Monday, June 16, 2008

Should Comics Only Be Reviewed After The Story Is Completed?

Ok, this question popped in my mind as I was reading Batman RIP --

Is it fair to review any story arc before it's over?

Say, you have a three-issue arc. Should you wait until you collect all three issue before making a judgment call?

I mean, I can't watch 25 minutes of a movie like Iron Man and then review it, can I? And then watch another section the next month and review that?

This is become more and more an issue for me with floppies, this reluctance to review them until I've either finished the mini-series or the arc.

A lot of these comics are written with an eye towards the eventual trade collection anyhow; decompressed storytelling chopped up in arbitrary 22-page sections.

So, what do you think?

Because, I want to be timely and all, but I have very little desire to review Batman RIP until it's over.

Or reviewing the new Eternals series: "well, from what little I read, it seems good!"

The rub comes in when you've got a monthly or a mini and it needs to be promoted somehow and get good initial sales. So the reviews come in handy for promotional purposes. But again -- how valid are these reviews when they are on incomplete stories?

I mean, Final Crisis might be great, read in a trade next year & isolated from the current hubbub. But if you give me issue one now and say: review. What can I say? Nice art? Grant Morrison books tend to suffer the most from breaking them up and reviewing them this way.

I guess all you can really say about these single issues is your first impressions and how you *feel* the series might go.


  1. I think the big difference is that you're not paying to see only 25 minutes of Iron Man at a time. Comics are put out in smaller chunks and I think that makes part 2 our of 1,345 fair game for review.

    But I'll admit, for some reason it's getting harder and harder to review single issues but that's because right now everything is so tied together that you're only getting a fraction of a story rather than (as Heidi MacDonald would put it) a satisfying chunk. I don't think that's a problem with the reviewer but with the current trends in comic books.

  2. I've found that it works by adjusting the goal posts. In a nutshell, when I'm reviewing periodicals, one of my key questions is whether a book works as a periodical. Whereas, when I'm reviewing more complete works, the publication form becomes less of an issue in itself.

    Obviously, it's not always as clearly cut as that, but as a general rule of thumb, it works for me.

  3. I do think reviews of single issues are valid and should be done. And here's why ... if the first 3 parts of a 6 part arc stink, there is a great chance the last 3 will also stink and people should be afforded the time to jump ship. Or, more optimisticaly, if the first 2 issues are phemnomenal, consumers should hear the story is out there so they have time to find the early issues at their LCBS.

    This whole 'story arcs with the trade in mind' phenomenon drives me crazy because not every story needs that length. And people who reject the floppy must have more cash than I do. I don't want to buy a 120page trade if the material stinks, and the only way I know that is to read the individual issues.

    There are some people who can easily pull off individual chapters that are a coherent part of a whole. I look at Brubaker's Cap as an example. Each issue is moves the story ahead and yet stands alone. That is more difficult for writers like Morrison or for stories which are supposed to start off confusiong only to have the pieces come together in the end.

    Lastly Val, I don't look at individual reviews like reviewing the first 25 minutes of a movie, but rather reviewing the first movie of a trilogy. Certainly 'The Matrix' was a very different movie than the 2 that followed. I own that DVD. I read reviews about the next 2 and waited for them to come to cable. I did not buy the box set of the 3.


  4. No. The format is the flop. If you don't the story stands in floppy format DO NOT PUBLISH IT AS FLOPPIES. I know this isn't the author's call to make in a lot of cases, but you can't use that excuse, since a bad story is an editors fault, too.

    That said, if your floppy gets me to TRUST you, I may reserve judgment.

  5. You can review an episode of "Lost" or "Battlestar" before the season or the series is over. So why not comics?

    If the comic in installment form is unsatisfying, it's the fault of the company and creators, and a perfectly valid aspect to criticize.

  6. This is the reason that I'm only buying trades now. I started moving to them when I had to go with mail order and get away from my weekly fix. Now I prefer them because I get the story all at once.

    But I think it's fair to review single issues. That's the why they're published, so they should be interesting in and of themselves or else.

  7. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Honestly, this is only really a problem for people if the comic in question isn't any good. "Wait for the trade, it'll read better all together." But that isn't the natural set up. Comics are put out in multiple parts. If you can't make it work in it's set format, you fail. And Final Crisis is a huge Fail.

  8. Two issues in you can review a comic, generally how the story has flowed by issue two is indicative of how well the rest of the story is gonna go.

  9. Yes, you can review a single comic magazine issue. It's released as a single unit of content (whether it should be or not), and, like an episode of an excessively serialized television series (or a chapter of a serialized story from the old literary magazines, e.g. The Strand, Astounding Science Fiction), a single comic magazine (this is the longstanding proper term for these, by the way, not floppies) is a discrete unit, for better or worse.

  10. If a comic book company chooses to present a story as a floppy first, then the floppy must stand on its own merits and be reviewed as such.
    Even if the story makes for a superb arc with great pay-offs and development, each individual issue must be treated as its own story. Otherwise, the criticism falls on the publisher for not publishing the story correctly.

