Earlier this week I came across a Facebook link to a semi-controversial article on the state of comics. I know, it’s shocking that such could be found on the internet, right? There are two things that really stood out about this one for me, though.
One, it was published in the Wall Street Journal (online edition), which seemed to be further evidence of just how far comic book culture has penetrated the “mainstream”.
Two, this rant was supposed to be a book review. Specifically, a book review of Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origin of American Comics.
Now if you’ve read any of my stuff here you know that I enjoy a good rant as much as the next guy or gal, but here’s the problem. BOOK REVIEW. Whether you agree or disagree with the reviewer Tim Marchman’s premise that the comics industry is in a downward spiral due to chronic mistreatment of talent and other woes, there is a lot of editorializing here and precious little time spent actually talking about the book itself, which is a shame because by all accounts it seems like a moving, high-quality coffee table collection of photos and interviews with several famous creators throughout the ages. I had to dig for that much from the Amazon listing and other reviews, because this one spent all of two throwaway paragraphs on the content before diving back into a discussion of what a cosmic insult Before Watchmen represents (including a hilariously skewed comparison of J. Michael Straczynski to Uwe Boll). Whatever you might think of JMS as a comic book writer, reducing his C.V. to “former He-Man scripter” is like bringing up Steven Spielberg as “director of 1941“.
I think the most damning thing about the review is when I looked at some of the other sources and found out that due to logistical issues, Alan Moore isn’t even featured in Leaping Tall Buildings. Nor are several of the other name-checked artists. I’m no stranger to tangents, but then again my only real editor here is a Publish button. Nor is the image attached to the review the actual book cover– in fact, if I recall correctly it’s from a Comic-Con International souvenir book a couple years back celebrating Harvey Pekar. I’ve gone through the trouble of finding the real book cover and pasting it at the top of this entry. It took me two minutes.
Actually, the most damning thing of all is the review title: “Worst Comic Book Ever!” And I’m not saying that because it’s a hoary Simpsons reference, I’m saying that because if you’re going to be clever in your review title, maybe pick something that doesn’t mislead your readers as to your opinion. I mean, I don’t get the feeling Marchman hated the book, he actually seemed to like it, it just apparently awakened a bunch of pent up demons he needed to exorcise on an national stage. It’s like checking out one of those many reviews from a couple weeks back that went with the title “BATTLESHI*” and finding out, in between the reviewer ranting for several paragraphs about the modern degeneration of the U.S. Navy, that he really didn’t mind the film.
But it’s hard to tell when Marchman barely discusses the book at all, and that out of all the artists mentioned for good or ill, he leaves out Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner, the co-authors of LTB.
I’m not arguing that reviews shouldn’t have a personal spin, but this one goes beyond all the surface outrage it might inspire with its occasionally lazy fact-checking and sweeping negative statements on the quality of modern mainstream comics (and the creators behind them). It’s like what Erik and Justin would say when discussing the Yakmala! classic Mitchell. Mitchell is a bad cop. Not corrupt, just very bad at his job.
This is a bad review. Not negative, just… very bad.