Welcome to a brand new feature here at No Flying No Tights, Opposing ReViewpoints.
It’s important, as reviewers and collection builders, to acknowledge our own biases and work to maintain balanced selections. That doesn’t mean we don’t have those titles we can’t like, and get a tiny bit of glee out of sharing those dislikes. We all acknowledge, in this discussion, that the titles and creators mentioned have merit for many readers. They just didn’t work for us.
In our Opposing ReViewpoints series, we at NFNT will be duking it out (verbally, only occasionally physically) over titles, creators, and other comics issues. Our staff will take sides: hate or love, offense or defense. Since it’s comics, everyone, no matter how open-minded, has that one thing that just irks them (flames, flames on the side of my face!), we hope this will be an entertaining forum for critiquing the format and acknowledging just how subjective reading and reviewing can be.
In our first installment, I invited the entire staff to chime in with a basic example: the book or series they hated that everyone else loved.
TOON Books and The Stone Frog
Jennifer W.: I am not an unadulterated fan of TOON books. I love the idea and they’ve done some great things for comics, especially for beginning readers, but many of their books seem to sacrifice story to art. I particularly disliked Stone Frog, their foray into graphics for middle grade. It received generally positive reviews and I’ve had some vigorous arguments with people about it. People seem to like the complexity of the art, but I feel it lacks in child-appeal – and that goes for many of TOON’s titles, which have significantly lower circulation numbers than most easy readers.
If you haven’t read it, Stone Frog is a dream-like blend of Alice in Wonderland and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend with intricate black and white illustrations and a sometimes marvelous, often terrifying dream landscape that combines to create a new adventure that is firmly rooted in classic children’s literature.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single child who’d be interested in reading this. It’s about a beginning chapter level, very simple dialogue, old-fashioned clothes and behavior, some very frightening images, and the whole “dream fantasy” plot is rather cliche.
Snow: My quibble with Tiny Titans is also appeal-related. I don’t doubt that the comic attracts kids, particularly because of the adorable art. And I’m sure they think the comics are silly. Why are those crazy characters doing those crazy things? But therein lies the problem: it’s not a comic for folks (of any age) who don’t know the entire DC Universe backstory. Too many of the jokes depend upon the reader knowing about various “crises” or different incarnations of characters and stuff like that. Tiny Titans is a comic for devoted fans to buy and maybe share with their kids, not a comic to get readers hooked on American superheroes. I’d rather see DC (and Marvel) spend the time and effort to create comics for kids that introduce their characters in a kid appropriate fashion. They give kids tons of opportunities to buy shirts and toys and a ton of other stuff with their characters’ images on them. Why can’t they create some actual comic books at the same time? Isn’t that why a comic book company exists?
Okay, so my rant might be more about the availability of superhero titles for kids from the big two. But I’m sick of folks saying, “But Tiny Titans is for kids!” No, it’s for fans, and it’s appropriate for kids. There’s a difference.
Jennifer W.: I definitely agree Snow. I found Tiny Titans mildly amusing (even though I know very little of the universe) but I didn’t purchase it for the library because my patrons aren’t really interested in that type of comic – they want “real” stories about the superheroes they love, like Batman the Brave and the Bold! But they’re all 6-8 years old. Sigh.
Sword Art Online
Jessikah: Everyone seems to applaud Sword Art Online (SAO) for the story, the depth of the characters, and the darker psychological elements.
Here’s my beef. I like the idea of SAO. People all around the world are playing a multiplayer online role-playing game, and suddenly their minds are trapped in the world. Disconnecting could kill them! I especially liked it the first time when it was called .hack//Sign. Seriously. .hack//Sign isn’t that old of a series. Do people not realize that SAO is basically the same plot?
But, I digress: similar scenarios between anime series isn’t all that uncommon. My real issue is that I felt SAO did nothing to improve upon the ground had .hack//Sign covered. Sure, SAO is super pretty and all, but I didn’t find the characters to be all that intriguing. The protagonist, Kirito, felt kind of dull, and in the spirit of a cliche harem anime, every girl he runs meets falls in love with him! Eventually he develops a meaningful relationship with a girl called Asuna who is far more interesting than Kirito himself. By the 13th episode, the story in SAO is seemingly wrapped up in a haphazard manner, but then you find out that it’s not actually freaking over yet! Basically there is a whole other half season and this time, they turn Asuna into a damsel in distress! Why? Maybe if the original story was drawn out across these episodes, the motivation of the (first) villain would not have felt so contrived, and the characters could have been better developed. I felt that failed to live up to the precedent set by its big sister, which kept plot twists coming up until the very last scene.
