Comic Fodder

Editorial Help in a Managed Comic Universe

No comic reviews this week, because I am off to the San Diego Comicon! Instead, an extra editorial on one of the least talked-about elements of comic books: the footnotes.

Tired of not knowing the name of a character right in front of you? Puzzled why you just read of an event in one story that had already happened in the other title you just finished? Join me in calling for a restoration of an honored comics tradition: those little notes called editorial comments.

The top half of a two-page splash in Atom #12 features six enemies of the original Silver Age Atom, Ray Palmer. Most of them I can remember seeing on the cover of magazines from the 60s, like Showcase. These comics were published before I was born, and I haven't read most of them. Thus, I do not know any of the villains' names. Would it have killed them to put a little tag next to each one to identify them? Part of the reason these bad guys are in costume is to stand out and be noticed, to be recognized. If you aren't going to identify them, then there is no difference between using an established character and throwing in half a dozen regular thugs.

In Batman #833, there is a one-panel reference to the entire Identity Crisis storyline, with no real recap. People who read Identity Crisis will understand the reference, but people who haven't will be lost. The uninformed reader might pick up that they had a fight or a falling out, but he will receive no aspect of the degree, or the seriousness. How about two flashback scenes that detail the big pink elephant between Zatanna and Batman in the Batcave? Or at least putting in a little text box that mentions the series. Failing that, why not choose one of the in-house DC ads to display an ad of the Identity Crisis hardcover for that month, or even just that issue of Batman? Or have a page in the back, maybe half a letters page, along with an editorial box that gives new readers some historical background in the form of comic references they can look up if their interest is piqued? Give us something, please!

Another benefit that such notes can offer to a faithful reader is to help connect the stories. These can be ongoing stories, but more importantly, they help readers know what back issues to look for, so they can learn more about a particular character. For example, let's say your favorite character is Dane Whitman, the Black Knight. You can be pretty sure that Marvel will never publish a trade that consists of his adventures, but with editorial footnotes, you can hunt down the stories with him in them. If I had only a handful of issues of Doctor Strange from around 1978, I could learn that the Black Knight was turned to stone in Defenders #4, that his animated statue attacked the Avengers in Avengers #157, and so forth. In the old days, you could use those footnotes to follow around villains too, whether big menaces like Thanos, or entire groups like A.I.M. or the Hand.

Why should the publishers care about back issue sales? Because your local comic book retailer is a specialty store, and some of them can use a helping hand. Editorial comments actually helped to steer customers into the store on a treasure hunt for a specific comic, and the only reason for getting it was the note the reader had found in another comic. With the industry in the shape it's in today, the publishers should be willing to help the retail stores as much as possible to help generate more interest and point to other good stories (a topic worthy of at least an entire article or two by itself).

One final contribution those notes make is to help me out when I'm rereading some of my favorite adventures. Instead of scratching my head wondering which comic was next when I'm trying to follow a particular vein, the footnotes told me where to go, so I wouldn't have to go trying to hunt down the info on the Internet, which not everybody has yet, as hard as that may be to believe.

The chief argument against these notes is that they obstruct the art and break into the reader's concentration, but those notes are relatively small, and I decided to conduct a survey for the concentration part. Unofficial and unscientific, maybe, since it consists mostly of me bugging fans at the comic store, asking them about it, but comic fans are willing to put up with comics-related questions from complete strangers, so who cares? So far, my responses are 100% that the notes did not interfere with the story, with most responders adding that they actually liked the notes, and wished they were still used.

There may be some return of these things, as I have noticed an occasional box that tells if a story occurs before or after a story in another title, mostly over in DC, and more commonly with old-school readers who are now writing the titles, like Mark Waid. Maybe we need a letter-writing campaign to speed things along.

Agree or disagree? Enter your thoughts below. It's free!

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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.