How Much Should Comics Cater to New Readers?

by Harlan Ivester on October 31, 2019

     I’ve been really enjoying Nick Spencer’s run on Amazing Spider-Man. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s got intrigue and promising plot threads. It’s been righting so many wrongs and will hopefully keep that up. One thing that’s continually annoyed me about it, however, is the recap page. Or rather, its redundancy. Is it even necessary at this point?

     Maybe it’s gotten better recently, but the problem is still there. A recap page summarizes everything we need to know about the story thus far. This is most certainly not what I'm taking issue with. Recap pages are especially valuable in today’s comics that are often so decompressed. A six-issue story arc can be much harder to digest if you haven’t read the last chapter in two weeks or a month. Even if you aren’t in need of the reminder, skipping the recap is as easy as turning the page. By themselves, they are helpful at best and harmless at worst.
Amazing Spider-Man #13
     The problem in so many issues of Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man is that the first page or two – sometimes more – is devoted to Peter recounting how he landed in his current situation and the apparent absurdity of it. These in-character recountings are immediately following the recap page. I’m sure you can already see why it’s unnecessary. We’ve already lost valuable pages in modern comics, and they’re not getting any cheaper. When you waste pages doing nothing but summarizing prior events, and the recap page did just that without all the fluff, those pages might as well not be there. It makes me, the reader, feel like I’m not getting as much for my money. Sure, the art is nice, but it's usually depicting a flashback, sometimes to something that same artist initially did.

     Despite my overall praise of Spencer’s run, this one criticism is usually met with the same defense: every comic is somebody’s first. That’s one hundred percent true! I can’t remember if it was my very first comic, but one of the earliest I can remember buying was Amazing Spider-Man #270. I do remember that I bought it specifically because it had symbiote Spider-Man on the cover. Sold. That’s all I cared about.

     Did I know who Firelord was? Did I know why Spider-Man had beef with him? Could I even name anyone on the cover besides Spider-Man and Captain America? Don’t bet on it. I had no clue. The way I see it, there are two types of new readers. I was the kind who just picked an issue with a cover that showed something I liked. In this case, symbiote Spider-Man. I didn’t bother doing any research, and I knew that odds were that I would have no idea what was going on. If you choose to do this, then you must be okay with being a little lost at first.

     The other kind of new reader does some research before jumping in. In the age of the internet, this one is probably more common now. You can ask around or do a quick Google search to see what a good starting point is for reading superhero comics. Or even if you don’t do any research before, you can Google as you go. It’s easier than ever to prepare yourself for decades of continuity, if you so desire.
Amazing Spider-Man #12. Is this really necessary?
     Regardless of which category you fall into, the excessive reiteration is a nuisance. Either you don’t care, or you can access any information you want. It may be a little more welcoming to some readers, but I think most would agree that using those pages for more plot or character development would be preferable. It hurts me to think of how some of Spencer’s Spider-Man would read in a trade. Trim the fat, and the recap page still consistently meets the needs of everyone without getting in the way.

     Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man isn’t the only title guilty of this. It’s just the one closest to me. I don’t know if it’s an editorial thing or what, but I hope creators learn to get out of their own way so they can give us more of what we pay for. If a character must refer to the events that led them to where they are, an editor’s note listing the issue or story used to be enough. Whatever happened to that? Digital libraries like Comixology Unlimited make it a breeze to take advantage of those notes. New readers will still get what they need, and veterans won’t have to wade through the repetition. A win-win.