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Cronin Theory of Comics Archives | Page 2 of 2 | Comics Should Be Good @ CBR

Cronin Theory of Comics – Fan-fiction is a Limited Critique

“It was like fan fiction” is not a good critique of a comic book writer’s performance. Continue Reading »

Cronin Theory of Comics – Serialized Fiction Is Judged Individually

I get it, Paul Dini, you think that, when Countdown is read as a whole, then the early lame issues will be transformed into a strong opening in the vast tapestry that is Countdown.

However, serialized fiction does not work that way (at least not according to the Cronin Theory of Comics, that is, natch). An individual comic, if it is bad, does not suddenly become good because it tied into a bigger story. Continue Reading »

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. Continue Reading »

Cronin Theory of Comics – It Doesn’t Matter If Bronze Tiger Can Beat You Up

There is no doubt that, once you create a shared universe, the Comparative Hierarchy exists. It doesn’t even have to be two titles. It can be just one title with more than one character. If you have a book starring, say, a detective, if you then introduce another detective, the question WILL come up in the mind of the reader – who is the better detective? Once you get to the point like the DC or Marvel Universe, it is staggering – as there are SO many characters to be placed within the Comparative Hierarchy. But you know what? I think it’s fun, and shouldn’t really affect stories. Character A can run faster than Character B who can run faster than Character C. Nothing wrong with that. It gives the fans something to talk about.

Where the trouble lies, though, is when the writer of Character C starts to be concerned that Character C is slower than Character A and B.

That way lies madness!!

It doesn’t matter if Bronze Tiger can beat your character up! Continue Reading »

Cronin Theory of Comics – Don’t Compete With Your Readers

I will be honest, I really do not care what writers think about their readers. For instance, you can adore your readers and you can hold them in contempt, it really doesn’t matter to me. The one thing I think you should not do, though, is to compete with your readers over how you write your stories.

“What do you mean by compete, Brian?,” you might ask. Well, here’s what I mean… Continue Reading »

Cronin Theory of Comics – Nostalgia/Importance Quotient

Here’s a simple enough equation I have come up with. The greater the importance of the scene in the comic book, the greater damage it does to the story for the scene to be steeped in nostalgia. Nostalgia is not a bad thing, per se. Little geeky touches in a comic that only longterm fans will appreciate is fine by me. Alan Moore’s work is filled with stuff like that. When a book like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has enough little nods to give Jess Nevins something to do, you know that there is a lot of nostalgia involved. However, the big difference there is that the nostalgia did not affect any IMPORTANT parts of the story.

Compare that with Continue Reading »

Cronin Theory of Comics – Dr. Strange Isn’t a Walking Plot Device

Dr. Strange is a fine character, so I would like for comics, when they use Dr. Strange, to actually USE Dr. Strange. Except for Peter Milligan in the recent X-Statix mini-series (and that was more of a co-starring role than a guest appearance), when writers use Dr. Strange, it seems to boil down to the following: Continue Reading »

Cronin Theory of Comics – Comic Reviews

As you all may know, the way that I see the blog working, when it comes to reviews, is that we tell you all what comic books we think are good or, in the alternative, tell you why books that were NOT good were not good At the heart of that, then, is the only “rule” I’ve ever given the folks who I ask to contribute here – “Don’t recommend a book that you do not think is good.” That might seem to be a no-brainer, but far too often, elsewhere, I have seen people write reviews like, “Yeah, this comic isn’t really that good, but I still like it, so I’ll give it a B.” I think stuff like that is counter-productive.

I have no problem with people liking books that they don’t think are good, heck, I like plenty of books that I wouldn’t classify as “good.” They just happen to appeal to me. At the same time, I would hope that those same people wouldn’t recommend the comics to OTHER people. That’s how I like to look at it – “Recommended,” to me, means that I am willing to say, “Yeah, I think there is a darn good chance that most people will (or, to be more egotistical, should) enjoy this book.” That’s all.

Therefore, when I DON’T recommend a book, it does not mean that I think the book is bad. If I think the book is bad, I’ll make sure to say I think the book is bad (heck, for the really bad, Nightwing #118-119/Battle for Bludhaven level books, I have a special “Recommended That You DON’T Read” category). In most cases, though, I’ll mention a certain audience who I think probably would enjoy the book, but I won’t give it an overall recommendation. So, while most books will end up as “not recommended,” that does not mean that most comics are terrible, or anything like that. I just think we should make it a point just to make sure people know which comics are GOOD.

Cronin Theory of Comics – It Is a Lot Harder To Move From Another Media To Comics Than Is Given Credit

I did a bit on this in 2004 before I started doing the “Theory of Comics” shtick, so I thought it would be nice to rewrite it as a “Theory of Comics” bit. In any event, , I believe that, if you’re a good writer, you’re just a good writer, no matter what the genre is. However, I think people totally underestimate the difficulties of moving from one medium to another. For instance, we do not automatically think each good screenwriter will be a good novelist, do we? Or vice-versa. Yet there seems to be this belief WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ITSELF that any good writer from another medium can just come in and write a good comic book.

