Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

What a comic geek isn’t allowed to think

A recent article on this site inspired me to write something I’ve been toying with for a long time: a few opinions I hold that will get me kicked out of my comic shop if they ever find out that’s what I think. There’s crossover, but the difference is, that thread is about gaps in our knowledge; this is me thinking things I’m not allowed to think. Some of these are things I do know fairly well; most are about things I’ve read.

Gritty Writers

Comics should be fun! And yet, so many writers seem to want to fill the world with cynicism and bitterness and bad feeling – to that I say, congratulations. Every time I hear their names, I’m filled with cynicism and bitterness and bad feeling. These writers make the readers feel tough or smart by reading them, but if a writer relies on an Emperor’s New Clothes thing, that’s not good writing. Wallowing in your own crapulence is not good writing.

I’m talking some big names here: Alan Moore, Frank Miller (even when he was popular), Mark Millar. Basically, anybody whose last name starts with ‘M’. Also, Garth Ennis. (If you kind of cross your eyes, the two ‘n’s look like an ‘M’, right?) (Okay, the ‘M’ thing is just a coincidence; I mean, I dislike Grant Morrison for entirely different reasons to the others.)

Blood on a cover never impresses me.

Watchmen sucks. Its superheroes are neither; its plot is cynical and depressing. (Also, whenever somebody says ‘I don’t like Alan Moore’ the fans say “Oh, then you should totally read this Alan Moore comic”. Don’t do that. Moron.)

Alan Moore just takes an existing character, adds a rape scene, and sits back and waits for his next Eisner.

Elektra: Assassin? The Dark Knight Returns? Terrible artwork, dark and murky storytelling, just not good.

The Dark Knight Returns is no better than DK2. I don’t see why most people think there’s a drop in quality.

I have to admit, though, this cover is really cool.

Elektra: Assassin is drawn to be unreadable. I couldn’t even tell you what happened in it (she kills a politician? Is that right?)


Is this a bad remake of John Carpenter's Thing?
This is not the way to create sequential storytelling.

These comics inspired decades of horrible storytelling, replacing good with dark. At least one of those creators has gone on record as saying that he hates that that happened – but he hasn’t stop doing the dark stuff himself.

Game Of Thrones

Ow! Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!!!
Here’s a picture just in case you don’t know what Game Of Thrones is.

This one isn’t a comic, but apparently all us geeks, including comic geeks, are supposed to fall in line and praise it. I can’t; it’s mean-spirited, vulgar, and (the first book, anyway) isn’t even fantasy. Also, George R.R. Martin’s last name starts with ‘M’.

Captain America: Winter Soldier

The good ol' orange, pale blue, an' blue will come through!This movie is darker, and less superhero and more spy-fi than other MCU movies. I wanted more superhero in my superhero movie. I’m not excited about Black Widow, either, for the same reason.

Also the Empire Strikes Back. It’s not my favourite Star Wars movie for the same reason it is everyone else’s.

Logan is the same. Watching Patrick Stewart swear is funny maybe once, but it doesn’t carry a movie. Learning about the deaths of all those characters is not fun.

And the movie is boring. It just drags on and on.


Jeph Loeb is overrated. He’s written some absolutely terrible stories (the one where Wolverine finds out that all animal-based supercharacters are wolf-mutants, even Sasquatch and Feral, is really, really dumb), and even his best stories are just okay. This applies to his whole career, right from the beginning. And yet, the Big Two constantly try to make out like he’s the second coming of Stan Lee. He’s just this guy, you know? There are worse, but there are many, many, much better writers.

I still got the blues for you.Hush and The Long Hallowe’en, just as an example, both just decent stories. I don’t think either is particularly original or innovative, and certainly not must-reads. I was reading both Batman and Detective Comics when Hush came out; every time a villain showed up in Batman (ie: in Hush), the same villain would show up that month in Detective Comics; the Detective Comics appearance was usually better. Hush also had that absolutely stupid subplot about ‘we’ve brought in a new character, Bruce Wayne’s best friend since childhood, who you’ve never heard of before; also, who is the mysterious new villain going to turn out to be? Write in for our competition.’ It, uh, wasn’t difficult to guess.

