Every once in a while, I’ll come across a great title for an article or a discussion thread; then I’ll start to read it and discover that the article or discussion wasn’t what I thought it would be.  On those occasions, I like to write the article I wish I had read, or hopefully launch a discussion in the direction I wanted to hear about.

A while back, a member of the Legion of Superfluous Heroes started a discussion thread with the wonderful title “Panning a Story before It Comes Out.”  I thought it was going to be a theoretical exercise, discussing our reactions and occasional over-reactions to preliminary information.  It wasn’t.  It was a post panning a story that hadn’t come out yet.  It was a strong opinion based on limited information.

To some extent, we all have to do that.  As I wrote about last week, we can’t read every comic book, follow every television series or watch every movie.  That means we have to make decisions on limited information.  We decide what movies we’re going to watch based on trailers or someone else’s review.  We decide what television shows to watch based on commercials or publicity pictures released to magazines.  And we decide what comics to read based on solicitation information or online previews.  We make up our own minds about what looks good, interesting, bad or boring.  And by necessity, we form these opinions on partial information.

That can sometimes even be fun.  A number of years ago, I wrote a blog post or column reviewing the previews.  I assessed how effective the previews were at drawing in the reader and convincing us to buy the rest of the story.  And, lately, I’ve laughed at supposed previews that contained five alternate covers and less than three pages of story.  I also remember reading a website that reviewed movie trailers.  The question wasn’t “How good is the movie?” but “How good is the trailer at advertising the movie?”  On occasion, the question was as simple as ‘How good is the trailer?”

At the same time, those of us who write and read those kinds of reviews should do so with some humility.  They are admittedly based on limited information.  They are uninformed opinions, partial observations.  It’s possible that they are right.  Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover.  But it’s also quite possible that they’re wrong.  In fact, it’s quite likely that they’re wrong.

I can think of a few occasions when the initial reaction to a comic book or a movie was way off base.  Fans and pundits formed an opinion based on press releases or early trailers, but the final product turned out to be quite different than what was expected.

I had an intensely negative reaction to the first trailer I saw for Cars.  The trailer focused on Mater’s lack of intelligence in a way that seemed to be making fun of him.  It was borderline offensive.  I remember turning to my wife and commenting that it looked like Pixar’s string of successes was about to end.  I was wrong.  Later trailers showed Mater as a sympathetic character.  I happily brought my eldest daughter to Cars as her first movie.  And it was a huge hit for Pixar.   My initial reaction, based on partial information, proved to be wrong.  Not just wrong, but completely wrong.

Something similar happened to John Byrne.  He had an intensely negative reaction to The Incredibles.  Early trailers showed Mr. Incredible as Mr. Mom, worrying about losing his figure in front of a mirror.  Byrne wrote a lengthy, hostile review of the movie based on that trailer.  He made numerous assumptions about the movie’s tone and message.  And he was wrong.  The Incredibles didn’t disrespect superheroes, it elevated them.  It redeemed the very idea of heroism.  Byrne’s initial impression, though understandable, was based on limited information and did not reflect the actual movie.

 

One of the best examples in comics is Young Avengers.  I remember the fan reaction when “Young Avengers” was first announced was widely negative.  It sounded like an editorial fiat.  The characters were all going to be stupid rip-offs.  And I admit that I was part of the outcry, panning a comic that hadn’t come out yet.  We were wrong.  The new heroes had surprising, interesting twists in addition to their connections to classic characters.  The writing was top-notch and the art was spectacular.  Young Avengers was one of the best new titles of the year.

A recent example is J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman.  Now, I’ll admit that I’m not reading his “Walk across America” storyline.  I had recently dropped the Superman titles and didn’t want to pick them up again for a new creative team (having done that too often already).  Yet, from afar, I liked the idea of what JMS was doing.  It seemed like he was trying to write an important story, to actually say something new and interesting with the character.  Maybe it wouldn’t work.  Ed Brubaker and Jim Lee had tried to tell an important Superman story with “For Tomorrow” and they didn’t completely pull it off.  But I at least admired the attempt.

Yet many other fans seemed to make up their minds about Straczynski’s Superman before the story even came out.  It was as if he shouldn’t even try something new, interesting or important.  I admit that I’m not writing about everyone.  A few fans gave Straczynski’s Superman a chance before giving up after a couple of issues.  So maybe those negative impressions were more correct that my quiet admiration.  Yet I’m surprised that those who formed their opinion before the books were published are the ones who are the most adamant that this story must be awful.

We’re going to form opinions about comics we haven’t read and movies we haven’t seen.  We can’t help it.  And, to some extent, it’s necessary as a way of helping us decide how to spend our time and money.  Yet we need to be open to the possibility that we could be wrong.  The initial trailer might be misleading.  The initial description might be deceptive.  It might not be intentionally false.  An abbreviated description or advertisement simply can’t convey every element of the story.  Sometimes, it can’t even convey the elements that make this particular story special.

I’ve been wrong before.  And for that reason, I’m always hesitant to pan a story before it comes out.

Views: 309

Comment by Luke Blanchard on December 17, 2010 at 9:14am

Brian Azzarello on "For Tomorrow". I haven't read it any of the issues. Superman was a top title during the run.

Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on December 17, 2010 at 9:22am

I saw the title of this thread and said "Aww, geez! This is gonna totally suck!"