Which I do not think is the case.

The inspiration for this particular version is the writing of Reginald Hudlin. His first few issues of Black Panther, I believe, were pretty poor. Forgetting his use of Black Panther continuity (as it would not be sporting to judge him on that level), the stories themselves just weren’t all that good. Not awful or anything, but not good. However, as he has progressed on the title, I believe that Hudlin’s writing has greatly improved. It reminds me of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who I think had a bit of a problem adjusting to comic writing, but developed into one of the better mainstream comic book writers.

This belief that being a good TV/Film/Play writer means you will be a good comic book writer is just so silly, and almost makes me think of it as a self-esteem issue (if he’s good enough to write for TV, he MUST be good enough to write for comics!!) of the industry.

The big difference, really, is that TV/Film/Plays have actors, and therefore, the writer can always depend on the actors to deliver tone and feeling. In a comic, it is pretty much all on the writer (yes, the artst helps a good deal, but in terms of dialogue, it is alll writer).

There ARE those that don’t have trouble making the transition, like Joss Whedon (who, even if you dislike his work, it is not for his inability to tell a story in comic format) Damon Lindelof and JMS, but for the most part, it seems to be a long transition before the writer is comfortable writing comics, and I guess I’d just like to see an understanding of that besides the current approach of “if you can write for TV, you can write a comic book!” Because, from the perspective of the industry, it gives us too many bad comics as the writer adjusts and from the perspective of the readers, it gives too many writers a poor reputation in comics which I do not think is deserved, as when the adjustment period ends, most of the writers are pretty good (for instance, I think Ron Zimmerman’s last comic book project was really quite good, but by that point in time, he had already been written off as a comic writer because he was one of the biggest examples of ‘not adjusting to the change in media’).

Cronin Theory of Comics – Last Page Turns Should Be Used Fairly

I don’t mind surprises in comics. I don’t mind “twists” either. One thing that I do dislike, and what I think should be avoided in comics is the use of the last page turn “shocker,” where the last page exists strictly to shock you, not to service the story.

These “shockers,” which often get referred to as cliffhangers, seem to me to be one of the lazier writing tricks, and I think it should be dissuaded. I don’t mind having a reveal or anything like that at the end of the issue, but just so long as the ending is fairly played.

Brian K. Vaughan (a fine writer) always used to be a big proponent of what I call last page turn shockers. By “last page turn,” I mean, of course, the hidden last page of a comic, which is often placed so that the last page and the second-to-last page are not visible at the same time, so that the last page is a secret until you turn that last page. Vaughan once gave an interview where he remarked, after being asked “You’ve got a rep for kick-ass cliffhangers. Do they come easy or with much gnashing of teeth?” “Thanks. I think good cliffhangers are easy to write, actually.” I totally agree with Vaughan, at least in regards to the type of “cliffhangers” he was known for at the time. When you just have some random event occur at the end of the issue, not tied to the plot of the story, it IS easy to write, because you don’t have to build up to it, and you still get the “shock” effect that you would get if you had spent time building up to a reveal.

A perfect (or imperfect, as it were) example of this style of last page turn shockers is Geoff Johns. How many times in a Geoff Johns comic did a random character just pop up dramatically at the end of an issue, even if they were not referenced up until that point? He uses the device frequently (most recently, the Flash storyline where it seemed like a different person was dramatically popping out of time every issue), and I think it is far too much of a creative shortcut.

You can have effective cliffhangers and surprises while following the foundation you laid out in the story. It may take a little more work, admittedly, but it CAN be done. You CAN shock people by playing fairly with the last page turn.

In fact, since those early days of his (in my opinion) fairly cheap shock endings, Vaughan has pretty much completely gone away from that style of storytelling. For instance, when the traitor in Runaways was revealed on a last page spread, I think that was a fair use of the last page shocker, because Vaughan had laid the foundation for the traitor for issues, so the reveal was a culmination of that groundwork, it was a shock based upon the story. Likewise, in a recent issue of Y, Vaughan had a “twist” at the end of an issue where he reveals what the letter Yorick had Hero give to Beth said. Again, Vaughan laid the groundwork in the issue by A. Showing the letter and B. Establishing that Beth was hiding what the letter actually said, so while the reveal at the end changed the way the story was seen, and was a surprise, it was built into the story – not an “out of story” shocker for the sake of shocking.

That’s all I want, writers to play fair with their stories.

Cronin Theory of Comics – Don’t Be Self Conscious About Writing Superhero Comics AKA “Why Puny Humans No Write Hulk Dialogue?”

