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Ask Chris #59: The HeroesCon 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 every week, Senior Writer Chris Sims puts his comics culture knowledge to the test as he responds to your reader questions!

Normally in this column, I pick one or two questions from the ones sent in by readers and answer them at length — and that’s putting it nicely. This time around, however, I’m doing things a little differently. This weekend, I’ll be heading to HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina, where among other things, Curt Franklin, Chris Haley and I will be appearing on a ComicsAlliance Live panel, Saturday at 2:30 in Room 206, where we’ll be taking audience questions about any topic for a solid hour. So in order to train for the panel, I’m answering as many questions as I can in this week’s Lightning Round Special!Q: Has Batman ever fought a bear?Ian, via email

A: Oh son. Getting this question is like Christmas morning for me. Yes, Ian: Batman has indeed fought a bear.

In fact, he’s done it several times, but if you want the absolute best Bearfight in the Caped Crusader’s history, I suggest you check out the two-part Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Alex Blaisdell story in Action Comics #465 and 466. Lex Luthor invents a gas that can turn people into kids, and before using it on Superman, he tests it out on the Flash and Batman. Being good pals, Flash and Batman show up to warn Superman, but since there were presumably plenty of Ten Year-Old Batman robots running around back in the Silver Age, they have to prove their identities.

So as proof that this kid really is Batman, Superman and the Flash make a ten-year-old fight a bear.

So how’s it work out?

Yet another reason to love Batman: He accomplishes this even without the benefit of training. Beating the crap out of a bear just comes naturally to him.

Q: If you were in charge of the relaunch what changes would you make to the DC universe?

A: I’d undo the death of the KGBeast. Pretty much everything else could stay.

Q: If U.S. 1 can mentally control space big rigs, could he control Optimus Prime?Andy, via email

A: Yes, he can. In fact, what a lot of people don’t realize is that while he might put on a strong face as the role of a leader, Prime craves the telepathic dominance of a handsome outer-space redneck.

I should point out that since I don’t actually like the Transformers, I’m getting all my information on this one from fan-fiction.

Q: Much like the MLB, there have long been rumors of doping in the superhero community. Which superheroes are on the drugs?

A: Super-hero hopheads? That one’s easy. These guys:

I mean, most people are already aware that Hourman gets his powers from popping pills that make him feel “really groovy” for sixty minutes, but the rest of those guys are doped out of their minds. The Sandman, who has “prophetic dreams” and uses a “sleeping gas gun?” Yeah, I heard he learned how to make one out of a soda can in college, if you know what I mean, and Grandpa Flash got his powers by “breathing in hard water fumes.” Or as we call it here in the 21st century, “freebasing.”

And Hawkman? The guy is literally getting high with “Nth Metal.” I don’t even want to know what kind of alien degeneracy that is.

Q: Did you watch any of My Little Pony prior to Friendship Is Magic? Either as a “real” fan or in a “there’s nothing else on TV and/or I don’t feel like wrestling the remote from my sister” way?French Guy, via email

A: I only started with Friendship is Magic, but Jen Vaughn – my pony-watchin’ pal who has contributed art to Ask Chris before — is a lifelong fan, and she forced me to watch an episode called “Bright Lights,” where a bunch of creepy-ass ponies were kidnapped and had their life force drained by an energy vampire pony version of Prince named Knight Shade.

This thing was absolutely horrifying. First of all, the animation and voices are not what you’d call “good.” Second of all, this is a show about pony groupies being lured backstage by a shady manager, which, while probably useful advice for the young ladies of the ’80s, is still a little creepy. Third, I am deeply disturbed by the idea of humans and ponies coexisting, especially with no knowledge of why there are only two humans. And finally — and most importantly — it’s yet another example of shameful zebracism.

Q: If you were to take one webcomic character you didn’t create, give them superpowers (if needed) and then were to place them in a comics universe/continuity, whom would they be, what could they do and where would they be, universally speaking? — Luke, via email

A: I would totally cast T-Rex from Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics as the Tyrannosaurus in the Batcave.

Just standing there all those years, totally freaked out and excited about being that close to Batman, but too nervous to actually speak up. But Alfred would know. Alfred always knows.

Q: I don’t think I ever hear you talk about the Avengers. What would be their best storyline?

A: For my money, the best Avengers story is hands down 1987′s “Under Siege,” by Roger Stern, John Buscema and Tom Palmer, in which former Navy SEAL and chef Casey Ryback has to defend a battleship from terrorists who — wait. Sorry, wrong story.

Avengers: Under Siege is actually about the Masters of Evil beating the living hell out of the heroes and then ransacking Avengers Mansion. The art’s some of Buscema’s most solid, and the script is Stern at his finest, which is saying something. It’s full of great moments that create real tension, and even in a story where the tide turning and the heroes rallying to win is a foregone conclusion, the strength comes from some beautifully done emotional moments.

The heart of the story is Captain America, and he spends the issue tied up while Baron Zemo — who blames Cap for killing his father, the original Baron Zemo — just constantly taunting him with what he’s doing. There’s a scene where he orders Mr. Hyde to destroy his old Golden Age shield, one of his mementos from World War II, and when the deed is done, Zemo looks at him and asks him what he’s going to do about that.

Cap’s response: “I’m going to remember it.”

That is stone cold. And it’s played so well, with Zemo turning away, fists clenched, thinking “Will nothing break his spirit?!” It’s a moment when he realizes that he’s passed the point of no return, that there’s no way he’s getting out of this without Cap getting his revenge, one way or another. So he makes him listen while Hyde beats Jarvis, the Avengers’ faithful butler, to a bloody pulp.

It’s the end of the story that gets you right in the gut, though, and if you don’t want a 24-year-old comic spoiled for you, stop reading now. After the team boots the Masters of Evil out of the mansion Cap discovers that they’ve found the small trunk of personal items he keeps at the mansion, and they’ve destroyed them.

It underscores the idea that for all that he’s acclimated to his role as a super-hero in the modern Marvel Universe, Cap was still a man out of time. These were the things that tied him to his childhood, reminders of an era that none of his teammates really understood. Now, they were gone, and with them, Captain America’s only photograph of his mother.

It’s the kind of brutal emotional pain that super-hero comics often have a hard time getting across, but Stern, Buscema and Palmer nail it with a skill that very few creators have ever managed to match. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best Marvel stories ever, and well worth picking up in the recent hardcover.

Q: If you could put any one writer and artist on one book for at least 12 issues, who would you pick?

A: Assuming that “Chris Sims and a Resurrected Jim Aparo on Batman” isn’t a legitimate option, I’d put Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde on Metamorpho: The Element Man in a heartbeat.

Q: Like you, Batman is my favorite, and Spider-Man is my second favorite. However, I don’t really know why I like Spidey so much. I have a three-foot stack of Batman TPB’s and graphic novels but not one Spider-Man book. Are there any collected Spider-Man stories that match up to the Batman classics (Year One, Gothic, Killing Joke et al.)?Drew, via email

A: Unfortunately, there are very few stories where Spider-Man fights a bear. They do exist, he just doesn’t do it with the alarming frequency that Batman does.

As for stories that match up to the Batman classics, that’s hard to say. For one thing, most of the great Spider-Man moments that stick out in my mind aren’t in the sort of long-form stories like you get with a lot of other characters, like Year One or the Dark Phoenix Saga, they’re from single issues. I’ll even admit that most of my love of Spider-Man can be traced back to exactly one comic, Amazing Spider-Man #33, which I still consider to be the single greatest Marvel comic ever printed.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I had a paperback that had that story (along with a few other high points, like the origin story and “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man”) when I was a kid, and I read it until the binding gave out and it came apart in my hands.

That said, I’d put Kraven’s Last Hunt up there against just about anything. It’s absolutely fantastic, although unlike Year One and the like, I’m not sure I’d consider to be a “definitive” Spider-Man story, since it’s such a departure from what Spider-Man does most of the time. In fact, with its darker storyline and a more psychologically frightening villain who is clearly completely insane, it’s actually more like what one imagines from a typical Batman story, right down to the genuinely creepy scenes of Kraven naked and eating spiders by the handful to get psyched up for his fight with Spider-Man. It is, however, pretty darn fantastic, and belongs on any Spider-Man fan’s bookshelf.

Q: What’s the ideal length for a single issue? 22 pages? 20? 16?

A: I don’t know about ideal, but whenever I’m writing scripts for my own “full-length” comics, I always go for 24 pages. It’s a solid number that gives you eight pages to work with for each section of the classic three-act story structure, and so it lends itself really well to self-contained single-issue stories. For all the great original graphic novels and paperbacks out there, I really love the single-issue. Maybe it’s because it’s what I grew up with, I really think that it’s a great format that you can do quite a bit with.

But that said, there are great stories written at 22 pages, at 16 pages, and even down to the classic 11 – and 8-pagers of the Silver Age, which can often be read as a master class in economical storytelling. And once you get to the web and away from restrictive factors like print cost and physical size, the idea of limiting yourself falls away; the “ideal length” for a story becomes “when it’s done.” There are “single issues” of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja that are fifty, sixty, even eighty pages long, and they’re as good as — or better than — anything else that’s coming out today. And that’s just one example, comics like Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick don’t limit themselves to issues at all, instead telling long, winding stories that top hundreds of pages, but still work within the structure of having a punchline (or a similar punctuating moment) in every single-page strip.

Writing a story to fit a set length can create a solid structure to work from, but it can also be limiting when the primary focus should be on producing a solid story.

