Read Less, Enjoy More?

I know that I am not supposed to care about continuity. We’ve all talked about it before, and my ranting about it is not going to help matters. I just… like, I picked up two versions of Iron Man, Detective, and Spider-Man from last week, and, okay… I get it. Even though books like Superman, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man (why does he get a hyphen?), which feature key players in both company’s world changing events, the actual events do not impact the main books at all. Now, for some reason, I have a feeling Grant Morrison is gonna address this, kinda along what Conor was saying in this week’s podcast, but for Marvel, I doubt any of these kinds of continuity issues will be tossed aside, as glaring as they are (and, for me, it’s really glaring, especially for Iron Man).

But I am not going to talk about that problem, really.

I was thinking about how I read comics and whether or not I am going about reading them the “right” way. I then thought, “what does ‘right’ mean?” Then I thought, “Is this technically talking to yourself?” Now, a large part of me is agreeing with many of you, saying, “Duh, there’s no right way to read comics, just do what you want and stop worrying about it.” But then, a smaller part of me, whom I will call Raffi, says, “Well, technically, there is a right, way — you should read the issues in consecutive order.” Yes, Raffi, okay, but I have to ask myself, am I really doing myself a favor by reading so many comics in the first place? Or am I just driving myself crazy by trying to force a concept — there’s a right way to doing everything — to comics?

Wholly Individual

For the first few years I was reading comics, it was just me getting books and reading them. I didn’t really know anyone else, besides my comic book store owner, with whom I discuss them with. I mean, I would talk to them with my girlfriend-then-wife Whitney every so often — show her some cool pages and talk a bit about the concepts — but I didn’t really talk about comics as a whole until I started listening to the iFanboy podcast and going to Comic-Con. And it wasn’t until fairly recently that I started getting irritated with continuity issues between different titles, or the impact an event title did or did not make on the rest of the publisher’s books. One reason for this is because it’s actually kinda fun to complain about this stuff while lounging at Isotope. But could the tension also becoming from… what? Comic intake? Story absorption? Plot osmosis? I mean — how do you read comics?

Do you buy a bunch of books from week to week, to get the overall view of what’s going on in the comics’ universe? This is what I have been struggling with over the past few months, because it lends itself to a perhaps unreasonable expectation that the timeline that the stories all take place in will somehow coexist without any real problems. The publishers do address this a bit, with specific labeling of tie-in issues (a la Secret Invasion), but I just have to wonder, if you are going to have the planet (or city, I mean, New York is getting smashed this summer and Washington, D.C. got totally wiped in Amazons Attack!) where all your characters are supposed to live get invaded by an alien race, and there was a creative team working on one of the absolutely key characters in that alien invasion story, wouldn’t you just make sure to tell them, at least suggest to them, that they mention the situation in their books? Again, I bring up Iron Man — like, dude, the main Iron Man title has nothing to do with anything. Obviously, this is a frustration, but is it because I am collecting too many comics? Is an event and either or situation? When you approach your comics intake from a more “wholistic” point of view, are you just naturally setting yourself up for frustration? We’ll discuss more below.

Or are you finding satisfaction in just buying a few books at a time, with little or no regard to what is “going on.” Is it possible to read the two Iron Man (I won’t count the Marvel Knights Viva Las Vegas book) stories that are out right now (in addition to all the stuff Stark is up to in the other Secret Invasion books) and just enjoy them on their own? Perhaps it is better (at least from a cost point of view) to just pick up a few books a month and “opt-out” of the overarching events and storylines, just to buy a few books that you know you will like and just get on with living your life? Does being a true comic fan necessarily mean that you need to buy each issue of a certain title? To participate with what’s going on “in the world?”

Perhaps that last question is really the one that nags me the most. Why do I feel the need to “keep up” with everything? I’ve mentioned my dislike of feeling “left out” of things before, but, in the end, do you really need to be able to participate in every discussion on iFanboy?

