Monday, October 6, 2008

100 Bullets: Once Upon a Crime

One thing I hate is crappy exposition, especially when it refers to a previous episode of a television show or novel in a series. It almost always comes off awkwardly as an info dump that breaks up the narration, and it annoys me because I’ve usually seen the episode or read the book in question already. I even notice it when watching a TV show coming back from a commercial: a character says something idiotic and obvious just to remind people what was happening before the break. Is all this really necessary?

But what I hate more is when not enough exposition is given, sometimes none. And that’s the problem I have with Once Upon a Crime, the eleventh collection of Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso’s noir series, 100 Bullets. I don’t know what the hell is going on half the time because I can’t remember the storyline well enough and no hints are ever dropped. The characters all dress the same, so only the hair or goatee is a giveaway as to who is who.

The more I think about it though, the more I think this is a result of reading collections rather than individual issues. Were I reading every month rather than several months apart, I might not have such an issue remembering what is happening. Is it Azzarello’s fault for writing for the individual issue reader rather than the reader of the collections?

Probably not. That’s likely how he is paid and how the series is marketed, at least initially. But the TPB industry is exploding, with more and more readers opting to just wait to read an entire arc at once rather than a piece at a time. So perhaps some compromise should be the norm, being faithful to the reader of the individual issues while giving a little direction to those preferring the TPB. Most comics don’t have this problem, but then again most comics aren’t as complex as 100 Bullets.

It is a great series, but the presentation alienates the casual reader, even to some extent the disciplined one. This problem will likely recur on other series as time goes on, and from a money standpoint the alienation of readers should be an issue of great focus for creators and publishers.

As for me, I think I might go back and reread all the trades. It’ll at least help me realize if the lack of exposition is an endemic problem or just an isolated one.

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