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Ask Chris #271: Santa Claus, The Greatest Superhero Of Them All

Ask Chris #281, background art by Pete Woods

Q: How do Santa Claus and Christmas magic mix with superhero settings, where actual magic and superpowers exist? Just how powerful is it? -- @anniezard

A: If my years of obsessing over Christmas specials have taught me anything, it's that Christmas magic is quite possibly the most powerful force in the universe. It can change the hearts of miserly ducks, open up a portal to to the mystical realm of Eternia so that kids can learn all about how Skeletor loves fights, and it can even cause dangerous levels of interference with the Morphin Grid. Outside of Batman's thirst for justice and Jughead's love of hamburgers, it might be the single most powerful force in the universe, assuming that you're measuring between Thanksgiving and January 6.

As for how Santa Claus himself can fit into a superhero setting, I actually think he's one of the easiest characters from literature or folklore to just slide right into a world of crimefighters and arch-villains. More than Dracula, more than Robin Hood, he's the one who works the best, because when you get right down to it, he's already doing the same kind of stuff. It's just that for some reason, they never call him up when it's time for a crossover.

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Ask Chris #270: A Kirby Carol

Ask Chris #280, background art by Jack Kirby

Q: Which Christmas song would make the best Kirby comic? -- @hazbaz

A: Okay, first of all? This is literally the best Ask Chris question in the five-year history of this column.

I mean, there are very few questions I've ever gotten that hit the exact bullseye of my interests quite as well as that one. If I somehow manage to come up with an answer that involves a Christmas song about Bulbasaur - something that actually does exist thanks to the charmingly bizarre cash-in abum The Pokémon Christmas Bash - then I think I will have covered everything. But even more than that, it's an opportunity to fix one of the greatest tragedies in comics history: The fact that there just aren't a whole lot of Jack Kirby Christmas comics.

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Ask Chris #269: The Great Superman/Batman Fight

Ask Chris #279, background art by Curt Swan

Q: Why is everyone so bent on doing their take on a Batman vs. Superman fight? Is there anything new to add? - @seth_bingo

A: As is so often the case with these questions, there's a short answer and a long one here, so let's do the short one first: People keep wanting to do a big fight between Batman and Superman because it happened in a book that was very good and sold very well, and that's not the kind of influence that creators --- or readers, for that matter --- have ever been good at shaking off. The longer answer, though, is that it's an inevitability, a result of how the characters have been built up over the years, how DC as a company has been structured around one and then the other, and even the simple desire that we have as fans to categorize things and play out conflicts and battles to find new and engaging soluions, something that can provide us with some really fun stories.

But I mean, yeah. If we're being real with each other here, it's mostly that first one.

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Ask Chris #268: Meet DC’s Answer to Jessica Jones

Ask Chris #278, background art by JH Williams III

Q: Who is the closest DC equivalent to Jessica Jones? -- @charlotteofoz

A: For what I suspect is a pretty obvious reason, this is a question that seems to be going around a lot this week, and it's an interesting one. As much as DC has experimented with it, the publisher has never had a lot of lasting success with street-level looks at how its universe functions. And really, that makes sense when you consider that its most famously gritty urban vigilante is also a billionaire who drives around in a rocket car and hangs out with his friends on the moon.

But there is a pretty good answer, and while I can't take the credit for thinking it up myself, it's definitely one that I agree with. If you're looking for a character to fill that role in the DC Universe, then you're looking for Cameron Chase --- and not just because they both have those alliterative initials.

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Ask Chris #267: Stories That Can’t, Couldn’t, Or Shouldn’t Be

Ask Chris #277, background art by Alex Ross

Q: Why did What Ifs and Elseworlds use to be so popular? And why don't we see them much anymore? -- @TheKize

A: I don't want to reject your premise outright since I think you're onto something here, but I also think it's worth pointing out that we're not exactly suffering from a lack of alternate-continuity stories, either. Multiversity, Convergence and Secret Wars were all based at least partially on the idea of exploring and playing around with the same kind of stories that didn't quite happen. If, however, you're talking about those specific brands, the What If books and the Elseworlds imprint that showed up on so many comics, then you're right.

For the most part, I think it just comes down to a simple swing of the pendulum back from oversaturation. There were a ton of those stories, and as is usually the case with these things, publishers just decided to put 'em away for a while. But there's another reason, too, and it has a lot to do with why so many of those stories exist in the first place.

