Distinguished Critique: Reviewing the Competition
—by Nathan on April 23, 2023—
When I began blogging again, in May 2020, I didn’t realize what I would kick off for myself. My “Spider-view” series of blogs grew into a second series, “(Strand)om Stories,” eventually birthing a third, albeit less frequent series, “Crawling Back.” In-between the creation of those additional series, I started writing for Geeks Under Grace, reviewing a variety of comic narratives from Marvel, Vertigo, Image, and other publishers.
In late 2021, I started reviewing DC Comics stories at Hubpages. Here and there, I’d posted a few DC reviews on GUG (The Killing Joke, Kingdom Come, DC: The New Frontier, Batman: The Long Halloween), but my collection was expanding, and I wanted to analyze those stories the way I was analyzing Spidey/Marvel narratives. I selected Hubpages as a platform because I’d been writing there for a few years already, periodically dropping a comic review or reflection on music. I also wanted a separate forum to write about DC, away from my Marvel-centric blog at Keenlinks.
That’s about to change.
It’s an idea that’s been rolling through my head for a few weeks now, prompted by a question: What if I transferred my DC reviews over to Keenlinks? I can’t recall what instigated the inquiry, only that it remained, commuting between my ears. It just…seemed like an interesting idea.
So I’ve decided to do it. Hence this new series, "Distinguished Critique," named after Marvel's tongue-in-cheek nickname for their biggest comic book publishing rival: "Distinguished Competition."
A few reasons:
When I began writing on Hubpages, I was prompted by financial incentive. Other folks had made decent money off Hubpages, why not me? Unfortunately, over the nine years I’ve been posting blogs, I’ve made very little ca-a-ash. I never saw it as a “get rich quick” scheme, but I hoped it would become a side business sort of thing. Lately, I’ve been convinced it’s the wrong incentive for me and, honestly, has not been all that inspiring. I’ve been more interested in maintaining Keenlinks or posting at Geeks Under Grace. My track record has been spotty at both sites lately (I blame the grad program I started last August), but whereas I could go a few weeks or a month between posts at Keenlinks or GUG, I haven’t posted at Hubpages since September of last year. And any time I find myself encouraged to write, I slack off longer than intended. So money is no longer a meaningful incentive.
I’ve come to realize I feel trapped by the Hubpages format. The site requests a certain word count and encourages adding photos, captions, section headings, charts, quizzes, and surveys to enhance reader interaction and interest. Not bad ideas, by any means, but I always felt like I was forcing a lot of needless elements into my blogs that I wasn’t interested in adding. I wanted to connect with readers through words, not a survey. I soon came to learn that my writing style just didn’t fit with the pattern they were looking for, and I never felt wholly comfortable in altering my style to fully fit the parameters (this, admittedly, also occurs with GUG, but I am far more willing to adapt for them). I was also just not concerned with maintaining blogs (updating certain blogs with current information) and grew nonplussed with how Hubpages determined where exactly a blog could be posted, such as a specific “Network Site”; the thrill of knowing my latest review was popped over to a niche “Network Site” was occasionally deflated when a post that wasn’t receiving as much traffic was removed. I found myself writing reviews in the hopes of securing a niche site position, which actually ended up being much easier than I originally thought and soon took the excitement out of getting an article selected while simultaneously contorting my focus away from why I began writing in the first place.
Additionally, Hubpages made spontaneous edits to articles to fit their standard, sometimes changing my meaning or intentions, and I became frustrated with the notion of going in and changing things back to what I originally intended. I don’t mind editing and rejiggering my writing to reword a few sentences, fix a typo, or update a blog to my own standards. With Hubpages, I felt constrained with their hands hovering over my work.
A lot of the fun and (dare I say) joy I experience writing about comics is exploring all the myriad nooks and crannies of comic book continuity. Most of the time, this means exploring the far reaches of the Marvel Universe and commenting on its intertwined continuity–it’s fun referencing how Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet is a culmination of work he did on Warlock and Captain Marvel; I enjoy seeing how Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear limited series relates to his “Born Again” narrative or other Daredevil stories he wrote and illustrated in the 80s. At Keenlinks, I’ve even referenced Hubpages and Geeks Under Grace posts I’ve written, like mentioning how Reginald Hudlin’s Black Panther run is a poor successor to Christopher Priest’s fabled series or how grim and gritty narratives of the 90s fail to capture the philosophical, political edginess incorporated into The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen.