I like Jim Lee (he did get his start on Alpha Flight, don’t forget), but this isn’t a great story. And even he couldn’t make Selina’s silly goggles look good (though the Detective Comics guy did! Wow!).

Tim Sale isn’t a great artist, The Long Hallowe’en is dull and uncoloured (though at least it doesn’t pretend to be coloured), and I’m pretty sure the thing it’s famous for – Batman interacting with gangsters before the freaks take over – isn’t all that original an idea. (See Batman: Year One, which is a Frank Miller story that doesn’t suck.)

Batman: Odyssey

This panel will haunt your nightmares.
There are good reasons people don’t like this one.

Batman: Odyssey is underrated. I’ve even considered writing an article defending it.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s good, even if I wrote that article; it certainly has problems. I don’t even particularly like it – but it gets talked about like it’s one of the worst comic books ever created, and it’s not even in the bottom ten I’ve read. It’s bad, it just isn’t that bad.


It's like he's turning sideways while facing front.
And you think women in comics are too big-breasted.

His last name doesn’t start with ‘M’, so how bad can he be?

Look, I’m no fan of the guy, but I don’t hate Rob Liefeld. Not as an artist, anyway. I don’t think he’s nearly as bad as his reputation. (As a writer? I’m hesitant to even call him that. He’s as bad as his reputation.) So he’s had a few art fails:

Clearly, Liefeld never had a cat. Or a dog.
Oh, he had art fails. Nobody’s denying that.

Even Kirby had art fails:

What am I looking at?
This isn’t even the worst picture of Johnny Storm he’s done, not even in Fantastic Four #3; but it’s a pin-up!

Face it, these people drawing an entire comic every month – for some of them, it’s several – so it’s essentially hundreds of pictures a day. I’m doing my own comic, and it takes me about a month per page; think about how much these people do! And those are drafts, not finals (which they don’t even have time to do), and I still fail. They won’t achieve perfection every time. So, let a couple of art fails slide (and stop praising Elektra: Assassin, which is entirely made of art fail).

One point, though: people make fun of Liefeld for not being able to draw feet. Then he covers up the feet, or just doesn’t draw them (and unless you’re James Cameron, how many foot shots do you expect?) and the same people make fun of him for that, too! That’s childish and petty, the kind of no-win behaviour I expect from a school bully. It says more about the ‘critics’ than the ‘artist’.

What about you; what thoughts would get you thrown out of your shop if only they knew?


  1. humanbelly

    So– those earliest “classic” forays that led to the horrible “Dark & Gritty” tsunami really did keep me engaged– although it was sort of, like, hard stuff to get yourself through, and absolutely should have remained in the realm of a stylistic counter-point genre. It NEVER should have become the virulent template that effectively overwhelmed every single title in ALL the major companies. It was like a plague that continued to take book after book, and leaving a bullet-riddled, visually-impenetrable collection of “Hot! Very Violent! Collector’s Item!” pages in its wake. Lordy– when the Spider-Man titles all become too dark and heavy to bear month after month, you KNOW things have taken a desperately bad turn.

    Other similar considerations?

    1) I have never finished The Lord of the RIngs trilogy. Started it probably. . . four times in my life? But when Sam & Frodo vanish somewhere partway through The Two Towers, my interest in the story disappears right along with them.

    2) On a related note (and I’ve mentioned this a number of times in the past— and it has gotten me into some grief in a dressing room or two)– my wife and I both found the films to be impossibly and unintentionally hilarious for several reasons. Particularly in their sense of self-reverence and the UNBELIEVABLY slow pace of the storytelling– particularly RETURN OF THE KING. I have NO doubt that we were not helping the few other folks in the theater at the time enjoy that film, in spite of our desperate attempts to stifle our overwhelming laughter throughout.

    3) Uncanny X-Men– once we get past about issue #180 or so. Really, like/loved it quite consistently up through then. We can safely say that the shark jumped when we got Biker Punk Storm– and I can honestly say that I never truly liked the book again after that— although I continued to subscribe to it for years&years&years. I grew to loathe Claremont’s “Oh, aren’t I clever?” writing style, tbh.

