Trouble with Comics
TWC Question Time #26: Anniversary Time

This week’s question: What’s your favorite anniversary issue?

Tim Durkee:  I’m glad that this question was given an extra week. I knew I could catch up with my reading and two anniversary issues would be a part of that. First off, I’m very far behind, so please don’t chuckle too loud when tell you I just finished Amazing Spider-Man # 690-700 including every point one and gimmick book in between. For all purposes issue 692 is the 50th anniversary issue, but that was overshadowed by the hype surrounding 700. The cat has been out of the bag for several years now, the question would have it been worth the cover price when first released?

I hate when a character dies in a book, not because my favorite hero or villain has perished, but because they never last. Give it a few months, maybe a year and they are back so I was I was in hurry as I knew what to expect. Did ASM 700 deliver to a reader who is very skeptical of deaths, anniversaries, and gimmicks? It sure did!

For a moment I actually thought this was it, the last story. No more Parker. The way the letter columns were filled it was more like a eulogy page rather that a celebration of one of the greatest super-heroes created. And I am reading this, believing this, knowing what happened. That’s what we call darn good writing, true believers! Now I’m on to Superior Spider-Man, which I stayed away from initially. I’ve never been known to have a favorite anniversary issue, until today.


Mike Sterling: Very early on in my comic collecting endeavors, I always went out of my way to pick up “special” issues. Extra-sized anniversary editions or annuals or the large treasury editions, even if they were from series or featuring characters I didn’t normally follow. There was just something especially enticing about these, even if the higher pricetags bit into my funnybook-buying budget. And, in the late ‘70s/early '80s, there was no shortage of fine books to choose from: Flash #300, detailing the origins of all the Rogues, Detective Comics #500, a monster of a comic featuring stories starring not just Batman, but several other characters featuring throughout the series’ long run.

And then there was Justice League of America #200 from 1982.

A great premise: the founding members of the League have gone out of 
control, and it’s up to their latter-day teammates to bring them down.
A great story structure: each confrontation is divided into its own short chapter, including one splash page punctuating the conflict between the characters.
A great collection of artists: each chapter is illustrated either by the artist most strongly associated with the characters involved (such as the Flash versus the Elongated Man by Carmine Infantino, or the Atom versus Green Lantern by Gil Kane), or by an artist that is most perfectly suited to said characters (such as Green Arrow and Black Canary versus Batman as drawn by Brian Bolland). The artwork for the framing and connective sequences is by George Pérez, who was then nearing the end of his run as the regular Justice League artist.
The story, by Gerry Conway, very nicely showcases each major character from the title’s history, as well as tying the plot into the team's origins. It is, in effect, a sequel to Justice League of America #9 (1962), where the League’s origin was initially told. Conway also contributes an extensive text history of the series on the inside front and back covers.

This is 72 adless pages of superhero perfection, presenting the almost Platonic ideal of how each character should be treated. Sure, maybe Pérez isn’t quite as polished here as he would become in short order, but there’s no denying his work’s power and enthusiasm. He certainly holds his own with the other featured artists. In addition to Bolland, Kane and Infantino, there’s Jim Aparo, and Dick Giordano, and Joe Kubert, and Brett Breeding, and more. If anyone’s taking suggestions for one of those giant tomes that features high-quality scans of original art, I nominate this book for the treatment.

Justice League of America #200 is the comic I think of when I think of superhero comics. It’s the one that reminds me of why I became interested in superhero comics in the first place. Not that it was my first superhero comic, by any means, but it still remains, at least to the part of me that still remembers that youthful thrill of seeing the week’s new arrivals on the newsstand racks, the best.


Scott Cederlund: My Legion of Super-Heroes fandom started out sporadically.  I probably read more reprints of older Legion stories in Adventure Comics or even the old Treasury Editions.  There’s one Treasury Edition that reprinted a Mordru story that’s still one of my favorite comic stories.  Those old Silver-Age stories were hokey but all of those super-powered kids running in those old fashioned costumes held a wonderful charm over me.  That’s probably why I had a problem with some of the more modern (at least modern circa 1983) Legion stories.  The characters kind of seemed familiar but with all of their updated, Bronze Age costumes, my mind couldn’t connect those old Legion stories to the current Legion stories.

Legion of Super-Heroes #300 is a suspect anniversary issue because the series continued the numbering of the original Superboy series after it became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes with issue #197.  So maybe the 300th issue of Legion of Super-Heroes is a bit of a stretch but it provided the link for me between the Legion I knew from those old reprints and the modern day Legion as it contained a number of imaginary stories about possible timelines for the Legion, all written by Paul Levitz and drawn by a number of different artists.  

Levitz’s story touched on all of the eras of the Legion, all the way back to it’s earliest and corniest days in the late 1950s and 1960s, through the Bronze Age cynicism of the 1970s and all the way through the Keith Giffen technological utopia of the 1980s. These stories were “what ifs,” looking at the decisions that the Legion had made through those years and how they could have been different. And Levitz even framed it through the perspective of the brother of the late Ferro Lad.  All of these maybes and could-have-been were told from the point of view of one of the Legion’s first and greatest tragedies.

There’s only a handful of comics from 1983 (or even before that) that I can actually remember buying and reading for the first time. I got the issue from a shop called All American Comics in Evergreen Park, Il, on a summer night. And I read the comic in the lobby of the Christ Medical Center on 95th Street. My father had taken me to the comic shop as a mild bribe before going to visit my grandmother in the hospital. I can remember the lighting still being dim in the waiting area while my father went up to my grandma’s room. I probably went up to her room for a little bit but I was probably quickly allowed to go down to the lobby to read my comics while my dad spent time with his mother.  

The comic means as much to me about the contents of it as it does about the summer of 1983 when my grandmother died of cancer. When the question was posed about anniversary issues for this column, I immediately thought of this issue but it took a while to sink in about what the comic means to me and why I still have it in my collection.  The comic is full of possibilities and things that never happened in the Legion continuity, but they all could have happened if the writer and artists had made different choices along the ways. For this anniversary issue, Paul Levitz tapped into some of that potential that exists in all comics within the boundaries of continuity.


Joe Gualtieri: This week’s question is borderline impossible. It would have been tough enough if we could pick five, but one anniversary issue? Especially as someone who was a young teen during the prime years of anniversary mania (Marvel made a way bigger deal about the thirtieth anniversaries of their various superheroes than they did the fiftieth), this felt like a nigh-impossible task. Outside of material reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (“To Kill a Legend” from Detective Comics #500 is a contender here), my first anniversary issue was likely Detectve #627, celebrating Batman’s 600th appearance in the title (yes, it’s actually his 601st, an error pointed by many letter writers in subsequent issues). It reprinted the very first Batman story, “The Case of the Criminal Syndicate” by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and a retelling of the story, “The Cry of the Night is- ‘Kill’”, from #387 by Mike Friederich, Bob Brown, and Joe Giella. It also contained two new reinterpretations of that first story by essentially the then-contemporary teams on both Detective and Batman: Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, and Adrienne Roy, and Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Steve Mitchell, and Roy. The Grant/Breyfogle tale was a little gruesome for my tastes at the time, but getting four variations, retold over time, has always left an impression on me as a great way to do an anniversary issue.

My favorite though? In the end, it comes down to two issues, both from the same storyline, Spectacular Spider-Man #189 (the first of four issues celebrating Spider-Man’s thirtieth anniversary in 1992, each with a hologram on the cover, because 1992) and #200. My first Spider-Man comics were Amazing #347 (Venom!) and Spectacular #175 (Doc Ock!), both purchased from Robinson’s Convenience Store on the same day because they had villains I liked from Marvel trading cards. Funnily enough, I came in as a classic creator left, as Spectacular #175 wrapped up Gerry Conway’s final Spider-Man story-arc (though it was written by David Michelinie). The next two issues were fill-ins by some guy named Kurt Busiek, and then in #178, J.M. DeMatteis’s run started with a sequel to his already legendary Kraven’s Last Hunt, with Sal Buscema on art. Despite not having read that story, his run worked really for me, in part because the story was something of a thematic sequel, focusing on Harry Osborn and his struggles with his father’s legacy as the Green Goblin. By the end of that initial arc, Harry had fallen to his worse impulses, becoming a villain again.

