First Criterion

The one criterion I apply first to judging almost any comic book story — or film or novel or television drama — any story presentation not intended to be taken as parody or farce — is simply this: *Did I believe it?*

While I was reading the story, did I accept unquestioningly that it was actually happening?

Note that I’m *not* talking about what fans used to call “willing suspension of disbelief.” Willing suspension necessarily implies the recognition of some need to suspend belief. My test requires an *unwilling* suspension of disbelief. Either I’m transported by the story into its reality without conscious effort, or I’m not. If not, the story fails the test.

And if it fails the believability test, almost nothing else matters. The writing may be technically excellent and even highly original. The art may be stunning. So what?

A technically excellent, stunningly beautiful artifice is still just a trick.

And that’s the problem I have with many of the crossover series, and a lot of other comic books these days. I just don’t believe them. As stories, they feel constructed, not told. They feel unconvincing…”made up.”

Make any sense?

4 Responses to “First Criterion”

  1. Mark Haden Frazer Says:


    For two reasons.

    1) Crossovers feel like an arena concert, with waaay too many people crammed together and a show that has no soul – as in everything has been planned to the nth degree.

    2) It is easier to accept that Batman, Green Arrow & John Constantine inhabit (and could work together) in the same world, than it is to swallow that Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing & Space Ranger would hang together for ANY reason.

    Harlan Ellison once said that while DC has the better characters, Marvel has the better stories. That’s more true today than it was when Harlan said it: You could go – right now – and pick up an issue of Bendis’ DAREDEVIL & get the general idea of who the characters are & what the story is about. All the trades are in print & available, so if you wanted to read more, no problem.

    Not so with DC: I recall a few years back that my wife was excited about Kevin Smith writing GREEN ARROW. She had NEVER read a DC book before – EVER – but being a Smith fan, she bought the first issue.

    And never bought another.

    Because in the first six pages ALONE, the story made deep references to THE FINAL NIGHT x-over & Hal Jordan becoming Parallax. And every 10 seconds, the wife would call out from the next room, “Hey! What’s (fill in the blank) all about!?” Until, finally, realizing that there was way too much uninteresting baggage to wade through, said “Fuck this!!”

    And y’all wanna know why all the comic-inspired movies aren’t bringing in that many new readers??

  2. Brian Spence Says:

    I’ve been surprised at how much I’m enjoying the main “House of M” book. Unfortunately, my comic book store has been holding all of the crossover crap along with it. Anything outside of the main book is shit. We know that none of this will change anything for good, so why they f-ing up these other books? It’s fine to have one book take on this storyline, but it’s awful to ruin everything else.

    Also, these stories are taking too damn long to tell. I think that’s what Grant Morrison was getting at with his JLA run. There’s a lot of ideas out there, you don’t need 12 issues to develop one of them. He threw in 10 big ideas in each issue.

    Stan and Jack did amazingly huge, colossal stories in single issues. The first Hulk/Thing fight comes to mind. What an awesome battle. So much happened in so few pages. Lotta bang for the buck there.

  3. Richard Bensam Says:

    Seems to me the big crossover events feel constructed rather than told simply because they are, by definition, constructs rather than stories.

    We’re defining a crossover event as one of these marketing events where characters from a lot of different titles with different writers come together in some putative overarching structure, and the action weaves back through the individual titles, then eventually reaches a culmination (one hopes!) in the overarching central event book. The whole point of this exercise is to get people reading not just the main event book, but all those ancillary titles — or at least more of them than these same readers would otherwise be reading — thereby boosting sales across the board.

    So now you’re adding a lot of additional writers and artists and editors to the mix, and many different editorial directions and requirements and restrictions on what can or can’t be done. So naturally it becomes a stitched-together patchwork of snippets and remains each pulling in a different direction.

    The only one of these experiments that even approached artistic credibility was Steve Englehart’s Millennium event, 18 years ago — he made some shrewd choices about the opportunities he gave other creative teams, and his premise was designed from the start for characters to go their own way. It also seems to be the least-remembered and least commercially successful of these events, so no love for artistic credibility there!

    Seven Soldiers proves that a single creator can do interlocking titles with artistic success. But with the multiple writers required in the company-wide approach, it may be impossible to tell a good story.

  4. Brett Says:

    Ignoring cross-overs and going to Steve’s big point – believability. I’m with him on this.

    I’ve had friends point out plot holes and errors in films, books, comics, TV shows whatever. And my feeling is that unless I’m thinking about it while it’s happening I don’t mind.

    If I’m caught up in the story while it’s happening I’ll accept almost any glitch I think about afterwards. It’s when I’m watching/reading the story and part of me is going “wait a minute…” that I start to worry.