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Ask Chris #13: Batman vs. Psychiatry and Superman’s Strangest Powers

Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That’s why we’ve given Senior Writer Chris Sims the punishment pleasure of stepping into the grand tradition of the Answer Man as he responds to your reader questions!

Q: From Taryn (Age 8): Why are so many of Batman’s villains psychiatrists?Angry_Jake

A: An excellent question from a very perceptive young lady!

The fact of the matter is, as Polite Dissent‘s Dr. Scott has noted on several occasions, the overwhelming majority of psychiatrists and psychologists in comics are villains already — I’m pretty sure the only notable longstanding exceptions are Brother/Doctor Voodoo (until recently a fairly minor character), Dr. Druid (who sucks), and Doc Samson, and even he recently took a heel turn.

But, as Taryn points out, while most heroes would only have to deal with one evil head-shrinker, Batman has way more than his fair share: Simon Hurt, Hugo Strange, Jeremiah Arkham, Harley Quinn, and of course, the Scarecrow. And there are a couple of pretty good reasons for that.

For one thing, Batman’s villains tend to be crazy, and since 1974 and Denny O’Neil’s introduction of Arkham Asylum, there’s been an emphasis on the psychological aspects of his foes. This creates the perfect breeding ground for stories that are about psychology, and just like it’s a natural fit for Superman (the Man of Tomorrow) to battle against mad scientists with death rays, it’s a pretty easy leap to get from psychologically scarred villains to villainous psychiatrists. It’s a pretty fertile ground that nobody else had really tapped into, and it fits his character.Which brings me to the deeper reason: Batman has always been about psychology in one form or another. Even discounting the popular notion of him being a traumatized child in the body of a vigilante lashing out at the forces that took his parents away, there’s been a mental element to the character since his earliest appearances. Even his costume is designed to strike terror into the “superstitous, cowardly” hearts of criminals, making him an “eerie figure” who relies primarily on psychological warfare as one of his greatest weapons.

This is at the root of everything, both in the direct creation of the Scarecrow (who uses the same tactic of inspiring fear for evil) and more indirectly with characters like Harley Quinn (whose origin story could’ve only come about with a mechanism like Arkham Asylum at its core). These characters lend themselves to stories with the psychology of Batman and his enemies at its core, writers realize that’s a really good storytelling core, and the cycle repeats.

Or, short version: Batman can’t punch meteors out in space, so he has to make do with evil doctors.




Q: I was just wondering if you could give me a full rundown on Superman’s powers, in all his iterations, Golden Age, Silver Age, etc. I know the big ones, but I was thinking some of the lesser known/used powers like Super-ventriloquism and Super-Hypnosis. I have a vague memory that at one point he claimed a Super-Imagination power so he could sort through a bunch of possibilities, but that just might be my own imagination.
— Charles, via email

A: Back in the Golden Age, Superman’s powers were a lot less than they would eventually become, with his toughness (though not quite invulnerability) and strength (which gave him the ability to jump long distances but not actually fly) explained as being similar to that of grasshoppers and ants, meaning that he was rocking the proportionate strength of an insect long before 1963, when another guy in red-and-blue tights would show up to claim that little epithet.

By the time he hit the Silver Age, though — and even as early as the ’40s — the creators were basically just pulling out new super-powers, throwing them against the wall and seeing what hit. This was when he developed absolute mental and physical control, becoming able to recall any moment of his life with perfect clarity or stop his heartbeat, or pretty much anything else the story required. He even had the power of “telepathic will control” for one story in 1947, and although that was never mentioned again, his ability to drop super-hypnosis on people (including himself, which kept him from remembering details about the past when he was off in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes) stuck around.

Also of note during the ’40s: Superman’s “plastic features,” which allowed him to reshape his face in order to disguise himself.

In my research, I haven’t been able to find anything under the name “super-imagination,” although according to Michael Fleisher’s “Original Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes” v.3, there are plenty of references to a power that does fit the bill: Superman’s “super-mind,” which, in the famous (and often-reprinted) first appearance of the Fortress of Solitude, allows him to defeat a robot at “super-chess” even though the robot can “think and play with the speed of lightning and plans a million moves at once!”

