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Ask Chris Special Edition: The Best Of ‘Ask Chris’

This week marks the 200th installment of ComicsAlliance’s weekly¬†Ask Chris column, in which senior writer Chris Sims tackles reader questions that send him delving into comics history, the metaphors at the heart of his favorite characters that have developed over decades and, every now and then, straight up fan-fiction.

To mark the occasion, we’ve gone back through the archives (and taken a quick poll of readers) to sort out the absolute best of the past 200 columns, covering topics like the secular humanism at the heart of Scooby-Doo, the complicated chronology of Super Mario Bros., the 75-year competition between Marvel and DC, and more. And Batman. So, so much Batman.

Click each title to read the full article!

Robin: Year One #1

A question about Chris’s favorite Robin leads to an examination of how Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne all play off of, reflect, and reinforce different aspects of Batman’s character and personality, and show how the character has evolved over the years, suggesting that Dick Grayson growing up as a relatively well-adjusted hero instead of a grim vigilante is actually Batman’s greatest triumph in his war against crime.

Batman #497

Fueled by the anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises, Chris takes a look back at Bane, both as a foil for Batman and the ultimate synthesis of several “evil Batman” characters — including an often-overlooked direct prototype from a few years before Bane made his debut.

Batman and the Shadow

Is Batman’s code against killing really an intrinsic part of his character, or just a restriction placed on him by the Comics Code (which was instituted a full ten years after Batman announced that he never killed) and editors directing comics to a younger audience? In a look at both the in-character and external motivations behind the choice and how pulp characters like the Shadow influenced the Dark Knight’s creation, Chris explains why Batman never kills — except for all those times he did — and makes a futile attempt to head all those “but the ORIGINAL Batman killed people!” corrections off at the pass.

Batgirl: Year One #1

On the eve of DC’s “New 52″ reboot, Chris tries to answer the question of whether the perfectly logical move of Barbara Gordon recovering from her paralysis to retake the role of Batgirl was worth losing a character as valuable and representational as Oracle — a role Barbara Gordon had played for exactly as long as she was Batgirl.

Flash: The Return of Barry Allen

Believe it or not, these columns are occasionally not about Batman. In this one, Chris uses Barry Allen, Wally West and the concept of the Flash Legacy to explore the idea of handing down heroic roles to other characters — and why undoing that change can often be way more detrimental than the creators intend.

Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated

One of the most widely read Ask Chris columns is focused on how the Scooby-Doofranchise and its insistence that monsters, ghouls and ghosts are just criminals in masks is, at its heart, a tutorial for teaching skepticism and critical thinking to impressionable youngsters, and how reason and curiosity can always triumph over fear of the unknown.

U.S. War Machine by Chuck Austen

Prompted by a simple “Chuck Austen: Go,” Chris dives into the career of a creator who came up alongside Geoff Johns and Brian Michael Bendis, only to have a spectacular fall from grace. It has a happy ending, though: He’s working on Steven Universe now, which is great.

Amazing Spider-Man #33

Batman might be Chris’s favorite, but — according to this column, at least — Spider-Man is objectively the best superhero ever. Find out how the two characters compare as a child’s fantasy and a teenager’s fantasy, and what Spider-Man’s constant struggle against bad luck and atonement for his defining tragedy can tell us about the nature of heroism. (Also he lifts really heavy stuff.)

Superman #299

For being one of the greatest heroes of all time, Superman’s villains don’t really measure up — but do they need to? Or does Superman stand for something that goes beyond just punching out an outer-space techno cowboy and a purple vampire?

Eazy-E and Rob Liefeld

In one of the column’s biggest historical retrospectives, Chris traces the ’90s boom and the rise of creator-owned comics back to the ’80s black-and-white boom, and looks back at how a decade fueled by chromium excesses and speculators following Satan’s Bible also produced some of the best comics of all time.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

A question about why he hates video games sends Chris off subject for a discussion of interactive storytelling, and how comics and media both offer two different experiences with two different goals.

Owlbear, Pathfinder Bestiary

A Halloween-themed question about monsters prompts a fun time flipping through the pages of the Monster Manual (or in this case, the Pathfinder Bestiary) to find the best and strangest of tabletop gaming’s monsters. Spoiler Warning: the Owlbear is actually not the weirdest one, and it is literally half-owl half-bear.

Super Mario Bros. 3

The continuity of the Super Mario franchise is surprisingly complicated, as revealed in this column where Chris looks back at the NES-era Mario games and tries to figure out which ones “actually happened” and which were just figments of Mario’s mushroom-addled imagination.

Harley's Holiday

If Arkham Asylum is a big scary building with a ton of gargoyles and nobody ever actually gets better while being treated by their increasingly mad doctors, why does Batman keep sending his bad guys there? The answer: An unrelenting optimism that sits at the heart of what it means to be a hero.

Bob Kane's tombstone

Batman co-creator Bob Kane is a huge piece of garbage and everything you actually like about Batman was created by the uncredited Bill Finger. Oh this makes me so mad.

DC and Marvel, in November of 1961

Building off the previous week’s examination of whether Superman-type characters work in the Marvel Universe, the biggest and most in-depth Ask Chris ever looks back at the 75-year history of Marvel and DC, and the persistent inferiority complex that has led DC to reinvent themselves to be more like Marvel over and over again, with dubious results.

Stan Lee

In another lengthy history, Chris takes a look back at the career of one of the most polarizing figures in comics history. Was Stan Lee the glory-hogging writer who shoved Kirby and Ditko out of the picture, or the innovative writer and tireless editor who changed comics and put a face on the medium that made him a star? The answer, as always, is somewhere in between.

God Loves, Man Kills

How did Marvel’s Merry Mutants go from being the worst of the Lee/Kirby collaborations that was on the verge of cancellation to becoming one of the most dominant franchises in comics (and media) history? The short answer is Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Dave Cockrum. The long answer, well, click above.

JLA: Rock of Ages

A reader asks who’s more psychologically interesting, Lex Luthor or the Joker, and as the world’s foremost Batmanologist, Chris naturally goes with Luthor and how the arrogance and hatred of a man compares with the humility and kindness of a superman.

Superman model sheet by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Superman model sheet by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Artist Erica Henderson makes a guest appearance to discuss what makes an “iconic” superhero costume, and why the best ones work as well as they do. Also appearing: St. Sebastian.

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