September 26, 2011

The Compost Pile

Is Decompression Really Necessary? Justice League Re-Edited

Posted by

I’ve been noticing something in a lot of comics, and it has really become prominent in my mind as I have been reading the new DC Comics that have started coming out this month. These comics are horribly decompressed, to the point of not really contain enough story to justify purchasing them.

So far, I’ve received the first 27 of those 52 books. Some I really enjoyed (Action Comics, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Stormwatch, Batwoman), others I didn’t like very much. I didn’t expect to like them all, so I’m not too disappointed.

I have been disappointed that almost every book has been a very quick read. There isn’t a lot of story contained in each issue.

The first title that DC relaunched was Justice League. After reading some previews, and on a hunch, I started a stopwatch when I sat down to read it. It is 24 pages long, cost $3.99 cover price, and it took a little over 8 minutes to read.

That’s fifty cents a minute.


There has been a trend in comics, developing over the last 10 to 12 years, to decompress the comics. This means stories are spread out over several issues, rather than packed into one issue. While this has led to some improvements in storytelling, allowing comics to be more cinematic, and use storytelling with nuance and more emotional impact, it has also resulted in less amount of story in each comic.

Most of these new DC Comics are heavily decompressed. In a lot of the comics, not much happens in the first issue. After I finish reading most of these comics, even many of the issues I really enjoyed, I feel like I haven’t really gotten my money’s worth in terms of the amount of storytelling included.

The experiment

I have noticed that a lot of the attitude towards decompressed storytelling is a reluctant acceptance. It is considered “just the way it is”, or the price to pay for better quality comics.

I’m not convinced, so I recompressed Justice League #1.

I edited the entire comic, moved some panels, removed other panels, moved word balloons, etc., to see if the story that was told in 24 pages could have been effectively told in fewer pages.

Every word balloon in the original comic is included in this (except for one, can you figure out which?), and I tried to be respectful of things like splash pages, and other story beats. I did overlay some panels over existing splash pages, since I don’t think that two splash pages, and one double-page splash are necessary for quality storytelling. Also, the last three pages are unchanged, because I couldn’t find a good way to edit the three pages down to two, and maintain the cool final splash page of Superman.

It is a little rough in places, since these panels were not drawn to fit on the page in the size, order, and placement that I put them, this was meant to illustrate a point, not be a final product.

As it is, my edited version of Justice League is 16 pages, compared to the published version which is 24 pages.

This is an experiment, to see what people think. Please let me know, do you think the edited pages convey the story as well as the original?

I think that they do, and I think that we could have had an additional 8 pages of Superman squaring off against Batman included in this comic.

I might be wrong though, and my tastes may just be different, and I very well may have butchered this thing to the point of neutering the quality of the original. This is, after all just an experiment.

The Results

I’m not gonna display the whole darn comic on this site, here are a couple pages as an example.

First, the original four pages of comic are from the middle of the story, and introduce the character of Vic Stone. These are the original pages, unedited, as they appear in Justice League #1


Justice League #1, page 18, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 18, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 19, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 19, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 20, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 20, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 21, as originally published

Justice League #1, page 21, as originally published

Now, the edited version. I edited the above sequence down to 2 pages.


Justice League #1, page 12 in the compressed, edited version

Justice League #1, page 12 in the compressed, edited version

Justice League #1, page 13 in the compressed, edited version

Justice League #1, page 13 in the compressed, edited version

What do you think? Does the storytelling hold up in the edited version? Does it lose anything in the edited version? If it loses something, are you willing to lose that to gain an additional 8 pages of story in this comic?

Judge For Yourself

Here’s the whole thing. All 16 pages of Justice League #1, edited down from the 24 published pages seen if you bought the comic off the rack.

Now, PLEASE, before you check this out, GO BUY THE ORIGINAL. This comic has been wildly successful, and DC quickly printed 2nd and 3rd prints when the comic immediately sold out. You should be able to get this book at your local comic book retailer, or you can buy a digital copy and read it on your computer.

This is a cool issue, and Jim Lee’s art is amazing. In fact, the most difficult thing about this project was removing the awesome Jim Lee art. I’ve been a fan of Jim Lee since I bought my first X-Men comic (Uncanny X-Men 274) back when I was 12.

The reason I took the time to do this is that I like the DC Comics characters, and I will continue to buy DC comics, as long as I feel like I am getting a good value. I haven’t felt that way about most of these, and this experiment is meant to demonstrate why.

So please, buy the comic! This edit isn’t meant to replace the original, only as a means of demonstrating an opinion, based on having read the original.

Now, here’s the complete edited version.

Check it out while it’s hot, before I have to take it down or something.


