Q: Someone asked me this one, so now you have to do it: who, in your "head" "canon," do you consider to be the necessary members of the Bat-family? - Benito Cereno, via Tumblr
A: Finally! I've been waiting for like five years for someone to ask me a question that would allow me to go into a needlessly in-depth explanation of how some part of Batman worked, and now, after all these years, it has happened for the very first time.
As for this particular question, it's an interesting one, and if you'd like to see Benito's answer to it, it's up on his Tumblr. If you do go look at the list, though, you'll see the problem in trying to answer it. After 75 years of collecting sidekicks, butlers, teammates and assorted hangers-on, Batman has a whole lot of people in his extended family. And if I had my way, I'd keep 'em all.
Q: Do you think it's possible for the Legion of Super-Heroes to work today, or are the trappings too corny? -- @jdkrach
A: My first instinct on this one is to say yes, and not just because the Legion was, for a long time, one of my absolute favorite comics. The entire superhero genre is, after all, full of corny ideas that have become timeless, right down to the fact that the entire thing is built around the idea of a very nice man who came from space and fools everyone into thinking that he's a very nice man from Kansas by wearing a pair of glasses.
But the Legion represents an entirely different question. It's not just the optimism of a bright future and names like "Lightning Lad" that can come off as corny, it's the entire universe that allowed them to exist in the first place --- and for a team that's been rebooted more times than just about anyone else, they sure do seem to have a hard time keeping up.
Q: Why does Jimmy Olsen work so well as Superman's Pal when Snapper Carr doesn't work as the Justice League's? -- @luckyrevenant
A: I honestly hadn't considered it until I saw this question, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that you're right. Snapper Carr, the finger-snapping teenage mascot of the Justice League from back when it actually wasn't that unusual for the Justice League to have things like teenage mascots, really is the direct descendant of Jimmy Olsen --- at least from a character standpoint. They fill that same role, the kid who gets to hang out with all your favorite superheroes so that you too can imagine yourself hanging with Batman and Superman. And yet, while Jimmy ranks at #3 in my illustrious and immutable list of the greatest comic book characters of all time, Snapper is one of the most ignored and forgotten characters of the entire Silver Age.
A: Never before in the history of this column has there been such a complicated, open-ended question that could be answered with a picture of Superman with a lion head. I mean, let's be honest with each other here: That pretty much covers it, and if you can look at Superman, cursed with the head of the most noble of beasts, lamenting about how his girlfriend must forever be condemned to date a lion-man now, and not think that it's at least a little bit awesome, then there's not a whole lot I'm going to be able to tell you to change your mind.
Q: I found Bruce Wayne: Agent of SHIELD in a box of 50-cent comics. Great idea or terrible one? Fun new direction or misread of the character? -- @Keith_Frady
A: Oh, that one was a great idea, but not for the reasons you might think. See, Keith, what you have stumbled across is neither a misread of the character nor is it a bold new direction. You've just found yourself a piece of the Amalgam Age of Comics.
Originally published in 1996 and 1997, the Amalgam books were quite possibly the strangest mainstream superhero project that ever happened: A not-quite-series of 24 comics that mashed up Marvel and DC characters into weirdly amalgamated versions that were actually produced by Marvel and DC, and that frequently made absolutely no sense at all. And, as you might expect from the fact that this all happened when I was 14, I loved it.
Q: Does Jason Todd/Red Hood belong in the Batman family? Should he be wearing a Bat symbol on his chest? -- @Doubting_Tom
A: I doubt it's going to surprise anyone reading this to find out that I have some pretty complicated feelings about pretty much everyone who has ever been called "Robin," and Jason Todd's no exception. Really, though, there's a pretty simple answer to this one: No, I don't think he should be part of the Batman family --- the active Batman family, anyway --- because Jason Todd oughtta be dead. If nothing else, we didn't collectively dial those 1-900 numbers ten thousand times to make that happen just for some retcon to come along twenty years later and bilk us out of fifty cents a call.
If, however, Jason Todd has to be alive, and it's become pretty clear over the past decade that somebody definitely thinks he does, well... that's where things start to get complicated.
Q: Can you explain how Lex Luthor was elected President? Donald Trump might need some pointers. -- @ASaltzberg
A: President Lex! Now there's a story that I haven't thought about in a while - and just for context, I'm someone who thinks about Harold, the hunchbacked mechanic that Batman used to keep in his basement to fix up the Batmobile, at least once a week. Looking back, it seems like a very weird story, an ultimately forgettable new direction for a villain that never really went anywhere, but at the time, it definitely felt like it was a big deal.
Q: As a Batmanologist, what misinformation about Batman do you wish you could set everyone straight on? -- @daveexmachina
A: There's one misconception about Batman that bugs me the most, because it's simultaneously the most persistent, the most ridiculous from a storytelling standpoint, and the easiest to disprove: The idea that Bruce Wayne doesn't actually do anything to help Gotham City, and that Batman is just a rich man selfishly and violently lashing out at the lower class.
Q: Are there any missed opportunities in the way Super Sentai has been adapted for America? - @franzferdinand2
A: When you consider how weird it is that Power Rangers even exists in the form that it does, as this adaptation that, more often than not, has almost nothing in common with its source material other than a focus on problems that can only be solved with giant robot dinosaurs, it gets pretty difficult to figure out things that they could've done differently. I mean, when you get right down to it, they did almost everything they could've done, from stitching together pieces of multiple series into one show to throwing out everything except the robot fights and rebuilding the plot from scratch, all the way to trying to stick as close to the source as they could.
But that said, there's one big missed opportunity that stands out, and it's something that happened just this year: They didn't do an American adaptation of Go-Busters.
Q: Has there ever been a more notable or successful reinvention of a villain than the transition from Mr. Zero to Mister Freeze? -- @spacetimeboss
A: Friend, you are not kidding about Mr. Freeze. As much as heroes and villains change over the years, and as much as they have to change to stay relevant as hundreds of creators work on their ongoing stories, I honestly don't know if there's any bad guy who made a change that dramatic, both in terms of theme and quality. He goes from being a one-note crook with an ice gun to one of the most compelling and tragic figures in Batman's entire Rogues Gallery. I'd even go as far as saying that aside from Two-Face, he's the easiest of the major villains to sympathize with --- and he probably works in a whole lot more stories besides.
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