After a detour involving the Vulture, DeMatteis brought Harry back in #189 for “The Osborn Legacy.” Deranged after using his father’s super-strength formula, Harry kidnaps his own family and starts psychologically torturing Spider-Man. At the end of the issue, Spidey actually turns Harry over to the authorities, despite the threat of Harry revealing his secret identity as Peter Parker. Over the next year, Harry would occasionally show that he could still reach out from prison, but he was released in #199. The next issue, “Best of Enemies!” sees Harry up his war against Spider-Man, his family struggling to deal with his instability and Harry fighting himself, caught between wanting to do what his evil father would want and his long friendship with Parker. The issue is tense, and features one of probably only two scenes returning to the scene of Gwen Stacy’s death that is actually any good, as Harry takes Mary Jane Parker there to assure her he will not hurt her. In the end, Peter and Harry come to blows, Harry poisons Peter and leaves him to die in a death trap before Mary Jane talks him into going back. Then the super strength formula he used a year earlier turns to poison and kills him (a simple metaphor, but beautifully done, and perfect for the genre). Harry Osborn’s death is absolutely stunning, a scene so well done by Buscema that DeMatteis deviated from his original plans and left the final pages silent.

Spectacular Spider-Man #200 is everything an anniversary issue should be: it wraps up the current creative team’s story-lines, but beyond that it truly builds on the history of the characters involved. “Best of Enemies” gets its impact not just from the artistry of DeMatteis and Buscema, but from everyone who came before on the Spider-Man comics. It’s a story that demands a mature Spider-Man, and is inconceivable without him being married to Mary Jane. Marvel has, inexplicably, just reprinted parts of it, and the only way that makes sense to me as vindictiveness over how it shows how wrong nearly everything the company has tried to with the character since has been, as Marvel’s flailed about, trying to de-age him, believing kids couldn’t relate to an older, married Spider-Man. *Ahem* Anyway, it also has a foil cover, and being 11 in 1992, I confess to having a weakness for those when they’re well done.

TWC Question Time #22: Introductions

This week’s question: what’s your favorite introduction to a volume of comics?

Scott Cederlund: Reading Michael Chabon’s introduction to the Image/Dynamite American Flagg! collection, you’d think that AF creator Howard Chaykin was a spitfire of a comic book maker and you’d be right.  From that introduction, you can tell that Chabon has spent a lot of time poring over old issues of American Flagg!, trying to discover the source of the  alchemy that Chaykin was concocting.  His image of Chaykin rests somewhere between artistic genius and journeyman as he focuses a lot on the craft of American Flagg! Viewing AF as the perfect blend of pop, cynicism and an eye towards the future, Chabon’s piece on the comic identifies it as a great piece of American literature/art from the early 1980s.

This piece was first originally published as an essay named “The Killer Hook” in Chabon’s 2008 book Maps and Legends, a collection of essays on everything from architecture to Will Eisner and Sherlock Holmes.  In those essays, Chabon was trying to map out his own influences and idols within his own work.  There are a couple of essays that talk about comics in the book but the essay on Chaykin serves as much as an introduction to the creator as it does to the creation.  Chabon’s writing about Chaykin places Chaykin in a much broader pantheon of American artists than just among the small pool of comic creators.  Chaykin isn’t talked about in the context of Frank Miller or John Byrne.  Chabon compares and contrasts him to musicians like Brian Wilson and Paul Simon, to Orson Welles (and AF! to Citizen Kane,) and to writers like Chandler and Hammett.  

Chabon’s introduction to American Flagg! sings the book’s praises while making an argument for it to be considered among the great works of American popular art.  “American Flagg! stands at the glorious midpoint, at that difficult fulcrum between innocence and experience, romance and disillusion, adventure and satire, the unashamedly commercial and the purely aesthetic… Such balancing acts have always been the greatest feats of American popular art,” he concludes.  Chabon’s examination of Chaykin and his hinted at the disappointment that nothing Chaykin did afterwards found that perfect balance sets up the experience of reading American Flagg! as something more than just another comic book.  Yes, it is a comic book but it’s also Howard Chaykin, an American storyteller, right there on each and every page showing you the world but through his distinct and creative point of view.  

Joe Gualtieri: There are quite a few comics introductions I love. A few weeks ago, I wrote a little about how the intro and foreword help make the 1988 version of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told a superior version of such a collection. With his introduction for The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore created a seminal piece of superhero comics criticism. The introductions to the different editions of early Justice League International collections create an indelible portrait of Keith Giffen as a serpentine figure, forever lurking around the corner and hissing “Jussssticcccce League” at editor Andy Helfer.

Arguably the one that’s made the biggest impression on me though, is Warren Ellis’s for Hellblazer: Fear and Loathing, which collects the title’s transition from DC’s non-imprint “mature readers” imprint to Vertigo. It is a fine example of a formulaic introduction. As Ellis himself notes, “where’s the checklist? I’ve pretty much covered the ‘I know Garth, which is why I’m writing this’ bit, done the quick bio bit, done the history bit, and the sad licrit bit.” What makes the piece particularly interesting is that “sad litcrit bit”:

What’s John protecting these things from? Authority. With the capital A. These are stories about what authority does to people, about the poison in its foundations. You can substitute Authority for Government, for the Establishment, even for God, and it all means the same thing: someone exerting control they did not earn and do not deserve, grinding lives into shit largely because they feel like it.

Three years after writing that passage, Ellis would be writing a superhero comic titled The Authority. Two to three years after that, Ellis would create a stir on his message board, The Warren Ellis Forum, by declaring that the Authority were the villains of their own comic. This is not really the place for a long, drawn out discussion about authorial intent, but the connection between The Authority and this passage has long fascinated me, especially given that The Authority is very much a liberal power fantasy in a way rarely seen in the genre since the early days of Superman in Action Comics. The passage arguably even anticipates the structure of The Authority, since the in the first arc they take on a singular government, in the second the corrupt establishment running an alternate Earth, and finally, they fight god. So it’s totally weird, but I love this intro because of how it connects to a completely different work by the same author.

Mike Sterling: I’m actually not one to read introductions, to be frank. I usually skip right over ‘em and plunge right into the funnybookin’ for which I actually purchased the book. There are always exceptions, of course, particularly when it’s a foreword by a person (or persons) of particular interest to me. There’s that Penn Jillette intro to a volume of Preacher, or an old college professor of mine writing the foreword to a Sandman volume…but the trade paperback introduction that sticks in my mind is not so much because of who wrote it but what it was about.

One of dopiest events to come out of the late '80s comics boom was the “A Death in the Family” Batman story, in which fans were encouraged to call actual phone numbers, in those pre-easy-access-to-the-Internet days, to vote on whether or not Batman’s latest iteration of Robin, Jason Todd, would survive his assault by the Joker. Of course, the majority voted thumbs-down, because who doesn’t like a good killing, and when all was said and done, demand was so great to read a story in which the Joker gained diplomatic immunity by becoming the Iranian ambassador (sigh…yes, really) that a cheap trade paperback was rush-printed. It was only $3.95 in its initial printing, so sure, it was terrible, but such good value! And adding to that value was a new introduction written, most likely, by editor Denny O'Neil.

