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Sunday, January 05, 2014 

Crave Online demonstrates why comic writers aren't reliable critics

Crave Online published a list of choices for the best of last year, only this time, it's a number of writers who're doing the picking. For instance, Scott Snyder, whose choices include quite an eyebrow raiser indeed:
Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos. I'm the kind of reader who's always up for something that hasn't been done, so long as it's not done for purely sensational reasons, and so when it became clear that Slott's master plan was to have Doc Ock switch brains with Peter Parker and actually BECOME Spidey, I was game from the start. Admittedly, I had high expectations – Slott would have to do something great to pull off that premise, but I was excited. And Slott and Ramos have done that and then some, crafting a Spider-Man book that's energetic, fresh, dark, funny, and thought-provoking.
I do believe I'm noticing a pattern here: biased critics - career writers included - calling this mess "energetic", "fresh", "funny" and even "thought-provoking". But the only word that sums this up correctly is "dark". Alas, it most certainly is, and that's the big problem here. Darkness only for the sake of it. Interesting he doesn't think it was done for sensational reasons, because it most certainly was, given all the buzz Slott was actually quite happy to receive, Snyder's included. He also thinks Peter Tomasi is a legend:
Batman and Robin by Pete Tomasi and Pat Gleason. Obviously, I love a lot of the batbooks – INC, Batgirl, Nightwing, Detective – but for me, the unsung hero of the line is B and R by Pete and Pat. Full disclosure: I'm not the biggest Damian fan; not because I don't like him as a character – I love him on the page – but simply because I find it hard to wrap my mind around Bruce taking his own biological son out on patrol. The great thing about this book is that Pete and Pat tackle that very issue head on – issue after issue, the series explores the rich, complicated, and heart-wrenching relationship between Batman and Robin.
Oh, I'll bet it did. Tomasi, from what I've concluded, is one of DC's standout hack writers/editors, whose work includes the Green Lantern titles when Geoff Johns took over. Afterwards comes Garth Ennis, who picked:
I often find myself wondering why I'm reading a monthly book about fucking space-elves. The answer, of course, is Brian Vaughan. I'd follow that guy anywhere.
Probably because his politics reflect Ennis's. The next comic writer listed is Charles Soule, who chose the same:
Saga (Brian K. Vaughan / Fiona Staples, Image) – As Saga continues, it's becoming pretty clear that BKV and the amazing Fiona Staples aren't telling a sci-fi action serial – they're telling a story about family, and relationships, and generations that happens to be set in one of the most inventive sci-fi settings I've ever seen. But that's fine with me. I'm fully on board, and can't wait to see where it goes, even if it ends up tearing my heart out at the end, as it inevitably will.
Oh yeah, is it ever about "relationships" alright! Sleazy and creepy ones too, no less. Obviously, it makes sense to say it's not about sci-fi, which is just the problem with it; it's more like a political statement. He then fawns in turn over Scott Snyder's Batman work:
Batman (Scott Snyder / Greg Capullo, DC) – Full disclosure – I now consider Scott a pal, but even before I'd ever met him, I was buying his Batman stories. He and Greg are demonstrating how fresh and powerful a concept Batman is – it feels familiar and brand-new all at once. Should also mention his The Wake from Vertigo, which is one of the coolest, creepiest things I've read in a while.
In that case, I'll be careful not to bother about The Wake. Under better contributors, Batman was capable of being fresh, but not under Snyder, and if he's calling his work "fresh", all I see in that is yet another repeat of the cliche used with Slott's slop. It's not brand new either.

Christos Gage comes next, and his picks include:
All-Star Western: Still my favorite of the New 52 books. [Jonah] Hex is now in the present day DCU; hilarity ensues. More people need to be reading it!
I don't think so. This direction was used once before in 1985-87, as Hex was transported into the future, but it only proved a disappointment with audiences and was finally cancelled. Why must we think this'll be any better? The last time they did this, a couple plotlines were left dangling, like whatever happened to EmmyLou Hartley? Who's never been seen since. And what's Gage's next pick?
Superior Foes of Spider-Man: I'm a sucker for villain books anyway, but this one is terrific fun, and the art is especially wonderful.
Sure, I'll bet it is. Like we can really trust somebody already writing [un]professionally in comics to give us an honest opinion.

Next comes Tony S. Daniel, and his picks include:
Batman – Another book that's just the right mix of creators. Snyder's stories + Capullo's storytelling = Win!
Wrong. The combination = lose. This is only lip service. James Tynion IV comes next, and again, we have a knee-jerk clown choosing:
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Probably the most consistently underrated, but consistently great superhero comic book of the year. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have embraced the inherent shittiness of some of Spidey's C-List villains, and has made a whole world out of the NYC villains circuit that's consistently hilarious and engaging, but also deeply human. Folks keep name-dropping Hawkeye when talking about the book, but I see it as something with its own thoroughly distinct flavor.
I guess villains are now the new bearers of humanity, not the heroes and their co-stars. I'm not taken in by Matt Fraction's Hawkeye either, also because the artwork there looks so forced and mechanical. Tynion also chose:
Young Avengers
I love stories about young superheroes, and Gillen/McKelvie just delivered the master class on how to make those rascally youngun's feel vibrant and new for the modern world. Gillen writes incredible angst, humor, and humanity when it comes to these young heroes trying to figure out how they fit into the world. It's been on the top of my reading pile every week it's come out since the first issue.
I'm not sure how they fit into the audience's buy pile. The only way they're "new" is in how their book looks more like an excuse for story-less sleaze.