I’m really into watching movies the “right” way. Like, I have 8 speakers at home and they are all balanced out, my television’s color and contrast all “fit” my living room’s light, everything is set up so when I watch a movie, it’s as close to “perfect” as I can afford. This desire to experience a piece of art or entertainment the way their creator intended is probably the reason why I think about this so much. I am trying to “force” a perfect way to experience comics, when the whole notion is probably flawed to begin with. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I figure that buying most (if not all) of a publisher’s comics week-to-week, even when they share the same characters and may even reference other plot lines, is not the way to go because it’s not fair to the audience. Not everyone can spend $40 on comics every week, so I guess you have provide paths for both types of readers.

Time and Time (Again)

The frustration with continuity is probably more of a problem with DC and Marvel, especially right now, where so many of their key characters are intimately involved with Secret Invasion and Final Crisis. Perhaps that’s the risk of these kinds of events? It’s odd, because, in a way, the events expose you to characters that you may not have cared about — like, for me, I used to love Iron Man as a kid, but I didn’t really start reading his books until after Civil War, partly because I was kinda curious as to what was going on. But now I am frustrated because his books don’t really reflect what is “really” going on. Could it be that it is precisely because the event books feature so many characters from other books that I may or may not read that I endow these events with being more real, at least in terms of the universe? Like, life was fine when I was just reading The Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil. The story lines are pretty separate and once in awhile the characters might bump into each other (which was cool), but, for the most part, they are just solo stories and, as such, are timeless. But when I read Secret Invasion, I see so many characters basically taking a “break” from their normal books to appear in this unified time line that I can’t help but just figure, “okay, this is current, this is the status freakin’ quo.”  That is the appeal of the big books — to see all your favorite characters working together on a problem that is just too big for a single character to take care of in their main book. And since so many characters are involved, the ramifications will be far reaching, impacting the characters even when they “return” to their solo book, thereby reinforcing the idea of a unified time line, which underscores the concept of a consistent universe.

So, when you read these event books, which usually mean you are buying not only the regular event books but a whole host of tie-ins (time-ins?), you get used to a unified continuity. To fully experience it, you have to buy more books than normal, and you would think — you would hope — that it would be more fun to to read more books each week, that by doing so, you are really getting into what’s going in the Marvel or DC universe — you are fully involved in the unified storyline. However, I am beginning to this that this is not true, that it is not necessarily a good thing to buy so many comics, at least if you are going to be bothered by inconsistencies between the titles; the quantity of books sets up this false expectation, and this expectation, not being fulfilled, may frustrate you later down the line, hence my problem now.

Perhaps it’s the more thoughtful reader, the one who pages through the comics on the shelves and picks them for the individual book’s merits: the art, the coloring, the writing, etc, is going to be more satisfied with his or her weekly comics purchase. He or she can just page through the event books and then buy the trades, or just focus on the event books and not buy any of the tie-ins.

Is that the key, then? Could the “right” way to be reading comics is to be more selective? After I talked about my unread stack of comics, many of you suggested I stop buying so many: less comics = smaller stack. However, could it also be true that buying fewer comics = less frustration = more fun?

What do you think?


Mike Romo is an actor in LA and is planning to send Neb a bunch of comics. He can be reached at



  1. I just read titles I enjoy. I’m not much into most of the superheroe stuff, just a couple of books of guys in tights, so the continuity issues don’t mean too much to me. I find it best to approach a book based on its own merit standing alone from any tie ins or events, if a tie-in happens to work well then all the better, but otherwise it doesn’t bother me.

  2. Nice article, Mike.

    As far as buying fewer books goes: I buy fewer books now than I did 5-10 years ago. But I tend to read/scan everything. So I am still aware of what’s going on in most books. Reading fewer books hasn’t changed that "knowledge" of events and continuity, so it hasn’t diminished or increased my enjoyment. 

    However, I think I’ve kinda come full circle in how I approaching reading and continuity and the "right" way to do things. I read titles for the stories, and I’m AWARE of the differences, I’m AWARE that some books require an overview of "current events", but… I just try to compartmentalize and enjoy each story for what it is.

