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Ask Chris #5: Comics Culture and the Batman Monster Truck

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: What is the single greatest thing about comic culture and what is the worst single thing about comics culture? CMRohling

A: The short answer for this one is that the greatest thing about comics culture is Batman, and the worst is Red Tornado, but that’s probably not the definition of “comics culture” that you’re looking for, so it looks like it’s time for the long answer.

Comics Culture in a nutshell.

So here we go: The best thing about comics culture is that the fans love comics. As much as it sucks that comic books have been marginalized as a form of media for the past few decades, it’s resulted in a form that, for the most part, requires a dedication from both the creators and the consumer. Even the casual comics reader can be engaged by the material in a way that other forms can’t match, and more often than not, that sort of engagement makes you genuinely care about what you’re reading.

And that extends to the pros, too: Very few people go into comics for the money — and the ones that do tend to be easy to spot, because their work is usually godawful — and that’s resulted in a passion and a love for the medium that’s lacking in a lot of other forms of entertainment. I’m sure that there are plenty of record, TV and movie execs who love their medium and take their craft seriously, but I’m also sure that there are a good number who couldn’t care less about the magic of cinema or the way music can change your life. With comics, though, that’s the rarity. Whether you agree with them or not, Joe Quesada, Tom Brevoort, Geoff Johns, Paul Levitz and pretty much everyone else involved in editorial for the past fifty years are guys that love comics.Also, not to get too sappy here, but it’s just really nice to find a friend who relates to your favorite stories as much as you do, and who you can talk to about how excited you are about what you just read and how you’re looking forward to the next one, or to quote “Dark Knight Returns” at (which represents a solid third of my personal interactions).

Unfortunately, the worst part of comics culture is also the fans.

I imagine it’s the same way with fans of anything else, but with comics, no matter where you look there’s a rotten apple spoiling the bunch. These are the people who confuse love and support with ownership, who refuse to accept any change whatsoever, and who actively work to keep comics from getting a wider audience. I mean, there are “fans” out there who complained about how they can no longer see panty shots of a sixteen year-old girl when DC committed the unforgivable sin of putting Supergirl in shorts, and there is nothing that represents the sense of fan-entitlement and the desire to keep comics in the literary ghetto than that. Except maybe acting like these guys.

And it’s not even the egregious examples like that that are so maddening. I know a guy from my time working at the store, and he’s a smart guy who loves Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes as much as I do, but he doesn’t think that super-hero comics can be art. Not that they don’t have to be art, but that the medium itself and super-hero comics in general are actually incapable of being relevant to anyone’s life beyond showing us pictures of one guy punching another. I cannot understand him, and he’s equally mystified by my insistence that in super-hero comics, being entertaining and relating to the reader on a metaphorical level are not mutually exclusive. We both just sort of shake our heads at each other, each secure in the knowledge that we’re right and the other guy has no idea what he’s talking about.

And again, like the positive aspects, that creeps into the creative side of it too. You see it both in that there are people who insist that comics aren’t a valid medium themselves and should strive to be exactly like movies (instead of, you know, learning from movies, television and books and using the things that you can only do on the page to make good comics), and in the fan-turned-pro culture that’s given rise to the myth that if you love comics enough, you don’t need to work hard at making them good. Believe me, it pains me to say this on someone who’s built a career out of loving ‘em, but “I love comics” is never an acceptable response for “your comics are horrible.”

But like I said, I imagine it’s like that with almost every form of media. It’s just that comics, being such a relatively small community where pretty much any loudmouth jerk can get a voice and/or weekly Q&A column, the extreme aspects tend to stick out.

Q: Has Batman ever driven a monster truck? My wife asked me and I didn’t know, so I figured I’d ask the expert. – Jeff Rients, via email

A: Obviously, you and your wife are not fans of the United States Hot Rod Association’s Monster Jam circuit, or you’d know that there is actually a monster truck named Batman, designed after the Batmobile seen in the 1989 Tim Burton movie:

Of course, the truck isn’t actually driven by Batman, but as my own knowledge of Monster Jam is limited to the fact that “Grave Digger is considered to be one of the most influential monster trucks of all time” is easily one of the best sentences on Wikipedia, I’m going to assume that driver John Seasock is at least contractually obligated to wear the costume during events and stop researching before I find something that contradicts that.