    4) Have not watched a single episode (or read) GAME OF THRONES. Enh– I’m not a big-time Sword/Fantasy guy in general.

    And, ohhhhh, I’m sure there’s plenty more that could get me exiled from the ol’ virtual water coolers– but I’ll give up the podium for the moment. . .


    1. Jeff Nettleton

      I agree about X-Men-once Paul Smith was done with his run, it just totally lost me.

      Lord of the Rings is a more mixed bag, for me; Fellowship is fine, but starts to drag until they get to Rivendell, gets a bit shaky again, then picks up. Two Towers-never been able to read the Frodo & Sam stuff without starting to skim pages. Return I enjoy, because it is pretty much all payoff, so it doesn’t get bogged down in all of the diversions. The movies are fine; a bit too long and too much needless stuff dragged in from the appendices (not as badly as the hobbit, though). The Hobbit, as a book, is by far Tolkiens’s best, for my money.

      GOT was fine until about Season 5, then just needed to be wrapped up. Could do without the sexposition an excessive bloodletting; but, it’s HBO.

    2. Le Messor

      I really like the way you wrote that, HB.

      My magic number on Uncanny is somewhere in the early 200s, probably when Mark Silvestri joined; and yet, I have a complete run up until the “cancellation” (about 574?).

      1. Yeah, I dug X-Men all through Paul Smith’s run, but I started to lose interest immediately after that. I finally bailed on X-Men during the Australia arc and never bought it again. I’ll occasionally read trades through my local library, but I’ll never read any of the ’90s stuff. Life’s too short for that.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Gonna beg to differ on Alan Moore; Marvelman/Miracleman is by far his best and probably the best deconstruction of superheroes, this side of Superduperman (which even he acknowledges as the one that just goes right in on the jugular. Watchmen has many faults; but I see it more in how people misinterpret it than in how Moore and Gibbons executed it. Your mileage may vary. However, Moore showed the way away from that kind of thing with his ABC line of books, from the ultimate meta-fiction of LOEG, to the return the the classic archetypes with Tom Strong, to the brilliantly engaging Top Ten. Promethea wasn’t really my thing; but, he did interesting stuff there. Tomorrow Stories was the most uneven, but it gets points for being different.

    I agree on Elektra Assassin, in that it is pretty much an impressionistic work, in art and writing. I think it is an interesting, yet failed experiment, Other than bits of logic and the treatment of Superman, I got no problems with Dark Knight, sequels are another matter. Not a fan of Sin City; just dark nihilism, mostly swiped from better writers. Love Martha Washington and his collaborations with Geoff Darrow.

    Loeb is better on his earlier LODK stuff, than Long Halloween and that stuff. Tim Sale is a quirky artist, who does’t work as well on straight adventure; but was excellent with more psychological stuff, like Grendel. He’s good with damaged people.

    Morrison is one who gets me into arguments. I like Zenith, until he heads into the other dimensional plane, then it just gets indulgent. Yeowell is fantastic, though. A lot of his stuff reads like either Alan Moore-Lite or Michael Moorcock or William S Burroughs wannabe. Doom Patrol had interesting moments and then a lot of stuff where I just thought he needed a break from whatever drugs he was taking. Animal Man was more focused. Love All-Star Superman; but, mainly because it reads like he’s ripping off Elliot Maggin and Cary Bates, without modern readers even knowing who they are. (especially Maggin). Love his Steed and Mrs Peel. His Batman was fine; rather read Archie Goodwin, Alan Brennert, or Denny O’Neil.

    My real argument starter? George Lazenby is a better Bond than Roger Moore. I think he gets a massively bad rap. He was far better in action scenes and handled the romantic element will, in OHMSS. The rest would come with experience and writing to his strengths, like they did with Moore. Moore was fantastic as The Saint and, to me, his Bond is Simon Templar conning people into believing he is a secret agent (ala The Fiction Makers). Dalton was better; but, he got stuck with the worst scripts-by-committee of all of the series.

    1. Le Messor

      I can’t really comment on George Lazenby: he spent his formative years in the next town over from me, so I’ve got a conflict of interest. 🙂
      (And the town is only ‘over’ a river. If it weren’t for that pesky state line, it’d probably be part of my town.)

