The iFanboy Letter Column – 08/14/2009

Friday means many things to many people. For some, Friday means it’s searching for the ultimate party where on the way, you and your friends get stuck in a 1980s movie-esque adventure. For others, Friday means it’s Chinese food take-out for dinner, so Mom can have a break from cooking.

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

 


When you think about picking up a new book, either a new #1 or jumping into an ongoing, what affects your decision most: creative team (artist & writer), title (like you would read Captain America or Batman regardless of who is in the costume), or cast of characters.

Andy G (USPUNX)

That’s an interesting question, Andy, and one without an easy answer. I wouldn’t say that any one factor effects my decision to pick up a new book more than any other. I read comics for a variety of reasons, and they all come into play and mix together in my head when I’m making my purchasing decisions. Characters, creative team, and premise all come into play. Some characters I love so much, I will always give their books a try. There are some creators whose books I will always give a look because I like their work so much. And sometimes a story idea just hooks me and I’ll pick up a book not knowing the characters or creative teams. A few recent examples:

Chew #1 – I never heard of the creative team before this book, and since it was a new book featuring new characters I obviously didn’t know the characters. This one I picked up purely from reading the premise on the comics page. The story sounded really interesting and fun and different, so I gave it a go.

Doom Patrol #1 – I’ve never really had much of an affinity for the Doom Patrol as characters, so I picked this one up purely on the strength of the co-feature creative team of Ketih Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire. When those guys team up, I will buy what they are selling, no questions asked. I will also buy (almost) anything Kevin Maguire draws.

Batman and Robin #1 – Because the characters I am most loyal to all have their own long running books, this was the best I could do for a new comic that featured a character I love. Of course, this book could also fall under the creator category because when Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely work together, I’m buying it.

The great thing about comic books is that they are so varied, and there are so many different ways and reasons to enjoy them.

Conor Kilpatrick

 


Since you guys run a website dedicated to comic book reviews and discussions, I wanted to talk to you guys about a certain aspect of reviewing comic books — the rating system. I don’t know if you’ve talked about this before, but I’m fairly new to the iFanboy community and wanted to express my thoughts. Personally, I am starting to find the idea of rating comics, no matter what the scale is, almost pointless. When someone reviews a comic, it’s the actual words of the review and the specific opinions of the reviewer that count. Giving a comic a certain number or an amount of stars only serves to summarize someone’s opinion in the most succinct manner; they give no insight at all. Arguments and discussions revolve around actual thoughts about dialogue, story, character, etc., so why the need for rating systems? And this applies, of course, to all forms of media. One of the only reasons I see for having ratings is comparison purposes. It’s the easiest way we can rank comics, novels, games, movies, etc. in a larger context. What do you guys think? Are rating systems really that important/necessary in what they do? I suppose for the iFanboy website specifically that a rating system is essential, but what about otherwise?

Erin A. (Legend)

It’s a fair question, Erin, and one that deserves thinking about. So many things in life defy simple categorization and rating, but really, the numbers and the boiling down of an experience to a numerical value is just one way to simplify the way we think about things. Mostly for me, it’s fun. It’s fun to see what other people thought. It’s fun to read a book, and look at it, and decide what you’d call it in the 1-5 spectrum. Does most of the work get more scrutiny than that? Sure it does, but the number is a starting place, and forces you to think hard about the actual value of your experience.

There is one other interesting value to the ratings system. I remember listening to an episode of Radiolab called “Emergence” where they idea was that there was wisdom in groups, and when an average of multiple opinions or guesses are tallied, they’re often eerily close to the truth. I find that to often be the case with the ratings on iFanboy. When all is said and done, the averages seem to come damn close to a valid rating of the quality of a given issue (if there isn’t some glitch giving the book a rating of over 9, which we admit does happen occasionally). Occasionally, I’ll want to rate a book somewhere between one of the whole numbers, but when I look at the overall average, it’s usually just about right. Blackest Night #2 is a 4.5. That’s about right. Blackest Night: Batman #1 is a 4.3. That’s about right. Hack/Slash #25 is a 9. That’s… wait…

Anyway, you see where I’m getting with this. It certainly should be the end all and be all of discussing art, but it’s just shorthand, and we’re okay with that.

