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Ask Chris #43: The Lightning Round Special!

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.


Over the past few weeks, I’ve devoted the Ask Chris column to tackling single questions in depth, and as a result, I’ve developed a backlog of questions by eager knowledge-seekers that I haven’t gotten around to. So this week, I’m doing away with the self-indulgent exhaustively researched format and going all out to answer as many as I can, as fast as I can!

Q: We’ve seen a lot of four and five issue mini-series in the last couple of years featuring characters that maybe can’t support their own ongoing. Made me wonder, which member of the Legion of Super-Heroes would you most like to see star in a five issue mini?Clemfold, via email

A: I’m tempted to go with Ultra Boy because I really love the idea of a guy who has a ton of super-powers but can only use one at a time, but there’s really only one answer here: Tenzil Kem of the planet Bismoll, alias Matter Eater Lad! First of all, the guy’s official super-hero logo is a tooth, but more importantly, it would be absolutely amazing to see four issues of a writer coming up with universe-threatening problems that could only be solved by eating things that one does not usually eat.

Especially if it followed the plot of the Guided By Voices song.

Q: Shaolin shadow boxing or a Wu Tang sword style? —

A: Wu Tang sword. It’s immensely strong… and immune to nearly any weapon.

Q: What’s your feeling on all Marvel heroes being based out of New York City originally?

A: I like it quite a bit. One of Marvel’s early selling points, and one that people still gravitate to today, is that they’re based more firmly in the real world than DC’s, which — like it or not — were a product of pure fantasy in the ’60s when Stan and Jack laid down the groundwork. In the stories, this idea manifests as the characters having to deal with more relatable problems in addition to their super-heroics, whether it’s Peter Parker not being able to pay the rent, or the Fantastic Four squabbling among themselves, or even the X-Men’s thin metaphor for racism, but being able to say that it takes place in a “real” city helps to underscore that pretty well.

At the same time, there is a limitation to it. The Marvel Universe New York has a lot of stuff going on in it that you won’t find if you actually go there — like, say, a giant pagoda full of ninjas in Hell’s Kitchen, or even Hell’s Kitchen itself — but it’s still based on something real. As a result, the creators are never going to have quite the freedom to build the city as a “character” itself in the way that they did with the fictionalized version that is Gotham City, or even James Robinson’s Opal City from the pages of Starman. Of course…

…it’s not like New York really needs a lot more character than it already has.

As someone who grew up reading comics and watching movies like The Warriors, coming to New York was a completely surreal experience for me. I told friends of mine that I might as well have gotten off the plane in the Mushroom Kingdom for as “real” as it seemed to me. It might just be my perspective as a guy who grew up in South Carolina, but it just seems to have this hugeness about it, where you could actually believe you could look up and see Spider-Man swinging around or bump into Ben Grimm on the subway.

And hey, speaking of:

Q: Now that you’re a multiple [trip] New York City visitor, how does it stack up against various fictional NYCs?

A: Well, on the one hand, I haven’t been attacked by Morlocks, Mole Men, the Foot Clan, AIM, Hydra, vampires, COBRA, Galactus, Simon Gruber, the Baseball Furies, CHUDs or that gang that Jackie Chan fought in Vancouver the Bronx.

On the other hand, I have seen neither Isaac Hayes nor Donald Pleasance standing in the middle of the street claiming to be the Duke of New York, A Number One. So I guess we’ll call that one a wash.

Q: Damian Wayne vs Damien Thorn, who wins? —

A: I actually had to look up Damien Thorn for this one. What can I say? I’m not much of a horror movie guy.

Anyway, the question of whether the son of Batman could beat the son of the Devil is really just asking who’s going to raise a more badass kid, and honestly? You guys should probably know where I stand on that point by now.

Q: Who do you think the best letterers are? – Earl, via email

A: Lettering is one of those elements of ocomics, much like coloring, that people often disregard because when it works like it’s supposed to, it enhances every other thing about the comic without necessarily drawing attention to itself in the way that good art or memorable lines do. Of course, bad lettering can completely wreck a comic — the most important thing of any story is whether or not you can actually read it, after all.

