Five Years of PopMatters: Comics

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.

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.

Naughty Bits
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.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

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