Over on his blog, former Marvel editor Tom Brevoort recently asked a question: how long will you stick with a book you like after it’s gone bad?
My initial answer, completist that I am, was that I didn’t give up on books I used to like until I was out of college but I was wrong. The first time I did it I was still a tween: Justice League of America #66 in ’68.
As much as I loved comics, I didn’t have the money to collect a single series faithfully: every time I went to the store, I had to make choices. Neverthless, Justice League of America was one of my favorite series; if I saw a copy, I’d buy it if I could. Of the previous 35 issues, I had 26.
“Divided — They Fall,” however, was the first issue after DC kicked Gardner Fox and other writers to the curb (which I didn’t know about at the time). Denny O’Neil took over and the results were utterly, unacceptably wrong. His story was campy as hell; while Fox had sometimes written campy dialog and captions, his plots were always solid. Not O’Neil; even at 11 years old I knew this story a piece of crap.
That said, I might have resumed the book once O’Neil got over his camp phase; he was still a lousy JLA writer but I’ve read crappy books about my favorite characters before and since. However money got really tight for my family around this point in time, then we moved to the U.S. from England. It would be several years before I started buying comics again.
Once I did, I became a completist. Even if a given book suddenly turned sucky, sooner or later it had to get better again, right? Would I want to have a huge hole in my collection? And sometimes I was right. JLA was a mess after Len Wein left the book in the early Bronze Age but then Steve Englehart took the helm, followed by Gerry Conway. The series was good again and no gaps at all!
I think the first book where that didn’t work was Thor. I started buying the book when it followed up on Kirby’s Eternals series. I stuck with it faithfully even after Roy Thomas turned it into a venue for retelling the Ring of the Nibelungs. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story (which I’ve read in two different, overlapping versions, the Nibelungenleid and the Volsungasaga) but it wasn’t what I was buying Thor for. Nevertheless I stuck with it, convinced we’d get back to the main plot some day. And we did, but Mark Gruenwald’s resolution in Thor #300 did not justify my buying the long stretch of mediocre issues. A couple of issues more by Gruenwald and I was gone until Walt Simonson took over.
Still, Thor wasn’t a core book for me. The Eternals tie-in had drawn me to it, not any great love for the central characer. Actually abandoning a book I truly loved wouldn’t happen until a few year later, when I gave up X-Men.
For me, as for so many other fans, the Len Wein/Dave Cockrum New X-Men team was a delightful improvement on the original. After Chris Claremont took over it became something much more, an absolutely amazing, intense comic. Great characterization. Dynamic action. A perfect balance of main plot, subplots and seeding for future plots.
Sic transit gloria mundi. By #200 the magic had gone. Claremont jumped about the Grim And Gritty chain in the 1980s and he never really got off. The X-Men lived in a world that was never, ever going to do anything but shit on mutants. And shit on mutants. And shit more. There was no hope, no justice, no chance Xavier’s dream would ever become reality. Too many pretentious speeches from Wolverine. And after watching the classic documentary series on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, the idea of Xavier as Martin Luther King looked laughable. Martin Luther King and his fellows in the movement fought; the X-Men couldn’t move beyond the model minority approach (“If we protest, we’ll only inflame human hate! Our only option is to be really, really nice and hope that someday homo sapiens invites us to sit at their lunch counters.”).
I stuck it out to #213, accepted things were not going to improve (and they didn’t) and walked away from the book. A couple of years later I did the same to the Giffen/deMatteis Justice League of Idiots and I love the Justice League way more than the X-Men.
Even so, my default was still to hang on to a series rather than give up. Rereading various comics and encountering gaps or dead ends, it’s usually from a time when I was strapped for cash. Money was far more a disincentive than quality, particularly if I loved the platonic ideal of the character. I stuck with Doug Moench’s pretentious run on Batman much longer than it deserved.
Overall, though, I would never be quite so loyal to a failing comic again.
#SFWApro. Covers by Neal Adams, Keith Pollard and Alan Davis, top to bottom.