In part two of this series, Pierce tackles comic book criticism and opinion writing. Is there a higher function to writing about comics than simply bellyaching about stuff you don’t like? For part one of this column, click here.
What about comic book criticism?
With every art form, there comes some form of critique. Fans of a medium band together and start magazines and web sites dedicated to their favorite bands, genres, films etc. and take it upon themselves to unleash their opinions of the works onto the unsuspecting world. Many times, these critics are amateurs; mere fans clamoring for recognition from their heroes or seeking some sort of validation from others that their that something sucks is indeed the correct opinion to have. In comics, this is only made worse by the fact that amateur critics (especially ones with obsessive encyclopedic knowledge of their favorite characters) tend to criticize a book for basically not being written or drawn the way that they themselves would’ve written or drawn it.
Now writing a completely objective review is usually akin to verbal sedative for any of its unsuspecting readers. The reason that some art critics are revered (Lester Bangs comes to mind) is because they were passionate and opinionated and most importantly perhaps, they could write. What’s tricky is finding a proper way to evaluate something. The current Batman comic by Scott Snyder is a great comic book. But are we measuring that against all of the comics that have every been released or just Batman comics or just DC comics or just the comics currently on the stands or just comics that Scott Snyder has written or Greg Capullo has drawn? Are the Twilight films actually good in a vacuum where only the Twilight films exist?
Unfortunately, there is no standard by which all comics are measured. We could measure all comics against something like Watchmen but undoubtedly most would fall short. Does that mean that those comics are bad? Absolutely not. It just means they are not Watchmen. Similarly, if someone hates Watchmen then current comics may rate favorably against it. The spectrum of good and bad varies from critic to critic and if a critic is not careful to remain consistent in their standards, ultimately they may not be taken seriously.
But I think it’s important for the reviewer to recognize the goals of the art that they are reviewing as well as the medium it is presented on. The medium is the message is a phrase that comes to mind and it’s true. For comics, I tend to think about that phrase in terms of story arcs and single issues. There is a very distinct difference between a twelve-part epic and a one-off. But should a writer’s intentions and the way that a part fits into a whole be considered when reviewing comics? Can a “bad issue” really just be a necessary part of a larger whole? Today’s comic book writers are savvy enough to make sure that we don’t get issues that tend to lull in the action of the overall story but it still happens.
I recently read a review of the last part of Rick Remender’s incredible “Dark Angel Saga” in Uncanny X-Force. A reviewer who had rated every issue very highly until that point gave the finale a low score on the basis that there was no action, the ending was too emotional and Deadpool and Wolverine didn’t show up. Now it’s clear that Remender’s goal for the final issue of the arc was to really wrap up the story that he had been building with Warren, Fantomex and Psylocke specifically over the last few months. That should be clear to anyone following the book as this reviewer was. Deadpool had even been blown up as to give us a reason for him not poking his taco-smeared mug where it didn’t belong. That wasn’t enough for this reviewer who decided to lean on the idea that his opinion was his opinion and if it was his opinion then it couldn’t be wrong. He hated the ending, didn’t like the characters that were used, thought it was stupid and that it needed more Deadpool and Wolvie because they are “the main draws on the book.” I have no idea how someone who had been reading the book for so long couldn’t see this coming and instead of praising a masterful bit of storytelling or at least giving legitimate reasons for disliking it, is content just to shit on it.
It’s sad, really.
Now we all supposedly love comic books. I’m not sure you would’ve found this column if you didn’t. But I have to wonder why all of us who love comics are constantly at odds with each other and our favorite medium
Instead of allowing ourselves to be surprised by announcements and reveals, we are constantly trying to ruin them for ourselves and others. Instead of facilitating discussion about modes of storytelling, artistic techniques and the reasons we love what we love, we would rather bitch and moan just to hear ourselves bitch and moan.
I’m not asking for some sort of big hippie love fest. But the negativity that surrounds the comics industry is suffocating. Why is it so hard for some people to get into comics? Because dealing with all the bullshit is really annoying.
Wait, wasn’t this about comics journalism?
It still is about comics journalism. I think that irresponsible journalism is where it starts. Whether it’s misreporting a new series or attaching the wrong creator to a project or making baseless claims, it just fuels the fire.
Comics are supposed to be fun. In the grand scheme of things, they don’t really matter. It’s kind of nice that I’m not inundated with TV shows like “Keeping Up with Joe Quesada” or “True Life: I Am Dan DiDio.” I like that comics is almost insulated from that “I NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME ABOUT ALL MY FAVORITE EVERYTHINGS” attitude that plagues most of pop culture. But irresponsible journalism can change that.
I hope that it doesnt