      I haven’t read nearly as much of those writers as you have.
      I didn’t even know Morrison had written for The Avengers! (Okay, Steed and Mrs Peel in the comics, for some strange reason.)

  3. re: Watchmen, and your sentence: “Its superheroes are neither”



    That’s one of the points of the story, dude.

    Otherwise, I agree on Loeb and Batman: Odyssey, but I think your view that comics should be fun is shaping your view of the grim and gritty stuff.

    1. Le Messor

      “I think your view that comics should be fun is shaping your view”
      Yes, it is.

      (Although maybe I should amend that to – superhero comics should be fun; horror can be as grim ‘n’ gritty as it likes.)

      1. I guess what is throwing me is that I think you can dislike a genre/writer/etc but still recognize that there is quality to at least some of the works in that genre or by that writer, and you seemed to dismiss an awful lot.

        Which is your right, of course, but seems reductive, maybe? I don’t know.

        1. I can’t speak for Le Messor but I do both, though not at the same time. There are writers/books I really think are dreadful, but I do recognize some as “not my kind of thing.”
          The Hawkworld reboot was too grim and gritty for me, but no question they executed it very well (I got a letter printed saying as much).

          1. Le Messor

            I’ve said online before that I don’t like Moore. In the past, I’ve always acknowledged that I think he does what he does well… but then I invariably get the ‘Oh, you hate Alan Moore do you? Then read Tomorrow Stories and Tom Strong and… whatever’ comments.
            I figure there’s a connection, so I didn’t do it this time.

            Basically, I agree with both of you, but won’t admit it out loud.

          2. That is one of the most annoying geek/fanboy tics — oh, you don’t like X? I’m going to convince you X is awesome! I have a friend who responds to my “I don’t watch that show” with detailed synopses of the last couple of episodes so I’ll know what I’m missing.

          3. Le Messor

            Oh, yeah, I agree with that, Fraser!
            Although, there’s also, “I hate X… and I’ve watched every single episode / read every single issue.”
            (That only makes any sense if it starts as something you love turns into something you hate; but I know people who’ve done it with things they’ve never claimed to like.)

  4. Assorted responses to comments and OP:

    I like Watchmen. It’s really very good. I’m much less fond of DKR, but I still think it’s good; even though “Gotham City in flames” is now just “Tuesday” the final apocalypse packs a punch. Though Miller’s politics are kind of dumb; his Gotham City is Dirty Harry’s San Francisco without noticing things have changed in the intervening years (by the 1980s, the cowardly politicians weren’t fretting over the rights of suspects, they were demanding the death penalty for littering to show they’re “tough on crime”)

    Le Messor, in light of your M theory, I must admit I do not get Warren Ellis at all. And a W is really an inverted M, so there you are.

    HATE Miracleman. I tried reading the initial arc and Moore was way too self-conscious about how AWESOME and EDGY he was — look, he’s ripping off the heroic face to show the Nietzchean underpinnings of superhero mythology, OMG! I know I’m a minority on that but urgh, I’ve tried twice and I think it sucks.

    I apparently like LOTR more than most of y’all, though as writer Lin Carter once put it, the book is not as good as it’s best bits (Tom Bombadil, ents, Shelob, etc.). And the forces of evil fold awfully quickly when they actually get into a fight.

    1. Le Messor

      Warren Ellis! Can’t believe I forgot him! 🙂
      Yep, inverted ‘M’.

      I read Miracleman, at least a trade worth (which was leant to me), and I agree with you.

      I like LotR as well, more the books than the movies (though Fellowship is a great movie).

  5. wilcan

    I really love Jeph Loeb’s work on Superman with Ed McGuinness and on Superman For All Seasons with Tim Sale. He really gets Clark and humanizes him without making his angsty. While I will allow that Loeb has had some clunkers like that Wolverine story and Ultimatum, you have to consider his overall aim. His Hulk and Superman/Batman were simply big fun comics. Nothing wrong with that.

