Robot 6

Judging comics fairly: Everyone’s a critic, so let’s be good ones

If you can read them, you can talk about them.

I’ve been thinking about comics criticism lately. That may sound a little inside baseball, but it’s not really. Not the way I’ve been thinking about it. As “real” critics are fond of pointing out, the threshold for criticism is extremely low. In fact, we all engage in criticism, even if we’re just talking with our friends about the movie we just saw or discussing our weekly comics stash on a message board. There are supposed to be some differences between someone writing a review for publication and people chatting on Facebook, but I’m not sure there always are.

Professional critics are supposed to adhere to some standards that in reality they sometimes disregard. In contrast, I’ve read some very insightful reviews and had some meaningful discussions about comics (and movies and TV) in the most informal of places. Good criticism isn’t about venue or credentials, it’s about gaining knowledge about a subject and being able to apply that knowledge thoughtfully to the things you read and watch. So when I talk about comics criticism, I’m not just talking about a particular kind, but simply the way we all talk about comics.

Whether they’re reading The New York Times or a comment on a blog post, readers decide whether or not to take criticism seriously based on how seriously the critic is taking his or her subject. And part of taking a comic seriously is thinking about things like authorial intent.

Judging comics: what's fair?

By “author” I don’t mean just the writer, but everyone involved in the creative process. In comics that might only be one person or it could be a huge team. The point is that the people who make the comics have something that they’re trying to accomplish and good criticism of the book should take that into account. It’s not fair for me to open Dan Clowes’ Death Ray expecting it to be like Fantastic Four. Conversely, it’s not fair to read Batwoman hoping it’s going to be like Fun Home. The creators of those comics have wildly different purposes for telling the stories they are.

Those are extreme examples, but the same concept applies even within specific genres, like superheroes. I hope I’m not misunderstood here, but I’m going to argue that it’s not fair to judge Judd Winick’s Catwoman for not being Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman. There’s plenty to judge Catwoman for; I’m not defending it. But to judge it correctly, critics need to focus on what it is they think that Winick and Company are trying to accomplish and whether or not it succeeds on that level.

There’s a whole other discussion to be had about whether or not Catwoman’s goals are worthy goals on a fundamental level, but that’s a separate issue and not one that’s undervalued by people talking about comics. I’ll even agree that it’s the more important issue right now in comics history, but I hope that in the appropriate fuss that’s being made about that we’re not losing sight of the relatively less important, but still valuable discussion around whether or not these comics are successful as the kinds of comics they are. There are and always have been other comics designed to titillate; how does a comic like Catwoman compare to Brandon Graham’s work, for instance? Winick has described Catwoman as “part crime story, part mystery and part romance,” so how does it compare to other romantic crime stories like Loose Ends? I’m not trying to answer those questions, nor am I trying to pick solely on Catwoman. The same questions should be asked of any comic. When Tom Spurgeon suggests, “Maybe these are just bad comics,” authorial intent is one way of measuring whether or not he’s right.

The flipside

The flipside of this is the theory that literary critic Roland Barthes called “Death of the Author.” I’m simplifying, but his argument was essentially that once a work of art exists, it no longer matters what the author intended for it. It’s now its own thing. I enthusiastically believe that to be true, but it really is just the other side of the same coin as authorial intent. It’s just that instead of asking what the author wanted from the work, we’re asking what the work itself wants to be.

What both of these approaches have in common is their opposition to judging a work based on what the audience wants it to be. It’s not always easy to separate my own expectations for a comic from what the comic actually is, but doing it is extremely rewarding. It’s fun to think about and it leads to discussions that are infinitely more satisfying than simply sharing initial, knee-jerk responses. That’s what I mean by taking comics seriously, and people who talk about comics should do that more, whether they’re getting paid for it or not.

