It has been quite some time since something comic book-related has angered (I mean to use the more neutral word “inspired”) me to furiously write a rave. But the new Comic Book Resources direction has done it. (Pardon me, I will use the more corporate-friendly “CBR” title to promote the brand.)
For the past five years or so, I have faithfully checked CBR daily in case I might miss some important (and by “important,” I mean “pretty much useless”) news about my favorite comic book characters. Of course, it was more than just that. The personalities of the columnists and the overall feeling of a unified comic book community that CBR radiated were always enticing. And if not much was going on with the main site, one could just visit the message boards to see some still-fuming fans complain about One More Day or justify why Denny O’Neil’s run on Spider-Man was not bad, just mediocre. That type of fun stuff.
In August, CBR was sold to Valnet Inc, the “world’s leader in content creation & distribution.” Whatever that means. So, they sold out. I could go on a Gerber-esque rant about capitalism and the “big biznuss messin’ errythin’ up,” but selling out is not the end of the world. We live in America, and everybody wants money. Theoretically, it should have been no big deal, and CBR should have just continued with the content that attracted so many faithful followers. But then Valnet had to “improve” their new asset to make it “all-new, all-different, and all-improved” to attract “those young folks of the wild counterculture” (sounds like Marvel's current direction).
First, I want to discuss the new design. I was shocked when I pulled up the site in August and saw the format was completely different. The classic front page with its glorious side-bars and maximalistic-yet-not-overwhelming design was replaced by the generic mobile format that does little more to make the site “accessible” than force visitors to scroll more. I always went on the old site on my phone and had no problem navigating. Anyone with the basic skill to zoom on their screen could easily access everything (and I assume CBR’s target audience is so tech-savvy that they could make their phones perform backflips … and whatnot). However, that just was just not good enough because the designers at CBR knew readers yearned for an overly-clean layout that follows the trend of minimalism and destroys any personality the site’s design had earlier.
I’ve taken a few shots at the new design, but it doesn’t really matter if I can still read the articles and if the content is as interesting as before, right? Well, this is the part with which I have major problems. You see, up until the day I wrote this (which is December 22, 2016), I have still checked CBR every day faithfully. It had become such a habit that I was not so much looking for reasons to go on the site but reasons to stop doing so. Checking the latest comic news has become as instinctual to me as brushing my teeth (although I admit the latter happens less often than it should). However, the little things have built up and accumulated over the past few months, and now I have had enough. I can no longer go on CBR with a clear conscience and still view myself as an aware, intelligent reader.
What made me snap were two stupid articles that underlie major problems with the current direction of the site. The first was a Top 15 list entitled “The Horniest Heroes in Comics.” Against my better judgement and self-respect, I clicked on the stupid article. The title is obviously clickbait, and perhaps I just felt the need to reaffirm that it was not discussing horniness (I cannot believe I just used that word) in the sexual way but in the context of horns on a character’s head. Author Jason Wilkins tries to play off the silliness of the article, but it’s insufficient. Adding to the blasphemy, the characters the author chooses are obvious and the fact that Daredevil wins is totally ridiculous because we all know Baby Wildebeest has far more stupendous horns. What was even the criteria here? Popularity or horn size?
Although I'm having fun ridiculing this article, it underlies the major content issue CBR has with lists. Top 10s or Top 15s on their own are not gimmicks and are often useful for organizing information. However, the reliance on and sheer number of lists on the site make it a gimmick. Already, after only a few months of publishing under the new format, the authors are running out of topics and resorting to pointless, uninspired articles. The choices are often predictable, and I can usually guess the top choice simply by looking at the title. The actual meat of the article underneath the picks is usually bland, uninsightful summary. (In reading the caption for a choice of Spider-Man, I might expect, “He was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him the powers of a spider.” That sort of “creative” content.) The new CBR direction favors these lists, of course, because they are easy to write (especially since so many are done right off of the top of the authors’ heads) and lists are easily digested by the witless masses that Valnet is appealing to. (How else could YouTube channels like WatchMojo get so popular and churn out so much material?)
The second article that triggered me is named “Star Wars’ Anthony Daniels Cussed Out Alan Tudyk Over Rogue One.” Like the last article, that title is as clickbait as they get. It sets up an Enquirer-like scandal between actors whose names I couldn’t even remember off of the top of my head yet whom I’m supposed to care about when they get in conflicts. Suffice to say, the actors did not duke it out in a savage verbal brawl. Instead, the whole article is structured around something Tudyk said on Conan that Daniels playfully told him earlier. Yes, this somehow warrants a whole article. Not to mention that this is a feature article! It was in the carousel at the top of the homepage!
These non-comic "news" articles are another major problem I have with the content of the new CBR. They are unoriginal and often sensationalize something an actor said on a talk show. These articles are totally uncreative and uninsightful, as the author simply copies what somebody else said on another media outlet. At least the authors has to quickly think of fifteen heroes that meet the criteria with the list articles. With these movie-based articles, no thought is necessary. Frankly, if I cared what an actor said on Conan last night, I would have watched Conan last night.
This article also underlies the trend that CBR focuses more on movies and shows than actual comic books. Of the 34 articles on the front page at the time I write this, 23 are about movies and television and only 11, about one-third, are about comic books (and that is including lists, which are often more informed about movies). Comic book movies come out at most once every few months, and they are each only a few hours long. On the other hand, over 50 comic books come out every week. Which has more to discuss? Of course, it’s more interesting to read about a movie that has been postponed since 2006 but might possibly still have a chance of getting a script written in the next decade. Considering the ill-considered focus on movies, it’s easy to see why there are so many empty, pointless articles on CBR.
