A look back at some personal experiences and memories, part two

March 10, 2014

By Avi Green

So now, here’s the next part of my analysis of the Q&A files from the old Captain Comics site from 1997-2001 (part one is here), as I take a look at what else J. Jonah Jameson’s real life counterpart had to say. Now, let’s take a look at this bit from June 1, 2000:

What do you think of the following choices as television shows: The Punisher by Marvel Comics; Spookgirl by Slave Labor Graphics; Sidekicks by Fanboyinc.; 100 Bullets by DC/Vertigo comics; Hellblazer by DC/Vertigo; Damage Control by Marvel Comics; and Charm School by Slave Labor Graphics

In general, I don't hold out much hope for comics turning into decent TV shows. Despite the rap comics get, it's often television that is truly the shallow entertainment field, with a herd instinct that makes every show look like every other show. 100 Bullets seems like a perfect vehicle for TV, in that its premise is naturally episodic. But if it really did appear on the networks, no doubt it would be sanitized and homogenized into something resembling Friends or ER or whatever the hot show is at the time. On the other hand, if HBO got hold of it...!

I hope it never happens: Brian Azzarello, who put 100 Bullets together, is a very overrated writer, though his recent rendition of Wonder Woman is worse.

In your opinion, is there any writer that stands out for his or her memory of DC history? How about Marvel?

Unquestionably, Mark Waid is the King of DC Trivia. In fact, he's the first guy I turn to when I'm stumped -- like this week's answer to "The Odd Man" (see next question). Waid knew the character's checklist of appearances off the top of his head!

On the Marvel side, most acknowledge Kurt Busiek to be the unrivaled Mr. Know-It-All. Both Waid and Busiek star in the Fans vs. Pros Trivia Challenge at San Diego every year, and generally demolish the competition.

Umm, I’m not sure Waid can lay claim to being trivia master, certainly not after he began rejecting heroic premises with Irredeemable. E. Nelson Bridwell, however, was definitely a walking Superman encyclopedia, having been a leading editor/writer on many of the Man of Steel stories up to the early 80s, Supergirl included.

And while Busiek might have once qualified for a Marvel trivia master, he no longer does, alas. And Mr. Smith’s reply to the following queries really blows:

I'm a big fan of the Cliff Steele Robotman and am wondering if you could give me some background on the original. I know he was a member of the All-Star Squadron (however that was a retcon title), but I understand he was also originally portrayed as a humorous character. So what was his status concerning both golden age and modern continuity? Surely, James Robinson's The Golden Age murderous "Robot-Man-iac" conception isn't canon, right? Also, did the two versions ever meet?

The original Robotman was scientist Bob Crane, whose brain was placed in a metal body and preserved long enough for him to star in Hogan's Heroes in the '60s.

Just kidding. Crane was indeed the scientist's name, but he called himself "Paul Dennis" when wearing a realistic rubber mask to disguise his robotic nature. (Thus inspiring Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, who used realistic rubber masks to disguise his robotic acting style. No, no, I'm kidding again.)

Who cares? Let me take a moment to say that’s a very filthy joke, because Hogan’s Heroes was one of the most trivializing TV series that insulted Holocaust survivors and the US army who bravely fought the Nazis during WW2 (the same goes for a Sylvester Stallone/John Huston movie from 1981 called Victory, but that’s another story). The subject material is not something you just joke with. It’s stupidity like that which really makes me regret I ever wasted my time on such a hack. Onto the next part of this reply:

Anyway, the Golden Age Robotman was created by Jerry Siegel in Star Spangled Comics 7 (1942), although the strip jumped to Detective Comics in 1948. Never a marquee player, Robotman was always a backup and was indeed played for laughs -- he even had a robot dog for comic relief! As far as I know he was never part of a team until Roy Thomas retconned him into the All-Star Squadron. (And no, the Robotmaniac of The Silver Age wasn't canon.)

In America vs. the JSA, he adopted yet another identity, that of Chuck Grayson. However, all of these appearances are pre-Crisis, so I'm not sure of his current status. I could swear that he made an appearance in just the last month or two as a robotics expert, but I cannot remember where no matter how hard I bang my brain against its metal case. Perhaps the Legion of Superfluous Heroes can contribute some more info.

I can provide some criteria for now about the pre-Crisis story of America vs. the JSA: as far as I know, that was retconned away. Now if only the same could be done with Mr. Smith’s propaganda…

Most of the iconic superhero characters have lovers, whether in the past or present, that fandom accepts as meant for each other (Mary Jane, Lois). What bothers me is that Batman doesn't really have a "great love of his life." I'm sure he's had love interests in his past but it seems his only regular sources of affection through the years have been either the occasional one-night-stand trysts with women in full-body leather suits or the many failed relationships with pre-pubescent boys in tightie shorts. In the past, has he ever reconciled his "issues" enough to begin to conceive of a healthy relationship with any particular person, or will The City always be his Lady?

Actually, Batman has had quite a few love interests over the years, but I understand what you mean that there isn't one "made" for him.

The first was probably dull socialite Julie Madison, who first appeared in Detective 31 but was also the love interest in Batman & Robin (1997). She faded quickly, though, to be replaced by the equally dull Linda Page, daughter of a wealthy oilman. Page managed to make the serial Batman (1943) before becoming a trivia answer.

One of the better known Golden Age Bat-babes was reporter Vicki Vale, portrayed by Kim Basinger in the 1989 Batman. A pale copy of Lois Lane, she was his opposite number throughout the '50s, beginning in Batman 45 (1948). She was also incredibly boring, though, and -- despite appearing in the 1949 serial Batman and Robin -- had already begun to fade when Kathy (Batwoman) Kane was introduced as Bruce's "natural" mate in Detective 233 (1956). She, too, proved a yawn-fest and was written out of the series by 1964 (and is now dead).

However, in all fairness to Bruce (and his detractors who snidely note his predeliction for hanging out with teenage boys), he's had a number of major love affairs in "modern" times.

One was Silver St. Cloud, who was a major character in the famed Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers Detectives of the '70s. She's got my vote for "most realistic Bat-babe ever," because the mask didn't fool her -- she divined that Bats was Bruce after one look at his chin. (Let's face it: If you've been intimate with someone, are you really going to be fooled by a face mask?) Silver couldn't handle the revelation and left town (although she is doing a retro turn in a current Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight story arc).

Then there's Talia, the luscious daughter of major bad guy Ra's al Ghul. She has saved his life on more than one occasion, and he has thus far avoided arresting her. Batman even produced a child with her, although that story (the graphic novel Batman: Son of the Demon) has since been relegated to "Elseworlds" status. (You can make what you will out of the presence of Batman/Talia progeny in Kingdom Come.)

More recently Batman was so enamored of radio talk-show host Vesper Fairchild that he was debating revealing his identity to her. Unfortunately "No Man's Land'' interrupted the romance, and we've seen nary a trace of Vesper since. One must assume that she left town -- or was eaten by cannibals. Either way, Batman seems to have forgotten all about her.

And, of course, I've been saving the best for last. While not quite a love interest in the '40s and '50s, Catwoman has my vote as THE woman in Batman's life -- the one that makes him toss and turn in bed, shakes his iron control and in general rocks his world. (If that isn't the definition of love, I dunno what is!) As Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Returns make unequivocably clear, there is a frisson of sexual tension between the two that is palpable. The comics suggested this in the '70s and '80s -- the Earth-2 Batman even married Selina Kyle -- but for my money the '90s have established it without a doubt.

It only makes sense: Batman is the very picture of rational order; Catwoman the embodiment of free-spirited chaos. Of course they'd be attracted to each other! The fact that both are firmly commited to their respective (and opposite) paths -- and too darn stubborn to make any concessions -- makes for a star-crossed-lovers story worthy of Shakespeare. The Cat and the Bat are the war of the sexes made manifest. Poor Bruce and Selina -- they must be miserable!

No, I am, at how sloppy his info about Vicky Vale really is! She was actually dropped from the Batman cast in 1967, but she resurfaced in Batman Family in 1978, and again in the late 80s, around which time the first Batman movie was made. This was possibly to coincide, and admittedly, it probably didn’t work out as well as it could have. I know that Vale was largely dropped from the Batman cast again after that, but she started turning up in a few other series here and there, and for all I know, probably worked better outside the Bat-world than in it!

In any case, I don’t like how he’s dismissing any and all of Batman’s girlfriends as “dull”, once again sinking into that criticize-character-instead-of-writer mode. And poor Vesper Fairchild, she became a plot device whose only purpose was to be wiped out in the Bruce Wayne: Murderer?/Fugitive crossover. I can’t even begin to say just how loathsome that time and money waster was, even crowding out Birds of Prey (thank goodness I never even bothered to pick up back issues tied in to that Volkswagen of a crossover when I had the chance). Editorial mandates are a pure travesty.

Your article this week about CrossGen reminded me of a notion I play with sometimes. If you were a millionaire looking to put your money to good use and, through the combination of chance and effort, came into possession of either of the big two franchises, what changes would you institute, both creatively and professionally? This is probably a no-brainer, but, please, I amuse easily.

If I were rich, I'd buy Marvel. No surprise there. First thing I'd do is fire EVERYBODY in upper management. Then I'd hire NEW upper management (or promote from within) ENTIRELY FROM MAGAZINE PUBLISHING. No former Madison Square Garden manager as my CEO! MY "Ultimate Marvel" line would be real magazines for newsstand distribution in the traditional sense -- with lots and lots of advertising, Newsweek-size format and distribution ranging from toy stores to newsstands to Scholastic Magazines. Editorial content wouldn't necessarily be limited to comics -- essays and photo shoots would be welcome, ranging in topics outside the comics field. And I'd keep the "Ultimate" comics stories in continuity -- that's what attracted me to Marvel in the first place -- but I'd hire writers GOOD enough to write around the stickier places. (Then I could use reprints of the better stuff, with 39 years worth of material to fall back on.) That "Ultimate" line would be geared for general-circulation, but serve as teasers for the direct-sales books, which would also be 68 pages or more (but with only half as many books in the line).

Other than that, I don't really have much of a plan.

I do, and besides wanting to buy ownership of Marvel’s publishing line, I’d also want to buy DC’s (CrossGen too, now that they’ve long gone under, but we’ll leave that for another occasion). Specifically, I’d want to publish stories under those banners as graphic novels only. And the Ultimate line from Marvel? I’d rather let it go. Most readers have anyway. I’d also clear away a lot of the post-2000 stories from both Marvel and DC, since they are some of the most awful stuff around. And if this approach could avoid being stuffed to the brim with advertisements, that’s another way I’d like to go too; it helps give the readers much more enjoyment without busloads of ads. Man, does that Mr. Smith think small!

Now, onto June 29, 2000:

Okay, so, like, I think your column is one of the best I've read and you seem to have great insight. I say this with a great amount of experience in this industry to back my statement, as I was a high school intern for Marvel, back in the '80s, and I was even a freelance production artist, then a Staff Production artist, and then a Legal Intern (I'm a trademark attorney, now). More importantly, I've been collecting comics since the mid-'70s (I'm in my low '30s) In other words, I believe you know what you are talking about (whether I agree or disagree with your position).

