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is structured to be read story by story, instead of issue by issue. Taken individually, any given single issue of that series is frustratingly boring and not at all complete, but if you read them in the collected editions, they’re actually pretty satisfying.

Bendis has a six-issue structure per story: the first issue is set-up, the next two are build-up, the next two are conflict and action, and the last is denouement. This displeases a lot of people who are expecting a Stan-style “done in one” comic, but Bendis just likes to play around with characterization via exploratory dialogue; stage and screenwriting uses the same device. Again, because comic creators are using techniques derived from outside media to enrich their work, it makes squeezing the whole story into a single monthly pamphlet a bit more difficult.

MarkAndrew – you may be right about the accessibility of Cerebus, as I read it all as trades. But there’s a big difference between issue 100 relying on knowledge of backstory and issue 1 doing the same…

sleeper – if the comic doesn’t stand up as a single issue then it shouldn’t be released as one, it’s that simple. It doesn’t have to be a done-in-one story, but it should have something happen. If the story only works as a trade, just release it as one. If you’re going to charge people money for something, they deserve to get something in return. Expecting people to go into a comic shop for three or four weeks in a row (or years if you’re talking about All-Star Batman…) spending money on something merely on the promise that one day it might get good… there’s something very wrong there.

“What you’re doing is like looking at a 1″ by 1″ square of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and complaining that it’s just a paint swirl.”

That isn’t at all what he’s doing. The whole thing isn’t out yet. What he’s doing is saying ‘I don’t feel like buying a painting one paint swirl at a time, especially when there’s no guarantee it’s a Van Gogh.’ And that’s the way any sane consumer of art should feel.

If somebody sells a painting one paint swirl at a time and says “If you buy the rest, it’ll be awesome,” it is entirely their fault if people get fed up and stop buying it. It’s a stupid way to do business.

If every individual part of your product has value, that’s when you should consider selling it as individual parts. If it only has value as a whole, sell it as a whole.

“If the story only works as a trade, just release it as one.”
-Andrew Hickey

I totally agree. I’ve been wanting direct-to-OGN comics for years and years now. The floppy is the worst format for epic storytelling I can think of.

The only reason I said above that “I have no problem with their choice of format” for COUNTDOWN is that I’m almost certain that there will be collected editions for anyone who wants them.

And Paul, what you’re saying is exactly what Andrew Hickey just said. I would love comics to be released in a format appropriate to the story. I think we should have been doing that all along. See my above posts, where I mention that in the case of comics that are better in TPB format, I deliberately wait for the collected edition. In fact, almost all of my books are like that these days. And I agree with Frank Miller when he laments his being “a slave to mylar”. The collector mentality is damaging the ability of artists to release comics in the format that’s best suited to their work.

If a book works best in the collected editions, not only is it smart not to whine about the individual issues being crap, it’s also smart not to judge or even read the individual issues. It’s also wise not to claim that the individual issues NEED to be good for the entire work to be good, which was my point initially.

I think a point we can all agree on is that the structure and pacing of the narrative should match the format that it’s being released in. Fair?

I agree with Brian. I’ve bought three poor issues of Countdown in the naive assumption that eventually something worthwhile would emerge from it. Silly me. There’s enough good comics that are satisfying reads that if I buy another issue of this series, I should feel foolish and ashamed.

This kinda makes me glad I didn’t buy into the weekly comic thing… again.

I’ve read the first two issues of Countdown and I’m already dropping it. That never happened to me with 52, and I love the DCU and its history.

Yeah, sorry, MarkAndrew, if you thought that I was saying issues that were bad individually could not become good when read as a whole. They clearly can (100 Bullets is a fine example), but I am only saying that the individual issues are still bad. Sorry if I was unclear there.

The fact that they read well together as a whole does not change how you perceived the original individual piece. As some others have beautifully put it – as Paul beautifully put it, “If every individual part of your product has value, that’s when you should consider selling it as individual parts. If it only has value as a whole, sell it as a whole.”

