The Importance of Scathing Reviews

If you track best sellers, you know that many of them are not loved by the critics. Take, for instance, the vicious (and often brilliantly funny) reviews of a title that appears on the NYT Graphic Books Best Seller List, Justice League: Cry for Justice. I admit, it can be fun to see a critic tear into an enormously popular title, such as the amusing reviews of Dan Brown’s latest tome.

The comics world, especially when you move outside the standard review journals and into industry and blog reviews, can be wildly entertaining as a forum for criticizing the bizarro turns that comics sometimes take. They can be especially critical when the publishers of the great universes of Marvel and DC come up with oddball moves to rejuvenate a series, a character, or their entire world. All Star Batman and Robin, created by the superstar team of Frank Miller and Jim Lee, was initially met with harsh reviews, accusing both creators of turning into horrible mockeries of their former greatness. The Green Lantern: Blackest Night storyline, which is both incredibly popular and embraced by many fans, also was chastised as an overly complex fantasy that only appeals to compulsive fans (for example, Shaenon Garrity’s commentary: “See, I think that’s an awesome idea for a comic book. For ten-year-olds. It’s the part where it’s being written for adults that worries me.”)

Since most comics initially appear as serial issues allows for a lot of dissection and brewing commentary before a story line is finished, and roundtable reviews easily facilitated online make for entertaining reading while also airing opinions as each chapter comics to light. Check out Comics Alliance’s roundtable review of the latest Avengers incarnation by Brian Michael Bendis which criticizes the reinvention of a yet another major superhero franchise.

Aside from indulging in a mean-spirited giggle, negative reviews help selectors figure out how long a title might last. Are fans are running out and buying certain titles simply to complete their collections or is it something that will gain some ground and be popular despite initial reactions? Most of the time library selectors ignore snide comments and purchase what our public is clamoring for. But what if there’s no local interest in the latest big wave on the best seller lists? How do we judge epic tales that come out in many volumes before we get the full story (such as Blackest Night or DC’s Final Crisis)?

This is where reviews of individual titles in a series can be helpful, even though libraries generally wait to buy the collected editions in hardcover or paperback. These sites are also the place to find reviews of ongoing volumes in series that library journals choose not to review: library sources may review New Avengers volume one, but they rarely review New Avengers volume four, and fan sites become the only place librarians can check in on the continuing quality of a series.

There are several critical sites that review single issues; Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance, and Pop Matters are just a few places to start. The comics journal Journalista is a great site for news as well as daily collections of reviews for every type of comic and graphic novel. As with movie reviewers, you’ll learn which comics critics match your community’s tastes and be able to get a preview of the book before you purchase it.

It you’re still wondering about a giant universe-wide event (storylines that cross over into many
different series), like Marvel’s Civil War or any of the many DC’s Crises, ask your fellow librarian fans and selectors. I frequently use the Graphic Novels in Libraries listserv to pick the brains of my fellow librarian fans about which volumes from major event series I must collect to satisfy my patrons. Marvel’s Civil War, which finished with the much-reported death of Captain America, spread over 80 different comic book issues and ultimately was featured in 23 different collected editions I could have purchased for my library. I found no reviews from library journals on any part of this series. On the advice from my fellow GNLIB librarians, I narrowed down my purchases to an essential ten volumes and have never had any complaints. As an online forum for librarians who also have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics, listserv can’t be beat. Many of us don’t have the time or inclination to read the series as they come out, so it’s helpful that many librarians are comics fans and understand both the comics universes and budget restraints.

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