I just finished reading an article, which you can find at the Washington Post web site. It raised a few questions that I'd like your opinion on, if you don't mind.
How do you think the X-Men movie will do? Do you think it will attract kids to the table? Will it matter if kids are attracted, because they can't afford the books anyway? If they can afford the books, should Marvel be de-aging the characters so drastically? And what does this mean for writers like Chris Claremont who are verbose, need great amounts of angst to tell their stories, and (IMHO) lost touch with the way kids think YEARS ago? Will they have to re-adjust, or will Marvel have to re-adjust (get new writers)?

Will "Make Mine MARVEL!" come back, or will seasoned readers (the only ones who can come close to making sense of Claremont's stories) decide to leave when the stories start being too "young" for them (unlike The Authority, by DC/Wildstorm -- great stuff it is, for kids it is not)?

Well, […], I can't say how the X-Men movie will do, as my psychic hotline is down. I suspect it will do well initially due to word of mouth and curiosity, and will continue to do well only if it's good. If it's bad, the movie will flop and we comics fans will be in for another decade of the sort of ridicule and abuse that followed Howard the Duck. But you probably guessed all that yourself.

As to your other questions, the article you referred to was Marvel's announcement of its new Ultimate line -- which will NOT replace Marvel's regular line. Chris Claremont will continue as before, but Marvel WILL be getting new writers for its de-aged line of characters. Brian Michael Bendis (Jinx, Torso, Goldfish) will be writing Ultimate Spider-Man, and Mark Millar (The Authority) will be writing Ultimate X-Men.

As to whether the movie will get kids back to the table, I think the industry's problems are a lot bigger than what a single movie can solve. In the first place, publishers need to develop a distribution method to get comics to where kids ARE -- toy stores, shopping malls, grocery stores, dentist offices, drug stores, etc. A kid can't get excited about a comic he can't find. Perhaps the Ultimate line can achieve this; I'd pin more hopes on it than the movie.

It’s been more than a decade, and the answer is soundly “no”. The X-Men movie may have been a box office success (though the followups have steadily declined in receipts), but the comics have found no such luck since, and the sales spikes, only caused by publicity stunts and crossovers, including the recent atrocity of Avengers vs. X-Men, are fewer and smaller all the time. And the Ultimate line? Not only are some of the writers involved like Bendis and Millar truly awful, they’ve only helped make the line as far from younger-reader-friendly as you can get. Incidentally, the Ultimate Peter Parker was recently bumped off to be replaced by a new protagonist named Miles Morales, all for the sake of diversity, a concept that’s long played itself out.

Do you know what the final fate of the Dazzler was? I mean what happened to her after the end of her series to her most recent (last) appearance? It's always easy to find a character's first appearance, but their last is always hard.

The last the Captain heard of Allison Blaire, she was living on the extradimensional Mojoworld, fighting alongside her boyfriend Longshot to overthrow Mojo. As far as I know, she's there still.

Wrong. She later resurfaced, rather inexplicably, in one of the worst X-Men stories ever told by Scott Lobdell in 2001. Next, here’s his response about a query on Bane:

Among my favorite reads over the past few years have been the appearances of Bane. He's less than a decade old; that's pretty young as Bat-villains go. Talking to other Bat-fans, they've told me a number of folks don't like Bane for various reasons; perhaps because they believe it should have been one of Batman's more traditional rogues gallery (especially the Joker) that brought down Bats during Knightfall. Whatever the reason, Bane no longer uses Venom and Batman told him during one of their No Man's Land battles that Bats thinks of him as no more than a thug. Whether that was psychology or truth is up to we the readers to decide. Bane's appearances since Knightfall have been sparse; he was a major player in Legacy, No Man's Land, and in the mini-series Bane of the Demon, and not much else. At any rate, what do you think, has DC used Bane to his full potential?

Bane's never been one of my favorite Bat-villains, but that may be because he really hasn't lived up to his potential. He was designed to be the anti-Batman; a guy who trained from age six or so to be the ultimate bad guy, in contrast to Bruce Wayne training from the same age to be the ultimate hero. Both are trained to peak human perfection, with Bane having the edge in sheer strength. I'm afraid his mishandling in "Batman & Robin" may have made him less attractive to current writers.

Not so fast. It’s been a year since The Dark Knight Rises used him as the main antagonist, and Bane was put to great effect there. I suppose it’s fair to say that Knightfall was one of the better crossovers DC ever turned out, though the bulk of their crossovers during the 90s were downright awful and uncalled for. As for Mr. Smith’s take on Bane? Sigh. I can only wonder if this has something to do with any dislike a reporter like him could have for a talented writer like Chuck Dixon. Not everything Dixon ever did in his career was perfect; of course he’s got his share of weak spots too, but there were quite a few things he did with the Batman spinoff series like Robin and Birds of Prey that were very good. So much so, that this could explain in part why DC, under the galling reign of Dan DiDio, has refused to reprint a lot of the material in paperback.

With the X-Men movie's release almost upon us, Marvel is saturating the market with tie-in comics and merchandising. Historically, have movie releases of comics characters spiked sales? I know it hasn't always -- Shaquille O'Neal as Steel didn't save that title. But what of the Superman and Batman series, or Men in Black, or the Hulk on TV?

Most movie and TV tie-ins give some sort of boost to the comic-book title on which they're based; legend has it that Detective was on the verge of cancellation before the 1966 Batman TV show sent sales through the roof. Hulk sales improved slightly during the TV show's run. as did Superman sales after the 1979 movie. Marvel bought Men in Black just before the movie came out to achieve the same effect, but in-house indecision prevented a MiB series until long after the window had closed.

While pondering this, I was reminded of that old phrase, “reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated”. I think that’s the case with the sales for Batman in the 60s too. They may not have been that great, and I’m sure the whole tongue-in-cheek approach may have worn thin after awhile, but I have doubts that it was doing that badly to the point where you’d think they’d have to sell the rights to making a live action series to try and boost it up. There was a similar claim made about The Flash in the early 90s – it was supposedly doing poorly before Mark Waid pepped things up – but I’ve got a feeling that too was hardly the case.

Did Steve McGarrett ever apprehend Wo-Fat?

To my knowledge, McGarrett never nailed Wo-Fat, but I'm no expert in this area. Worse, I'm going to have the Hawaii 5-0 theme song running through my head for the rest of the day. Thanks a lot, pal! (Ta-ta-ta-ta-TA-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-TA ...)

Poor Mr. Smith, such a failure on TV trivia. At the end of the 1968-80 run of the TV show, Steve McGarrett, played by the late, great Jack Lord, DID capture Wo-Fat – who’d made at least one appearance in seven out of ten seasons – in the series finale. Considering the internet was already boasting more than sufficient data on TV history at the time he answered this, I don’t see how he – and the correspondent, now that I think of it – couldn’t just look that up. To celebrate my correction, I will now run the theme through MY head! Ta-ta-ta-ta-TA-taaa, ta-ta-ta-ta-TAAA… (if I had a luxury sedan to drive like Steve did though, I’d prefer a Citroen C6 over a Mercury Marquis).

Now, what’s he telling a correspondent on July 13, 2000:

Comic books are very important to me. I've loved comics ever since I could read, and before that it was Spider-Man coloring books. Comic books are just so great. There's action, great art, supporting characters and many other things to make a comic easy to get hooked on. Best of all you never have to rewind them, and comics don't have budgets like movies do, so they have no limits.

I could write the world's longest essay on comics if I had to. But I'm here to ask you why am I the only teenager who reads them? With all of the great features that a comic has, why wouldn't a comic be more popular? I can't see why other teens don't love them. You would think that a comic would be really popular with teenagers, but for some odd reason it's not. Unfortunately comics seem to be at an all-time low. This disappoints me. Hopefully Marvel's attempt of mixing things up with the "Ultimate" series will be successful and bring in some profit. I know the X-Men movie will be a tremendous hit and I'm sure that will help. Please give me your theory why comics are not appealing to teenagers these days.

You're certainly preaching to the choir when you cite the dynamic fun available in comics. Not only are comics the best entertainment bang for the buck, but I'm on record as stating that 1) reading comics catapulted me to the top one percentile in the country in reading comprehension in my younger days; 2) the life lessons I learned from Spider-Man and others have helped me through similar crises in my own life; and 3) MAD magazine ought to be required reading for every kid ages 12 to 15 so that they learn a healthy disrespect for authority before heading into their adult years.

So why aren't comics as popular with teens in America as they are in other countries -- or even our own, in previous generations? That question's been bandied about on this web site for some time, and here are some of our conclusions:

1) Comics are hard to find. When I was a boy (you can un-glaze your eyes now, I'm not your dad), comics were everywhere: grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands, Scholastic Magazine, dentist offices, barber shops -- everywhere. They were part of the background of my life and my friends' lives; we often drew our own comics to express what we had trouble putting into words. But, due to economic factors, comics are now only available at comic shops -- a destination store, instead of an impulse buy. Mom can't toss you some comics at the Kroger to keep you quiet while she shops; she'd have to go out of her way to get you some. And since most teens don't drive, they can't get themselves to the shops either.

2) The big comics companies largely abandoned the kids' market in the '70s and '80s. While I doubt you have any more interest in reading Uncle Scrooge than I do, most kids need to be exposed to comics early in life so that X-Men isn't so incomprehensible and such a strange commodity when they hit their teens. When Marvel, DC and others stopped making kids' comics in the '70s, they assured that their market in the '90s would be that much smaller.

3) Competition. Videogames and the Internet offer flashier, shallower, quicker entertainment for less work. It's not a matter of cost -- kids won't blink at dropping $60 for a Turok videogame, but do balk at spending $3 for a Turok comic book. They'd simply rather play the videogame than read the comic. This goes back to what I said previously; comics aren't something they're used to and videogames are. Plus, reading is harder than jiggling a joystick or a mouse.

As you see, there a LOT of answers to your question, some of which I've probably omitted. The Captain is opening this question up to other correspondents, and I'll print what y'all have to say right here for […]

Well it’s been more than a decade, but here’s my answer, which is more than he could think up in a gazillion years! Sure, if the big two turned their backs on the kids market in the 70s and 80s, that was a damaging factor, but it’s not the only one. They also abandoned good storytelling in favor of publicity stunts, many of which he doesn’t even have the courage to admit he was promoting or at least keeping silent about, and I’m sure that since the time he’d first begun as a columnist in the early 90s, he’d taken that route.

And, they’d failed to reformat for a new generation in the bookstores – that is, by turning to something like graphic novels only (or original graphic novels, and I recall once owning one, that being JLA/JSA: Virtue & Vice, but I later parted with it as I grew increasingly galled at Geoff Johns and James Robinson's writing). As for videogames, I’ll agree that they were a damaging factor, but in this era of recession, that may not necessarily be the case any longer.

Oh, and about his claim he learned life lessons from Spidey? I don’t think he learned any, or else he wouldn’t have been so sugary about publicity stunts either. He sure didn’t learn that J. Jonah Jameson was meant to reflect people like himself either!

