As someone who has studied writing, I know that each tale should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

There’s one place we’re all familiar with where this doesn’t hold true much of the time – in comics!

KEEP THOSE READERS BUYING!

There’s a very good reason why many stories in comics don’t end. The companies selling those books want you to keep coming back month after month to pick up and pay for their product.

If a story actually ends, there’s no guarantee that the reader will be back again next month. So we get parts of stories that come to some sort of conclusion, but not the main story itself. Every good jumping on point is also a place to easily jump off a book!

Also, editors need to have new creators step in and take over a book at times before a story ends up. If that’s the case, the new writer might take things in a different direction.

So they have to keep us readers on the edge of our seats, anxious to spend our money!

THE X-MEN

I don’t think that this family of books is the only one guilty of keeping storylines going on at times for decades, but I know that the X-Men titles had so much continuity that you literally had to have read years and years worth of books to be up to date in case a writer revived a character not seen in 100 issues or so.

Granted, some characters change over time. Take Scott Summers for example. He’s gone from leader of the mutants to being in love with Jean Grey to moving on to his romance with Emma Frost to being in charge of a group of mutants he shares with Magneto (his former worst enemy) to meeting himself from the past. It’s enough to give a guy a serious headache!

Then, too, Jean Grey was Marvel Girl, the Phoenix, the Dark Phoenix, unconscious at the bottom of a  body of water in a pod having been replaced by the Phoenix entity. She’s dead, she’s alive, she’d dead again … yikes!

If you can keep track of all this, you’re a better person than I am!

Even today, the X-folks have ongoing, longer-than-life stories! Maybe that’s why the mutants aren’t quite as popular as they used to be!

SINGLE-ISSUE STORIES

DC Comics, Batman, Herbert Small, Kickstart Comics, Hero Complex, X-Men, Marvel, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 24, When I was growing up, there were many comics that had one, two or maybe even three self-contained stories in them. It was a HUGE deal when a tale went on for two whole issues!

One story still sticks with me over the years. As a Batman fan, I remember issues that focused on how other people related to Batman, and they were often the most poignant because nothing could really happen to Batman. But other people? Nearly anything could happen to them!

In Detective Comics #385, Robert Kanigher wrote the first story in the issue called “Die Small – Die Big!” In it, a “nobody” named Herbert Small decides to let criminals know he’s actually Batman’s secret identity in order to protect the Caped Crusader. Small lives in a tiny apartment with a silent pet canary, works as a mailman and idolizes Batman. When Bruce Wayne becomes aware of what’s going on, he tries to rescue Small. But Small takes a bullet meant for Batman, and is dying in Batman’s arms when he asks Batman to fulfill his last wish. Batman removes his cowl, causing Small to die with a smile on his face. As he passes, the canary starts to sing for the first time and Batman tells the reader, “Herbert Small didn’t die small … he died BIG!”

I remember seeing Batman’s tears rolling down his cheeks, and realized I was experiencing the same emotion. That story didn’t take months and months to reach its conclusion – just several pages. I miss those kinds of stories, honestly.

KICKSTART COMICS

There’s one company I’ve been a fan of for several years because they’ve sold single-issue stories, and that is Kickstart Comics at www.kickstartcomics.com. (That’s not Kickstarter.com, the fundraising site, by the way.)

Book after book of theirs that I’ve read had a self-contained beginning, middle and end! I haven’t come across any new product from them in some time, but I hope they get back on track with their excellent storytelling!

My favorite book of theirs was Hero Complex, which was about Captain Supreme and his sidekick. They both refused to take money to fight evil, which caused them no end of personal troubles. The story ends really well, so I encourage anyone who wants to read a shorter story to try and find it!

Other great books they created included Nightwatchman, Head Full of Noise, Maximum High, Space Gladiator, Duplicate, Divine Wind, Knowbodys and Headache.

I hope they’ll be producing more great stories before long!

MOVING AHEAD WITH STORYTELLING

I don’t want anyone to think that I do NOT like extended stories. I do, and I loved Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because I felt they were great at it! I also love 24 and many other shows because they keep me glued to the tube from week to week.

But every so often, I love for something to actually END once in a while! Maybe more people would buy comics if that happened!

I hope that some comics writers will explore self-contained stories occasionally! It would be a nice change of pace to read a satisfying ending more often!

What do you think? Should comics tell both short and long stories rather than ongoing tales, some of which last for years? Please feel free to comment below!

