PSA: How I come to my review score decisions

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Every week, I write four-to-five comic book reviews for ComicVine as a freelancer. I've been working with them since May of 2010, and have enjoyed my time here immensely so far; the quests are fun and it gives me a platform to write about a medium I love.

Since CV requires me to quantify my reviews in a star rating, there seems to be an increasing number of people who take issue with them. While I'd like to say that every review gets at least one comment questioning a score, that wouldn't be true: four-to-five star reviews remain relative feedback ghost towns.

So instead of responding to each comment as they come, I've decided to head them off at the pass and post a blog on how I come to my score decisions.

I'd like to preface this by saying that I try to be as honest as possible, and that a book with a large amount of hype is not immune from bad scores. As always, reviews are supposed to be subjective, and the fact that I didn't like a book doesn't mean you will, as well.

In short, there's really no reason to post angry comments saying "this score should be higher" because, really, it shouldn't. I'm confident in what I gave the book, and stand by it.

Zero Star reviews aren't given out unless a book is a dysfunctional mess; I haven't had to score a book a zero yet, and I hopefully never will.

One Star reviews are scarce, but a necessary evil sometimes; book CAN be that bad. One star reviews have terrible characters, laughable plot and dialog, and falls victim to every negative cliche it can. For a book to receive a one star rating, it has to insult my intelligence as a reader while offering no redeeming value whatsoever; a good example is Justice League: Generation Lost #24, which I felt insulted its readers by giving no good conclusion to the plot while saying "Buy JLI when it comes out!" as its final page. Obviously, these don't come with my recommendation to buy them.

Two Star reviews are given to books that are mostly functional as comics, but fail to live up to their potential and have no redeeming qualities to save them from mediocrity. These books have droll characters and slow plots with nothing to keep the readers entertained. I am not against books taking chances and experimenting with the medium, but I feel that it should (at very least) tell a good story to the readers. A two star review fails on this front, and shows no potential for change. Two star reviews generally cross into the "don't buy" category.

Three Star reviews are mediocre, but have enough redeeming qualities that I can recommend the purchase. These books tend to have two or three moments where I will either question the writer's choices or openly roll my eyes, and a premise that doesn't exactly "wow" me. Three stars doesn't necessarily indicate a bad book, but there were factors present that were actively keeping me from liking it, and they weren't subtle. This includes art that doesn't "match" the style of the writing, or vice versa.

Four Star reviews are tricky because the difference between a three and five star review just boils down to preference. If the glaring factors that I mentioned above aren't as pronounced, the book will often be upgraded from a three to a four. To me, a book is rarely completely flawless: the degree to which a book is affected by its flaws is how I determine the star rating. Four star books are awesome books, but they still have flaws that keep me from being blown away. Often, if a book is great, but lacks that "it" factor that keeps me from saying "Man, that was an amazing issue", it'll get a four as opposed to five.

Five Star/Perfect reviews are just that: perfection. They are books that leave me with a big grin, take my breath away, and make me happy that I'm reading comics. They are books that affect me deeply on a personal level, or illicit emotional reactions due to good writing, great art or miraculous premise. They are books that deserve to be on your shelf, and they are written by creators that are deserve your attention and money.

Besides the above, I just try to read as much as I can in order to get a good palate for reviewing; you need to be aware of your own preferences and biases before you attempt to review. While no one is immune to these biases (hell, I'll admit to more than my share), they come from preferences in what we like to read, and what we know is good.

Therefore, you should keep this in mind when you're reading our reviews: they're literally written by someone who might have different tastes than you. Being aware of your own (and well, reading books that look interesting to you, regardless of reviews) will help you become aware of the weight you give to outside opinion.


Anyone coming to FanExpo in Toronto next week?

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Hey ComicViners! It's your buddy Matt here wondering if any of you will be headed to FanExpo in Toronto next week!

I'll be there taking pictures and doing some work at some booths, but I'd love to see if there was any Canadian Viners that were going to be coming out!