Next comes the writer/artist Andy Lanning, who picked:
Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples' space opera reads like a sci-fi novel with awesome art! Great characters, fantastic designs and concepts this book is a treat that keeps getting better with each issue.
With the kind of content this book has, it could only become worse. And then, what else does Lanning choose but:
The Superior Spider-Man
What Dan Slott and co have done with this book is nothing short of amazing (sorry, pun not intended but actually pretty good) – I must say I rolled my eyes when I heard the notion of Doc Ock taking over the dead Peter Parker to become Spider-Man, but they've pulled it off and reinvigorated both the central character as well as his wonderful rogues gallery of villains. Kudos to Steve Wacker too; who'd have thought it; he knows what he's doing after all!
So does Lanning, and that's slurping up to the higher echelons, lest he speak in their disfavor and lose out on all the great jobs they'll give him. What a disappointment.

A writer named Greg Smallwood comes next, and his choice is:
Daredevil #25 by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, & Javier Rodriguez – Samnee is often praised for his immaculate cartooning but not enough is said about his spectacular sense of design. Every issue of this series is a treat but Samnee's amazing blend of design and storytelling stood out in this one.
Some design alright. The problem with some of these more recent artists is that their character design is so unnatural compared to better artists of the past like Gene Colan and John Buscema. Samnee's is wooden by comparison. So too is Waid's writing at this point. A writer named Jai Nitz comes next, and does he ever blather:
First and foremost, I want to say that I think that comics today are technically better than any time in history. I think if you weighed the sophistication of production in all phases (writing, penciling, inking, lettering, coloring, printing, and formatting) you'd find more better-done comics today than ever before. So with that said, I'm buying the least amount of monthly comics, OGNs, and TPBs in my life. Why? Two reasons: 1. I have too much stuff. I used to have the collector mentality. I couldn't just have the comics, I had to have variant covers and prints and signature plates. I gave that up. Now I just care about the stories. 2. There's too much good stuff. I can't afford to buy everything my heroes create, much less my friends and the up-and-comers. So I use the incredible Lawrence Public Library for most of my graphic novel needs (and, hey, my tax dollars are at work). Here's the best comics I read in 2013.

1. Avengers Arena (Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker, and various). This is a book I actually buy monthly because I can't wait for TPBs. It's got everything: drama, love, death, pressure, twists, turns, and characters pushed beyond their limits. It made Arcade into an awesome villain and the teens of the Marvel Universe into three-dimensional people (maybe the highest degree of difficulty on this list). Dennis is a good friend of mine and I specifically asked him NOT to spoil the story for me because I was enjoying it so much as a fan. But now I get to have really cool "inside baseball" talks with Dennis about the book in retrospect. I have to remind him NOT to spoil any details from Avengers Undercover due out in 2014.
While giving up the obsession with variant covers is admirable, it's foolish to say comics are any better today than in the past. Up to the end of the 1980s, there were plenty of great comics, far more readable than what turned up in the 90s, so I'm not sure why he's suggesting they weren't. When he turns to praising the mainstream work of somebody who happens to be a buddy of his, it naturally raises questions of how trustworthy Nitz is. And how could Arcade not have been an awesome villain before, or the teens of the MCU never 3D people? (Assuming he means older creations from the 70s/80s.) Another choice he makes is:
Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples). What can I say about this book that hasn't been said already? It's the comic I'd give to anyone. It makes you laugh, makes you think, challenges the issues it made you think about, and breaks your heart in every issue. It's the perfect blend of master writer and go-getter artist who make it look easy every month. I also love how they take a hiatus between arcs. They eschew the monthly schedule to bring out a timely-and-still-highest-quality book. I wish everyone doing creator-owned books did this.
Yep, keep going, why don't you. Does "anyone" include children/families? Along next comes Michael Moreci, who picked:
Daredevil: I don't know what I can possibly say that hasn't already been said before. This is, without a doubt, the best superhero book on the stands. It's smart, sophisticated, funny, and tender. It's almost unfair how good this is.
It's completely unfair how much leftism was shoved inside. And once more, we have cliched words of praise on display. Then there's Ryan Ferrier, whose choices are:
Daredevil #25 – Mark Waid/Chris Samnee (Marvel)

Waid and Samnee have done a tremendous job of bringing their puzzle pieces together while keeping the long-game interesting. This issue in particular is thrilling and brutal. Chris Samnee's visual storytelling is jaw dropping. Never before has a big superhero character felt this real.

Hawkeye #11 – Matt Fraction/David Aja (Marvel)

On a process level alone, "Pizza Is My Business" is a sheer triumph of the medium.

Afterlife with Archie #1 – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa/Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)

Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.
What a snoozer. And he won't even take the time to tell anybody what goes on and the plot's about. Knowing what Fraction's politics are like, that's one more reason why I'll refrain from his take on Hawkeye too.

I think this is just why it simply doesn't pay to have would-be professionals choosing what they think are the best books, because you can't rely on them to be objective and admit if something's wrong with the series they're writing about.

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Scott Snyder is possibly the biggest, hammiest kiss-up corporate assclown in the history of comics. For fun, go back and look at some of his previous interviews (he only does about one every two days). He's always saying things like "This Mr. Freeze story [in Batman Annual #1] was A LABOR OF LOVE" -- for an origin story that sucked all pathos out of the character and turned him into a generic psychopath. Or, when describing "Death of the Family", Snyder said something like, "I dug deep into my emotions and thought about how I would feel if MY family were threatened." He hams it up all the time. I remember he said something about how writing about the Court of Owls "genuinely made [him] scared". He's the biggest goofball ever and you know that he's so delusional that he believes his own hype.

Snyder actually said that about his own work? Wow, he sounds like a self-centered idiot. Good thing I didn't drink the New 52 kool-aid like so many others have.

Based on the latest sales, if so many others once drank the New 52 kool-aid, they ain't doing it now.

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