I received this e-mail today regarding the Greatest Fantastic Four runs of all time:
I really enjoyed your attempt to bring rigor to the question of comic book run
quality in your fantastic four article. Yeah the inputs are entirely subjective but at
the very least you end up with what I guess Id call a fairly objective ranking of your
own enjoyment. Having said that a few factors that impact my enjoyment of a given comic book writers output slip through the cracks in such an approach, specifically the issue of wrap-up. How well does the writer deliver on his narrative promises? Take ‘the other’ storyline that ran through the spider-man titles. The story elements raised by it ultimately went nowhere and the transition from one writer to the next was utterly jarring. I guess we are talking about issues of ‘macro-quality’ that aren’t reducible to a single issue. Abandoned storylines negatively affect my enjoyment of a comic book. That raises the question of whose tab abandoned storylines should go on, the incoming or the outgoing writers? if I look at the first 200 issues of Avengers or Amazing Spider-Man, sub-plots transition smoothly from one writers tenure to the next. In fact were the credits removed from these comics it would be difficult to tell where any one writers left off and his successor began. I highly value such cohesiveness. How to account for it
in a system of quality evaluation that focuses on individual issues?
First of all, thank you for the feedback and comments (not sure if you wanted your name to be published, so you can leave a comment if you wish). I also value plot cohesiveness and wrap up, and 100% agree about the cohesiveness of the early Marvel Universe. My system does not account for storylines with different writers over many titles. My system could do that if I chose to put together a “Storyline” or “Crossover Event” spreadsheet, called The Other or World War Hulk or whatever.
As you can imagine it is very time consuming to read every comic of a title in order and rank each one and then plug the numbers, so storyline rankings (for me) would just delay things more (I already finished reading Green Lantern, Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man, and some small volume titles, but don’t have the chance to compile the stats right now).
I rank the quality of an individual comic book because a company is charging money for it. A friend of mine once said it’s not right to judge The Phantom Menace in 1999 because it’s just an introduction and should only be judged until the other sequels were released, but the bottom line is if I had died and never had seen the other movies, George Lucas would have still taken my money. Nowadays many comics are “written for trade”, and if the issue is simply a setup issue or nothing happens, it still gets rated based on my own personal entertainment value. Additionally I am fixated on that being the core of the system because it can justify the macro level averages and that’s how baseball and other sports work: it’s all about the matchups. I like to see trends and see who was really overrated or underrated, and this system allows that.
I am willing to concede that if a storyline is re-published in a TPB or book I could rate it as a whole, but it would be different from the current system I have set up.
In terms of how my existing system accounts for The Other:
First of all, if I am reading a run of Amazing Spider-Man and at the end of an issue I am told to buy Web of Spider-Man or Spider-Man Unlimited or whatever, and then I come back “next month” and am totally confused because there’s no recap, the chances are that I deducted a star right from jump street.
The reason why I do that is because I don’t think comics should be written like that.
But if we pretend that I totally could understand the plot and get into The Other just by reading Amazing, if it started well, I would give them good ratings. If the ending sucked, and things got out of hand, I’d give it a poor rating and chances are the title’s momentum totally fell off the cliff. If the writer/artist remained, chances are my ratings would show my lack of enthusiasm. If a new team came on, they have a chance to reboot/clean up/take to a new direction. We see that all the time in modern comics (for better or for worse): a new writer usually ignores stuff he doesn’t like.
As far as who gets hit with the poor rating for abandoning storylines, that rating would occur during whatever issue my “personal objective enjoyment” Spidey-sense goes off. I can’t go back in time and penalize a bad writer, I have to judge him as I see it in this system. So if you value continuity that much, you may have to penalize the current writer for ignoring it, even though it might be a good thing to ignore.
I do know that my system can never be validated or accepted by the so-called “comic book community” or baseball sabermetrics because they believe in group work and hate subjectivity. In the end, comic books are art, however different aged readers would have different opinions. Generation Y, who was raised on reading The Authority and Spawn, for example, would give low ratings to older comics (even some great 1980s comics). How do I know this? CBR’s Greatest Runs voting system is proof. Many old fans from the 1960s hate the modern stuff, and they too lose sight of quality.
Another factor is that even if I could get a nice sample of comic book readers from different cross sections of a population, it’s not like I can lend out my comics, and it’s hard for folks to buy all of Marvel’s Essentials or even invest time into it even if they could. So it’s just me and me alone. Ultimately it has to be that way since it’s my own personal enjoyment, as you’ve said.
Some Star Trek guy rated every episode and his words are considered an authority, so as long as my system can get spread to others it is a least something that could be cited as somewhat relevant to a discussion.
Anyway, not sure if I gave a satisfactory explanation or idea in all of these words, but just wanted to have a forum to explain the system to you and others who have e-mailed me about it.
If you want to do you own system to account for The Other, I’d recommend some of the things I mentioned like:
1) Analyzing all of the issues in a crossover event spanning multiple titles.
2) Retroactively penalizing writers after you’ve read the issues. It probably doesn’t make sense to generalize or make a steadfast rule about to penalize the incoming writer or the writer that sent the plot into motion: it would have to be case-by-case.
3) Analyze a TPB or collected edition on its own merits.