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CSBG Archive

Cronin Theory of Comics – Pre-Judging Works

This was recently brought up in the comments, so I figured it worth an entry.

Okay, so right from the get go, I don’t think you should ever state that a work is bad before it comes out. Nor do I think you should state that a work is bad without first having read/watched it (I think I’ll even extend that to “having seen promos/trailer for the work”).

However, I think “that looks bad” is perfectly reasonable if you, well, think it looks bad. Likewise, I have no problem (heck, I do it myself) with predicting quality of future works based on information you’ve previously acquired from past works, so long as you are only PREDICTING quality rather than making declarations of the quality of the work.

If I pick up a Jason Aaron comic book, before I open it up, I figure that the odds are that it will be well-written, based on his past work leading up to this new issue. On the flip side, if I pick up a comic by (name withheld*), I know the odds are that it will be poorly-written, based on his/her past work leading up to this new issue. So if I wish to say something like, “I am not looking forward to Writer V taking over Book W” or its counter, “I am looking forward to Writer X taking over Book Y,” then I think that is completely acceptable.

A slightly more problematic point is the question of citing the critical consensus. I think it is acceptable, so long as you are pretty clear that that is what you are doing – citing the critical consensus, not stating your stance on the matter. So if a comic is getting totally panned by the critics, I think saying “Apparently, Comic Book Z is not very good” is acceptable, but yeah, probably better to be clearer, just to avoid any possible confusion.

*The name wasn’t really withheld, that was a joke – I didn’t even think of a particular name.


I think it’s perfectly acceptable, given Frank Miller’s last couple of works, plus the almost unanimous critical consensus about the Spirit, to say that the Spirit probably is bad.

Maybe I’m just too vanilla in my tastes, but I don’t remember ever liking a movie that is 100% panned by the critics. I liked lots of movies that received mixed reviews, though.

If you are familiar with the work of writer X (and I don’t just mean you dislike one creative decision he made, especially if it was editorially driven), and are familiar with the work of artist Y, and have read an interview in there about the project or have at least seen a solicit, then yeah, absolutely.

You will know, with a high level of probability, at the very least whether you will like the work or not. All it takes is an educated opinion. Like anything else, just back up what you say with the reasoning behind it.

For instance, the Judd Winick/Ian Churchill Titans book, from almost the second it was announced, looked like a complete disaster to me.

And yes, I did frown a little on you commenting on Battle for the Cowl, Brian, but that’s only because it’s been so long since I or anyone else has read anything by Tony Daniel that I personally don’t feel comfortable assuming poor quality ahead of time, even if some of his previously written work wasn’t very good. I like to think I follow some strict guidelines when it comes to pre-judging comics since so many people don’t and since I’m so sick of arguing the point that it is perfectly acceptable so long as you’ve done your homework.

“I don’t remember ever liking a movie that is 100% panned by the critics. ”

I loved Speed Racer, but:
A) I don’t know if 37 on Metacritic counts as “100% panned” — my newspaper gave the Spirit four stars.
B) I was in an IMax theater with friends consuming sugar and caffeine in bulk. I’m sort of afraid to watch it again.

Are you mad? Writer X is crap. He can’t hold a candle to writer V!

I enjoyed Toys. As a kid I enjoyed Howard the Duck (or rather Howard: A New Breed of Hero as it was called over here for some reason) , but I tried to watch it years later and realised it was actually terrible.

Also the Butterfly Effect got fairly slated, but I thought that was great.

My parents won’t hear a word said against 1941

my newspaper gave the Spirit four stars

I’m sure there are going to be a lot of reviewers who rate The Spirit highly… I reckon a lot of them will probably call it something like “a lighter, more humourous take on Sin City by the same Creator”…
Don’t forget a lot of people liked League of Extraordinary Gentlemen too…

The problem is, we as comic readers are a tiny minority of the people who will go and see these films. The majority of ticket buyers are after mindless action, cleavage and “Kewl” effects, and will never have heard of the comic…

Like DanCJ, I really enjoyed Howard, A New Breed of Hero, with things like Quack-Fu, and a nude Duck in a bath… Then I encountered the comics years later…. I have to think of the movie as a parody of the comics now…

“A) I don’t know if 37 on Metacritic counts as “100% panned” — my newspaper gave the Spirit four stars.”

No, it doesn’t.

I was using a bit of hyperbole. I suppose a movie that receives more than 85% of negative crititcs qualifies.

I’m pre-judging things right now and loving it!

You know, this is only ever an issue when fans are working themselves up to stomp on something they’ve seen NOTHING of, with all their righteous fury. (The example I always think of is “organic webshooters,” which I’m told some people are actually still upset at Sam Raimi about, but the vast, vast majority of that went away as soon as we had something real to actually look at.)

Bringing it up in connection with THE SPIRIT, though, strikes me as ludicrous. Skipping a movie because it looks bad is an entertainment decision most people make all the time, and regular people usually get to do it without wild-eyed devotees of the work chasing them and demanding they account for themselves. “The trailer looks awful and I heard it sucked” are perfectly acceptable reasons for not wanting to see a movie and actually heard fairly often in casual conversation. “Gonna go see so-and-so?” “Nah, the trailer looked dumb.”. Trailers, reviews, and word-of-mouth are the three major ways studios PRESENT movies as an option.

