The Bears Want To Eat Her

Here’s what happened with Windows 8, in one sentence: Microsoft asked too much of its users.

I could write thousands of words more on the subject, and come to think of it…I have. It’s a complicated subject. Microsoft needed to make Windows relevant in a new, multitouch world, and with an installed user base consisting roughly of (everybody who uses a computer) – (Macs + Linux), adoption of W8 was never going to be instantaneous. Historically, Microsoft has always had three major editions of Windows in play at once: the newest one, which everyone who buys a new PC runs; the one before that, which runs on the majority of PCs because IT departments have certified it and users have been trained on it; and then the one before that, because many people and companies are desperate cheapskates who’d rather cover up a desktop’s Packard-Bell logo with tape than consider springing $500 for a new computer that isn’t made of sticks and animal hides.

See, I didn’t say “Microsoft asked too much” as a slam against Windows 8. It just illustrates a problem that’s faced by big companies with popular products and a large installed customer base. For many (even most) Windows users, the amount of effort required to get spun up with the changes Microsoft made didn’t seem worth the benefits of staying up-to-date…particularly with such a high cost of admission.

Tonight, it suddenly occurred to me that this same problem is the reason why my comic book buying has gradually tailed down to almost nil. It’s not a reaction to the quality of their books. They’ve just…made it too hard.

DC keeps rebooting things. A few years ago, they decided to restart the entire DC Universe from Day One. I don’t think that’s a dumb idea; done right, it’s a helpful bit of periodic housecleaning. “The DC Universe” is a 75-year-old machine with thousands of moving parts, with new characters and concepts bodged in here and there throughout. A reboot lets the company’s editors and writers rebuild everything so all of these pieces fit together harmoniously. But: I honestly have no idea who most of these characters are any more, and they move around in a world where I don’t instinctively understand the laws of physics.

I need to read lots of comics before I can get my bearings back…and I don’t even know where to start. It’s not an insurmountable challenge but do I want to even bother? Particularly after hearing that DC is going to perform another screwy system-wide time-leap at the end of the year?

My obstacle with Marvel is that I have no idea how to get a single unit of story from them. Stories start in the middle and they’re resolved later (sometimes after months) in another book entirely. Marvel’s “Avengers” books are such a mess that they often include a little chart of what books you need to buy and what order you need to read them in. Good lord!

Or, the story is all carbs and no protein. “I’ve just had a shattering revelation that will fundamentally change my relationships with the most trusted people in my life!” a character exclaims in Issue #3. Issue 4, 5, 6 go by without any hints about what that revelation was, and what effects it had. To learn that, I’m supposed to go to that character’s solo book. But which one? He’s got four. I’m left with a series that describes a sequence of events but delivers no story.

Overall, Marvel comics make me feel like Dr. Hackenbush in “A Day At The Races,” getting scammed at the racetrack. He’s trying to buy a tip on a horse. But every piece of paper Chico’s character sells him is no good unless he buys another piece of paper that explains what the other one means. The tip is in code; the codebook requires the use of a second codebook; the second codebook requires information only available in a breeders’ guide…hilarity ensues! Because it’s Hackenbush who has to dish out for all of these books, and not me.

I rarely get to the end of a Marvel comic and feel like the curtain has closed and the lights in the theater have come up. It’s frustrating and unsatisfying. And Marvel isn’t entirely immune to DC’s troubles, either. Marvel’s story continuity is deeply contaminated with characters who are someone’s son in an alternate-reality, but a future alternate reality, from an Earth that’s a parallel-Earth to the Earth of that alternate reality, who traveled back in time to reach this character who turns out to be a clone of a robot of…

ENOUGH!!!!!

See what I mean? I just want to get a single, satisfying unit of entertainment. When I was a kid, I could get that by just buying and reading the issues of a series, in numerical sequence. Years later, I could get it by waiting for a story arc to be collected into a trade paperback.

Now? It’s just too hard. I have to do lots of research to get myself oriented and then track a story across many titles to get the whole story.

(This would all be bad enough even if each comic (which just takes 15 minutes to read) didn’t cost $4. Now it costs a fortune to get that Beginning, Middle, and End. How many of these stories are worth $68?)

Reading comics requires a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of faith that the work and the money will pay off by the end.

Which isn’t to say that there’s no reason for a sane person to read comics. I suppose it might still be worth the effort to me if all of this were still new. And of course, there are still tiny islands inside DC and Marvel that are free from this kind of madness…to say nothing of the other publishers.

I guess it’s just easier to let go of something I used to love after I’ve worked out the reasons why it no longer makes me happy.

“I’m surrounded by bears and other animals that want to eat me,” says Sue Aikens, one of the regulars featured in National Geographic Channel’s reality series “Life Below Zero.” “And I don’t want them to.”

She’s not using a metaphor. She lives all alone in an isolated camp in the Arctic.

I love this (paraphrased) quote because it’s brilliant storytelling in just two lines. You instantly know the characters, the situation, and the stakes. It wouldn’t be half as effective if it were surrounded by tinsel and flashing lights and clouds of purple smoke. It’s an aspirational ideal of simplicity for all authors.

When an author tries to obscure a solid premise or doesn’t stick to the basic path of “Beginning, middle, end end” I wonder if it’s an artistic choice or if it’s a sign that they doesn’t know how to make something good out of something simple and clear.