I was re-reading some older Hulk comics the other day from the 1970s, and it struck me, no one writes the “classic” Hulk dialogue anymore. Now, Peter David had an excuse, as his Hulk was not in the vein of the classic Hulk, but that has not been the case for a long while since David, and yet basically every writer after David on the Incredible Hulk has kept the Hulk as basically a silent creature, which struck me…could it be because writers feel weird writing that goofy dialogue? If so, that’s not a good reason, because I do not think you can afford to be self-conscious when writing superhero comics.

Do not get me wrong, I think the same idea applies to other mediums, such as television and film, but in those cases, if the WRITER feels weird about the goofy dialogue, you sure as hell better bet that the ACTOR feels even weirder about the goofy dialogue, so there is a tagteam approach to dealing with feeling self-conscious. For the comic writer, it is all him or her on the line. If people make fun of the dialogue, it is strictly the writer who will take the heat. But if fear of this is keeping writers from writing comics a certain way, then I think that is awfully silly. Just as silly as I think it is to not have Hulk talk in the “Puny humans, Hulk smash!” dialogue anymore (except, of course, when Mark Millar does it in Ultimates ironically. Everything can be accepted if you just look at it with “irony”).

This goes beyond Hulk’s dialogue, of course. I think it is something that pervades a lot of modern comic book writers. That is why we see so many stories like, “Why would a guy who can build a gun that shoots fire waste his time robbing banks when he could just patent the gun and sell it?” It shows a certain level of dissatisfaction with the very genre the writer is working in…a dissatisfaction that is quite telling, in regards to the writer’s approach on matters.

If you don’t want to write superhero comics, that’s cool. We could always use good new comics in other genres.

But if you’re GOING to write superhero comics, just do it. Commit to the idea.

Do not be self-conscious about it.

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.

Cronin Theory of Comics – Good Characters Should Be Written in Comics

Really, it sounds like a no brainer, doesn’t it?

When one wants to make good comics, one should use good characters.

So if a good character is available, a writer should use it.

However, it appears as though there are those who feel that there is a better idea out there…

To quote Judd Winick, from a nice interview by Hilary Goldstein at IGN, We all threw around names of characters who would be the one to carry the story, knowing it’s going to end with their demise. That’s important that there’s someone who discovers everything and dies for it. And in the very short list we kept coming back to Blue Beetle. And everyone in the room said, “I could do a great Blue Beetle series.” And that’s why he has to go, because he’s actually the one who means something. And now he’s gone and eleven years from now someone will bring him back and we’ll be angry men about that. It’s generational. See that?

I could do a great Blue Beetle series….and that’s why he has to go.

The two statements, they really should be mutually exclusive.

In addition, I do not know if Winick is intentionally ignoring history when he makes his “And now he’s gone and eleven years from now someone will bring him back and we’ll be angry men about that. It’s generational.” point.

For Jim Starlin did not kill off Captain Marvel (the example Winick cites in his interview as an inspiration for their handling of Blue Beetle) because he thought there was a lot of great Captain Marvel stories to write in the future.

Jason Todd was not put in a position to be killed off because Starlin had lots of ideas for Jason Todd stories.

It was exactly the opposite.

If you think you can write a good series featuring a character, that is always better than killing off said character.


Good comics come from writing good characters well.

Holographic foil covered 100th issue anniversary comics are not worth the discarding of them.

Death scenes added to make a story seem more “historic” are not worth the discarding of them.

Launchs of company-wide crossovers are not worth the discarding of them.

And what is so particularly amusing about this instance is that, even if a reader were to disagree over whether a particular character is “good,” here we see that the writers themselves thought that the character was “good,” and that gave them more reason to kill off the character.

Pretty damn silly.

Cronin Theory of Comics – “Avoid the Big Event”

This really has to do, I think, with the reason why so many writers are doing shorter runs on books nowadays.

When you look back at the “classic” storylines, you are likely to rememeber the “Big Event.”

Heck, DC Comics, in its trade paperback department, has pretty much acted like they did not have any comic published after 1970 and before 1994, and yet they still have trades for both “The Great Darkness Saga” and “The Judas Contract.”

Because those both were “Big Events.”

So I can understand the impetus of current writers to want to each try to write the “Big Event” during their run on a title.

The reason, though, why this coincides with shorter runs is because, in my opinion, if you want to have a sustained impressive run on a comic book, you CAN’T have a “Big Event.”

This is because, if you spend all your time leading up to a particular story, that story might be excellent, and you may always be remembered for it…but once that story is over, there really isn’t anywhere else to go.

For instance, after Elektra was killed in #181, Daredevil was still an excellent comic book. However, when you reread the run, Miller is clearly just treading water after #181, as he has HAD his ending…but the book still kept going.

