The iFanboy Letter Column – 05.27.2011

Friday means many things to many people. For some, Friday means we just stop. For others, it is time to go. For others still, there are various pauses, punctuated by movement.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time.

You write. We answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of our shows or answered here, keep them coming — contact@ifanboy.com

 


 

I rely mainly on many comic book review websites and audio and video podcasts (iFanboy, IGN, Comic Book Resources, Pete’s Basement) to pick out which comics to get. However, lately I’ve noticed that unlike other media outlets such as TV and film, where there is a pretty firm consensus regarding what is “Good” or “Bad” (Jonah Hex – Bad, Iron Man – Good; The Cape – Bad, The Walking Dead – Good), the comics review opinions range fairly wide between the different outlets. Some places will say Grant Morrison is the best Bat-writer in the last decade, while some will say that they can’t figure out a single plot thread the man has ever put to paper — some websites will make Green Wake their Pick of the Week, while some will describe it as a complete mess. I was wondering how do you explain the fact that almost no comic (other than certain exceptions, such as Chew or Scalped) can be categorized as good or crap?

Ray from Israel

We’re going behind the curtain!

I know the phenomenon you’re talking about, and I think there’s some truth to it, but there are also exceptions. Look at the reviews for any movie on Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see extreme views. It mostly evens out in the end, and you get a good picture of the overall quality or value of a particular film. But criticism isn’t objective. Everyone brings their own things to the table. However with film, by extension television, and literature, there are college majors devoted to their understanding, and are certain things held to be objective truth about what is and what is not good. These rules are constantly broken, but there is a certain consistency that abides. A critic isn’t going to get very far talking about how Citizen Kane was overrated. TV is more flexible.

Comics are another beast entirely. Comics criticism is a mashup; a cobbled together version of all those critical discipline, and it’s mostly produced by hobbyists. Sometimes they are informed hobbyists, and sometimes they learn more over time, and sometimes they’re just entertaining. Sometimes those hobbyists become professional. But one thing comics critics (a term I use for lack of any other) have kept up is that they remain much more subjective than their more mainstream counterparts of film and TV. Even on our own show, my two partners and I have wildly different views of what makes a good comic, and what tastes we’re bringing to the table. We’re not going to try to pretend that there is some objective standard for comics, with the exception of The Sentry: Fallen Sun, which was objectively terrible by any measure. But even so, that book ended up being one of the most entertaining books of the year. So what’s good? I can only tell you what I like and why. Over time, we got better at explaining why, and demonstrating the particular qualities of a work, but there’s always an angle on where we’re coming from, in order to give you perspective. As far as I’m concerned, criticism is valid if it’s informed, understands the positioning and perspective of the work, and mostly if the consumers of the criticism give it validity. If you don’t like the things I like, you’re not going to agree with my reviews. And that’s okay with me. We’ve all got our own things. That’s why there are two other guys on the show.

Perhaps it takes a little more effort on the part of the reader to figure out where these reviews are coming from, but in the end, you’ll probably find writers, critics and reviewers who speak to the kind of material you’re looking for. But I think it’s much more art than science.

Josh Flanagan


You guys have probably already discussed this, but I love Dick Grayson; he’s my favorite of the Batman family, so you can imagine my joy of having him upfront and center in most of the Batman books. However, Bruce is back, given he’s mostly going about the world rounding up recruits, but, when he does make his return to Gotham, what do you think will happen to Dick? I mean, I don’t wanna see a repeat of the Wally West-Barry Allen dilemma. And I don’t think Bruce can stay a globetrotter forever.

David M.

The Dick Grayson Question seems to be front and center for most Batfans right now. Now that Bruce is back and wearing the cape and cowl, what happens to Dick Grayson? Right now the solution is, as everyone knows, two Batmen, but let’s be honest — that’s not going to be a permanent situation. Eventually Bruce Wayne is going to be the one and only Batman. (Unless it ends up being Thomas Wayne! I’ve got a headache!)

So what happens to Dick Grayson?

Usually I’ve got a pretty good guess about these kinds of things, but I have no freaking clue here. We all know the Dan Didio Doomsday Scenario which involves Dick Grayson shuffling off this mortal coil. That’s too horrific to even consider. Can Dick just go back to being Nightwing? He did once before in the 1990s after spending some time as Batman, but this time is not that time and whereas before when Dick was Batman it felt very temporary, here the change feels permanent. It feels like Dick has turned a corner that there is no going back from.

If I didn’t shave my head I’d be pulling my hair out right about now.

