Ask Chris #17: Should You Judge Art Based on the Artist’s Views?
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: Who has the lamer lamest enemy – Batman or Spider-Man? — adampknave
A: Now that is a tough one, if for no other reason than in order to answer it, I have to first figure out who each character’s lamest bad guy is.
Batman’s generally considered to have quite possibly the greatest Rogues Gallery of any super-hero, and with good reason: If the Joker’s not the best villain in comics, he’s in the top three with Dr. Doom and Vince Colletta. Ra’s al-Ghul, Two-Face, Catwoman, the Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, even the Riddler can be way better than he as any right to be, whether as an antagonist or — as Paul Dini’s been using him lately — a semi-reformed rival. They’re all great characters with solid hooks.
But you don’t stick around in comics for 70 years without racking up a few stinkers, either: Hellgrammite, whose super-power is that he’s a six-foot cockroach, Cluemaster, who has no reason whatsoever to exist as long as the Riddler’s still around, Signalman (see above), and I don’t care how many moody noir pieces you stick Calendar Man in, he’s always going to be lame, albeit in a fun way. And it’s not like they stopped making bad Batman villains in 1980, either: I think I’ve made my love of John Ostrander pretty clear in this column, but his last foray into the Batman titles saw the creation of “Grotesk,” a dude who engaged in the time-honored villain pastime of shouting your own name in bold red font, and then presumably sticking around to make sure the reporters got the proper copyrightable spelling.
Of course, that arc also involved Johnny Karaoke, the Asian-American assassin who pretends to have an accent and sings hits into a microphone stand / sword while stabbing people and comes complete with his own kung fu backup dancers, and if it wasn’t for Dr. Hurt, I’m pretty sure he’d be the best new villain of the 21st century.And then there’s Larry Hama. Guys, straight up: I love Hama. His work on “G.I. Joe” has no business being as good as it is. But his Batman run not only introduced The Banner, a right wing militiaman that managed to beat out even Frank Miller’s Nuke for the most over-the-top character to ever wear an American flag, it also involved the legendary Orca the Whale Woman:
For those of you who don’t know, Orca is actually marine biologist Grace Balin (get it?) who used science to turn into a half-whale and blah blah blah stole some jewels blah blah she and a Batman action figure fought for two issues while yelling each others’ names:
Spider-Man’s pretty much in the same boat. Almost fifty years of being Marvel’s flagship character have left him with a gang of villains that are all over the map in terms of quality. Like Batman, you’ve got great top-tier villains like the Goblins (both Green and Hob), Kraven and Doctor Octopus and his amazing singing voice, a bunch of really interesting mid-carders, and then a bottomless pit of awful.
Seriously, I think that on the whole, Spider-Man might actually have the worst villains in comics, if only because of how bad the average gets thrown off by the animal-themed guys. Yes, we all love the Rhino and the Lizard’s been in at least one really good story (this year’s “Shed“), but it’s a big step down from the Scorpion to the Tarantula, and then way further down to the the rest of the crowd. The Jackal, the Puma, the Iguana, the friggin’ Kangaroo. They’re rough.
Throw in Carnage and Spidercide (SPIDERCIDE. THAT IS HIS NAME.) and the only thing keeping Spider-Man at a net positive is the fact that he can claim the Enforcers, the greatest and most underused villain team in comic book history.
Spidercide, though… I mean really.
For my money, though, the worst of the lot is a one-shot villain-of-the-month from 1989 called Banjo:
Don’t get me wrong: “Radioactive Hillbilly” is not a bad concept in and of itself (it’s actually the premise of my sadly unpublished script for “Smokey and the Bandit 4″), but believe me, this issue is amazingly stupid, if only because the hillbillies in question live in the Marvel Universe and yet are completely surprised to learn that building their house about two feet from a power plant is a bad idea.
Also, he comes with his own team:
So there you go: Whale Woman vs. Radioactive Hillbilly, no matter who wins, we lose. They’re both pretty lousy, but while Orca is more or less standard fare for the DCU, Banjo completely mystifies me. I’ve read that issue, and I still don’t know what Spider-Man was doing out of New York and in the middle of Stan Lee’s “Snuffy Smith.” He’s the pits, hands down.
After all, once you’re worse than Spidercide, there’s not much competition.
Q: What’s your approach when reading artists whose views run counter to yours? How much of artist’s bio should you consider? — neuroticmonkey
A: As necessary as it can be to actually do it, separating the art from the artist is often really challenging, especially in a medium like comics, where readers get extremely emotionally invested in things. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been really pleased that a good 90% of the people I’ve met in the comics industry have just been super-nice folks.
It does come up, though, and what it really comes down to is how much I disagree with the creator and how much of that disagreement becomes an unavoidable aspect of the work. Which, really, is like that with every aspect of the comic: If I don’t agree with a creator’s take on a character, I’m probably not going to like his comic.
Take “Fables,” for instance. I’m a pretty liberal guy, and I understand that Bill Willingham is a lot more conservative than I am — he was, after all, the “right wing” creator involved in that flawed-from-the-moment-of-conception “DCU Decisions” book from a few years back — but that knowledge doesn’t keep me from enjoying “Fables.” In fact, it’s one of my favorite books, and while the idea of Fabletown as a metaphor for Israel has been explicitly stated in the text itself, I don’t feel like he puts so much of his personal politics into it that the story itself is obscured. There are a variety of characters with a variety of viewpoints, and even if the whole thing is a grand political metaphor (which, beyond the premise, I don’t think it is), it’s a very entertaining one.
Conversely, I’m pretty sure that I’d probably agree with Judd Winick — the other side of the “DCU Decisions” coin — on a lot of the issues, but that doesn’t make me love his comics. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with the message, I’m just not a fan — although my favorite thing he’s done, the “Barry Ween” books, are probably his most apolitical work.
But like I said, there are certainly moments where personal beliefs become a factor. Even though ComicsAlliance’s own David Uzumeri has been telling me how masterful it is, I’ll probably never read “Cerebus” because I don’t like things that Dave Sim has said, and I will never, ever read a anything by Orson Scott Card. That guy could be writing the best thing to hit comics since staples, and I’d never know because he literally advocated rebellion against the government if same-sex marriage was made legal. I don’t often take moral stands, but there’s no way I could bring myself to give money to someone whose views I disagree with that strongly.
Most of the time, though, I try to let the work stand on its own merits. If anything, the way it affects me most often is that I give stuff a shot that I might not otherwise if the creator’s a nice guy or gal. And most of the time, they are — even the ones whose work I don’t care for — which makes it pretty easy.
And now, a few quick hits:
Q: A Herbie Popnecker reboot would be the greatest thing, but who would you get to draw/write it? — DrShenanigans
A: I don’t know about art, but if I had my way, I’d be writing it. Seriously Dark Horse. Call me.
Q: What is your pick for the best wrestler debut? — itsjago
A: Assuming that by “best” you mean “most entertaining,” it is, of course, The Shockmaster. Is there any other possible choice?
Q: What’s the optimal amount of freezer time for chilled chocolate milk? — emorimiku
A: Fourteen and a half minutes, although it depends on your freezer. That’s enough time for it to freeze just a little bit, so that you get some ice in there that melts as you drink it.
Q: How do you pronounce “Mxyzptlk”? — Elliot, via email
A: I say it “Mix-yez-PITTLE-ick,” but “Mix-yez-SPIT-lick” is also acceptable. And gross.