Both of articles that pushed me over the edge highlight the major problem of clickbaiting that the new site suffers from, and this element has drawn comparisons between CBR and the dreaded BuzzFeed. Don’t get me wrong, there is a clear line between interesting article titles and clickbait titles. Usually, I find the headings to be fine on CBR, but the two examples I gave, along with usually at least two on the front page at all times, undermine the integrity of the entire news source. Considering both articles, being a sentient being capable of thought, I could obviously tell the titles were sensationalistic and silly before even reading the content. Nonetheless, the fact that the editorial team would approve of such stupid headings betrays the trust of the audience. But if it garners views, that’s all that really matters, right? Looking at how convoluted comic book plots can get, I don’t even see the point of sensationalizing article titles when headings like “Spider-Man’s Aunt Returns from the Dead in Ploy by Norman Osborn!” or “Gwen Stacy Had Two Kids with Norman Osborn Before Death?” are entirely true.
The saddest part of the new CBR is what is missing: the personality-driven columns. Regular articles from series like Pipeline, In Your Face Jam, and The Mission never failed to interest me. However, they have all disappeared with the new format. CBR still claims that the transition to Valnet has not really changed the new content. Unfortunately for them, I am a capable of intelligent thought and perceived that the columns went away with the arrival of the new design. Many of the writers of each respective series have moved to other websites to continue their work (and I applaud them for continuing), and they have acknowledged that CBR is not interested in columns anymore. The personality-driven, opinionated content has made way for the bland, uninspired lists and movie garbage. Although I often did not agree with Joseph P. Illidge’s opinions in his column, The Mission, they were nonetheless insightful, and anyone can tell he put time and effort into his articles. The same cannot be said of CBR’s new stuff. The de-emphasis on personalities and opinions also deteriorates the old feeling of a CBR community. The current content could have been written by a high-functioning machine rather than an actual human being. (I’m too harsh on high-functioning machines. C-3PO could come up with better ideas.)
Not only have personalities disappeared but so have opinions practically altogether. No longer does CBR have regular, weekly reviews of comic books. Instead, they will occasionally summarize the happenings in a recent issue without giving much of an opinion or analysis. In fact, it is rare to see current CBR authors really say anything negative about comic book companies, especially Marvel. I, along with a good majority of the comic book community, am not happy with Marvel’s corporate direction, but this dissatisfaction is poorly reflected in the website. An outsider to the comic book world would think the relationship between Marvel and their fans is one of pure excitement and exuberance by looking at the hype on the site. In a poll conducted by the old CBR (they sadly don’t really do polls anymore), a majority of fans said they were not excited for Marvel’s recent All-New Marvel Now launch. (The link to the said poll was unfortunately lost in the transition. Coincidence? I think not!) However, on the new site, I have read nothing but praise for the new titles. It makes me think CBR receives some kind of kickback for shining the company in a good light. (Especially because they usually get first dibs for art previews.)
Don’t even get me started on the advertisements. It seems like they are placed between every single paragraph on the mobile site. I remember back when I could read a single article without getting more ads shoehorned in than actual words. The video ads are totally obnoxious as well. I also partially blame these commercials for constantly making the site crash and load extremely slowly on my phone. It may be for a different reason, but if the article blanks out and reloads, it usually does so right after an ad loads. (Those blamed videos surely do not make loading the article any easier.) These constant reloads got so annoying that I had to switch to another site to look at the recently-released Marvel solicitations. Crashes and slow speeds did not occur frequently with the old site.
The only part of the site that remains unchanged is the message boards. Thank the comic book gods (the Eternals?) for this because it is the last fragment of the old CBR community. And these fans only back me in my distaste for the site’s new direction. The thread “The New Look CBR.com” has 31 pages of mostly-negative reactions to the updates, and the majority of the people posting are not the stereotypical, seven-year-old trolls that go on the Internet to cyberbully other trolls (there are Minecraft forums for that). These are rational fans bringing up legitimate concerns.
However, those running the CBR front page have taken steps to undermine the message boards. For example, articles’ links to comments in the forums have been replaced by Facebook comment sections. This has effectively silenced any conversation about articles, as most have no comments and the comments on the few are spam ("check out this way to make fast cash" type of stuff). The fact that someone needs a Facebook account to post is a hassle, especially since everyone knows Facebook is slowly dying. (If CBR truly wanted to nail their target audience, they would focus on Twitter and Instagram instead. Heck, even Reddit would work.)
In essence, I am done reading CBR until they fix their many problems. While the old site had issues, the new site has amplified those problems to a point I can no longer withstand. The main reason I have even written this is to create a written statement that will bind me to my vow not to return to the site because I know I’ll feel compelled to do so despite its problems, mostly out of habit. I truly did cherish the old CBR, and I wish it did not come to this. Hopefully, the editors will be receptive to the negative feedback they have received. Until then, I guess I should forget the increasingly diluted and debased comic book news sites and focus on … actual news sites (despite the depressing political climate).
Luckily, no matter what, Spiderfan.Org will always be around, even if we aren't always up-to-date. Plus, there are still good fan sites out there like Superior Spider-Talk, which I am sure to check frequently. Too bad disgraces like CBR sometimes overshadow the legitimate fan sites with writers that actually care about their content.