What I think differentiates the PopMatters Comics section from its competitors is our focus. This includes both our subject matter for review, as well as the style that I try to push in our reviews.
Many comics reviewers are either in the industry, or want to be. They may be writers, or retailers, and while writing from that viewpoint gives them a certain “insider” perspective, it often limits their style. Most of them are comics fans writing for comics fans. They focus on the issues that the hardcore fan community is interested in, without looking at the larger cultural picture. In subject matter, most reviewers focus on mainstream titles by the two major publishers (Marvel and DC), or they focus on big name writers and artists. They get sidetracked by industry intrigues, such as which writer got fired from which company and which was signed to an exclusive contract, much of which ends up reading like a gossip sheet in a seedy Hollywood newspaper. They focus on the popular characters and titles, looking at them not with a critical eye, but with the eye of a largely undiscriminating fan.
I’ve encouraged a larger focus in both my reviews and in the reviews of my writers, one that isn’t concerned so much with looking at comics strictly as a fan or wannabe writer, but as someone who can both appreciate and critique them intelligently. While sometimes we may touch on the inner workings of the industry in order to emphasize a point or analyze how it affects a particular work, this isn’t our primary concern. Instead, we focus on evaluating the work in a larger context, and trying to help develop the small but growing realm of intelligent comics commentary.
Ryan Paul, Comics Editor
PopMatters Editors’ Picks
Promethea: Book One
Review by Andrew Gilstrap
In this review, Gilstrap crystallizes all the elements of an incredibly complex, and incredibly beautiful, comic book. This is a perfect example of how to treat an underappreciated medium, that of the graphic novel, with the kind of sophisticated critical attention it deserves, and just the right amount of positive spin needed to attract new readers.
The Monolith #1
Review by Ryan Paul
Paul’s goal was to take a fairly tiny work of art a 44 page comic book and demonstrate how it addressed critical issues in modern culture in a very powerful and serious way, and he succeeds stylishly.
To Be or Not to Be in This Pair of Tights: Superhero Comics as Literature
Feature by Peter Bebergal
Bebergal tackles one of the oldest and most persistent questions about comics: How do they fit into the world of canonical fiction? Bebergal exposes how the nature of superhero comics has changed over time and what it means to old distinctions of what is and isn’t considered “art”. This is a wonderful example of how specific pieces in the PopMatters arsenal tackle the supposed divide between “popular” and “high” culture.
JLA (Justice League of America)
Review by A. David Lewis
Nearly everyone who has ever tried to write about comic books has written something about what it means to be a superhero, to want to be a superhero, or to need superheroes. Here, Lewis tackles all of those issues in a deft fashion, showing how comic books have developed their own answers to those issues.
Marvel Comics’ Break with the Comics Code Authority
Feature by John Burnson
When PopMatters Comics discusses the industry, it does so with a critical eye and keen analysis. Burnson turns an educated eye on the issues of comics, censorship, and quality, offering a sharp criticism to a major industry player in flux, and educating the reader at the same time.
Review by Anne Thalheimer
Seemingly outside of even the underground, women comic writers are thought to be a rare bird in a remote forest; Thalheimer dispels such common assumptions with her look at just one artist of many. A fine example of PopMatters tackling an often-overlooked area of comics criticism.
Truth, Justice, and the British Way
Feature by A. David Lewis
Far from an American phenomenon, comic books are popular the world over, despite the fact that few titles manage to successfully cross over into the American consciousness. Lewis’s piece on the British comics industry offers a corrective for American audiences who aren’t paying attention to what’s happening overseas.
The Sandman: Endless Nights
Review by Stephen Rauch
This article demonstrates the kind of scrutiny and analysis that makes PopMatters so cool: it’s compelling, energetic and honest.
The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
Review by Anne Thalheimer
Thalheimer uses the case of one polarizing comic book to show the circumstances of how comics fit into the gender divisions of our society and how a comic book can reflect on the political circumstances of its creation. This piece shines a light on gender politics, cultural context, and independent comics.
Oh, What Heights… Chuck Jones [1912-2002]
Feature by John Nettles
While not exactly a comics feature per se, it was difficult to know exactly where to place this reverent and poignant piece. But we couldn’t leave out this sweet and affectionate obituary for one of America’s great cartoonists.