Attack on Titan
Allen: I’ve got beef with Attack on Titan. At first, I think the show does a BRILLIANT job of conveying the terror and sheer horror of a population having their world turned upside down by the invading Titan. Eren’s rage is palpable and understandable (if a bit over the top) and the method of fighting Titans is pretty damn cool. It’s like Spider-Man but with swords!
What really kills the show is the twist. SPOILER WARNING!!!
(Having Eren turn into a Titan was pretty weak and infuriating to me. The show ceased being about the challenge of humanity and how they will respond in the face of apocalyptic horror and turns into a fight between monsters. I have yet to finish it, but the twist really sucked the wind out from the sails.)
Jessikah: Allen, I did enjoy AOT, but I totally agree with you. I almost quit after that happened. I was so angry, I refused to pick it back up. Then curiosity got the best of me.
My Boyfriend is a Monster Book #3 (My Boyfriend Bites)
Andrew: Yes, clearly I was not the intended audience for this book, but I read the first one and thought it was actually pretty decent as it tossed out some of the horrid cliched stereotypes, such as the female lead being dependent upon the guy. Instead in the first book we had a female lead that was a star athlete, star student, well respected and could handle her own. I had thought (mistakenly as it turns out) that the series would follow that couple along. Instead, they did one offs showing different “monsters” and the third one, of course, is vampire related.
And maybe, maybe I should have stopped at the vampire part, but I figured I had started reading it, I should at least give it a try. Instead I read a book that made my brain hurt from the sheer insanity of events that happen. A good fantasy book that’s set in a recognizable realistic universe, like this one tries to be, has a good balance of both elements. In this one Jean-Paul, the “vampire” saves the female lead when she falls into an empty elevator shaft…by jumping down and landing before her and catching her. And I can get that. And I can kinda stretch my brain to see him stopping the falling elevator. My brain breaks when the walls collapse on top of the elevator…and he’s still able to hold it. And then it only takes two hours for rescue crews to get them out and let them leave…even though clearly what he did was beyond weird. And that they were going to take an elevator down in a two story building even though they walked up the stairs to begin with. And the female lead doesn’t figure there’s something weird with the dude for being able to hold up an elevator?? It takes her another chapter before she goes “Hey…maybe he’s not human.” Basically it felt like a really, really, really bad B movie that had gone awry and they just went “eh…we’ll just keep going.”
But everyone else that reviewed it seems to love it!
Jennifer W.: Heh. I love that series, but only specific ones. The vampire one…uh, no. Some of them the plots are really strained and I felt that the quality of the artwork really varied. The first two are my personal favorites.
Jeffrey Brown’s autobiographical comics
Thomas: Any time Jeffrey Brown writes about his own life, I want serial killers to appear in his book and end the story.
Don’t get me wrong, Brown’s proven over the course of multiple books and genres that he can flex his humor and creativity, as in the Star Wars books. His autobiographical works, however, are as aimless and shoegazing as a wordless “mumblecore” movie. I read Every Girl Is The End of The World For Me and A Matter of Life and dread the thought that the rest of his growing catalog might be just as dull. Maybe I’m reading his books incorrectly or don’t have a properly calibrated sense of humanity, but his sad-sack earnestness and white-bread existence only take the plot so far before I get impatient with watching him live a painfully ordinary life.
How far can emotional nuance get stretched before it’s just a monotone signal, signifying nothing?
The Walking Dead
Jessikah: I know everyone loves The Walking Dead, but it just bores me to tears. People are always talking about the characters, their interaction, the story, etc. I believe that they all really find these things worthy. I’ve tried to give it another shot, but the only emotion I get out of reading it is, “Meh”. I really wish I didn’t feel this way, because I constantly hear friends and colleagues discussing it, and get that distinct memory of how I felt as a child when I was too sick to go to a birthday party. Everyone else is having a good time with it, dammit!
