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"Go exploring!" The Wednesday Waffle Episode Ten.


We're getting back to our waffly roots this week, not just posting news stories. Because over the last few weeks, a couple of in store conversations, as well as some interaction we've had online in both our professional and personal capacities, have made us think.


I keep hearing - particularly online - that "comics just aren't as good as they used to be". And I'm always surprised by such comments because I'm firmly of the view that we're in the middle of something of a golden age. I mean, there is so much excellent stuff out there right now it's almost impossible to read even a significant fraction of it. I've been into comics in a serious way for more than thirty years now and I am being absolutely serious when I say that I cannot recall a time when the general standard of Anglophone comics has been higher.


(And trust me, I do not say this lightly - I started reading comics around the time Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum, Year One and Man Without Fear were being published. My bar for "best time for comics I can remember is very very high).


There are, of course, a couple of factors driving the idea that "comics have gone to the dogs". Pseudo political/ideological "movements" like Comicsgate* need to believe that comics are terrible right now, because they don't like the ideas and values which dominate in the medium at the moment. Others are merely nostalgic - wishing that the comics of today were more like the comics they grew up with in the eighties, or nineties, or whenever they happened to be young.


But frankly, that doesn't explain the phenomenon because most people don't belong to either of those groups. So why do so many people think that the quality of the comics available has gone down?


It's simple, really. People are looking at the wrong comics.


To be clear - I don't think that there are very many genuinely bad comics out there. The market simply won't allow poor quality comics to exist for very long. There are too many talented people pitching too many brilliant ideas to too few companies in a market where potential supply outstrips demand by several orders of magnitude, and there are too many barriers to entry for anything truly mediocre to survive for long.


No, the perceived problem of low quality seems to me to be more a question of taste. People are seeing comics that don't appeal to them and concluding that they are bad, when in fact, they just don't dig that kind of story or that kind of art.


Let's look at Batman as an example. Regular readers will know that I bow to nobody in my admiration of Tom King as a writer. I maintain that his recent eighty five issue run on the title is possibly the best Batman run I have read in the thirty-odd years I've been reading the book. But a lot of people hated it.


King's writing isn't perfect (he really doesn't write women terribly well, and I was not a fan of the way he used Poison Ivy), but (and I'm speaking as an English Teacher now) there's no argument that he's a bad writer. He just isn't. What people didn't like was the direction he took the characters he was writing and/or they didn't like the pacing. Both of these are matters of taste, and there are no right or wrong opinions in such cases.


There were those who didn't like the whole Bat/Cat romance - and that's not an unreasonable position to take. While I myself am a romantic soul who loves all that stuff, I also acknowledge that the Dark Knight is at best when he's alone - I started reading Batman regularly between the death of Jason Todd (Robin II) and the arrival of Tim Drake (Robin III), so I really do appreciate a solo Batman.


And the people who didn't like that relationship are in good company. There's an excellent interview with Denny O'Neil on the Word Balloon podcast in which O'Neil - to my mind possibly the best Batman writer of all time and without question the best Editor the batbooks ever had - is pretty vocal in his opinion that putting Batman in any kind of romantic relationship is a terrible idea.


Then there was the pacing. If you're reading comics because you want heart pounding action, King's Batman run isn't for you. Many of the story arcs are almost cartoonishly slooooooooooow. The fourth arc, The War of Jokes and Riddles took eight issues - four months in real time - to tell a story whose ultimate point came down to one page in the eighth part. I completely get that some people might not have patience with that kind of thing, however much I personally loved it.


I guess what I'm saying is that it's easy to assume that when we don't like something it's because that thing is bad, and that the people who do like it are wrong - or even stupid - for doing so. If you want to see that sort of attitude in action just look at pretty much any discussion about anything on social media...


And I get it, I do. Sometimes having a good old moan fest with some like minded people can be cathartic - even fun. But there are more positive ways to proceed that perhaps lead to greater happiness. If you're not enjoying Batman, or Spider-Man, or whatever it is that you're not enjoying try doing something radical.