    “Tim Sale isn’t a great artist” is heresy to me. His work on Superman For All Seasons and other Loeb books contain more character in one panel than most artists portray in a whole book. Go look at his depiction of downtown Smallville, Clark’s bedroom, or his beautiful splash pages of Superman in action. He even makes boring Kansas confrieds gorgeous! He can pull off Norman Rockwell influences and noir inspired art. His Catwoman When In Rome is stunningly gorgeous. I expect a complete retraction of this claim!

    1. Le Messor

      “His Hulk and Superman/Batman were simply big fun comics. Nothing wrong with that.”
      I certainly won’t argue that!

      Also, it’s great to see you stand up for a favorite artist like that. Rockwell and Noir are certainly very disparate influences.

  6. I appreciate more than actually like Watchmen, or Alan Moore in general. Sure, Watchmen is a good comic, but I’ve never wanted to go back and read it a second time. I don’t mind a bit of “grim & gritty” but I get a lot lot lot more enjoyment out of the reconstructionist work of Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid on things like Astro City, Kingdom Come or the Flash.

    I tried to read Batman: Odyssey and was put off by the first page. I kept at it for a while but could never actually finish it.

    I don’t know if I have genuinely “forbidden” opinions. Hmm…I think Gil Kane’s “Sword of the Atom” was awesome and maybe my favorite take on the character. Does that count?

    1. Le Messor

      I actually only read Odyssey because it was part of a Neal Adams Batman omnibus I have. Not reading it is a perfectly cromulent option.

      I think Sword Of The Atom, is generally well-respected, though I don’t hear it mentioned much lately. (I don’t know what I base that on, though.)

  7. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    Watchmen isn’t a superhero comic. It’s about vigilantes who dress up in costumes and call themselves superheroes…and God manifested on Earth.

    Also, Moore’s ABC stuff is delightful, and Supreme is the best ongoing Superman series ever written.

    I love Miller’s Daredevil and 80s Batman – he and Mazzuchelli are one of my all-time creative teams.

    Ennis and Ellis are definitely in the eye of the beholder, but I love them dearly (also, even ignoring Superman Adventures and Swamp Thing, I like Millar’s work on The Ultimates, The Ultimates 2, and Ultimate Fantastic Four, and I don’t care who knows it!)

    Loeb’s Batman stories are competent, but Superman For All Seasons is absolutely lovely.

    In terms of my non-“Internet Kosher” likes and dislikes:

    I love Bendis, when he’s engaged.

    I’ve yet to read a Jason Aaron or Charles Soule or Kelly Sue DeConnick book that I enjoy.

    I love Nick Spencer’s Captain America run (even if Secret Empire failed to stick the landing).

    And, most blasphemously:

    I really don’t care all that much for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

  8. I’m not a huge fan of Aaron. I do like DeConnick quite a bit.
    Sandman is a very mixed bag for me. I’m rereading the first few issues in TPB, and I’d forgotten how good they were. But Gaiman often gets tedious and pretentious — the story set backstage during “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” got so many gushing reviews but it read to me like “Hey boys and girls, let’s show you what life was like in Shakespeare’s time.”

    1. What’s interesting is that apparently, the first draft of the script concentrated more on adapting Midsummer, from how I understand what Gaiman was saying in an interview (Following Cerebus 5, iirc, talking with Dave Sim), and he said that Karen Berger said something to the effect of “you guys are just doing Shakespeare and I don’t really know Shakespeare, why should I care?” which led to the inclusion of the backstage stuff. Which Gaiman said was probably what won the World Fantasy Award.

    1. Le Messor

      This is starting to remind me of the time recently when somebody told me he’d started reading Sandman… and I had to tell him he was the second person that day who’d said that to me! (Then, within a couple of weeks, my pastor said the same thing to me!)

      Millar has two ‘M’s, for twice the evil.

  9. jccalhoun

    I think people really took the wrong lesson from Watchmen. There was “grim and gritty” to Watchmen but that isn’t all it was. It was really experimenting with the medium and trying to do things that you couldn’t do in other forms of media like the narration, the background characters, text pieces, and other things. Hell, even being “grim and gritty” doesn’t mean that all the characters are shitty people. Some of them are but then there are characters like (both) Night Owls and Silk Specter II. Hell, even Dr. Manhattan isn’t “grim and gritty,” he is just inhuman.