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Comments

42 Comments

Agreed on all counts, and definitely somthing I strive for in our comics coverage at PLAYBACK:stl (shameless plug!). In a similar fashion, one of my other pet peeves is criticism that doesn’t examine the book for what it is, but rather for what the author wishes it was. It’s one thing to pick apart story flaws that make a comic not work, but it drives me ’round the bend when people come in and just wholesale say “It would have been better/cooler if…” and then foist out their own fanfic-style story recommendations rather than engaging for one second with the actual work as it stands. It’s just noise at that point.

The line between review and opinion is blurred, especially on the internet. It’s probably too much to expect fans to adhere to principles of dispassionate review when sounding off about their monthly pull list. Critics need to be outsiders (to a point), and anyone reading a monthly comic about characters they’ve followed since childhood is likely too bound up in the whole continuing exercise to offer reliable critical review. Opinion, sure, no problem there, but a review requires distance in time or space on behalf of the reviewer and most of us shouldn’t be held to that standard. On my blog I largely restrict myself to reviewing books that are twenty-five years old or older, but these things are still bound up with my childhood, and my writing can’t help but be biased and involved with the subject in ways that interfere with genuine criticism. Plus … we’re talking comics here. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t bother writing about them. And when it ceases being fun, I’ll stop.

I had never heard who “Death of the Author” was first attributed to, but he’s totally correct. On one hand, you want to judge something on how well it communicates what the author intended, but on the other hand, you HAVE to judge it on its own merits in the context of the state of the industry, and later, the time when it was produced.

How people view something will change over time, and if we’re lucky that thing will take on a life and meaning that is totally separate from the author’s intent. Birth of a Nation was heralded as one of the greatest movies of it’s time, but now is credited with the revival of the Klan in the 30s. And Casablanca, considered to be the greatest romantic movie of all time, was intended to be a comedy with a romantic subplot. Every piece of art/craft should be a Frankenstein’s Monster, outgrowing its creator’s intent and breathing on its own.

“It’s just that instead of asking what the author wanted from the work, we’re asking what the work itself wants to be.”

I fundamentally disagree with that sentence. We’d be asking what the work IS. That’s a much more interesting discussion, in my opinion. Even when people informally refer to what a piece of entertainment is “trying to do” it makes my skin crawl.

Maybe this is an unfair extrapolation, but it appears to me that the majority of “criticism” as it exists on the www is just a collection of loose inferences. Instead of talking about what something IS and relating it to things like it, there’s endless chatter wherein the production process is reduced to a single figurehead who created the piece of entertainment as we talk about how the major qualities of the thing are and are not reflected in the creator. In addition, there’s over-emphasis in the business/news/press release side of things. It’s like we’re creating our own commentary tracks to creative projects as they’re being created, and often before. Narratives themselves become secondary to the narrative of their creation.

It’s exhausting and unsatisfying. And I’m guilty of it, too.

Actually, Barthes’ point was that once published the work is what the Reader thinks it is, not “its own thing”, but anyway…

Anyway, as for this: “There’s a whole other discussion to be had about whether or not Catwoman’s goals are worthy goals on a fundamental level, but that’s a separate issue”

No it’s not a separate issue. “Was this a story that really needed to be told?” is frequently brought up by book, film, and other media critics. So is “Was this method of storytelling necessary to make these points?” There’s criticism of meaning and there’s criticism of craft, vulgar craft can debase the meaning, and vulgar meaning can debase the craft (and I mean “vulgar” in its artistic sense of “not-aspiring-to-greatness”, not “obscene”).

Not every comic has to be Maus or Watchmen or Habibi, but it is still valid criticism to say “Catwoman flashing her tits every other panel detracted from the story, which wasn’t all that engaging anyway because it was just Catwoman flashing her tits”

“I hope that in the appropriate fuss that’s being made about that we’re not losing sight of the relatively less important, but still valuable discussion around whether or not these comics are successful as the kinds of comics they are.”

I don’t think that’s a less important discussion at all, because if it WAS less important than Jonny Negron and his fascinating but wildly perverse erotica would have no place in any conversation, ever. You’d see the picture of a shark raping a swimmer and just be like “Well, pack your bags and leave, sir.” But it’s the fact that his work is interesting on a level that I don’t have the academic training to articulate that he can not only “get away with” but actually engage his fans with work such as that.