Seavey – you said “I think you’re completely and totally wrong, here.”

But then you just spoke to “there is no exposition in Countdown,” so I am not sure of what your stance is on the other points.

“And Paul, what you’re saying is exactly what Andrew Hickey just said.”

Yep. I commented without reading what he wrote. How annoying!

“If a book works best in the collected editions, not only is it smart not to whine about the individual issues being crap, it’s also smart not to judge or even read the individual issues. It’s also wise not to claim that the individual issues NEED to be good for the entire work to be good, which was my point initially.”

This presupposes that the buyer knows it’s going to work best in collected editions. And how is anyone to know that? All the marketing for Countdown focuses on its weekly schedule. Shouldn’t that mean it should work best…weekly? In installments?

You’re partly right…it IS “smart” and “wise” not to listen to DC’s marketing…but that’s my point…They are so ABYSMALLY bad at packaging and selling their product that they are almost actively discouraging people from buying it.

I’ve been “smart” and “wise” for a while now and not bought anything of theirs based on how they’ve sold it, but I can’t blame people for voicing their displeasure at being fooled.

(And, by the way, I haven’t seen any “whining.” Just calling crap what it is.)

If the product is released individually, it is proper to judge the product as the company releases it.

If the individual product is bad, then it is bad. That is all that is being said here. If the collected product is good, fine, the collected product is good. The individual product, though, should be good as well (that’s the title of the blog, dontcha know?). And if it is NOT, saying “but it will be better when collected” is not an excuse for the individual issue being bad.

Doug Atkinson

May 25, 2007 at 4:07 pm

The statement “Every comic is somebody’s first” has always annoyed me, because it’s attempting to be a prescriptive statement and instead winds up as a descriptive statement that isn’t likely to be true.

“Everybody has a first comic”: Patently true, if you attach the understood rider “who ever reads comics at all.”
“Every comic could be somebody’s first”: Pretty much true. There have been comics whose sales structure highly suggests that the purchaser will have bought other comics first (such as the #0 issues from the ’90s that one obtained by sending in coupons from other comics, or some mini-comics), but the creators can’t control the order people read the comics in once they’re out there.
“Every comic should be written as though it could be somebody’s first”: This is what Shooter was clearly trying to say. It’s open to debate, but it stands its ground as a prescriptive statement, at least.
“Every comic is somebody’s first”: Probably not true as a blanket descriptive statement, and nearly impossible to prove. Does anyone want to try to defend the claim that every single comic ever published has been the first one somebody picked up and read? Every comic ever? Even mini-comics with circulations in the double digits? It could be true; I don’t think it actually is.

Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be “Every comic is potentially somebody’s first.”

Bendis has a six-issue structure per story: the first issue is set-up, the next two are build-up, the next two are conflict and action, and the last is denouement.

I reread a bunch of Ultimate Spider-Man recently, and I ended up feeling that Bendis didn’t fall into this pattern until his “Hollywood” arc with Dr. Octopus. Earlier stories certainly had multi-issue arcs, but he wasn’t wedded to the 6-issue length, and individual issues tended to stand on their own better.

Then, starting with “Hollywood,” pretty much every arc was 6 issues long, which was evident even on the covers. Instead of titles on the covers, they simply read “Hollywood: Part 1.” And when he took a break from 6-issue stories, he did three consecutive 2-issue stories, so they were still trade-friendly.

I agree that a single issue of a comic doesn’t need to be good on its own any more than a single episode of, say, Lost needs to be good on its own – especially if it contributes to a good tpb or a good season, respectively. Comic stories aren’t a chain, and are stronger than their weakest link.

However, for a much-hyped book like Countdown, where the big draw is “every week, story happens,” then yes, that needs to be good. Countdown isn’t a story for the trades; it’s a story for the now, and “the now” can’t rely on “the later”…

I think Lost is a perfect example of this point, except that I would say that I DO expect every episode of Lost (and, again, any installment of serialized fiction, really) to be, on its own, a good episode.

