How Soon is Too Soon to Judge a Serialized Story?

Flash: Rebirth #1Following up on my Lightning in a Bottle/Flash: Rebirth comparison, one of the issues I found myself flip-flopping on was how early you could fairly judge an incomplete story. In addition to my frustrations with Flash: Rebirth, I’ve picked up at least 8 other first issues over the last three months. Times (and storage space) being what they are, I’m taking a hard look at what I’m buying, including the new books.

To the Question

The UnwrittenSo, at what point is it fair to write off an incomplete story?

The UnknownOn one hand, I’m the kind of person who hates to leave a book unfinished. Even if I don’t like it much, I’ll generally slog through it (as I did with A Game of Thrones). So if I’d picked these miniseries up as complete editions rather than individual chapters, I’d probably read all of them through to the end.

But I’m not buying them as trade paperbacks or as hardcovers. I’m buying them one chapter at a time, and while I’m happy to let details unfold over time, if I’m just not interested, what’s the point in spending an additional $12+ to get the rest of a story I don’t want to read?

Making the Cut

Mysterius the UnfathomableAll those new books I’ve picked up in the last few months are at #2 or #3 now, and I’ve realized that’s my threshold these days. If I really don’t like a first issue, I’ll stop there, but if I’m sort of lukewarm toward it, I’ll usually give it a second chance. That worked out well with, for instance, Ignition City and Mysterius the Unfathomable. In both cases I wasn’t quite sure about the series at the end of issue #1, but issue #2 sealed the deal.

Ignition City #1So, The Unwritten and The Unknown, both of which grabbed me in the first issue? Already on my list. Final Crisis: Escape and Unthinkable, both of which had me just intrigued enough to pick up a second issue? Gone after issue #2. Still not sure about Final Crisis: Dance, which I think I’ll give one more issue. If not…it’s on the chopping block.

And yet…

Epiphany

The IllusionistA few weeks ago I watched The Illusionist. I won’t say much about the plot, because it’s better without spoilers, but…I hated the first hour of the movie. Just couldn’t stand it. The two leads were just acting so stupid and self-destructive that I couldn’t sympathize with anyone except the police inspector, and even that was probably in part because he was effectively narrating the story.

If it had been a two-part TV miniseries, I wouldn’t have bothered with part two.

But I stuck through with it, and the tone changed significantly in the second half…and then the ending was so good that it completely made up for everything that had bothered me about the beginning.

So I have to wonder, what might I be missing by dropping a book two issues into a 5– or 6-issue story?

Any thoughts? When do you decide to stick with or drop a miniseries?

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11 thoughts on “How Soon is Too Soon to Judge a Serialized Story?

  1. Aleclom

    For me, the first issue is key. If I am utterly bored or repulsed by that first issue, I’ll drop it without a second thought. If, however, that first issue is intriguing enough to make me want to see the second, then I’ll see the series through to the end no matter what. By that time I’m interested enough in the story where I have to finish it, if only for closure.

    Reply
  2. mattchee

    I think ONE issue should be the threshold. Otherwise its not being presented in the right format. If you have a book that sucks as individual issues, but reads great as a complete story (which, I’m hoping to God that is the case with ReBirth), then it should be presented as one complete story, not unsatisfactory chunks.

    Like your analogy with The Illusionist. If it were a tv miniseries, it wouldn’t have succeeded. Unfortunately, we seem to be locked to idea that there is only one way to sell a comic book, so we end up with stories that may suffer because of it.

    The story should dictate the format, not the other way around.

    Reply
  3. Neal Alhadeff

    If the publishers and creaters are planning to put a story out over several single issues, then they need to make sure the readers get something satisfying with each purchase. It doesn’t have to be big end-of-story caliber thrills, but it needs to be something. Otherwise, put the story in a single graphic novel and let it find its own pace.

    On the other hand, I’ve found myself more and more frustrated with the pace length of story arcs these days and find myself becoming more of a “wait for the trade” buyer.

    Reply
    1. fastest

      I have always wanted to be the kind of reader who waits for the trade. But I can never wait that long. The trades are beautiful, and they look awesome on my bookshelf, and I have too many longboxes in my house anyway. But if I can’t wait 30 days for the next little sliver of the story, there’s no way I’ll be able to last 6-9 months untill the story is traded.

      But I wish I could.

      Reply
  4. fastest

    I have, at times, dropped a series after the first issue or two. I do this because they fail to keep what little interest I had in them anyway. For instance, I have picked up Fantastic Four numerous times, at the beginning of an arc, only to have it be so bad, or unimpressive, that I drop it before the arc is over. I did the same with Dark Avengers and Mighty Avengers.

    Most of the time, however, I realize that some stories need to be told in multiple parts. Right now, I’m attempting to read a few new books: Power Girl, Detective Comics, Red Robin, and Justice League by Robinson. I have differing opinions on each of them, but I know I can’t judge them completely untill each of their respective arcs are over. For instance, Justice League today, was barely the first part of a story. It felt like half of an issue. If I were the type of reader who needed more content per issue, I might take a hint and drop this book. But I know that I can’t really know what this story is all about, or if I like James Robinson on JLA, untill the whole arc is over.

    The same thing is happening with Flash: Rebirth. The issues are very short (largely because I’m so excited about them I read them as fast as I can), but I think those readers who drop it now are going to be in for a major disappointment. This, like Justice League, is a story that needs to be told completely before it can be considered good or bad.

    Reply
  5. papa zero

    You people would have gone bat-shit crazy waiting month by month for Crisis on Infinite Earths to reveal what in blue blazes was going on. We finally see Anti-Monitor on the last page of issue #5 if I recall correctly? 😉

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      So you’re saying the only thing interesting in COIE was the Anti-Monitor? (Speaking as someone who *did* wait for each issue as it came out.)

      Reply
      1. papa zero

        Yeah, a pretty stale read. I dropped the book after #11.

        Seriously though, I stand by my previous statement that it’s a writer’s responsibility to keep the reader engaged every issue. Given that Rebirth is set up as a mystery of sorts, much of it’s resolve will lean on the back half. The set up becomes paramount to establishing an effective resolve in a mystery – but we won’t know how well crafted the story is until we can see all the pieces. I haven’t been fond of the personality differences in Barry but regarding the story itself I’m willing to read the whole thing before I start yelling and decapitating Teen Titans.

        Crisis is of course apples and oranges as you point out because of the weight of each issue and the unprecedented number of colorful costumes stacked in nearly every panel. I was mostly poking fun. But…… YES, I was incredibly frustrated watching worlds wiped out and characters erased, waiting six issues to get an inkling of what was going on, who was behind it, and why.

        Reply
  6. Wally East

    There has to be *something* in the first issue that I like. A character. The art. Interesting plot thread.

    That said, I haven’t dropped a book after the first issue.
    .-= Wally East’s latest blog post: Free Ice Cream =-.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

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