  • Hansel comments:

    Great job. Enjoyed the pace much more than the original.

  • Thanks! It was a labor of love.

  • I like your edited version, and don’t think it loses anything from the original version. It would have been nice to move things along at a brisker pace and get the Superman/Batman fight in the first issue.

  • Paulo comments:

    Reminds me a lot of comics we used to have in the 80s, 90s, especially where I live, Brazil. The editors here used to “cut and copy” the orinals like this to fill in more story into the books. They had a little amount of pages to publish on back then (and the books where smaller, like half the height of an american comic), so they edited everything down so all of the DC and Marvel universes would fit in.

  • @Evan, I felt the same way when I got to the Superman splash. I felt like they could have gotten to the introduction of Superman a bit quicker, and given us at least the first part of the Superman/Batman fight.

    @Paulo, I had no idea that publishers did that down in Brazil. Cool little bit of international comics history to know.

  • Fun experiment. There are a number of layout problems with your versions though which I’d point out. The football game as originally laid out is the equivalent of the famed sports montage. The layout by Jim Lee demonstrates it, with the scoreboard and other elements repeatedly flowing across border-breaking action. Also the panel where the ball is being thrown to the main character shows the crowded football field with both teams. This adds to the sense of watching actual football and is pretty important.

    Your version loses the pacing of having watched a kid dominate a whole game, the scene showing both teams has been removed, and the action makes far less sense. For example in the original after the kid scores another TD he makes it 48-0 as we’re shown by the new scoreboard. In your version it feels like he’s just won a game winning touchdown in a tied game. And who’s throwing him the ball? You also lose the epic feel of the green lantern plane arriving, presumably because you’ve taken away the full landscape effect of the scene. The word balloon flow is pretty bad too. This is one of those times where it’s a lot easier to cut and paste than it is to actually sit down and do the layouts, and all the things you’ve lost demonstrate why.

    But I like what you’re saying and agree with it to a large extent with modern comics. When I was growing up Erik Larsen was putting 10 comics worth of stuff into every issue of Spiderman.

  • @Steve, Thanks for the comments! I know that there are plenty of layout problems. I was working with rearranging the existing layouts, not creating new layouts, so I know my hack ‘n slash version would be a bit choppy in places. What I was trying to show is that it might be possible to tell more story per page, though I know this is not the ideal way to do it.

    You have a decent point that this seems more like a game winning touchdown than the end of a game dominated by one team (and one player).

    I do, however, think it is safe to assume that the quarterback threw the football. I think readers are smart enough to fill in that blank :)

  • Roman comments:

    This is very good. I applaud your effort.

    To me it does seem that a lot of modern mainstream comics are too padded. One of my favourite DC comics to date is the Palmiotti/Gray run of Jonah Hex. I loved how most of the times they could tell a complete story in a single issue, and only hard “arcs” when the story was lenghty enough to merit more space. Or you read an old comic like Watchmen and it tells you much more in one issue than most series nowadays do in an entire three or four issues arc.

    Decompression is good when used appropiately, but DC really should go easy on it.

  • Guy Fumetti comments:

    I’ll be honest. It’s an interesting experiment, but you killed the visuals to make your point. The whole point of the story is batman and Green Lantern getting to know each other. It’s not decompressed, It’s paced very well.

  • @Guy, I know I had to kill some of the visuals. Jim Lee’s art was definitely one of the highlights of this issue. Perhaps, though, if Jim Lee were drawing for a more compact story in the first place, he’d be able to let the visuals flourish within a more compact story.

    I’m glad that you think that the original is paced well, I’m sure not everyone will agree with my take on this. I did this mostly to find out if other people had the same feeling about this issue that I did, and I’m glad we don’t all react the same.

  • Antonio comments:

    Never mind the layouts, the point here is well made, and I had the same problem with most of these issues: there’s not enough content for the money. Living in South America, I had to download some of the issues in scanned (illegal) format, and even not paying for them the lack of content left me puzzled.

    I have to say, some of the issues are worst offenders than others: Supergirl was little more than a scene, while Snyder’s Batman managed to pack, if not too much of an actual story, a lot of information in a clever way.

  • @Roman, thanks! I remember when I got my first issues of Watchmen as a teenager, I only had issues 4 and 7, and each one of them felt like it took forever to read.

    @Antonio, I’ve only read the first two weeks worth of DC books (got my third weeks books in the mail today. It’s been interesting to see which ones pack a good amount of story in. Superboy, Resurrection Man, and oddly enough, Grifter have felt pretty satisfying to me. There are a few titles, Swamp Thing and Demon Knights come to mind, that I really enjoyed, but felt really short.