The introduction was titled “The Death of a Boy Wonder,” supposedly written by “Dr. Socrates S. Rodor, Professor Emeritus of Twentieth Century History, Gotham University.” It was written an “in-universe” essay, commenting upon archaeologically-derived knowledge of the existence of super-heroes, and in particular the history of Batman and his multiple Robins. Of particular note is the emphasis placed on specific durations of time, such as noting that Dick Grayson’s tenure as Robin lasted about six years, and that Batman was partnerless for about a year and half. Such specific references are rare in the actual comics, so it was unusual and interesting to see them mentioned here. 
There is a sense of humor present as well, with some in-jokes and references that were probably borne of whatever insanely tight deadline under which this foreword was produced. It’s noted that in the time of Professor Rodor, much information about Batman’s period was lost in the “Great Implosion,” almost certainly a nod to the “DC Implosion” of title cancellations suffered by the publisher in the 1970s. There’s a footnote wondering why Robin’s brightly-colored costume contrasted so with Batman’s darker coloring, which is perhaps a reference to the old joke about “Robin, the Boy Target” (“he’s there to draw fire”). There’s the aside suggesting that Batman was was too dour a person to be as frivolous as to attach “Bat-” prefixes to all his equipment, and here’s the comment that Batman in no way would have encouraged Robin’s “Holy _____!” exclamations. 

This introduction, in an odd little way, is a deconstruction of sorts of the Batman myth, in line with Frank Miller’s own examination of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ examination of the genre in toto in Watchmen. It looks at the specifics of the character, holds up some pieces of it for closer examination and near-dismissal, and as a whole is probably more entertaining and informative that the reprinted comics it prefaces. So of course this foreword has been removed from more recent editions of this trade paperback (along with O'Neil’s back cover quote about how it would be a “cheap trick” to bring Todd back…which DC eventually did). It’s worth seeking out the early versions of the A Death in the Family trade just for the introduction. You should read the comics, too, at least once, just to see the sort of thing folks would get excited about in the 1980s.

It Takes A Villain #6: Forgotten Gold - Penguin: Pain and Prejudice

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s semi-whenever-the-hell-Mick-wakes-up column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by your favorite cartoon animal, Mick Martin

Batman’s rogues’ gallery is a gold mine. The dark knight’s franchise has produced some of the most memorable and enduring bad guys in comicdom. Ask any random comic-book-uninitiated civilian to name as many super-villains as he/she can, and you’re likely to get at least half Bat villains. Joker. Riddler. Catwoman. Penguin. Bane.

There’s a lot of sexy and a lot of cool in Batman’s villains, but neither the sex nor the cool has touched Oswald Cobblepot. There are a few reasons for that. There’s his physical presence. He’s short, fat, and ugly. There’s his age. And there’s the fact that in the group therapy session that is the rogues’ gallery of Batman, Oswald Cobblepot doesn’t have as obvious a place. The villains of Batman - particularly the Joker - owe a large part of their popularity to their insanity. Whether they actually are as free as they want us to think, characters like the Joker evoke ultimate, unbridled freedom in their insanity. But Penguin has never seemed a true part of that fraternity. Sure, he’s eccentric. He’s got the outdated FDR thing going on and there’s the crazy gadgets and the penguin motif, but he’s always seemed like a gangster who was just slightly off-kilter because, after all, it’s a comic book so he needs a little crazy. He’s always seemed much more concerned about the dollar-and-cents than the likes of Joker, Two Face, the Riddler, or even Catwoman (whose motivation for crime is at least sixty percent thrill). Not to mention that while the villains of Marvel and DC are flush with animal themes, those bad guys usually pick a beast that’s scary or tough or at least sneaky. The Rhino. Doctor Octopus. Man-Bull. Hell, Catwoman. The predators. The behemoths. Oswald Cobblepot picked a short, squat bird that doesn’t fly. He seems like he should be in the world of The Tick and Squirrel Girl. He’s ugly, old, uncool, and unscary. He’s not the Joker. He’s a joke.


For those reasons - and because the wonderful mini Penguin: Pain and Prejudice was released around the same time as the dawn of the New 52 and was drowned by it (it’s actually not clear to me if this is a New 52 book or not; there was no “NEW 52” on the cover of the trade or the single issues, yet in some panels Batman’s outfit looks like his New 52 get-up) - there’s a good chance you never heard of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. And that’s a shame. On the back cover of the trade is a pull quote asking if this is “Penguin's Killing Joke.” Look up the trade on Amazon and half the reviews make the same comparison. Most of them even use “Penguin's Killing Joke” as the review title. It’s kind of an annoying comparison. It’s easy. It’s obvious. But it’s not wrong.

The story opens on Cobblepot’s birth, and the first two pages tell us so much that if that was all novelist Gregg Hurwitz and artist Szymon Kudranski showed us of the villain’s childhood, that would be enough. Oswald’s father is so shocked by his newborn son’s strange face, he drops Oswald the first time he holds him. The toddler survives perhaps only because of the love of his doting mother, who is as blind to his ugliness as the literally blind woman Penguin falls in love with later in the story. His mother’s embrace is the only love Oswald knows and so, on the second page when we see the child forced to lay at the foot of his parents’ bed as they have sex, we see exactly how and where the Penguin was born.

Interlaced with Penguin’s past is his present. He rules over the Iceberg Lounge while dealing vengeance with the sadistic cruelty of a Keyser Soze; punishing not his transgressors, but their families, friends, lovers, etc. Batman gets the villain’s scent when Penguin hires some pros to steal unique, priceless jewelry from the rich and famous of Gotham. In fact, at least part of the first scene depicting one of the robberies – a man in a ski mask trying to tear a necklace from a rich woman’s neck – makes it tough to not think of the birth of Penguin’s greatest enemy. We learn that the bloody robberies are for nothing more important than providing treasured presents to Penguin’s aging – and seemingly vegetative – mother. While lording over his particular corner of Gotham’s crime world, Penguin meets a lovely blind woman named Cassandra who he romances. He refuses, however, to let her touch his face. She falls for him just as hard as he falls for her, and though he tries to protect her from the dark aspects of his life, eventually the authorities’ pursuit becomes impossible to avoid. His humiliation drives him to a self-destructive assault on Batman, Gotham, and the ghosts of tormentors long dead.

Kudranski’s art is gorgeous, and rather than letting the Penguin’s ugliness work against him, he uses it to great effect. The Penguin has never looked more chilling, more dreadful, or scarier. One of the most memorable sequences is in the first issue, when Penguin is tormenting a young man who insulted him earlier in the evening. He isn’t tormenting him physically, but describing to him all the things his small army of thugs and killers have done to his loved ones while he’s been oblivious. In one panel, Penguin is looking at his watch. In the next, he looks from the watch to the man who is crying on the floor. The only difference between the two panels are the lack of a dialogue bubble in the second panel, and the movement of the eyes. It’s simple, perfect, and quietly terrifying.

Sometimes – though not often – John Kalisz’s color choices take away from the art. Usually, they work perfectly. There are distinct differences between scenes in the present and those in Penguin’s tortured past. The scenes of Penguin’s childhood have a kind of faded amber hue. But everywhere, especially the present scenes, is saturated with shadow. Perhaps oversaturated. This is the only way the colors take away from the art, as it can sometimes confuse the action.

Batman is smartly kept even more in shadow than normal. We hardly even see his mask in most scenes, much less his skin. Batman is not only a target of Oswald’s envy, but he is the adult manifestation of the bullies who helped to make Penguin’s childhood a living hell. In the beginning of the second issue, after Batman crashes into Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge and questions him about the attacks, Oswald is literally transplanted to the past as we see Batman as one of Oswald’s bullying brothers and Oswald as a young boy cringing against a tree. After Batman leaves, the scene ends with a memory of a young Oswald cradling the broken body of a bird one of his brothers shot and killed just for fun.