Mr. Smith’s biggest problem is that he can’t and won’t admit that his failure to be objective about how the industry is running the store is just one of the many reasons for its downfall. And he’s got another, very eyebrow raising problem coming up in the next item for scrutiny:

Last week you offered a brief commentary on each of the Batman and Bat-related books. Could you do the same for all the Superman and related titles?

Sure:
 Action, Adventures of Superman, Superman, Superman: Man of Steel: It's impossible to judge these titles separately, as for much of the recent past (and through the summer) a single storyline winds through all four books. I can say that I much prefer Ed McGuinness's artwork on Superman, compared to Kano's work on Action, Doug Mahnke's Man of Steel and the rotating crew on Adventures. After August, however, the titles will head in four different directions, and with that will come independent identities that I can judge singly. Three S-Shields each.
 Superman Adventures: Unlike its Bat-counterpart Batman Adventures, SA hasn't established that multi-level approach that appeals to kids and adults alike. Whereas Batman Adventures is in my top three Bat-books, Superman Adventures is strictly for kids. One S-Shield. (Four if you're under 13, though!)
 Superboy: I used to loathe this book, back when S-boy was a wisemouth punk hitting on Wonder Woman and the like. Recently, though, Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett have immersed the Boy of Steel in the Kirbyverse left over from Jack's Fourth World books, and it rocks. Unfortunately, the creative team has just announced its departure. Four S-Shields, for now.
 Supergirl: I'm uncomfortable with overt Christian iconography in comics, but that's probably a result of being in newspapers for 20 years and being hypersensitive about offending Muslims, Jews, etc. Of course, the book's writer is Jewish (Peter David), so I'm probably getting a rash over nothing. Anyway, if you're not uncomfortable with a comic-book writer defining the powers of angels and whatnot, then this is a pretty interesting book that changes all the time -- and certainly is more exciting than anything Kara Zor-El ever did. Two S-Shields.

I find his potential moral equation between Muslims and Jews offensive. More importantly, I find it offensive that he thinks he really must be “culturally sensitive” about religion. Race is one thing, but religion is another. Let me say that if he has a problem with any elements of Judaism, I really can’t care less, even if I were more observant, which I can’t say I ever have been. However, if he cannot or will not show the courage to state whether he’s got any problems with the components of the Koran and Hadith, including Mohammed’s marriage to the 9-year-old Ayisha, then that most definitely is galling. Especially if he cannot acknowledge that if there’s such a thing as a good religion, there’s such a thing as a bad one too. Must we presume he sees nothing wrong with Scientology either?

His inability to refrain from political correctness is prevalent among many left wing journalists, and one could easily argue that J. Jonah Jameson reflected that too in better days of comicdom.

An interesting note about David, by the way: he is of Jewish background, but he may have converted to Christianity. But even if he hadn’t, race and religion are not the same thing, and one does not constitute the other. As someone of Jewish background myself, I find it insulting when people describe me by religion rather than my race/nationality. I am Jewish first, and a Judaist second (or, my race/nationality comes first, and religion second). It’s easier to describe all that in English than in Hebrew, but there you go.

I find his claim that he’s uncomfy with Christian iconography troubling too; it reeks of the shame a lot of modern leftists apparently have over their past faith, supposedly because of the bad things done in the name of Christianity like their oppression of Jews, which I too take offense at, but over the centuries, most Christians did make an effort to clean up their act, and the Christian bible does contain more than enough positive verses and themes – shockingly ignored by them in the past – to consider it a worthy enough religion in its own way. The same cannot be said about Islam, where the Koran and Hadith have a considerable number of violence-based verses and themes, among other disturbing components like the aforementioned marriage between adult and underaged child.

I then find another subtle trouble in a rather dishonest reply he wrote to an eastern European correspondent on July 20, 2000:

Maybe you could (or would) help me. I've been looking for stuff on the evil Captain America, the one who gang-busted Commie cells of American Negroes in the 1950s. No, I'm not researching the history of American racism or anything. I'm a comics fan from way back, have a small collection of the charms of my childhood left, though much diminished. I want to write a piece about the Werthem/EC/Comics Code Authority episode of American history as a cautionary tale for the Lithuanian audience. The parliament is trying to adopt restrictive media laws here, essentially introducing a Comics Code Authority for all print, radio and TV productions. Everything American is looked up to here, especially the tradition of free speech and democracy in America. So what I want to do is talk about Joe Orlando's "Judgment Day" as being too much for the day, and the vague wording of the Comics Code I will compare to the equally vague wording of draft legislation here, as essentially allowing censorship of anything. Okay, sorry, I'm writing my theme paper here in my e-mail to you. Anyway, I wanted to compare negro-bashing Cap'n 'Merica with "Judgment Day," the last straw I guess for Gaines, who sank his money into MAD after that and folded EC. Do you know where I could swipe some digital images of Cap beating up black people, and get some more images from Weird Science Fantasy's "Judgment Day" story? I had a DC Comics Presents which reprinted the whole thing in honor of Orlando's birthday, but I've misplaced it, and only have a Xerox of the first page. Can you tell me if the Negro-bashing Capt. America was pre-code or post? Did CCA allow that but censor Gaines's story about a black astronaut? Is it true that Gaines gave up after that story? Feldstein wrote somewhere that he was on the phone with CCA trying to get it approved and judge somebody said it wouldn't go, no way. So that seems to preclude a deliberate provocation by Gaines -- or does it? Was there an element of anti-Semitism at work? I mean, Gaines ran some caricature of himself as evil purveyor of comics and drugs near schools in an early MAD comic, and shows himself with a giant honker, and somewhere I made the connection that he had assumed the visage of Melvin the Mole. Were the Senate hearings aimed at Jewish Communists in the comics industry as they tried to do with Hollywood, root out foreign elements, so-called?

Well, I'm asking a lot of questions. I'd appreciate any light you could shed.

Whew! That IS a lot of questions, -- and, unfortunately, the answers are all pre-Silver Age. Since the Captain is largely Golden Age-impaired (I wasn't born until 1958), most of my information about the '50s is second-hand. But I'll take a stab at it -- and I encourage all correspondents reading this to treat it as a HELP THE CAPTAIN question. [name witheld]'s situation is pretty serious -- above and beyond our own individual opinions -- and we should help out with whatever facts we can offer.

First, what I (think I) know:

The 1950s Captain America wasn't a "Negro-basher" to my knowledge. Atlas Comics (later Marvel) attempted to revive the character in Captain America Comics 76-78, Young Men 24-28 and Men's Adventures 27-28 in 1954 -- but apparently they didn't sell, as the character lapsed back into limbo until his triumphant return in Avengers 4 (1964). I've only read two reprints from that period, and neither depicted Cap as a racist -- but they DID depict him as an almost laughably rabid anti-Communist, something he WASN'T in World War II, when the Soviets were U.S. allies. (The Red Skull, formerly a Nazi mastermind, had an entirely new reason to be "red" in the '50s!)

In the 1970s, though, Marvel tried to explain the late '40s and mid-'50s Captain Americas (and Buckys) -- since Avengers 4 established that Steve Rogers had been frozen in an iceberg since 1945 (and Bucky was dead). Several storylines over the years established that Captain America from late 1945 to 1950 (when his series was canceled the first time) was actually a series of imposters hired by the U.S. government to fool the public into believing that Cap was still alive. There were plenty of candidates, since red-white-and-blue heroes were as common as rocks during the war. One such character was Jeff "The Patriot" Mace, whose demise (while disguised as Cap) was chronicled in CA 284-285.

The 1950s Cap -- who by 1970s standards was clinically insane -- was described in Captain America 253-256 as being a man selected for his resemblance to Steve Rogers and given the recreated "super-soldier serum." Unfortunately, he wasn't given the "vita-rays" that went with it, and the unstable serum drove him (and his similarly augmented partner, Jack "Bucky" Monroe) bonkers. He was depicted in those '70s stories as not only rabidly anti-Communist, but also adhering to exaggerated '50s norms and opinions. In other words, THIS was the black-basher you remember -- he thought Negroes had somehow undermined the country to the point of being considered equals to whites -- but he was depicted as being insane. (He has since been killed, and "Bucky" was stabilized, his sanity restored, and is now the hero "Nomad.") I have to admit, it was shocking to hear racist rhetoric coming out of "Cap's" mouth, even though I knew he was an imposter.

For your purposes, though, there's no dearth of cautionary tales from the '50s. The launch of the hypocritical and draconian Comics Code was just part of a larger picture, in which the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), radio demagogue Father Coughlin and Sen. "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy had outsized influence -- and not for the better. The acquisition by the USSR of atomic weapons, followed by Sputnik and coupled with their rabid anti-U.S. rhetoric ("We will bury you!") had Americans building bomb shelters, doing "duck and cover" drills in elementary schools, watching the skies for nuclear armageddon -- and looking under every bed for the Red Menace. By current standards, none of it was rational -- and yet, there it was: The world's greatest democracy in the grip of horrific paranoia, and curtailing the very rights of man that are our greatest pride. (For a current comic-book look at this period, read Realworlds: Wonder Woman by DC Comics -- it's excellent.)

As to Gaines, HUAC was trying to determine if comics caused juvenile delinquency, and what the other publishers had against him primarily was that he was OUTSELLING them all. There could well have been some anti-Semitism involved from some quarters, but since most comics publishers (and many creators) were Jewish it seems unlikely. (Archie and Atlas, for example, were published/owned by Jews. Mort Weisinger, Julius Schwartz, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby and many, many other major comics players were also Jewish.) The Code was specifically worded to outlaw Gaines's top books: Vault of Horror, Crypt of Terror, Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, etc. (For a complete version of all the Comics Codes and a thorough -- although boringly pedantic -- analysis, read Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code, by Amy Kiste Nyberg, Mississippi Press.)

And, while Gaines's performance before HUAC was an extraordinary botch job -- he was on painkillers and diet pills and made an absolute fool of himself -- it's rarely remembered that HUAC ruled in FAVOR of comics. But it was too late -- the witch hunt had begun.

I hope that helps. As I said, I'm hoping the Legion of Superfluous Heroes will pitch in here.

You bet! And they won’t be happy when they realize you’re trying to equate anti-communists with racists, or something like that. Especially since Stan Lee wrote stories in his time that were very anti-communist and nobody ever said he was wrong. Mr. Smith may say he thinks he knows what he’s saying, but I think otherwise.

His assertion that the Soviets were allies of the US missed a very important fact – they were in league with the nazis initially, then later, after the nazis turned against them, that’s when they came around to the side of the allies. It’s insulting to the intellect if he’s even remotely going soft on communism, because, as obscene as nazism was, communism cost a lot more people their lives, and that includes many Jews too.

And after WW2 ended, the USSR went right back to being questionable and a very dangerous opponent. Why else does Mr. Smith think Stan Lee created the Black Widow back in the day, as someone who was initially an enemy agent but later defected from the Soviets and became a S.H.I.E.L.D agent instead? Or maybe he doesn’t have enough faith in Lee’s creations?