Context is important, but it’s the individual pieces that create the context and I think people are starting to overlook the trees for the forest, as it were.

Agreed in terms of the fact that I am a new reader and most of the reviews of the new 52 (which has gotten me back into comics) were totally unhelpful.

Books I am really enjoying were slated left right and centre for things that didn’t interest me at all. I found many of the reviews to come from jaded comic book readers. Which is very dissapointing and not helpful to a new reader getting into the hobby again after 15 years.

Hopefully some of what you have said above sinks in…

Valid points. Something that may be unique to comics, however, is that Judd Winick, to use your example, is writing Catwoman now, and Ed Brubaker wrote Catwoman previously — a large majority of these characters have long lives outside their immediate portrayals. We can ask whether the author successfully achieves their intent (because there’s intent, and there’s whether or not what the author presents is sufficient to achieve that intent), whether the intent is a worthy goal, but then I think we also have to ask whether that goal lives up to the canon of the character.

All of this is subjective, of course — I might think Winick’s Catwoman doesn’t sufficiently fulfill the genre of romantic crime story and you might think it does, and I might think Ed Brubaker writes the definitive Catwoman and you might think it’s Jeph Loeb — but I think comics criticism has to be cognizant of the entirety of the characters when considering a work, especially a new series. To judge Winick’s Catwoman on not being Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman might not be entirely fair, but I think we can provide some basis for criticism based on how well a series lives up to its predecessors with the same character.

Steven R. Stahl

October 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Stories can be assessed pretty easily by how well a writer handles the details, aside from his intent. I suspected that the Serpent, in FEAR ITSELF, was based on the Midgard Serpent, but the monster, which had been in THOR before, wasn’t Odin’s brother. What did having the monster appear in FI #7 accomplish, aside from indicating that Fraction, et al., didn’t understand the basis for their lead villain? The plot for NEW AVENGERS #17 indicated that Bendis and Brevoort don’t know how kinetic energy is used. So much for the rest of the story.

Intent matters most when the writer is appealing to high tastes. If a writer wants to depict a woman as a slut, he can do that easily, and graphically; if he wants to portray her as sexual but not a slut, he has to provide details about the character. If Lobdell had done that in RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #1, the controversy about Starfire never would have occurred. Has there ever been an example of a writer setting out to appeal to low tastes accidentally appealing to high ones? I doubt it.

One of the problems with current superhero comics might be that much of the artwork in an issue doesn’t qualify as information directed at the reader, even though its creators might want it to be. For all the virtues decompression might have for pacing — http://ogiuemaniax.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/explaining-decompression-in-comics/ — stories, the artwork has to be accompanied by progression of the plot and information about the situations as they unfold. The details can make a story entirely believable, or unbelievable.

SRS

There is one man who couldn’t have summed this up any better, and this can apply to any other form of entertainment:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnHfWdlCaQk
That’s right: Mister Jay Sherman.

If you are having to try to figure out what the creators were trying to do then the creators have failed.

I personally do like to try to get into the creator’s heads and try to figure out what they were thinking but it’s just arm chair psychology that has about as much value as arguing over a sporting event after the game clock has expired. But I do think one is better off “asking what the work itself wants to be” than second guessing the creators. (But that is often not as fun.) It’s hard to separate a work from the world it came from. Especially a mainstream work where the critic/audience has been bombarded with hype and promotion before they have ever even see the real work. It can be hard. And it is totally valid for calling out a book that has a T rating on it for not being appropriate for a T audience. These things are also products and if the company selling the product tells you that it is a thing then it should be that thing.

I do not think that the critic owes the creator anything. Let me say that again. The critic does not owe the creator anything. I want to say it a third time because it is really important. The critic does not own the creator anything. The critic is beholden only to the audience. And the critic owes the audience one and only one thing. Honesty.

“If you are having to try to figure out what the creators were trying to do then the creators have failed.”

One of my favorite movies being “Last Year at Marienbad” I find this statement to be violently untrue.