Batman’s portrayal in the story is almost perfect. My only (very minor) complaint is a scene toward the end of the series. Talking with Gordon, Batman says something that seems to partly uphold Penguin’s argument that Gotham pursues him while ignoring the crimes of others. It’s not that I don’t think Batman would be that thoughtful, but that I preferred to see Batman through Penguin’s eyes for the duration of the series. As an unforgiving bully.

I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily doubted someone if they told me a skilled writer could render Penguin sympathetic and tragic while still being deadly honest about the monster he is, but it’s still a wonderful surprise. Hurwitz’s Penguin is ruthless, abominable, horrible, and yet exactly the man none of us could blame him for becoming. His treatment at the hands of his father and brothers is disgusting and absolutely believable. I wouldn’t say it makes you root for him. It doesn’t, and if it did it would make itmuch less of a story. The Penguin’s history is as real as it could be.

Just as Thomas Wayne is such a giant figure in Bruce Wayne’s history, Oswald’s mother is a giant in his. Similar to how Kudranski treats Batman, we never fully see Oswald’s mother. Most prominent are her full, red lips. We see them kissing Oswald’s cheek when he impresses her with a toy gadget that springs out a bouquet of roses like a jack-in-the-box. We see them framing her smile in the reflection of a snow globe he makes for her. While it is never inappropriate, the image of her lips is clearly suggestive. Oswald’s story is as Oedipal as you can get.

Just as Hurwitz’s story humanizes Penguin, Kudranski’s art makes the sillier aspects of the villain genuinely intimidating and scary. When Oswald launches rockets at Gotham filled with violent birds, we don’t think of the comical clockwork Penguin bombs of old. We think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and the terror seems all too real.

One interesting little touch that at first annoyed me but which I eventually warmed to were some well-timed Joker cameos. A couple of times, Penguin accidentally walks in on a private room in the Iceberg Lounge that Joker has apparently rented for some “private time.” We see the clown prince in situations as depraved and deadly as we would expect; like wearing women’s underwear while standing over a live goat tied to a spit. At first, it annoyed me because I thought it was just some easy humor. Then, because I thought “Oh of course we have to have Joker in it a little bit, don’t we?” But as I read on I saw a sharper point. As I wrote above, Penguin’s never truly seemed fully a part of the more truly deranged Batman villains. Penguin: Pain and Prejudice proves, I think, that we’ve always been wrong about that. Cobblepot is no more about the dollar-and-cents of the thing than Joker or Riddler or Catwoman. Penguin’s brief stumbles into Joker’s depraved little exercises are more than cheap gags. They’re occasional reminders to Oswald – whether he heeds them or not – just how batshit crazy he really is.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice is forgotten gold. Find it. Read it.

TWC Question Time #19 The Gift of Comics

This week’s question: What is the greatest comics gift you’ve ever received? TWC editor/publisher Alan David Doane shared his response Monday to coincide with Stan Lee’s 93rd birthday. Now let’s find out what everyone else had to say:

Logan Polk: Oddly enough, I’ve received very few comics as gifts in my 20-plus years of reading. Even if that weren't the case, I think Uncanny X-Men #201 would still be my favorite of the bunch. Written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Rick Leonardi, it features the first appearance of Nathan Summers, son of Scott Summers and Madelyn Pryor, the young baby that would grow up to become Cable.

Cable is my favorite character in all of comics; in fact the mystery of his backstory is largely responsible for fueling my interest in the medium as a teen. So, of course after tons of speculation, and eventually a reveal of his lineage, Uncanny #201 became kind of a lesser holy grail, with New Mutants #87, his first appearance as Cable, being the true biggie. While I’m sure I’d have preferred the more expensive NM #87 at the time, I’ll never forget the smile on my Dad’s face when I opened the carefully wrapped so-it-doesn’t-look-like-a-comic box with #201, and how happy it made him to see me freak out about it. It may be my favorite gift of all time.

Joe Gualtieri: In 1989, like seemingly everyone else on the planet, eight-year-old me was Batman mad. I watched reruns of the ‘60s TV series, got the lousy Toybiz action figures, and started reading the monthly comic (my first superhero comic). Come Christmas morning, there was a treasure haul of Batman-related items under the tree, mainly more upscale Toybiz items, but there was also The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.

Originally published in 1988, by the Warner Books division created to sell Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, GBSET followed a similarly-titled Superman volume and served to celebrate Batman’s fiftieth anniversary. It’s the second of DC’s more-or-less every ten years rotation of printing such collections. In the ‘70s, Crown Publishing released the From the ‘30s to the ‘70s line, which are some of, if not the earliest comic-sized reprint collections. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s had the Greatest Stories line. The aughts used the same title for the line, but placed the character or team’s name in front (so you had Batman: the Greatest Stories Ever Told). Now, in the 2010s, there’s the A Celebration of 75 Years line. Among its other influences, I blame GBSET with making me enjoy picking up the different versions to compare them. I admit my prejudice, but the presentation of the eighties/nineties line strikes me as the best of the four. The introductions, forewords, and endnotes all give a sense of context, of how the stories were chosen, and of stories that did not make the cut. They’re also illustrated with tons of covers from stories not included in the volume, and to this day, I get thrill whenever I see any of those covers, because I spent years wanting to read many of them.

As for the actual comics included, GBSET is not perfect, but it’s close, and clearly influenced a lot of my taste in comics (and comics greats). The book opens with two of the notorious early tales where Batman uses a gun – the Mad Monk two-parter by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane, and the Hugo Strange Monster Men story from Batman #1. Matt Wagner would later modernize both of them. Both of these are wonderfully moody stories that hold up today. After some decent ‘40s and ‘50s issues comes “The First Batman” and “Robin Dies at Dawn,” both by Bill Finger and Shelly Moldoff. Those two stories would be major touchstones for Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel’s Batman: RIP storyline. Even at eight, I thought revealing someone had hired Joe Chill was going a bit too far with Batman’s origin, but Moldoff’s design for Thomas Wayne’s costume is inspired and justifies the story. “Robin Dies at Dawn” is the volume’s sole representative of the weird sci-fi era Batman stories, and it’s fantastic, completely tense and psychologically terrifying. “Ghost of the Killer Skies” by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano is probably responsible for my love of Enemy Ace. The story features Batman going up against a descendant of von Hammer. The weird thing about the story is that actually came out in the middle of the original run of Enemy Ace stories, but O’Neil completely makes it feel like a tribute to something from years ago. There’s an odd little running sub-theme of aeronautics in GBSET, as one of the forties stories included centered on Batman building a new Batplane and it also includes the gorgeous “Death Haunts the Skies” by Archie Goodwin and Alex Toth. “The Batman Nobody Knows” by Frank Robbins and Giordano has sort-of been adapted twice, once as part of Batman: the Animated Series and later as Batman: Gotham Knight. I say sort-of, because they take the idea of the story, which is three kids on a camping trip talking about the “real” Batman, while having their own spins on the stories the kids tell.

Of all the stories in GBSET, “The Deadshot Ricochet” probably had the most profound effect on my tastes. Taken from Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s legendary (but brief) Detective Comics run, the issue is part of an attempt to translate the Marvel style to DC and probably imprinted itself on me as the best sort of superhero comics. The comic contains a one-in-done main plot, but has subplots involving supporting characters feed from issue to issue (the two issues after “Ricochet” are included in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, which I got within the next year).  Batman’s love interest here, Silver St. Cloud, makes more of an impression than any of the other non-Catwoman paramours in the volume by figuring out his secret identity, making her quite different from the Julie Madisons and Vicki Vales.The issue is also heavy on nostalgia for the comics of yesteryear, as the climactic fight is a tribute to the work of Dick Sprang and the villain is one forgotten and unseen for nearly 25 years at the time of the story’s publication. I’m also sure reading the comic at age eight is at least part of why, to this day, Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton is one of my favorite characters. A lot of that has to do with subsequent work on the character by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Christos Gage, Gail Simone, and many others, but the Englehart/Rogers revamp of Deadshot makes an immediate impression, which is why the character didn’t disappear the way he originally did after Batman #59. Lawton’s desire for revenge is utterly palpable, and that design! It’s completely ridiculous and comic book-y, but you can’t stop looking at it and admiring it!

