Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Passion of the Purist

Or: "Decimate THIS!"

When I came back to comics after eight years (having been, at the time, a casual reader) in late 2002, I found that, contrary to my fears, being selective was actually rather easy. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for the ones who have the time on their hands to read EVERYTHING, but that wasn't going to happen for me. I had to be picky. The good news was that, generally speaking, comics were actually allowing me that possibility, after years where it seemed like you had to read eight books for one story on a regular basis. Where, if you were a fan of Daredevil, you'd suddenly find yourself reading Thor, Spider-Man and Hulk whether you particularly cared to or not.

I should probably pause here and explain that, insofar as the big Marvel/DC schism goes, I've generally been more of a Marvel Girl. I love DC's imprints (Wildstorm and Vertigo) but when it comes to the main DC universe, I always found the characters to be a little too cold, a little too perfect, and pretty much not what I'm looking for. As a result, I don't really keep up with the DCU at all, which is why this discussion is going to veer a little more towards familiar waters.

If, at the time I got back into comics, I wanted to read Peter Milligan's "X-Force", I could do so without being dragged by the tits towards some other corner of the Marvel Universe I had no interest in visiting. I'd long since made the shift from following characters to following writers, and in time I'd built myself a little list of writers who'd really impressed me - there was Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Judd Winick, Brian Michael Bendis (remember, this was long before the Avengers fiasco), and many more, (including, of course, "Papa" himself, Alan Moore).

The point is, it was pretty easy to maneuver between subpar books I wanted nothing to do with (see: Chuck Austen's "Uncanny X-Men", Bruce Jones' "Hulk") and what I perceived to be the best of the best, the stuff I really wanted and enjoyed. Continuity was pretty out of fashion at the time - it was pretty easy to just step in when a new writer came aboard without worrying about the four decades of baggage behind him. There were no giant crossover events forcing themselves down your throats.

That isn't the case anymore, not by a long-shot. Witness the dilemma of a writer-centric purist: when "House of M" reached its third issue, it became clear to me that it wasn't working. So I dropped it. None of its tie-ins affected books I read (except for Exiles, which kind of avoids the problem of influence by its very nature). That should be the end of it, right? Didn't like it, don't have to read anything about it.

Except it has now become fashionable again to take the choice out of the reader's hand. Following writers is now that much more difficult, because it might lead you somewhere you don't want to go. Case in point:

I like David Hine. The problems with "District X" had everything to do with mandated pacing and nothing to do with Hine's writing. So I should just pick up his next book and see what he does, right?

Wrong. Because his next projects are "Son of M" and "X-Men: The 198", labeled "Decimation" books and spinning out of "House of M".

Peter David's one of my favorite writers. Not that I accept all his work evenly - quite frankly, I thought his recent return to Hulk was abominable. But he pulled off a "Madrox" miniseries very nicely earlier in the year, and when he announced an "X-Factor" ongoing following that mini up, I should have been thrilled. Right?

Wrong. Because it's labeled a "Decimation" book and spins out of "House of M", featuring Layla Fucking Miller the walking plot device.

I went into the "X-23" miniseries expecting tawdry garbage and discovering a rather nice origin story for what had to be one of Marvel's most transparently gimmicked characters. The writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost was set to take over "New X-Men", a book I'd always wanted to read but never quite clicked with me under Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis. Clearly, I should be reading this.

Wrong. Have a guess as to why.

I think what I resent the most is precisely that Marvel forces readers into that position, choosing between writers they want to read and Event fallout they don't. Morrison's "New X-Men" never forced you to acknowledge Austen's "The Draco". And if your tastes went the other way, Claremont never tried to cram Cassandra Nova down your throat. All we had to do was pick and choose what we wanted, content that context and accessibility weren't a cause for concern.

So what's a selective purist to do? Do I grit my teeth and read follow-up after follow-up to an event I don't care about, just because it's by writers I happen to like? Or do I just cross off anything with "DECIMATION tie-in!" on the cover, and shut myself out completely from entire scores of books?

Mandates and policies come and go. Characters die and pop back up none worse for wear. Writers leave and return and quit and come out of retirement.

It's the choice I miss.