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Ask Chris #266: The Strange Story Of Harold, Batman’s Resident Mechanic

Ask Chris #266, background art by Norm Breyfogle

Q: Tell us more about Harold, the person with the hunchback who used to live in the Batcave and build new Batmobiles. -- @beeftony1

A: (Heavy sigh.)

All right, look. I've been writing this column for over five years now, and in that time, I've written a lot about Batman. I've gone deep into the patterns that have emerged over the past 75 years to form the core of a fantastic character, the relationships with the other characters in his extended family, and how changing attitudes towards superheroes have shaped how he was portrayed in comics and elsewhere. I've even talked about obscure and forgotten elements of his history that are interesting just for how bizarre they are, like the time Alfred died and became a super-powered crime boss.

But there are some things that even the most dedicated Batmanologists try to avoid talking about. And now, it looks like I can't dodge this one any longer, so fine. Let's talk about Harold, who used to live in the Batcave and build new Batmobiles.

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Filed Under: , Category: Ask Chris, DC, Opinion

Ask Chris #265: The Untold Urban Legend Of The Batman

Ask Chris #265, background art by Scott McDaniel

Q: Why do people cling to the idea of Batman as the urban legend, even though it doesn't make sense? -- @discord_ink

A: I need to be honest with you right up front: I am definitely one of those people who loves the idea of the people in the DC Universe thinking of Batman as an urban legend. It's one of the few Modern Age additions that actually feels like it's embracing the inherent strangeness of the character rather than trying to make him more "realistic," and it does it in a way that still pushes him a little further into darkness and sets a contrast with the other heroes of the DC Universe. It's something that's cool, an element that can add to the grand mystery of a character who demands that kind of atmosphere.

That said, you're absolutely right: It doesn't make a bit of sense. But that doesn't mean it's not great.

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Filed Under: Category: Ask Chris, DC

Ask Chris #264: Frankenstein Lives!

Ask Chris #264, background art by Doug Mahnke

Q: What Halloween-y monster fits into the second-most different narrative roles, behind Dracula? -- @crookedknight

A: First things first, you are right to put Dracula at the top of the list. I've been through this before, but for anyone just joining us who hasn't heard me go through it for five or six hours, Dracula is the best. He's been around long enough and often enough that everyone pretty much knows what his deal is just from hearing the name, and you can drop him into any story in virtually any role. He can be a villain, an uneasy ally, a shadowy figure manipulating things from behind the scenes, and even, occasionally, a globetrotting protagonist battling things even worse than he is. He can be bloodthirsty fiend, sophisticated devil, reluctant hero, or all of the above.

But given all that, it there's one choice for the spooky silver medal that seems so obvious that I was surprised I got this question. It has to be Frankenstein. Right?

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Ask Chris #263: Halloween In The Fortress of Solitude

Ask Chris #263, background art by Travel Foreman

Q: What's the best Halloween story starring a superhero that doesn't really fit Halloween? -- @krinsbez

A: As much as the two genres have been historically opposed to each other, there are an awful lot of superheroes that have pretty strong ties to horror. Characters like Batman, for example, have spookiness built right into the concept from the very beginning, right down to the devil-horns and the dark cape, whih are meant to terrorize a superstitious, cowardly lot of criminals. But when you get further away from horror elements, when you look at the characters that are rooted in sci-fi or pure superheroics, and you drop them into a spooky story, then you can get a pretty great story just on the virtue of taking someone out of their element.

So turn down the lights and let's talk about Halloween in the Fortress of Solitude.

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Ask Chris #262: Where Oh Werewolf; Do Werewolves Make Everything Better?

Ask Chris #262, background art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye

Q: Are there any superheroes who can't be improved by making them also a werewolf? -- @daveexmachina

A: My friends, I am being 100% real with you when I say that questions like this are exactly why I started writing this column in the first place.

So let's see here. If you go back and look at my work over the past ten years, it's probably going to be pretty clear that when it comes to your classic Halloween monsters, werewolves don't really do much for me. I am and will always be a Dracula man, but I can't deny that throwing in some extra hair, a couple of claws, and an uncontrollable monthly blood lust is something that could make pretty much any character in comics a whole lot more interesting. Which, now that I think of it, is probably why it's actually happened way more than you might remember.

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