Josh Flanagan

 


Me and my brother recently got into an argument whether or not Kingdom Come is a book that someone can just pick up and read without too much knowledge. I argued against that stating that one needs some background knowledge of the DC comic book characters to truly understand the book, and appreciate it fully. My brother argues that one could just read it without ever needing to know more than Batman’s parents were killed, Superman’s home world of Krypton was blown up, and Barry Allen has a big head and a skinny neck.

Caleb

It’s funny that you bring this up, because one of the discussions in my LCS this past Wednesday involved Kingdom Come. Well, specifically it was about Alex Ross and whether or not he’s “over” and it was my opinion that after Kingdom Come, I was pretty much done with Alex Ross, but that’s a whole other conversation, isn’t it?

Ah yes, Kingdom Come. For those who aren’t aware of this classic work here’s the rundown: Published by DC Comics as an Elseworlds tale in the late 1990s, Kingdom Come was written by Mark Waid with art and story input by Alex Ross. Coming off of Ross’ success on Marvels, this was to be his DC masterpiece, and masterpiece it is. It’s probably one of my favorite books of all time, totally up there on the list in that it’s a complete story that is able to encompass the entire DC universe and tell a really deep, meaningful and layered story in just 4 issues.

So can it be read without too much knowledge of the DC Universe, characters and continuity? Well, not to play both sides from the middle, but I think you’re both right to a degree. I’d be very surprised if there was anyone in American society (maybe even the world) who didn’t have a basic knowledge of at least Superman and Batman. I’d even guess that many people are vaguely aware of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and The Flash. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s or 1980s would definitely be aware from Super Friends alone. Unless they’re Amish, then I’d understand if they had no idea who those characters were, but that’s an extreme case. So given that everyone has a basic knowledge of the characters, I think that you could absolutely hand someone Kingdom Come and they could read and enjoy it. Mark Waid is a very good writer and if he wrote a story that wasn’t accessible to everyone, it would fail. And this book definitely didn’t fail.

Now you used the words “appreciate it fully,” which I find interesting and fuels your side of the argument. Kingdom Come is filled with little references and homages and other hidden aspects of the DC Universe that make this book DC porn for the DC fan. If you’ve lived your entire life and eat and breathe DC Comics, then you would pour over every page, trying to identify every character and spot all the easter eggs. But those aspects aren’t mandatory to read and understand the story. Sure, it makes it that much more awesome for you, the DC fan, but the casual reader can get by and never even know they’re there and not have it take away from their experience.

Personally, I read Kingdom Come right around the time where I started reading DC Comics. I had barely any knowledge of the history and the wide breadth of characters and I loved the book. In fact once I was aware of the deep references of the book, that made me want to learn more about DC and go seek that knowledge which was way more fun than not reading the book and missing out on the experience.

One last question though: Barry Allen has a big head and a skinny neck? Really? Is that some sort of DC inside joke thing that I’ve missed out on all these years? I thought we joked about the bow-tie? Hmm.

Ron Richards


Comments

  1. I find a rating system is fairly good when it’s a horde of people giving ratings. The more people that rate it the more the extreme opinions get washed away and the closer to true accuracy a rating is. For example my opinions on movies tend to line up on RottenTomato.com, except horror movies, if ten percent is added to horror movies then it lines up more with my opinion. I find a lot of people won’t give horror a fair shake, use to think the same about comic book movies but as far as movies are concerned, they’re mainstream now.

  2. Kingdom Come happens in just 4 issues?  They’re like super oversized aren’t they?  Like 50 pages.  Making it the equivalent or 8 regular sized issues.  Or maybe 9.

