A Reviewer's Rant
By Alan Donald
Reviews are not easy. What do you say if you go on about the structure and the art? Do you basically transcribe the story? Or do you take the opportunity to examine a character or backstory? As for grading...well, grades are too subjective anyway. A grade system is too open to people making snap judgements. And as we all know, snap judgements are invariably inaccurate, and incorrect.
On top of that, many people give too high or too low a grade for work, based on personal bias. This problem is magnified in "an out of five" grade, as there is very little latitude. Too many things are "above average" or a "very good read" (i.e. three out of five). There are times when you want to scream, because there's no way a certain title is as good as another you have at that grade, but the grades above and below are wrong. An out of ten system does give more leeway, but is still a little restrictive.
At the end of the day, giving review scores is pointless anyway - does anyone really just look at the score a book gets before deciding whether to read the review or not? The key to whether a reader will enjoy an issue should be contained within the review itself, not determined by how many points a particular book gets.
Some people think that the reviews themselves could benefit from a common structure to aid the reader, writer and editor. If grades must be given, perhaps they should be for different aspects of a comic. I suggest perhaps:-
(a) Introduction to title, small paragraph;
(b) One sentence (well, two or three maximum) run through of this issue's plot;
(c) Few words/paragraph - on Art
(d) Few words/paragraph - on Structure
(e) ... - on Characterisation
(f) ... - on Dialogue
(g) ... - on Story
(h) General rant to close it off
Ah, it'll never happen - you see too many internet (and print) reviews that try to fit to a structure (what I liked/what I hated, or story/art/dialogue) and the whole thing just comes off as too structured, too forced, that these reviews just do not read naturally. Forcing a structure on a review is a replacement for writing ability - anyone can write a review if most of the text is supplied for them in the form of headings. To start with a blank sheet of paper, have the title of the book and the creative team next, and you write from there - ah, therein is the skill.
But, in the spirit of trying anything once, let's take a couple of recent books and review them as "structured" reviews...it's worth a shot.
Tomb Raider #10
Plot: Part four of four. Catch the eye...
What is it? Action adventure with the sexy star of the computer games. Indiana Jones with bigger guns, and much bigger breasts.
This issue? The final part of a four-parter, Lara has her prize stolen from her, wakes in luxury, descends into a warzone, and tries to find her own way out.
Art? Excellent as ever. Lara is far sexier in the comic than the games. That said, despite the skimpy clothing and the fanboy following, this tends to rarely be a T&A show, but instead an action-adventure.
Structure? Simplistic and straightforward. The panelisations and page layout aren't the best ever, but they are more than just functional, and, in fact, are extremely well thought out.
Characterisation? For what could be the most vacuous soft-porn cash-in on a computer game franchise, the character build-up is incredible. Time is always taken to build characters into people that we feel we know.
Dialogue? Fairly snappy, and, at times, witty.
Story? Easy to follow, but not very original. A very good issue all the same, though.
General? Tomb Raider is a title that continues to surprise. It only needs to be mediocre, flashing Lara's bits around the place to succeed, but instead real care is taken to weave a snappy, intelligent, and well-thought-out action adventure. Very good and recommended.
Black Widow #2
By Devin Grayson/Greg Rucka/Scott Hampton
Plot: Black Widow isn't Black Widow, and neither is Black Widow. She's Black Widow, and Black Widow pretends to be Black Widow, and she kills Black Widow. Um, I think.
What is it? Espionage and action with SHIELD and the KGB. Face/Off, Marvel-style.
This issue? The goodie Black Widow has replaced the baddie one, and prepares to contact the baddie's Russian contacts. Meanwhile, the baddie Black Widow believes she has killed the goodie Black Widow while they were dressed up as each other. Now, the NYPD, SHIELD, and the heroes all chase the "goodie" (i.e. the baddie in disguise) Black Widow.
Art? I like this style, it's fully painted and looks like something from 2000AD.
Structure? Functional and clearly laid out.
Characterisation? Difficult for me to say, I don't really know SHIELD or Black Widow well enough. Daredevil to kept to his usual boy-scout-like attitude.
Dialogue? Snappy and spy film-like.
Story? Confusing as hell on the first read, but not so bad on a second one. Rereads make this better than a first time, though. And reading issue #1 makes everything crystal clear - a mini-series best read as a mini (or maybe as the TPB out soon).
Well, that made writing the reviews much easier. But, rereading them, they just lose so much. Structured reviews? No thanks.
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