I can appreciate the concern that including grades in reviews of movies, films and comic books can be reductive, as some are just going to skip the commentary to see what score the work got. But it’s often useful. If the reviewer isn’t the clearest, it gives a sense of how good they think the material is, which can be an important question for a potential consumer. It doesn’t provide much more than a sense of that, since what’s a “B” for one person could easily be a “C” for another, and what I’d consider a 7/10 work someone else could rate lower, even if the opinion of the quality of the work is the same.
This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. I’m familiar with three forms of grades for works of art: The A to F scale, the five-star scale, and the 0-10 scale. Here are the explanations for what that means, as far as I’m concerned.
Brilliant (***** or A+ or 10/10)
This should be rare, the highest score a work of art can obtain. It’s my way of addressing a debate between Roger Ebert and Stephen King about whether the critic gave too many **** reviews. Ebert explained it.
King’s On Writing, by the way, is one of the most intelligent, engaging and useful books ever written by a writer about his craft. In his EW article, he states the four-star rating should be reserved for classics like “The Godfather,” and criticizes me for putting it on a par with “Spider-Man 2.”
I consider stars to be relative to genre, not absolute; since “Spider-Man 2” was one of the best movies ever made about a comic book superhero, I gave it four stars. If stars were absolute and four stars were calibrated at the level of “The Godfather” or “Citizen Kane,” there might be years without a single four-star movie.
It’s a grade that shouldn’t be given out very often. As far as Ebert is concerned, there are currently six four-star films playing in theaters: Skyfall, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Amour, The Impossible and West of Memphis. There should be one grade that’s slightly higher to indicate the works that the critic believes will stand out as the best of the best, not just among the best of a genre.
Excellent (**** or A or 9/10)
This is something you’d recommend with ease. Ebert would give this four stars. You might see this type of work on specific “Best of” lists (50 Greatest Batman stories! 100 Greatest Sports Movies! 50 Best Irish Plays!)
Earlier, I pondered the difference between the two ways of judging a work of art: perfection VS brilliance. A perfect work would be on this level. A brilliant work could be at the top.
Great but flawed. (*** 1/2 or A- or B+ or 8/10)
There are two ways of looking at it. It’s something you would recommend highly, but that has serious flaws, preventing it from being an A-level work, but still elevating it above stuff that’s just good. Or it’s a B-level work with something truly special that elevates it slightly higher, such as a good movie with a tremendous performance or third act.
Good (*** or B or 7/10)
This indicates something enjoyable, and worth the list price. There’s better material available, but it’s respectable entertainment. If someone’s getting jaded about a genre, you wouldn’t really recommend B-level work.
Flawed (** 1/2 or B- or C+ or 6/10)
It may be worth buying at list price, but only for reasons other than quality. Perhaps you’re a fan of the character, or it’s a subpar episode of an otherwise good series.
Pedestrian (** or C or 5/10)
I wanted to use “average” for this type of stuff, but that’s a loaded term, since it’s based on something difficult to truly assess. This is something that may be worth reading/ buying cheap.
One problem with review grades is that some think of it in terms of creative writing assignments: If someone produced this for a class, what score would you give it? But it seems to me that a pedestrian professional-level work would get a high grade in a classroom setting, so that’s not quite the right scale.
Deficient (* 1/2 or C- or 4/10)
Slightly worse than pedestrian. Barely worth reading.
Inferior (* 1/2 or D+ or 3/10)
Barely worth reading, because there may be something just interesting enough for that.
Poor (* or D or 2/10)
Not worth experiencing. But there may be something good in it, for someone who has wasted their time.
Bad (1/2 * or D- or 1/10)
Opposite of a *** 1/2 work. It’s not worth experiencing. But there may be something of value inside of it.
Worthless (0* or F or 0/10)
And this is something that isn’t worth reading/ watching/ hearing, and has nothing of value.
This is a scale I’m happy with, but there can be problems. If you’re selective enough, the material worth discussing is usually in the “B” or higher range. Given the expense of following the hobby, most comic book fans aren’t going to buy a book where “C” is typical, much less the average. If the shows you watch are acclaimed (IE- Community, South Park, The Good Wife, Doctor Who, How I Met Your Mother, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Daily Show, Real Time With Bill Maher, Frontline, Saturday Night Live and Homeland) episodes will usually be in the A+ to B- range, at least on my scale.
For a lot of critics, high reviews can be common since they’re selecting work that is more likely to merit those reviews. I’ve been meaning to read for a while, such as Lone Wolf and Cub, Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways. Ex Machina and Y The Last Man, along with Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, Animal Man, New X-Men, JLA and Doom Patrol. If I grade those, reviews will be high, because the pool of stories will be impressive. There’s a lot of C and D material out there, but if I hadn’t read it before, I’m unlikely to be guided towards it now.