    The thing I don’t like about future stories, or elseworld is that it affects nothing.  Out of continuity, in the future.  "Heroes" had this same stupid problem.  Like as a writer you can "Go in the future, blow everything up and kill a main character!  Yeah, that will impress readers/viewers!"  Only it’s a lame cop-out that affects nothing in the present.  Ultimately it goes nowhere.

    But it was a fun read.

  3. I’d also add Kingdom Come would not be a book to give to a new reader.  I’d give them the best of each DC hero first, then give them Kingdom Come.  The impact of the story would be much greater.

    Same goes for Marvel’s "Civil War" etc.

  4. These are three excellent email’s that reflect quite well on the quality of the iFanbase.  Good job Andy, Erin, and Caleb.

    There are times when I wish all three of you would answer a specific email.  Conor’s response was excellent, but I would enjoy knowing how Josh and Ron select new books, as well.  I’m assuming Ron just looks for an oversized X in the title (JOKE).

    I particularly like Josh’s response concerning ratings.  I would love to see the distributions for the ratings on books with a large number of pulls.  They probably conform to a nice truncated bell curve with a really thin tail.  Maybe you guys should provide the standard deviations to go along with the averages.  I’m certain the statistics nerds (like myself) in the iFanbase would love to see them.

  5. Another though: If you provided confidence intervals (any spreadsheet program on the planet can spit these out easily) to go with the average we could say things like: "BN #2 was significantly better than Mayhem #1." and actually have statistical proof to back the claim.

  6. I have given Kingdom Come to my civilian coleagues and they had no problems reading it. I think Kingdom Come can be a gateway drug for potential new comic readers. It can open new vistas for them to explore. It does a fairly good job of encapsulating the DC comics experience.

    Also the out-of -continuity stories allows the writer to explore ideas he/she normally would not be allowed to explore. Sometimes it’s bad but occasionally we get real gems.

  7. The Barry Allen thing is a refference to another Favorite Elseworld of mine, JLA The Nail.

    In the TPB Alan Davis(the Writer) wrote a little Afterword called: "Barry Allen has a Big head and a Skinny Neck" basically saying one of the big things he’s learned from Silver Age Comics. To me it felt like it was something to say there, and sorta put a little thing in it, like Waid and Ross did in Kingdom Come. 

    I’m certain Connor would have recognized it or at least thought it was familiar.

  8. LOL I have loads of friends in Zambia who used to be street children. They all wear Spiderman and Superman tops. I guess there pretty freakin’ well known then, huh?

    I can just imagine a wee Amish kid opening a trap door and going down to his tattered copy of Action Comics to read it for the bazillionth time. It’s like porn for him…!

  9. When I was in 6th grade, my dad handed me his trade of Kingdom Come.  It was the first comic I read, and it’s the reason I read comics now.  It’s my Excalibur #19.

    Jus’ sayin’

  10. The thing that annoys me with the iFanboy rating system is that it seems every book is rated too high. Even books that are universally trashed get like 3 which by the rating system is good.

     

  11. I think every person has a different idea of what those numbers mean.  I don’t give a 5 unless it was a nearly perfect book.  4 is pretty good.  3 didn’t suck, but wasn’t exciting.  2 just didn’t work for me.  and 1 was abysmal. But everyone has different tastes, and you might have different tastes from the herd.

    Netflix has 2 ratings.  It shows you the one it THINKS you’ll give a movie, and then it gives you what the rest of the community rated it.  Their guess for me is usually 3/4 to 1 star lower than the community.  And that’s about right.

  12. Usually it just comes down to the fact that a book gets a 3 because it didn’t do anything for me.  Didn’t make me want to make love to it, and didn’t make me want to burn it and dance on it’s grave.  I have yet to pick up a book that I hated enough to give a 1 to.

  13. That and usually, you don’t know a book is bad untill it’s too late, and then you can’t bring yourself to accept it. I mean it doesn’t matter how bad Green Lantern is, I’ll still give it a 4 each issue and almost Jizz my pants waiting for the next, even if I complain about how bad the issue sucked.

