In January of 2008, The Amazing Spider-Man became a thrice-monthly title, displacing the old model of a main title and satellites to refocus the brand with a single, continuous volume. The days of disconnected stories, lack of communication between creative teams, and implausible gaps in availability were to become a thing of the past. Whether or not that has come to pass is a matter for debate … and what do you know, that’s the entire point of this thing!
In today’s installment, our panelists discuss their opinions of the thrice-monthly format, and the inherent advantages and disadvantages of publishing the book in that manner.
[UPDATE: It was bound to happen … Brad sent in his comments, but a snafu on my end made me miss them. They’re in now. Feel free to lambaste me in the comments!]
Kevin Cushing: It’s not working. This many issues a month demands multiple writers and artists, and the quality is simply all over the place. You have very jarring changes from arc to arc, even issue to issue, and sometimes even within an issue. This also leads to a need for filler issues (and sometimes even arcs), and when you’re charging $2.99-$3.99 three times a month for your product, I expect to get my money’s worth, not the filler you had in your drawer to stay on schedule.
It’s very simple – quality over quantity. Right now the focus is on the wrong one.
Zach Joiner: When you look back – what is good about that 3 times a month schedule? Well it’s supposed to be ‘every story counts’ there is something to that, some people only bought Amazing because it’s the flagship title and that’s the one that always ‘counts.’ So when you don’t have outside titles, it’s a good idea on paper. But the problem was the execution of this concept has been, to say, awful. There have been eight people writing the book, while there is a consistent vision of where they are going, when you get to the sub-plots, there is no consistency. You have too many people cooking up stories. Joe Kelly doesn’t pick up what Waid’s writing, and vice versa. It’s very choppy in how they execute the issues. Who handled the Anti-Aunt May? No one.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone: Getting three times a month is fun. Less wait time for cliffhangers. Unfortunately it’s also made pacing a problem. A mystery lasting for two years in comics happens from time to time, but now we’re at a point where two and a half years are almost 100 issues. That’s about three or four volumes of an Essential trade! Aunt May was on her honeymoon for a few months, but those few months wound up being almost 20 issues! Sometimes the adjusted pacing is good, other times it’s bad or plain confusing. Still, you can’t deny the joy of getting three issues a month.
CrazyChris: The thrice-monthly format proved appealing in theory, but flawed in practice. Great art, even in the form of popular entertainment, never comes from a committee; it requires the uncompromised vision of a single creative mastermind. What Spider-Man needs, what he has lacked since excessive crossovers derailed his trajectory, is direction. These stories must appear to lead somewhere, to say something, and to connect every detail like cogs in a finely-tuned machine. When four, five, even six writers all pull in inconsistent directions with no single voice in control, the story loses that sense of direction. The perpetual creative rotation cultivates disjointedness. Marc Guggenheim set up the Jackpot mystery and took eight months to mention it again, let alone resolve it. If the reader wants to see the next stage of Mr. Negative’s schemes, he or she must wait for Dan Slott’s next turn at bat. Or, better yet, look at Peter’s love life. Roger Stern seems obsessed with Carlie Cooper, but Joe Kelly can’t get enough of Norah Winters and Black Cat, and Fred Van Lente loves to stir up drama with Michelle Gonzales. These relationships make sense in the writers’ individual minds, but when jumbled together they make Peter Parker look like a massive slut.
Furthermore, it frustrates the purpose of a single title, creating a linear story that readers may easily follow, when a miniseries, an Amazing Spider-Man Extra, and an issue of Web of Spider-Man clutter the shelf and affect the main story in important ways. The amount of investment it takes to follow the Spiderverse has risen, not fallen.
Jon Wilson: I really like having Spider-Man three times a month, but then, we’ve had that since 1976, so it’s nothing new. What’s new is the use of a single serial narrative as opposed to multiple parallel narratives, and I’m not entirely sure it’s working they way they want it to do. People get upset because the different authors ignore one another’s characters and subplots, and the time between one author’s stories is sometimes enough that if the author himself doesn’t use his characters and plot threads in every one of his stories, then six months go by since we’ve seen one of Peter’s main potential romantic interests.
I think these sorts of things were more forgivable when we had three or more narratives running in parallel with each Spider-book using its own creative team. Then, an author might not use every character in every story, but we’d forgive him because it’d only been a few issues of his book. When you take those parallel stories and run them serially, you expect more flow and more feel of continuity, and instead we have less. Theoretically, this is what editors are for. The Webheads team should be monitoring exactly this sort of thing to make sure that we don’t go 24 issues without seeing a character that we’ve been led to believe is a significant part of Peter’s life.
The subplot aspect aside, I enjoy having a continuous narrative for continuity’s sake. I know it’s always the role of the reader to play continuity boss and put the stories in the order that makes the most sense. Marvel, with special cases like the Official Index aside, does not take this responsibility upon themselves. So, having a single narrative is easier to wield than three or four parallel stories. Overall, I’m in favor of a three-times-a-month Spidey, but I think they could be executing the job better.
Gerard Delatour II: While the format has been good for the compulsive Spider-fan in search of a fix, several problems have plagued the thrice-monthly delivery of the book.
For one thing, the consistency of the editorial direction has been questionable. Certain plots have been introduced and then ignored by subsequent arcs. Some characters have been locked to the pen of a specific writer (quick, how many times has Norah Winters appeared in a story NOT written by Joe Kelly?), which causes the character to fall into limbo for months at a time. At the start of Brand New Day, this book was barely more cohesive than several separate Spider-Man titles. While it has gotten better, the problem is far from fixed.
Having a rotating team of artists was supposed to ensure that the book would come out on time and without fill-ins. I’ll tip my cap to Wacker and Company on the first, because the book has managed to maintain the ambitious schedule. While there have been a handful of occasions in which only two books shipped in a month, these are negated by the number of months in which more than three have shipped, including one impressive run in which five issues shipped in a single month. Throw in Extras, Annuals, the secondary title, and miniseries, and we’ve gotten more Spider-Man than promised. That’s a very impressive track record that gets overlooked by those that strongly criticize the current direction. However, I’m left to wonder about the art itself. There have been many, many fill-ins, short shipping delays, and artist changes within arcs, and the problem has only gotten worse in the past year. Plus, the all-star team of artists assembled at the start has almost entirely vanished outside of Bachalo (easily the worst of the group).
Despite all of this, the addict in me loves being able to throw my money on the counter and buy The Amazing Spider-Man on a near-weekly basis. There’s still something magical about that feeling. I still anticipate every issue of the series, I still happily trek to the comic shop every week to buy my copy, and I still read it as soon as I get it. Spider-Man is, and always has been, my favorite fictional character – and getting to spend time with the guy every week is still an honor and a privilege.
Brad Douglas: I enjoy the three times a month format. When it works it makes every book count. In the past satellite titles like “Friendly” and “Sensational” always felt like just back up stories.
However, the change in artists and writers every three issues is jarring. I miss the long runs of JRJR and Roger Stern etc.
Up next: A guy named Peter Parker!