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So, About That Whole "Story" Thing...

A common phrase among fiction writers is, "start the story where the story starts". In other words, start a book (or comic, or screenplay, etc) with the beginning of the story, not the story's setup (or anything else that isn't strictly story content, such as overly detailed description and/or exposition). I don't think that rule always has to be followed, but it's certainly a good piece of advice for writers to follow. I've found it often to be the case that issue 1 of a series or story arc in comics acts as more of a prologue or setup than anything else. Now, while I understand that this approach is sometimes necessary, I do think it should be done sparingly. Stick with the basics of the basics and move on. Large info dumps really hurt stories, yet I see them in comics all the time.

I mentioned in my review of the first issue of ASM Presents: Black Cat that I was pleased to see that it indeed started the story where the story started. As a result, the second issue moved with the additional momentum of the first. It gave all the exposition and background information gradually while not forgetting the actual story and, in fact (or opinion, perhaps) put the story at the forefront. I really appreciate this approach. I just wish it wasn't so rare.

"But, CM_Cameron," I hear you ask, "What does it matter when the backstory is told if the same amount of information is given by the end anyway?" Good question there, imaginary inquirer. Imagine, if you will, that you're about to watch A New Hope or The Fellowship of the Ring for the second or third time (although the count is likely much higher for many of you), but instead of the 2-3 minute text crawl/narration that normally starts those films you get a long and detailed account of the history of the Jedi/Middle Earth. Would you enjoy that? Would you call that an improvement? What about video game fans? Would you like it if every Call of Duty game started by relaying to you a detailed history of war? I doubt it. So why does it happen so often in comics?

Maybe this isn't a very big deal, but it's always bugged me. I just don't like to see nearly entire issues dedicated to setup. Whenever I pick up a comic with the number 1 on it, I'm picking up what's likely going to be a instruction booklet for the upcoming story. When I read the first issue of X-23: Target X, I remember thinking "All this stuff is cool, but what's the point? What are we trying to work towards?" Those questions didn't even begin to get answered until the second issue. Perhaps that wouldn't be so bad if comics didn't come out a month apart from each other (or a week, or two weeks, or whatever). But they do. Situations like this can be likened to getting a strategy guide for a game that doesn't come out for another month. What's the point?

So perhaps this is a format problem. After all, like I said, sometimes a bit of setup is necessary before the story starts and, just like those films mentioned above, comics just give their basic introduction to their world. The problem then is that, even under the quickest release schedules, the separation between setup and story isn't just a simple scene change, it could be a whole month. Even when the creative teams behind DC's 52 and Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man forsook family and friends in favor of coffee and energy drinks in order to meet a hasty release schedule, there was still at least a week between releases. That separation really magnifies the problem.

Wrapping up, I'd really like to see much less of this and hopefully I'm not the only one. Since a realistic change in format can't fix the problem, a change in technique is needed to fix it.. Exposition and backstory are great, but they have to be handled right; the overall quality of a story depends on it. So spread it out a bit and stop putting all the butter on one corner of your toast (or something like that).