At Keenlinks, I could sprinkle links to Hubpages and GUG reviews, giving myself some cross-promotion. But not the other way around. It makes sense. In GUG posts, I’ve linked other GUG reviews I’ve written (and some from my fellow writers), and I linked Hubpages reviews in other Hubpages reviews. But I couldn’t do the opposite. I couldn’t compare Jim Starlin’s Cosmic Odyssey series to Infinity Gauntlet and attach a link; I couldn’t reflect on how Crisis on Infinite Earths reminded me of Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars and link to my Keenlinks review of the latter. I’ve got no issues about that with GUG. But I was a tad hopeful I could use my Hubpages platform to draw readership to Keenlinks. No dice. Again, it makes sense, but I felt like I was missing out on opportunities to do some fun cross-company connectivity between Marvel and DC.
So what am I gonna do about it?
I’ve already removed my DC reviews from Hubpages. I intend on republishing them on Keenlinks, posting them periodically and linking them to other Marvel blogs as appropriate. What this will do is bring the number of writing platforms from three to two, so that I’m only publishing on Keenlinks and GUG (maybe the periodic blog will find its way to Hubpages). Condensing most of my writing to Keenlinks will, I hope, offer me a sense of freedom I have not possessed. I will have control over my content: when I post blogs, how long they are, and how I can tether them to other narratives I’ve written without fear of links being eliminated. My writing, I hope, will no longer sound stuffy or constructed to fit a box.
I will be more lenient in how I choose to post DC reviews. Most times with my Marvel blogs, I enjoy tethering them to a recent “Spider-view” post. For example, I recently posted two “(Strand)om Stories” reviews about Black Panther and Iron Man stories (haphazardly) connected to a “Spider-view” post dedicated to a narrative where both characters appeared. With the DC reviews I’ve already written, several of them followed a pattern or semblance of a pattern: I posted several in semi-chronological order (Crisis on Infinite Earths, followed by immediate post-Crisis narratives, such as “Batman: Year One,” John Byrne’s Man of Steel limited series, and Green Lantern’s Emerald Dawn miniseries) or based on a certain theme (such as Superman: Birthright, Superman: Secret Origins, Superman: Red Son, and Superman: For All Seasons, all dealing with Superman origin stories/Supes’ early years). Others were a little more loosely defined (the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious House was kinda thrown in there). The order I originally posted these in on Hubpages will be maintained.
Once I reach the end of my previously published material, I’ll determine the right order for new content. I don’t want these reviews to be another “branch” of my Spider-Man reviews, and I don’t foresee myself directly tethering DC reviews to “Spider-view” or “(Strand)om Stories” posts. I don’t need to scramble and review some Batman story Frank Miller wrote just because I reviewed a Daredevil narrative he scripted. I assume I will want these posts to fit into each other in some way, but I hopefully won’t be as strict and will allow for the random volume or graphic novel to slip in. If review contain connections to Marvel-centric posts, and vice versa, great. I’ll reference them, link reviews together. But, as I said, I wish to be more lenient with these reviews. Just post them whenever I would like to.
I wrote a few reviews which covered individual stories included in collected volumes. For example, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel?” and “For the Man Who Has Everything” were contained in the same volume; the same goes for “Death in the Family” and “A Lonely Place of Dying.” As I’ve already taken the time to review these individually (writing the posts, taking and editing photos, editing the reviews), those posts will remain the same. But moving forward, I intend to review these stories by volume, not by individual story. So instead of reviewing the three chapters of Batman’s “Demon Trilogy,” for instance, I’ll review the volume as a whole. This is similar to how I write my “(Strand)om Stories” reviews and seems to be a good format. It may actually encourage me to post more frequently, knowing I don’t have to write three, four, five, or whatever number of posts for a single volume. Just one, expanded post covering the whole collection.
As was my intention for “Spider-view” three years ago, I hope “Distinguished Critique” will be a platform for me to write and publish reviews more consistently. I really do hope I’m more inspired to write DC reviews for Keenlinks than I was for Hubpages…I hope the sense of complete creative control (as well as an upcoming summer break) will prompt me to be more productive.
I invite you to join me on the journey. To Metropolis. To Gotham. To Coast City, Star City, Central City, Keystone City, Gorilla City. To Apokolips, Krypton, Oa, Thanagar. To alternate dimensions where Superman’s a communist or where Batman’s a vampire. Wherever we journey, I hope we enjoy it together.
Not as much as we would enjoy swinging through Manhattan, natch, but this should be a close second.