I’ve almost made the complete switch to waiting for collected volumes of my favorite comics. Now that they’re released about six minutes after the final issue of the series comes out, they just make too much financial sense not to go that way. But there are exceptions.
One is my regular DC and Marvel superhero comics, but that’s because we’re not guaranteed trade collections for every series I like. Yeah, chances are that Wonder Woman will keep getting collected, but Green Arrow and Black Canary? I’m not so sure. But even if I knew a trade was coming for those, I’m not sure I’d give up buying the single issues. Maybe it’s just pure nostalgia, but when it comes to a certain kind of story – like superheroes – I like getting small, monthly doses.
And that applies to a very few, other adventure comics too. It has nothing to do with my ability to patiently wait for a collection. I’ve proven to myself that I can do that. The stories are just as good even if I don’t get to talk about them online the day after they came out. But damn it if there’s not something just thrilling about the format of a short, compact, little comic you can read and be done with in fifteen minutes or so. What I’ve lost patience with are the comics that aren’t making the best use of that format.
Too many comics today, superhero and otherwise, are telling long, dark, pondering stories in multi-issue arcs. I don’t have anything against those and even enjoy a lot of them, but they’re best read collected an arc at a time rather than dragged out over the course of several months. But there are a few series – even ones like the Marvel Adventures line that I know will be getting quick, digest-sized collections every few issues – that are just too fun and cool not to read as they come out every month.
Atomic Robo is like that. This all came together for me earlier today after I finished reading Atomic Robo #6, the last issue in the character’s introductory mini-series. Most of the Atomic Robo issues have been standalone adventures and that helped me to feel like I was getting a quality dose of fun in every issue, but the last couple form a single story and my excitement in reading them didn’t diminish at all.
I don’t think it’s whether or not there’s a continuing story arc connecting issues that makes the difference. What matters is that there are new ideas every issue. The way Atomic Robo #s 5 and 6 were structured, one was all about exploring a secret base and fighting cyborgs while the other featured the huge, Big Boss battle between Atomic Robo and his Action Scientists against a brain in a jar. Only the jar had fists, machine guns, and rocket launchers. If they both (or God forbid, the entire series) had been about just one of those things… yawn. Instead, we got not only that, but over the course of the six issues: Nazis, giant ants, mummies, and a trip to Mars.
Each issue was great fun and each left me wanting more. Not because of some dramatic, emotional cliff-hanger (although, like I said, I enjoy those too occasionally), but because I couldn’t wait to see where the adventure was going to go next month. What meta-story there was to the series as a whole was at most secondary to just splattering the pages with awesome ideas. This is what adventure comics are supposed to be.
Next week: In which I write the exact same article, but substitute the words “Atomic Robo” with “Marvel Adventures Hulk” or “X-Men: First Class.”