Sunday, March 17, 2013

Avengers Arena, reviewing ethos, and hypocrisy (that would be mine)

I was surfing a little bit and found myself at Johanna Draper Carlson's blog. While scrolling through her posts, I followed a link to a column by KC Carlson in which the columnist talks about  his likes and dislikes from Marvel NOW!

What struck me the most was what he wrote about Avengers Arena, a comic in which a bunch of younger heroes from titles like Runaways and Avengers Academy are transported to an island by the X-Men villain Arcade and told to fight to the death:

I’ve already dropped Avengers Arena, after giving it five issues (four too many). I will award it Most Tasteless Title of this year, however, as it’s a comic book snuff film, with a bunch of B- and Z-level characters brought together just to be killed off issue by issue. I imagine that younger readers who like first-person-shooter games and other death-happy fare will quite like this. As an older person who’s had to deal with the consequences of real-life deaths, I find this whole genre most offensive. And sad, now that my favorite comic book franchise has succumbed to it.
Carlson's reaction didn't surprise me. I felt similarly when I first learned the concept behind the book. But as I gave it a chance, I grew to like it, and found myself feeling similarly to Robot 6's Carla Hoffman. As Hoffman says, the premise of Avengers Arena "feels cheap," but the title ends up being more than just "a comic book snuff film." It has great characterization, powerful and emotional moments that have nothing to do with violence, and on a personal note it's reinvigorated my interest in Marvel's teen hero books.

Now let's forget the fact that the issue at which Carlson apparently gave up on the title (Avengers Arena #5) doesn't actually feature any character deaths. And let's forget about the fact that if he thinks this is the most tasteless title of the year, he needs to check out the new Deadpool, or Marvel's 156th Thunderbolts reboot, or that widely publicized DC event culminating with possibly the most recognizable child superhero in the world being riddled with more bullets than Al Pacino at the end of Scarface and skewered by a giant goddamned sword.

But this: "I imagine that younger readers who like first-person-shooter games and other death-happy fare will quite like this. As an older person who's had to deal with the consequences of real-life deaths, I find this whole genre most offensive." This is not what I expect from a reviewer. This is what I expect from an angry Facebook user. This is not a valid criticism of the content of a comic or the creativity and artistry of its creators. This is taking the easy road. This is saying that something you don't like isn't good because you're superior to the people who enjoy it. This is making things personal.

And what bothers me more than anything is that I know I've done it myself a shit-ton of times. I know I'm catapulting huge boulders inside a glass castle if I trash KC Carlson for doing it. No BS, I've seriously considered going through my blog's reviews and eliminating anything I judge to be "making things personal." The only reason I haven't done it is because I don't know if I'm more of an ass leaving stuff like that up, or hiding it so no one calls me out on it.

I don't know, I think I started this wanting to thrash a reviewer over a couple of sentences that rubbed me the wrong way, and realized I clearly had nowhere to go because I was being a hypocrite. I genuinely don't think what Carlson wrote is a really fair review, but again I don't think I'm innocent of it either. I've been writing reviews of comics for over a decade, and I know without checking that there's no way I haven't crossed a similar line. Maybe it's about time I take a step back and think about whether or not I should have a more defined ethos towards my own reviewing.

P.S. For the record I have dealt with real-life consequences of death. Yeah, I like some first-person-shooters. But, you know, so does Kevin Spacey's character in House of Cards. And that guy's practically Vice President. So, yeah. Check, and mate (not really).

1 comment:

Kevin Marshall said...

I'm with you. Oh, how I LOATHE this attitude; this idea that because a genre or book has gotten away from your specific desires and tastes that it is somehow the fault of society and/or specifically video games. I do not like this, and so it must be the fault of the world. You will commonly see this from conservative rhetoriticians who yearn for better times in a past that never actually happened.

It is such an intellectually bankrupt and childish (ironic given the argument) approach to critique. And, as you mentioned, woefully hypocritical.