2/16/2009

The Negative Zone: THE ISSUE #3 BONER-KILL EFFECT

Something that's obsessed me about comics, especially over the past year as my weekly comics intake's gone out of control--and especially because a lot of good or at least promising series have begun--is how many series I've dumped at issue #3: Kick-Ass, Final Crisis, the "Old Man Logan" storyline, "Batman R.I.P", Glamourpuss, Haunted Tank, probably some others too (interesting that there's two by Millar and two by Morrison on that list...).

The third issue's the make-or-break issue because a writer can rely on the pretty-much-always-interesting first issue and can usually, if they've set the first issue up passably well, ride that wave into the end of #2. By #3, stuff's gotta start happening or ideas gotta start flowing or something, anything. And usually what a third issue does is too-much or too-little. The leisurely pace punctuated by a few "what the fuck" moments is what made "Old Man Logan" and Kick-Ass, and then the third issue of each respectably, stumbled into some sub-plot about Spiderwoman or threw in a little girl who chopped heads and said "Cunt". Okay.

Final Crisis and "Batman R.I.P" suffered for the opposite reasons as they did nothing at all and fumbled further into themselves. You felt all the narrative pieces moving around, being set-up for that big "Woahholycrap" moment but that was the problem...you could feel the moves being made, each weird sub-plot or new character/concept to pay-off later. And the pay-off might be worth it, but I don't read comics for the pay-off, I read them for the evolving, temporal-ness of the narrative that ideally, builds to something actually worth it. I need to feel like I'm in good hands and I'm not in good hands whether the writer decides on a total tone-change in issue 3 or to just continue setting-up fort for some forever-delayed "payoff". Series' like Haunted Tank and Glamourpuss expose themselves by their third-issue for just sort of coasting along, with little interest in changing or even complicating previous issues. They're too confident and as a result, feel obsessively planned-out. No room for complexity or fun or anything to leak in.

That's why Cable is the best series going on right now. It's heavy in continuity and it's circling around itself in terms of time-travel weirdness, but every issue works on its own. The most recent issue, which is essentially Cable and Hope in empty space talking about time-travel continuity shit I register but couldn't regurgitate to a new reader, works because stripping the action comic of its vague action comic connections unravelled deeper things about Cable and Hope's relationship.

That the issue ends with (spoiler-not-spoiler alert) Cable collapsing, both matters and doesn't matter. Matters because the series' bad is gonna go to worse, but doesn't matter because the issue wasn't building up to that "shocker" ending. Of course, it was kinda inevitable that a food-less, water-less Cable would collapse, but you forgot about it because the human interaction was so fascinating in and of itself. Basically, the comic put you in Hope's shoes, so caught-up in the immediate that you forgot about essentials like food and water and as a result, Cable's collapse is as shocking and desperate to you as it is to her.

That's of course what the best "keep-you-reading" or even "twist" ending stories do. They don't pull some tricky bullshit out of their ass two pages before it ends, they wrap you up in the story itself, distract you from greater, scarier issues at-hand, all the while making them pretty obvious and then...BOOM, it's got you. An odd, hard-to-describe mix of in-the-moment storytelling and obsessive story-planning. Giving you more of the same and knowing how and when to subtly flip it too.

9 comments:

Brandon G said...

Interesting 3 issue theory sir.

Dude. I don't know how you got to Kick ass #3. The first issue of that (mostly the graffitti scene) had me throwing the comic across the room. bullshit assed bullshit.

That aside, all this cable talk has gotten me interested in checking it out. He always seemed like such damaged goods. like Liefeild saw T2 and read longshot so we got Cable. But maybe that would create an interesting chalenge for the writer.

I tried to read the Ladron ones years back but it kust made me wish I was reading a Kirby comic.

david e. ford, jr said...

brandon s: damnit, you have basically crystallized the ineffable what of good comics versus bad in a measly 500 words. damn you! seriously, though, this is great; especially:

"You felt all the narrative pieces moving around, being set-up for that big "Woahholycrap" moment but that was the problem...you could feel the moves being made, each weird sub-plot or new character/concept to pay-off later. And the pay-off might be worth it, but I don't read comics for the pay-off, I read them for the evolving, temporal-ness of the narrative that ideally, builds to something actually worth it"

brandon g: cable is unquestionably the best series going right now. it is of particular import to me because its run basically coincides with my comics reading habit and it was the first serial i started buying. the thing that is weird and really great about the series is that it seems like it has so many things going against it, including those things you mention in your comment. and yet, and yet, despite all the reasons it really should be terrible, it is really amazing. moreover, every i have thought that a bad choice had been made with respect to the series, further contemplation confirms that the error was on my part.

READ IT!

samuel rules said...

dude, you're killing me with how good this was, thanks.

brandon said...

David & Sammy-
Thanks!

Brandon-
I'm a big Cable hater myself and it was only Jesse who told me the series was good and sold me on it. It's real slow and leisurely, sorta Samurai-movie like...

See, I hated 'Kick-Ass' before picking it up, while I was reading it too, but there seemed to be some level of like emotion going through it. The flashback to his mom being dead, him dealing with it apparently through violence. It towed this weird line of being awful and cool, and Issue 3 proved me wrong: It was always awful.

Brandon G said...

Ok deal, I'll get some Cable.
How far back should I go?

Jesse Reese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesse Reese said...

Brand S:
I'm definitely in with david and sammy on this one. Really good calls on summing up the good and bad of a lot of recent series.

I don't know what it is (maybe I like to waste money?) but I've stuck with Old Man Logan and Final Crisis and they seem to be gearing up for something. I agree they've lost the true greatness and potential of their beginning, especially Old Man Logan, but I have a suspicion they are going to turn out OK in the end.

Brand G:
I'd say go all the way back to #1 of the most recent series. You can issues 1-5 in hardcover for 13.59 on amazon :-). Hope you like it!

samuel rules said...

i'm still into old man logan, even if it is basically this nostalgia jerk off. final crisis though i don't think i even bought #3, it wassss jusssst soooo baaaadduuh

brandon said...

I bought #3 of that FC shit and got like two pages in and realized I didn't know or care what had happened and the tone of the thing was that what had happened was really important so I put it down.

Brandon-
Yeah, like, check out the first trade--which may be in paperback now--you could even go into a Borders and Barnes & Noble and read a few issues in a matter of minutes and see if you like it. It's real quick and direct like that.