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Cronin Theory of Comics – Detailed Plot Synopses Are Lame

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against spoilers. I think that a good deal of comic book discussion pretty much has to involve discussing what goes on in a comic, particularly if the event in the comic factors into the book heavily. To wit, while it was a spoiler, it is difficult to express displeasure with how Leslie Thompkins was handled in the Bat-titles last year without explaining what happened in the comic that got me so irritated. So spoilers have a place in discussing comics (with warnings that they’re coming, though, of course).

What I don’t think has a (good) place in comic discussion is the detailed plot synopsis. A plot synopsis, by itself, is a bit of a sketchy issue for me – I do them, but I try to keep it as bare-bones as possible, just so that people will understand what the heck I’m talking about when I discuss what I liked and disliked about the comic. Saying that I think there were problems with seeing Bizarro show up and kill people in Infinite Crisis #1 involves me mentioning that that, in fact, occured in Infinite Crisis #1.

But when I see detailed plot synopses out there for “discussions,” it just boggles the mind. I understand there’s something to be said for reading the comic for yourself, but when you have practically line for line what happens in a comic book – that’s bizarre! And I struggle, really, with determing what’s MORE bizarre – the fact that people do it, or the fact that other people APPLAUD them for doing it. That this type of buzz-kill discussing is POPULAR amongst a significant portion of comic book fans.

Comic discussion should be about the ideas of the comic and how well you thought the book’s creative team expressed them. It should not be, “But what happened on panel 4 of page 15? You weren’t specific enough! Did Character X have any lines?”

It’s not the worst thing in the world (heck, if people really want to do it on the CBR messageboards, I let them do it), but boy, is it lame. And I’m just a dude who likes to discuss comic books. I can only imagine how lame it must be for the folks who actually WRITE the durn things!

17 Comments

I think you’re missing the point of that sort of comics discussion. Those guys are not reviewers or critics, and they don’t claim to be. They’re just fans who are enjoying the story at surface level, and want to discuss what’s happening to their favourite characters.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it’s precisely the level on which a good comic OUGHT to engage an audience. Not everyone has to be an armchair academic.

That’s a very good point, Paul.

And I think that probably highlights why it irritates me so. Not that it occurs, but that it detracts from the folks who want to discuss the craft of the comic.

Perhaps, then, an interesting experiment would be to do TWO discussions for a particular comic book.

One where folks can just discuss what happened to their favorite characters and one where folks can discuss the craft of the comic.

That actually sounds like a really neat idea.

Thanks for the insight, Paul!

I’m not a fan of over-detailed plot synopses either-seriously, if you didn’t read the comic, why bother discussing it?- but that experiment probably wouldn’t work IMO because, as you noted, discussing what happened to the characters (at least briefly) seems like it would be necessary in order to discuss the craft of the book in the first place.

I know I’ll read up plot summaries on titles I don’t read, to generally keep up with the direction of a title I used to follow. Sometimes hearing about what is going on actually pulls me back onto titles I try to drop!

Two current examples are Outsiders and Wolverine. I don’t buy either, but I still keep up with their overall plot developments. In the old days I would have borrowed a friend’s copy, but there aren’t as many comic folks hanging around these days, you know?

With the big universes surronding these characters, people often want to know whats going on but not to the point of spending money. People may have only the budget to follow Batman but still want to know whats happening in Robin. Personally, I think if you want to know whats happening in Robin, you should buy it, but I see that instance most often.

Well that and the people that are “boycotting” (how ridiculous is that) one title, but still wanting to follow it.

I find it’s easy enough to follow what’s happening at a broad strokes level by reading the monthly solicitations. Eventually, they have to discuss what happened in earlier issues.

In any event, I think there are a lot of superhero comic book fans who have loyalty to a character rather than to a story or the craft that goes into telling it. The fact that people are only vaguely aware that there IS craft behind comics is one of the reasons why it’s taken so long for Americans to accept comics as an art form worthy of study, worth more than the “Biff! Pow!” stereotype.

And going a bit further afield, I think this is something that happens to serial fiction in general — most of the “companion” books to TV series are really just extended episode guides with some “behind the scenes” material, not serious criticism on the aesthetics behind a show. If fans of, say, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” talk about the craft in any way, it’s usually about how sharp the writing is.

In any event, I think there are a lot of superhero comic book fans who have loyalty to a character rather than to a story or the craft that goes into telling it.

[Raises hand] I’m one. I do try, though, in my reviews to go beyond the plot-synopsis level. I’m more interested in the implications of what’s going on in the story and characterization than with the craft of it, but I am trying for actual insight.

But on the other hand, I want people who are joining the series late to be able to look at old reviews and get caught up on back issues they don’t have, so I do have a ‘What Happened That You Have To Know About’ section. I just try to keep it brief enough that it’s not pretending to be any substitute for reading the comic.

I read a lot of the reviews columns of 52 on various sites (including CBR), and most of them begin with a very detailed summary of what happened that week. I usually skip that because… well, I read the issue. I pass that over, and go onto the part where they actually comment on what happened.

