A: Comic book lettering is up there with inking and coloring in the holy trinity of underrated comic book skills, but it's also one of those things that, once you start paying attention to it, you'll never be able to not notice it again. I'm not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that it's one of those things that can absolutely ruin a comic if it's done wrong, even if everything else is perfect. But to be honest, of those three elements, lettering is still probably the most underrated.
The thing is, when it's good, it can be absolutely gorgeous in its own right. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of people who do it very, very well.
Q: Why is it that Robin has endured as Batman's teen sidekick, but Jimmy Olsen hasn't as Superman's? -- @doubting_tom
A: I don't know why, but for some reason, I got a lot of questions this week about sidekicks in general and Robin in particular, but this one stuck out for a pretty obvious reason, which is that I really, really like to talk about Jimmy Olsen. It's weird, though, Tom, because you're absolutely right: As much as I might love the guy, he's often ignored in and minimized in superhero stories, something that doesn't happen a lot to someone who was once a fixture of the cast who was popular enough to hold down a solo title for 150 issues. Meanwhile, we're up to our pointy bat ears in Robins, ex-Robins, dead Robins, potential Robins and Future Robins. It seems a little imbalanced.
But at the same time, there's definitely a logic to it, and there are a lot of reasons that those two characters have ended up how they did. It has to do with when they showed up, the role they fill in the story, how they've changed over the years, and the idea that maybe Jimmy Olsen isn't really a sidekick at all.
Q: What is Stan Lee's actual legacy? -- @TheMikeLawrence
A: I don't think there could be a more complicated subject to tackle in a single column than this one, because as an industry and as an art form, I think we all have a lot of complicated feelings about Stan Lee. Depending on who you ask, when you ask them and what he's been up to lately, he's a conniving credit-stealer, a shameless self-promotion machine, a "driven little man who dreams of having it all!!!" and got it by coasting on the hard work of others, or he's a charismatic innovator who got put into that spotlight because he's a natural showman, a smiling ambassador of the medium and everybody's friendly comics grandpa. And it's further complicated because you can't really talk about him without talking about collaborators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, either.
That's what makes him hard to talk about, even if you've spent nearly your entire life being aware of him. There's just so much to get through that's filtered through so many angles, and as a result, I genuinely think that he's simultaneously the most overrated and underrated creator of all time.
Q: Do you think that, for all their superficial campiness, the Adam West Bat-villains are actually the least likely to reform or even feel bad about the crimes they've committed? -- lego-joker
A: I'll be honest with you, folks: I got this question on Tumblr a few days ago, and while I wrote a (relatively) brief answer over there, it's something I've been thinking about ever since. Fortunately, it's my column, which means that the only rule is that there are no rules. And, you know, the weekly deadline. That is a pretty serious rule if I intend to stay employed.
Point is, there's a very simple answer to this question, which is that it's absolutely right. The arch-criminals of Batman '66 will never, ever reform, mostly due to the fact that nothing is ever meant to change on that show. There's a status quo that has to be maintained, one that's even more strict than the one in the comics. But at the same time, that lack of momentum says a lot about how those characters and the world in which they live are constructed.
Q: Is writing comics with a lack of subtlety a good or bad thing? Or does it all depend on how it's handled? --@therealdealkern
A: This is a really tough question, because unlike a lot of things I write about, I don't have a definitive answer one way or the other, even though it's something I notice all the time. Looking back, it seems tricky to figure out why I love some things and hate others for what seems to be the exact same reason. I mean, I've got a reputation as someone who loves over-the-top stories and comics that have a complete lack of anything that even approaches nuance, full of blunt statements, raw emotions and names that couldn't be more on the nose if they were a pair of reading glasses.
And yet, at the same time, there are stories I hate precisely because they have that same lack of subtlety, or because they're eye-rollingly obvious. There's got to be a difference somewhere, right?
Q: Can Santa Claus beat Superman in a fight? Can he beat Batman? --@byharryconnolly
A: You, Harry, have been affected by the cynicism of a cynical age. Any schoolchild could tell you that Santa Claus would never fight Superman or Batman, because they are all on the same side. Then again, I suppose that's why you didn't ask a schoolchild and instead went straight to someone who specializes in providing needlessly elaborate answers to yes-or-no questions about fictional vigilantes.
So today, on this wintry Christmas Week Eve, I'm going to take up the spirit of the holiday and give you the answer you asked for. The short version? Yes. Santa Claus could beat those dudes like government reindeer. It wouldn't even be close.
Q: How do the holiday mythologies compare between Marvel and DC? -- @crcovar
A: How did you know, Crovar?! Another excuse to drop nine thousand words about the underlying differences in the structure of imaginary universes and how they've affected their storytelling over the past seventy years? It's exactly what I wanted for Christmas!
Nah, I'm just kidding. We can probably get through this one in five or six thousand. Seven, tops.
Q: What do you think about Harley Quinn? --@Gavin4L
I'll be honest with you, Gavin: Harley Quinn is a tough character to write about. I've been struggling for a long time now trying to figure out how to get started, because there's so much there built around a single character that gets into a lot of tricky, complicated areas, from her almost accidental creation and often mystifying popularity to how much she's changed and been altered in a relatively short period of time, and how you can almost chart the changing aesthetic of the entire company just by looking at a single character. It's a lot to get through, even if you're someone who lived through every bit of it as a fan.
Really, I guess that's as good a starting point as any. What do I think? Well, I like the character a lot, but when you get right down to it, she's one of the most misunderstood and misused characters in all of superhero comics.
Q: You mentioned "The Problem" in last week's column. So, what is "The Problem?" --@green2814
A: Last week, I dug in a little into the idea that even though they share prominent creators and have influenced each other back and forth over the course of the last 50 years, the DC and Marvel Universes have some fundamental differences in the way they're structured. One of the things I really wanted to get across in that column was that neither one is really fundamentally better than the other, they're just incompatible in a lot of ways, and I touched on how that results in something I call The Problem. Since that's still pretty fresh in everybody's mind, and since you were nice enough to set the ball right on the tee and hand me the bat, I might as well elaborate on that now. It's actually pretty simple.
To put it bluntly, The Problem is that DC wants to be Marvel, and they have for the past 50 years.
Q: Do Superman-esque characters like The Sentry or Blue Marvel work in the Marvel Universe? -- @SuperSeth64
A: You know, Seth, this is one of those questions that seems really simple when you first look at it. I mean, it's a yes or no question, so the short answer is about as short as it can possibly be. The thing is, the reasoning behind that answer has to do with how entire shared fictional universes work and how they've been influencing each other for the past 50 to 70 years, and how one character in particular has defined an entire genre that came to dominate the medium, so for the long answer, well, I hope you've got a few minutes.
If you don't, here's the short answer: No. No they do not.
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