“Batmite’s New York Adventure” by Bob Rozakis, Michael Golden, Bob Smith, and Anthony Tollin is the oddest story included in the volume. It really shouldn’t be in there, but it probably influenced my love of metafictional comics. “A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman Away” is a trifling comic by Len Wein, Walter Simonson, Giordano, and Petra Scotese, but it’s an utterly gorgeous one, and a comic I think I think about nearly every day. That’s no exaggeration, as in it, Wein teaches the audience the roots names of the days of the week through Calender Man’s week-long crime spree!

The volume closes out with two of Alan Brennert’s then-handful of comics (now closer to two handfuls), “To Kill a Legend” with Giordano and Adrienne Roy and “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” with Joe Staton, George Freeman, and Lovern Kindzierski. These comics served as my introduction to DC’s multiverse. In the first story, the Phantom Stranger presents the Batman of Earth-1 with the chance to prevent the death of the Waynes on an alternate Earth (possibly Earth Prime). As with most of Brennert’s stories, it does a great job of distilling characters with long life-spans down into just a few pages, as while Batman obsesses over small differences making stopping Joe Chill not as easy he thought it would be, while Robin questions the rightness of depriving a world seemingly without superheroes of its Batman. “Autobiography” is the “last” story of the Earth-2 Batman, as he teams up with Catwoman to find out why everyone he loves has vanished. The answer touches on the fear of abandonment that’s driven the character since the day he lost his parents and ends with him finally entering into a relationship with Catwoman. These are great stories to end the book on, as “Legend” has obvious callbacks to other stories included in the volume while “Autobiography” provides a happy ending. In a way, this is all the Batman you’d ever need and I got it from my parents at eight years old.

Tim Durkee: I have received many comic books as Christmas gifts over the years. The ones I remember specifically were packed with other toys. Kenner released the Super Powers line of toys. They were the DC heroes and villains. I still feel the figures themselves were some of the better ones produced then and even now. Each figure came with its own mini-comic. That year Santa brought me Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern. There was nothing about the stories in the books that was memorable. Just the fact they came with some really cool toys is why I will always remember those as the Christmas Comics I will always remember.


Mike Sterling: This was a hard question to answer, forcing me to go way back to my long-ago pre-comics retail days. For the last, oh, nearly thirty years or so as I’ve worked in, and now own, a comic shop, pretty much any comic book I wanted I generally bought for myself. And even farther back than that, as someone who regularly visited the local comic shop, I was getting my mitts on just about any comic I was interested in. And, as I’m sure you know, it’s really hard to buy comics for someone as a gift unless 1) you have access to that person’s want list, or 2) the giftee’s told you the specific comic desired.
Prior to that, sometime in the late 1970s, I was already slowly amassing a bit of a comic collection, but I wasn’t quite the Big Time Collector just yet. However, I was always on the lookout for anything comic book related, searching for any new sources to feed this burgeoning interest of mine. This was usually restricted to bicycle tours around all the local convenience stores, seeing what comics would appear on which racks, and seeking out new 7-11s and Stop-n-Go shops at greater and greater distances from my home. Plus, when I would go with my parents on shopping trips, I would zero in on any book or magazine racks that I could find.

It was on one such trip to a department store, one that I’d already known from previous visits did not carry reading material of any kind, that I discovered quite the surprise. I believe it was around Christmastime, as what I found was part of a display of gift ideas. Among the other knickknacks and boring items intended for adults, was a copy of Superman: From the ‘30s to the '70s. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a book before. Maybe I’d come across the Origins of Marvel Comics and Sons of Origins at the library, but my particular funnybook leanings at the time were toward DC’s output, and a big hardcover book of Superman stories, pulled from throughout the character’s long five-decade history? Why, that was amazing. I remember pleading with my mom to buy this book for me, despite the fact that the dust jacket was torn and the book had obviously been kicked around a bit. The condition didn’t matter as much as the content; here were a ton of Superman comics that were all new to me, and I couldn’t leave behind such a unique find! This was the only copy of this book that I’d ever found, and surely if we left it behind, I would never see it again! Well, needless to say, my mom opted not to spend her money on this beat-up book, which I’m sure bummed me out at the time.  However, Christmas wasn’t that far away, and sure enough, my desire for that item was definitely passed along to Santa Claus, for beneath the tree that 25th was a pristine copy of  Superman: From the '30s to the '70s.

It’s an odd book, with a smattering of color pages in otherwise mostly black and white interiors, often going from color to b&w in the middle of a story. I remember thinking that was a bit weird at the time, but I didn’t care. This was a large, permanent edition of classic Superman stories and I was glad to have it. Not that I wasn’t open to getting comics in any format, but being able to have comics in something other than the periodical magazine format was a real eye-opener. The very idea that comics didn’t have to be cheap disposable entertainment, that they could have a life beyond their particular month on the shelves, that they could have historical context…maybe that wasn’t an idea exclusive to the Superman: From the '30s to the '70s book, but it was that publication that solidified it for me.

Years later, I was visiting a bookstore in a local mall when I happened to spot a copy of the revised edition of the book, Superman: From the '30s to the '80s, sitting by itself on a small table in one of the aisles. I wondered then how many kids begged their parents to buy them that book. I hope someone did.

TWC Question Time #18: Favorite Holiday Comics

This week’s question: What’s your favorite holiday-themed comic other than the infamous Alan Brennert Supergirl story?

Tim Durkee: The first book that came to my mind when the question was asked was Batman: The Long Halloween. Originally published as a 13-part mini-series by DC in 1996, the tale brings Batman and Harvey Dent together along Jim Gordon to track down a killer who strikes on holidays. If you have seen the Dark Knight film, you may find some influence the story had on the movie. It features the art of Tim Sale and was written by Jeph Loeb. Set in Batman’s early days following Batman: Year One. I find it to be a unique way of introducing the many enemies of Batman in one story while still keeping the emphasis on who is the mysterious villain committing the holiday crimes. Some may find it boring, as it is an origin tale as well. I won’t spoil it, maybe I already did letting you know some elements are in the Dark Knight movie.

Logan Polk: My favorite holiday themed tale in all of comics is The Long Halloween. For me Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s year long Batman series, in which each issue was somewhat themed around a holiday, encapsulated everything I love about the Dark Knight. It features one of the greatest assemblages of his rogues gallery, flawlessly folds the organized crime aspect into the costumed craziness and centers itself around a mystery, allowing for the detective aspect to come fully into play. While Loeb’s story ultimately doesn’t amount to more than a series of homages to some of the greatest crime noir stories previous, Sale’s art creates such a brilliant look and mood for the world these characters are operating in that it hardly needs to be more than that. I was fully wrapped up in figuring out who the Holiday Killer would be, and even after several re-readings over the years, I still find it to be a page turner.

Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, a key piece of comics education for me was finding random comics that I had never heard of before. Obviously, the infamous three-pack was the major component of such an education, but sometimes Building 19 would get long boxes or maybe a drug store would have a bunch of comics with gigantic “$3/$1.00!” stickers taking up a quarter of the cover. The most important comic for me I got that way was Ambush Bug #2 by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, Bob Oksner, and Anthony Tollin. That bizarre little morsel prompted me to track down the rest of the mini-series, and I was thrilled to find that not only was there a sequel series, there was also Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer.