Steven R. Stahl

October 21, 2011 at 7:36 am

I find this statement to be violently untrue.

Movies aren’t legitimate comparisons. An awful movie can be unintentionally hilarious, for a number of reasons; an awful story on paper is just disgusting. Viewers and readers process information differently. If a well-told story has ambiguity, the ambiguity is deliberate.

Evaluating a story on the basis of what it is presumes that the story’s mechanics are sound. If they’re not, then the story isn’t worth evaluating, unless constructive criticism is intended. Why spend time on a story that has incoherent messages when there are stories with coherent messages?

SRS

“The critic does not owe the creator anything.”

Shannon, if you took from the article that I was suggesting critics owe creators anything, then I didn’t explain myself clearly enough. When I talk about judging the work fairly, I’m not suggesting we do that out of politeness to the creator, but out of the honesty you mention we owe anyone who’s listening to us.

Fairness and honesty have in common that they’re both seeking the Truth about what the comic is, but I like the word “fair” better than “honest,” because honesty is more subjective. All I have to do to be honest is tell you how I really felt about a comic, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve given the book any real thought. “Hated it,” “Awesome” and “Meh” can all be honest responses, but the only way I know if they’re fair is if you tell me more about why you came up with them. Fairness is deeper than honesty, so it’s more helpful in criticism.

I see what you are saying Michael and I don’t disagree. I just see “fairness” a bit differently. I’m thinking that the act of being fair is based on a presumption that the creator is owed something. But I’m just splitting hairs there. Fair or honest, either way- that is the starting point. And if you are being honest, really truly honest with your audience then you will put a bit more thought into the work and the review than just “hated it”, “awesome” or “meh”. I’m with you on the “why” part. Honesty is the foundation then the why is the mechanics of it and if you’ve got those you are on your way to giving the audience something of value. Beyond that, we would be getting into the argument of good writing vs. bad writing and that is another long argument which I think would eventually take us back to honesty. But I’m with ya man. Fair? Yes! Good? Yes!

“An awful movie can be unintentionally hilarious, for a number of reasons”

Not what I’m talking about at all. “Marienbad” is a movie that drags your brain in any number of directions and never tells you which one is the right one, or even if any of them are the right one. Film scholars have been trying to figure out what this movie is “about” for almost FIFTY YEARS. It’s considered a classic among the French New Wave as well as avant-garde cinema. The obfuscation of the movie’s meaning isn’t a detriment, it’s one of the main things that makes it astounding.

Have you ever read any of Jim Woodring’s work? His “Frank” stories don’t have immediately decipherable meanings either, does that mean they’re worse than some bland corporate comic or tawdry autobio that you need three seconds and a mere flicker of brain power to figure out?

“I’ve been thinking about comics criticism lately. ”

This is a red flag. Because it means I can say this and be one hundred percent honest in saying that you couldn’t have been thinking very hard if you wrote this.

Kind of a roundabout way of saying “this was a shitty article,” but whatever floats your boat I guess.

That top picture plus caption is pretty funny. I’m not interested in any reader who can talk about comics, I’m interested in reading material from the few people who talk about comics well. The picture of an eight-year old doesn’t really say much for the demands you place on your criticism–yours or anyone. If your intent is to equate your critical faculties with those of a small child… I’ll leave you to finish that thought.

Is Catwoman successful at what it’s shooting for? Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter; what it’s shooting for isn’t admirable in the least. Bad comics are bad comics, they don’t get a free pass for low aspirations. Authorial intent has virtually no bearing on good quality.

‘professional’ critics are just failed creators themselves. And so anally opinionated, there is little difference between their reviews and a star trek fan discussing online which captain is better.

By some of this logic Michael Bay movies should score above 80%. I mean hey, the end product was completely what bay wanted and intended just like catwoman is everything Judd winnick intended.When rating movies the cultural impact big or small is often considered.

A problem catwoman has, is it has an episodic history. People who have read Ed brubaker’s run are reading something completely different. You can’t read catwoman and only think of the author’s intent because there have been previous authors, even if there is a reboot component, because really most of batmans world is the same just a lot more confusing.