  • Guy Fumetti comments:

    @Sean, I disagree with you. There’s a certain tempo that was set with the pacing of the original story, that you, in my opinion, destroyed. There’s no build in tension in your version. The story has no room to breath as well. Cramming 8- 9 panels on a page is visual claustrophobia.

  • Chris comments:

    Much better! If only the industry would follow your lead.

  • Sweet! I suddenly miss the old, good comic storytelling…

  • inquieto comments:

    I agree with you Saltodemata!
    This feels much better, good job!

  • MattComix comments:

    On the one hand I get wanting to not be restricted to 9 panel grids or wanting to go for a widescreen feel or even just to break the art out and let it really breathe and be dynamic. I enjoy a degree of that and it is a visual medium after all.

    At the same time though reading your average modern monthly so often feels a lot like going to a movie, watching 10 minutes of it and then having the usher tap you on the shoulder to say you need to come back next month to get the next 10 minutes. Oh and you’ll have to pay full ticket price again to.

  • @Guy, I appreciate the comments, I do recognize that my edited version has a faster pace, and the first couple pages in particular have a much more frenetic feel than the original.

    As a counter-point, I put this together to make a comment on modern storytelling, not necessarily to try to create a print-ready comic. I know there are plenty of short comings to my version.

    I did this mainly to see how much people agreed with me, and how much they didn’t, so I am glad to know you prefer the original.

    @Chris, @Saltodemata, @inquieto, thank you, and thanks for commenting!

    @MattComix, One thing that I realized as I did this is that a lot of time, the decompressed method does seem to be higher quality, because it allows for a lot more nuance and emotion. One danger with really compressed comics is that they can seem like nothing more than a sequence of plot developments, leaving out emotion and character development. There is a lot of give and take to this, and I don’t know the answer, I’m just asking questions.

  • MattComix comments:

    @Sean I agree that it is most definitely a question that should be asked.

  • bmcmolo comments:

    This was great! I very much appreciate your commentary and efforts, here. This is a huge reason I stayed away from new comics over the past few years. I’ve been picking up some of the New 52 out of curiosity and this has been bugging the crap out of me. Demon Knights #1 took me two-and-a-half minutes to read. That’s just ridiculous. Every panel should be treated with the same urgency as a mega cross-over event, I say.

  • Zen comments:

    I’d have liked to see Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman at some point. After all, they’re on the cover, and the book’s called “Justice League,” not “Batman and Green Lantern.” I think I’m going to have to wait for the trade.

  • @bmcmolo, I agree, I wish we had more darn storytelling. I really enjoyed what I read in Demon Knights, but it was so darn short that I felt like there wasn’t much in there.

    @Zen, my concern is that even the trades won’t have as much story content as we could otherwise have. I remember the first 4-issue arc of Grant Morrison’s JLA, it felt like there was more story in there than the average 6-issue story these days.

  • Darin comments:

    Excessive decompression in comic books is nothing new. I’ve been verbally complaining about it for over 10 years now. The so-called “cinematic style” is nothing more than a big inflation technique to get more issues out of a single story idea. It came out of “writing for the trade.” The single biggest culprit, in my opinion, is Brian Michael Bendis. He even jokes about it.

  • Boscoe comments:

    In my opinion, your experiment was a success, and your theories are well supported by history. When you look at the finest examples of what the medium is capable of, you don’t see much decompression.

    All those flashy splash pages and big panels are sure nice to look at, but the storytelling suffers, and storytelling is the point of the medium.

    To anyone who says compressed comics lack emotion, I only have five words for you: Will. Eisner. Seven. Freaking. Pages. :)

    To be brutal, I’d say the problem is with the storytelling skill (or lack thereof) of the creators. We’re in an age of “movies on paper” where you’ve got some frankly fantastic ILLUSTRATORS who lack storytelling talent. -And like Darin said, “writing for the trades”.

    I went “trades only” years ago because I was sick of seeing ads on every other damn page, so I suppose I may have helped create that problem by voting with my wallet. 😛

  • Andy Frogman comments:

    I think you may have missed the point with comics… it’s not just about story, it’s also about the art, and I don’t mean the visuals that have been hacked up in your version. I am very happy to spent 50c per minute if I can spend that minute looking at amazing art like this.

    You may be getting less story per issue, or you could think of it as getting more art per story, and that’s how I choose to see it. The same amount of work goes into it, the images aren’t as small as they once were, it is a lot more cinematic. An over all better experience IMHO.

  • blujay1524 comments:

    Somebody should send this to Geoff Johns, this is pretty genius. Well done

  • @blujay, I would be really interested to see what creators think about this. I doubt I ever will though.
    Sean recently posted..“Sunrise” Mylar Sun PrintMy Profile

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge