Since print is dead and I get all my news from NPR, I did not first encounter Tim Marchman's "Comic Book Smack Down" in The Wall Street Journal, but in this post from The Beat, where it was referred to as "The Wall Street Journal's Comic Book Smack Down."
Here's one of the sharper, pointier criticisms in his overall great takedown of Marvel and DC and the market they created and its inability to sell comics to the millions of people who are obviously extremely interested in the characters those comic books generated:
If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new "Avengers" comic, why don't more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.Beat writer Todd Allen calls the above slam over the top, but it sounds completely reasonable coming from an interested-but-not-immersed reader, like Marchman obviously is, the sort of reader who will see more general interest comics like Guy Delisle's Jerusalem or Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?. Even allowing for differences in style, how does one look at the art in one of those books, or Cleveland, and then look at, say, Mike Deodato on Avengers or Greg fucking Land on an X-Men comic and not think, Yeesh, these look clumsily drawn.
I think any one with a shop to visit can probably pick up any random volume of Showcase Presents or Essential reprint books and any handful of modern DC and Marvel comics and see just how greatly the quality of artwork has been devalued at the two publishers over the course of the decades. On one hand, sure, the art in a new issue of Superman might look more energetic and dynamic than it did in 1962; on the other hand, Superman doesn't look like the same person from panel to panel, and the background, if there is one, is just a photo taken from Google Images and dropped in using a computer.
As for whether or not it's poorly written, I don't know for sure; I dropped the Avengers books I was reading years ago, and while I occasionally check back in via the library, they are still Brian Michael Bendis comics. It's difficult to talk about how poor the writing is also because, as I spoke about a little bit in discussing that DC/WildStorm crossover series the other day, writing in general has gotten more sophisticated, but not necessarily better; the writers assume the readers are older and smarter and don't need their hands held as much, but they also often don't have collaborators skillful enough to carry certain sorts of storytelling off, and they also neglect new readers to the point that their stories can be "incomprehensible."
As for the last bit of criticism regarding today's Avengers comics (and, by extension, Big Two super-comics), the bit about readers needing to be "steeped in...arcane mythology", Beat contributor Paul O'Brien said this in the commments thread:
It’s not quite true that AvX only makes sense if you know years of history. If anything, it makes LESS sense if you know the full history, because then you’ll know that the Phoenix has had human hosts several times before and not much came of it – which blows the entire premise of the story out of the water. For it to make sense, you need to know the history – and ONLY the history – that the story itself brings up.
I've noticed that problem a lot at DC since the Identity Crisis age of DC Comics began, wherein writers rely on that history or continuity in order to make events seem important or shocking or to take certain creative shortcuts, but then they get that history or continuity so badly wrong that it alienates everybody: People who don't know the characters or history being referenced will be frustrated that they don't know who's who and what's what, while those who do will be frustrated with the fact that they're being told wrong factual information. Generally, other writers in later stories will have to come in and explain these discrepancies to everyone's satisfaction...or at least try to (Examples from DC include everyone knowing everyone's secret identities in Identity Crisis, Max Lord making a heel turn in Countdown to Infinite Crisis, all of Countdown, the opening chapters of Final Crisis, etc; the main Marvel one that sticks out to me is Mark Millar's Civil War series).
Personally, I think the disconnect between superheroes selling movies so successfully and not being able to sell the same audience on their comics may simply be that it's not that people like superheroes in general, but that they like superhero movies and not superhero comics...
I'm sure accessibility has something to do with it too, in terms of how easy it is to access one versus the other. My hometown, for example, has no comic book shop and no book stores, but does have a movie theater.
And, of course, there's also my own pet complaint about super-comics: It costs $4 for 20-22 pages of a comic, which will be somewhere between 1/6th and 1/48th of a complete story, depending on whether it's a crossover or not. That's about half a ticket to see The Avengers movie right there, and it's $4 more expensive than the cost of watching an episode of the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoon at home.
I already discussed my feelings about the JMS dig in the WSJ piece; a week or so later, I'll agree it's a low blow, but also still believe JMS deserves all the rhetorical low blows he gets.
Sean T. Collins articulated why the WSJ piece was important at all in this piece for his blog. You should definitely read his piece if you haven't already; in fact, I'd rather you read it then waste time reading my ranting and raving.
