In response to my enthusiasm over Brand New Day, local comic book reader and Danny Rand look-alike Marc Wrzesinski commented that he just doesn't "care about the 616 Peter Parker anymore." Which made me think, "I like Brand New Day, but I don't care about the 616 Peter Parker--did I ever care about him? Do I care about any comic book characters? Why do I buy comics if I don't care about the characters? Is there something wrong with me?"
The answer to that last question is clearly "yes," but I'm more interested in trying to figure out whether or not I DO care about some characters and not others, and why I buy the comics I buy.
So let's look at a selection of this past weeks' new releases, and figure out why I buy these things (by the way, some things I DIDN'T buy interest me, like Northlanders, but I've taught myself to start waiting for the trade when I can):
Jonah Hex #28: Do I care about the character of Jonah Hex? Nope. I buy this every month because I am interested in seeing how Palmiotti and Gray play with the conventions of the comic book Western, and I'm curious to see how they'll structure a single-issue story. I also like the tone of this series, usually, with its grim visions of redemption and vengeance. Plus, every once in a while the great European artists Jordi Bernet joins the fun, which is great to see.
The Boys #15: Do I care about any members of the cast of this comic? Nope. If any or all of them were killed in the next issue it wouldn't phase me one bit. I'd hope the series continued, but the characters are replaceable. I buy this every month because it pushes beyond the boundaries of good taste, it savages super-hero archetypes, and generally surprises me with the extremes to which it will go. I was profoundly influenced, as a younger comic book reader, by the Mills O'Neill Marshall Law, and The Boys treads similar territory.
Annihilation Conquest #4: I like the space opera genre. I like the war genre. I like the super-hero genre. I like them when they're mixed together well. I don't necessarily care about any of the characters in this story, but I do have a fondness for Star-Lord's new costume, and I like the new Adam Warlock as a concept. But I buy it for the Lensman-style action (as in the structure of the series in which bigger threats are revealed lurking behind what you thought were the biggest threats. The Phalanx is the big threat--no, wait, behind the Phalanx lies Ultron! Etc.). I buy it because it's a cosmic, plot-driven ride through Marvel's outer-space. Not for the characters.
Uncanny X-Men #495: I don't know WHY I buy this. It's certainly not for the characters, at least not how they're presented here. I do have a fondness for the X-Men, though. I like the characters when they are done well (i.e. by Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne, or Morrison, or Whedon), so I guess maybe I do buy this comic for the characters, hoping that the series will improve. I also buy it because Ed Brubaker is capable of writing excellent comic book stories. He hasn't done it on this series yet, but he still could. I'm also seriously considering dropping this one, even though it's the only comic on the list so far which has characters I kind of care about. Shows how little caring about the characters means when it comes to my comic buying choices.
Metal Men #6: I don't care about the Metal Men or Doc Magnus (although I find Magnus far more interesting than the title characters), but I buy this for Duncan Rouleau's art and for the sheer ambition of this series. This is a complex narrative, involving a vast array of characters, multiple time frames, and interwoven plot threads. I don't think it works at all as a monthly series (even a limited one), because of its complexity, but if you're willing to hold your breath and dive in, it's fun to immerse yourself in Rouleau's world. I can't wait until it's completed so I can read the whole story in one sitting and figure out what's actually going on.
Ms. Marvel #24: I do care about Carol Danvers a little, especially in this incarnation: she's a strong woman trying to be a better person. A flawed character who probably shouldn't be given the responsibility for leading a team, but she finds herself leading two of them. She has a military background but plenty of battle scars (more emotional than physical). I think she makes a wonderful lead character, and writer Brian Reed makes this book interesting each month. I buy it because of the writing, though, not for the art and not really for the character.
Scalped #14: I clearly buy this for the creative team. I'll buy anything Jason Aaron writes (he's getting me to buy Ghost Rider this Wednesday. Ghost. Rider.) and I'll probably buy anything R. M. Guera illustrates in the future. These two guys are top-notch creators. Do I care about Dashiell Bad Horse? I do. He's a character I do care about, because the creators have made me care. But that's a rarity, and it's certainly not the main thing I look for in a comic book. These guys just happen to be very good at making me care, AND at creating something which plays with narrative form and genre conventions. No wonder I like this comic so much.
Comics are my favorite medium. I love many of them passionately. And it's nice when I connect emotionally with a character, but it's not why I read comics, and I don't care if Peter Parker gets stabbed in the eye or loses his job or can't get a date, Brand New Day is still resulting in good comics--comics that have better stories, better art, and better pacing than anything that's come out of the Spider-Man comics in years. One of the joys of ongoing comics is seeing how new creative teams reinterpret the traditions of the past, and if it helps you get over the loss of Mary Jane, think of Brand New Day as "All-Star Spider-Man." You'd probably read an "All-Star Spider-Man" comic with these creative teams, wouldn't you?