Thursday, June 14, 2012

Superhero Word Vomit

This article is not what you might have immediately envisioned. It isn't about Batman uncontrollably spewing his every thought, but rather fandoms' inability to quit talking about the problematic genre of superhero comics (even mainstream media outlets suffer from this ailment). Even when criticism is well deserved, the amount of time spent shaming the missteps of large publishers is rarely equal to time spent showing examples of comics that actually get it right. Men, women, old fans, new fans, we all have a super-god given right to complain when superheroes let us down, and keep relatively quiet when they succeed in entertaining us.

This superhero word vomit that makes fans fixate on the shortcomings of comics, particularly of the tights variety, is the same impulse that applies to any customer service relationship. Think about how much more likely you are to tell a friend about a bad experience you have with a business than when excellent service is rendered. Perhaps this disparity of shared opinions is heightened by our relationship with comics. Imagine going to the same family diner, once a month, for years, perhaps even since childhood. It is comforting, familiar, and good enough to keep coming back despite other ample possibilities. Then one month your food is lackluster, the service is terrible, and they've raised prices, too. But you love the place so much that you decided to give it another chance a month later. You have the same disappointing experience. The urge to vent may be greater than a mediocre dining experience at the new place down the street since your expectations weren't as high. The long established superhero books we continue to read, despite the disappointment they may deliver month after month, are a lot like the once beloved restaurant. We may have told friends and loved ones about the delicious meals of past, but boy will they be sure to hear about the turd they tried to serve me this week. So what keeps us coming back for more? For starters, a certain amount of loyalty can go a long way in making one ignore common sense. Supporting bad art while complaining about it will have as much effect on quality as continuing to eat at the once great diner down the street. Every business responds to the bottom line, and as long as money keeps coming in, its going to be business as usual.

Tough love doesn't always get results, and it may not even stop you from complaining about being disappointed in a book. But continuing to contribute to something that may have once been great isn't just a waste of one's own time and resources, but it also continues to contribute to the shortcomings of the comic book medium. Take a good hard look at your purchases next time you are at your local comic shop. Think about which ones you've talked about in the last week, which ones you've tweeted about, blogged about, read about. How many of those sentiments were positive? How many were rave reviews and how many opinions were more akin to keeping up with the Joneses? One habit readers can all benefit from is to talk about the books we enjoy more than the ones we don't. Instead of lamenting about the very existence of a series like Before Watchmen, or the mind numbing dullness of Avengers vs. X-Men, we can re-read the classics that inspired the modern incarnations. Better yet, one can pick up a newer title like Unwritten or Dark Horse Presents or Scalped or Locke & Key or any number of critically acclaimed series that have been enthusiastically recommended by their fans. Write a blog post about picking up a new series that rocked your socks, not an old one that misses the mark again. Tweet your recommended readings as soon as you finish them. And above all, put your money where your mouth is. If a book is truly disappointing, express your discontent as a deterrent to purchase said title, and stop buying it yourself. We as fans are past due for a change of conversation, and it will take a conscious effort to change the focus of the medium.

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