Why review comics? or, the Fight Club syndrome

by  in Comic News Comment
Why review comics? or, the <i>Fight Club</i> syndrome

Boy, I sure hope this is coherent.

I was watching Fight Club the other night, because Fight Club is freakin’ awesome.  My wife didn’t want to put one of the kids to bed because she was watching Fight Club, because she also believes that it’s freakin’ awesome.  I said to her that not only is it a great movie, it’s one of those movies that I can’t even conceive of someone not liking.  She agreed.  This is why we have a perfect marriage.

Then I was reading some reviews over at The Savage Critic(s).  I enjoy reading the reviews at The Savage Critic(s), because they’re always pretty interesting, even Abhay’s (which often become incoherent).  But it’s rare that I find something that I want to buy simply because they tell me to buy it.  I always read Chris Sims’ The Week in Ink, because it’s the face-kickingest review on the comics blogaxy!  But again, I don’t think Sims influences me in any real way.  I like his reviews because he’s very funny.  Jog, of course, is probably the gold standard when it comes to reviews on-line.  I often zip over to Spot’s World or Comics Fairplay (Heidi buys way too many comics that she doesn’t like, but her posts are oddly compelling) or any number of other comic book blogs that focus on reviews.  It’s not that I’m really expecting anything earth-shattering, but I do wonder if there are people who like what I like or, if they like something I don’t (or vice versa), why we’re at odds.  But it’s rare to find something I don’t know about or haven’t at least thought about reading.

So why do I review comics, especially those I buy on weekly basis?  I’m not terribly good at it, for any number of reasons.  I probably write them up too quickly and so I miss things that I would usually catch on a second or third reading.  I don’t know enough about art to really give it a fair review (some people would say I don’t know enough about writing to give that a fair review, but I don’t think that’s true), and occasionally I simply provide a plot summary.  Most of this has to do with the time in which I do them, because I like to get them up soon after they’re released.  The longer reviews I do, for bigger works and for Comics You Should Own, I think work better, because I take the time to go over them several times to make sure I’m not missing anything (and I still make mistakes, but oh well).  The weekly reviews are a bit of a different animal, though.

What I try to do with the weekly reviews is simply tell people who read this blog what’s out there, give a basic summary (if it’s something that is new or somewhat obscure) and give my basic impressions of the issue.  The reason I do that is to let people know if there’s something out there that they might enjoy but haven’t heard of yet.  It’s surprising to me, when I talk to some people at my comics shoppe, how few of them even dare try something outside of Big Two Superhero Books.  Not only haven’t they heard of something as relatively mainstream as, say, Dynamo 5, but they won’t even try it after the concept is explained to them.  It’s a frickin’ superhero comic, for crying out loud!  I realize that reviews don’t really sway many people, but I also know that people have left comments here that they were encouraged to try something just because I let them know it existed.  I’m not singling myself out, either – everyone who posts here has had that kind of effect on at least one person.  Heck, I bought Kampung Boy and Alias the Cat because MarkAndrew gushed about them (I think he did – his writing is Burroughs-like, so I’m often too bedazzled by what he writes to fully comprehend it).  That’s why reviews are helpful – not to get you to buy something you’re not inclined to buy (although some reviewers probably believe that), but to let you know that there are things out there that might align with your tastes.  If you like Fantastic Four, you might like Noble Causes but not know it exists.  If you saw Frazer Irving‘s art on Silent War and wanted to see more of it, you might like to check out Gutsville or The Simping Detective.  If you never thought philosophy could be interesting or fun, you definitely should read Action Philosophers!  Some people have read it and not liked it, and that’s fine – at least they checked it out.  There are people out there who never heard of the comic, and that’s a shame.  That’s really all I’m doing with reviews: giving you a general idea what it’s about and whether it’s written decently and drawn competently, and let you decide.  That’s all I can do, really.