Also well worth your time? The Comics Journal's weekly Nate Bulmer/Tucker Stone/Abhay Khosla team-up column, in which both Stone and Abhay address the plight of the creator and the WSJ piece. Here's a paragraph from Khosla:
According to the Wall Street Journal, mainstream comics are “clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology,” an opinion devastatingly unfair to those of us who think comics are also miserably colored and hastily lettered. It takes a village, WSJ. Most surprising, the article violates the fan community’s long-standing aversion to Specific Examples. Watchmen 2 punchline J. Michael Stracynszki is referred to as a “former He-Man scripter” and the “rough equivalent” of “Z-movie director Uwe Boll,” while “industry powers like Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, Grant Morison and Dan Didio … are the men most responsible for the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public’s obvious fascination with men in capes… contemporary superhero creators [who] tend to come off as pretentious autodidacts or failed cult leaders.”It's a great piece.
In other words, it’s another installment in “Bam! Pow! Mainstream comics Aren’t Just For Kids or Adults or Really Anybody with Any Sense Anymore.”
There's been a lot of talk about female superheroines in the movies lately, with Marvel's Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada reportedly saying he didn't think there was a character or an actress to play her that could carry such a film (right before Marvel studios announced they were developing a film based on Carol Danvers/Miss Marvel/Captain Marvel).
Personally, I hope we see a female superhero movie very soon, and that it's Fantomah, starring Laura Dern and directed by, I don't know, David Lynch, maybe.
Here's a fun one from Noah Berlatsky's Hooded Utilitarian blog: Kurt Busiek explaining why Batman is not Green Lantern (Except, of course, for when he is).
In addition to Busiek's basic argument of the great value of shared universe settings—that is, "Because it's fun to have the characters meet"—I've always liked the way it challenges the writers why somethng doesn't happen when it comes up, even if it's something super-simple. Like, say for example, "Why doesn't The Flash run over to Gotham City and cut its crime rate in half in the course of a single super-speed afternoon?" The answer may just be as simple as "Because Batman is a possessive, territorial control freak jerk who would just get mad at The Flash for visiting Gotham City," or whatever.
As for why Batman doesn't have a power ring, Geoff Johns did give him a Green Lantern power ring for a minute in Green Lantern #9 (the Green Lantern #9 Geoff Johns wrote in 2005, not the more recent one), I think it's fair to say Batman has at least as much willpower as Hal Jordan, whether the writer who has been writing Hal Jordan for like eight years now will admit it in a story or not.
My guess is that being a Green Lantern requires a great deal of stupidity as well as will, and the Guardians just don't want to tell anyone that. Like, you have to have a lot of will power, but you also have to not be that bright. "Hal Jordan, you have the ability to overcome great fear—and you take direction as well as a sheepdog. Welcome to The Green Lantern Corps."
Batman, like Sinestro, is probably a little too ambitious, cunning and controlling to have a power ring, and while Bats might not have ended up as a space-Hilter like Sinestro did, he might also have been too irritating for the Guardians to work with, so they sought out someone who was kinda dim, and settled on Hal Jordan.
Speaking of Berlatsky, he's got a fine piece up on Slate which discusses the now imminent release of the Before Watchmen comics, and uses it to discuss creator's rights issues in Big Two super-comics and their multi-media spin-offs. Little of the information in that piece will be new to you, but Berlatsky offers a very nice overview of some of the bigger stories on that front since DC made its announcement. Plus, Noah Berlatsky! And Before Watchmen! In Slate!
Hey, good news! Drawn and Quarterly is going to publish a Lisa Hanawalt book. That's one of my favorite publishers and one of the artists I was most pleased to discover this year, so, as far as I'm concerned, that's a match made in heaven.
Scott's original origin involved a train disaster. So given the fact that James Robinson is writing Earth 2, what are the chances that there will be a horrible, fiery train accident in which Alan's beau dies a horrible death, thus motivating Scott to become an angsty superhero? That would explain all the burning skeletons on the cover of the issue featuring Alan Scott...
I haven't been skimming, let alone reading, all stories about the gay Green Lantern that have been showing up in my Google News feeds all week—and there have been a lot of 'em!—but I have noticed images of Hal Jordan from either the movie or the comics showing up to illustrate some of those stories. I've also seen a few headlines saying things like, "How will this effect Ryan Reynolds' film franchise?" (Seriously, is there anywhere to go but up...?)