I remember back in mid-July when I picked up my copy of Civil War #3 and was shocked to see Thor standing tall on the final page. Wow, I thought, this story is getting really good! I couldn’t wait for the next issue of Civil War to see how Cap’s team was going to deal with that. So I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
This story comes to mind because in less than 24 hours, I’ll be posting my review of the Civil War mini-series. That’s right, the same one who’s third issue caused me to walk to a comic shop in the sweltering mid-July heat. And this issue will be only the fourth one to come out since that time. A seven issue mini-series. It launched back on May 3rd, 2006. Depending on who you talk to, this extended scheduling may have been purposely done by Marvel. I don’t think three months past a monthly format was the intent, but it did allow all the stories around the Marvel Universe to be told in their own ways. Problem is, most of those stories wrapped up a few months ago. Much of the Marvel Universe has gone past the Civil War, making the final issue slightly lackluster. Even major tie-ins like New Avengers and Spider-Man have begun their post Civil War stories, leaving everyone else scratching their heads.
Marvel is the major example of the declining importance of regular schedules in high-profile books. As shown of late, the higher profile the comic, the less likely it is to actually come out on time. While rank and file titles, in no means lacking in quality, crank out an issue a month (or more), the highly advertised books will make their debut date, then whenever they feel like it. It’s gotten to where many fans have come to expect hyped-up mini series to vanish before they end their stories.
A big part has become the popularity of getting writers from other fields to write comics. Kevin Smith, once a highly praised comic writer, has gotten a lot of flack over this. Two of his mini-series, Daredevil: The Target and Spider-Man/Black Cat, came to an unexpected halt in 2002, after one and three issues, respectively. The latter was finished three years later, with an obvious shift in tone over the lull, and the former has yet to have a second issue. The ridiculous delays have damaged Smith’s prestige in the eyes of comic fans, and few people are actually expecting him to finish his Daredevil book.
A more recent example would be Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, a mini-series written by David Lindelof (co-creator of Lost). The book had two issues, then nothing. Marvel continued to solicit, then push back the release date of the third issue, until finally at the end of 2006, it cancelled the book until further notice. While they assure it will eventually be finished, skeptical readers are not holding their breaths. Another highly-anticipated story gone due to inability to put out stories.
The trend is not limited to mini-series, either. After Grant Morrison left New X-Men for a DC-exclusive deal, it was announced that the retooled X-Men would be headed up with a new flagship title called Astonishing X-Men, written by Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, amongst other things). The first story arc (issues 1-6) came out in a timely manner, and was highly praised by X-Men fans. However, the second storyline (issues 7-12) started meeting delays that the other X-Men titles (Uncanny written by Chris Claremont and X-Men written by Peter Milligan) did not suffer. Therefore, the flagship title began falling behind the other books. Six main characters (Cyclops, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Colossus, Wolverine) found themselves in something of a limbo, awaiting the next issue. When the storyline completed, Whedon and penciller John Cassaday announced they would be returning for 12 more issues, but with a more spaced out pace (bi-monthly issues). However, the second issue, even with two months between, was still delayed. The book is now on issue 20, where other books launched at the same time are in the mid-30s. It’s still promoted as the flagship X-Title, though. That should say something about the X-World.
Finally, I have to say that it’s not simply guest writers from other industries causing problems. Take NYX, the supposedly regular series by Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. After four issues, the book simply vanished. Missing so long, high-profile artist Josh Middleton left for DC and the book was eventually retooled as a mini and finished with little cheer after seven issues…two years after it began.
DC isn’t completely innocent of this either. Mainstream books like Teen Titans and Justice League of America often miss their regular weeks due to delays, but are usually followed by two issues released within two weeks of one another to make up. It is rare that a DC book will simply vanish. For a shining example of DC’s dedication, their 52 mini-series, set to be released once a week for 52 weeks, has not missed a single week (as of issue 41). In this field, DC is a much better example of making deadlines.
So should we sacrifice timely comics in exchange for high-profile creators? I say no, no, a thousand times no. What’s the use of an exceptional comic if it doesn’t come out at all? Hopefully the fling of such creators will die down and we’ll enjoy our better titles at a more regular pace. If I wanted to see the work of the creator of Lost, I’d watch Lost.
NOTE: Is Bryan Singer ever going to do a run on Ultimate X-Men? It was announced like two years ago. God, I hope not.