Q: Should there even be a Joe Chill, or does having it be an anonymous crook work better? -- @DavidMann95
A:If you've read this column before, it probably won't surprise you to find out that I've spent an awful lot of time thinking about Joe Chill, and to be honest, it makes sense that I would. Even beyond his role as the mugger who fired two shots in Crime Alley and left Bruce Wayne a very angry orphan, he's been a huge part of the Batman mythos over the past 76 years, weaving his way in and out of the story in some pretty bizarre and unexpected ways.
But I'm not sure that he actually makes it better.
A: Well, this one's easy: Aztek is a hero for the new millennium -- if he lives that long! And, you know, I don't want to spoil the ending for you or anything, but he actually does, even if it's kind of on a technicality. I mean, when you get right down to it, "a hero for about three months into the 21st century before he explodes in space and is never seen again" probably wouldn't fit on the cover.
Q: Why are there so many people defending Aquaman and not any other unpopular super-hero? — @Ettore_Costa
A: First off, I don’t entirely agree that other unpopular superheroes don’t have their share of defenders. There’s a loud minority of people who really, really love Cyclops, for example, and can defend him all day long. My own favorite super-hero is Boom Boom, and all you have to say to bait me into an argument is, “But isn’t she really boring except in that one Warren Ellis comic where she’s an idiot?” There are probably even people who really like Red Tornado (I have never met these people).
But each maligned hero has their particular problem, and that colors how they’re defended as much as it does how they’re attacked. Aquaman’s been around since 1941. He’s one of five DC heroes who never stopped appearing in comics between the Golden Age and the Silver Age. He’s a founding member of the Justice League. And what do people say when the criticize Aquaman? “He’s dumb because all he does is talk to fish.”
Chris Onstad's Achewood --- which recently resurrected itself with a series of pretty regular weekly updates --- is one of my favorite comics of all time, and part of the reason for that is that pretty much everything that happens in it is really, really weird, to the point where even figuring out a baseline of what constitutes "weird even for Achewood" is darn near impossible.
Take, for instance, The Great Outdoor Fight, arguably the high point of the strip. That's a story that involves two cats heading to some lawless farm outside of Bakersfield to battle 3,000 men in a no-holds-barred free-for-all that lasts for three days, and involves rigid rules about army leaders, turkey feasts, and unseen but murderous organizers who threaten to mow down the competitors with Jeeps, all of which somehow gets started when a meth-addicted squirrel tries to borrow $6,000,000 to start a business building genitals for cars. And honestly, that's probably the most straightforward story of the strip's entire run.
Q: Aside from laying groundwork, most Golden Age stuff I've read is not very good. Are there any must-reads from the era? -- @TheKize
A: Listen, if you're having trouble getting into Golden Age books, I do not blame you. I've read my fair share of them over the years, and while I definitely think it's worth tracking down some of those early superhero comics if you're looking to broaden your horizons a little bit, I'll be the first to tell you that they can be hard to get into for a variety of reasons --- and as you said, chief among them is the fact that a lot of those old comics are just not very good.
Of course, you could say that about pretty much any era of comics and you wouldn't be far off from the truth. More than that, though, I think there's a big barrier that keeps the average reader from getting into those comics, and it has a lot to do with when, how, and why those comics were being made.
A: I'm glad you asked! As a writer, long-term plotting has never really been one of my strong points --- I'm more a student of that Larry Hama "never more than three pages ahead" sort of school --- but as a reader, there's nothing I love more than seeing threads tie together after years of groundwork being laid. It's that Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson style of plotting where seemingly insignificant elements and offhand remarks can suddenly gain importance, and where the same imagery can weave itself in and out of the story to give everything a new meaning. And what Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Val Semeiks did in DC One Million and All-Star Superman is one of the best and most subtle examples of long-term plotting ever.
Well. Subtle by superhero comic standards, anyway. It still involves a time-traveling Superman who lives inside the sun.
Q: In light of your recent discussion of Copra, what's the best comic riffing on another comic? -- @davidwynne
A: Listen, Dave, if we're honest with each other here, the answer is definitely Batman. He might not have been riffing on a comic, but it's hard to get around the fact that those earliest adventures were just Bill Finger and Bob Kane filing the serial numbers off the Shadow and putting him into a slightly more ridiculous outfit. I mean, the guy even has an autogyro, and if that's not a dead giveaway, I don't knoW what is.
But at the same time, Batman only really gets good once he evolves into his own thing. If you're talking about comics that were created with the clear intention of riffing on something else and staying that way for the duration (and I say this knowing there's a whole lot of good riffing in Jack Staff), there's really only one answer: It has to be Supreme.
Q: What does the Bottle City of Kandor mean to you? -- @SpaceCrook
A: Never before in the history of this column has there been a question that made me feel like I was about to write an essay for a fifth-grade civics lesson. Level with me here, Crook: If I do really well on this week's column, is there a chance I could win a competition and get to meet the Superman Emergency Squad?
Even if I don't have the chance to get a selfie with Van-Zee, though, Kandor makes for a pretty interesting topic. It's one of the only elements of superhero comics I can think of that's interesting and distracting, a source of fun adventure and a constant reminder of failure, a plot point that a universe had to get rid of, and that everyone seemed to want to bring back as soon as they could, all in equal measure. In other words, well, it's complicated.
Q: Who is the best President of the United States in superhero comics? -- @SAWinchell
A: Ah yes. It's a Presidential Election year here in the United States, and with politics in the air everywhere you look, the next eight months are probably going to involve a lot of questions about elections, public offices, and other expressions of our American ideals of democracy. For those of you who aren't in America, this might seem like we're drawing things out a little bit, but I can assure you that it's been like this for like a year already.
Anyway, to the question! Given how rarely we actually see the President playing a significant role in superhero comics, there are really only a few directions we can go with this. The obvious choices are, of course, Prez Rickard and Beth Ross, the two teenage presidents who have starred in different iterations of Prez, or Calvin Ellis, the Super-President from Earth-23, and if I was up for a bit of political satire, I could try to defend the Lex Luthor administration again. But really, if we want to talk about the best Chief Executive in all of comics, then there's only one real choice: President Maria Funkhouser, from Christopher Hastings' The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.
Q: Why is "Strange Apparitions" the best Batman run? - @IanGonzales
A: See what I mean about these questions that include their own answers right there in the premise?
I have to say, though: You're not wrong. Of all the great Batman runs that have helped to define the character, the six issues that Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers spent on Detective Comics back in 1978 stand out as one of the all-time greatest. It's intricately crafted, beautifully drawn, and while Englehart's claim that it more-or-less invented the Batman of the Modern Age might seem a little overblown at first glance, it's hard to argue that it's not at least a major part of the foundation of how the Caped Crusader would evolve over the following decade. As for just what makes it so great and why it stands the test of time, it all comes down to how they were able to build on the past while creating something that still feels modern almost 40 years later.
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