The fact is, as much as I enjoy Dick Grayson as Batman, I have missed Bruce Wayne. And the more stories I read with Bruce as Batman the more I realize that fact. I don’t want Dick to stop being Batman, but I do want Bruce to be Batman. So… Nightwing again? Dead? Robin? The new Spectre? I don’t know!

Of course, if DC reboots after Flashpoint then this is all moot.

Conor Kilpatrick


 

Just a quick one; completely agreed on The New York Five — what a fantastic end to a wonderful series. I’m just finishing up university myself, Brian nailed the “drifting apart” thing perfectly! I lived with 9 people in my first year and, aside from the four I live with now, I haven’t seen or spoken to the other 5 in over two years! Just wondering whether you had any recommendations on other similar character “dramas” (not including The New York Four obviously ha). I’m after books that encapsulate that Breakfast Club spirit. So high school (I guess… I’m from the UK and we split up schooling differently), college and university based books?

Who doesn’t love The Breakfast Club right? The New York Four/Five was great… There has got to be more books on the shelves that take a look at relationships, self discovery and all that!

Josh (Origamikid)

First off, I want to thank you Josh for not only agreeing with me on the great ending to The New York Five, but giving me a reason to talk about one of my favorite genres of comics, relationship books — specifically teen/coming of age drama relationship books. The New York Four/Five is the just the latest in a series of books that fall under this category, and if you ask me, it’s one of the most underrated and under used genre of comic books. I’m always on the lookout for a new comic that will get me excited the same way The Breakfast Club or old episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 did. This genre taps into the experience of growing up and coming of age that many of us experienced ourselves, but in a much more entertaining and dramatic manner.

Now, to recommend books for you. Sticking with Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s collaboration, you simply must pick up the Local collection from Oni Press, which is the tale of one girl and her adventures in the US as she grows up. Each issue was a one and done, but also kept the ongoing thread of her life and was one of the finest comics ever publisher, and also the hardcover collection was one of the prettiest ever put together.

Another favorite of mine, and one that thankfully you’ll be easily able to track down is The Waiting Place. Written by Sean McKeever with art mainly by Mike Norton (although some other artists work on it as well), this series was recently collected and re-published by IDW. Set in the north midwest of the United States, The Waiting Place is a tale of kids in high school and a certain time period of their lives. The story was absolutely relatable and touching at the same time. McKeever absolutely captured that feeling of being a teenager and being stuck in your town and trying to make the best of it.

Thankfully, of all the publishers out there, it seems as if Oni Press is the one publisher who comes close to keeping the flame alive for this genre.  One of my all time favorite books, which I miss very much, is Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston. While Blue Monday sometimes strays from the ultra-realistic with some fantasy elements, Chynna’s portrayal of this group of mod teenagers always entertained me and was a blast to read. I wish she’d do more Blue Monday books. More recently, Oni published a graphic novel called Ivy, which is very much up this sort of alley, telling the story of an art student and her attempts to get through high school and navigate her parent, friends, love life and even make it to art school after high school. I had a blast reading it, as it totally tapped into that alienated art student vibe that can be amusing to read.

Those are just a few, I could probably go on and on but I’m afraid some other titles may be out of print or unattainable. It really bums me out that this genre is so under-appreciated and there isn’t a steady stream of books like this. Image Comics does have a mini series coming up called All Nighter by David Hahn, but I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know if it will deliver the goods, but I’m hopeful.

If anyone reading this knows of any other relationship/teen drama type comics, please share them in the comments!

Ron Richards

Comments

  1. I really like how Dick is being handled (can’t believe I just typed that) right now.  Detective Comics has been exceptionally strong and I love the way he and Damian interact.  I wish Mr. Morrison was still writing them together consistently.

  2. Trouble by Millar

  3. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    My theory right now is that Dick will become Red Robin, just as he was in Kingdom Come. I have no idea what will become of Tim if that happens. I can’t imagine he’ll he shifted back to the Robin role unless Damian becomes Spoiler or something? I dunno.

    Maybe Damian will become something really cool that I don’t even know about.

    Oh, September. I look forward to finding out more about you and I fear you at the same time. 

  4. I love it how Sentry: Fallen Sun has garnered infamy of being one of the worst comic book ever, like a bad joke that won’t go away.

    About the Flashpoint aftermath, I’m glad Conor brought it up. That same subject has other comic book sites guessing and scrambling for answers. I hope one of the ifanboy writers would write something about this topic as I would love to know the opinion of the ifanboy community.

  5. Josh pretty much nailed his answer as to why comics don’t fall in line with other entertainment art forms. But I thought I’d add my own thoughts on the subject as it is an interesting one.

