I have often found it a peculiarity of comic books that, unlike other media, the industry tries to discourage new readers by telling them that the stories are convoluted and incomprehensible. They don’t come right out and say that of course, but that is the general message when you declare a certain issue or a new number one to be “a great jumping on point”.
I understand the reasoning of course; there have been fifty plus years of history behind these characters and maybe, just maybe, a new reader could feel intimidated that each new issue will be some sort of test about past knowledge. This is absolute twattle and we should stop using the term “great jumping on point” because it makes the other issues seem as if they are not, in fact, great jumping on points.
Comic books are not some sort of literary double-dutch where you need to jump in at exactly the right time or disaster will strike. Any issue, any month, could and should be someone’s first foray into the medium or character. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel that the strongest stories in comics can be viewed as single tales that contribute to a larger arc. Sure, the first issue I read might be part 3 of 5 but I should still understand what is going on, and I should love it so much that I seek out parts 1 and 2.
Television doesn’t scream to its viewers that this is a “great jumping on point”. Breaking Bad tells you that this show is awesome and that you should be watching it. If you like this episode then you should go back, buy the DVD, buy the Bluray, or sign up for Netflix and see what you missed. But at no point do television shows say (either explicitly or implicitly) “our show is no complex that if you don’t watch from a specific beginning point you won’t have any flipping idea what is going on”.
Novel and film series also don’t try to establish “new jumping on points”, but rather they want you to buy or see the newest entry and catch up on the rest. For some readers the first Star Wars movie you saw probably was Return of the Jedi, but from a comic book point of view that is a horrible jumping on point. All these characters, secrets already revealed, and so many ewoks that you must have not understood what was going on. It’s a trap! And you must have never wanted to go back and see Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back.
A new jumping on point is a marketing tool that weakens the medium by devaluing the other issues before it. With trade paperback collections and digital releases it is easier than ever to catch up on missed issues and there is no reason why we should keep promoting this nonsense. As a reader, don’t be deterred by entering your favourite comic book in media res, but be willing to jump in at any point. You just might be surprised at how wonderfully comprehensible part 3 of 5 can be.