What is a “good comic book?”

7 Jun

By Ayo

Somewhere, a dude walked past FURY: My War Gone By #3 and bought a copy of “Before Watchmen” #1. Damn, that’s a sucka.

There is nothing that I can tell you about this comic. If you believe, you’ve already read it. If you don’t believe, you just won’t. It’s not even “too bad.” You’re just *different* from people like me. Have fun with your life, buddy.


Amanda Conner is a terrific cartoonist. I deeply enjoyed her work on Power Girl, an uncomplicated superhero comic that stood in stark contrast with the solemn, self-consciously “serious” superhero comics that were on the shelves at the same time.

I was deeply distressed when I learned that Conner is an artist in the “Before Watchmen” series of comics. Strangely enough, Conner also drew the “Ame-Comi” Wonder Woman miniseries. While I want nothing to do with “Before Watchmen,” I am happy to read this Wonder Woman miniseries.

And yes, the art looks great.


I didn’t know that “good comic books” were a possibility when I was eleven years old. They were exciting and confusing but life in general was so mysterious to me that rather than rejecting these bad comics, I delved deeper into them, absorbed in their promises of complex back stories.

I ignored mistakes and obvious storytelling flaws because I was chasing a kernel of truth which seemed to be encased beneath the surface.

In this day and age I often find that comic books which are good fail to hold my interest in the way that the right concoction of “bad” can. The imperfections fascinate me. While the logistical flaws are just as apparent to me at thirty as they were to me at eleven, I am nagged by the knowledge that better comic books exist out there.

At this point in time I can see that what attracts me isn’t “bad” comics per se. What appeals to me is a comic book that I’ve got to put in some work to figure out. I have written about the Marvel Comics crossover event AvX and how terrible it is. But rather than repulsed I have been continually drawn back. It is not a good comic. But there are hooks and levers for me to play with. There is enough material for me to probe and investigate and ask about. Terribly written series. John Romita Jr (whose art I love) is clearly phoning in his pages. AvX is Not. A. Good. Comic.

But I kind of like it.

The opening issue, #0 was so blindingly stupid that I literally had to put it down and stare at the ceiling for a moment. I was not expecting much, but AvX #0 lowered my expectations even further. At first I was shocked and disappointed but then I settled into it and lowered the bar. AvX #1 broke through that lowered bar as well. Presently, after concluding my reading of AvX #5, the overall story quality has elevated from those fabulous lows (but not by any means “good”) and the series has become a curious little monster that I am genuinely fond of.

There are many comic books that are very well drawn and well told. And many of these slip from my mind the moment I turn the last page. Do these comics suffer from being too competent? I think so. AvX absolutely offends the mature mind with its aggressive stupidity, its hostility toward craft. However, it is bold. And gleefully ignorant. Somehow I can’t express this in a good way: I want superhero comics to be like this. Farting-into-a-telephone stupid. Polar-bears-don’t-live-in-Antarctica stupid.

On the other side of things, Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen created what is perhaps the perfect post-serious, post-legitimacy superhero comic book in the form of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

This is a comic whose silly tone masks a very well written, well drawn work of art. Nextwave basks in stupidity but it is made with great care and intelligence. Except for the overt humorous element of Nextwave (the comic is generally satirical), it actually achieves the goals that the self-conscious and “serious” superhero comics collapse in pursuit of.

In either case, comics that are exceptionally adept or disastrously lame can sometimes scratch the same itch. My brain seeks problems. “I can’t be happy when I’m happy.” Perfection can be boring if that perfection is so hermetic that it leaves nothing to the imagination. Foolish comics are my candy. They can set my mind sailing, in search of treasure.

I don’t know where I’m going with this.

Sometimes I feel that comic book creators are too conservative. Too insecure, too needing of mainstream literary approval. But this is why mainstream people love us: comics are meant to be fun.

Sure some can be DEADLY SERIOUS. But Persepolis aside, people want some light reading. Some humor, suspense, romance. And like it or not, people can tell when you’re trying too hard. And when you seek approval, you’ll never receive the head pat and doggie treat that you desire.

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