Ask Chris #24: The Best Football and Celebrity Comics
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: In honor of NFL season starting: "Kickers, Inc," "NFL SuperPro," or "other" -- which gets the dubious title of "best football-related comic?" -- OsmosisOnline
A: While I'm not much of a sports fan, I actually have read every single issue of "NFL SuperPro." I'm pretty sure puts me in an exclusive club as it's about as close to unreadable as you can get while still being printed on paper, and while I've stayed far away from "Kickers, Inc," I've heard it's not much better. Fortunately, I don't have to decide between those two, because I'm squarely in the "Other" camp on this one: The best football comic of all time is unquestionably a two-part story from 1967 that ran in the pages of Metamorpho: The Element Man!
For those of you who aren't familiar with "Metamorpho," it's one of the greatest comic books ever printed. Created by Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon, Rex Mason was an explorer employed by millionaire Simon Stagg, and on one mission, he stumbled on the Orb of Ra, a mystical Egyptian artifact that gave him the ability to transform into any element in the human body, but resulted in a freakish appearance. Complicating matters further was the fact that Stagg hated Mason, but Mason and Stagg's daughter, the beautiful Sapphire, were in love, except that Sapphire had another suitor in her father's faithful butler, Java, who was a caveman.
In a lot of ways, this was DC's answer to the Fantastic Four. Metamorpho himself combined the visual niftiness of the Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic, while his desire to be turned human again so that he could marry Sapphire is a clear echo of Ben Grimm. Even the dynamics of the ensemble cast, some of whom outright loathe each other, is a dead giveaway, as is the fact that Metamorpho speaks in this phenomenal string of mid-60s slang, as though he had been taught how to speak by Stan Lee's Bullpen Bulletins column. Seriously, it's amazing.
The fact that it's a DC book with all the earmarks of the Silver Age (I mentioned the unfrozen caveman, right?) that's approached like a Marvel title makes it one of the first books to synthesize the more equivalent approach that we enjoy today, and that would come about starting in the mid-'70s as more and more creators began to freelance for both companies. As such, it reads like something that's simultaneously ten years ahead of its time and inextricably rooted in 1966.
And it also reads like it was in a four-way race against "Metal Men," "The Legion of Super-Heroes" and "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" to see who could come up with the craziest damn thing anyone had ever written. And #12 and #13, by Haney and artist Sal Trapiani, are no exception...
...because this is the one where Metamorpho plays a college football game against a team of super-chemo robots in order to stop them from stealing a football that could blow up the world. Boola-boola indeed.
Unlike most DC books of the time, each issue of "Metamorpho" was a full story, rather than being broken down into three smaller tales (another thing it had in common with "FF"), and thanks to the highly compressed style of the time, they often went all over the place. This one, for instance, doesn't get around to football until page 18 of a 23-page story. Instead, it starts with Stagg recruiting a crackpot scientist so that he can make Metamorpho think he's working on a cure when really he's just waiting for it to fail.
Unfortunately, the scientist he recruits, Franz Zorb, is less "crackpot" and more "evil genius," who was bluffing his way into Stagg's laboratory so that he could build himself a set of evil element robots.
In the Silver Age, this was known as "Tuesday."
Incidentally, Haney has essentially created an evil version of the Metal Men, which is something that had already happened four years earlier in "Metal Men" #6. When i said Haney and "Metal Men" co-creator Robert Kanigher were in a race, I wasn't kidding.
Anyway, the Chemo-Robots beat up Metamorpho and then commence wrecking Stagg's mansion before departing for Stagg's alma mater, State Tech, where they intend to steal Professor Kronski's "Nucleonic Moleculizer Projector," which he stashed inside a football for safe keeping. Unfortunately, Zorb has what is quite possibly the most amazing foresight known to man, and not only has plans in place to steal the football, but has old-timey football uniforms made for his robots with their chemical symbols printed on the jerseys.
That's planning ahead, folks.