I’ll cop to being a pretty huge fan of the art of putting words in balloons, so here’s my top five:

5: Adam Warren (Empowered).

Warren letters his own stuff, and he’s great at blending the different styles and sound effects in with his art to get just the right ideas across, whether it’s hand-lettered dialogue or the blocky fonts that he uses to label things. And it doesn’t hurt that in both Empowered and Dirty Pair, he has a habit of incorporating people’s names into their logos.

4: Joe Caramagna (The Amazing Spider-Man: Shed, also a ton of other Marvel books). Caramagna recently won the Awesomed By Comics Podcast’s award for Best Letterer In New Jersey, and while it was given out as a gag, it’s also pretty much true (sorry, Chris Eliopoulos). Caramagna’s usual style is pretty low key, but in “Shed,” he pulls off a trick with the lettering during the Lizard’s change that is a textbook example of how a great lettering job can work with the art and dialogue to really enhance a story.

3: Tom Orzechowski (Something like 6,000 pages of Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men). If you’ve ever read a great X-Men story, there’s a pretty good chance Tom Orzechowski lettered it. His letter forms are some of the best and most recognizable in comics, to the point where, no offense to anyone else working on them, those comics just don’t look right without his letters. Either way, he’s pretty much perfect, and when I think “comic book lettering,” his stuff’s usually what pops into my mind.

2: Todd Klein (Batman: Year One, the Dark Knight Returns, Sandman, the Suicide Squad, Top Ten, Fables, Tom Strong, etc.). He is Todd Klein.

1: John Workman (Thor).

If X-Men comics don’t look quite right unless they’re lettered by Orzechowski, then Thor comics aren’t really Thor comics unless it’s John Workman putting the “boom” in “THRAKRAKABOOM!” Aside from just having really beautiful letters to begin with (and a knack for making the voices of the characters seem big when characters like Thor and Orion are delivering them), Workman integrates sound effects of epic proportions into stories better than anyone in the business. He’s a frequent collaborator with Walter Simonson, and those two working on a book is a pretty sure sign that it’s worth the cover price just to see how they work with each other.

Which brings me to…

Q: What’s the best use of a sound effect text?

A: The best use of sound effects? Thor #347, where the word “DOOM” is:

a) The title of a story.

b) A sound effect

c) A piece of the narration.

d) Awesome.

And speaking of…

Q: What is you favorite common comic book sound effect/onomatopoeia?James, via email

A: Thwipp!

Q: What’s your favorite unique or rarely seen comic book sound effect/onomatopoeia? James, via email, again

A: Incredible Hercules wins this competition every time. I really like the issue where Herc and Amadeus Cho head down to the Underworld and the names of mythological figures are used for sound effects that relate to them, but overall, my favorite is CRACKAJAMMATU! Not just because it’s awesome, but because it’s the sequel to a previous sound effect. I’m pretty sure that had never been done before.

Q: Why no love for Jean-Paul Valley?

A: Because he sucks.

Q: In the DCAU, Batman and Wonder Woman seemed to have a romantic relationship. What’s your take on that?

A: A lot of people like the romantic interplay between Batman and Wonder Woman, and while it was even flirted with (har har) in the comics during Joe Kelly’s run on JLA, it’s just not my speed. To me, it seems less like the no-brainer character relationship that it’s often portrayed as and more like an extension of the total fanfic idea that two characters cannot possibly exist without wanting to bang each other like a screen door in a hurricane.

Admittedly, I think they should probably get along well and there’s no reason why one wouldn’t find the other physically attractive. I mean, that lustrous dark hair, those piercing blue eyes, that lithe, athletic body… and Wonder Woman’s all right too. But they have vastly different ways of looking at things and I can’t imagine either one really wanting to put the time into the bridges they’d have to build with each other to form a relationship, and it just seems off to me. A mutual interest in kicking the living hell out of evil, while a great thing to share, is not exactly going to sustain a romance.

