Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Giving up and going home

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.


  1. conrad1970

    I usually stick things out good or bad.
    I’ve collected every issue of Batman since the Grant/Breyfogle run, that’s a lot of comics and more than a fair few are run of the mill but not bad enough to put me off.
    I did however drop the Superman books when Bendis took over, there’s just some things that are a step to far.
    Lucky for me he didn’t stick around too long, although he managed to totally ruin Jon Kent in the process.

    1. A royal shame. Jon was one of the best bits of Superman in recent years, particularly hanging around with Damien Wayne.
      Bendis is one of several 21st century comics writers where even if I can get their work free from the library I’ll usually pass (in his case, excepting Alias).
      I fully understand the desire not to let go, even if it’s died in me.

  2. jccalhoun

    I have more or less just started following creators from book to book and not sticking with one character or title. Especially if it is a writer I like, I will try it out.
    The only characters I still really have an attachment to are the Legion of Super-Heroes and Bendis’ run is just really bad. If he continues on it after this current miniseries I probably will give up on it. It isn’t even that I’m against yet another reboot, it is that his writing is not good on Legion.

  3. JHL

    Yeah, I’m more of a creator guy than a character guy so dropping a book if it goes south has never been a big concern of mine. Especially since I’ve never considered myself a collector. If I could buy a few more comics instead of plastics bags or back boards I would go with extra comics ten times out of ten.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    In my formative years, comics were a rare thing, until I was old enough to earn my own money; and, even then, there was a problem of regular access. No comic shops, and few newsstands with an array of comics (and a consistent array was even rarer). So, it was more about how the story grabbed me, every time I picked up a comic, even if it was the next issue of something. For instance, I picked up New Teen Titans with the first issue and then the second. Missed #3. I looked at number 4 but didn’t buy it. Too supernatural, for my tastes. Skipped #5 because I didn’t like the art (and I liked Curt Swan on Superman, just not here). I did pick up 7 and 8. I didn’t have an outlet, readily available, to get back issues, so I just moved on. I didn’t really start getting it consistently until the mid-teens (appropriately).

    X-Men was probably the first where I had been getting it regularly and decided to stop. I had read bits and pieces, since it launched, thanks to a cousin, who had several issues. I got some more of the later issues (Byrne era), in bagged sets. I bought some others, in bits and pieces. by then, I knew of mail order sources; but, X-Men back issues were more than I was willing to pay, in general. I started getting it regularly when Cockrum was back, as they infiltrate the Pentagon to erase records and run into Rogue, fresh from Avenger Annual #10 (which I bought). I kept it going through the Brood Saga and into Paul Smith’s run. However, by the end of his run, at #175, i felt the storyline (since it dealt with Mastermind’s return and messing with Madelyne Pryor, making believe that Dark Phoenix was reborn) was repetitive and was ho-hum about the book. When I saw John Romita Jr’s art on the next issue, I put it back on the stands. I had loved his work on Iron Man, but hated this stuff. Since I hadn’t thought much of the last storyline, by the end, I just decided it was time to stop.

    My buying got interrupted with my freshman year of college, but, by my sophomore, I was buying regularly from a local comic shop. That was where I became a regular buyer. From there, it depended on the title. If the writing was good, I’d suffer through substandard art; but, if the writing wasn’t doing it, I called it quits. There were some books I continued to the end, when I was enjoying it at the start, like Wanderers. I liked their appearance in the Great Darkness Saga and picked up the series, to see more. It wasn’t what I expected, but, I gave it a try. I never really did enjoy it; but, I didn’t cut it off until they pulled the plug. I didn’t have too many series like that. The older I got and the more bored with superhero comics, the choosier I got. I had gotten more and more into the indies, in college and right after and that grew through the 90s. I had barely touched a Marvel book , since high school (with a few exceptions). By the end of the 90s, I was getting very few DCs (Starman, the ABC line and JSA, plus the odd mini or one-shot and a bit of Vertigo).

    I’ve never been a completist, though I have collected specific runs of a title, either for the stories or the artist. If a book drops in quality, I might give them another storyline to see if it was just a misstep; but, if it is the same, I will often drop the book. These days, I usually only pick up a complete story.

  5. Le Messor

    I have every issue of an Alpha Flight comic, even though it was only really good when Byrne had the book.