This article explains EXACTLY why I have been incredibly disappointed with CBR’s reviews in the past couple of months.

For example, controversy aside, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 was a fun read and had some really great art. Did it really deserve 0-stars simply because of the controversy? No, it did not.

To me, this is just disrespectful to all those who worked on that comic and to all those who enjoyed the comic like myself. I think it is fair to have given it three stars or maybe even two, but it should take A LOT to make a comic worth one or no stars. Lately, it seems, it doesn’t take much to make a CBR reviewer give something 0-1/2-1-star when it should take a lot more than that.

When it comes to criticism, you have to go outside of your bias and look at the comic at face value and what the creators were trying to accomplish and if they had succeeded. You look at the positive and negative aspects of each comic even when either is hard to find. You have to let the comic sink in and THEN talk about it.

At first, I kind of liked the Green Lantern movie, but about two to four hours later as I was trying to explain to people the source material, I found myself feeling less and less excited about the film. I still had and have plenty of great things to say about the film, but I also have a number of negative things to say too. It’s about finding that balance and being able to make an overall judgement, but to do so respectfully.

I am not saying you need to always please the creators by beefing up your reviews with better things to say or to always kiss up to those that might have liked it. I am suggesting that, instead, we try to not spit on those who spent a lot of hard work on something even if we didn’t find anything to like about it as we also shouldn’t spit on anyone for enjoying it. I find reviews on here like the Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 review to contain spitting on both the creators and on those who enjoyed it like myself.

There is always a level of professional respect which must be upheld. If there is no respect, then there is no professionalism. Then it’s just like reading the Newsarama forums and no one wants that.

For all of the reasons stated above, I give NO credibility to comics reviewers (wannabes who would trade the criticism to write actual comics for either of the big two in a millisecond), and give credibility to ONE movie reviewer, Roger Ebert, for looking at CONTEXT and GENRE when reviewing a film. PLUS, he actually wrote a movie that was made, so he isn’t a wannabe. Was the movie good? I’ll let the critics decide, but I’ve always liked it for the women in it, if nothing else.

For those who didn’t click on the link in my previous comic, this is what Sherman’s advice says, if it were about criticizing comic books:
“I am a comic book critic by trade, and until recently, I got paid to tell you people which comics merely stink and which ones you shouldn’t read near an open flame. Well, I am putting the burden of lousy books back on YOU. It’s very simple: if you stop BUYING bad comic books, they’ll stop MAKING bad comic books. If the comic used to be a film or a tv show or a lighthearted comic book, just don’t get the book; after replacement artist or writer roman numeral two, give it a rest; if it’s a reboot of a classic, read the CLASSIC……[ten or so minutes later, when his voice is almost giving out]….tell them you want stories about PEOPLE, not 22 or 24 pages of blood and guts and mindless TNA and unecessary ads. People, it’s up to you–if the comic book stinks, just don’t buy it!”

I’m really glad someone posted an article about this widely spreading issue.

I may be a college student whose a comic-book geek but the overwhelming negativity and bias with most of the comic-book reviewers (and fans) about DC’s New 52 comics are too much to deal with. The reboot is introducing new authors with their own interpretation on the characters without losing the concept of the heroes and villains and that’s really suppose to be the factor that draws people in, not away. I mean, we have writers that have made Catwoman, Batman, Superman, etc. to be memorable to the average public but lets face it, those writers will not be there forever.

To stick to the same formula every time these characters are written is risking laziness on the author’s part of creativity and often close-mindedness on long-time fans for not accepting a different take on certain characters because the story isn’t written by their favorite author or not in the style of the author they like.

In my opinion, what happened in the past three months over the reboot and the madness that came with it from the long-time fans and reviewers alike is exactly what happens when people lose sight of the fact that comic-books are not restrictive to one author or any real rules and get too emotionally attached to their favorites to the point that reasoning and fairness is lost and eventually people take the criticism with a grain of salt.