The only problem I have with your whole point is that you could say the exact same thing about every comic title ever produced since 1935 and it would still be wishing in one hand and peeing in the other and seeing which you get first.

There’s never been ANY type of serialised fiction that has been consistently good throughout its entire run. You’ll always get an episode/issue where the ball is dropped.

So why focus just on Countdown?

So why focus just on Countdown?

See the link in the beginning of the piece.

Dini argues the opposite of my point, using Countdown as an example. It’s the inspiration for the whole piece, so of course I’m going to focus on it, right?

But sure, pick any serialized fiction. That’s what I titled the piece – “Serialized Fiction Is Judged Individually,” not “Countdown Is Judged Individually.”

And by the way. I didn’t see anywhere in that interview where Dini says “when Countdown is read as a whole, then the early lame issues will be transformed into a strong opening in the vast tapestry that is Countdown.”

However I do see him saying that stuff that happens in the first two issues are important later on.

That’s exactly what he says when he explains that the early issues are slow because they are prologues to the later issues.

Heck, he even says “the actual story starts with issue #50″

He actually says that!! “The actual story starts with issue #50.” That’s what really got me going, “Wha?!”

You can’t just throw away issues when working in a serialized format.

However, serialized fiction does not work that way (at least not according to the Cronin Theory of Comics, that is, natch).

And yet one of the most popular types of serialized fiction, daytime soap opera’s don’t work that way. And it doesn’t seem to affect their popularity.

Heck, it’s a medium where you can’t even catch up on the back-issues. :)

That’s exactly what he says when he explains that the early issues are slow because they are prologues to the later issues.

Heck, he even says “the actual story starts with issue #50″

He actually says that!! “The actual story starts with issue #50.” That’s what really got me going, “Wha?!”

You can’t just throw away issues when working in a serialized format

And yet it happens all the time. The actual story of Lord of the Rings starts with Chapter Two. The first is a Prologue who’s only purpose is to introduce the characters and nothing of consequence happens. You don’t need to read it to understand the rest of the story.

Yes I know you’re talking serialized fiction. Yet I think your concept of what serialized fiction is, isn’t actually what all serialized fiction actually is. Countdown is serialized, but is chapters of a whole. The same way a lot of fiction can be. serialized or otherwise.

I think daytime soap operas fit into the mold quite well. The daily format may lead to low expectations of quality, so they may be given a lot more slack from viewers than a weekly program, but I think every episode of a soap opera should be enjoyable upon its own, as well.

Again, let me reiterate that I do not think that every comic should have to be a “stand alone” work. It should just be enjoyable on its own, and if it isn’t, then it should be just said, “Yeah, this issue wasn’t good,” and the excuse for it being a bad individual issue can’t be “but it helps the larger story!”

Just like, say, if the next issue of Countdown is good, I’d say, “This issue of Countdown is good.” It won’t be hampered by the fact that the previous issue was NOT. The overall story may, but not the individual issue.

OOPS! Forgot to add, I think you’re reading a lot into that statement he made. I didn’t read it the same way.

OOPS! Forgot to add, I think you’re reading a lot into that statement he made. I didn’t read it the same way.

Fair enough.

But that’s what I was saying before about how this is not something specialized to Countdown, but just something that I was figured I’d write down after reading that interview (I’ve expressed this stance a number of times in the past – most recently, I THINK, for an issue of Daredevil).

So if you want to say Dini is not “guilty” of thinking that a larger good story makes bad individual installments excusable, then sure. I’m certainly not tied to believing so for my position. :)

Sure I’ll say that. But I still disagree with your interpretation of what serialized fiction should be.

What happened in the issue of Daredevil?

What happened in the issue of Daredevil?

