If you're interested in the history of superhero comics --- and I sincerely hope you are, since I've spent an awful lot of time writing about that very subject --- then here's something that you might be interested in. As part of the edX series of online courses, the Smithsonian Institute is launching a series of lectures on the history of comics, featuring Stan Lee and Michael Uslan.
Q: Aside from the amazing cover for Superman #180, what's the best DC Comics story featuring Dracula? -- @brendan42
A: October is the month where I always find myself thinking about Dracula even more than I usually do, and just the other day I was thinking about how weird it is that there's never been a really good story about Batman fighting Dracula. They've tried it a couple of times, sure -- including a direct-to-video movie that takes a premise like Batman vs. Dracula and ends up committing the cardinal sin of being boring -- but it never really takes. Once I got your question, though, I started thinking about it, and I realized that there aren't many good stories about any DC Comics character fighting Dracula.
It turns out that dude just doesn't show up a whole lot in the DC Universe. And that's pretty weird.
Q: Just re-read Gotham Central and it got me wondering, what's the deal with the Spectre? -- @BatIssues
A: The Spectre was originally created in 1940 by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily, but it's worth noting that some sources -- including legendary editor Roy Thomas, who's about as big a fan of DC's Golden Age titles as you're likely to find -- give Siegel full credit for the whole concept, and that's the first interesting point. After all, Siegel is, as you may have heard, the co-creator of arguably the most enduring and significant character in comics history, who's known for his incredible physical strength: Slam Bradley.
Oh, and also Superman, I guess.
Q: Cassandra Cain: WTF happened? -- @IamMedellin
A: Here's the least shocking thing you're going to read this week: I love Cassandra Cain. That probably goes without saying, given that she's a relatively obscure member of the Batman family that made her debut when I was a teenager, but really, it goes deeper than that. She came out of the gate with a compelling edge, some phenomenally solid storytelling, and a hook for drama that put her in contrast to the rest of Gotham's assorted heroes and hangers-on, while still feeling like a natural compliment to the other characters. And then, less than a decade later, she'd gone from being a new character with an incredible amount of potential to an also-ran who only really shows up to fill space in crossovers -- something that almost never happens to characters in the Batman family, especially when they've got 70+ solo issues under their utility belts.
So what happened? Man, I can't even tell you, I just read the darn things. But folks, it got really weird there at the end.
Q: I was reading your column about New Teen Titans where you said Crisis on Infinite Earths was a mess, but a topic for another time. Care to explain now? -- @jeremyliveshere
A: The one thing you can't say about Crisis on Infinite Earths is that it didn't deliver on its promise. In a time when "event" comics were still in their infancy, Crisis came out of the gate promising to be the biggest thing that had ever or would ever hit comics, and looking back on it from almost thirty years later, it's hard not to admit that even with a comic rolling out every six months like clockwork that promises to change everything forever, it's still the one that actually did it. Worlds did live, worlds did die, and nothing actually was the same again.
It just also happens to be a story that's a complete friggin' mess.
Q: Just watched the latest Here's The Thing. I'd love to hear you expound on some of the attempts at re-creating Spider-Man. -- @stophatinisbad
A: In case you missed it, this week's episode of Here's The Thing was focused on the idea of legacy and how it shaped the Green Lantern franchise -- and how it ultimately failed to really take hold in the way that it did in books like Flash and -- but one of the things I mentioned was that Kyle Rayner was one of many attempts to create a character in the mold of Spider-Man. It happens like clockwork, not just at DC and Marvel but across the board, and it's one of the most important aspects of how superhero comics developed.
So really, I'm glad you asked, because the reason behind this gives me a chance to dive into some of my favorite subjects, like the socioeconomic impact of the rise of the teenager as a social construct, and how that led directly to the creation of Darkhawk.
Q: Is it ever worth it to change comics canon to match the canon from other media? -- @firehawk32
A: This is a really interesting question for me, because I always think of myself as someone who doesn't really get excited about superheroes showing up in movies or TV. I mean, obviously, that's not actually true -- I mean, I cowrote what was essentially a full-length novel about The Dark Knight, Batman: The Animated Series ranks alongside oxygen and pizza as my favorite thngs in the universe, I could not have been more stoked about seeing Arnim Zola The Bio Fanatic in two major Hollywood films, and there will never be a time when I'm not still mad about Man of Steel. But at the same time, and at the risk of sounding like even more of a hipster elitist than usual, those aren't the "real" versions of those charactesr to me. I like TV and movies just fine, but when it comes to the superhero genre, I'm in it for the comics. Everything else is just a bonus.
That said, what's considered "canon" in comics changes literally all the time, and often for a lot worse reasons than because there's something out there that's resonating with a mass audience.
Q: This "Connections Theory of Comics" is like *literally* all you talk about on Twitter. Can you please just explain it? -- @bigredrobot
A: Hey man, I think you're exaggerating just a little. I mean, anyone who actually reads my Twitter account knows that the whole Connections thing comes in at a distant third to commentary on whatever Power Rangers shows I'm watching that week and arguments about the definition of the word "barbecue." That said, I'll admit that it's something I have been talking about a lot lately. Connections is, after all, my favorite television show of all time. Well, except or The Prisoner, and that one episode of Brave and the Bold where Batman becomes a Dracula and fights the JLI, but I don't think those have affected the ways that I think about comics like Connections has.
Get through the middle of the week with Wednesday's links.
Q: Why do you think the X-Men didn't find their audience until two decades after they were created? -- @godofthunder851
A: I've got a minor quibble with your timing in this question -- it was more like 12 or 15 years, really -- but you've got an interesting point there. I think most comics readers are well aware of that piece of trivia about how the X-Men were about to get the axe before Giant Size X-Men #1 breathed new life into the franchise and set them on the path of becoming what was probably the single most popular and influential franchise of the '80s and '90s, and that's not really how things usually work. In comics, you tend to either come out of the gate to massive, enduring popularity (like Batman or Spider-Man), come out strong and then fade away for whatever reason (like, sadly, Shazam!), or just sort of flounder in the midcard. It's rare that something sticks around on the edge of being canceled for a solid decade before it finds its footing, and nobody bounced back harder than Marvel's Merry Mutants.
But really, what you're asking here is two separate questions: Why didn't the X-Men take off in 1963, and why did they in 1975? So let's look at the history and see if we can't figure it out.