Most of the criticism of Catwoman is by internet cowboys looking for cheap drama and something to puff themselves up. I’m not a fan of Winick and March’s art gives me the creeps, so the book was never on my radar. Does it work as a romantic crime story? It does not matter, with most of the audience a homogenous mob with residual body and sexuality issues. It’s never going to fly, no matter how well it is crafted. They have this built in narrative in their heads, with sex=bad. They won’t stand up for real female creators, but a couple of fictional characters choosing to have sex and they mobilize. I honestly don’t respect any creator who wants these kinds of people to buy their work. The controversy has very little to do with artistic merit and a lot to do with social ideology. A romantic crime story is never going to work for the super hero crowd at large, unless it is 1950s chaste.

Hey cool, someone gets it.

iFanboy are the worst comic book critics. From their criticisms such as “I’d like to punch (Creator name) in the fucking face,” to “(Creator name) should never be allowed to work in comics” to “This comic is fucking garbage.” Their slant comes from creator jealousy, since they are wannabe comics creators. Since they lack artistic talent, they take it out on the talent, and are therefore the opposite of artists: critics.

How’s THAT for ciriticism? ^

You’re making a valid case for being more considered in our critiques. Here are some thoughts to help advance that dialogue.

1) As you stated, criticism doesn’t mean to just tear things down. There’s two approaches: Constructive Criticism, which respects the creator’s intent while offering options to explore; and Destructive Criticism, which tears work down with no solutions. Knowing this going in causes a lot of useless conflict to disappear, and valid points to advance.

2) Constructively, the criticism of CATWOMAN and RED HOOD as being sexist and shallow are valid and can’t be dismissed offhand by flip kneejerks.

Critics like Laura Hudson, Kickpuncher, Andrew Wheeler, Ms. Snarky, and Michele Lee used constructive criticism to point out the juvenile outlook and bad craft of these comics. Their concerns were mature, considered, and valuable. They aren’t haters, just adults with genuine concerns about improving the medium with due respect and skill.

3) The clearer critical comparison to make is CATWOMAN versus CATWOMAN: Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s 2001 series did the same things as Judd Winick’s 2011 series, but successfully.

Historically, DC’s female heroes are swapped back and forth between strong individual (Perez’s Wonder Woman) and sex doll (Deodato’s Wonder Woman) depending on creator’s and era’s bias. In 2001, Selina was a strong individual, a deeply complex person whose sensuality was a side aspect of her life, handled with grace and maturity. The arcs were character stories with a streetwise realism, and her refreshingly D.I.Y. costume was as practical as it was inspired.

But the slide came. Brubaker left after the series was compromised by pressure to be like the sex doll CATWOMAN movie, and the Adam Hughes covers took off the mask and broke out the cleavage. Strong Individual > Sex Doll. The 2011 series is being justifiably criticized for continuing that downward spiral; this Selina is just a body tumbling out of a catsuit, with an excuse for shallow monologues, cliched heists, and clumsily-written sex. Smart readers who saw the Renaissance in 2001 don’t accept the sad Rococo devolution in 2011.

4) Sex is a general word that refers to gender as well as sensuality. Many times we conflate both and speak well to neither.

In this case, the constructive argument is: sexism is stupid, and sensuality is for adults. No one has a problem with sexiness, they just don’t want hamfisted sexism pawned off as it.

4) Art isn’t dead to the author on release, it is alive in the viewer. Man Ray said, “When (a creator’s) work confronts others he is not up for trial, it is the spectator, if anyone, who is putting himself on record.” Meaning art is a rorschach test of our own perceptions. To your point of ‘what the audience wants it to be’, the answer is quality. We’ve seen it done well, we’re seeing it done badly, and we want the good stuff.

So we buy BATWOMAN and WONDER WOMAN instead. And STARSTRUCK, LOVE AND ROCKETS, and FUN HOME.