The part about “50s norms and opinions” is also ambiguous, since most of that was the result of leftism, as is the ghetto mentality sadly seen in some of the black community today, when they vote for the very party that advocated their slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries – the Democrats. John F. Kennedy did try to change that when he was president, and that’s why Martin Luther King was willing to support him. I think Steve Englehart, who may be a leftist himself, was the writer on Capt. America’s book at the time, and even if the imposter Cap was insane, the whole notion that he’d be anti-commie and racist at the same time is disturbing. But then, so is Mr. Smith’s distortions and obfuscations. He’d do well to consider that Martin Luther King was anti-communist as well, and it would be foolish to think communism wasn’t as dangerous to racial minorities as fascism was. Man, what a leftist!

Now, let’s look at his replies to a few Bat-related questions. The queries themselves are very good, but his answers leave a lot to be desired:

Did the Batmen of Earths 1 & 2 ever meet and team-up?

The two Batmen haven't met that I recall. The Earth-Two Batman was described as being retired as early as 1967, when the Earth-Two Robin (in in ersatz Batman/Robin hybrid costume) was inducted into the Justice Society in that year's JLA/JSA crossover (Justice League of America 55-56). The Earth-Two Batman was spending his dotage as the police commissioner of Gotham City, a role given great prominence in the Last Days of the Justice Society Special in 1986 and in the various Earth-Two Helena "Huntress" Wayne stories in such places as Wonder Woman 271-299, DC Super-Stars 17 and to some degree All-Star Squadron and the revived All Star Comics. The Earth-Two Batman was actually killed before Crisis -- in what title I can't recall -- so the window of opportunity closed. (Our Batman did meet an Earth-Two-LIKE Batman in the 1999 Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths flashback story -- and they didn't get along.)

The Batmen of two earths never met at all. I should know, because I read a lot of the older team up stories in paperbacks. A pity such an opportunity never came to fruition, but there we have it.

Were there any issues that had revealed what happened to the Earth-2 versions of the Riddler, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin?

It's entirely possible that the fates of the Earth-Two Batman's rogues gallery were mentioned at some point, but I don't remember it if they were. Kind of moot now, isn't it?

There’s one little problem with this query: Mr. Freeze was created during the Silver Age, by which time what we know as Earth-1 was being set in place and I don’t think there was ever a Victor Fries of Earth-2. Something Mr. Smith forgot to mention. But I guess it is kinda moot.

What is your opinion of Barbara Gordon's induction to the JLA? Do you believe that she should have been shown as having been approached during her days as the Batgirl?

At the risk of alienating Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon fans, I never thought much of her in her Spandex days -- and would have been against her joining the JLA, where she would have simply been redundant with Black Canary, Green Arrow, Batman and other hand-to-hand heroes. As Oracle though, she's an enormous asset to the League, and I'd be furious if she WASN'T a member.

He has alienated a Babs fan, I’m afraid. She was well written even in her early days, which included a now not canon job as a congresswoman and a possible career as a campus spokeswoman which may still be canon and holds up better. Similarly, her relations with Robin were also well done, so I think silly Mr. Smith would do better not to denigrate all that great stuff of the times.

I would also argue that while she may not fit well as a regular JLA member, I see no reason why not to make her a guest member, were we still in the Bronze Age. That said, she was the kind of character who, back in the day, did work better as a solo player, not unlike Catwoman did for a while. Next letter:

I just read Watchmen for the first time, and now I have some questions.

a) Did these characters exist before the book or did (Alan) Moore create them? If they were around before, where did they come from?

b) I hear this book referred to as a comic masterpiece. How big was its impact when it first came out?

c) I liked the book a lot, but it is certainly very "1980s". Do you think it holds up today? By the bye I also think Dark Knight Returns suffers a little from being so grounded in the 80s and not more timeless.

1a) The origin of The Watchmen is pretty interesting.

When former Charlton editor-in-chief Dick Giordano became editor-in-chief of DC Comics, one of the first things he did was buy the rights to the Charlton superheroes (for whom he had great affection). To introduce them to the DC Universe, he turned them over to wunderkind Alan Moore, who had made Swamp Thing a critical and financial success (at the time).

What Moore turned in was Watchmen -- which, as you know, does some TERRIBLE things to those characters! Despite being appalled, Giordano still recognized that it was a terrific story, so he had Moore re-write the Charlton characters as NEW characters -- but if you squint just right, you can still see their origins. Specifically, The Comedian is actually The Peacemaker; Dr. Manhattan is Captain Atom; Nite Owl is Blue Beetle; Ms. Jupiter is Nightshade; Rorschach is The Question; and Ozymandias is Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. Weird but true.

1b) The Watchmen started out slowly (since it was unknown), but by the sixth issue the industry was abuzz. By its finale, it was a solid-gold masterpiece in the opinion of anybody who mattered.

1c) Sure, I think Watchmen holds up -- but I still think the first 39 issues of Amazing Spider-Man hold up, despite their being Xeroxed so many times that their original impact has long been lost. When I re-read Watchmen or early Spidey, I just compartmentalize and forget all the copies never happened.

I must disagree. A couple years ago, I read Watchmen, and while I could get into much of Moore’s writing on Swamp Thing and Tales of the GL Corps, I could not get into his take on the Charlton heroes at all. I found the book excruciatingly slow, and by the end, whatever points he was trying to make (including the notion you shouldn’t try to help others less fortunate than yourself?!?) had become almost irrelevant. By contrast, the first 39 issues of Spidey hold up much better. So too, in fact, do both the late 60s and the late 80s takes on the Question, the latter which was penned by Denny O’Neil, and is pretty good stuff.

Are you aware of any issues where our friend The Joker a) became sane and lucid b) went on trial for his actions?

I don't recall The Joker actually regaining his sanity for any length of time -- I think there was a Justice League story where he was briefly lucid and very unhappy about all the terrible things he'd done -- but there WAS a special where he was actually put on trial (for a murder he DIDN'T do -- and Batman had to prove his innocence) called The Joker: Devil's Advocate.

The whole notion of Batman having to defend a monster who’s already guilty of some of the worst mass murders to plague Gotham (and come to think of it, the entire DCU) is stupefyingly poor taste, and I hope never to stumble across that story. Likewise, I hope neither to have the misfortune of reading that JLA story he speaks of, and more importantly, I hope it doesn’t even exist. But I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong, alas. Next up:

You mentioned in your column that Thunderbird was the only X-Man to die permanently. Did not Colossus's sister, Illanya, and that alien Warlock stay dead? I know I haven't been keeping up with X-Men like I used to, but please tell me they haven't been brought back.

Illyana wasn't an X-Man, but rather a "New Mutant." Just to muddy the waters further, a character named Majik (which Illyana became) will be introduced in a few months, and Marvel is keeping mum on whether or not it will be Illyana. (My guess is probably not -- but I've been wrong before.)

Warlock and Doug Ramsey (Cipher) were two more New Mutants to bite the big one, but they have been resurrected -- as one character! Warlock recently had a short-lived series, where he seemed pretty much his old self -- but with all of Doug Ramsey's memories and thoughts. Whether that constitutes still being dead or not is beyond my philosophical expertise. But neither were official X-Men.

So, since none of the above were official X-Men, and most have been resurrected anyway, I may be technically correct about Thunderbird being the only permanently dead X-Man. Well, unless you count Psylocke, who split into two characters (both named Psylocke), and ONE of whom died. And Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man has had various duplicates of himself killed. And I don't know if you'd count Changeling, who took Professor X's place in the original series in issues 38 or so and died in issue 42 -- was he an X-Man or not?

You know, the more I think about it, the more complicated this gets. Life and death is just too mutable in the X-books for me to dare make the statement I did!

I can elaborate better, because I own a couple of New Mutants stories myself, the series that ran during 1982-91. That was the series where Illyana mainly appeared, and I’ll say it’s a real shame that she was offed later on. As for his words on Psylocke, I won’t deny her history was made really complicated, but he’s wrong that she split in two. Rather, her mind/body organs were switched with that of a Chinese kunoichi named Kwannon, an entirely different character, no matter how difficult these things are to explain. It was all because of the machinations of Spiral/Rita Wayword, who’d been brainwashed and driven insane by Mojo in the mid-80s.

And I will decidedly also take the opportunity to wonder why he doesn’t mention Courtney Ross, the old girlfriend of Captain Britain who was slain by an otherworldly doppelganger named Satyr-9 in 1988. Sure, I know that she wasn’t a superheroine by any stretch. But there was a weakness in that story – specifically, I don’t see the point of building her up so likably only to kill her off soon after. To my knowledge, Courtney as we knew her was never resurrected, and that’s a pity, because if there’s any supporting cast who could use a fix, she’d decidedly be it.

Now, here’s another letter I figure could have some worth to it from July 27, 2000:

Regarding the use of religious characters in comics, I seem to recall a Thor storyline a few years back where the Asgardians all got hurt somehow (I think they were fighting the Celestials) and Thor had to go begging to all the other pantheons for the energy to revive them. At any rate, I recall Thor visiting the Hindu pantheon and fighting Shiva for the energy. I do NOT recall Marvel being buried under an avalanche of letter from angry Hindus. Perhaps Hindus are less uptight about this sort of thing?

I don't think many comics fans have much trouble accepting that gods in comics are just fictional characters with the same names as their deities. Let's hope the "real" world doesn't notice our little hobby ... !

That sure sounds awfully insular to me! But since it’s mentioned, I suppose one could figure that most Hindus are more civil in their disagreements than the followers of a certain Religion of Peace are.

Wonder Woman does not wear a full chador in the JLA Annual, it's closer to the sort of outfit one sees the BVM wearing in Catholic iconography, but less cumbersome.

OK.

Not! This is in reply to another item, possibly in the Mailbag sections he published, and I’ll see if I can get around to that later. Now, here’s another item:

Magneto's origin, used as the opening scene of the film, has long been established. But I can't recall when. I remember his visiting D.C. with Kitty Pryde at some Holocaust memorial sometime in the late '80s. But when was his concentration-camp history established and by which writer. I can only assume it was (Chris) Claremont. By the way, your last column referred to him as a German Jew, but the comics have stated more than once that he is a gypsy -- another group pointlessly victimized by the Nazis.

Magneto's status as a death-camp surivivor was revealed as early as Uncanny X-Men 161 (Jan 1982), and perhaps earlier. Xavier's always known, of course, but when we learned about it, I can't say for sure. I'll post your question and see if anybody else remembers.

I assumed that Magneto was Jewish for the longest time, and the shift to his being a gypsy struck me as revisionism born of cowardice (Marvel not wanting to make a major villain Jewish). Of course, you're right, he's a gypsy -- but I prefer to think of him as Jewish. Gives his story more "oomph."

First of all, I’m not necessarily bothered by the above argument, and won’t say it isn’t possible for a Jew in real life who’d been victimized by horrors to go the 2-wrongs-don’t-make-right path and take out their anguish against even those who weren’t responsible. I know that some Haredi sects ran the gauntlet of that for many years, what with their disturbing insular ghetto mentalities. What bothers me is a little something about the movie not mentioned here: in contrast to the story from UXM #150, where Magneto almost kills Kitty Pryde before realizing the grave error he’d make of committing the same sins as the nazis themselves, in the film, he’s otherwise cold as ice when putting Rogue through a similar situation. It gets even worse in the second movie, where he really does try to wipe out the human race by rearranging the polarity of Stryker’s mutant-slaying device. No matter how self-contained a movie adaptation ought to be, when I think of the contrasts between comic and movie, I come away feeling more than a tad insulted, because it did not try to maintain any characterization like what Claremont used for Magneto back in the day, which was certainly possible.

