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Cronin Theory of Comics – A Reaction Is Not Enough

here are some spoilers ahead!

So I had really been enjoying the Ultimate Annuals, but with the Ultimate X-Men Annual, I think they hit a snag.

My main concern was the basic concept of the comic, which appeared to be “Let’s kill off Gambit.”

Ya see, I think that is a great example of confusing “significant” with “good.”

Killing off Gambit is SIGNIFICANT, but it does not neccessarily mean that it is GOOD. Most of the X-Men Annual was pretty standard fare, excepting that at the end of the big fight between Gambit and Juggernaut, Gambit dies. That really was the only thing that separated it from, say, Uncanny X-Men #361, where Gambit and Juggernaut also fought. This really feels like a story where it was built upon the REACTION first, and the story second.

Which I think is not a good idea.

Writers will, over time, piss people off with their stories. It is going to happen. Pissing people off does not mean that the stories were bad. However, pissing people off is NOT, in fact, an indication that your work is good, either.

I guess what I am trying to get at is, well, I really found that the following statement by Bill Willingham regarding Batman #644 was quite lame:

Yes, deliberately withholding treatment, except in the context of a legitimate triage decision, is quite the unequivocal violation of the Hippocratic oath. In a court of law one could reasonably expect to be found guilty of murder.

Seems like Leslie snapped. Seems like Batman doesn’t like her much anymore (though he still couldn’t bring himself to be the one who brought her in).

After this issue came out, I took a rare tour of other message boards to try to gauge what the general reaction might be. As expected, it was overwhelmingly negative, with lots of “how dare Willingham do this!” What I didn’t expect is how much message traffic this book would generate. Message boards that might have one or two regulars post every few days, or so, suddenly exploded with five and six pages of new messages per day.

Here’s something you readers need to realize: Though we generally hope readers will like our stories, hating them is almost as good. Hating them so much that yours is the one book everyone is talking about now — well that’s golden. One can’t hate without passion and involvement. The one reaction we most fear is indifference.

Yes, I’m a little put out by the (at least three and counting) reputedly male readers who posted testimony that they wept after reading this issue (one claiming it was for the loss of innocence). Not that I believe they actually did. But I’m still from an early enough American generation to find men claiming to act like overly dramatic little girls just a little bit cringe-making.

And of course there were scores of those claiming that this incident was the last straw and they’re giving up my books, or the Bat books, or all comic books, forever. Here’s a splash of water for everyone who ever has or ever will make such an hysterical claim on a message board: We never believe you. If you’re the type to indulge in “how dare they do that!” we know you’ll always be back for further outrages. Those addicted to indignation need constant indignation feeding.

But, that aside, all is good. Feel free to blame me for ruining Batman. I could claim that editorial mandates were in force here and thereby split the blame a bit, but I think this time I won’t. I willingly took the job, and I’m too greedy to want to share the credit this time.

How do you like them apples?

Putting aside his points about how people never mean it when they say, “I’m never reading this again!” (which, for the most part, is true) and how “Men shouldn’t cry” (which is…well…it’s an odd point, either way), let me direct your attention to the following section of the post:

Here’s something you readers need to realize: Though we generally hope readers will like our stories, hating them is almost as good. Hating them so much that yours is the one book everyone is talking about now — well that’s golden. One can’t hate without passion and involvement. The one reaction we most fear is indifference.

As I said before, yes, you WILL likely piss people off at one point, but what Willingham is missing (it appears, purposefully) here is that while, yes, it is good to get a reaction from your readers (a good deal better than indifference), that just is NOT enough to be satisfied.

He does not address the complaints about the story, for whatever reason, and to ignore the story complaints and to just say, “I relish people getting mad at me” is the epitome of looking for a reaction first, and a good story second.

Which, I believe, is not good.

One Comment

I thought Karen Page death in Kevin Smith’s run would be another good example. “Women in refigerators” plot device down to the bone. She came back, angst (primarily so DD could angst, more then her), reformed in two or so pages and then was randomly killed off by Bullseye.
Maybe its just cause I was a new reader, but if she was somehow meant to be important then Kevin screwed up real bad in actual characterisation…
Death of Gwen Stacy or Jean Grey or Mufasa the Lion King it is NOT.

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