    But then there are books like Secret Six Six degrees of Devestation, that you just can’t ignore is terrible even if you though Villains united was the best thing ever, it’s just a shitty book and you know it enough to give it a 1. But that book came out what, like three years ago, and to be honest that’s the only book I can think of that is universally bad, so really, those don’t come out that often.

  14. But, KickAss… Cival War and Kingdom Come were both the first Marvel and DC books I’ve read respectively. We truly are martal enemies. Please don’t throw my girlfriend off a bridge and/or poison my city’s water supply.
    I’m with Ron, you can definitely enjoy it with little prior knowledge of the DCU, and I will probably enjoy it more once I read it again with my now greater knowledge of the universe and its characters.
    Further, you say that one should read the best books of the respective characters involved, but

    1st: Green Lantern and Flash are kind of just nebulous forms of the two character concepts. You can tie the two to their Golden Age counterparts, but I doubt you can find a great story for a modern reader who’s not read many comics prior that star Alan Scott and Jay Garrick (outside of JSA, which doesn’t really star the two, and I’d surmise that it’s something that a reader will more likely take to once they have an appeciation for the DCU, as was my experience).
    2nd: doing so is like assigning homework. Also, I have a harder time getting through a comic starring a character I don’t know than I do one where the same character is part of the team.
    And 3rd: "Best" is in the eye of the beholder. I lent out my copy of I Kill Giants, praising it, warning others, "You will cry." When I got it back, my responses were, "Yeah, I didn’t really connect to it like you did… I mean, it was sad…" and "Oh, I liked it." My other friend would probably hand you ‘For Tomorrow’ or ‘Our Worlds at War’ as the best Superman stories… because he’s not bright.
    All in all, I say you hand Hypothetical Man your copy of Kingdom Come, and just help ’em through it if they get confused or need clarification. Or link them to Wikipedia.

  15. Great e-mails this week.

    For me, the rating system is just fun to do. It’s not the best way to get an in-depth opinion of a particular book, but it works as a method of gauging the overall reception of the book, in my mind.

    Personally…

    1: Poor
    1.5: Below Average
    2.0: Average
    2.5: Above Average
    3.0: Good
    3.5: Really Good
    4.0: Great
    4.5: Really Great
    5.0: Excellent

  16. Thanks for answering my questions.  I hadn’t even thought of the "average rating" aspect when I was writing, but you guys are right about its importance.  I look at those average ratings a lot, whether it’s on iFanboy or even Amazon, so I couldn’t imagine that type of system not existing.  I think the one great thing about this shorthanded method, "average ratings" in particular, is that it impels people to look deeper into the reviews and find out more.  If I see that a really popular book, like Green Lantern, has an average rating of 2, it makes me want to look at all those user reviews and discuss the book even further.  The ratings are a sort of precursor to the actual opinions.

  17. I find this whole ‘wisdom of crowds’ concept fascinating, and I think there’s a lot of truth to it, within limits.  What the numerical ratings on ifanboy tell us is, "What do the type of people who are disposed to come to this site to pull and rate books think about the type of books that they are disposed to buy and read"?  That’s not the same thing as whether an average person, or even an average comic book reader, would like the book.  And it also doesn’t take into account stories and creators who are extremely divisive.  If half an audience hates a book and half absolutely loves it, the mean/average rating isn’t going to give a good reflection of what most people thought of it.     

  18. The ratings are also from a self-selecting sample group. "This book is good, according to the type of people who already buy this book." I would hate for people to see all those 4-star ratings and get the mistaken impression that Deadpool is a good book. If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.

    Netflix and iFanboy alike get me into trouble with ratings, because I always thought 3 stars meant "pretty good, actually," until someone belatedly pointed out that, if they were letters instead of numbers, a 3 would be a C. All those 3s I’ve been throwing around like candy from a Mardi Gras float were never meant to be Cs.