As with the rest of the series, the Stocking Stuffer is loaded with jokes I didn’t get in early adolescence, but there are so many, I amply enjoyed it even at the time. Now? My favorite part is probably the two-page “How to Write Comic Books” sequence, which is a parody of Steve Ditko’s didactic comics. That is completely bizarre thing to stick in a Christmas themed issue, but it’s par for the course for Ambush Bug. Another highlight is a caricature of Julie Schwartz chasing around a Manga-ized Ambush Bug. AB is standing in for Keith and Fleming here, complaining to Schwartz that, “…we can’t possibly be funny for 40 pages!” and Schwartz responds “You quitter! My jokes aren’t funny and I’ve been around for 40 years!” Young me found the situation and art hilarious, now I can appreciate the portrayal of Schwartz, and frankly, I totally identify with telling bad jokes just for the sake of telling jokes to get through work.

I’m probably not doing a great job of selling the Stocking Stuffer, but it’s a comic light on plot (there is one, barely, about AB’s “dead” sidekick Cheeks the Toy Wonder coming back) and is practically a stream of consciousness-style series of jokes, parodies, and gags from Giffen, Fleming, and company. It also has Jonni DC, Continuity Cop making a rare appearance and I think we can all agree that’s the greatest gift of all.

Scott Cederlund: If we talked about favorite all time runs of comics, the Marv Wolfman/George Perez New Teen Titans would be highly placed in my list. But if we talk about favorite Teen Titans issue, my introduction to the original Teen Titans in Teen Titans #13 (1967) by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy actually has to be up there. And it’s Haney and Cardy riffing on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that makes it so much fun as the Teen Titans fight against a Scrooge-like junkman.

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually owned an actual copy of this specific issue. As one of my earliest comics, I had a copy of Christmas With the Super-Heroes, one of DC’s early treasury editions. The only things I knew of any of these characters was that Robin was Batman’s sidekick and that I had Mego figures of Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl. They were a bit like the Justice League but only kids. But they were incredibly awesome as they helped a wheelchair-bound kid and his father out of a tough situation during the Christmas season.

For a kid who was already at the age of 4 indoctrinated by Marvel and the artistic children of Jack Kirby (actual Kirby appreciation would come probably over a decade later), Cardy’s artwork is what really stood out from that Treasury edition. It was filled with Irv Novick and Dick Giordano (who I probably assumed at the time were the DC house style), Bob Oskner and Wally Wood, Win Mortimer and others, Cardy’s images in this issue still astound me.

There are ways that he drew superheroes, these odd angles that he used to frame the action, that look completely different than anything else I had seen before or for a long time afterwards. And his cartooning of Ebenezer Scrounge (their Scrooge,) Jacob Farley and Scrounge’s accomplices really gives this story a life other than being merely a superhero comic. The Teen Titans almost seem like an intrusion into this wonderfully drawn homage to Dickens.

Then there’s Haney with his silly attempts to be writing to the kids of the time, which is actually a bit more subdued in this issue than in his other Teen Titan comics. Wonder Girl is still “Wonder Chick” but like Cardy, Haney seems to be having more fun with the Dickens-like characters. Most of the comic is Scrounge being haunted by his past sins in classic A Christmas Carol style.

As an introduction to the Teen Titans, Haney and Cardy’s comics had a great love for these junior Justice Leaguers as their own characters. There’s nothing in this story that even suggests that these are just the sidekicks or the junior varsity other than a one-pager in the actual comic that shows them reading Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Batman comics (What? No love for Carmine Infantino’s Flash from Kid Flash?) Haney and Cardy treat them as heroes who are kids, which was a great thing to stumble upon in a Treasury comic that featured Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel. Even if Robin had been around since the 1940s by this point, here he wasn’t a junior partner but in important part of the team.

And honestly, this was probably my introduction to A Christmas Carol. Flipping through the comic now and still incredibly enjoying the Cardy artwork, Haney and Cardy take enough liberties with the story that I don’t think Dicken’s would recognize much of his work in this comic other than on the most surface level. But this would become as much of my A Christmas Carol experience as Dicken’s writing or any of the movies but most specifically the 1951 Alistair Sim version of the story. Nick Cardy’s parka-wearing Wonder Woman defines Christmas to me even now as much as any of the ghosts of Christmas past do.

Mike Sterling: I’d love to pick, say, an Arbor Day comic as my choice for my favorite holiday funnybook (and presumably this example from the Flaming Carrot Annual would be a good'un), but my holiday preferences are strictly plebeian. Christmas and Halloween are my events of choice, and as they tend to be the events of pretty much everyone’s choice, there is no shortage of comics to choose from.

Despite the current season, I’m going with a Halloween-themed story which actually gave me a moment of difficulty in trying to track it down. I believed it to be one of the classic Donald Duck stories cartooned by the Good Duck Artist himself, Carl Barks, back during the 1950s prime of his contributions to the Disney comics oeuvre. As it turns out, however, it’s a modern classic by the man who many feel is the successor to Barks, Don Rosa.

Fit to be Pied,“ as it’s been dubbed (the comic itself is sans title) first appeared in 1987, early on in Rosa’s duck comics career, and hopefully I may be forgiven my confusion regarding its authorship as it is very much in the style of Barks’s 10-pagers. Donald, in competition with his eternal adversary Neighbor Jones, strives to win the local jack o'lantern contest, and and he and Jones engage in a chaotic war of one-upsmanship, involving disguises, thievery and outright vandalism. It's an exercise in escalating efforts and Jones and Donald attempt to outdo each other, as poor Huey, Dewey and Louie look on nearly helpless bystanders, appalled at the behavior of these supposed adults.

Ultimately (spoiler warning!), Donald achieves his initial goal in besting Neighbor Jones, but of course it is at great personal cost to himself, in the tradition of most of Donald’s Pyrrhic victories. Rosa's depiction of Donald’s vacillation between joyous triumph and angered defeat never fail to entertain, and easily match Barks’s own illustration of the ups-and-downs of comicdom’s most emotionally unstable fowl.

The story is reasonably easy to find – the original comic in which it appeared (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #526) is not so old and uncommon as to be prohibitively expensive, and the story has been reprinted recently in the Don Rosa Library Volume 1 from Fantagraphics. It remains a fine example of latter-day Disney comics, as does all of Rosa’s work.

Your Guide To Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Saga, Parts 1-6

DK1: The Dark Knight Returns

Imperfect, but good. Unfortunately, much like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, its influence was detrimental to comics as both an industry and an artform, as the generation of comics creators that followed largely copied the surface elements of both landmark works, focusing on spectacle and violence instead of nuance, innovation and insight.

DK2: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Miller was intoxicated by the freedom he found in the indy comics he’d been reading, particularly those of James Kochalka, who he cited as an influence. DK2 is absolute garbage, but Miller’s friends and apologists perfected the “if you don’t like it, it’s cuz you don’t get the joke bwah ha ha” defense. 9/11 happened during its creation, and Miller permanently lost his shit, so the end of it was both delayed and even worse than the beginning.

DK3: Holy Terror

A story so awful, so racist and insane that DC very likely refused to publish it (Miller claims it was his idea, but given how lousy his other DC work has been for decades, that claim is highly suspect), so Miller whited-out Batman’s ears and published it elsewhere.

DK4: All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder

Hilariously terrible, an obvious cousin of DK2 in tone, with sterile art by Jim Lee, who might have made a fine inker or architect, but is a terrible, terrible visual storyteller. Luckily, this one had no story to tell anyway, and was never finished, not that anyone cares, except the retailers who lost their shirts investing in all those comics that will never sell because it’s unfinished.