    As Josh said, comics are seemingly a more subjective field. Given that most “critics” on the internet were and still are fans before their critic days, it lends for a lot more bias and leniency that ties directly into fandom. We all know that Ron is going to want to like an X-book a lot more than others. That Conor is going to inherently enjoy Bat mythology more than most. And that The Next Champion is going to continue to like Deadpool for whatever reason. I’m sure this exists to a degree in other fields of criticism. But not to the level it does in comics.

    But I think there is one more aspect to why things are the way they are. The lack of a multitude of “professional” critics and mass-consensus to mold the minds of most readers. We all see it all the time online. Enough big name, important critics start saying something about a movie, the more fans are likely to follow and act as if the general consensus is an endorsement of it’s quality. And most fans like to think highly of their own critical acumen, so they go with what they’re being sold. Basically what I’m saying is that many people out there are sheep. They like what they’re told is good. And rip on what they are told is bad.

    Such a system of mass scale group-think does not exist in comics. One, because there aren’t enough famous or universally regarded comic book critics to lead or trigger the consensus. And second, because there aren’t even close to enough comic book fans to begin with. We’re such a small, segmented niche group. The community is always going to be splintered. With nobody regarding anyone else’s thoughts above their own, that’s why you have people who think in such extremes. Which, I say is a good thing. Regardless if it leads to people enjoying books that I view to be less than good. It’s all about enjoying what you like, right? That to me is what’s great about comics.

  6. as far as criticism…another take is that some comics fans take their characters and titles very very personally to the point where it can no longer be a subjective like or dislike. For some, a writer doing a bad run on their favorite book, is like a personal assault on a family member. I dont’ get it, but i see it all the time.

    Even this week, there was a book that i really enjoyed and had fun with, and someone else said it was “absolutely horrible” for almost all the reasons that i liked it. funny. 

  7. Another good ‘coming of age’ book is Box Office Poison, about a group of post-collage kids living in new york city. The artwork veers to the cartoony, but the relationships are all very realistic and the characters are three dimensional. There’s aven a bit of commentary about the comics industry that’s really heartfelt.

    I also enjoyed Blankets a lot. It’s such a personal story and captures a universal feeling while keeping well drawn characters and situations. And the artwork is fantastic.

    Both those books can be found in a single volume, with their stories completed. No need to hunt down aditional material.

  8. @wallythegreenmonster – That’s prob true as well. Likely the same reason we do not have soap opera critics. 😉

  9. The only thing that bought me back onto a Batman book was the direction and new dynamic of Dick and Damian. I hope DC maintains Dick as Batman because there is a huge canvas to play with, no back to status quo for Batman. Grant made a huge move and I would like to see it continuing the exploration.

  10. The “Two Too Many Batmen” issue has been on my mind recently too. I think my favorite part of Snyder’s most triumphant run on Detective so far is seeing Dick and Gordon interact. So say Bruce becomes the one and only Batman again. Going back to Nightwing doesn’t sit right with me, and I like Tim as Red Robin, so Maybe Dick can retain the “detective” role but ditch the tights and join the GCPD? He was a Bludhaven cop during the No Man Land era, right?

    He could be assigned to Major Crimes and serve as the audience’s POV character in a Gotham Central relaunch!!

    Lately, all my reasoning about Batman leads to the fact that I really REALLY REALLY want a new Gotham Centrai title by Snyder and Francavilla.

  11. @KenOchalek: Man, a Snyder/Francavilla GCPD series would be boneriffic! The idea of Dick in the lead role would be interesting and believable given his history on the force in Bludhaven, but I think he’d hog the spotlight a bit and thus make it less special than Gotham Central was.

    I think they’ll kill him. Breaks my heart, but that’s my theory. Like Conor said, ya don’t go backwards from the cape and cowl. As entertaining as it’s been, it’s gotta end sometime. And they’ve kinda painted themselves into a corner. Maybe his death will be the next Barry Allen. Then someday he’ll come back and Tim will be shoved into the background Wally West style. Now I wanna rip my hair out. 

  12. A coming of age, high school story that I really enjoyed was Plain Janes and its sequel Janes in Love.

  13. conor typed “The fact is, as much as I enjoy Dick”

    origaminkid should actually listen to the latest Ink Panthers podcast, they spend a lot of time discussing high school drama comics

  14. I love Dick as Batman and don’t want him going anywhere. I was bummed when they brought Bruce back even though I always knew it would happen. Killing him off would be cheap and demoting him would suck. Can’t Bruce just become DC’s Steve Rogers or something?