 

;)

Comment by Chris Fluit on December 17, 2010 at 9:43am

I enjoyed "For Tomorrow."  However, I saw what they were trying to do and don't think they quite made it there.  I'd give it a B instead of an A.  But, yes, with Jim Lee on art, it certainly sold well.

Comment by Chris Fluit on December 17, 2010 at 9:43am

I saw the title of this thread and said "Aww, geez! This is gonna totally suck!"

 

:)

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on December 17, 2010 at 10:15am

I would rather be negative about something and be pleasantly surprised, than be hopeful for something and be bitterly disappointed. I think I have a pretty good awareness of what I will like and not like. I skipped JMS' superman run as it just didn't sound like something that was for me.

 

But I also keep a mental tab of stuff I was completely wrong about. My biggest example was the novel The Pillars of the Earth. So, many people recommended it to me, and all I kept thinking was,"A book about building a church? That sounds soooo boring." I even ended up with two copies of the book that people gave me. When I finally read it I almost stood up and clapped at the end. it was really good.

 

So in conclusion, you're right.

Comment by Jason Marconnet (Pint sized mod) on December 17, 2010 at 11:00am

Great article Chris. I try not to be negative about a story, I can usually tell if it's going to be something that I like. Sometimes I'm right other times I'm wrong. I remember Young Avengers and thinking that it was going to be for me. Not saying it would be bad just not something that'd interest me. I don't always like stories about kids trying to be super heros. Well years after the series ended, I heard nothing but good things about it. I bought the hardcover collection and loved it. Now I get everything Young Avengers.

 

I was looking forward to the new Superman arc. He's not a character I follow but I thought it'd be a good jumping on point and something new. I've given it four or five issues and it's dull. I was planning on sticking with it but I've got to start saving money for other things, so cuts have to be made.

 

I remember being really excited for the Incredibles and loving it more when I saw it. I still think it's the best superhero movie, every.

 

Cars didn't appeal to me because I've never liked stories about talking cars. I was surprised it was a hit. I rented it and didn't like it at all. I'm glad that people like it and that it was able to be a success for Pixar, I generally love their movies.

 

Great article again, I agree with your point. I've been trying to live by the "try everything once" motto. By everything I don't mean robbing a bank or something illegal. It's worked out so far. That even means watching or reading something I don't think I'll like.

Comment by Captain Comics on December 17, 2010 at 12:37pm

*Applause* Good article! Necessary article!

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on December 17, 2010 at 12:52pm

I'm with Travis; I'd rather be pleasantly surprised. I've been hopeful about things, like Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne , and been disappointed. I've certainly started with a title or a storyline and stayed with it far longer than I should have, waiting to see where it was going, with the latest example being J. Michael Straczynski’s Wonder Woman. And I've grabbed some things with little information and been drawn in to unexpectedly good work; recently I found an old miniseries written by Steve Gerber, Foolkiller, which was a fascinating read.


Speaking of Superman and J. Michael Stracynski, I'd been away from the books for some time but got back in with the "New Krypton" stories, mostly acquired though the quarter bin. It seems, from the consensus here, I liked them better than most of us, but that's how things go. So I've stuck around through the "War on Krypton" and now Superman's walk across America.


The consensus from the thread on the topic seems to be that it's an interesting idea, but the execution has been lacking, and several people here have bailed on it. I haven't -- yet -- but then, I have a tendency to stay with storylines far longer than I should, even if I wind up frustrated rather than pleased issue after issue. Yet, as someone here once said, how can you know you'll like it until after you read it? In any case, I went into this storyline cautiously optimistic and with the hope that I will be entertained each time and not disappointed.


With the last issue, Superman #708, I saw a preview and what I read there alarmed me and I posted about it (see here), saying "things go very, very far off the rails." Granted, a preview is not the whole story, and the next page might have shown something that would have redeemed that alarming action -- say, Perry White smacking his face with his palm, exclaiming, "What have I done?!", and chasing after that intern to stop him. Or the intern himself saying, "I can't go through with this." Or a meteor crashing through the Urbanitis offices, destroying its means of production. Or something else comic-booky.


Any of these scenarios might have been preferable to what did transpire, which I saw after I made it to the store and bought the issue and read it. In any event, nothing in the full story pulled things back onto the rails. Nor, for that matter, did we get the train wreck that might have resulted from things going off the rails, which might have been entertaining, too.

 

I don't do this a lot; I only recently discovered that you can find story previews. And I get the point that there are many ways a story can go, and what seemed like a wrong turn can still turn out right; after all, it's the journey, not the destination. Unfortunately, this story went and stayed on a wrong path. Sometimes, first impressions aren't wrong.

 

Here's hoping the next issue hits the mark ...

 

Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on December 17, 2010 at 1:06pm

Seriously though, I'm with the good Cap'n on this. It's so easy to get caught up in the cynicism. Many moons ago, I decided (or at least tried) to give up "hating" things. I try not to ever prejudge something and more importantly I try not to let my past impressions on people, trends, companies and characters cloud the fact that they may have changed for the better (or worse) during my time away from them.

This attitude has actually served me well. Some things I was sure I would "hate," I find I like. And (most importantly) things that I am supposed to adore, I don't connect with.

It has saved me money and time, and I have also found new things to be passionate about.

Comment by George on December 18, 2010 at 6:49pm

I feel this way about the zealots who organized boycotts of theaters showing "Dogma" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" before those movies came out.

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