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Friday, September 4, 2009

How Exactly Does The Buy Pile Work?

Reprinted from MySpace

Last week, I got a really thoughtful email from one of the people who read my weekly reviews column asking about the inner mechanics of what's happening when I create it. I'll include the original email (he wasn't interested in having his name dropped) and then respond forthwith.

I read your column every week. Sometimes I agree, a lot of times I don't, that's how opinions work. I do notice you hardly review the x-men books at all. A lot of people discriminate against the x-men citing all the errors, inconsistencies, and huge backstory to keep straight. I'm fine with that. But look at any Superman, Batman, or Final Crisis titles right now. Seriously, what the hell?

My point is a lot of revelations came to pass in this week's Wolverine Origins, and I was little disappointed to see no mention of it in your column.

I buy between twenty and thirty comics a week, so I would love to know how you possibly narrow it down to an average of three a week (last week was 6 buys, WOW!) Also you have different categories: buy, good enough to read, good enough to mention, and total crap. So how is it that half the comics that come out each week don't fall into any of these four categories? How do you choose what to mention or review or omit completely in your article?
It is true that -- numerically -- I hardly ever read X-Men "family" books, with Cable, X-Force, X-Factor and Matt Fraction's Uncanny X-Men being exceptions (I also read Secret Invasion: X-Men). From a sheer statistics standpoint, I probably read less than forty percent of all the mutant-minded Marvel product. I also almost never read (for example) Love and Rockets or World of Warcraft or any of the Battlestar Galacticacomics. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons ...
  1. I center on writing about comics that either hook me with their premise (Noble Causes), books I've had recommended that won me over (Fables) or series where I have a strong grounding in the characters and/or story (Avengers, Justice League of America) where I believe I would have an interest in owning the comic if the story is strong enough.
  2. If I've read something for a long time and it's consistently gone badly over an overwhelming amount of time, I stop reading to save myself the aggravation --Superman/Batman is approaching that point.
  3. I reserve the right to like and not like anything I read based on reasons aesthetic, literary and financial as circumstances permit.
What does all that mean? Well, for example, there used to be a comic called Monolith,written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. It was well drawn, well plotted, well conceived and well executed. However, I found it endlessly boring because I could not find a place where I could relate to the story. As a trained writer and editor, I was able to recognize the skill and craft of the work while recognizing that I did not like it. This level of differentiation was perfectly reasonable to me, and in order to not give a well-done piece of product a series of lackluster or possibly negatively-perceived reviews, I stopped reading. I never wanted to tell anybody that Monolith was a bad comic book -- there is no empirical way I could make such an argument. I also didn't wanna sit praising a comic that I essentially didn't like -- that seemed to take something away from my work. No harm no foul there.

Also, while we're here, Batman books have many periods of inconsistency between them (and inside them), ditto Superman titles, and Final Crisis was a train wreck in slow motion. I don't deny that. I keep reading many of those to stay abreast of many things happening ... or in the case of Superman, always hoping that I'll somehow recapture the wonder the character used to inspire in me before I saw him as a self-righteous toady of the oppressor class.

To be more specific about the X-titles, after reading the work through a lot of the 90s (and yes, those were admittedly bad times) it became less about things that matter and more about characters being killed for shock and resurrected to satisfy the urgings of deluded fans. Jean Gray died and was resurrected and replaced by a weird clone who had a baby with her man and that baby was sent to the future to heal from a techno virus and that baby then came back as an almost-fifty-year-old guy with a gun that looked weird and ... I just got tired typing all that. Don't get me into how many different things Hank McCoy has mutated into -- oy. So when you mention Wolverine, the man of the multiple overlaid memories, one of the most overused and overhyped characters in the history of sequential fiction, I either want him simple -- slicing and wisecracking -- or not there at all. Which is not to say, again, that I can't recognize the craft in things -- the "Old Man Logan" storyline has its merits, and is surely depicted gorgeously, and I even bought a standalone issue where he was trapped in a pit with a heavy machine gun pointed at him -- but I'm currently predisposed against the series involving "the children of the atom."

I could, say, slash on that sort of book in every column. Conversely, I could stop reading the work when there's such a preponderance of evidence that its not gonna work for me. X-Infernus? Wolverine: Origins? X-Men: Noir? I'm cool. There's no need for me to keep bashing things like that and there's no need for those comics to keep getting the Hannibal Treatment. Right? I don't read everything -- I can't, there's not enough time and I'm not cognizant enough to speak on what's happening with any authority.

Anyway, on to the next question. "How do I narrow it down?" Well, I look at the weekly new releases on the website of heartless national monopoly Diamond Comics Distributors and read through to see what I deeply suspect I'll enjoy before I even get in the car. I know my tastes, and I'm very picky. Once I've found what I want, I copy and paste the names and issue numbers of what I want into Palm Desktop and synchronize (along with every title I plan to read) the whole shebang to my Treo 680. I make the hard Wednesday night drive from Pasadena to Culver City and go through the store, grabbing everything on my list. If I have time, I look through the "new comics" box and find stuff I may have missed (Transformers comics often slip through), the read.

How do I narrow it down? It's easy, most of the time. If I don't have a vocal, clear positive reaction at least twice, I am not buying the comic. Most weeks, so many books fail to accomplish that, it's normally a slaughterhouse. "Good enough" isn't normally good enough for me. I don't want to spend a lot of money, I don't find most books entertaining enough to pay for (I use the model of TV -- I watch much more for free than I would pay for, even given the Ax Men and Philly Cream Cheese commercials that run on Hulu) so that means just getting things that really do it for me.

That was a longer answer than I planned, but hopefully it did the job. Right, then.

Watching (Hulu): The Simpsons "How The Test Was Won" (it's really a terrible episode)


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