Make a movie with a Jew as a baddie, that’s one thing. But tinkering/tampering with an established character – even a villain in a work of fiction – that’s another. And what those movies did was head-shakingly sad.

Well, onto the next:

Has anyone ever explained how the Flash produces the bodily energy he needs to perform his actions (amphetamine, super-metabolism, or just the convenient and manifold "Speed-Force")?

The Speed Force provides its recipients with unlimited energy, resistance to fatigue poisons, etc.

I think this is an exaggeration. It certainly doesn’t make them resistant to poisons per se, that’s for sure (and it didn’t make Barry Allen resistant to heroin when he was injected with it in 1979).

Besides the Vertigo version, has the original Kid Eternity character ever existed in the Modern age? If so, how was his relationship represented with the rest of the Marvel family and others? If don right he seems like a natural for inclusion in, or just an occasional partnering with, "Quintessence"-type characters (unfailingly sunny and optimistic adolescent with ambiguous powers over eternity stands in severe contrast with the somber and resigned likes of The Spectre).

Kid Eternity was snuffed in JSA No. 1

This brings up an interesting weakness I find in some of James Robinson’s work (Geoff Johns and possibly David Goyer too): Kid Eternity was only brought back to be killed? Even the original Sandman, Wesley Dodds, only appeared in the first story so he could commit suicide almost immediately? (At least he wasn’t killed by the villain, but his death was still a very unpeaceful one.) Sometimes, I have to wonder if even his early work was worth it. Still, he’s gone way downhill since, so maybe it’s a moot point already.

Re: the Oracle Sin Tax. Maybe I'm simply missing a fundamental point of the debate, but we are talking about vigilantes, people who arrogantly assume they have the right to punish their fellow human beings, human beings who have indisputable birth-rights (specifically freedom from battery and harassment from armed masked men and women), isn't that just as unethical? That is what we have police for. What is she supposed to do with it anyway, contribute to the Policemen's Ball?

The debate over what Oracle does is whether or not it is ethical. I personally find it out of character for her.

Well I don’t find particularly out of character for Babs to make use – pure Robin Hood style – of Blockbuster’s dough. After all, he’s a murdering villain, and he doesn’t deserve the money he’s got, which no doubt was either stolen or earned from drug trafficking.

Let’s now turn to August 3, 2000:

I'd guess by today's post-Zero Hour standards (and aren't we a strange bunch who understand what we mean by that?) that Kathy Kane never existed at all. In the Planet Krypton one-shot from "Kingdom" week, Batman encountered her ghost and knew who she was, but didn't know why. I think Bette became Flamebird without the influence of her aunt.

Currently I'm annoyed at JSA, and maybe you can help me out. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the original Star-Spangled Kid is running around with them in the current storyline. Have I become that senile that I can't remember what happened? It must have been recent. Aargh.

As revealed in JSA 11, Extant (Hank Hall, the former Hawk and former Monarch) is "tying the timestream into knots" and various timelines are converging. The SSK in the current storyline is from a "alternate timeline."

I once owned that story, as part of the whole JSA: Darkness Falls trade paperback compilation, and as of today, I no longer do. I made my decision to part ways with it because I did not like how Obsidian was being turned crazy all for the sake of it, Ian Karkull’s manipulations notwithstanding (honestly, it was very forced), and another thing that troubled me was the continued depiction of Hank Hall as Extant, one of the most embarrassingly bad things about Zero Hour (and earlier, Armageddon, the place where he was first turned bad, was also terrible). The rather pointless “continuity porn”, to use a phrase once coined by a CBR contributor, was just the start of all problems I found in the story. Instead of trying to right a wrong, and without replacing it with another, as happened when Identity Crisis was coughed out by DC in 2004, they furthered the wrong by sticking with the premise Hank Hall was put through back in 1991. Ultimately, I decided it just wasn’t for me, and so now, it’s gone from my collection. I have no desire to support such brain-insulting stories, if I can help it. Now, from August 17, 2000:

I'm pleased to see that Loeb & Sale are working on a post-Man Without Fear miniseries. Daredevil is one of the few titles Marvel seems to be doing right these days, and hopefully these guys will only boost interest even more. What are your thoughts on Loeb & Sale? Ten years from now, will folks still be talking about Long Halloween or For All Seasons the way they do about arcs like "Year One," or are they slowly but surely relegating themselves to an eternity of tying Frank Miller's loose ends?

Loeb & Sale are certainly good enough to earn a place in the Pantheon of Memorable Creators, but my Psychic Friend is on vacation and I can't tell you if they'll actually make that exalted status. I think Superman For All Seasons will stand the test of time; it's a timeless enough take on an iconic character that it will still be relevant (and a good read) decades from now.

With Flashpoint already having taken effect, I think SFAS won’t. And Daredevil wasn’t being handled well when Brian Michael Bendis came on board at the time (nor when Kevin Smith wrote earlier either; he killed off Karen Page at the hands of Bullseye).

Sigh. What are we to do with our X-Men? The movie was great, but the few X-titles I've picked up recently have left a lot to be desired. Chris Claremont isn't helping things, Liefeld should -- well, you know, and heck, not even Warren Ellis can do much with this mess. I know that everyone has their opinions as to what should be done to revive Marvel's flagship commodity -- what's yours? Granted, real improvement is made over years, not days, but if you could recommend ONE thing to help out Marvel's mutants -- reduce the number of titles, start from scratch, eliminate characters, give the current staff the pink slip, etc.-- what would it be?

The first thing I'd do with the X-Men is make them understandable -- and more importantly, FUN again. I tell you, I practically have to take Prozac to read an X-Men story!

Specifically, I would indeed pink slip the current creative team, especially Chris Claremont, who probably can't order from a menu without leaving a plot dangling ("I'd like the chicken and rice for my entree, a garden salad, and for dessert ... come back in 16 months and MAYBE I'll tell you! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!"). Then I'd hire a writer who understands how to use characterization to revive team books, like Kurt Busiek (Avengers), Mark Waid (JLA) or Grant Morrison (JLA again). I'd ask them to reduce the team to the core, popular members (essentially the "All-New" crew, with Rogue and Gambit), tie up or toss away all dangling plotlines (the Legacy Virus, who's dead and who's not, what the heck Rachel is, anything involving Mr. Sinister), place a two-year moratorium on confusing alternate-future stories and anything taking place in Madripoor, and go for some hoo-ha action, upbeat character development and the occasional cosmic oddysey for spice.

Aside from that, I don't really have a plan.

Whoa, am I reading correctly? I thought he didn’t like Gambit, his being a fictional character notwithstanding, yet he’s fine with keeping him on because he’s popular? He’s right, he really doesn’t have any plans! Seriously, I’d like to think this is an admittal that the realizations I came to are right, but seeing how badly he deteriorated over the years, it’s pretty apparent he never did. What a load of bull. Let’s go on now to September 7, 2000:

I understand that DC Comics is going to cancel the Aquaman title. That is most unfortunate as I believe that this was the longest run that Aquaman has had with regards to his own series.

1) Can you tell me if he has ever teamed up with DC Comics' Sea Devils?

2) Was there ever an Earth-Two Atlantis? I believe that they were playing around with the idea of an Earth-Two Aquaman but later canceled that idea.

3) What is your opinion of his enemy Black Manta?

1) Aquaman will end with issue 75, in November. It is, indeed, the longest his title has lasted. (His first series went to issue 63, after enduring a hiatus or two.)

2) The Sea King teamed with the Sea Devils in Aquaman 22-25, appeared simultaneously (though not as a team) in JLA: Year One and probably have appeared together in some of those superhero gangbangs, like Showcase 100.

3) From the beginning of the JLA/JSA crossovers in 1962 through the end of Earth-Two in 1986's Crisis, it was established regularly that there was no Earth-Two Aquaman -- although various Atlantises appeared in pre-Silver Age DC Comics. The odd thing about the lack of an Earth-Two Sea King, though, is that Aquaman had been appearing regularly in DC Comics dating back to 1940! Roy Thomas tried to establish in the mid-'80s that a character named Neptune Perkins was the one having all those aqua-adventures in the '40, '50s and '60s as a "replacement" for Aquaman, while Flying Fox was filling in for Batman, Iron Munroe for Superman and Fury for Wonder Woman. This idea has largely been swept under the rug, although Perkins is now a U.S. Senator, Iron Munroe reappeared as a secret agent of sorts in the short-lived Damage and Fury recently guest-starred in Legends of the DC Universe 30-32 and is established as the mother of Fury II, the currently-dead mother of the current Sandman and wife of the recently-resurrected Hector Hall, the current Dr. Fate. And I have no idea what happened to Flying Fox, unless he moved to Marvel to become Blackfox in Marvel: The Lost Generation. I have to stop now; my head is hurting.

4) What do I think about Black Manta? Not much -- he's pretty boring. However, being the murderer of Aquaman's son, he has to rank right up there in arch-villainy.

Say, do I notice a goof here? Four answers to only three questions? LOL, where’s his sense of proofreading? After all, that’s one of the main concerns an editor usually has at a newspaper!

Anyway, first, let me note that Forgetful Frank here didn’t mention there was never an Earth-Two Zatara – the father of Zatanna, who first debuted in the classic premiere of Action Comics in 1938. Both father and daughter are creations of Gardner Fox, and I’m sure there’s a couple of other characters who didn’t have counterparts on both earth dimensions.

The next thing I’ll comment on is: gee, he thought Black Manta was boring, instead of how he was written? One can only wonder what he thinks of Arthur Curry’s nemesis now that Geoff Johns has turned him even more murderous and monstrous during the Brightest Day maxi-series he was co-writing circa 2008. I recall that initially, Mr. Smith didn’t seem to have a high opinion on Johns, but not only was it unaltruistic, it changed a lot after Johns became more prominent in DC’s staff. Now, he never seems to say anything negative about that awful writer. Onto September 14, 2000:

What do you think of the shakeup at Marvel? In my opinion, humble as it is, If the books stay on time, Joe Quesada’s take on things could be a welcome change. Late books aside, just about everything Marvel Knights touched was golden, so why not? Also, as I recall. Bob Harras is a pretty good writer. (I specifically recall a Cyclops tale he did for the now-defunct Marvel Comics Presents; anybody out there remember his run on Avengers?) Maybe they should scoot Claremont off the X-Men and give Harras a run at it. What do you think?

I quite agree that everything Marvel Knights has touched was terrific -- well, except for that egregious Punisher-as-Fallen-Angel miniseries. But to their credit, they just said, "Hey, we made a mistake! Pretend it didn't happen!" Instead of spending the next three years, X-Men fashion, trying to work it into continuity with carefully couched explanations.

