When the topic of “feeling obligated to contribute to the critical discourse” came up during the SPX 2009 Critics’ Roundtable, I rolled my eyes a little. If you’re feeling obligated, you’re doing it wrong and you should probably chill out a little. However, discourse that occurs organically, out of respect for the work or the emotions it caused in you, is a great thing. It’s nothing you can force into being.
Two of my favorite bloggers are Tucker Stone and Matthew J Brady. Maybe it’s because we share sensibilities. Maybe it was that night we had to bury a body in Juarez. Whatever the reason, I tend to enjoy reading what these two guys come up with, even if I don’t agree.
Critical discourse is what happened when all three of us reviewed Pluto at different points in time, from different perspectives, and found different things to enjoy about it. Matthew recently posted a review that praises the emotional investment Urasawa instills in his readers by way of some well-executed facial expressions and pacing. Tucker juxtaposed it with the maturation of American comics, or rather the immaturatization, kind of like I did a while back. At the same time, I fell in love with the fact that one of the central conceits in the book, whether or not robots count as human, is a smokescreen, a purely surface level reading that is quickly proven to be a falsehood.
You can read Pluto’s first volume and get everything you need out of the series. It could be that robots can be people. It can be that Urasawa is a master artist. It can also be that Pluto approaches comics for adults in a way that American comics generally don’t. Compare the treatment of death in Blackest Night, DC’s All-Zombies All-Death All-the-time crossover and in Pluto 1-3. Look at which one treats death like it matters, and which treats death as overwrought melodrama. (Blackest Night is a bad crossover full of bad comics.)
All three of our takes are valid interpretations and all three are ripe for discussion. What’s nice is that I don’t think any of this came about because we felt like Someone Had To Discuss Pluto. We weren’t trying to prove that we’re real critics, or writers, or whatever, by contributing opinions because we felt like we had to. That’s a stupid and self-centered way to approach things. “I’m smart, smart people do this, so let me do this, too, to show that I am smart.”
Post-script: Tucker was right when he said that Pluto “is better than you heard it was.”