  19. First,  the last few issues of Deadpool, NOT Deadpool: Merc with a mouth have been good.

     

    On the subject of comic ratings, I do believe that sometimes there are some questioning of the ratings system.  I will say that the saving grace of your show for those comic-goers out there who are anti-cape is that you guys tend to cover all the obscure titles, as well as the Ubermensch.  It is reinforced by Connor’s qualifying standards, Ron’s childlike giddiness (although sometimes overboard with Astonishing X-men and Young Liars…sucks!!)  and Josh’s devil may care attitude of hating on everything but finding the good "parts".  You are right though, enough grading does create an overall accurate rating of the book.  

     

    Ron, please give up the X-men.  I read it for 15 years and after every storyline repeated at least twice, I was done.  Kitty Pryde is a boring character. 

  20. @Jimski Netflix claims that I have 98% ratings in common with a review who tore apart most of my favorite films. Sometimes I think it secretly hates me.

    I’m a big fan of the Average ratings. I generally don’t comment on/view the pages for books I don’t pull, so it’s nice to take a quick glance at what I’m not reading and have a good litmus by which to judge what I should give a try. 

  21. @Captbastrd – You want to keep reading comics wrong, that’s fine by me!  *Wink!

  22. I just read Kingdom Come for the first time a week or two ago.  What are you supposed to read after Kingdom Come?  The JSA run?  Or does something else come in between all that?  Someone fill me in here?

    I live and breath DC, they definitely my favorite company/publisher.  I didn’t enjoy Kingdom Come all that much though. It was worth reading the once, don’t get me wrong, but I was ready to take whatever somebody would trade me for it as soon as I was done.  Just not my thing, I suppose?  Oh well.

  23. Kingdom come is quite stand alone, but you could read the other stuff inspired by it, like the Hypertime book: The Kindom, and the Spectacular Thy Kingdom Come. Either is good to their own degree, but really you should read them to decide what you think.

  24. My only problem with the ratings is that sometimes it can be misleading to readers. I have seen a bunch of times where a comic gets a high score, but then when you see the reviews it’s not really the good. Like you’ll see a 4.8 on lets say…Amazing Spider-Man (just random) but when you read the actual reviews the average review for them could be a 3. I think reading the reviews is a little bit more helping then numbers. Cause as Penn and Teller puts it: ‘Numbers are Bullshit’.

  25. i think that any rating system or somebody who rates system should be consistent above all.  if i can get a feel for a critic’s taste and what they like in relation to what i usually like, than i can use them to gauge stuff that i’ve never tried before, regardless of whether i actually agree with the critic or not.

  26. @KickAss FYI, Kingdom come was supposed to be canon. That’s the reason for the lack of Hal jordan and superman’s flashback mullet.

    And most in continuity books suck because they are confined by rules dictated by an audience that does not want to change anything. You can’t do anything with them because towards the end they have to have a contrived ending resetting everything back to status quo. So, most of the awesome stories happen out of continuity.

  27. I like the rating system on ifanboy.

    What I can’t stand is the idiots at pitchfork that give music a 6.2 or 4.7 or some inane number. 

  28. @ muddi900

    Tell that to Geoff Johns.

  29. @muddi900 Or Morrison. Or Rucka. Or Bendis. Or Fraction. Or Busiek. Or Waid. (need I go on?)

  30. @TNC – That is why confidence intervals would give you some useful info.  If a book has a relatively high number of pulls and an average rating of 4.0, it would appear to be a solid book. However, if that same book has an average of 4.0, but really wide confidence intervals (say 3.0 to 5.0), then we could tell that there is considerable disagreement on the actual quality of the book.  On the other hand, if the book has a 4.0 with really narrow confidence intervals (say 3.8 to 4.2), then there is considerable concensus on the book, and we can be pretty confident that we will enjoy it, as well.

  31. @ KickAss
    I… what?

