Blah Blah Blog – Absolutism

A post from my old Marvel blog where I respond to a reader about aspects of the writing in AVENGERS

Absolutism

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

For the last week or so, reader Steven R. Stahl has been posting his thoughts and feelings as regards the AVENGERS titles and Brian Bendis’ run in particular. And while I think his posts are articulate and well-written, I also disagree fundamentally with most of their underlying premises.

Here’s the specific post from yesterday’s blog entry that I’m going to respond to:

>Countering Criticism

The subject I’m interested in is the quality of the writing in the comics Marvel publishes–the quality of the writing in the “Avengers” titles, in particular. The role of the editing department is to ensure that the published product meets the company’s editorial standards. Since Marvel’s “universe” is a shared universe, and its comics are published in series, one would expect the editors to ensure that stories have continuity in plotting and characterization.

Complaints about the tone of my comments are not counterarguments re the quality of the comics. They seem to be simply attempts to avoid the issue, because criticism that points out how shoddy the writing is, and that character concepts are flawed, is apparently too painful to tolerate.

Grammatical errors of the sort that occurred in NEW AVENGERS #28 are rarely seen in commercial fiction, in because the writers and editors who put out the products have vocabularies suited for their jobs. The continuity errors that have appeared repeatedly in Bendis’s stories can damage or destroy the entertainment value of the stories, because events can’t occur as they’re supposedly shown occurring. The argument that “Continuity errors don’t bother me, so they shouldn’t bother you” is, to put it kindly, unconvincing.

The effects of the continuity errors in “Avengers Disassembled” is worse than the effects of errors that invalidate a minor plot point in one issue, because the errors make the basis for NEW AVENGERS and HOUSE OF M unreal. If a story corrects the misinterpretation of Wanda in “Avengers Disassembled,” etc., then the unreal (manipulative) basis for those storylines becomes apparent.

I don’t believe anyone can justify Bendis’s (“Avengers’) stories on an artistic basis, because the problems with his work as published are too severe. No one can rationally argue in favor of grammatical and continuity errors in stories. Fans of his stories who want to counter criticism effectively have to attempt to justify the stories. Attacking the tone of criticism, rather than its substance, accomplishes nothing.

SRS

Posted by Steven R. Stahl on 2007-07-12 11:18:07
>

Steven, it seems to me that what you think you’re talking about here is absolutism; an undeniable, unquestionable basis for determining the quality of a story. And despite what you may have been taught over the years, fiction really doesn’t work that way. Yes, there are certain rules of storytelling, but they are not unto themselves the arbiter of whether a story is a success or a failure. Ultimately, only the audience can determine that. A story which is fundamentally sound but fails to move a reader is not a success, no matter how it may hew to the perceived rules, and a story that affects the audience is successful no matter how many rules it breaks.

You clearly don’t like Brian’s run on AVENGERS; that much is clear. And there’s nothing I or anybody else can say to you that’s likely to change your mind. And that’s fine–as I often say, not every comic book is for every reader. Where I think your argument falls down is where you try to assign absolute values to your opinions, in an attempt to make them seem more legitimate than they actually are. I feel no need to justify or apologize for Brian’s NEW AVENGERS run. While you may not care for it, it has continued to be Marvel’s top-selling title for three years now, so clearly somebody likes it (a lot of somebodies at that).

I also think your complaints about character inconsistencies and the like aren’t as valid as you’d like them to be. Characters change and evolve all the time, and new information is revealed about them constantly. When Chris Claremont, John Byrne and David Michelinie revealed that the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were the offspring of Magneto, was that a continuity error? They had never been revealed to be that before? No–it was a story point, an outgrowth of existing relationships that seemed to make sense with what had come before, and advanced the stories of those characters in interesting directions. Not every revelation or change of this nature is going to work for every reader, but trying to force the characters into some sort of permanent stasis is much more a recipe for long-term disaster.

I can tell you for certain, and without any equivocation, that the quality of the writing on the AVENGERS titles in all ways meets the editorial standards of Marvel Comics. Which is not to say that every issue is perfect, but neither has any of them been the crime against nature that you seem to imply that they are. And I feel no need to justify Brian’s stories on an artistic basis–that’s not really my place. And in the end, I’ve got 150,000 readers who do that for me every month.

I’m glad that you’re invested enough in Marvel and its characters to care so much about these points, but I also think you’re verging on the point of fanaticism–expecting a different result from the same sets of behavior. Clearly, you don’t like the AVENGERS titles as written by Brian right now. That’s all right–you’re under no obligation to buy them or read them. Eventually, given enough time, somebody else will be writing and editing AVENGERS, and perhaps the series will again skew more in a direction you’d enjoy. But I think that there must be a better, more positive outlet for all your time and energy than continuing to rail, however pleasantly, against this title time and again. Heck, most of your arguments are about “Avengers Disassembled” and HOUSE OF M, both of which are years old. At a certain point, it’s time to move on.

And, quite honestly, I wish you’d stop dancing around the issue so much when you say things like, “Grammatical errors of the sort that occurred in NEW AVENGERS #28 are rarely seen in commercial fiction, in because the writers and editors who put out the products have vocabularies suited for their jobs.” If you’ve got something to say, if you want to insult me, just go ahead and say what you want to say, directly and succinctly. I appreciate that you’re trying to be diplomatic here, but given all of the posting you’ve been doing, it’s just becoming frustrating. If you’ve got something to say to me, or about me, just go ahead and say it. I’m a big boy; I can take the shot.

More later.

Tom B

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