I don’t know… I mean, on the one hand, those columns read more like a friendly chat with a friend about the movie you just both watched. On the other hand, you don’t usually begin that type of conversation by recapping the entire plot, just so you both know. That’s what you do for people who never saw the movie. So, are these columns intended to replace buying the comic? I have no idea.

I know when I discover a comics blog I like, I’ll often work my way through the archives. That can mean plunging into entries from months or years past. I may not remember exactly what happened in such-and-such an issue without a refresher. So you could look at it as something to aid posterity.

Also, while summaries may be technically unneccessary, I sometimes find that the details someone chooses to include give me an idea of where they’re headed with their commentary — what they consider the salient points leading up to their argument.

That said, the practice is overdone. What would be useful is some site that only does synopses, like Spoilt!, but more comprehensive. Then the comics bloggers could link to a synopsis without having to break the flow of their own reviews and comments.

On some comics I like getting detailed plot synopses because I know they’ll be bad and I want to mock the book without having to buy it. This was great for Countdown to Infinite Crisis when Abhay detailed the book almost line for line and I was able to laugh at it without paying any money. Another good example is Infinite Crisis. I found it entertaining to read how bad every issue and tie-in was without having to spend money on them.

Is that petty? Hell yeah it is.

There are places for it, like the titles Wiki, but plot details should be absent from any review or comentary of any story. I’m always behind in watching Doctor Who, yet my friends can express their opinions, and they don’t even blog…

I’m having to drop a lot of titles I like, right now, because financial stuff has gotten really bad. I would love a site where I could go find specific spoilers like that for the titles I can’t follow. Or at least something in between the extremes of “complete scans of every page” and “skimming Previews listings.”

Meanwhile, I hate spoilers in reviews or (in the case of one friend) in the NCRL listing. So what I want, apparently, is a site that’s completely spoiler-free, except exactly where I want them.

Hmm. I wonder if “bipolarcomics.com” is taken?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 25, 2006 at 3:28 am

Brian: “But when I see detailed plot synopses out there for “discussions,” it just boggles the mind. I understand there’s something to be said for reading the comic for yourself, but when you have practically line for line what happens in a comic book – that’s bizarre! And I struggle, really, with determing what’s MORE bizarre – the fact that people do it, or the fact that other people APPLAUD them for doing it. That this type of buzz-kill discussing is POPULAR amongst a significant portion of comic book fans.”

I’m getting scary flashbacks to the x-board 2-5 years ago (that long???) of everyone’s fave male poster ‘Jean Grey’ and the other discussion that wouldn’t die, not ‘What is cool?’, but ‘Is reading a synopsis the same as reading the book?’.

A flash of white hot pain that,which hurts beyond belief, appears behind my eyes at the mere thought of those days.

Thanks for bringing that one back Brian, you bastard.

(I’m suprised Dan hasn’t responded yet yelling about that one.
Maybe he’s too busy rolling around on the floor, bashing his head into the ground over, and over again.)

The main problem with plot synopses is that, especially for the typical superhero comic book, it’s really hard to make them anything but deadly dull.

The guys at televisionwithoutpity.com are a good illustration of the exception. I read their plot synopses even for shows I’ve already watch (actually, come to think of it, almost exclusively for shows I’ve already watched) because they’re funny and snarky in addition to giving “the facts.”

But “straight” plot synopses of comics can be pretty deadly. I remember back in the day, the magazine “Amazing Heroes” had the occasional “Hero History” feature that, while nice as a reference in some ways, particularly in the pre-Internet days, could be horribly boring to read. “And then Daredevil faced Stilt-Man for the second time in #blah,” followed by a blow-by-blow recap of that….

“But “straight” plot synopses of comics can be pretty deadly. I remember back in the day, the magazine “Amazing Heroes” had the occasional “Hero History” feature that, while nice as a reference in some ways, particularly in the pre-Internet days, could be horribly boring to read. “And then Daredevil faced Stilt-Man for the second time in #blah,” followed by a blow-by-blow recap of that….”

I thinking skimming the history of the Invaders in the Watchmen preview issue of AH I got off E-Bay nearly put me in a coma.

“I think you’re missing the point of that sort of comics discussion. Those guys are not reviewers or critics, and they don’t claim to be. They’re just fans who are enjoying the story at surface level, and want to discuss what’s happening to their favourite characters.”–They’re also really, really weird. Just read the damn thing and THEN discuss it.

“In the old days I would have borrowed a friend’s copy, but there aren’t as many comic folks hanging around these days, you know?”–Too true. Used to be, the first time I’d read something new would actually be borrowing it from a friend. Now I’m reduced to one comics-reading friend. I keep him up to date on DC and he keeps me up to date on Marvel, although lately he’s been switching over to DC a lot.

You know, T, instead of deciding that just because some biased line-by-liner thinks a book is bad, it must be bad, you could just download the book and see for yourself. It’s not petty, it’s just kind of stupid, and uninformed.

Mychael Darklighter

July 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm

or you could pay a few bucks for, you know, the work that went into making it for you to read.
infinite crisis was good. does that change your mind?

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