Comic Fodder

The Function of a Comic Book Reviewer

So it’s 1990 and you have some free time on your hands. You want to watch a movie, but you’re not a Hollywood insider, and you have no idea what’s playing. You grab your newspaper, to which you subscribe and have delivered every morning, and look through the descriptions to find something that grabs your attention. The critic gives something four or five stars, and you decide on that one. Or, if you have experience with the local critic, you choose a one-star movie, because that critic is always wrong!

You blink and it’s 2008. Odds are you don’t bother with a physical newspaper unless it’s for investment purposes. If you’re anything close to me, you head to the internet, skipping the review section, because your computer is already programmed with your zip code to give you movie times. You already know more about the movie than the critic, and you’re better at estimating the three-day weekend box office gross than that pesky lady online, so why read a review when half of them don’t give proper notification of spoilers?

Well, movie critics still make a difference. Do comic reviews? In a recent Slate article, a study of per screen averages shows that a film that receives rave reviews does improve performance at the box office, especially for independent films. There are enough people still checking out the reviews and using them as a guideline to find something that fits their respective interests, and maybe using the reviews to dodge a couple stinkers along the way.

Reviews for comic books are potentially more needed than for movies. There are certainly more new comics coming out every week than movies. With millions of dollars in marketing, movies have a definite advantage in getting the word out. Plus, a movie only costs you ten bucks. At $2.99 a pop, and since you can tear through eight modern comics in the time it takes to watch one movie, us voracious readers can churn through $24 or so trying to find some good stories. A review warning us to stay away from some of the bad stuff might have saved us enough cash to… catch a movie?

But do we really want to look at reviews? (And if the answer is no, does that mean I just wrote myself out of a job?) Everyone knows that film critic guy that could have been a director, but never seemed to get his shot, and now all of his reviews drip with scathing minutia about how the cinematographer didn’t use the proper size lens on that filter, and oh the inhumanity! Do we want to put up with the same attitude from comic critics, letting them tear our entertainment into little bits and stealing away the escapist fun? Aren’t critics ranked in the depths, along with used car salesmen, lawyers, and politicians? (Not necessarily in that order…)

Actually, if a critic is doing her job, she does provide a useful function. Just as in movies and television, there is a ton of content, and most of it is bad. The good stuff needs all the help it can get to receive proper attention, especially the independent titles, where most of the worst stuff lives, but also where the hidden gems are the most beautiful. When I review the Big Two titles, I should be finding a reasonable balance of good, mediocre, and poor comics, with one or two that are great. If someone ever spots me going two weeks in a row doing nothing but complaining about an endless selection of bad comics, somebody email me and warn me I’ve gone over to the dark side, because I’m not doing a service to anyone.

Your time is precious. Your money is valuable. My job as a reviewer is to warn you away from the dregs to save you time and money, and help highlight the good stories so you can have them brought into your awareness. Heavy readers are always starving for a good story (heavy as in they read a lot, not fat readers that are literally starving; I mean starving in the literary sense, not the literal sense). Why keep buying that wearisome umpteenth Wolverine title just so you can say you have a complete collection, and go check out this other book that has a great review? Then, if I have steered you correctly, you are able to use your time and money wisely, and enjoy more good stories than you otherwise would have. And just like in the movie sample in the first paragraph, the smart people who recognize that they generally tend to disagree with my reviews will read my negative review and head straight to the rack to pick it up, because clearly that Travis dude is always wrong…

Next time, we’ll talk about what the publishers are doing (or more specifically, NOT doing) that makes comic critics valuable, or at least a necessary evil.

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

Here's to the comic reviewer, who most often receives not a dime for their efforts, and who shells out the dough for comics, so you don't have to.

I may actually be pickier about my reviews than my actual comics. Back when I was doing reviews, I originally got into it here because I was so tired of reading reviews which displayed terrible bias against one publisher or other, or against a particular character or two that the reviewer was clearly simply not into.

You see that a lot in movie reviews. EW's Owen Glieberman simply knocks off a full letter grade for almost any sci-fi/ comic book/ etc... movie. He just doesn't take to them.

Further, there are a LOT of reviewers (no, I'm not naming names) who make blanket statements regarding a certain character, writer, title, PUBLISHER, etc... without fact checking or displaying anything near a comprehensive enough knowledge to back up their statement. That, to me, winds up hurting comics more than anything. If the reviewer is supporting or criticizing a comic based upon insufficient information... its useless and frustrating to the reader who is in the know, and misinforms the potential new reader.

What I find is lacking out there, mostly, is a firm grasp of criticism vs. review. If I didn't think Travis was doing a great job, I wouldn't have asked to come back to write for Comic Fodder. But so, so many writers simply throw a plot summary and then a line or two about whether or not a comic kicked enough ass or not... and that, kids, is not criticism. It's a summary with an opinion tacked on.

Every reviewer is going to have a point of view, but they need to back it up with personality, data and a point of view.

-- Posted by: ryan at July 20, 2008 1:14 AM