THE SPIRIT marketing campaign was based largely on familiarity with the previous work of Frank Miller and (somewhat less) on the familiarity fans had with Will Eisner and the source material. So if we bring that familiarity to bear on what they show us, as we were invited to in countless ads, and that same familiarity tells us,.”Well, that looks like it’s going to be terrible,” the studio PR people have no one to blame but themselves. They ASKED to be pre-judged on that basis.

Now that the movie’s out and a lot of us are muttering, “Sounds like we made a good guess there about that one sucking out loud,” this pre-judgement accusation is coming up. It’s ridiculous. There’s no there there.

What is disheartening is the accompanying schaedenfreude. That part I don’t get, like Miller deserved it or had it coming or something. I have often thought over the last ten years or so that Miller’s excesses (that get excused as “satire” so often) might just really be where the guy’s head is and he thinks that’s how the non-satirical, regular version should be, and his earlier work that is so fondly remembered is the result of his editors and collaborators having more power to say no then. I think THE SPIRIT might be the time when the “satire” defense gets torpedoed once and for all.

But I don’t wish the guy ILL and I don’t understand all the fannish glee at his failure. I’m SAD that the Spirit movie is (apparently) so bad. I was rooting for it to be great. I ALWAYS root for these movies to be great. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that, and anyway Frank Miller is not some evil corporate guy that was screwing creators or stacking up a lot of bad karma or whatever. I mean, I don’t care for his recent work and I really wish there were people in comics willing to EDIT him, but that’s no reason to chortle at this national belly-flop with critics on his first movie. Come on, that hurts enough all by itself without a chorus of your former supporters all over the internet cheering for it. Frank Miller gave us a lot of good stuff, too, you know.

Definitely, the only way to have a completely fair opinion on a comic story is to have read it personally first. Problems with that: a) you run the risk of reading a story you will dislike or even HATE in the name of judging it; and b) YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT FIRST. It’s a little late to say “this story sucks, I won’t buy it” after you already have. I can’t understand, for example, why people keep buying DC’s year-long maxiseries on the HOPES that the ending will be good, considering the track record of disappointing endings they have had so far (at least Trinity has talent like Kurt Busiek behind it, but even for him I won’t buy a 52-part series.)

If anything, this is another reason why people wait for trade these days.

Well, first off I never really trust critics that much. If critic consensus meant anything, Superman Returns and the Dark Knight should have been enjoyable, but they were self-important and pretentious boring drivel. And I enjoyed Speed Racer, which was pretty badly panned. Spirit does look like it’s likely to be bad, but I won’t be convinced it is until I see for myself, because I remind myself the critics panning it also were probably raving about TDK so their opinions can’t really be trusted.

My only creators that guarantee a bad book to me are Jeph Loeb or Brad Meltzer. I believe anything written by those two are guaranteed crap without fail. Anything written by those two I automatically rank as the worst written book of the month.

Oh and I agree with Sijo, DC Events under Didio usually disappoint in the end, with the exception of 52, which I’m convinced had to be some crazy fluke.

I think a major point that when I finally go and see the Spirit when it comes out in a few days in the UK, I’m pretty sure my reaction will be ” It was actually alright, considering how bad it was meant to be” . Sometimes you go into something wanting to hate it because of how hyped it is. I’m actually really looking forward to finding something good in The Spirit, just to argue with the snarks. My reaction to the film will be different to if I had seen it hearing it was amazing, or if I’d caught it on TV in the middle of the night randomly in 15 years.

Incidently, pretty much every one of my non-comic book reading, non-Aint it Cool News-reading friends seems to think The Spirit looks amazing (bare in mind it hasn’t come out here yet).

“and his earlier work that is so fondly remembered is the result of his editors and collaborators having more power to say no then.”

I don’t think it’s just a matter of people now having no power to say him no. Miller would not be the first creative person to be changed by success, and the changes are internal. The writer that is still trying to make it big is naturally more insecure and willing to try harder and also more open to influences. I suspect Miller himself had more of a crap detector back then.

Plus Miller’s been in the business for what, 20 or 30 years? Obviously people change over time, whether successful or not. I know that my views of the world as well as what I consider to be artistically pleasing have changed over the past 20 or 30 years.

I think people make way too big of a deal about other people justifying their opinions on movies and comic books. Who cares if someone makes a statement about the quality of a piece, without having seen or read the whole thing? It’s not like any of us is some kind of authority. Someone’s words only carry weight as a ciritique if you treat them as a critique. Otherwise, it’s just some person talking on the internet.

And that’s really not a big deal.

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

December 31, 2008 at 10:19 am

First off, great comments Mr. Hatcher.

I haven’t seen The Spirit yet. Not sure if I will before it hits DVD. From the trailers, though, I get the feeling that it’s a movie that I might ordinarily enjoy … if it wasn’t supposed to be about The Spirit.

I know that sounds incredibly childish – I can’t help it.

I get the feeling that it’s a movie that I might ordinarily enjoy … if it wasn’t supposed to be about The Spirit.

I know that sounds incredibly childish – I can’t help it.

Hey, I totally get it. I KNOW I would have enjoyed Pulp Fiction a million times more if Tarantino had called it almost anything else. That whole movie I absolutely could not shut off the part of my brain that was saying, Pulp fiction my ass. Not set in the 30’s or 40’s? No Shadow? No hard-boiled private eyes or cowboys or Mongol warriors or alien invasions? No Doc Savage? This meandering Royale with Cheese monologue crap is supposed to be “Pulp Fiction”? I THINK NOT!!

Sometimes we just can’t control those involuntary fan reflexes.

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