5) Judd Winick is, perversely, doing things right with BATWING. That’s a strong individual, with a complex history, in nuanced stories. For the same reasons that Judd is not writing a racial stereotype in thin stories there, he should use the same skill to not tell gender stereotypes in thin stories with CATWOMAN. At the moment, the compared books look like a double standard, and hopefully Judd can appreciate these constructive comments to balance that out soon.

Meanwhile, readers should check out “CATWOMAN Vol. 1″ on Jan. 25, 2012. This collection of the Brubaker/ Cooke years shows that the real ‘Catwoman for 2011′…was done right in 2001.

http://www.dccomics.com/dcu/comics/?cm=20873

Or, in some cases, we buy Catwoman instead of the current Wonder Woman, and hope that WW will get better…

(Or, of course, back issues/trades of the Simone Wonder Woman run and earlier.)

I would love less political correctness in reviewers. For example on cbr a writer once said men were getting crushed content-wise by women in webcomics. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, political correctness dictates that it’s perfectly fine to say that and not the reverse. The same applies to the treatment of heavy-handed liberal and anti-male messages versus let’s say Holy Terror. It’s not being heavy handed that critics hate, it’s being heavy handed in a conservative or sexualized way they can’t stand.

johnathan cruise

October 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Dispassionate reviewing is the key i think to providing insightful reviews, as the author here indicates. There are far too many podcasts that are either too invested the respective characters or universes to offer unbiast or consistent reviews based upon what the comics actially get right. While personal opinion is valid, it really shouldn’t be the primary focus for the professional critic and all too often it is. Investment in characters and universes colour perceptions far too much. I would say that the Catwoman debate is an important one simply because the main theme of the first comic seemed to be degradation of an icon and the reestablishment of Catwoman as an object of lust for batman. A fairly retroactive take, but we have no idea what lies ahead so this may be a character arc rather than defining the character as a fully formed icon/protagonist. The overreaction seemed very knee jerk, in this respect, and for some professional critics to not see the merits of the book was fairly hysterical. Although I have to say that the creators’ choices, in terms of the titliating perspectives and fetishtic approaches to the character in the frames was blatant and often unnecessarily sexualised. However, that is MY opinion and. a fairly obvious one- and this needs to be underlined. A lot of the times, we need reviewers to enlighten us on that which is not so blatantly apparent.

Good article which I hope gets people thinking.

I agree that I want criticism and comics discussion to be thoughtful and serious, but why does authorial intent carry such weight with you? I mean, it’s interesting, and in many cases it does have some relevance, but the whole reason that a writer like Grant Morrison becomes so successful on a critical (and, I would argue, on a commercial) level, is that the work produced can be read in so many different ways and interpreted in so many different ways that the author could never have dreamed of. Death of the author and all that. I don’t care, for example, what Dave Sim was “intending” with his anti-woman hate speech in that one Cerebus story; I can’t read the damn thing because it’s disgusting. Authorial intent matters and should be examined, but it should also be judged! Because most of the time, in bad art, the authorial intent is the whole problem with it.

@ Tym – You cannot call a creator sexist or consider those who enjoyed that comic to be sexist and have that be constructive though. That is basically what happened all across the board. I can agree with almost everything else you said so the rest of what I have to say is pretty unrelated to what you touched on.

In defense of Red Hood, I don’t know how anyone didn’t expect it to be juvenile. It was supposed to be like the “sexy A-team” with explosions and boobs and wicked pant bulges. The cover pretty much spoke for itself. The difference is that we don’t know the characters so well just yet and it’s up to the creator to justify through future and current issues where this might go. If he explained everything first issue then why would someone even bother reading the next issue? So far he has done a great job explaining things at a good pace with making all the name-calling against him and Rocafort unjustified and in-valid. If a female writer had written the EXACT same issue, Laura and the gang would not have been as vocal about it. It’s a double standard really.

That’s why I think until comic books start being more standalone (each issue having it’s very own story without having an multi-issue arc), you shouldn’t be able to review an individual comic. What should be reviewed instead, are the trades for each title since they encapsulate the entire intended story. I think that’s the problem Red Hood faced. A premature-assumption. Catwoman is more arguable, but I didn’t see the problem with Catwoman either.

