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The Return of the Thought Bubble

I need to start off this post by way of disclaimer...

"My name is Jon. I am a Brian Michael Bendis fan."

I'm not a ball sucking, ass kissing fan of his. But I am a fan. He's done some great works and he has done some good work. I don't think any of his work is bad, or even slightly bad. It's either really good or above decent. I've never read a book of his and thought, "Damn, this is horrible." So now let's continue since I have that out of the way, now that you know I am a fan and not another "BMBB" or Brian Michael Bendis Basher (there is a group...look it up).

I was reading, I believe in Wizard, that Brian was talking about bringing the thought bubble/balloon back. That intrigued me a bit, but with Wizard always pulling April Fool's pranks I thought it was just a joke. After all, go back and read some of those old Stan Lee comics with 30 thought balloons on each page...it hurts. I don't think you can seriously consider thought balloons being a great mechanism in comic book storytelling.

But then I finally got my issue of Might Avengers #1. (I get my comics through mail, you should try it. You save tons of money which means more comics! www.mailordercomics.com) Lo and behold, it was, the use of thought balloons in a Marvel book.

As you will see as you continue reading, I hated it. Truly hated it. And I am usually open to change and can accept new ideas (Captain America being killed off, Bucky and Jason Todd being brought back from the dead, the fact that my hairline is receding...).

But after several years of captions being used for character's thoughts and the importance of the art becoming more significant in the storytelling process, I was sad to see the old thought clouds floating over head.

Here are some examples for you. All images are taken from Mighty Avengers #1 (Marvel Comics) and are used here only for educational purposes. Or something like that. Just go buy the book so I don't get sued.

So here you have the first usage of a thought bubble in Mighty Avengers:

Not a bad use of a thought bubble...

It actually leads a bit to the story. We see that Tony is so smart he can be talking to two different people and thinking about complex equations at the same time. A more modern way to this approach would be to have the POV from another angle and we could actually see the formula on his Tablet. But hey, I can deal so far. One thing I can't deal with his that he is nonchalantly talking about selling the Helicarrier on eBay. So after a Civil War, the death of his best friend and countless others, being in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and also dealing with the Registration Act, he's cutting jokes? Seems out of character doesn't it? But this is a topic for another post I am working on.

Moving on.

Here's where things start to get silly. This is where I start to ask, how does the thought balloon do anything other than show that they are using a thought balloon? To me it breaks up the conversation. If they want Carol to be getting the point across that she is pleased with the fact there are registered heroes, couldn't she just have said, "You finally have super heroes working in all fifty states"?

Same page, a two page spread. We're really getting our money's worth of thought balloons.

Here is where I can see what Bendis is saying about appropriate use. Due to space limitations, he seems to have wanted to show that Tony is detached (might make my problem with the eBay comment less important) and that Rogers is a statistic. This could have been done by having her stop and ask the question out loud, which would have required a 1-2 more panels. So maybe space was an issue. Although at the end of the issue there are some 3 panel pages.

I also personally think it would have been easier to read if they would have changed her second though balloon to "He's calling Captain America Rogers now???" The way it is now makes it seem as if she is still talking to Tony, even though it's supposed to be a thought.

This next image needs some setup. In the panel previous to this one, Tony says, "That's the magic of a great team. Plus the magic that comes from the team dynamic that you didn't see coming." Carol then says...

This is an instance where Bendis decide's not to use a thought balloon. And look how much MORE is said in Tony's silent panel. The art is telling the story. The readers get to decide for themselves what Tony is feeling and thinking. Is he sad? Is he about to blow up and get pissed? Is he thinking about drinking again? The story becomes more powerful, rather than us reading a thought balloon from him that says something like, "That was a harsh comment." And Bendis has done these moments beautifully for years.

Here's a long one...

The first "What?" throws me off. What does she mean by saying "What?"

The second thought balloon is funny, and doesn't throw me off too much. Having Tony saying it out loud to her would have been funnier though.

The third balloon, is it funny? Does it add to the story? I don't think so.

Besides me wanting to put this next image in just cause Frank Cho draws an amazing Warbird, here is another one that I think distracts from the character's dialogue...


...seems to work very well.

And these go on and on. I would say 95% of them do nothing to enhance the story, and in fact, mostly detract from the story. I found while critiquing these, the majority of the thought balloons that detract from the story are the ones that are slammed in the middle of a conversation. And the majority of the thought balloons that work are in a panel with only one character talking, much like the Warbird panel above. Overall I would give the Return of the Thought Balloon a D+. It didn't fall on it's ass all the time, but it definitely didn't kick ass either. If I were a main stay Marvel writer I'd stay away from using them.

And while I am critiquing this first issue of Might Avengers, I would grade the overall score a B+. Does anybody care? Probably not. Would Bendis care if he ever were to read this? Probably. I've noticed in interviews he takes constructive critiques to heart. As long as they are constructive and as long as they are valid, he is open to discussion, for what I believe is his hope to continue perfecting his craft. I admire that. And I admire that he is trying this, even though I didn't like it. Experiments are needed to push the medium forward.

Get some of the classic Avengers stories here...

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