    When, for example, I approach a Final Crisis or Secret Invasion, I first ask: is this a creative team I want to follow? Will I be able to get a good story from JUST this creative team without having to follow lesser writers into other books. If so, and if the subject matter seems interesting, then I’ll give it a shot. I only buy tie-ins that seem appealing or have an appealing creative team. With Final Crisis, I picked up the Rogues’ Revenge first issue because it was Geoff Johns and Scott Kollins doing the Rogues. With Secret Invasion, I’ve skipped most of the spin-offs because they just didn’t appeal. I think I bought the Who Do You Trust? one-shot because some of the stories looked interesting. I try to only buy books that appear to have a story that I will enjoy on its own merits. I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal.

    When it comes to titles like Iron Man — I don’t worry about how it all fits into Secret Invasion. I just try to ask myself: "Am I enjoying the Knaufs’ ’24-esque’ take on Iron Man?" "Am I enjoying Matt Fraction’s take on the same character?" It doesn’t matter if they’re not the same or if they don’t fit exactly into Secret Invasion. I try to take each story at face value and see if it’s giving me entertainment value. Right now, I’m digging Fraction’s Iron Man. And I’m digging Bendis’ Iron Man in the Avengers books. They both work. I was digging the Knaufs stuff, but the Stuart Moore stuff I’m enjoying less so. We’ll see what happens next with that book. It may become unnecessary to me — not because of continuity but because I’m getting more enjoyment from the stories told in other books. 

  3. Hmmm! Interesting.

    There are a couple of books that can’t "opt out" of Secret Invasion– Avengers, Ms Marvel– and so far those books have had to go into a holding pattern until the main book gets past the fifteenth minute of the invasion. Avengers are running all their deleted scenes while Ms Marvel apes the main book, fighting the same battle for three months. Imagine if they made every character involved abide by that. You’d put your head through the plate glass window in front of your shop.

    The guys writing the Iron Man book didn’t get into the Iron Man-writing business because they wanted to do stories about little green men on Dinosaur Island, and a lot of people reading it feel the same way. No sense in limiting the things you can do with the character, I reckon. I remember people complaining when Dan Jurgens was doing that run of Thor where Thor parked Asgard over Manhattan and took over the world. People kept saying, "Why isn’t Asgard over Manhattan in Spider-Man?!" and I’d think, "Because if it were, I’d stop reading Spider-Man. I like reading Spider-Man because it doesn’t have Asgards in it."

    I wouldn’t suggest reading fewer comics, but maybe just being less attached to the idea that they are holistically connected. Read what you like, and if you find you aren’t "keeping up," there’s always a wiki. I have diverted extra power to that part of my brain; it’s the same part that keeps me from watching "Michael Clayton" and yelling at the screen, "Why don’t you just use all that money you and Brad Pitt stole from those casinos?" It’s like Iron Man is an actor starring in three different movies; one is a huge blockbuster, one is a taut spy thriller, and one is a family film. Or whatever.

    Of course, this stuff doesn’t bother me until it does. (How’s that for eloquence?) I think it means nothing to me, and then something in New Avengers contradicts Mighty Avengers and I’m breathing into a paper bag. 

  4. @daccampo I don’t think I could have said it better myself. I agree 100%

  5. I really like everybody’s thoughts here — I tend to be a reader who takes every book on its merits and doesn’t want to waste my time reading things I don’t really like.  I wouldn’t have had any problem dropping Secret Invasion if I weren’t enjoying it; on the other hand, I haven’t been reading Final Crisis, because I don’t care, but I’m going to pick up FC:Revelations for Greg Rucka writing the Question, resigned to the fact that I likely won’t understand a word of the plot.