It’s like reviewing every 5 minute interval of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (movie or book) individually and not reviewing the entire story as it was intended. Especially since you don’t know the explanation. For example, people had been arguing about Red Hood’s Batman logo on his chest. It hasn’t been explained to us yet so you can’t really critique that yet.

That’s why I think comics need to be treated more like TV seasons and the publishers need to market them like such. Not necessarily like Marvel with The Amazing Spiderman, but kind of. For example, Scott Snyder’s current story arc on Batman is going to be like 12 issues long (I think I remember reading). This should be known to the reader and, in turn, the critic to know exactly what to expect. Otherwise, you are critiquing each chapter of a novel before you finished the novel. Some chapters will be better than others and it’s hard to judge a book by just one chapter. Each issue is like a chapter.

Sorry for getting off-subject, but I think this might fix some of the problems we face with comic book reviewing as well as everything I previously touched on.

also: the CBR reviewers suck.

every other comic is 4,5 or 5 stars. (out of 5)

I love the new Catwoman comic. It has such an independent style and direction from all the other comics out there, both DC and Marvel.

I love good comics, and read quite a variety of them. I’m not a sexist (just sayin’). I like Catwoman. It’s one of my favorites of the relaunch along with Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman & Demon Knights to name a few. That said, I enjoyed the debate this article spurred. I spent way too much time reading all this (laughs). Now it’s time to do something I love… Read a comic!
Chuck

Interesting article. In college I took both a film and literary criticism class. My film criticism professor was a comic book reader but argued that no one could ever properly review comic books because there is no rule book for it like there are in other criticisms. There is no Ebert’s rules being published, no education of reviewers and no true rule book to inform internet reviewers how do their job.

First of all, who is the critic writing for? As a critic your job is to tell fans what they should spend their money on while critiquing the creators about their work. You are not here to trash someone because of YOUR expectations or wants but you are there judge the material before you. You are writing a review based upon your knowledge of genre, past performances of creative teams, knowledge of characters and of the creators as well as past iterations of the character.
Can you do this by reviewing a single issue of seven issue story arch?

I was taught that you are not just reviewing a material for people who would buy it, but you also are constructively criticizing the creative team as well. Your job is not to let one character dictate the total piece. As much as I hate how Power Girl is bring written in Mr. Terrific, you have to review the entire work.

I think pieces like this are a good thing because more than ever someone needs to create a guideline for comic criticism to differentiate the critic from the message boarder. Both criticisms are valid, and I have seen many people on CGS, CBQ and CBR message boards who have more knowledge of the comic genre than many reviewers. But at some point there must be critics who properly understand not just the rules, the job and the duty of a critic, but can be that critic.

By the way, here is the Ebert’s rules talked about earlier: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/10/eberts_little_rule_book.html

Great article. Interestingly, I still don’t know which CBR critics are giving us a professional dissected piece, or an entertaining reaction article just for, well that – entertainment. It’s hard to read a critic bash BATWING with a primary point being “I doubt that anyone at DC even knows that Africa has more than one country in it..” – and no, that’s not taken out of context.

I like reviews. But let’s grow up.

I can read any piece of art that is in comic book form and give my opinions on it, but I’m not going to waste your time if it’s not a structured review, filtered of my own personal feelings towards the author or the publisher.

Or let’s read them for fun and go at it. The problem is that when reading reviews, on CBR or anywhere, I never know if I’m reading a professional critique of Fear Itself 7 POINT 1, or someone’s blog after after a few beers.

I loved Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman! It was great. I also love Judd Winick and Guillem March’s Catwoman! It’s also great. I’m sorry if you don’t like a sexy Catwoman, expertly drawn by Mr. March. I’m sorry if you find it sexist that she is a sleek, amoral, CATWOMAN. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll like the comic as much when it is not drawn by Mr. March. I think he’s the cat’s pajamas.

The claim that CBR reviews trend low has to be one of the best things I’ve ever read. Those things are so inflated they make pesos look stable.

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