The first comic book I got as a kid was Justice League #220 (1983)–Since that was the year I was born, it was obviously a while before I actually read it and tried to comprehend what was going on. I remember that I liked the pictures and the fact that there were multiple versions of the characters I was familiar with like Superman, Batman, and the Flash–this issue was a 2-part crossover event between DC Comics’ Earth 1 and Earth 2, so there were alternate reality versions of everyone. This was also the issue in which DC retconned Black Canary’s origins so that she was her own daughter but brainwashed to have the mother’s memories. Guh. Imagine my five or six year old brain trying to wrap itself around that!
Back then, the big two publishers weren’t interested in making comic books accessible to new readers. There weren’t “jumping on point” events or reboots. But back then the origins of comic book characters could be summed up with tidy compound sentences like “After Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a mugger, he traveled the world and trained to become Batman, the Dark Knight Detective!” A neophyte like me was stranded in the deep end with the waves crashing over my head. But because I loved the stories and the characters I stayed afloat and I learned to ride those waves.
All the other issues I picked up in the superhero genre followed suit; Even if an issue was Part One of an arc there was something that carried over from a prior storyline, or some other bit of critical information that had happened previously and the writers assumed you knew about (the best you could hope for was an asterix and a tiny note saying “See Amazing Captain Atomic #216 – Editor”). So to me, the idea of having everything wrapped up tidily and presented in chronological order in a superhero story goes against everything I grew up with. I particularly dislike superhero movies because they follow the same, predictable origin story followed by overcoming insurmountable odds pattern instead of just jumping into the action. If all comic book movie writers acted as if they were doing sequels, explaining the protagonist’s backstory during the opening credits or at a crucial point early on, they’d be truer to their source material.
I believe in the old author adage, “show, don’t tell.” It’s more important to immediately demonstrate your hero’s virtue and your villain’s misanthropy than it is to show them in their formative, awkward years. Origin stories are something characters should only reveal to each other when the time is right, or when it is pertinent to the task at hand! Comics readers are used to jumping in to the middle of the action in an established, fully populated world!
I wrote The Machinist Part One: Malevolence with the above mindset: I wanted to tell an action story and just get right into it. I sat down and created every character that appears in the book—some of them even have longer profiles in my files than they have descriptions in the story! But Part One wasn’t about them, it was about the titular supervillain and his particular misadventures. That’s not to say some characters won’t get fleshed out in Machinist Two, though. Mac, in particular, is going to have his entire life dissected. And there’s always Part Three for anyone that doesn’t get touched on… oh, and of course the spinoff titles! What comic book world would be complete without spinoffs?
His Secret Lair