    FYI: re Iron Man: Director of SHIELD — the next few issues are the SI tie-ink, written by Christos Gage (a writer who knows Iron Man like nobody’s business; should be awesome), focusing on Jim Rhodes.  After that, it’s being turned into a ‘War Machine’ title (ie, with Rhodey as the main character) written by Greg Pak.  I’m a fan of Rhodey but not so much of Pak, so I’ll most likely be off that book after SI.  But I’m digging Fraction’s book, and also the Stark who has shown up in Captain America and the Avengers books.

  6. Spider-Man gets a hyphen because there was an earlier character created at Archie Comics, by Joe Simon, originally called Spiderman, but he became the Fly, and if you read the back back of DC Comics today, Dan DiDio and JMS are bringing him back, along with the Shield, a Captain America ripoff.

  7. @ohcaroline — I hadn’t heard that news about Greg Pak/War Machine! Cool. I like Rhodey, but I’m not sure he’s really purchase-worthy for me. So I’ll likely be sticking with Fraction’s take after SI.

  8. Ooh, just looked up the Pak/War Machine series, and have to note that @ohcaroline failed to mention it was Leonardo Manco doing the art for the new War Machine series… gah… that’s a bit tempting now…

  9. The more often the continuity issue comes up, the more astute Conor’s advice of creating one’s own continuity seems to be.

  10. For me, less is certainly more. Since Identity Crisis/Infinite Crisis/52/One Year Later, I’ve sworn off the event series. I’m reading Ultimate Spider-Man, Green Lantern and Brave and the Bold. I’ll give Trinity a try as long as I can, but no promises.   

  11. Since getting engaged, the amount of comics I buy every week has really tapered off, but it’s been ok.  I haven’t been missing much by not buying some of the books I was reading.  I’m not so much a reader that I need to start from the beginning, but I usually only buy books at the beginning of arcs.  And as for events, well, I only buy what interestes me, which is usually only the event book proper (although the quality of FC is convincing me to do the opposite…)

    Your article made me think about how great it would be if most titles went back to the concept of "every issue is someone’s first issue" days.  I would love to get more quality one and dones.

  12. I’ve come up with a rule for myself: when I start to get fussed over continuity, I am reading too many comics (or reading too much into them). If I’m buying 3 diferent versions of Spider-man, Batman, or Wolverine, and I’m getting frustrated with the divergent stories, then I have to ask, why am I punishing myself? If my answer is that I’m enjoying all the stories, then I try to go with it and accept it.

    (As a continuity freak/apologist, I have to point out that there’s no hard-and-fast rule that says that everything has to tie in on a monthly basis. A good number of the stories that come out over 5-6 months actually take place in a time frame of a few days to a few weeks, which means, theoretically, all the stories could be pieced into a timeline that actually connects story A to story B. But that feels like actual work, so who wants to do that?)

    Also, I miss the days when I didn’t worry about the order of things so much. When I’d pick up a random issue or back issue and enjoy it for what it was, sure that if the story was important or interesting enough, I would figure it out somehow. There is a good portion of my comics collection that I actually read backwards, one back issue at a time.

  13. I think you’re over-thinking this. There isn’t really a continuity problem, there’s just a time-synch problem. It seems to me that Iron Man: DoS is happening before SI and Invinicle Iron Man is (probably) happening after SI. It just makes sense. It’s the same situation we had with World War Hulk. The tie-in comes when it comes. Honestly, all I need is a little asterisk and a box that tells me where a given issue falls with regards to a mini-series and we’re golden. 

    The thing is, stories have never always synched up on a monthly basis, even with the two best connected books of all Marvel histroy (Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants in the ’80’s). Some arcs happen over days, some happen within hours.

    Read as many books as you like. Don’t sweat the continuity too hard and try to read all the tie-in books at the same time, while reading non-tie in books either before or after.



  14. Josh, actually the Shield was published *before* Captain America.

  15. I don’t read a massive amount in issues (sometimes 10 a week, sometimes 2), so I don’t think I read enough for this to be a problem for me. I don’t really read any Marvel either (no particular reason, just worked out that way), so can’t relate to that dilemma as well. Basically, I’m saying this is a useless reply!