Q: My dad was a casual comic book fan in the 1970s, and he told me once about a comic he read where Batman was a guest lecturer for a College Criminology class, and he is telling the students about the Red Hood. I have assumed that this is a brand new story, as opposed to a reprinting of Detective #168 from 1951 and Batman #213 from 1969. After a minimal amount of research which turned up nothing, I theorized that maybe my dad read this story in a 100 page giant from the 1970s. Is this the case? Do you know which comic might’ve been the one my dad read? Any light you can shed is most appreciated. — Reuben, via email

A: Other than the reprint in Batman #213 that you mention — which could’ve easily been floating around well into the ’70s — there are a couple of possibilities that spring to mind. I don’t think it appeared in any 100-Page Super-Spectaculars or 80-Page Giants of the era, but it was reprinted as the lead story in Limited Collectors’ Edition: Secret Origins of Super-Villains.

Not only did this one hit shelves in 1975, it was also a gigantic Treasury-sized comic (which, for those of you who aren’t hip to the lingo, were more than twice the size of a regular single issue), and that larger format might’ve made it pretty memorable for him. I’d say that one’s a pretty safe bet, especially if he mentioned any of the other origins included. Then again, if he doesn’t remember a newspaper-sized story where a cowboy went to space and got laser pistols so that he could fight Superman, this one probably isn’t the source after all.

Q: What two superheroes would you put in a My Two Dads scenario?@koltreg

A: For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, My Two Dads was a television show about a woman who, in the ultimate dick move, had it put into her will that her daughter had be raised by her two ex-boyfriends who hated each other and who both had an equal chance of being her father, and if they didn’t agree to it, she would be sent to an orphanage that was literally described in the show as Dickensian. It is maybe the most ludicrous concept for anything, ever.

As for who in comics fits the mold, there’s no possible way it could be anyone but Cyclops and Wolverine. Not only are those two guys basically the mutant equivalents of Greg Evigan and Paul Reiser to begin with, they also have Hope Summers right there to complete the cast!

Cable would be the judge that enforces the adoption order.

Q: If DC were to start a series similar to Marvel’s Thunderbolts, which of DC’s supervillians do you see as ripe for rehabilitation? Who would you put in charge of keeping them in line?Bill J., via email

A: Bill, I get the feeling that I’m about to blow your mind: DC actually did do a series like that, all the way back in 1987.

The idea of recruiting crooks as expendable soldiers to be sent on suicide missions isn’t a new one; DC and Marvel both probably cribbed it from one of my all-time favorite movies, 1967′s The Dirty Dozen, which was itself based on a novel of the same name, which had been written after the author heard rumors of a similar group operating during World War II, which may in turn have been based on the real-life unit called the Filthy Thirteen. But comics, with super-villains, the constant threat of complete world destruction and entire universes full of magic, time-travel, alternate dimensions and super-science to play with lend themselves to a huger, brighter version of the same concept. And that’s exactly what John Ostrander brought to the table in Suicide Squad.

It is, without question, the best DC comic of the 1980s, and also one of the most influential. Ostrander took characters that had fallen into obscurity like Punch & Jewelee, Nemesis, and the Enchantress and used them as a basis for stories set in a darker side of the DC Universe that still embraced everything that goes along with super-hero books. He even revitalized long-time villains like Captains Cold and Boomerang, introduced Barbara Gordon as Oracle and while Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers were the ones to revive Deadshot after his original Golden Age appearance, Suicide Squad was the book that made him the fatalistic assassin that he is today. It even introduced new characters, the most enduring of which has been Amanda Waller, a fixture of the DC Universe who would go on to appear in the two comics most directly inspired by Squad, Secret Six and the highly underrated Greg Rucka run on Checkmate.

The book ran for 60 issues, and if you haven’t read it, it totally holds up. What’s more, after years of canceled solicitations, the first volume of it finally came out in paperback — and the more recent Raise The Flag mini-series doesn’t miss a step either.

As for what I’d do if I was tapped to revive the concept today, it’s hard to narrow it down. The thing about super-hero comics is that there are dozens of villains for each hero, which leaves you spoiled for choice. I will say, though, that in the Suicide Squad pitch I keep in my back pocket in case the opportunity ever arises — which I think is something every writer hase — I had Cameron Chase cast as the field leader.

Q: What are the best and/or worst comics that involve a real-life musician or group? — Gena, via email

A: The best? Without question, the story from Bob Burden and Rick Geary’s Eisner Award-winning Gumby where an evil circus ringmaster turns Gumby into a golem by writing Hebrew letters on his forehead, and Gumby gets rescued when the ghost of Johnny Cash descends from the heavens.

The worst? Aerosmith‘s apperance in Shadowman #19.

There ain’t no kind of good in that thing.

That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just put it on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to comicsalliance@gmail.com with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!

And if you’re going to be in Charlotte this weekend, then you can Ask Chris In Person! Just come to the ComicsAlliance Live Panel on Saturday at 2:30 in Room 206, or find Chris at Small Press Table #626!

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