Anyway, Quesada could bring a lot of things to the role. Playing Devil's Advocate, though, how much power will he really have? Harras was reportedly fired for not kowtowing sufficiently to the Big-Ego, Know-Nothing millionaires who are at Marvel's top levels. I'm afraid that as long as those guys keep pretending to be "creators" and sending down commands from on high like Zeus from Olympus, then there's only so much Quesada (or anybody) can do. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

Oh, and rumor hath it that Claremont isn't long for the X-books -- and may possibly lose his "writer guru" staff position as well. I don't wish ill on anyone -- I don't know Claremont personally -- but I really feel like a golden opportunity has passed to interest non-fans to the X-book on the heels of the movies, and I lay it at his feet. Claremont's X-books are such impenetrable rubbish that they don't even interest ME. His dismissal is long overdue.

I first want to take issue with the praise for Harras: he may have once been a good writer, but as an editor, he was one of quite a few in that capacity who were a perfect disaster. (Former DC staffer Kevin Dooley was one contributor who may have worked well enough as an assistant editor, but as a more senior editor was simply no go.) As for Quesada, it’s already notorious history how bad he really was as an editor, and after Bill Jemas, who made a terrible publisher, left the Marvel board, Quesada took things further downhill by boomeranging on crossovers again. Whoa, how accurate could allusions be?

Plus, since Harras became EIC for DC Comics, he’s only taken the same disastrous tactics he once used at Marvel and repeated them at the rival company.

Now, here’s something that I wrote, which he added on September 21, 2000 (can’t say I consider it a classic in retrospect) with his reply:

I just read your latest column about the new "Ultimate" titles from Marvel, beginning with the Ultimate Spider-Man, and it was a very interesting story to read. And while I was reading it, I thought of a very interesting question to ask about it as well: Is the Ultimate Marvel story project similar in any ways to the "Elseworlds" project of DC Comics that was launched a few years ago, in which DC wrote some revisions of some of their top characters?

Actually, Marvel does have an "Elseworlds" project in the works -- a revival of the old What If ... ? title as a series of specials and graphic novels much akin to DC's successful Elseworlds line.

From my perspective, though, Ultimate Spider-Man bears an accidental resemblance to another DC concept. Almost 40 years ago DC established that their '40s heroes existed on a parallel Earth -- Earth-Two -- and that the Silver Age heroes lived on Earth-One, where superheroics cranked up 20 years later than Earth-Two. So here we have Original Spidey starting up in 1962, and 40 years later a "new" Spidey begins his career somewhere else ... To my mind, it's just Earth-One/Earth-Two deja vu all over again!

Actually, no, it doesn’t bear any resemblance to DC’s alternate worlds: with all the loathsome mayhem and promiscuity that took place in Ultimate X-Men (the latter would have to be in reference to the affair that world’s Wolverine had with Jean Grey of the same, despite her being under 18), any similarities it’s got to DC’s concept are almost non-existent. By the way, didn’t the second What If series end 2 years before this time-wasting conversation took place? And Marvel didn’t officially revive the anthology series again either, although several years later, they did come up with some one-shot stories under the title. Stories which, alas, are worthless, in sharp contrast with the much better ones Roy Thomas first thought of when he was a senoir editor at Marvel in 1977.

Now for an interesting moment from September 28, 2000:

Not having access to your syndicated column, I can only peruse your writings through your "Marvel"-ous Web site. I should point out that I'm a child of the '80s, and most of the Golden Age of Comics came before my time (heck, even the Bronze Age passed me by before I began reading regularly). You are far more familiar with the days of the "classics" of mainstream comic books than I am (especially the Marvel Universe), so I'll leave it at that.

My comment has to do with your "Book of the Dead" and your tribute to characters who have died notable deaths. Out of curiosity, I wonder: What moments in comic-book history do you consider to be high-water marks of "heroic death" -- or at least where the death of a major character doesn't seem like a cop-out. That sounds somewhat grisly as I write it, to be so preoccupied with death; but since the death of a character is universally acknowledged as a major, world-shattering event in fiction and literature (even if they come back from the dead at some point), I can only wonder what you consider to be a well-written or "honorable" death scene.

As a person who only became familiar with mainstream comic books over the past 15 years or so (the "Dark Age," as you put it), I'll cheerfully acknowledge that too many death scenes are there for cheap bathos and tear-jerking. Still, there have been a few interesting times as far as "death" goes ... such as the "Terra-Terminator" storyline during the Teen Titans series of the early '80s. Marv Wolfman and George Perez both acknowledged that the whole point of Terra was a gimmick: she was created specifically to betray the Titans, and to be killed. Still, the series was written well enough (one of DC's few books that wasn't suffering from stagnation during that time) that I consider it a successful gimmick.

And as you've acknowledged yourself, DC went overboard with hero deaths in the past few years, as a sickeningly high number of their greatest characters have died supposedly "heroic" deaths, for reasons that were obviously meant to drive up sales and give the authors more leeway with existing characters. The death of Green Arrow, for instance, and especially Hal Jordan and the whole "Parallax" thing -- one of the few moments in comic book history where I actually have felt anger towards the writers (and editors and publishers, et al) for ruining a beloved character I grew up with.

Nonetheless, there are still a few notable "death" scenes that worked out well. Most notably, I consider the death of Barry Allen (Silver Age Flash) one of the few major character "deaths" to be handled well. Flash II died heroically, his death was not forgotten or "ret-conned," and his legacy lives on in the memory of both Wally West and Jay Garrick. Would that so many other now-deceased characters were treated with this much respect. P.S.: Any comments on Jean Grey?

I'll go along with you that Barry Allen's exit from this mortal coil was one of the highlights of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a maxiseries that I thought was not only unnecessary, but extremely badly written. (Sometimes the Monitor was all-powerful, sometimes he wasn't; sometimes the shadow-thingies could be fought, sometimes they couldn't; all the superheroes acted stupidly or irrationally throughout in a transparent effort to advance the plot.)

Another "favorite" death was Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man 122-123 (and I sure wish they'd left it there; Norman Osborn DESERVED to die ironically impaled on his own glider, and it was a powerful scene thoroughly diluted by his continuing returns.) Thankfully -- sort of -- Gwen is still dead, so Amazing 122 still retains some of its power.

Another favorite death is Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men 137, where her love for her teammates and Cyclops in particular was displayed in its rawest form. After all, greater love hath no man (or woman) than he (or she) that lays down her life for her fellow men (women). Again, the scene has been somewhat cheapened by her resurrection, but it's still a powerful comic book. Of course, I'm always a sucker for comics where the good guys are taken down one by one and the focus narrows to the major characters, one of whom you know isn't going to make it ...

If only the guy who wrote to him about the case of the cheap deaths in DC at the time did have proper access to his past columns, he’d probably regret ever having bothered! After all, as Mr. Smith’s embrace of Identity Crisis ought to confirm, he was never really against it in the first place. Otherwise, he’d never have blandly tolerated the death of Firestorm in that bigoted abomination either.

The correspondent misses something just as crucial though: it’s not just heroes who fell victim, it’s also supporting cast members like the son of Cat Grant, and Blue Devil co-star Marla Bloom. Why, even a character who was created to be killed, like Alexandra deWitt in Green Lantern, has to count because of Ron Marz’s below-rock-bottom shock tactic approach where Major Force choked her to death before stuffing her body in the fridge. If Clifford Zmeck had just gunned her down with a laser beam and left her body lying in the middle of the floor, it may not have excused the cheapskate gimmick of using a character’s death as a “motivation” for Kyle Rayner, but at least it would have been easier to bear, and would have saved DC a lot of flak too.

All this means nothing to Mr. Smith, obviously, and if he saw nothing wrong with Identity Crisis, there’s every chance he saw little wrong with Emerald Twilight and Zero Hour either. And funny how he thinks Crisis on Infinite Earths was sloppy when you could easily make the same case with IC: quite a few of the characters in the miniseries acted very OUT-of-character. I’m decidedly not impressed with what he thinks of UXM 137 either.

What are your opinions on the following characters from the Super Friends animated show: Samurai, Apache Chief, Giganta, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, Wendy and Marvin? Do you think that attempts should have been made to have some of the characters appear in the DC-TV comic? What did you think of the comic book? The Super Friends animated show appeared in various formats, which one is your favourite?

Did you have any favourite DC-TV comic out of the following titles: Welcome Back, Kotter; SHAZAM!; O Mighty Isis; Super Friends.

I know a great many people, both comics fans and non-fans, who grew up with Super Friends and have warm, tingly, nostalgic memories associated with the show. Alas, I am not one of them. By the time the first Super Friends aired in 1973, I was already in high school. And -- although I'd never tell my friends -- I did indeed sneak a peak at the new show starring my comic-book faves. And, boy, was I disappointed!

The animation was wretched. The heroes were clumsily and obviously dumbed down. Aquaman was functionally useless. And Wendy and Marvin -- supposedly comic relief, but only because they were a shade dumber than the Super Friends -- triggered my gag reflex and made me wonder why the Super Friends weren't all arrested for child endangerment.

So, after the first season of shows, I hardly ever watched Super Friends. I made sure to catch the occasional Green Lantern or Flash guest spot in 1973-76 -- and they were gawdawful, but I wanted to see what they would do with them -- but after I went to college I stopped watching altogether. I missed Samurai, Apache Chief, Giganta, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, the Legion of Doom and the season featuring Darkseid completely. And, from the egregious reruns I occasionally stumble across on cable, I don't think I missed a thing.

Of course, the Captain isn't mean-spirited, and won't continue to bad-mouth a show that others found enjoyable. No, he'd rather let others do it. And for a thoroughly vicious (and hysterical) deconstruction of the Super Friends, go to http://seanbaby.com/ -- ADULTS ONLY, please.

As to the DC-TV comics you mentioned, I found Isis the least objectionable. It wasn't tied to any particular continuity -- the character was created for TV -- so the comic book was free to flesh out her powers and background with only rudimentary guidelines/restrictions from the cartoon. It wasn't bad, really.

But his writing most certainly is. Reading what he says about Super Friends makes me wonder if he’d consider Sean McKeever’s horrific assault on Wendy and Marv in the pages of Teen Titans legitimate.

Funny how he such a problem with a cartoon but not problems with “events” that are aimed at drawing mainstream media coverage with their sick publicity stunts. Because they too can have wretched artwork, as Rags Morales churned out: I found his style very unpleasant and grimy looking; it was like there was something very sick lurking in the background as much as the foreground. If anything, his artwork in that very book was repellant and disrespectful as they come, making me lose my respect for him as an artist.

Oh, and as for Isis, did he by any chance consider the version introduced into the DCU proper in 2006 for the purpose of later killing off to serve as cheap motivation for moving the plot with Black Adam forward okay? Seeing how it never really came into discussion on his part, we can probably guess the answer to that already. So, let’s take a look at this crap from October 5, 2000:

I read a good bunch of Jon Sable, Freelance; Whisper; Nexus; and Badger comics I've picked up recently. Badger is the cat's PJs, in my opinion. I really like Pacific's anthologies. I don't know that much about Eclipse. I've got an Axel Pressbutton comic that's very good, and the Eclipse drek I drag out of quarter bins seem to have ads for far better comics in them. I suppose that stuff is hard to find.

