Comic Book Review- Critical Assessment or Unpaid Promotion?

by Matthew Lloyd
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Have you ever read a review of a book, movie, television show or comic book and wondered what the reviewer was thinking or if they had even experienced the same thing that you had? And, how does that play into the rating? 

Power Girl…Here I Go Again

For the past year, I’ve been reviewing the comics DC has been publishing starring Power Girl.  Last May DC published the Power Girl Special which wrapped up the story that was running in Action Comics.  Then in September a new solo series launched with Power Girl #1.  This month, Power Girl #10 hit the stands with a tenuous tie in to the “House of Brainiac” Superman crossover event.  While issue #10 along with #9 were overall better than most of the issues in the series, the problems that have plagued the series are still present, most obviously the complete reinvention of Power Girl’s personality and a complete ignorance on writer Leah Williams part of the substance of Power Girl’s past.  I’ve called out this in reviews and in editorials.  I’ve been a Power Girl fan since I first encountered the character way back in 1977 in All-Star Comics #65 at the tender age of 7.  Consequently, when a new Power Girl series comes out, I’m eager to follow it, but this time the approach just isn’t working.


Other Power Girl Reviews

Because I’ve been so invested in Power Girl over the past 40 plus years, the reception of the series by other critics and fans is important to.  As I read in disbelief and see that DC Comics has allowed the character to be not just changed, but whose characterization is nearly completely destroyed I expect other critics and fans to see a lot of the same problems with the series that I do.  I head on over to www.  This is a website that compiles reviews for each issue, links to the original reviews and provides aggregate scores for each issue as well as the entire series.  If you want to find out what an issue is like there are a number of “critic” reviews as well as fan scores.   

There are always reviews that make you question what other reviewers and readers are experiencing.  Everyone will see things their own way, but generally something that is objectively good will get reviewed that way.  And the same goes for something that is objectively bad, it will get reviewed that way.  What’s really astounding is when you see reviews that are so off the mark that it can’t possibly be a legitimate review.  Be it reviewing bombing or shill support, it happens every month with many titles.  And that’s what really stood out to me when I went to take a look at what others were saying about this week’s Power Girl #10.

As I proceed to critique the scores of some of these reviews, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that DC Comics News itself and sister site Dark Knight News has been accused of having shill reviews.  The review for Power Girl #10 by Russ Bickerstaff for You Don’t Read Comics stood out immediately.  Bickerstaff gives the issue an “A” which is translated to 9.6 by Comic Book Roundup.   This means that this comic is one of the best ever…in line with the best of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Watchmen, Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes, Batman Year One, Alan Moore’s work on Swamp Thing or his Miracleman.  Furthermore, he claims that it’s “Nice to see Williams finding a new connection for an old character who could have easily ended up as another Superman knock-off in another short-lived series.”  Is he completely ignorant of how independent and distinct Power Girl was UNTIL Williams started writing the character?  Does he know as little about Power Girl as Williams herself claimed about her own knowledge of Power Girl?  If anything, this series has made Power Girl less unique and MORE like a young Supergirl instead of the confident, competent character she’s been for so many years.

David Beasley for The Aspiring Kryptonian claims “this Power Girl series as a whole is absolutely great for young or new readers and is a rather refreshing book for older ones.”  Refreshing?  Is it really refreshing for older readers to see a character they love for their personality to be flipped upside down?  Is it refreshing to see a character they love destroyed on the page in front of them?  In fact, it’s insulting to older/ longtime readers of Power Girl.  

Both of these reviews seem to be a way of saying something positive that isn’t there either out of ignorance or simply the desire to say something positive instead of pointing out the obvious flaws.

What Goes Into A Review?

Different things impact a reviewer’s assessment of what they review.  There’s content, craft and fit for the characters when they are known quantities.  A reviewer’s experience with a character is critical in gauging a story’s fit for a character or characters.  A good example of this is Superman Returns.  If one knows and understands the character, it’s a no brainer that “Paternity Test for Superman” was a terrible story idea for the character, even if it’s possible to prove no wrong doing on Superman’s part.  

Content- art, basic plot ideas, types of characters, action etc all play into one’s assessment of this aspect of comic book.

Execution- how well is the story told through the art and script?  Is the dialogue good?  Does it fit the characters?  Do different characters have unique voices?  Does the story make sense?  Are there holes?  Is the tone right?  Does it fit the genre/ characters in the book?

Lastly, what does the reviewer bring to the table?  What previous experience does the reviewer have with the character(s), concept, genre?  How knowledgeable about comics is the reviewer?  What criteria is the reviewer using for comparison?  As mentioned above, is the reviewer comparing the comic to objectively great stuff? 

Being able to think about things in this manner might be one of the most critical aspects of “scoring” a review.  And, of course that scoring should be supported with the positive and negative aspects of the issue.  For example, the characterization of Power Girl by Leah Williams is completely off.  This is a big negative that affects the overall score in a huge way.  Some of the nice action sequences in an issue by Eduardo Pansica won’t matter as much if the substance of the character is undermined by the mystifyingly bad characterization.  Without the substance, it’s not REALLY Power Girl.  Like Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  It’s the substance that matters.

Full disclosure.  I had an epiphany moment with reviewing when I realized I was scoring some books too high.  I was giving a 4.5/5 (9/10), to a comic that isn’t comparable to high water marks in the industry.  I had to rethink my process.  I think since then my reviews have gotten better, and my scores are more accurate.

Finally, when reviewing, a reviewer has to make the reasons for the books clear.  Be specific.  And, if you’re trying to avoid spoiling something significant, then do what you can to make the significance of the spoiler understood in a way that doesn’t give things away.

Critical Assessment or Just Promotion

When reviewers don’t provide genuine feedback, it sends the wrong message.  Readers looking for genuine feedback will be mislead by inauthentic scoring or lack of critical assessment.  It also tells the publisher and creators that they are doing a great job.  It creates a culture that suggests that reviews don’t matter and are meaningless.  Furthermore, it damages the integrity of all reviewers.  Being unable to score a review realistically sends the message that there is no actual assessment of the work, but rather that this is simply an exercise in unpaid promotion.

Does anyone really think the above 9.6 review for Power Girl #10 is at the top of comic books ever produced?  There are a lot of numbers between 2 and 9.  Those 1’s and 10’s should be reserved for exceptional comics.  Even 2 and 9 are quite rare one would think.  3 to 8 though that’s probably where most monthly titles fall.  With that in mind, is Power Girl really one of the best comics out there right now?

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