Just a few words about the liabilities of serialization. There are a number of comics that I read as monthly serials, and one of the biggest frustrations for me is when I completely forget what came before in the previous issues when I pick up the current issue. When this happens, it seems that at least half of my time reading is spent trying to recall what had occurred in the earlier one or two issues–Who is that guy? Did she do that in the previous issue, or the one before? Was this something foreshadowed in the earlier issue?–so that I can’t really attend to the current events unfolding. Part of this is merely the fault of memory, sometimes I remember the narrative events/characters well, and sometimes things are more sketchy. But another part of this problem, I believe, is due to the quality and composition of the story. Case in point: Batman: Odyssey, volume 2. I began reading that a couple of months ago, and yesterday I read through issue #3. When I put the comic down I didn’t really know what in the hell I had just read. I could put some pieces together here and there, but experientially, I felt that my reading of issue #3 was almost completely divorced from my earlier readings of this narrative arc. When I began this storyline, I had issues #1 and #2 readily at hand, so I had no problem moving through the narrative in the initial stages and understanding what was going on. But over a month has gone by since I finished those first two issues, and in picking up #3, I feel as if I have lost whatever it was I had initially retained. This is not so much a problem with my memory, I don’t think. With other recent Batman titles–Batman, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, and Batman and Robin (basically, those in the New 52)–I have no problem in picking up where I left off a month or more previously. I can pick up an issue of, say, The Dark Knight, and immediately recall what I previously read (at least in a general sense). And I don’t mistaken it for what went on in Batman or Detective, which is funny, because at times these various storylines seem to share certain qualities. But with Batman: Odyssey, this isn’t the case. I think a good part of my disorientation is due to the way that Neal Adams writes. Nothing wrong with it, and in fact, it’s engaging and creative in a number of ways. But his is a style of omission, where even in a relatively self-contained comic, there are a number of gaps you have to fill in and assumptions that you have to make. When you carry this style across multiple issue, that can be a problem in sustained comprehension.
This is an issue that I’ve thought about quite a bit. Up until recently, with the advent of the New 52, I really didn’t read superhero comics on a regular basis…at least in monthly comic-book form. With some titles, such as the Batman ones and Brubaker’s Captain America, I would wait until the collected edition of recent narrative arcs was released and then read the stories in that way. It’s only been with the New 52 that I’ve been reading superheroes on a monthly basis, and I’ve done this primarily out of curiosity. I’ll soon end that, my only wanting to try several titles in the New 52 in the initial stages. But there are other comics that I’ve been reading monthly for quite a while, e.g., Fables, Scalped, House of Mystery (just ended), Shanower and Young’s Oz comics, and more recently, Unwritten, American Vampire, and Sweet Tooth. I’ve tried to keep up with Fables, but this past year I’ve been falling behind now and again. As a result, I’ll wait until about three or so issues have built up and then I’ll read them all one after the other. I’ve been doing the same with Unwritten and Sweet Tooth, and, much to my chagrin, Scalped (I say “chagrin” because this is one of my favorite titles, and I really want to keep up with that one). Part of the reason I’m not keeping up is that I have other things to read, both comics-based and otherwise. Along with this, the New 52 superhero titles have been occupying me these past few months, wanting to get the feel for the new stories as they come out. But as I mentioned, I’ll soon be discontinuing my reading of most of these titles, at least most on a regular basis, so I can turn back to the Vertigo and similar titles.
One of the advantages of holding onto several issues and then reading them all at once is that you get a more solid and contiguous narrative. Instead of enjoying the narrative piece by piece, you get a better sense of the larger picture. I like that. But then that raises the question: why not just not get the individual comic books and wait for the collected editions to come out?
FYI: I have actually written about the dynamics of serialization in the work of Gilbert Hernandez. I find it a fascinating phenomenon.