As to whether or not Batman’s dabbled in Monster Truckery in the comics, the answer is yes. Specifically, he does so in the 1988 limited series “The Cult” by Jim Starlin and Berni Wrightson, where he unveils a Monster-Truckish version of the Batmobile:

Unfortunately, the sheer awesomeness of Batman driving a monster truck is dampened by the fact that–Wrightson’s phenomenal artwork aside–”The Cult” is actually pretty horrible. It’s trying so hard to be “The Dark Knight Returns” that it’s not even funny (the monster-Batmobile itself being a reference to DKR’s tank-like Batmobile, which is said to have been modified during riots), and mostly involves Batman being reduced to tears, hallucinating, and then shooting a bunch of people with various kinds of firearms until he decides that he doesn’t need a gun to hurt people.

So yeah, not great. But it does have Batman driving a Monster Truck, and nobody can take that away from it.

Q: As the preeminent Bringitonologist and Batmanologist online, which Batman character would make the best cheerleader?TheSickness83

A: As she’s one of DC’s many interchangeable perky blondes, the easy answer here is Stephanie Brown, but she doesn’t really fit. Batman, of course, is a little too brooding to cheery, but Nightwing’s gymnastic skill and happier attitude put him in the running.

The best cheerleader, though, would be Tim Drake:

When you think about it, Tim Drake’s entire storyline function is cheerleading already. I mean, the guy signs up to be Robin because he literally felt like Batman needed a partner to keep him from going off the deep end, and really, the only way trying to inspire someone to be happier as they go about a demanding physical task could be more like cheerleading is if he made Spirit Fingers during fights with the Penguin.

And now, the quick hits:

Q: When I worked in comic retail sometimes we’d have a contest: make a statement that will start the biggest argument in the store.The best we ever came up with was “Who would win in a fight to the death, Worf vs Boba Fett?” In your experience, what’s the one question you could throw out to a store full of fanboys and get an even bigger fight? PotomacRipper, via email

A: “Hey, does anyone want this last slice of pizza?”

Q: Okay, tough guy…what do you have to say about Swamp Thing?mikesterling

A: I like Swamp Thing a lot! In fact, I’ve often said that Alan Moore’s work on the title is the second-best run in comics history, falling only behind Walt Simonson’s “Thor.”

Q: Settle something between me & my girlfriend: better rich dudes hunting the homeless flick: SURVIVING THE GAME or HARD TARGET?jason1749

A: “There’s something you should always do when you find a gun: Always check the barrel.”

Q: Who did you like better for Storm- Forge or Black Panther? MichaelNoonanG

A: Between those two, I’d go with Black Panther, although I think “hey, they’re both from Africa!” is a pretty sketchy basis for a relationship, as Africa is a pretty big place. Really, though, I wish Dracula’s ill-fated romance with Storm had gone on a little longer. Wouldn’t it be great if he was the X-Men’s wacky neighbor?

Q: In light of the Malcolm McLauren news – Pistols or Ramones?costa_kout

A: I’m a Ramones man since small times.

Q: Re: Manhunter, Blue Beetle, etc backups: Who’s your top 5 “Who doesn’t have a series who should?”ilionblaze

A: Union Jack, Iron Fist (or better yet: Power Man & Iron Fist), Manhunter, Blue Beetle and Herbie Popnecker. Or, if you want me to be ultra-pedantic, the Post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes.

Q: I’m looking at buying a complete Helfer, Baker & Sienkiewicz “Shadow” run. Should I get it? Show your work, use graphs! thebluebeetle

A: At the end of that run, the Shadow gets decapitated and his head gets put on a robot body, and it’s drawn by Kyle Baker. Which is to say:

YES. YES YOU SHOULD.

That’s all we’ve got for this week, but if you’d like to have your question answered on ComicsAlliance, tag it on twitter with “#askchris” or send us an email with “Ask Chris” in the subject line!

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