Recently in the comments section of this post, I brazenly asserted that Batman, by Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel, fails as a monthly comic reading experience. Basically, I feel the plot is too convoluted or complex for easy monthly digestion, although I’m sure it’ll go down very easy in trade.
So, what makes a good monthly comic? A couple of things:
Comics that put “character” first!
Comics that tend to focus more on character than plot are inherently more readable as monthlies. When jumping into the middle of a six issue arc, its character that pulls you in and fills in the holes. With the exception of Fantastic Four, every comic on my list stars a single character.
“Done-in-One (or two)” Stories!
There’s no need to wait for the trade if each arc is only 1-2 issues long, right? Again, this type of story goes well with character writing. Since the plot isn’t required to sustain itself for 3-6 issues, it can be pared down and used primarily as a vehicle to reveal the titular hero’s character. Batman and Zatanna team up to stop the Joker!?! Reading that story you find that it’s not really about catching the Joker as much as it’s about developing Bruce and Zatanna’s relationship. Also, without really sacrificing the overall plot, these “done-in-one” stories can be framed like TV episodes that when viewed over an entire season combine to reveal a hidden master plot. Think Buffy, Heroes, etc… As many of us know, it can be very intimidating for a new reader to jump onto a book with a long running story, so hiding the plot in this manner is a great way to eliminate that intimidation factor. It also allows the writer to integrate sub-plots with clearly defined conflicts into the background that can be slowly developed and brought to the forefront at a later date, as Mark Millar does in Fantastic Four.
Cliffhangers that punch you in the face!
I mean, does this one really need explanation? There are quite a few comics (many on this list) that use the “final page splash” to great effect in almost every single issue. The rush you get from experiencing these in a floppy is much different than when experiencing them in a trade. Actually, it doesn’t even come close.
Getting that “OMG I can’t wait for next month!” Soap Opera feeling!
Of the four I’ve listed here, I think this last one is probably the most important (although it is very closely related to the Cliffhanger thing). For me, it’s the most important factor in deciding whether or not to wait for the trade. I ask myself, as many of you probably do, “Can I go more than a month without reading about BLANK?!?” If you answer “NO!”, then you obviously have a great monthly in your hands!
With the pretentious explanations out of the way I present to you, in no particular order, my “Top Ten Comics That Work Best as Monthlies”:
ACTION COMICS by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank
I could NEVER read this comic in trade; I just love the characters too much! And the cliffhangers are the epitome of punch you in the face. There haven’t been many done-in-ones in the Johns run, but that’s okay, since at least half the comics on this list barely utilize that comic book storytelling device. But Johns does love the sub-plots, wherein he writes some of the best (or, THE best) character moments in comics. CONS: More done-in-ones would be nice.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by “The Spidey Brain Trust”
With the exception of the current arc, “New Ways To Die”, Brand New Day has been nothing but 1-, 2-, and 3-issue arcs filled with character, character, character… the Soap Opera mojo has been strong. Because of the weekly shipping schedule, the Spidey team has been using the last page splash to great effect. CONS: Actually, maybe there are too many characters? Sometimes it gets confusing.
CAPTAIN AMERICA by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Luke Ross
All of the above? Without all the little Bucky character stuff, I would not be enjoying this book as much as I am. It’s funny, but to me, most issues of Captain America feel like single issue stories set in an epic tapestry whose true significance won’t be seen ‘til Brubaker ends his run. It’s one long, ongoing story that excites me month in and month out.
DEADPOOL by Daniel Way & Paco Medina
We’re two issues in and I’m in love. For now. Plot? What plot? If you’re looking for a story, you’re in the wrong place, duder. This is all about Deadpool. That’s it. Do you need to read issue one to understand issue two? Hell no! Enjoy the funny!
DETECTIVE COMICS by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen
Current master of the 1- or 2-part story (yeah, yeah, I know the RIP tie-in breaks the rules). Reading Detective for the last two years I remember more about Bruce sex life (obv lack thereof) than I do the details of any of the stories. And to me, that’s awesome writing. Dini has made Bruce likable. This is new, folks. Bruce Wayne as an actual character in comics? Not since pre-DKR, I would think, have we seen the identity of Bruce Wayne written as a real character. Ah no, I disagree with you, Morrison’s Wayne is a flimsy piece of cardboard. Maybe he had something at the beginning of his run, but fleshing out Batman’s alter ego took a back seat to RIP setup long ago, maybe around the time Adam Kubert left the book. Anyway, yes, Dini isn’t writing Batman, he’s writing Bruce Wayne as Batman. And there is a difference, and that difference is quite refreshing.
FANTASTIC FOUR by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch
The character stuff is lacking, but the sub-plots, cliffhangers and OMG moments make this a top of the stack must-read. Here’s a recent review that reads more negative than it actually is.
GRAVEL by Warren Ellis, Mike Wolfer & Raulo Caceres
The way the current arc is framed, it works wonderfully as a series of single issue stories filled with scenes exploring the character of William Gravel. Oh, you know what? Thank God Ellis finally got around to fleshing this guy out. Gravel started life as a boringly hollow SAS thug who starred in a series of idea-driven minis. In those minis, there was never anything particularly exciting or compelling about the Gravel character and the fact of the matter is, I probably only read them because they were written by Ellis. Now, under the watchful eye of Mike Wolfer, I really grown to like this guy and each month I can’t wait to read Gravel’s next adventure. Shocking. That’s good stuff, brother.
HULK by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness
Heh. I really do love this book. Honest. HA!
INVINCIBLE by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker
Ever since the #51 reboot, this book has been one of the most anticipated monthlies in my stack. LOVING IT… happy now, Bruce?
JACK OF FABLES by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham
Awesome title character? CHECK!
Outstanding sub-plots? CHECK!
SOAP OPERA?!? TRIPLE CHECK!!!