Sable bothered me because the army he's shown fighting for early in his career is, if you look into the history a little, white supremacist, according to one letter writer in an early issue. Sable is referred to by another character as idealistically supporting that cause, but this writer had a disturbing idea of what that cause was.

I can't comment on Jon Sable's "white supermacist" background; I wasn't worldly enough the first time I read those books to make the inference (if such there was) and I didn't enjoy the character enough that I'm going to go back and read them again. There are some Sable fans -- notably this site's [name withheld] -- who will be glad to rise to the defense, I'm sure.

My personal knowledge of Jon Sable is very insufficient, but I want to note that the correspondent who wrote that was quite a leftist moonbat who saw nothing wrong with tolerating another supremacist movement whose founders were white: Islam. The writer was also a journalist who acted as an apologist in his own way for Marvel’s The Truth: Red, White and Black, so I’m not quite sure what his problem is if he had no issue with a religion whose “prophet” took a 6-year-old girl as his child bride. And then, wait’ll you see the reply Mr. Smith wrote to him about gun issues:

Oh, with all the Punisher guys, except the Garth Ennis one, fading off, what's the Captain's stand on guns (and) superheroes and gun control in general? I work at a newspaper in a small town in Kentucky and I have seen four people die in the last three weeks. One murder, one tragic hunting accident (boy accidentally shot his own father), and a double suicide (ages 16 and 21, and a .40-caliber). I've always tried to stand by the Second Amendment, but that's a lot of body bags.

My stand on guns? We've got too many of them, and something must be done.

I recognize the Second Amendment argument, but I just don't buy it. The Founding Fathers wanted a well-regulated militia -- note the term well-regulated -- to defend against British incursion; there isn't much threat of armed bands of Brits stalking our great land in the 21st Century and you can bet your last redcoat that they didn't intend for street gangs to have assault weapons or for our cities to turn into slaughterhouses. And the Founding Fathers would be the first to say that if the Constitution had a bad idea in it, it can be amended. They did it 10 times themselves.

I also recognize the argument that laws regulating guns will only regulate law-abiding citizens. Granted. But reducing the amount of guns period is a step in the right direction; making the presence of guns an outrage instead of a symbol of a good ol' boy's manhood is a step in the right direction; making it downright unprofitable to manufacture, distribute or sell guns is a step in the right direction. If guns are a rarity in society in general -- like in Japan -- the likelihood of street gangs possessing them is co-commitently reduced. And it's not like every family needs a squirrel rifle like we did in 1776; there's a McDonald's near you if you're hungry.

Maybe I'm wrong, and nothing I've suggested would work. But I still say we've got to look at the problem, drain the argument of its righteous fury (on both sides) and come together as reasonable adults to find something that WILL work. We just ran another story in The CA this week about a seven-year-old kid finding a gun while his dad was cracked out and pulling the trigger on a schoolmate. This is BAD. C'mon, folks, let's just decide that we're going to find a solution and get to finding it! It doesn't have to be the NRA's worst-case, black-helicopter, Big Brother government scenario -- it could me be mandatory gun-training or something. Hey, I'm a reasonable guy. C'mon, Charlton Heston -- stop telling me what WON'T work, and tell me what WILL.

He did; you just didn’t want to listen. But hey, I’ll be generous and tell what would work: background checks and profiling for gun buyers to determine whether they’re worthy of carrying one. Something along the lines of Israel’s own profiling specialty at airports. Most importantly of all though, improved education at schools, and if US schools had a good approach to teaching non-violence, which they don’t to date, all the concerns about guns would be moot. Don’t expect such a J. Jonah Jameson to ever ponder any of those ideas seriously though.

And if he’s got problems with what the late Heston thought, maybe he could ask Harry Reid and Michael Bloomberg to stop telling him what won’t work and what will. But I don’t see it happening.

Umm, original purpose for this message was to complain about something a guy said at the fleamarket where I buy my quarter comics. He proudly announced that he had not bought a new comic since the late 'seventies. I felt sad at his smug ignorance, thinking of all the things he had missed. He missed Swamp Thing! He missed Groo! All because of some notion that the older comics were better. I know I'm talking to the Silver Age Captain here but, what do you think? There's a nice couple that writes you some times and refers to themselve in a plural tense that seems to express the same attitude, and I would like to encourage them to at least try some of the newer stuff. I realize that a lot of '90s comics were crap, but those comics were chasing a fad. They didn't even really have to be good. There are good comics out there.

The nitwit who bragged about not reading new comics needn't be addressed. If he chooses to not read new comics, then fine; he's got no call to insult those who do. And he's missing a lot: Morrison's JLA; Millar's Authority; Dixon's Birds of Prey; Azzarello's 100 Bullets; Quesada's Daredevil; David's Captain Marvel; Busiek's Avengers; Allred's Atomics; Cho's Liberty Meadows; Lapham's Stray Bullets; Miller's 300; the ABC line; the CrossGen line; Straczynski's Rising Stars; Moore's Strangers in Paradise ...

It all depends on what comics from the 90s we’re talking about, but if it were anything by an artist as horrific as Rob Liefeld, I’d say he didn’t miss ANYTHING.

And while some of the products mentioned are worthy, others are not; decidedly the work of Quesada, Millar, Morrison, Stracynski. Who needs them, really? I’d argue that some of Top Cow’s output are worthwhile too (Velocity, Witchblade, Magdalena), but ultimately, I’d have to argue that the person spoken of at the fleamarket is right – the older stuff often IS better. That’s because some, if not all, of the people involved had more common sense than today’s generation. Next letter:

I read a bunch of the questions, and had questions of my own, my first one is:

1) I was a huge fan of X-Factor in the Peter David days. Now I see the book no longer exists. What the heck happened? Also what ever happened to my favorite characters on that book Strong Guy and Multiple Man?

2) I'm trying to get into the DC Universe and it seems pretty simple but how exactly did Zero Hour affect what happened in Crisis? And are all those Year One books written before or after it?

3) What the heck happened to Marvel? I was out of comics for about six or seven years and I can't even read a Marvel book anymore (save for Captain America) without getting horribly, horribly confused and (upset). What the heck happened? (If it helps, I stopped reading right before the "Ages of the Apocolypse" thing.)

4) What has Peter David done since X-Factor?

1) What happened is that X-Factor was canceled, and replaced with Mutant X, which stars Havok -- the last character in X-Factor that was even mildly interesting after the last membership change. Strong Guy and Multiple Man haven't been seen in quite some time, and since all the X-books recently took a six-month leap ahead that has yet to be explained (for the most part), and Chris Claremont has been fired, X-continuity is in a serious mess. We'll just have to wait and see.

2) I don't have enough years left on my lifespan to explain Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour. But I'll make a brief stab:

You may be familiar with the idea that for many years DC had more than one "set" of superheroes. The Justice League characters were the "main" ones, and their 1940s counterparts lived on a parallel world called Earth-Two and would visit occasionally for the odd adventure. But the idea began spinning out of control; an Earth-Three was introduced, with a bad-guy Justice League; an Earth-S where the characters DC got from Fawcett lived (Captain Marvel, et al), an Earth-X where the characters DC got from Quality Comics lived (Uncle Sam, et al), etc. Finally, the DC editors threw their hands up and said, "enough!" So Marv Wolfman and George Perez were hired to "blend" all the Earths into a single one. The result was Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it did exactly that.

Unfortunately, Crisis created more problems than it solved. Suddenly there was no Superboy -- he never existed in the "new" DC history -- which kicked the struts out from under the Legion of Super-Heroes origin. Wonder Woman was never a founding member of the Justice League or Justice Society -- the new history necessitated her appearing too late to do so -- so Black Canary and somebody named Fury were inserted in her stead, respectively. Hawkman was rebooted as a new character, without explanation for who had been that winged JLA member since 1964. The problems mounted exponentially, and every story that tried to smooth things out just complicated things even worse. So ...

The DC editors threw their hands up again, and charged Dan Jurgens with RE-fixing the continuity, which he did in Zero Hour. The intent here was to re-invent every character from the ground up. In other words, everything that happened BEFORE Zero Hour DIDN'T -- unless you read a story that says it DID.

All clear? Then explain it to ME!

3) What DIDN'T happen to Marvel? A series of bad owners led to bad creative decisions -- and to Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The "House of Ideas" has been in a slow creative and financial spiral for the last several years, and many of their books are just downright awful. Their most recent move, though, has been to hire a fella named Joe Quesada as their new Editor-In-Chief. Quesada has been in charge of "Marvel Knights," a line of book including Daredevil and Black Widow that many fans feel have been the only readable Marvels for years. Keep your fingers crossed.

4) Peter David has done a LOT since X-Factor. I can't list it all, but currently he's writing Supergirl, Young Justice, Captain Marvel, Before the FF: Reed Richards, Soulsearchers & Co. (for Claypool Comics), a weekly column in Comics Buyer's Guide and the occasional Star Trek or Babylon 5 book. If you liked X-Factor I can't recommend Captain Marvel enough.
I consider this worthy in a way for comedy value – this man allegedly complains that COIE was the beginning of the ruin of everything, only to jettison that gripe years later by embracing almost every crossover since.

And Quesada has already proven himself a disaster, alienating many Spider-fans, yet Mr. Smith’s never really been against his MO, has he? Nope. It wouldn’t be good for business, y’see.
It's been noted that in post-Zero Hour continuity, Batman never solved the murder of his parents. I recently re-read that Zero Hour issue of Detective; actually, Batman learned that Joe Chill was on a three-day bender the night his parents were killed, so he conclude that some other anonymous person must have been the shooter.

But has it ever been established that Batman tried to solve the case? When you think about it, it doesn't seem likely that a person would spend a lifetime becoming the World's Greatest Detective and NOT go after his parents' killers? Even in the Silver Age story that started this discussion, Batman didn't set out to solve the murder -- he was trying to figure out why Thomas Wayne was wearing a Batman costume. While doing so, he just happened to learn that Joe Chill was a hitman hired by mobster Lew Moxon.

So, what about it -- why wasn't the Wayne murder case Job One of Day One of Year One?

By the way, thanks for the kind responses from your readers about my previous comments on The Joker. And, just to prove that I do care about something other than Batman, here's another question: Why aren't there any team-up books on the market anymore? The Brave and the Bold (starring Batman), DC Comics Presents (Superman), World's Finest (Batman and Superman together, although there was a brief period with Superman and a rotating guest star), Marvel Team-Up (Spider-Man) and Marvel Two-In-One (The Thing), all had long runs. But the attempt to revive Marvel Team-Up was a flop that barely lasted a year. How come?

OK, we've established that in current continuity the Waynes were killed in a random street crime. And Joe Chill didn't do it. But, offhand, I don't remember why Batman hasn't made more of an effort to solve his parents' murder. So I'm open to a "Help the Captain" -- has anybody got a definitive statement from a a specific, post-Zero Hour comic book that explains this? Or do I have to pester Denny O'Neil again?