Fleisher’s encyclopedia also contains maybe the single greatest sentence on Superman’s lesser-known powers that I’ve ever read: “Action Comics No. 306 suggests that Superman can perform feats of lovemaking of which an ordinary man would be quite incapable.” But that’s a story for another time.

As for my personal favorite lesser-known powers of Superman, there are two that I really like. First, “Superman’s New Power,” from “Superman” #125:

Superman’s New Power is not, as the cover suggests, to shoot rainbows out of his hand, although I think we can all agree that this would certainly be miraculous. Instead, when he’s caught in the explosion of a miniature space-ship, Superman loses all of his regular powers, and instead gains the ability to shoot a tiny super-powered version of himself out of his hand.
Superman eventually gets jealous of all the attention his pint-sized doppelganger is getting and tries to kill it, but it dies saving his life and then he feels badly, and — as you might expect — this is never mentioned again. Just another Tuesday in the Silver Age.

Its mix of bizarre pathos and pure bat-sh– craziness makes it a pretty good candidate for one of the defining stories of the era, and Grant Morrison has often cited it as one of his favorite Superman stories, which led to it being homaged in the truly incredible “All-Star Superman” #10:

My other favorite is of a more recent vintage, cropping up in 2007′s “Action Comics” #857 by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Eric Powell, and it is, quite simply, Superman Vision.

Yes, Clark: Superman Vision.

Under the light of Bizarro World’s blue sun, Superman gains the mysterious ability to shoot red, blue and yellow beams out of his eyes…

…that give people (in this case, Pa Kent), all the powers of Superman. It makes absolutely no sense, but in a gloriously awesome “I Love Superman” sort of way, and it’s probably my hands-down favorite thing about the three-issue arc — and considering that that arc has Eric Powell drawing the Bizarro Justice League, that’s saying something.



And now, some quick hits:

Q: What did you think of the Watchmen movie adaptation? And, comic book movie adaptations in general? chainmailchick


A: Didn’t see it. Not really on a matter of principle; I just had no desire whatsoever to see “Watchmen” as something other than a comic book, and really can’t understand the people who did. Which, again, sounds like I’m judging them more than I am; I just don’t get it.

As for comic book adaptations, well… I like comic books as a medium because you can accomplish things with them that you can’t with other media, and I tend to think that the closer a movie hews to specifically trying to recreate a comic, the worse it is. The best comic book movies in recent memory (Nolan’s Batman films and Favreau’s Iron Man flicks) succeed largely because they keep the essence of what’s good about their characters without trying to slavishly put stories that were already great in comics on film. Like pretty much every nerd, I like seeing stuff I recognize on a movie screen, but when it comes at the expense of telling the best story you can, it’s a hindrance rather than a benefit.

But on the other hand, I liked the “Sin City” movie a lot.

Q: Other than Transformers, what is the geeky thing you are most often told you “need” to get into?talestoenrage

A: Lately, the “Kick Ass” and “Watchmen” movies. Just not interested.

Q: My son recently asked who’s the King of Atlantis. I’m Orthodox Namorian, but his Mom is strict Arthurian. Who’s correct?jason1749

A: Mom, I’m afraid. I like the Sub-Mariner more than I like Aquaman, but if you want to get technical about it, it’s Prince Namor, not King.

Q: Eddie Argos goes bonkers crazy for Booster Gold. Where does one even start?clairbearattack

A: With Eddie Argos or with Booster Gold? For Eddie Argos, I’d say you should pick up Art Brut’s “Bang Bang Rock & Roll” album, as it is an all-killer, no-filler radsterpiece.

For Booster Gold, I’d say you’re best off sticking with the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire/Hughes “Justice League” / “Justice League International” stories, although the current ongoing has been pretty solid as well, especially the early issues.

And finally, in honor of this column’s 13th installment…

Q: Chris, what is the spooOOOookiest comic you have ever read?kenlowery

A: There’s an issue of “Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service” (an excellent horror manga you should all be picking up from Dark Horse) where a little girl’s ghost is haunting an apartment because she got trapped in the wall during a game of hide-and-seek and died, but for sheer terror, that one issue of Swamp Thing shortly after John Constantine shows up where they fight the Brujeria cult and the Invunche.

That thing’s so creepy of it that I don’t even want to post a picture of it, so here’s Spider-Man as an adorable baby:

Huh. In retrospect, that’s also pretty creepy.

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