DK5: The Master Race

In stores this week, pretending to be DK3. Before Watchmen scabs Azzarello and Kubert turn in the best DKR fanfic you could hope for, not that anyone with good taste in comics was hoping for it. Perhaps the largest insult to comics that this unnecessary cash-in provides is stealing the name of the greatest short story in the history of the comics artform. The only good thing to come out of it will be inker Klaus Janson getting a paycheck, which he well deserves, since his partnership artistically with Miller in the late ‘70s and early '80s on Daredevil basically created Miller’s reputation, which hasn’t been earned much at all since Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, neither of which Miller even drew, because by then his drawing ability was already either deteriorating (if you’re a cynic like me) or “evolving.” I’m not including Batman: Year One in this guide, both because it is not really connected to the mostly-awful Dark Knight Saga Miller has foisted upon the world, and because it’s actually good comics, largely thanks to the subtle beauty and classic artistry David Mazzucchelli brought to it, along with a restraint from writer Miller that he literally would never be capable of again in his comics-making career. The point of this guide, really is to tell you what to avoid, and in what order, so Year One has nothing to do with it.

DK6: Frank Miller Won’t Go Away

Sadly, probably on the way eventually.

Alan David Doane

Things I Think About When I Think About Batman by d.emerson eddy


1. Batman Always Wins.

2. Although definitely not the most famous, longest, or even necessarily the “best”, my favourite run will always be the one in the early to mid ‘90s by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones.  When not interrupted by catastrophic life-changing “everything will never be the same events,” their run focused on some of the weird and supernatural aspects around Batman.  While not an outright horror title, they did touch the darker corners of the DCU, even managing to pull of a “kind of” crossover with Vertigo’s Swamp Thing at the time.  It also was decidedly fun.

3. Keeping with this theme, I always thought that Batman stories tended to work best when either touching upon the horror/supernatural or straight-out mystery/detective genres.  Stories that pay homage to his pulp inspirations always seem to pop better for me.

4. I really liked what Grant Morrison was trying to do with Batman and the story he was trying to tell.  It really seemed to come together with Batman & Robin but I still feel interruptions and then a linewide reboot/relaunch/reshuffling really messed up the pacing, timing, and endgame.

5. Legends of the Dark Knight is probably my favourite Batman series.  Just so many good stories including “Shaman”, “Masks”, “The Sleeping”, “Prey”, and “Gothic” were told in that series.

Tim O’Neil Takes Over The Comics Industry

Editor’s note: Marvel and DC are both revamping their universes and creative lineups this fall. We asked Tim O’Neil “If you could launch or relaunch five Marvel and five DC titles and pick the creative teams, what would they be?” Here’s what he had to say.

Action Comics - Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

There are a number of reasons why Mark Waid has never been allowed to write Superman for more than an issue at a time. Putting past politics and timing, perhaps its simply a question of wanting it too much. Almost everyone in the industry knows how long and how vocally he’s wanted the book. Based simply on his affection for Kal-El, there has never been a more perfect match of character and creator than Superman & Waid, and perhaps for that reason alone it should stay in the realm of pure potential, lest the reality disappoint.

But if we’re assuming for a minute that the industry as we know it has been razed to the ground and none of the people at DC who dislike Waid are employed at DC any longer, and that there are no more obstacles – fine. Let’s give it to him. Let’s give him one of his best collaborators, too. For my money Waid can be hit or miss – the same man who wrote one of the best-ever runs on DAREDEVIL fell flat on HULK, and his FANTASTIC FOUR veered from brilliant to mediocre sometimes in the span of a single storyline. (To say nothing of STRANGE FRUIT. Seriously, let us say nothing.) But that one misstep aside (and surely we can chalk that up to some kind of hubristic temporary insanity, right?), the guy understands Superman. So let’s step out of the way and see what he can do.

Detective Comics - Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

This is another one in the “put up or shut up” column.

The problem with Brian Michael Bendis, even after years and year of diminishing returns, isn’t that he’s a bad writer. He’s never been a bad writer. What he is, is completely miscast. He can’t write team books, he struggles outside of the crime genre, and he certainly can’t write event books – and yet, because of (considerable) past successes, because of his speed, and because of his timing as having been the guy who gave Joe Quesada his biggest successes at Marvel in a time of upheaval – these are the plum assignments that he has consistently landed. But even though he’s written hundreds and hundreds of comics that he had no business ever writing, he’s also written a smaller but also significant number of excellent comics, books which have at times been overshadowed by his better-selling team books.

So fuck the Bendis who wrote AVENGERS, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, X-MEN, and every crossover that he ever came near. Let’s hear it for the Bendis who gave us ALIAS, POWERS, (the good parts of) ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, and DAREDEVIL – the guy who has, in other words, already spent the better part of his career auditioning to write the character most perfectly suited for his skill set. As with Waid, give him a top-shelf creator with whom he’s produced a great deal of top-shelf work in the past. (And it should go without saying – he should only be writing this, and Powers, too, which might actually get back on a reasonable schedule if he’s only writing one other book.)

Amazing Spider-Man - G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona

Every decade Marvel stumbles upon a popular new hero who gets to wear the mantle of “new Spider-Man,” for better or worse – a character who captures that ur-Marvel mode of being a young hero torn by personal responsibility and heroic duty, updated to fit the circumstances of the present day. This is pretty straight-forward, then – if you’re going to have a Spider-Man book, why not get the people already producing the best Spider-Man book in decades. Sometimes it really is that simple – and, given Marvel’s newfound ability to actually keep together top-shelf creative teams over multiple books, this one has a not-insignificant chance of actually coming true, someday or another.

Uncanny X-Men - Al Ewing & André Lima Araújo

The X-Men have been a mess for years, and this has mostly been true regardless of the quality of the creators on board. Al Ewing has proven himself over the past few years as one of the best writers Marvel has, but he still hasn’t quite burst through from being “up-and-coming” to being the superstar his talents would seem to imply. He’s mostly worked on the AVENGERS family so far, but why not give him the chance to make some sense out of a franchise that has become hopelessly wrapped around the axle?

Burn it to the ground, with only two caveats: 1) give us an X-Men team we recognize – for all the work Marvel has done in creating new generations of (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) new mutants, the fact that there’s no one book on the stands that you can point to with Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Rogue, etc. seems not just odd but, from a commercial point of view, beyond stupid. And 2), even if it seems like it might contradict #1, it’s still important to “make it new” – give us something other than warmed over Claremont (or warmed over Morrison, for that matter). Lots of people have tried over the last fifteen years to do just that, with not many succeeding. It’s a tall order.

And while this one is neither Marvel nor DC I trust it is still in the spirit of the exercise:

Ultimate Spawn - Michael Fiffe & Emma Rios

I’m not making this suggestion out of any real fondness for Spawn as a character or a mythos, but rather as a result of a recent conversation with none other than Mike Sterling. There are people who can drink alcohol and drive cars today who don’t remember a time when SPAWN was regularly outselling X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN – it was THE WALKING DEAD of its day, complete with TV show, a movie, and lots and lots of toys. It was Image’s flagship back when no one thought Image was going to last. It barely sells at all anymore.

But as I said to Mike, there’s no real reason why SPAWN has to be bad. Todd McFarlane knew what he was doing when he created SPAWN (even if he hasn’t seemed to know what he was doing at any other step of the way, except for the toymaking). The character is everything adolescent boys love: supernatural horror – complete with demons and skulls all the way down, along with a ludicrously EXTREME mythology cribbed off the back of an Iron Maiden record; covert-ops action, with shadowy conspiracies and cyborg super-soldiers hiding around every corner; and even good old fashion horny angst, with Al Simmons unable to ever reunite with the love of his life because he has returned from Hell permanently deformed. The fact that this premise was ever not a massive success is bewildering – this should be every thirteen-year-old boy’s favorite comic book, forever and ever until the heat death of the sun.

