Why Context Is Important When Reviewing Comics (An OPINION)

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Now, I have a problem with reviewing a comic outside of context. I just do. I wasn’t always like this.

Now: why do I have a problem reviewing a comic outside of context? Is it just because I’m a cranky pain in the ass?

Define “context.” Okay.

1st Level Of Context: within the story arc.
I can’t give a comic a proper review if it’s in the middle of a storyline and I haven’t at least read the rest of the comics from the storyline that preceded it. I just can’t. I mean, I could give surface commentary on the art and writing style. But that’s it. Without that all-important context of the story arc, I can’t give a proper review.

2nd Level Of Context: within the series (if reasonable).
Ideally, if we’re talking about your shorter comic book series…you wanna kinda read the entire goddamn thing from issue one, to really fucking understand what is going on. Now, of course this is not always going to be feasible. You can’t be reasonably expected to read a thousand issues of Action-fucking-Comics. But say the series is about ten issues out, at this point (and, it goes without saying, it’s not an anthology or anything like that)…if the plot and characterization are somewhat complex, I’d want to read the entire thing before making a verdict.

I recognize that this is sometimes not the most economically advantageous solution for the comics reviewer. Also, there is the possibility that by reading issue one—or any issue, for that matter—you may immediately come to a gut decision that truly, this comic is a piece of shit, and even that anyone who would make such a thing is probably a bad person. I get that.

Here’s an example of when reading all the issues of a particular story arc—and, indeed, a little bit beyond that—seems necessary in order to give a comprehensive assessment. The current storyline(s) in Batman are incredibly complex and interwoven. The writing is also very good, and the rotating list of a-list art talent exquisite.

In order to properly assess this(these) storyline(s), I felt I needed more context. Not just all the issues from the current arc, but those which preceded them.

This turned out to be a far more involved process than I bargained for.

Here is my Batman “chart”:

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I assure you, you’re really not going to be able to fully appreciate—much less understand—this current run on Batman without this context. But it becomes a bit of an expensive proposition; which works out great, of course, for the publisher (who, most likely, is keeping its eye on the eventual lucrative bookshelf versions of said arcs).

3rd Level Of Context: the intended audience.
Are you the intended reader of this comic book? It’s a sticky question; but it should be addressed, especially for your more niche titles.

For example, say you have a small niche publisher that specializes in a couple of T&A superheroine comics from a particular studio. They’ve been at this for decades, with a small, aging, but loose-walleted devoted fanbase. You’re going to review their comic and basically wipe the floor with it; that’s your right, and you should express exactly how you feel. But I also think the context of the comic should be taken into consideration; this comic was not made for you. Clearly.

This can also apply for comics that are written for you. I think the writing/art of Dan Clowes is the second coming of Christ. But objectively (and let’s put a pin in the word “objectively” for later)…part of the reason I like his work so much is because it addresses both my specific generation/culture, but even the industry I worked in. To a person without those experiences, Clowes may not seem like the second coming of Christ; indeed, he may just seem like a whiny putz.

This can all become harrowing when you not only realize that a comic is NOT written for you, but indeed that the comic is almost actively antagonistic to who you are. This should all be noted in your review; but it also needs to be noted that there is no way this could be a 100% “objective” review.

But what can be a 100% “objective” review, dear readers? And that’s the rub: not a goddamn thing.

Not a goddamn thing.

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