    I will say that the Final Crisis and RIP events (along with all the tie-ins) have been challenging at times, and ‘challenging’ could probably be translated to being not as much fun. However, it’s been rewarding so far, so I don’t mind as much.

    Although I can definitely say that, sometimes, the most fun I’ve had reading a comic has been either creator-owned or indie minis. Just little self-contained stories where you don’t have to worry about a million other characters in other books.

    (PS: You home system set-up sounds pretty good… Dark Knight party at Mike’s place when it’s out on disc!!!) 

  16. I try to not think about any of this. Every now and then I read something and think "hmmm…..thats strange." But for the most part none of this really bugs me. I treat everything as almost completely separate from everything else and if someone else pops in i just say "oh that guy’s here…cool." The only way that it would be frustrating to me is if they had Captain America run in to save the world from Skrulls and completely ignore the fact that he died 2 years ago. Also something like a writer doing a story with Silver Surfer in it but not achknowledge that he’s galactus’ herald again(also happened 2 years ago). A character that is used so little is easy to understand the current status of. Ignoring that is literally just lazy writing.

  17. Good article–I think you are just making the simple mistake that comics actually matter. While I think adult fans have always obsessed over comic details (remember Ron talking about FF letters pages from the 60s?) I think the intensity of web chatter makes us forget that the publishers ultimately care more about moving units than making a continuous story. Actually I think they may actually WANT a bit of a confusing universe just to give us something to talk about. It creates a phoney entry barrier–velvet rope perhaps–that sort of ‘rewards’ the die hards.

  18. I think I like reading less books (so says the guy who bought ten books this week). 

    It’s difficult for me to get my head around continuity discrepancies. It’s best for me to leave titles that are going to conflict with what’s going on in the greater universe alone. Iron-Man DOS is a great example. The IFanboys have brought up numerous times the many different personalities of Tony Stark. I currently read no Iron-Man titles. 

    Often times I wonder why it’s so hard to keep things straight if writers and editors are scripting these things out years in advance. You gotta give credit where credit’s due though, and that’s to DC’s caretakers. I can’t help but feel that they’ve cleaned things up greatly in their respective universe. Dan DiDio has explained that continuity issues exist because writers are attempting to write their story at a natural pace and not so it fits into the greater scheme. I respect that, but still struggle.

    great article, mike 

  19. I read more comics than I’ve ever have, and am enjoying them more than ever. I just cut out anything with bad art or bad stories, which is surprisingly hard for many comic fans. Brand loyalty is what’s killing comics. If book is bad on whatever standard one has, then just drop it.

  20. Personally, I take continuity about as seriously as the compnies do — not very. Continuity is SO loose that only the major things seem to matter & everything else seems to be taking place in fully seperate stories. I’m only talking DC comics here, I don’t read enough Marvel books to comment on thier continuity. For me, when continuity plays in, I take it as more of a bonus than anything else.

    I used to try to makes sense of things like timelines of stories etc, but you will go crazy trying to get your head around things like that. It’s pretty much impossible to make any satisfying sense of every single issue or appearance of characters in continuity, so you’re wasting your time trying.

    Just read every story arc on it’s own merits, & treat continuity as a bonus, is my advice.

  21. Josh – thanks.  The whole hyphen thing with Spider-Man has bothered me.  Dunno why, it just has.  Now I can rest easy.

    Mike – another great article.  I’ve been struggling with this as well, and the thing that I’ve been finding is that when I buy a lot of comics, I tend to read very quickly and not enjoy the experience as much.  And it’s hard to go back when there’s an enormous stack of trades gazing at you in contempt and you know next Wednesday you have to go back and do it all over again.  So I’m in the process of weeding out the books I read just to keep up with universe continuity, and focusing on the books I really enjoy in issue form and waiting for trades on the rest.



  22. Comics are stories. Sometimes I like the stories. Sometimes I don’t. 

  23. or as someone in the industry once said: "Continuity is an excellent servant but a horrible master."