Superheroes are going to feature in this column quite a bit over the next few installments. Not exclusively, but pretty regularly.

I could waffle on at length about the fascinating idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of the whole superhero sub-genre that’s essentially run in the US by Marvel and DC, but I’m not sure anyone else would find it half as fascinating as I do (although, honestly, it’s one of the most unusual systems for creating, publishing, distributing and selling fiction you could ever imagine). So for now here’s just one proposition that sets the scene for the two titles I thought I’d talk about today.

Quite a lot of the long-running superhero series display a couple of apparently contradictory characteristics that can be an obstacle for the objective, casual (i.e. non-‘fan’) reader. They revel in dense and new-reader-hostile continuity, the established canon of past stories that exists in their respective shared universes; yet they also play fast and loose with the narrative, psychological or physical plausibility and internal consistency that are staples of most other kinds of fiction. Sometimes, superhero comics require not so much the suspension of disbelief as its ritual sacrifice upon an altar dedicated to the gods of never-ending, bombastic soap opera.
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I guess most folks round here have noticed that there’s been something of a digital revolution turning book publishing on its head, the last year or three.

Difficult though it might be to believe, the whole print/digital thing is, if anything, even more complicated in the world of comics than in the world of prose fiction. There’s a chaotic plethora of formats, styles, distribution models, monetization hopes and basic approaches. Sampling the variety within that plethora is what this post is all about, rather than talking in detail about the individual stories concerned.

I thought it’d be worth dipping my Words & Pictures toes into these turbulent waters for three main reasons:

  1. There’s a vaaast amount of material out there, and a lot of it is speculative fiction,
  2. Much of it’s FREE!!! So, should the fancy take you, you can pop over right now and read the entirety of whatever it is I’m going to talk about (with a bit of a catch in one case), and…
  3. I actually don’t read all that many webcomics, though I’ve sampled a lot, so this is a chance for others to offer their own recommendations, which would be very gratefully received in the comments if anyone’s got any.

On with the (Free! Did I mention that already?) show.
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