What is it about comics fans (any type of fan, really, but let’s focus on comics fans) that makes us want to see the details of every little thing that happened ever? We know that Bruce Wayne was inspired to become a crimefighter when he saw his parents gunned down in an alley, but what about the gunman? He’s gotta have a story too and I want to read it. The X-Men are already a team when we first meet them in X-Men #1, so how did they form? There has to be a story there as well; someone get on that. And so the publishers and storytellers oblige us.
It’s not just gaps in comic book history that we want filled in. Movies also have back-stories and comics are the go-to medium for showing us Abby the vampire’s adventures with her “father” pre-Let Me In or filling in details of how Romulan Eric Bana went back in time to create Nu Trek. Why are we so interested in seeing this stuff when we’ve already seen how it plays out?
You don’t have to answer that. I think I know. For me, it goes back to my childhood introduction to comics as a casual reader and an experience that I’ve heard shared by countless comics fans. It comes up a lot when we talk about the necessity (or lack thereof) of jump-on points for new readers. Fans of my generation didn’t need jump-on points to get interested in superhero comics and we often argue that neither do new readers today. Part of the fun of Marvel and DC comics was being thrown into the deep end of these universes that felt so real. And the reason they felt real was because of all the history that was referred to not only by the characters, but also by the editors themselves in all those little caption boxes telling us to check out Avengers #53 or whatever if we wanted to see what Hawkeye’s talking about.