The crazy football game between Metamorpho and the chemo-robots lasts into the next issue, and the best thing about it -- aside from the fact that it's a football game betwween Metamorpho and the chemo-robots -- is that everyone in the stands just pretty much goes with it:
Because in the Silver Age, people expected things to be at least 150% more amazing than they ought to be.
It's possible that there's someone out there who could make a better comic book involving football -- someone may be working on doing such a thing right now -- but until that day comes, Haney reigns supreme.
Q: What are the best comics (ostensibly) "created" by people who are "celebrities" but not professional writers? -- goodthingsulike
A: The easy answer for the best one would be "The Umbrella Academy," which was created and written by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way because it's actually really awesome (thanks in no small part to the fantastic art of Gabriel Ba), but I'm pretty sure that's not the kind of comic you're looking for.
There's been a bunch of books over the past few years where a celebrity has attached his or her name to a comic, with people country music star Trace Adkins ("Luke McBain"), actress Rashida Jones ("Frenemy of the State"), and Seth Green ("Freshmen") attempting to use their star power to lure a crossover market into comic shops. And while I generally skip out on that sort of thing, the cream of the crop is pretty easy to pick out: Jane Wiedlin's "Lady Robotika."
And I'm not just saying that because I have a total crush on Jane Wiedlin, the cutest Go-Go, either, although I can definitely assure you that that is in fact the case. More than anything else, what makes me like it is that together with co-writer/artist Bill Morrison -- the long-time writer and artist on "Simpsons Comics" whose involvement was a big part of getting me interested -- Wiedlin has addressed the major problem with Celebrity Comics, which is that the celebrities in question aren't actually in them.
Rather than just being a comic with her name above the title, "Lady Robotika" is actually about Jane Wiedlin. Specifically, it's about her being kidnapped by aliens and going to space to battle an evil space emperor, a space dominatrix and her sexy space-soldiers, which are referred to as "Iron Maidens." And that is awesome.
It's also really funny. It's a little heavy on the pop culture references, even for a book revolving around an alien society that's built entirely around interpreting TV and radio transmissions from Earth, but when they hit, they're pretty darn sharp:
Also, there's the whole thing where Jane Wiedlin fights a space dominatrix. I cannot emphasize that point enough.
And now, a few quick ones:
Q: What is your favourite era for Legion Costumes? The inappropriately revealing, disco-fueled beefcake 70's Legion, perhaps? -- ekanerva
A: Oh, without question, the Reboot Era:
I love those designs. When a team isn't made up of characters that also operate solo -- like the JLA and the Avengers -- I think it's important for them to actually have a standardized design, and these were perfect. Simple and distinctive, but also adaptable in very neat design ways: On Shrinking Violet's costume, for instance, the middle section of the costume was defined by a V-Neck that made an arrow pointing down (for shrinking), while M'Onel's formed a big ol' M and Invisible Kid's was broken into a lowercase "i." Very distinctive, very colorful, but still uniforms so you could tell who's who and which side they're fighting on -- a pretty handy visual when you've often got fight scenes involving a dozen characters.
Q: What religions would you adhere to were you a denizen of the Marvel or DC universes? -- millerunc
A: Considering that both the Marvel and DC universes have seen actual, literal Roman Catholic Hell erupt on Earth on at least two occasions, it's hard to make an argument against Christianity, especially considering that the green-robed Wrath of God has been on a super-hero team since the forties.
Marvel at least provides a couple of options, and given my love of monsters being smashed with hammers, I'd probably end up worshipping Thor. Either that, or Orthodox Galactism.
Q: Which Ennis run do you think is better, "Hitman" or "The Punisher?" -- Delmotank
A: "Hitman." As much as I love the Punisher -- especially "Welcome Back Frank" -- "Hitman" is my favorite thing Ennis has done.
Q: Who would cast in a live action Archie movie and why hasn't there been one before? -- Heggs
A: Oh, but there has. 1990's "Riverdale and Back Again," a TV movie featuring Archie's high school reunion that starred Lauren Holly as Betty. As to why they never made another, well...
That oughtta explain it.