    I agree with you, Fraser, that X-Men lost quality around about #200, and never recovered (except Whedon’s Astonishing), but I still have all of that first 574.1 issue run. That’s, what, 548.1 issues? (Plus annuals).
    You couldn’t pay me to pick up X-Men these days from what I’ve been hearing.

    I’ve gotten harder about it, though, lately, having wasted a lot of time and money on bad comics.

    As for buying for creators – I do a little of that, but I find it isn’t the solution it should be. Fabian Nicieza, for example, wrote one of my favourite comics (New Warriors), and a terrible run on Alpha Flight. And John Byrne repeats himself, as another example.

    1. I love Marv Wolfman’s work but he can’t write a good Superman story for toffee (Forgotten Heroes stuff excepted). Conversely I despise Christopher Priest’s writing so if I’d gone with that, I’d never have picked up his Black Panther.
      Generally there are more current writers I make it a point to avoid than writers I’ll make an effort to find.

        1. To clarify, there’s only a few writers I avoid: Hickman, Remender and Bendis (except on Alias) primarily. But there are no must-read writers (or at least Must Try The Book writers) for me compared to Englehart, Wein, Wolfman or Morrison (at his best). That may be as much taste as current comics — as I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’m a lot less invested in the Big Two which makes it easy to pass them up.

  6. Jazzbo

    I used to be quite the completist, so for the first 10 years or so of collecting I don’t think I dropped any titles unless they got cancelled.

    Then the 90s hit, and I was in college, and my parents were no longer partially subsidizing my comic purchases, and man there were a lot of bad comics being put out. I think Punisher was the first one I dropped. After AoA I dropped all the X-Men family of books, because they were just a huge interconnected mess. That was pretty nice because it was a huge savings in my wallet all in one shot.

    The Avengers had always been one of my favorite titles, and I had a complete run from #120 up, with about half the issues before that. When it got cancelled for the Liefield reboot I dropped it, and then graduated and got out of comics completely for a few years. So I missed most of the amazing Busiek run on the Avengers. I started collecting that again and got all the back issues and vowed that Avengers would be the one title I never dropped. But the Bendis came along, and as several other people mentioned, I just couldn’t stick with it when he was writing. I made it like a year and dropped it again.

    Now I’ll drop a title no hesitation. The fact that there aren’t really long running titles anymore helps. Is this version of the Avengers technically issue #823 of the Avengers? Or is one of the 7 other Avengers titles this month? DC titles don’t just get rebooted, their entire universe does, so the Batman comics now don’t even really star the Batman that I was buying in the 80s and 90s. So it makes sticking with a title just to stick with it seem pretty pointless, even from a completionist standpoint.

    1. I catch up on a lot of stuff with TPBs from the library. It’s way more effort than I’m willing to put in to figure out whether Brutal Black Widow Vol. 1 comes before Breathtaking Black Widow Vol. 1. So as I mentioned in a previous post, I just take them as standalones and don’t worry about the continuity.

  7. John King

    too long
    I generally keep going unless I feel a need to drop titles as I’m buying too many (though I normally don’t let little things like that stop me) or if there is a change I take a particular dislike to (typically a writer whose work I dislike based on previous experience of their work)

  8. Bright-Raven

    The system I use, I started with back in 1988 or so, when Marvel was expanding the X-Line with WOLVERINE and EXCALIBUR.

    Buy the first 6 issues. If it’s still good, buy through issue #12. Still good? Go to #25. And then keep going in increments of 25 issues. This way you’ll always either have a solid issue number to stop and sell as a set later, or the book will get canceled and you’ll have a complete run.

    “What about if your first issue of a series started in the middle, say WOLVERINE #37?” Then you go backwards to #1 and forwards to #50, and if you still like the whole, to #75, etc.

    This works extremely well, for the most part. The publishers have tried to screw this system up by rebooting each arc as a new #1 to try to keep people buying, because they kind of caught on to the trick and think they’re being smart. But the more they do this, it’s even easier to ‘just say no’, because it just makes the ability to figure out the continuity of which story fits where that much harder to keep track of. It also makes it easier to break down your collection for resale later, as you are more apt to have if not full runs, at least a full run to a certain point that buyers are more apt to pay a higher dollar amount for than if you sell random selection runs.

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