My thoughts about Henry Cavill as Superman

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I'm really not sure what to think about this, but here's some first impressions.

  • That cape is too damned long; he looks like he's going to trip over it if he walks forward. I know that the cape's primary function is to illustrate movement while Supes flies, but having it that long just makes it look silly.
    I remember reading Jim Lee's commentary on All-Star Superman's character design where he commented that Superman's cape has always been a "little below the butt" affair; this makes sense. Capes should be go to the back of the knee, tops.
  • Something about the hair really weirds me out; it's very... round? I don't know. It doesn't look like the type of thing that you can throw glasses on and transform a man into Clark Kent.
  • I like the logo. It's kind of a throwback to older "S" designs, and it's not too stylized.
  • Is he wearing a ring?
  • This Superman looks a little... old? Hurm. I guess I'm used to a youthful Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh; this Superman looks like he's been in the game for awhile.

Mark Millar on "The Big Two"

I rarely agree with anything Mark Millar writes, but he seems to have a handle on the current flaws in DC's reboot strategy, and the crossover fatigue that plagues both of the "big two". In an interview at the Glasgow Comic Con, he has this to say:

But I understand how it works, because quarterly they’re accountable to their bosses and they look at what worked in the last quarter – “that big crossover with everyone in it? Let’s do another one next quarter”, you know? And eventually it is so reductive. The event isn’t an event if it’s happening all the time.

It’s great for guys like us, because I left Marvel two weeks ago, after ten years, to focus entirely on creator owned. All the higher profile creators are heading off now doing their own thing. The smaller personalities are hanging around a little bit. For a few years this will probably be the case, writing and drawing things and then editorial are shaping the stories because they have a financial quarterly, they need to hit a certain number.

It’s just the cycle of comics. The same thing happened twenty years ago and twenty years before that. That will wear out and then everything will change again. But unfortunately for Marvel and DC, they’re in that kind of boring period just now.

And at DC it seems that there’s a massive desperation, they’re relaunching their entire line right now in September, all in one month. And I said, why didn’t you guys just roll it out over a year so that everybody gets a chance to buy, you know, try out the first issues? And they said, we’re actually more accountable to Warner Brothers now than we’ve ever been before – we need to show some serious profit.

It’s a shame that art is coming in second really at the moment. But not in the creator owned scene. In the creator owned scene all the exciting stuff is happening. All my favourite books right now are probably independent books. That wasn’t the case five years ago, when the big two were great.

I both agree with him and find his statements kind of sad, as it was the "big two" that gave Mark the momentum (and capital) he needed to move into the creator-owned world. I doubt that he would have been as successful with Wanted, Kick-Ass (which is published on a Marvel imprint) and his other titles without Civil War, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and The Ultimates.

Just seems a bit hypocritical, is all.

Source: Bleeding Cool and ComicBookGRRRL


My thoughts on the new JLA lineup artwork

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  • I don’t like Flash’s new mask. If my assumption that it's Barry is correct, it looks much too futuristic for him. It's unnecessary highlighting (especially the chin strap) for something that's worked perfectly for so long.
  • Cyborg’s body looks really bad. I preferred it when he didn’t look like Doomsday.
  • Aquaman’s collar makes me smile. I'm glad to see he's stayed relatively the same. His hand's off-panel. Hmm.
  • I really miss Wonder Woman’s jacket. Her boobs must be held in there by super Amazonian double-stick tape. She also looks very… diminutive? Diana looks tiny compared to the rest of them.
  • As Chris pointed out, Hal looks like he’s overcompensating for something. The placement of the minigun is unfortunate.
  • I’m kind of missing Supes’ red briefs. I know that’s something very nitpicky, but it makes his character look too alien. Also, his collar looks a bit too garish. I don’t know why his doesn’t fit in while Aquaman’s does, but… hey! Hal’s got the exact same collar! Lazy art, or did they just visit all the same tailor?
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