On Comic Book Reviews
Several months back, I got an email at the Weird Comics History/X-Lapsed gmail asking me to discuss my “reviewing process”. This came after I got particularly into the weeds during an episode railing against the use and abuse of the “10 outta 10” reviewer culture we’re currently suffering through.
Now, I’ve talked about this from time to time… often with passive-aggressive snark. But, I wanted to go a bit deeper today… and share a bit of my own personal experience with “online reviewer culture” and the “incentivized 10”.
I wanna start just by saying — if you like something… as in, really and truly like something, and don’t think it could possibly be any better — by all means, score it a Perfect 10. Tastes are tastes, opinions are opinions… far be it from me to project any of my baggage and distrust onto ya! In my opinion, comic books have been around nearing on a century… and, in that time, there might be… I dunno, a dozen “Perfect 10’s”. Let’s face it, for the most part — comics are pretty average. Even the above average and great ones… aren’t perfect.
Right now, if you were to go to one of the useless comic book review aggregator sites — you’d be hard pressed to find a single issue without a 10/10 score. Not only is this… ridiculous and unreal — it’s also incredibly dishonest. Now, comic reviews aren’t like video game reviews or tech reviews. Comics are, relatively speaking, far more affordable… so, it’s not like a comic reviewer is tricking someone into dropping a whole lotta bank. That said however, comic reviewers are still influencers… you still have the power to cause someone to open their wallet and part with their money — as such, we/they really ought to be holding ourselves to some sort of standard, yes?
Now, I’m hard-pressed to hold “10 outta 10” reviews against smaller sites/channels/podcasts — because, they’re just over-the-moon jazzed that a comic company reached out to them in the first place — and offered them free stuff to review. The smaller reviewer suddenly feels empowered and important — and, doesn’t want the gravy train of free stuff to end. I remember the first time I was reached out to… and, I thought I’d finally made it. I couldn’t accept, since back then Chris is on Infinite Earths was strictly a DC Comics Review site — and I was already doing all my “current year” DC reviews at Weird Science… but, I can’t say I didn’t come away from that interaction without a bit of newfound swagger.
Thing of it is… the internet has a pretty decent B.S. detector. Well, sometimes. If they see some smaller comic blog dealing out 10 outta 10s on every book they cover (while tagging all of the “right” people on social media), it’s kind of a “tell”. They’re looking for attention, validation… and more free stuff. I’ve been part of collabs and groups who’d been given “comps”… and, when you review those comps honestly — or, rather — you’re willing to point out flaws (regardless of how slight) — guess what happens? You no longer get those comps. Or, at the very least, your access to those comps is threatened.
So, whattayado if you wanna keep getting the comps? Whattayado if you wanna stay “in the club”… and have your reviews shared by the pros and the movers and shakers in the industry? Well… in a lotta cases… you lie. Again, since this is the internet, I wanna make sure I clarify that I’m not making a blanket statement here. If Otis’s Comics and American Cheese Singles Review Blog thinks every-single-comic that came out this year was a rock-solid, bullet-proof 10 outta 10… I’m not going to suggest he’s got an ulterior motive or that he’s “bought and paid for”… buuuuuut, ya know, maybe he isn’t so much my “go to” for recommendations?
The 10 outta 10 mentality has turned into a “monster maker”… in that, to many (pros and fans) anything less is seen as a slight… an insult, even. By telling the pros and the companies that… most everything they put out is PERFECT, we’re also telling them that, they can stop trying. Has “Comic Writer X” put out a 10 outta 10 book? Maybe. Does that mean every “Comic Writer X” book is a 10 outta 10? Absolutely not. Try telling that to them (or their fans) though.
10 outta 10s are so out of control that… if you actually stop and read some of these reviews, you’ll notice some patterns. Either they’re boilerplate template reviews, only differing in names of creator and character… or, they’ll spend several paragraphs pointing out flaws, but still give the issue a “10”. A friend sent me a link to a review a few weeks ago, where the reviewer spent the entire article talking about how “frustratingly shallow and empty” the entire issue was… but still scored it a 9.25 out of 10!
Why do that? Well, because sadly many people don’t actually read reviews — they just look at the score, and — the higher you score an issue, the higher up on the list at the useless comic review aggregator site you’ll be. Everybody wins… well, everyone except the reader!
Back to the “Monster Maker” aspect… there are creators in the biz right now who, struggle to deal with “less than 10” reviews. So much so that, they’ll actually reach out and confront you about the “less than 10” score you gave them. It’s done in a very “concern troll” sort of way. I’m not going to name-names, but I’ve been reached out to for things I’ve written. So have many of my friends and peers. They pressure you to amend your score, making some vague threats — while also trying to pump up your ego. It’s… weird. It’s also wildly uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as being “brigaded”, mind you… but, certainly not pleasant.
Comics reviewing… isn’t like a huge deal, right? You may be trying to establish a “brand”, so to speak… or, maybe you’re looking for an “in” into the industry. In those cases, you’re likely to do whatever you can to “play ball”. After all, if you wanna be part of the medium… you can’t be insulting some of the big names. It causes a bit of dissonance in that, while you don’t wanna ruin your credibility by changing a score — you also wanna keep the gravy flowing… and, you wanna be “in the club”.