So why the fuck isn’t it? Well, nothing ever happens. The book has been around for almost twenty-five years and (last I checked, and I used to check in periodically) absolutely nothing has changed. Still a lot of people walking around doing a lot of the same – they even still use those same TV talking-head newscasters that’ve been around since the very first issue. In order for SPAWN to ever be a hit again, they’ve got to switch things up. This is one book that could actually benefit from the much-maligned reboot approach. Tear it all down, keep the bare bones of the premise, give it to Michael Fiffe. Tell me you wouldn’t buy that. I’d buy that.

Tim O’Neil


Comic book geeks, comic book movie nerds and the like often obsess about the portrayal of their favorite superhero or villain. They decide, sight unseen, that Ben Affleck is going to be great/will suck as Batman, e.g. Most people, though, don’t analyze these things that much. They just think of the Gotham crusader as a hero.  

That’s why, in the 2015 movie Batkid Begins, “On November 15, 2013, the world came together to grant one 5-year-old leukemia patient his wish to be Batman for a day.”
People are mourning the death of Lenny Robinson, the successful businessman who quit the business, had a Batman costume custom-made, souped up a Lamborghini, and spent his days visiting children’s hospitals. Those folks were not thinking Frank Miller Batman or Bill Finger Batman.
They MAY have been thinking of the Adam West Batman, though. 

Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl in the 1960s TV series, as well as her many other roles, died this week. Mark Evanier tells a fascinating story, totally believable, about the time he was seated between Ms. Craig and Julie Newmar, Batman’s Catwoman, at a collectors’ convention.

Those folks who obsess about the nipples on a certain Batman costume do serve a purpose, I reckon. But they probably know that much of the world is less than concerned about their efforts.

Roger Green

Batman Always Wins: Is Batfleck on Batfleek?

(The answer will surprise you!)

(Editor’s note: Matt Springer’s Batman Always Wins is a column that originally appeared on Trouble With Comics in its original, 2009 iteration. Click here to read the original columns.)

It’s been about six years since I wrote anything about comics, and hell, it’s been a few years since I cracked the spine of a comic, trade, or cbr file, period. I drifted away; it’s not YOU, comics, it’s me. I got big; it’s the floppies that stayed small. You’ve heard the story.

And so with this generous invitation to once again write about funnybooks online, it seemed high time to break this unintentional drought and read a damned comic book.

Of course, it was a Batman comic. Batman #436-439 to be exact, the four-part “Batman: Year Three” storyline.


These were some of the first comics I bought at a comic book shop, flush with excitement from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. Maybe on some subconscious level, I pulled these books as a way of retreating, of finding relaxation and release through returning to a touchstone of my youth. Sometimes, happiness is a slightly chilly old comic book. Inside, writer Marv Wolfman and artist Pat Broderick aspired to the platonic ideal of late eighties Batman with a story interwoven with gritty crime elements, relationships in disarray, and asking the classic unanswerable question: Has Bruce Wayne really lost it this time?

Wikipedia may capture the issue’s appeal better than I ever could:

“The story begins when Batman is watching a mob boss. Then, a helicopter flies in and attempts to gun Batman down.”

If every Batman story were essentially summed up in those two sentences, life would be a dream. 


I could say I’ve been thinking about Batman a lot lately, but the truth is, I’m always thinking about Batman, and so are you. He’s in my kids’ Happy Meals; he’s a supporting player in The Lego Movie; he’s apparently Ben Affleck, who is already generating buzz for his performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne in next March’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, or as I’ve come to think of it, Zack Snyder’s DC Heroes Boobs Panties Blood HNGH.

There’s no better way to stir up some sheeeeeit on the internet than by complaining about something that hasn’t even been released yet; when it comes to Bat-fleck and the Snyderverse, I would have words with thee.

In 1989, the grim ‘n’ gritty Batman was (believe it or not) relatively new. He’d been sliding down into the darkness for a few years, and Frank Miller’s work on the character really hammered home the recipe for success that would define decades of work on the character to come. It wasn’t a fresh take, by any means, but I’d argue that it had yet to be run into the ground.

Today, after the Burton duology (yeah, I went there), the Nolan trilogy, four massive video games, hundreds upon hundreds of comics and episodes of various animated series, all of that stuff that means we are never more than a few feet or a few hours from some kind of Batman-related exposure – after all of that, it turns out that the gravel-voiced Dark Knight grunting out terrifying catchphrases whilst a single tear for his parents rolls down the cheek behind his mask? Played. Soooooo played.

I wasn’t at all surprised that Zack Snyder went there for his big dumb summer blockbuster. Should angst not be present in sufficient quantities for his films, he is happy to inject it, which is how we ended up with a Superman who isn’t sure he wants to save humanity because his dad told him not to worry about it, after perishing in a tornado that ol’ Clark could have stopped, if only he’d followed his heart…*choke*!

Nor am I surprised that Warner Bros. is enthusiastically supportive of a growling, brooding Batfleck; that interpretation has made them billions of dollars. It’s the closest to a sure thing they have in their IP portfolio. Why not go back to that banana stand? There’s always money in it.

Still, from everything I’ve seen so far, the new Batman and the world he inhabits is not a place I want to visit anytime soon. Same song, second verse; a little bit louder, and a little bit worse.


If you’re a certain type of geek, you were probably pretty excited about the debut of the second Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser this past May. As it happens, that same weekend saw the arrival of the new Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice teaser.

It was striking to watch them both in rapid succession. There’s an unmistakable whiff of fan service in their approach to their respective franchises. The difference seems to be that JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and their creative team are using the iconography of Star Wars to awaken the force of our collective passion, while Zack Snyder and his “creative” team are using the iconography of Batman and Superman to bum us all the fuck out.

As far as I can tell, in the universe of Superman vs. Batman, everything has suddenly become orange and black. There are apparently people who worship Big Blue like a god, and Batman’s got one of those funny voice changers in his suit. It is a world consumed by fear.

The Star Wars trailer gave us a tanatlizing glimpse of lives built atop the ruins of the past. From the opening shot of the crash landed super star destroyer and X-wing to the slightly desperate gleam in Harrison Ford’s eye, there’s a sense of past as prologue, of possibility, of…dare I say it, dare I read too much into it…hope. Chewie, we’re home.

They’re both calling fans home, to a degree. With Star Wars, I choose to believe we can go home again; with this new Batman and the universe he inhabits, I’m not sure I want to go home, even if I could. It’s like your first holiday back from college, and you run into the biggest badass loner rebel your high school had to offer, and he’s suddenly just another loud, obnoxious jerk at a party, wearing black long after it stopped being cool and still complaining about past slights that are dying on the vine. As Milton Berle used to say, it’s high school, Batman. HIGH SCHOOL.


Fear. Hope. These are what drive us – to wake up in the morning, to buy a movie ticket, to invest something of ourselves in something other than ourselves. It’s easy to fear; sometimes it’s impossible to hope.

Nostalgia tells us that the past was devoid of fear and full of hope – no, scratch that, full of hope fulfilled. When we invest in nostalgia, we invest not just in hope, but in that hope being paid off in every way imaginable. It wasn’t just better back then; we wanted more, and we got it.

As an adult and a writer, I can see the strings as they are yanked every which way. I feel fear. But there is a small spark inside of me that will always choose hope, no matter how much the price tags show. Even hope that rests in something as inconsequential as a goddamned movie…well, it’s still hope, right?

So I’ll hope for a great Star Wars movie in December, and I’ll fear the inevitable day when I catch the new Batman in action on cable, and cannot look away.

Next time: The ultimate Bat-Mix.

Matt Springer