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.