Since I love comics and criticism, I often feel the need to check out reviews other people put out. Not for shallow validation of my opinions by finding out if anyone agrees with me (though, that is nice), but to get different perspectives or some new understanding of craft.
Another reason is to remind myself of how I don’t want to write. For example:
“Given his past form, in which characters are introduced by spending entire issues on visiting each one in turn for a brief chat about their powers and motivation, it’s particularly enjoyable that Bendis has clearly decided to show rather than tell. Iron Man may be familiar to most, but the likes of Rocket Racoon [sic] and Star-Lord clearly benefit from sequences that give them a moment in the spotlight. This may be the first time I’ve read a comic with Rocket Racoon [sic] in it, but the appeal of the character — at least as Bendis writes him — is instant. Similarly, Bendis packs widescreen, blockbuster action moments in this issue. An Earth-invading alien attack is well realized through expert choreography and timing, while elsewhere the leaders of various galactic empires meet to discuss Earth’s fate.”
This paragraph, as does the review as a whole, confounds me. None of the sentences written by the critic, James Hunt, have any sort of analysis to them. Nor does Hunt supply examples to back up anything he has written (the one-sentence plot summary he gives at the end of the quoted passage is not really specific to the comic he’s reviewing, even). The “appeal” of Rocket Raccoon (“as Bendis writes him,” anyway) is supposedly “instant,” yet nothing is said of how the character talks or behaves in the issue. Similarly, no examples are provided of how Bendis “shows” instead of “tells,” a sentence that seems contrary to reviews other, more rigorous comic critics have written on the series. It’s less criticism (academic or otherwise) than a series of superlatives looking to grace ad copy. This isn’t even a one-time thing, either: Comic Book Resources’ archives are packed with sterile, thoughtless commentary. Positive, negative, indifferent, there’s so little said with all those words it leaves the impression the site has its critics fill out a form rather than actually write (Abhay Khosla pointed out a while ago how much they love the word “masterful“). A Colin Smith, a Sean Witzke, or even someone middle of the road like Youtube’s Afroblue will back up what they’re saying with specific examples. They will talk about how something is put together, or the choices made (or not made) by the author(s). They also understand that adjectives are supposed to be used to qualify a thought, not to replace it.
This sort of thing wouldn’t bother me, except it comes up everywhere. Paid, professional critics who barely string a loose collection of sentences together and call it a “review.” While I hardly believe in the idea of “gate-keepers” and “role models” as a general rule, I do believe this noncommittal, eager to please/hesitant to upset model does set an example to the audience at large to not think about their art/entertainment. To remain as unengaged as possible. “Turn off my brain” or “You think too much” is the message here, and it is harmful. Not as immediately as a nut with a gun or a bomb, or increased expenses, or the loss of employment, sure, but a culture actively being passive is a culture incapable of anything but blind servitude.