    I just thought of what would be a great, more modern precursor to Kingdom Come: New Frontier! Granted, it’s not the cannon origin of the characters (but, original editorial intent aside, neither is KC) nor does it fully integrate the Flash & GL that those in KC are based on, but it shows essentially what the Justice League stands for. They’re just great bookends to eachother, no matter how you slice it.

    My rating system is a little lopsided:
    5: Awesome! Really affected me, emotionally or with humor, or I could simply have found no flaw in it.
    4: Good, it’s the most common one I give out. That should mean "average" but since I intend to get only good books, it kinda evens out.
    3: Average, or an otherwise good book with something wrong with it.
    2: Poor, or left me feeling uneasy
    1: So bad my eyes hurt afterwards (I don’t think I’ve given any 1s out y-, oh, no wait, I read Ultimates 3, having no prior knowledge of Jeph Loeb)

  32. @muddi900- I don’t read alot of DC, but lots of DC fans always say DCs best books take place out of continuity.  Not true with Marvel.  Their best stuff happens in continuity, which I prefer.

    Kingdom Come, Dark Knight Returns, Superman Red Son, just to name a few of DCs best out of continuity-non-significant stories.

    @Catpbastrd- Nice Loeb slam, I can dig that!

  33. Identity Crisis, Crisis on Ifninite Earths, Death of Superman, just to match the three off of the top of my head great books by DC in continuity.

    The issue with Marvel is not that they don’t make a good out of continuity books, it’s that they don’t make many, or when they make a great one like Bullet points(I think) it fades to obscurity if it doesn’t have zombies in it. Which is kinda of sad.

    The thing with DC is that it can sum up it’s best heroes in small out of Continuity books. In that regard their Elseworld or Imginary stories end up being the most "memorable" when in fact some great stuff happens in continuity, like Action Comic Brainiac, Sinestro Corps war, Batman No Man’s Land and other somewhat continuity heavy books.

  34. The biggest and best books at DC for the last year have been in continuity.  Green Lantern for example.

  35. @stuclach: That’s basically what I was thinking. If the numbers are close together then the system works. If they don’t, then you should definitely take some time reading those well made reviews to see why there is such a vast difference in the scoring. Then again you should always read the great reviews on here.

    It just bugs me sometimes when someone scores a weird number for a comic, video game, tv show; etc. Like gametrailers will give a game a 6.8, or ign.com will give a comic a 8.6….and I’m thinking….what the hell does that mean?

  36. [No one who has read God Loves, Man Kills can think Kitty Pryde is boring. It’s not possible.]

    Moving on to the ratings… I rarely give any book a five and it’s unlikely I’ll see two 5 star books in a week. The books I really like in a week tend to get fours, better than average books get a three and average to ok books get a two. Anything that sucks gets a 1. The thing about the ratings here, as we can see from the comments is that the stars mean different things to different people.

     

  37. But it all tends to average out in the end, which was my point.

  38. @Ron – Your reply can also be applied to Darwyn Cooke’s Justice League: New Frontier in that, as long as people have some knowledge of the characters it is just as enjoyable. 

  39. I’m coming into this article late, but I’d just like to add my two cents to the rating system/reviewing debate. I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I think that a numerical grade is totally fine: reducing your judgment of a work of art to a number is useful in a few ways. On the other hand, I find that most written reviews are pretty much totally useless–UNLESS they spend a good amount of their word-count explaining "WHY" the reviewer feels the way he does. A review that basically just says "I loved this comic! Writing and art were great!" is totally useless; you may as well just give the book a "5" and be done with it. If you’re not going to provide some insight into the book, then several sentences stating your opinion really only serve to reinforce others’ opinions, or else make people who disagree with you feel indignant or puzzled or whatever. On the other hand, reading well-written and insightful reviews are valuable no matter what, whether we the readers happen to agree with the bottom-line "grade". But as I said, on the other extreme, just a blanket number grade is useful in its own right; it’s nice to know how the audience at large feels.