One of the titles I buy each month for my son is Justice League Unlimited. (If you're curious, the others are Marvel Adventures Avengers, Marvel Adventures Iron Man, Teen Titans Go!, and his favorite: Sonic the Hedgehog--along with whatever Power Pack series is currently running.) I read these to him at bedtime, so the measure of quality for these books differs from what I'd want from comics that were just for me. Although sometimes the two standards overlap, as in the case of several All-Star Superman issues, and Blue Beetle, which we both enjoy tremendously.
The normal standard of quality for a read-at-bedtime comic are...
1. Clear artwork (and my son has definite standards on this--when artists on Teen Titans Go! are off-model, he refuses to look at the issue--and the Marvel Adventures comics often have coloring that is too-murky and difficult to decipher for a little kid)
2. Swiftly moving plot completed in a single issue. Cliffhangers are extremely disappointing at bedtime.
3. Dialogue that's funny or minimal at least. Marvel Adventures Iron Man completely fails in this department, and I'll probably stop picking it up because of it. Each issue has too much exposition, and too much technical jargon in proportion to the amount of plot. Teen Titans Go!, on the other hand, is really good at funny and appropriately spare dialogue. Sonic the Hedgehog is almost impossible to read out loud, the dialogue is so stilted and archly formal. Yet, he still says he likes it, but I think he's losing interest in that one too.
4. Familiar characters mixed with new faces I can explain to him. He likes learning about the Marvel Universe and the DCU, and these comics are his gateway when writers bring in supporting characters or "new" villains--new to him, or new to the youth comics, anyway.
5. Morality. This is a big one for bedtime reading, and I don't expect moral lessons in my "big-boy" reading. Yet, these Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures books (more in the DC stuff than the Marvel, BY FAR) have moral lessons to teach kids, and I appreciate it. It allows for some interesting discussions after the stories, instead of just talking about Spider-Man's jokes that he doesn't get or how cool Iron Man's steath armor looks.
Anyway, by these five standards of quality, Justice League Unlimited #40 succeeds, even though it's not what I would call a good comic. I have loved many issues of the series, with the summer's Question spotlight issue as an excellent example, but this particular comic, written by Ben McCool and drawn by Dario Brizuela, doesn't quite cut it for me. My son liked it, though, because it met all five criteria of good bedtime reading for a six-year old. The story, a Zatanna spotlight, basically, is cleanly illustrated, fast-moving, straightforward, moral, and contains more than a few "new" DC characters my son hasn't seen in a comic before: Golden Age Green Lantern, the Shadow Thief, and the Warlock of Ys to name three. Plus, we got to learn more about Zatanna's family history, and since my son's only exposure to the character was from the Justice League Heroes Playstation game and her few animated appearances, he didn't know that Zatanna's father had magical powers as well. (By the way, Zatanna is the most powerful character in that Playstation game--or at least the most fun--since she can turn all of the threats into cute little bunnies you can kick.)
But the story was a mess. The Shadow Thief was granted new powers by the Warlock of Ys (for no apparent reason--to distract the heroes, I guess--but why the Shadow Thief of all villains?), and Zatara, who hasn't been seen by his daughter in years (she tells us) appears as a captive of the Warlock (why? Because the Warlock wants to combine Zatara's power with Zatanna's. Why? It will somehow help him. Or something like that.) It's an illogical plot that turns on too many coincidences and underdeveloped threads, and even the resolution is fuzzy with Zatara springing off to some mystical dimension because it's too dangerous for him to stick around near his daughter. It's just not a story that fits with previous JLU issues, nor does it really make complete sense on its own (or as some kind of foreshadowing set-up--which it probably won't turn out to be anyway). And it's not zany in a Silver Age kind of way, either. Or, at least it doesn't feel as whimsical and inspired in its lunacy. It just feels pieced together and nonsensical.
So I guess what I'm wondering is if story quality matters in a comic like this. It does the five things my son wants it to do. It interests him in the characters and the superhero universe. At what point does inconsistent, underdeveloped storytelling matter? Do we expect a fully developed, logical narrative in Harold and the Purple Crayon or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? I think we do, even if the storytelling is just fulfilling a simple pattern.
What say you?