Byrne and Simonson avoided this by not HAVING any one “big event” during their Fantastic Four and Thor runs. There were memorable issues, to be sure, but no one overarching story (except, perhaps, for Simonson’s last issue of Thor).

Other examples of when the big event just killed any momentum on a run.

1. The Judas Contract – People can rattle off so many classic Teen Titans stories PRE-Judas Contract. How many POST?

2. The Great Darkness Saga – Giffen has even commented that he and Levitz had basically peaked early, and Giffen specifically mocked the stories they followed up the Saga with.

3. Terminal Velocity – Waid had already dulled his momentum with the Return of Barry Allen, but Terminal Velocity just finished it. Flash #100 was, for pretty much all purposes, the END of Mark Waid’s Flash run. The fact that he managed another 40 issues after that is…well…odd.

4. Under Siege – I would still buy Avengers with Stern post-Under Siege, but let’s be honest, the title pre-Siege and post-Siege were dramatically different. And the former was much cooler than the latter.

5. Longbow Hunters – Did Grell EVER top this? Kinda weird to have your momentum killed BEFORE you start an 80-issue run. Still good stuff, but 80 issues of direction-less stuff.

6. Hawkworld – I know this was never trumped. The ongoing, in retrospect, was probably a mistake from the word go.

7. Dark Phoenix Saga- I hesitate about this one…because I think Claremont originally HAD a “Big Event” planned for X-Men #150 involving all the same characters, but that was trashed when he was forced to kill Jean in #137. However, since the X-Men under Claremont (besides a couple of interludes for Days or Future Past and God Loves, Man Kills) never really reached any major heights after this story, I guess I will tentatively count it.

8. Tony Stark’s Alcoholism – Michelinie had a really good run on Iron Man going when he went into the long Tony’s Alcoholism plot. But when the storyline finished, the rest of his run, while still good, really meandered.

9. Armor Wars – Michelinie II had the same problem. Once the major storyline was over, the plot just really meandered until he left. Some good stuff, though.

10. Pantheon War – Peter David did a pretty good job avoiding the “Big Event,” even managing to combine the Hulks without stopping any momentum, but #425 was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. The book really meandered over the next 40 issues (not all of that was David’s fault, he also had Onslaught to deal with, plus two completely unsuitable artists in Sharp and Medina).

11. Supergirl/Buzz – Like Hawkworld and Longbow Hunters, this was an example of a book having a good storyline, finishing it…then having 60 plus issues on top of that. Even if you enjoyed Peter David’s Supergirl, I don’t think anyone would really put up much of an argument that, after the first storyline, the book really fell off big time. That’s because the first story told the tale, for the most part. Notice that there has only been one Supergirl trade (until the ridiculous “upskirt” run at the end).

12. Firestorm – Ostrander had a really good “on the run” storyline that concluded with Ronnie and a Russian fellow being merged together as a NEW Firestorm. The story really should have ended there – I think Ostrander’s run would be regarded a lot better if it did.

13. Welcome Back, Frank – I think even Ennis knew he really did not have anything left after this story, hence the recent MAX relaunch.

Anyone know of any other examples?

Of either a run that managed to avoid “Big Events” or a run whose momentum was cut short by a “Big Event”?

Cronin Theory of Comics – “Keith Giffen As Plotting God – Scripting Devil.”

As many of you do, I’m sure, I have a few certain theories that I personally view as truths about comic books.

I understand that, for the most part, they are specific to me, but I am egotistical enough to believe that some of them are, in fact, universal theories.

The first one that I will share is “Keith Giffen As Plotting God – Scripting Devil.”

I am a very big fan of the comic book creator Keith Giffen.

I think he’s the bee’s knees.

However, there is one rather large deficit in his comic abilities.

He is not a very good scripter.

If you look back at Giffen’s triumphs and failures as a comic book creator, invariably, the triumphs will be when Giffen is working with a separate scripter, and the failures will be when he is only scripting a book.

Justice League – Only plotted – It was good.

Trencher – Plotted and Scripted – It was not good.

Legion of Superheroes – Only plotted – It was good.

Thanos – Plotted and Scripted – It was not good.

Ambush Bug – Only plotted – It was good.

Suicide Squad – Plotted and Scripted – It was not good..

Heckler – Only plotted – It was good.

Reign of the Zodiac – Plotted and Scripted – It was not good..

Lobo – Only plotted – It was good.

Book of Fate – Plotted and Scripted – It was not good..

L.E.G.I.O.N. – Only plotted – It was good.

Magnus: Robot Fighter – Plotted and Scripted – It…well, it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t that good.

Freak Force – Only plotted – It was good.

Legend of Supreme – Only plotted – It was good.

Superpatriot – Only plotted – It was good.

Ragman – Only plotted – It was good.

So there you go….”Keith Giffen as Plotting God/Scripting Devil”, a Cronin Theory of Comics.


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