Allen: I don’t blame you on that, Jessikah. For the comic, I was pretty much done with the whole thing around the time the characters found themselves in DC. I really liked it at first because the characters were interesting and I liked the idea of an ongoing zombie adventure. Problem is, it gets rote real fast. As for the TV show, I wish I stopped before season 3.
Thomas: The series is often sold on the notion that it depicts what surviving a zombie apocalypse would *really* require, but the story became, as Allen said, rote. I stuck with the series, partially because the hardcover editions were so nice to read, and the series had its ups and downs as it went, but the main villain who eventually replaced the Governor as the “big bad” was so over the top and juvenile I had to quit. For the record, it was hardcover book nine that broke me, which included the polarizing issue #100.
Andrew: I enjoyed the first few issues of The Walking Dead because it was different, or at least different enough for me for a time. It reminded me of one of my favorite sci-fi stories, The Day of the Triffids which looks at surviving the apocalypse after living plants wipe out humanity. And those first few issues captured that pretty well…but after that…it was just so much of the same and dystopia type future that I keep seeing that it just became dull and boring to me. The Gutters webcomic did a strip about it that sums up how I feel about it pretty well.
Garrett: I’m not a huge fan of horror in general, and I really don’t like zombies in particular. Already, the series had two strikes against it as far as I was concerned when I started reading it, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because I was really enjoying Invincible.
I got through book 5 of the skinny trades, and I just couldn’t be bothered to purchase any more. I think my problems with the series mostly stem from my complete disregard for the use of zombies. I think that zombies have utterly ceased to be useful for representing anything anymore…they are tired, overdone, and have long since overstepped their roots in symbolizing capitalist consumerism or anything else remotely analogous to metaphor. As far as I’m concerned, they have become nothing better than disaster porn that lacks anything sympathetic about the nature of the destruction. If you look at Godzilla, for example, you see a creature that is capable of emotion despite being a force of nature. With zombies, they might as well just be a another earthquake or something. I do not find anything interesting about them, at all. I saw a trailer for some ridiculous super-storm movie (I can’t even remember the name) at the theater for X-Men and zombies might as well be the exact same thing. With The Walking Dead specifically, I also simply grew weary with the story. It’s all grim, all the time, and while I understand that grim is a big part of horror, I just can’t get behind following a story so non-stop fraught with peril. The plotting and the dialogue became a bit juvenile for me, and that’s an argument I have with Invincible as well…they seem to have irrevocably moved into soap opera territory and that bores me to tears.
Jessikah: I started off enjoying it as it was a shoujo manga with a punk rock edge. As people suggested I might, I really dug the art work and the characters. Then they all started making insanely awful choices, and acting like flakes! And it kept getting worse! I wanted to scream at both Nanas through the pages. There was a point when I literally (not even joking here) threw the book across the room in frustration. After that I stopped. I actually was emotionally invested in the story, but I couldn’t stomach it anymore. That was a huge disappointment to me.
Robin: I’ll finish this installment. Those who have spoken to me know already that I just really, really cannot stand the way that Frank Quitely draws people. There are many admirable things about the man’s work, from his pacing to his panel layout to his perspectives. All good. And yet, I cannot help but cringe when I see his character designs.
This really punched me in the gut when I was reading Warren Ellis’s The Authority, way back in 2000 (and now I feel especially old.) I adored the whole package, from Ellis’s writing to the elegant art crafted by penciler from Bryan Hitch. Then in came Frank Quitely (and Mark Millar on writing) and…I almost had to give the series up.
We went from this:
And, as an example, Apollo and Midnighter went from looking like this:
Always with the heavy jaws and creases around the mouth and heavy, heavy limbs. Don’t get me started on how frightening the women look.
I’ve warned new comics readers, when diving in to traditional superhero comics, they need to be prepared for the fact that the writers and artists will change. It’s especially unsettling to those who are used to media (manga, television) that rarely if ever change the basic look of characters. It’s a bit like watching your favorite TV show, and then suddenly, mid-season, the showrunners swap out all the actors for folks who look a lot like the original cast of characters but are not actually the same people. This can happen with the writing, too, but we’re all more used to writing shifting over the course of serials. Art, on the other hand, causes much more of a gut reaction.
What do you think?
Come on, share with us your deepest, darkest criticisms. There has yet to be a list that no one wants to argue about. Bring it.