Action Comics #3: I am digging this whole comic book thing!

Last night, before continuing my reading of Jack McDevitt’s Firebird, I downloaded and read Action Comics #3: “World Against Superman.” Of the 5 issues I’ve read so far (3 Action Comics and 2 Superman) in the New 52, this was the best one yet. The story started out on Krypton and you could see where some of the mythology changed. It then turned back to Earth and helped tie things together that has happened thus far in the first three issues of the series. The characters–especially Clark–are beginning to come through. I am also getting the hang of reading a comic book.

Purists might hate me, but I like reading the comics on my iPad. I like that it takes me through panel by panel in the right order. I think I would be easily confused as to the proper order of reading if I didn’t have this help. I can’t quite go as far as saying I prefer reading comics on the iPad over actual paper comic book, but the only hesitation there is that I have never read a paper comic book so I don’t know if the experience would be better. Having never done it, I can’t imagine it would. But I can empathize with those who feel differently.


Action Comics #3 was the first one in which the story really grabbed my interest. Prior to this issue, whether it was Action Comics or Superman, the artwork is what kept me going. My oh my how the folks that draw these comics can draw!  Even something as subtle at how different all of the faces are in the crowd of people on the cover of the issue. I love the artwork and I loved it just as much in #3, but the story really caught fire with me in this one.

And that leads me to my one frustration with the issue–and with comic books in general.

Unlike science fiction magazines, comic books appear to have multi-issue arcs. You are driving alone just fine and then suddenly: cliff–and see you back here in a month! Now, on occasion, a science fiction magazine will run a serial and those are always fun. But even the serials don’t necessarily end on cliff-hangers. They are novels broken up into 3 or 4 sections. With these comics, I can read through an entire issue in half an hour, get worked up into a frenzied state–only to be left hanging for an entire month!

Have comic book fans really been living with this torture for the last seventy years or so? Are they simply masochistic by nature? How can you bare it? What’s worse is that Action Comics and Superman come out fairly close to one another, Action Comics at the beginning of the month, and Superman at the end of the month. That means that I read Superman #2 less than a week ago. So I really do have more than 3 weeks before the next issue comes out–and that isn’t even the issue that I am drooling over at the moment.

I’m just lucky that I have other things to occupy me in the meantime, like Jack McDevitt’s book, a promising issue of Analog, issues of Lightspeed and Clarkesworld and F&SF, to say nothing of Stephen King’s new book, which comes out on Tuesday. And then of course, there is my own writing to keep my mind occupied, and my family, and the day job.

But I’ll tell you, if it wasn’t for all of those things, I think I’d be counting the intervening seconds between now and when Action Comics #4 comes out in just under 30 days.


  1. Comic book storytelling has changed a lot over the years. This whole serial storytelling paradigm has only been around for about 10-15 years or so. It’s because the economics of comics have changed; there is more money to be made today in the trade collections than in the individual issues.

  2. I don’t think Michael’s entirely accurate to suggest that serial storytelling is that recent in comic books; I’d tend to say it dates back at least 30 years, probably more. Not in every comic, but multi-issue sagas and convoluted plots were certainly around throughout the 80s and in at least some comics in the 70s. It was in thelate 80s and early 90s that both major companies got crossover fever, though, with stories that weaved across multiple titles; that was the time I started to drop many comics, and indeed presaged the implosion (the ridiculous burst of first issues and special issues was the real kicker for that, though).

  3. Brian is right that the serial storytelling goes back further, but 30 years ago you were much more likely to get a full story in one comic book. Even if you had a cliffhanger story, many of them would be two-part stories, so you wouldn’t find yourself having to read a half-year’s worth of comics for one complete story. Thirty years ago I could pick up DC Comics Presents or Superfriends, say, and have a complete story finish in either one or two issues.

    Nowadays, I can’t think of any comic book that finishes the story in one issue.

    Back in the 1930s and 1940s, you would often have multiple stories in one issue!

  4. I appreciate the other comments. I just can’t quite believe the original complaint about the “torture” of living with a serial. Doesn’t this guy every watch television? Hasn’t he heard of 24 or Heroes or Lost or who-knows-how-many others? This isn’t some kind of recent comic-book thing, this goes back way before Saturday-morning cinema serials in World War 2. Charles Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle, were keeping people hanging with serials in the 19th century! Come on, it’s an ordinary feature of popular culture!

    1. Graham, sure, for a long while I did watch TV shows. Part of the reason I stopped (other than time commitments) was that I got sick of the serial nature as opposed to series nature. I think I’ve written of this before. Shows like Magnum, P. I. or M*A*S*H were series in the sense that it was the same characters but the arc through the series was minimal. You could watch any episode in the series without having watched the others. Shows like 24, Heroes and Lost (none of which I particularly liked for reasons far from what we are discussing here) were serials. You had to watch from the beginning and were left hanging week to week as part of the dramatic narrative.

      That said, I my comment was a little tongue-in-cheek. There is an excitement in waiting for the next issue, but of course, I don’t want to wait, I want to know what happens now! My real interest was in the comparison between SF/F magazines where there is rarely a cliff-hanger from month-to-month vs. the comics where it seems the norm.

  5. Fair responce, Michael – there certainly were many titles that did not bother with multi-issue plots. I was a Marvel reader through the late 70s and onwards, only getting into some DC titles a little after that, and Marvel’s team books were very prone to multi-issue sagas at the time; plus Chris Claremont was just coming to the fore and it’s fair to say that his success on X-Men was probably a game-changer.

    It’s nice to have both options and it’s a reasonable lament that it’s now incredibly hard to find a good story told in a single issue of a comic book. Indeed, it’s become very difficult to find a story told in a single TITLE these days (Crisis and Secret Wars, again back in the 80s, have a LOT to answer for).

    Between the cost, the multi-title storylines, and the constant continuity reboots, I have not got back into comics since the early 90s, with a handful of fairly self-contained exceptions (e.g. Warren Ellis’ “Planetary”). The annoyances outweigh the entertainment, for me.

  6. Brian – you should consider picking up some of the trades, then, or at least checking them out at your local library. After all, the publishers really want you to read the trades. 🙂

    1. I hope that doesn’t mean they are going to do away with some of the “behind the scenes” stuff they’ve had at the of the issues. I kind of like those, especially since I am new to the whole comic book thing.


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