Q: I’m trying to get into 2000AD. Any suggestions on where to start?Marcus, via email

A: I’ve never read too much 2000AD, but that one where Judge Dredd punches that guy is great.

Q: What superhero would be most likely to star in a movie about themselves & be good enough to get an Oscar nomination?

A: Booster Gold, of course. The Oscar would be one of the technical ones, and it would go to Skeets for best sound editing.

Q: What makes J. Jonah Jameson better than Perry White?

A: Let’s play a game, and you can play along at home too! First, write down a list of words or phrases that describe J. Jonah Jameson without describing what he looks like, what he does for a living, or how he feels about Spider-Man.

Got it? You’ve probably got a list of words like “stern” “blowhard,” “loud,” “angry” “miserly,” or “hypocritical but generally honest,” and if you’re feeling clever, you might even have “threat” or “menace.” That’s good!

Now do the same thing, only with Perry White.

If you have more than, say, two items on your list, then you win the prize of me being absolutely shocked.

Q: What’s the deal with the X-Men comics?

A: Okay, I said I was going to try to do these quickly, so let’s see here.

In the Marvel universe, some people are mutants, because Stan Lee is a genius who figured out that if you had one reason that you could use for any super-power, you could spend less time writing origin stories and more time writing hilarious insults about Artie Simek in the credits box of Fantastic Four.

There have been mutants ever since at least Ancient Egypt, but during World War II, the atomic bomb started an increase in the X-Gene. A guy named Professor X leads the X-Men, which he claims that he did not name after himself, but rather after the fact that the X-gene gave you x-tra powers, because he would rather be thought of as a dude who can’t spell than a raging egomaniac. He thinks that regular peole and mutants can live together in harmony and tolerance, whereas his former friend Magneto, a Holocaust survivor who is understandably wary of being a member of an oppressed minority, thinks they should use their abilities to dominate the rest of the Human Race. This is a huge issue for them, despite the fact that “the rest of the human race” includes stunt-riding rednecks possessed by demons from hell, giant orange rock monsters, and FrankenCastle.

Both of these guys decided to form teams so that they could decide who was right by throwing impressionable chlidren at each other, and thus, Professor X founded the X-Men. At first, he had only five students: Cyclops, whose father was a space pirate furry, Angel, who was rich and had wings but was then blue and had metal wings and is now only blue sometimes, the Beast, who claims to be smart despite turning himself into a blue cat-man and hanging out with Wonder Man, Iceman, who was not in Top Gun, and Marvel Girl, who later became Phoenix when she came back to life in comics so good that they used up all the quality for death-and-resurrection stories for the next twenty years.

Over the years, more mutants joined up, including the walking fetish that was Psylocke, a German circus acrobat who was a good man despite looking like a demon until we all found out that he actually was a demon shortly before we all decided to never talk about Chuck Austen again, and a Russian guy who could turn to metal because hey, did you know “Stalin” means “Man of Steel?” Most importantly, though, there was Wolverine, a hundred year-old Canadian Samurai secret agent berserker with metal claws, a penchant for collecting teenage girl sidekicks and surprisingly amazing marketing potential.

Meanwhile, Magneto got his own team of guys that boasted powers like shapeshifting, control of flames, and being unable to resist the appeal of the KFC Double Down. Sometimes they got to live on the moon (yay!) but the tradeoff was that they sometimes had to hang out with Quicksilver (boo).

Thus, they fought! And they fought other guys, and sometimes they teamed up, and sometimes they had their minds erased and learned to walk again and then remembered who they were and/or forgot how to walk, and sometimes they fought other people, and sometimes they went into space, but mostly they were just kind of moody about stuff, and most of them spoke in outrageously cartoonish accents.

There’s also a school involved, but since the student body had a slightly higher mortality rate than, say, dinosaurs, they eventually closed it down and moved to the West Coast, where they could be moody and have accents around other people.

And that pretty much sums it up.

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