It was a whole issue that read like the end of a Colombo episode, meant to explain to the reader why Matt Murdock is not considered to be Daredevil anymore, and why he is not in jail and why he is a lawyer again.

So it was just a collection of epilogues.

It very well might read well as the epilogue to the trade collection, but as an individual issue, it was a stinker.

I think Lost is a perfect example of this point, except that I would say that I DO expect every episode of Lost (and, again, any installment of serialized fiction, really) to be, on its own, a good episode.

Absolutely. Why in the hell would I waste my time on an hour of television if it isn’t good? If it’s important to another episode a month from now, they’ll cover it in the recap.

Take the episode where Hurley fixes up the van. It comes into play later on, but you could stop watching Lost after that episode and still think the episode was good on its own.

“The actual story of Lord of the Rings starts with Chapter Two.”

And if Tolkien had released chapter one on its own, and sold it for £1.50, and it had been promoted as something substantially different from what it was, and if he defended it by saying “Just wait til the bit in Minas Tirith, it’ll all be worth it then”, then I suspect that The Lord Of The Rings would have had far fewer readers than it did…

Ha! I was all, “Who the heck is Andrew quoting here?”

Paul must have snuck a comment in while I was replying a different comment, because I didn’t see the Lord of the Rings comment until I looked back to see who Andrew was quoting.

In any event, yeah, Lord of the Rings wasn’t serialized fiction, and if it WAS, with chapter one being released on its own? You’d get basically the situation Andrew describes above (I can’t speak to the “promoted as something substantially different from what it was” point, though, as I don’t really recall how Countdown was promoted, to be honest).

I don’t get the “promoted as something substantially different” bit either. What exactly was it promoted as if not a comic book leading to something “epic”?
Unless you mean 52 being promoted as something substantially different thanks to the writers taking it in its own direction?

And Lord of the Rings was released as serialized fiction….Only not in the context of my point. :)

And if Tolkien had released chapter one on its own, and sold it for £1.50…

Well his publisher did against his wishes. No idea what the price was, but you only got a third of the story.

…and it had been promoted as something substantially different from what it was…

It was promoted as the sequel to the Hobbit, a book that was vastly different in tone and audience to the trilogy. So you could say that’s correct.

…and if he defended it by saying “Just wait til the bit in Minas Tirith, it’ll all be worth it then”…

Don’t know if he ever spoke about it when it was released.

…then I suspect that The Lord Of The Rings would have had far fewer readers than it did…

Well it did….Until about 20 years later when it was embraced by the hippy baby-boomers.

Though, again, this has nothing to do with whatever point I was trying to make. :)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 26, 2007 at 11:47 pm

Well it did….Until about 20 years later when it was embraced by the hippy baby-boomers.

Which was due to the paperback editions being released, so once it was in the right format, that people wanted to read, it became a success.
Perhaps like Countdown will be when it is collected.

Brian Cronin said:

“But then you just spoke to “there is no exposition in Countdown,” so I am not sure of what your stance is on the other points.”

Sorry, that was me making a joke–suggesting you were wrong about your claim that ‘Countdown’ has been lousy so far, then clarifying that the only thing you were wrong about was just how bad it was. It is my sense of humor, and I would not wish it on anyone else. :)

Ha! I actually SORTA thought that was what you were getting at, but I wasn’t sure.

I probably shouldn’t even bring this up since you all are having so much fun with it as it stands…

…but Brian, it really should read as “SHOULD BE judged individually.” Because, as should be clear from all the comments here and the way the current Marvel and DC books are structured and the whole direct-market setup for the last twenty years, serialized comics clearly are NOT judged individually.

And you can make a really good case that the whole system is set up so that nothing is ever judged individually on its own merits AT ALL. Publishers measure sales by what is ORDERED WHOLESALE three months in advance, on a non-returnable basis. The whole thing’s based on guesswork and gambling on fans’ OCD need to keep up. How many of us have hung in there with a book because we are waiting for it to get good again? Because we didn’t want to break up a run? Because of habit? Because it takes two months for something to fall off your pull list after you notify a retailer?

