Sunday, March 07, 2004

Stormwatch: Team Achilles #20

I haven’t bought a Wildstorm book since I tried the first issue of the recent Wildcats relaunch. That issue hadn’t grabbed me, and despite the steady critical acclaim the line (with the exception of the resurrected “Authority”) had garnered I had managed to pretty much ignore the whole thing. So, no, I still haven’t read “Sleeper”.

But I purposefully sought out and bought this issue. Why? That cover. I’m not alone in thinking that most modern mainstream covers are dead boring. I remember when painted covers used to be special, something for projects like “Sandman” or maybe the odd anniversary issue. Now every issue of every title published by the “Big Two” is some sort of painted monstrosity, featuring some really uninteresting static pose that just turns me off entirely. Used to be I could tell which issues I’d missed simply from the covers – every cover looked different and distinctive from the cover that had come before. That was the point, after all – to try and get your book to stand out on the shelves so that people want to buy it.

Modern covers – that sounds like an editorial all its own.

So why did I buy this issue of “Stormwatch”, a title I had previously had less than any interest in?

They decided to do something different. Instead of just another static painted or airbrushed image, the people behind this issue decided to put out the kind of cover we used to see all the time: an action-packed image from the actual story inside the book (more or less), with a cliffhanger that practically begs you to pick up the book itself. It stood out so much from its brothers that I felt compelled to buy the damn thing ,even though I knew less than anything about the book.

And you know what? I’m hooked.

I don’t know if this was the plan, but this was a perfect issue for “new readers” like myself. I didn’t – and still don’t – know who most of the characters were, except for the vague awareness of who the Authority are. But everything I needed to understand the action of the book was right there in front of me. All the incidental and supporting characters – who I didn’t know – were basically explained in the course of the story by what they were doing. The guy who messes with computers was showing messing with a computer, and that was enough for me to figure out that he was the team’s computer expert. Did I need to know about his fucked up childhood or his crush on another team member or his secret alien heritage or whatever? No, because it wasn’t pertinent to the story. And, honestly, they managed to put a lot of story in this one issue. I feel I definitely got my money’s worth.

And, most importantly, not only did I get enough information to completely understand and enjoy the issue in front of me, but the story was laid out in such a way that I really want to know what happens next. Hell, after the cliffhanger on the last page, I need to know what happens next. I might even go back and see what I missed.

So, at least for one reader, this experiment was a complete success. By stepping out of the box and doing something different, they succeeded in reaching one more reader than they otherwise would have. I hope this experiment succeeds and the rest of the industry is paying attention, because the comic shelves are getting really boring to look at.

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