Which brings me, sort of, back to Fight Club.  I first saw David Fincher‘s masterpiece in Portland in 1999 at one of the excellent brew pubs/movie theaters that sprinkle the landscape in the Rose City (or at least did back then – I haven’t lived there since 2001).  So we drank some beer, ate some pizza, and marveled at the movie.  It’s one of those movies that I can watch over and over – we bought the DVD and watched the commentary more than once, for crying out loud.  It’s so much better than the book, too, which is kind of astonishing (and the book is decent, just not in the same league as the movie).  I admit, I’m a fan of Fincher – I actually like Alien³, and Seven is another one of those movies I could watch over and over – so I’m not surprised I love Fight Club so much.  I’m stunned whenever I watch the movie.  The three leads give unbelievable performances (I’d say they’ve never been better, but they’re all very good actors who have done a lot of good work), the direction is staggering, the script is brilliant (and Bonham Carter‘s ad-libbed line, “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school,” might be the greatest line in movie history), even the clothes are great (I would kill for Brad Pitt‘s wardrobe in the movie, although I’m not cool enough to pull most of it off).  The twist is surprising but not out of left field, and it follows through to its logical conclusion (with regard to Project Mayhem’s plot, not Edward Norton shooting himself – I’m still not clear how that worked).  In fact, I can’t even comprehend how people can’t love Fight Club as much as I do.  What’s wrong with those people?  (I feel this way about a few movies, including The Fisher King – damn, what a great movie – and The Usual Suspects, but Fight Club happened to be on when I started this post, so it became the comparison movie.)

However, I recognize that, as misguided as they are, there are people who don’t like Fight Club.  I may pity them because they don’t recognize true greatness, but I have to admit they exist.  I also recognize that good reviews of the movie will probably not change their minds.  The only way I can imagine people not liking Fight Club is because they haven’t seen it yet.  Maybe they don’t know of it, and must be told about it!  It’s the same way with comics.  There are plenty of comics that I like but realize why others might not.  Some people just aren’t into superheroes, so no matter how good a superhero comic is, they just aren’t interested.  Others don’t like certain genre types, like science fiction, so they just won’t like that.  I get it.  Most serial comics can be hit-or-miss, even the ones I like a lot.  Every writer or artist might simply have a bad issue or be bound by the terms of the bigger company crossover or just general editorial constraint.  So I’m usually not to baffled if someone dislikes a monthly comic I like.  When some people don’t like certain graphic novels, however, I’m stymied.  Three books this year are so good I can’t believe people would read them and not enjoy them: Alice in Sunderland (review here), Exit Wounds (review here, way at the bottom of the post), and Super Spy (review here).  I know those are the trendy picks of a lot of people for best graphic novels of the year, and there’s a reason: they’re excellent.  I get that Alice in Sunderland is a bit didactic, which might put people off, but the art is so spectacular that it makes up for it, and Talbot’s “story,” while more of a lecture, is so interesting and conspiratorial (in that everything ties back into the north-east of England somehow) that we can forgive the lack of a traditional narrative plot.  It is 30 dollars, which is steep, but you can probably find it cheaper on-line.  Exit Wounds and Super Spy are also brilliant, in their own ways, and are much cheaper than Talbot’s epic.  As with Fight Club, the only reason I can think of that people wouldn’t love these comics is that they haven’t read them.  And if they haven’t read them, it’s possible they haven’t heard of them.  All we’re doing here at the blog is bringing stuff to your attention.  It’s terribly fun to open up a discussion of “One More Day,” but it doesn’t give you any reason to seek out new comics.  I do like reviewing stuff that everyone reads, because then the opinions come fast and furious and more people chime in.  It’s fun, because the more people who read something, the more opinions they have.  However, the most gratifying comments are when someone writes that they had never heard of something and they want to check it out now.  We here at the blog have all gotten those comments, and I hope I’m speaking for everyone when I say those are really cool.  Similarly, I have heard of some comics from commenters here or reviewers at other sites that I have sought.  And everyone is happier for it!

I guess I don’t have much more of a point.  Yes, I’m aware that I take a long time to state a simple truth.  But that’s what I do, right?  It’s very cool to have conversations (such as they are) about various comics here, because out here in the Basin, you don’t often run into people who look too far beyond whatever the Avengers are up to this week (there are a few, true, but it’s always nice to get a wider range of opinions).  So I’ll keep reviewing almost everything I read, because I think it’s good to get the word out about all kinds of comics.  Grass-roots movements will eventually end superheroes’ stranglehold on the industry!  (Okay, maybe not, but it’s nice to dream.)  And I hope 2008 is another good year in comics.  There’s no need to be grumpy, because there’s too much good stuff out there!