  11. There was a point right before I switched to trades where I was reading so many singles that I could no longer keep track of what happened from book to book. I'm talking about maybe 10 to 20 books, and not mediocre ones either. These were books that I enjoyed, by writers and artists that I liked. Now I'm only reading trades, with the exception of two bimonthly books, neither of which I have any trouble following.

    The monthly format just wasn't working for me, as a reader. But reading the reviews of singles has been helpful in deciding which trades to buy. Sometimes all I need from a review is, "Why the hell aren't you reading this???" I can't wait to read Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, and Incredible Hercules. And I'm kind of relieved that I can dismiss all those Countdown books.

    So, yes, my feeling is that comics should be reviewed chapter by chapter. Until one reaches the end, it's all about whether they were able to keep you interested along the way. It's not about reviewing only the first 20 minutes of Iron Man. It's about whether those 20 minutes motivate you to watch the next 20, or whether it motivates you to get up and leave the theater or to wait for the DVD.

  12. I have no problem with reviewing the quality of independent issues before the run is finished.

    If the individual chapters are bleh, there's a problem, even if the entire arc or mini-series is ultimately somewhat good or satisfying.

    After all, the comic book medium itself is inherently episodic, so the storytelling must be adapted to fit that medium.

    It's kind of like people who complain about a movie adaptation making changes to a book. The fact is, it's a MOVIE, not a book. You have to make changes to the material in order to make it work in its own medium.

    I know people who defend Lynch's DUNE, saying "Well, if you read the book, you'd understand." But I'm not reading the book. I'm watching a movie. Write a movie!

    Same goes here. If DC or Marvel says "Hey, give us 7 issues to tell the story." Fine, I (usually) will. But if I'm bored for 6 issues, what does that say about the effectiveness of your storytelling technique?

    Dickens used to publish his books as chapters in monthly publications, but he worked really hard at making each chapter compelling in its own right.

    Comics are no different. If you cant make the chapter interesting and "complete" in its own, little way, then you're just spinning wheels and wasting my time like a cheap soap opera.

    And I concur with what Scott said-- the biggest problem is the control these major publications are putting on writers to tie into multiple titles for "major events" (ie., money generating tent pole products).

    There's no excuse for boring chapters, even if the "big idea" is still cool. That first issue of FINAL CRISIS looks amazing...but I'll be damned if I could give two craps about a couple of Monitors being in love. That's just bad writing. Period.

    You still need to connect with the readers and give them something compelling.

  13. Yes, definitely. In the same way that I can review the first part of a multi-part television story and then, later on, once I see the end make another evaluation of the story as a whole as well as its discrete parts.

    As people have been saying: the format is serial, and there's nothing to stop the reviews from treating the format as intended.

  14. These days, it IS more difficult to review individual issues (speaking from the standpoint of someone who reviewed them weekly for an entire year, and more sporadically now) because, as stated, comics are written for the trades now. What that means is, we get decompressed FRACTIONS of stories rather than in the old days when you had this continuous subplot but a COMPLETE separate story each issue.

    That said, anyone who understands good storytelling or even writing can identify crucial elements in an issue and thus be able to review based on those elements. The hardest issue of any arc I feel is the first, because those are traditionally nothing but set-up.

    The way I've come to reviews is to rate each issue on its own merits, but with each successive issue add how it fits into the grand scheme until the last issue where you then rate it and the entire story in one fell swoop.

  15. While I understand the desire to leave judgment until a "finished product" is produced, I think it's a sad statement on the comic industry that a single issue is no longer considered a "finished product". The process of writing for the trade has led to some great stories, and some truly rotten ones, but it is a process that has left the comic medium bereft of any benefit to purchasing a comic issue-by-issue. If comics are better in trade why do we buy single issues anyway?

    Sometimes Issue by Issue reviews are useless, as useless as chapter-by-chapter reviews of print books would be... and yet if we allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that we have to wait until every issue is in before forming a judgment on it we end up either A) reinforcing that single issues don't matter or B) purchasing 51 issues of #@%! like Countdown, hoping that it'll get better because it's not over yet (something I regrettably did).

    We MUST continue to judge comics (at the very least monthly or Maxi-series comics) by there individual content, for the good of the medium.

  16. I've got ten and twenty year old comics sitting in a stack in my closet from sporadic purchases as a youth and bundles of discount comics from Wal-Mart, and I gotta tell you that I don't buy it that it's tougher to review now. Not a one of those issues will stand on its own. I'd mention my reprints that came with toys, but I'm given to understand they've had pages cut from them so I'm willing to let the blame rest there.

    My post-2000 comic single issues? They stand up better. Heck, my DREAMWAVE Transformers comics stand up awesome.

    The one comic I really wish I had was an old X-Men comic. I probably tossed it because it got crumpled to hell and I spilled grape juice on it, but damned if it wasn't a filler issue as bad as anything put out now. It was one of the issues I think from the Claremont days, where the X-Men were in space and infected with the Brood eggs. There was a kerfuffle because Storm had ostensibly come back from the dead.

  17. Just hearing you use the derogatory term 'floppies' told me all I needed to know about where this was going and I stopped reading there.