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The Author

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. Each episode also includes reviews, news and previews. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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3 Comments

  1. Alisha
    May 25, 2015 at 11:11 am — Reply

    I miss the days of the self-contained stories. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of an overall story being told through multiple issues of a comic or series of books, or over the course of a season of a TV series, but I still like the meat of the story I’m watching to wrap up within one or two issues/episodes/etc.

    Even most event tie-ins could be enjoyed independently of the event without having to read the entire event and all the tie-ins. I have several comics from the 80’s that were event tie-ins that I know next to nothing about the overall event aside from what happened within those specific comics (at least until years later when I finally looked up plot summaries of the event online). But I never felt like I was really missing anything because the comics told a complete story that just happened to take place at the same time as an event rather than being the middle part of some exceedingly long story.

  2. May 25, 2015 at 10:27 pm — Reply

    I love overarching storylines that continue across multiple issues or episodes, but it is the fact that almost no real change or character growth actually ‘sticks’ that leaves me preferring Elseworlds comics or adaptations in other media to the ‘mainstream’ series. It’s not just a matter of ‘continuity lockout’ it’s also that the format of the ongoing series prevents much in the way of meaningful plot or character development.

    To sell, comics have to keep the story recognizable – so while they may ‘shake things up’ for a bit, in the end things will drift right back to the old status quo. No matter how many times he passes on the mantel, within a year Bruce Wayne will always be Batman again. Magneto will always go back to being a villain at some point. There used to be a saying that ‘the only characters who stay dead in comics are Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben’… and then two of those three even came back.

    Real changes and developments, like Peter Parker’s ‘true love’ moving from Gwen Stacy to Mary Jane, are exceedingly rare in the mainstream series.

    That’s the benefit of Elseworld series like Red Son, which can have a set beginning, middle and end. Or even lines like the Ultimate imprint where they have at least a bit more freedom – Miles Morales can pick up the Spiderman mantel because Peter Parker is still there in the 616 universe. And adaptations like X-Men: Evolution, Young Justice, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe can actually have character growth that *sticks*.

    I usually stay ‘up to date’ on the mainstream comics just enough to be familiar with the developments so that I can appreciate the shout-outs, references and parallels that come up in the adaptations and Elseworld series, but their inability to change or develop keeps me from investing much interest or money in them.

  3. Oldcomicfan
    May 26, 2015 at 11:44 pm — Reply

    When I was a kid, I preferred the done in one stories. DC was the master of the done in one stories – and yes, especially in the “family” books or the “summer fun specials” you would sometimes get two or three stories in one book! That said, by the end of the sixties, I was pretty much done with DC because it had become obvious that nothing important could ever happen to your characters. Superman loses his powers? He’ll have them back before the next issue. Batman and Superman have kids who become best friends? Imaginary Story. They’ll never show up again. In the early seventies I discovered Marvel and especially SpiderMan… and I became a great fan of the ongoing story and subscribed to SpiderMan for many years – until they sprang the Clone Saga on me and I was done. Now days I prefer manga because most manga story arcs – and most manga series DO have a beginning, middle and end. Many manga series therefore present superior stories – though, to be perfectly honest, you do have to be selective. For every classic like Nasicaa of the Valley of Wind or Pixie Junket or Ghost in the Shell or Appleseed – there are dozens of garbage series like One Piece, Banana Fish or anything with giant robots in it. For every Ranma 1/2 there are a dozen Street Fighters, etc. My favorite time for buying comics was in the mid-eighties, when you could not only pick up the best that Marvel and DC had to offer, you had First Comics, Pacific Comics, Comico, WARP and who knows how many other indie publishers who put out some great comics! Sadly, it didn’t last. Marvel and DC both decided to flood the market with gimmicks like alternate covers with scratch and sniff holograms – rather than improving their art and stories, and most of the indies were either crowded out of the stores or over-extended themselves and imploded. And sadly, a lot of the creators lost interest in their books and either ended the series prematurely or turned the book over to lessor artists and writers… Howark Chaykin – Amerikan Flagg – I’m looking at you!!! Still, it was a great time to collect comics and I do miss it. Of course, back then, comics still cost under three bucks each, so you could afford to pick up a dozen or so comics each week. These days with comics costing anywhere between four and six bucks, sorry. My wages haven’t kept up with the inflation in comic book prices.

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