But before we leave this world behind, I want to say a little about my complete lack of understanding of the superhero-fixated comics reader. Or at least the superhero-fixated comics reader who incessantly complains about things on the internet. I've read a lot of these complaints over the years, and it seems that they fall into several major categories. In ascending order of prevalence:
Advocating on behalf of creators: Probably the most noble sort of complaining, but it's tragically rare to find this kind of empathy on the comics-related internet. This category would include discussions of creators' rights, ill treatment of creators by editors, questions about the material well being of creators, and the like. I have no problem with this kind of stuff, and I wish we saw more of it. In fact, if I were a better human being, I'd do more of it myself.
Complaining that a comic is poorly crafted: I'm talking in the most context-neutral terms here. Does the plot make sense? Does the script suggest that the writer is familiar with the way human being talk? (If not, is this an deliberate stylistic choice? If it is deliberate, does it work?) Is the storytelling easy to follow? Are the pencils compelling in any way? (Side note: one of my pet peeves against online superhero fan culture is the frequent charge of "unrealistic anatomy." I think the real question is whether the artists' rendering of his/her characters works in the larger context of what the artist is trying to do; there's not a whole lot of "realism" in superhero comics, so why should the anatomy be any different?) I stumble across these conversations less frequently than I might hope.
Discussions of stereotypical or demeaning portrayals of specific groups of people: I use the term "discussion" sort of broadly, since civility flies right out the window pretty quickly once one of these "discussions" gets going. Said "discussions" would probably be more marginal if they didn't inspire legions of furious naysayers to defend the honor of whoever or whatever fucked up this week. I still think the most logical response to the instituionalized insensitivity of Marvel/DC is to quit buying their comics, but I think it's pretty clear that such a thing isn't in the offing. At least for now.
Economically-motivated complaints: These usually fall into two large categories--"crossovers are bleeding me dry" and "decompression means that you don't get much story for your money." I'm sympathetic to the former, especially when the complaint is motivated by a crossover rendering a favorite title essentially unreadable for its duration (see: recent complaints about X-Factor). The latter...I think it's pretty obvious (or it should be pretty obvious) that there's a legitimate artistic purpose behind slowing down the pace of a story. This approach doesn't play well with serialization, unfortunately. (Frankly, I also have trouble following densely plotted books month to month; I tend to forget some crucial detail a bit too easily. I really need those recap pages these days.) Unfortunately, we seem to be in a period of transition where the needs of the existing readership aren't always being met by publication strategies. I can generally understand this kind of complaining.
Fan ownership of corporate owned intellectual properties: The aforementioned complaints are all pretty legitimate, logical reasons to be frustrated. And they all could be acted upon in one simple way: abandoning the offending comics. But superhero fans' sense of ownership forestalls such actions. It seems to me that the most vocal online fans are the ones who feel the greatest attachment to specific characters. So you get a lot of complaints that Intellectual Property X is written out of character, or that Storyline Z violates some musty story from the complainant's youth. In its more extreme forms, criticism informed by such notions of ownership seems like nothing more than cross checks against the fan's preconceptions of how the character(s) "work." If the comic meets these expectations, it's good. If not, it's bad.
I'm always shocked to see this type of complaint infect the criticism of smart people who I respect. I often hear objections to Marvel/DC stories couched in terms of "I can't believe they're doing this to such a valuable cultural icon." I'm baffled by this argument; I'm much more interested in judging a comic on its own merits. The devaluing of Iron Man as a marketable intellectual property didn't make Civil War a bad comic--the complete lack of forward plot momentum and whimper of an ending made it a bad comic. I mean, I do want Marvel to continue to make money. I know the Direct Market depends on a healthy Marvel, and I want the DM to persist because it's still the best system for providing me with the comics I want to read every week. But (a) that seems like a separate issue from actual criticism, which should privilege aesthetic concerns above pecuniary ones; and (b) I'm not sure that what happens in comics read by 200,000 people will affect a movie that will have to sell millions of tickets in order to be profitable. In other words, I doubt that Jon Favreau is too worried that you think Iron Man is an asshole.
The thing that I find most irritating about fan ownership is not its deleterious effect on online comics criticism, but that it seems to bind fan and character together for all of eternity. That's absolute insanity. It's what allows Marvel and DC to keep a stranglehold on the Direct Market against all logic. Of course, in the 90s they nearly lost it; neither company was doing a good job at maintaining the prestige of its oldest, most famous characters. Image took advantage of this weakened bond between reader and intellectual property by enticing readers to follow creators rather than characters. This would be a better industry today if they had capitalized on this initial success. Marvel and DC would have to rely more on the quality of their comics rather than their fans' attachments to their intellectual property; creator-owned properties would fare better in the marketplace; readers disgusted with editorial policies would be more willing to abandon DC/Marvel for books published by more progressive companies. (IT WOULDN'T SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS IN THE INDUSTRY PLEASE DON'T ACCUSE ME OF SAYING SUCH A THING THANK YOU.)
When I was compiling my list of favorite Marvel and DC characters, I was making my decision based on specific issues or runs of issues.* Spider-Man certainly hasn't been a compelling character for his entire existence. Even if all the writers and artists who had worked on Spider-Man over the years had been competent (which they haven't), Spider-Man would still be a completely broken character simply because he's appeared in hundreds and hundreds of comics over the last 45+ years. But I wasn't thinking about any of that when I put Spider-Man at #1; I was thinking about the classic Lee/Ditko years (and, to a lesser extent, the classic Lee/Romita years). The Thing had a period of time where he wore a bucket on his head. That could still be going on today, for all I care--it doesn't make the Lee/Kirby years any less magical. The only way I can possibly appreciate Marvel/DC comics is to evaluate them on a case by case basis. Otherwise you're overwhelmed by the crap, and it's better to avoid the crap.
But that's apparently a minority viewpoint these days. I can't relate to the people who see things differently, and I don't want to read their complaints. So goodbye and so forth to those blogs which are more invested in characters than comics--I'm sure you won't miss my hits.
*This is less the case for the DC list, as several characters are on there mostly because they have cool costumes. Which probably says something about the quality of DC comics vs. Marvel comics over the years. Not in an aggregate sense, where I think the quality averages out to about even, but in a peak vs. peak sense. In other words, DC has never published anything remotely approaching the quality of Lee/Ditko Spider-Man and Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four.