‘Previously, D-Man’s sister’s long-lost clone…’

So this yakuza queenpin walks into a casino to meet this hitmen, right? And she’s the ex-wife of one and she’s called in because of this gang war between this bald guy called Appelido and a fat dude that hasn’t got a name, and apparently the war’s a big deal. And these criminals who are known to be dead are all walking around and oh, no, we’re not going to explain why, just roll with it.
What? No, we’ll tell you the fat guy’s name later. Oh, and yeah, that singer in the background and hitman Finnigan’s comment is significant, you’re right, but we don’t have time to explain what it refers to and look, yes, I know you don’t know why that Indian guy called Kal with a bionic hand is so grumpy but okay, look, SHOOTING. That’s cool, eh? Lookit the yellow speed lines!
That’s me trying to explain the plot of 2000 AD’s current Sinister Dexter story. That story is tied into other stories going back eight years, none of which are in trade. There is little to explain what’s going on to anyone new (That Reminds Me Of This has ended up completely bored of the strip as a result of not knowing who the drokk anyone is). I’ve been reading 2000 AD since 2003 and even I get lost at times.
This is the curse of the serial comic: trying to tell the story and not get bogged down in exposition, while also trying to fill in anyone new what’s going on. Or rather, it should be trying to fill in anyone new. And there’s the problem: Sinister Dexter doesn’t seem to be assuming anyone new will be picking up 2000 AD.
And it’s not alone in this. I read the Norman Osborn-era Thunderbolts comic, Ellis thru Parker, and during the Dark Reign issues it could get very confusing. The Siege tie-in was especially bizarre: what the hell is going on here? Why is it happening? Why is there a war against Asgard? If it wasn’t for the Internet, I’d have been lost: the Thunderbolts tie-in to Secret Invasion was guilty of assuming I knew about the crossover too, but ‘shape-shifting aliens are attacking!’ is a lot easier to grasp on the go.
You can all think of your own examples. But the alternative is often… well, Comics Alliance did a very funny comic strip summing up the backstory of X-Man Rachel Summers. It’s confusing, messy, and if a comic tried to explain it to you in a story you’d recoil from the damn thing. I read Spider-Man during the Clone Saga and remember issues that opened with millions of captions explaining every damn facet of the past umpteen issues, and that never stopped being far too confusing.
And then there’s that infamous Batgirl two-page spread of the whole Bat Family talking through Cassandra Cain’s last two years of stories in intricate detail. Who doesn’t get a headache just looking at it? Why would it make someone want to read more about Cass?
Too often, comics either assume nobody new will be reading or bombards new readers with too much. Both options are harmful, they turn off new readers (and the latter pisses off the existing ones). We need better options here.
Luckily, we’ve got some. How does Grant Morrison deal with Cyclops being possessed by Apocalypse for a whole story? ‘He was taken over by one of them ‘evil forces’ we run into from time to time,’ sums up Logan, and it’s made Scott a mess: that’s all you have to know, and it tells you what life is like in the X-Men and (later in the scene) what Logan thinks of Scott. How does Garth Ennis get out of the Punisher being turned into a hitman for Heaven and get him back to killing normal criminals? ‘Tried it. Didn’t like it.’
We need these things to be kept simple, to the point, and tied into the story. Otherwise, we’ll get very, very, very, very confused and/or bored and why read something that makes you confused or bored?