Imagine you follow a reviewer, who gives “Book X” a 7.5/10 on Wednesday… then, Friday, you notice it’s been changed to a 9.25. Are you going to trust this reviewer in the future? Well, most people probably won’t notice or care… but, personally — that’d be one site that’s getting un-bookmarked.
I was briefly a “staff writer” on a comics site. In our “staff chat” forum, one of the reviewers revealed that a professional had reached out to question them on an 8 outta 10 review. I don’t know about you… but, 8 outta 10 sounds like a pretty good score to me. Better than average, right? And, I mean — average is average. That’s where most things wind up. Those (mid-range scores) are also likely to be the most trustworthy reviews. They’re going to point out things that worked as well as any flaws. In my opinion, it’s the “sweet spot” — whereas “polar” (0/10 or 10/10) reviews so often have an agenda.
Anyway, this pro “concern trolled” and broke the reviewer down. It was “collectively” decided that, from that point on, this particular writer’s work would never be scored under a 9 – and, that the reviews would be sent to them for approval before being published. I quit the site that day. Oh, and by the way — in these private chats, it’s pretty illuminating to see how some reviewers really feel about these books they’re publicly dishing out 10’s to.
It’s easy to look at a writer like that, and accuse them of having thin skin… but, I really can’t hold their reaction against them. Like I said — WE (reviewers) created these monsters. WE told them everything they create is perfect and literally could not be better (there’s no such thing as an 11 outta 10, right?)… because WE wanted to be acknowledged, WE wanted to be tagged in the tweets, WE wanted the free stuff. WE told these creators they are perfect… so, it stands to reason that they might start to question situations wherein they’re reminded that they are not.
Shortly after X-Lapsed started, I was approached about doing another “Lapsed-style” show. This network enjoyed my format, and thought it would translate nicely over to another comics franchise. I was interested… and, ya know, humbled to have anyone reach out to me in the first place. So, discussions began. I made it clear that I wasn’t going to give a “number score” to anything I covered — and, that… if I didn’t care for something, I was going to address it. This wasn’t going to be the boilerplate “[Insert Writer] is a genius… and boy, would I love to interview them about this” sort of review show.
At this point, the site got a little squirrely in their responses. As it all shook out, the deal was going to be that — I needed to record a few different versions of the show. My “normal Chris” style, an “editorial free” one (basically just walking through the issue without any commentary), and a “lite” version… basically, just a capsule review. From there, I’d need to send them in so the heads of the site could decide which version was published. That wasn’t going to happen, so to say discussions stalled would be pretty accurate.
And again — I can’t honestly hold any of this against the site! There’s a game afoot here… and ya gotta play to get the pay. I did them the favor of bowing out of the deal. Now, I mean – this isn’t just a comics review problem… it’s an all-encompassing internet review problem. And, at the end of the day — none of it matters, except to the extremely precious among us (myself included/especially).
It’s just unfortunate that we’re living in an age where… literally everybody has a voice, and yet — in situations like this, we’re all saying the same damn thing… in service of people who likely wouldn’t even spit on us if we were on fire.
What was the point of this piece? Search me… it sure as hell isn’t going to change anything. I just hope that the comics internet’s B.S. detector is fine-tuned enough to see past (or is it, “passed”) the shills… and maybe start making up their minds for themselves. I want the “Perfect 10” to be special again. I want reviewers and influencers to be honest. I want creators to be okay with being “good to great”… and maybe see a 7 or 8 out of 10 as an opportunity to improve… rather than a slap in the face.
I can’t think of a poignant way to wrap this up… so, I’ll just pretend my pen ran outta in-
2 thoughts on “On Comic Book Reviews”
No matter what media it may be I absolutely do not pay attention to 10 out of 10 type reviews. I would rather listen to someone’s honest opinion then just mindlessly look at number reviews.
A good review tells at least one bad thing about what is being reviewed because nothing is perfect. Tell me all the faults then tell me if it is still worth it despite the faults.
Again, lotta great comments and thoughts.
As I’ve said a number of times before–it’s what I think makes you (to me) so reliable. I know we like similar stuff, we’re about the same age, similar stories; and you’re thorough and frank and all that.
Even when I was getting back into X-stuff (which I have to “blame” you and X-Lapsed for), I was going to ignore one particular title by a particular writer…and let YOU do the heavy lifting. But in your covering the first issue–acknowledging the problems you had (same as mine) with the writer, but still giving an honest and fair look at the book itself…well, if you could do it, surely I could, too?!?
I think this stuff’s also what helped me to “get away from” trying to review current issues, outside of something REALLY catching me by surprise where I so thoroughly ENJOY it that I “have to” write about it.
Maybe *I* am repetitive/broken record, but I do try to point out why something isn’t for me if I don’t like it, and discuss that sorta stuff, without going for a hard, numeric rating. I figure if anyone even DOES read more than my occasional facebook posts, they either know if they agree/trust me or not or what correlation there is.
(for years, I knew if the “main” movie reviews were all a certain tone, then I would surely love or hate a movie, respectively).
I’m rambling, so shutting up for now. 🙂