Committed: Destroying Recommendations

Recommendations are tricky. It takes a lot of skill to intuit what a person will enjoy, what certain je ne sais quoi will pique another person's interest.

Last week, I spent time reading comic books which had come highly recommended as books that I would specifically enjoy. Unfortunately none of them hit the mark, and I think I know why. In retrospect, I can see that the books were probably only recommended because they were by authors whose work I'd previously enjoyed. In many ways, this is doing a disservice to the authors, by assuming that all of their work will be the same, and appeal to the same audience.

We're not machines, we're not computers, and we aren't a combination of clever algorithms. We have instinct, emotion, and intuition which we can use to perceive many more criteria to recommend reading materials to our friends. Doing something as basic as picking books from the same general genre or by the same authors is only the most superficial beginnings of why to recommend a book. It's not enough though. If that's all you're getting from your friends, comic shops, and review sites, then you're going to get better results from bloody Amazon. (No offense intended towards the good people at amazon, but it is not a person, only a series of programmed responses.) As people, we can go deeper than that when we talk about why we enjoy a book, we can judge it on it's own merits, in isolation from any supposed genre to let the work stand on it's own and be evaluated that way.

Last year, a short 5 issue series - The Destroyer (from Marvel's MAX imprint) - knocked my socks off. (If you didn't read it as it came out, now is a perfect time to go and buy the trade paperback.) I loved it, and on the back of that emotion, people strongly recommended that I read Kirkman's ongoing series Invincible.

In retrospect, now that I've read the first 24 issues of Invincible I really can't see the correlation in recommending one on the back of another. Yes, it's the same authors, and they both examine the private lives of the superheroes, but those are superficial differences. The books have a radically different mood, theme, and style. The Destroyer is filled with graphic, brutal, fluid, violence, Invincible is much less so. The Destroyer imagines an alternate universe in which the comic itself has history and longevity, so that the story becomes the epilogue to an old man's adventure-filled career. Invincible is almost the opposite situation, where a new comic with no history is forced to create (and continuously recreate) it's own history and substance. The art is much lighter and sketchier, overall it's a younger comic book than The Destroyer. If I hadn't been comparing them, and expecting something with similarities to The Destroyer, I might have enjoyed Invincible. Instead I kept waiting for things to get going.

Invincible was a recommendation I'd been hanging on to for almost a year, over that time I built up all sorts of expectations. I bought the first two trade paperbacks and I built it up in my mind as a sure thing. Since The Destroyer was right up my alley, based on my friend's advice, I assumed that Invincible would be too. That was the mistake, right there. It wasn't that it was a bad recommendation, but that I misunderstood the parameters of the information I received. This was an Amazon-style recommendation, not one based on the gut feeling that the book would work for me personally. That's where it all unfolds for me and I begin to understand why I was so averse to Invincible.

There was actually nothing terribly wrong with it, what was wrong was my own idea of it, and when it didn't match up to my fantasy, I felt betrayed and disappointed. Not to get too emotional about it all, but this is where comic book recommendations become like personal relationships with people. Over the years, I've had to admit that every single time I've been overly upset with another person, it comes down to the fact that I expected and desired something different from them. Once I look at it like that, it's hard to be really angry since I have to admit (though I rarely can in the moment of fury) that my anger is mostly at myself, for putting myself in a position where my expectations aren't being met. It's like being upset that the sky is blue. That's the sky, if I want it to be another color, perhaps I should look elsewhere. Similarly, if I want a different reading experience, then I can choose a different book, not be angry at this one for not being what I thought it was.

So here I am, having wasted a good few months salivating over a comic book that didn't really exist. Invincible is okay, but it isn't my dream comic book. I wish it were, and I wish I hadn't had such high expectations of it, but I'm still happy that I got to read it. Maybe in a month or two, when I've gotten over that it's no Destroyer, I can continue reading the series, this time with the understanding of what I'm getting myself in for.

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