If Marvel and DC comics really were judged on an individual basis and sold based on actual popularity, with the majority of a book’s sales depending on impulse buys, the whole system would collapse.

All that being said, of course I agree in principle. But it’s just not so. Your idea that Paul Dini is being insulting is leaving out all the other books that have been just AS insulting, and fans’ willingness to keep BEING insulted. There’s no particular reason to single him out except that he happened to be tactless enough to say it out loud.

“An individual comic, if it is bad, does not suddenly become good because it tied into a bigger story.”

You should have been talking about this when Image started all them long years ago.

The horse is out of the barn. Today’s long stories require chapters, some of which may be better than others.

And the first 3 chapters of Countdown really aren’t bad.

“The horse is out of the barn. Today’s long stories require chapters, some of which may be better than others.”

Well, of course some issues are going to be better than others – no-one’s arguing otherwise. But *do* ‘today’s long stories’ need as many issues as they take? Let’s look at Countdown, since it’s the subject under discussion.

Issue 1 has 22 pages. It has one actual event – the murder of Duela Dent by a Monitor, in front of Jason Todd, after she has herself kidnapped and murdered someone. That story could be told in five pages. The other four pieces of information (not really events as nothing actually happens) – Darkseid is plotting something, Mary Marvel is alone without her powers, the Rogues are plotting something and Ray Palmer is important – could have been done Levitz ABC style, taking between a panel and a page each.

The story, such as it is, could be told in half the space without losing anything essential to the plot. I think, in fact, it could be done without losing any character development or atmosphere, but that’s more debatable.

Either way though, Dini has shown with his excellent Detective run that he can tell a story concisely, and this level of padding is obviously a deliberate choice, not something imposed on him or his co-writers by ‘today’s longer stories’. It’s not that ‘today’s longer stories require’ anything – no-one is forcing Mr Dini to write a long story in a serialised form, and if he chooses to do so, he should either tell the story in a way that suits the medium or accept the criticism when he doesn’t, not claim that those who dislike his artistic choices don’t understand them.

Oh, totally, Greg. The whole “Cronin Theory” thing I mean to be my personal take on what SHOULD be, ya know?

So I mean for the “should” part to be implied. But if that’s unclear, then yeah, it totally is “should”

“don’t get the “promoted as something substantially different” bit either. What exactly was it promoted as if not a comic book leading to something “epic”?”

1) The solicitations said “breakdowns by Keith Giffen”. Only *AFTER* the release of the *second* issue was it revealed that Giffen wasn’t working on the early issues. DiDio then said that Giffen would be on by either the fourth or sixth issue, and now Giffen says “I don’t show up in the book until 10 or so issues down the line.” which means the solicitations for June and July as well as May are probably incorrect. This is an important point – the cover of Previews advertising May’s issues (see http://www.newsarama.com/dcnew/Countdown/maypreviews.jpg ) clearly says in big letters “art by KEITH GIFFEN and the world’s finest artists”. Giffen was a major selling point of the series. Now, it’s entirely understandable that Giffen couldn’t do those early issues – the man appears to be working on every single comic put out by DC, Marvel and Boom! at the moment – but that’s something that should have been made extremely clear before the first issue shipped.

2) The covers for issues 1 & 3 feature characters who don’t appear in the comic in question at all.

3) We were told that any referencing of other comics would be done in such a way that it would make sense without reading them. This has so far consisted of a big chunk of fight scene from another comic dumped in without context.

So if you bought the comic based on who you’d been told the creative team was, because a character you liked was on the cover, or because you were told it’d be a story you could follow without buying a ton of tie-in comics, you’ve been sold something substantially different to what you thought you were buying.

Mychael Darklighter

July 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm

“This kinda makes me glad I didn’t buy into the weekly comic thing… again.”

well, you missed out on a great read in 52.

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