    I think that is why I don’t really like Mark Millar or Garth Ennis: all too often all of their characters are shitty people with zero good people. I don’t think having super powers would turn everyone into a shitty person any more than I think it would turn them all into saints.

    1. In The Hawkman Companion, William Messner-Loebs says DC took the wrong lessons from Image’s success in the 1990s. They saw books with bad art and lots of mindless violence selling well and concluded “Well, obviously we need to dumb our stuff down to sell.” which was what happened to a lot of WML’s Hawkman scripts. He said one script had 10 pages of mindless, one page of Hawkman thinking, then another nine pages of mindless action. His editor replaced the one page because if those Image fans read a page without violence, they’d just walk away from the book and never look back.
      “There was “grim and gritty” to Watchmen but that isn’t all it was.” Yeah, a lot of later G&G books just assumed they should be unrelentingly bleak. As time went on, Claremont’s X-Men work took it as a given that no homo sapiens (other than some of is own characters) would ever be able to accept mutants — life for mutants couldn’t possibly improve. It’s one of the reasons I dropped the book.

  10. John King

    I think “Grim and Gritty” should have a place in comics but as an alternative to the mainstream – it should never be the mainstream.
    And we do need “light and Fun” series
    There was a problem when too many people seemed to want to make every series “grim and gritty” and turned comics ugly…

    I believe Alan Moore has probably done more series with original characters than he has done rape scenes (hardly anything he has done had a rape scene). If I wanted to single out one of his stories as Grim and Gritty it would be the Maxwell the Magic Cat tale inspired by the Falklands conflict – Grim becuase it’s a war story with violence and death and Gritty because the war is being fought over a cat’s litter tray…

    1. Le Messor

      ” think “Grim and Gritty” should have a place in comics but as an alternative to the mainstream – it should never be the mainstream.”
      I actually don’t disagree with this, despite constantly talking as if they should never be g&g.

      Ah, the famous conflict that changed the islands’ national anthem to Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina

  11. Envelope Girl

    Hey, first time commenting on site but this topic hit home.
    It had been years since I had been in a shop. Life finally stopped at one. No one in my local shop knew what Action Lab comics were or that there was actually an Action Lab comic. For those unknowing, it is a (web) comic company and the logo is a Labrador Retriever with a jet pack. They turned that into a comic I was joyfully reading with my 6 yr old until it was cancelled. People at a comic shop not knowing about a webcomic might get me started. Or it may totally make me never go back, even though they had sooooo many longboxes of back issues calling my name. When we are all reading online and no more stores exist this is one of the reasons why.
    Oh. and the grading system. I hate that. For years and years I bought and sold and can judge for myself the condition of a book. I can see if the spine is off, if it has writing in it, if there are creases or tears or whatever. I can look at a book and read the second story it tells – the condition its in; but now I need to send my comic in for “grading”. F that, i have a friend that sent in some real nice Spidey low numbers and didn’t get back the same comics he sent in. No way. F u.
    Lastly, feel you about GOT. Another one of those things that makes me wish I wrote down some of the goofy things that come to my mind. People will buy anything. W.C. Fields was right about suckers. Hey, what’d i say about longboxes? Feeling the satire coming on….may need to write Green Arrow: the Longbox Hunters. Y’up. (Say it like Big Mac)

    1. Le Messor

      I loved Action Lab! (Though I never got my paws on issues 7 & 8.)
      I actually read a few of the company’s titles – mostly the kids’ books; Hero Cats Of Stellar City being the obvious one, but also Awake and Green Arrow: Longbox Hunters.

  12. Envelope Girl

    Yeah, imagine a comic shop where the employees don’t know Action Lab! ( blame Pensylvania water supply?) I give most of their stuff a try, really like the Hero Cats as well.
    Longbox Hunters will be out after I write The Artist Formerly Known As Yankee Poodle.

    1. Le Messor

      When Linkara reviewed one of their comics once, he started with something like ‘you probably haven’t heard of them’, and I retorted (in my head) ‘They’re actually one of my favourite publishers right now!’

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