Oh, and there are no current team-up books because they don't sell anymore.
Well that’s a pretty anemic reply! Why not say it’s because they lost their appeal? A sad case, but that’s how it is with a lot of anthology style series today. What If, Dark Horse Presents and Legends of the DCU were some of the last surviving.

I honestly don’t know why O’Neil thought Batman failing to solve his parents’ murder and/or removing Joe Chill as the culprit would mean anything, but that’s just one of the biggest, most needless turns taken when Zero Hour came out. Now, for October 12, 2000:
I've read that the X-Men's Angel fought crime as the "Avenging Angel" before ever even joining the mutants. Is this correct or do you think they were mistakenly thinking of the Golden Age character?

It was established in the justly-forgotten "Origins of the X-Men" back-up feature in the '60s that Warren Worthington had a career as the Avenging Angel before being recruited by Professor X. He had a costume, a gas gun and everything.

Pardon? What was so wrong with an idea like that? It had been established that unlike his other X-peers, Warren was from a wealthy family. Oh, I get it. He thinks that premise was too reminiscent of the Golden Age Sandman, Wesley Dodds, because of the gas gun! Please. There are some differences, and besides, what else do you expect a guy with only wings as a power to do?

How does Marvel explain Bucky? I understand that the '40s were just a simpler time and the children who constituted the comic-book audience enjoyed reading about kids their age fighting alongside their heroes like Batman and Captain America, however, I feel DC has made a more plausible attempt at reconciling Golden Age customs with modern tastes; Robin's role seems comparatively logical by implying that he has always simply been in training for an unspecific future function and any direct involvement with crimefighting was either by accident or by Robin's choice and not done with Batman's knowledge or approval. Also, I believe Robin is meant as a narrative foil, to help relieve Batman's bleak and somber attitude and to contrast his worldview. But, again, how do contemporary writers justify sending a pre-pubescent child into armed combat? Am I thinking to hard on the subject and letting it interfere unnecessarilly with my enjoyment of the story, or does it stress even your ... suspension of disbelief beyond what is proper?

I agree wholeheartedly with you about how DC has quietly made Robin more plausible (and Batman less open to charges of child endangerment) which is why I richly enjoy the current Robin series while absolutely loathing the solo Robin stories of the '60s and '70s. Robin's official function seems to be a behind-the-scenes character who helps Batman with surveillance, computer savvy and research. I also think it's clever that Peter David has "quietly followed the lead of the Bat-office" (his words) in Young Justice, establishing that Robin isn't a public member, takes pains to stay out of the public eye (and cameras), and is referred to by the press as the "mysterious fourth member" -- which many confuse with Secret, thereby muddying the waters further.

As to Bucky, I remember a recent Captain America -- lord, don't ask me to look it up -- wherein a nostalgic Cap mentions off-handedly that Bucky was of combat age (or close to it), had full Army training and was facing combat with Steve Rogers's company anyway. This is a full-blown retcon, of course, but whoever was writing that scene felt the same need we do to absolve Cap of what had heretofore been extremely poor judgment.

Now wait just a second! I do appreciate Chuck Dixon’s run very much, which is far more than can be said for Dan DiDio, who’s taken to trashing everything he worked so hard to establish since. But what’s the big idea of putting down those older Robin stories with Dick Grayson from the Silver/Bronze Age? Some of them were quite good, even teaming hin up a few times with Babs Gordon in her early incarnations as Batgirl. They were decent escapism, and during the latter period would often depict Dick moonlighting as the Teen Wonder at the time he was college. Mr. Smith’s statement is a lapse in logic – if he thinks the kind of fare Dick went through back in the day wasn’t great, wouldn’t that same thing apply to the newer material too?

And I don’t think his beef has anything to do with shorts that were meant to reminisce trapeze outfits, one of the leading inspirations for superhero costumes, so he’s lost me with that one too.

You said that it was mysterious that Green Arrow had survived the superhero drought of the 1940s and 1950s. Why did you say that it was "mysterious"?

That was my snide way of noting that I wasn't much of an Emerald Archer fan in the '60s -- and I suspect a lot of other people weren't either. From his inception in 1941 to 1967, when Denny O'Neil abruptly gave him a personality, he was strictly a second-banana character, a poor photostat of Batman (complete with sidekick, bored-millionaire secret ID, Arrowcar and Arrowcave) with trick arrows instead of a utility belt -- but without the many original things about Batman that make the Dark Knight interesting and more believable, like his terrific origin, the acrobatics, the decades of martial-arts training, the escape-artist angle, the creature-of-the-night scare tactics, his detective schtick, etc. GA even had his own Batwoman, a chick named Arrowette who's been put to good use in Young Justice recently (as the mother of the current Arrowette. And the father? Ollie Queen, anybody?) I used to groan aloud when reading pre-O'Neil Justice Leagues, when writer Gardner Fox would go through elaborate, painful and obvious efforts to give GA something -- anything! -- to do on a team that included Superman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern. I mean, if a character is going to run as a back-up almost continuously from 1941 to 1961, wouldn't you think it would be one a little more original or useful, like Dr. Fate, Spectre, Starman or Wildcat? Or how about a little gender equality, with Black Canary or Phantom Lady? But no, we were stuck with the poor man's Batman, who contributed zilch to the team-ups and JLAs he was in, and was pretty boring in his solo strips. (Not to mention unbelievable -- he kept bringing a bow and arrow to gunfights, and winning!)

Which is not to say that I don't enjoy the character NOW. After O'Neil and Neal Adams got through with him in the late '60s, he a nifty new costume, a new raison d'etre (still not as good as Batman's, but better), a street-brawler build (and fighting style) and a realistic, contradictory, abrasive personality. He came alive for me then, but prior to that I considered him a joke in the superhero world.

But, hey, that's just my opinion!

You got that right. And it’s a pretty tedious one too. What mattered in Fox’s JLA stories of the time was the escapism and how entertaining it all was even on that level, not whether Green Arrow was distinguishable or not. Oh, don’t worry, even I find it odd that Mort Weisinger would make him almost a clone of Batman with the vehicles, but other than that, I’d say he did have some differences, even before the O’Neil/Adams reworking, which I’m not sure he’s very supportive of, now that I think of it. Here’s a kind of followup from October 26, 2000:

I like the new daily format. Must be a lot of work, though! My question: I always read your new comics/commentary first. It’s my favorite item on your site. I started buying Authority and Daredevil (and others I can’t remember) based on your recommendation. So, when I read the listing for Robin: Year One, I was intrigued. You mentioned some things hinted at in recent Nightwing issues about Dick Grayson’s history. I’m not a DC guy, but I have a soft spot for Bats & Co., so can you clarify your Robin: Year One comments and/or run down a recent history of Dick Grayson/Nightwing? I’d appreciate it.

There have been a number of intriguing, oblique remarks made in recent Bat-comics, some partially explained, some not. Apparently, for example, Two-Face nearly killed Dick Grayson early in his career, and that resulted in a phobia of sorts for Dick. That adventure has been partially shown in flashback, but I'd like to know how it fits into the whole picture. Batman has also mentioned that The Joker once shot Dick, which almost made him ditch the sidekick idea. I don't know if that story's ever been told, but I sure don't remember it. And I've always been curious how Batman justified bringing a teenager (or a pre-teen!) along with him on his adventures. Some of these things have been partially addressed -- like in Legends of the Dark Knight No. 100, "The Choice" -- but Dick's retro-history has been told only piecemeal, and I'd like a formal structure to hang it on.

I think the Joker injured Dick around the time O’Neil/Adams took over the helm, and may have been a reason why the Teen Wonder went on to college as Batman was reluctant to keep on leading him afterwards for a while. That said, they still had their teamings together, like in the Brave and the Bold when the Teen Titans were present. E. Nelson Bridwell this guy ain’t. Nor can he suspend his disbelief at having a teen sidekick either, another drawback to being a convincing fan. Nor does he seem capable of providing the best answer to the following query from November 9, 2000:

Why is (Daredevil) called "The Man Without Fear"? Is this just another instance of Stan Lee hyperbole or is there an actual meaning for this subtitle?

I always just assumed it was typical Stan Lee hyperbole, used to distinguish DD from the other Mighty, Amazing, Incredible, Invincible and Uncanny characters in the '60s Marvel stable. Of course, Matt Murdock adopted the name "Daredevil" from the sarcastic taunts of his childhood peers, so it's an easy extrapolation that his costumed identity needed to be "fearless" to offset the accusation that he was a gutless bookworm. I don't recall any story that made a big deal out of it -- even the Frank Miller-written Daredevil: Man Without Fear origin series never mentioned the phrase outside the title. Still, it's entirely possible that I've forgotten a story that formally addressed the origin of the nickname. (God knows he fought Mr. Fear often enough, and that's a possibility.) I've run your question despite my non-answer in the event that one of the Legion of Superfluous Heroes has any significant additions.
Hyperbole or no, I would say it alludes to Hornhead’s blindness! After all, it isn’t every blind person who can brave the odds in a crime-filled world, with or without radar vision. We could say the same about DD’s precursor Dr. Mid-Nite, too. Gee, I wonder how he never figured that one out?

Are the personalities of the Charlton-Era Blue Beetle and the Keith Giffen-era version that different? I happen to regard the latter character as one of my favorites, but have always noticed a tone of resentment from older fans when reading about Giffen's Beetle. I've never read any of the older comics, so did Giffen make too many gratuitous changes?

The Charlton Blue Beetle was, to my mind, just a typical, square-jawed hero type with very little to distinguish him. He was, I admit, a little on the Spider-Man side, wisecracking during combat and adopting the identity due to guilt over a dead guy (the original super-powered Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett). This was no doubt due to his being written and drawn by Steve Ditko, fresh off his stint on Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) 1-39. I never noticed fan resentment about Blue Beetle specifically during the Giffen JLA period -- but I heard a lot of grumbling about Giffen turning heroes (any heroes, it seems) into jokes. Your mileage may vary.

Yes, by millions ahead of yours! Someone’s forgotten that Giffen/DeMatties’ approach was deliberately meant to be tongue-in-cheek comedy! Nor does he take into consideration that while BB was wealthy like Batman, the difference is that he was more on the optimistic side. How typical of Mr. Smith.

Now, from November 23, 2000, here’s a query I wrote:

About a year ago, I read on the Comics Continuum Web site that Danger Girl was being considered for adapting to film. And now, with the surprise success of the movie based on Charlie's Angels this week, do you think that could pave the way towards Danger Girl, which is almost like the commando and comic-book version of such a TV show, being adapted to film?

According to Corona Coming Attractions, New Line Cinema is closely watching Charlie's Angels to determine how quickly to proceed with Danger Girl. The original draft for the movie was written by the comic's creators J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell, and New Line has tapped Mark Swift and Damian Shannon (Gator Farm) to perform a rewrite.

I guess that’s why no adaptation ever happened, even on television! No doubt they must’ve disrespected the source material…but Mr. Smith doesn’t even bother to ponder that, even at an early stage. Coming next, November 30, 2000:

I can't believe I forgot three of the most important chracters in comic history when asking if they were a hero, villain, anti-villain, or something else. Here they are:

Incredible Hulk (There is NO way innocent bystanders haven't been hurt during one of his rampages)

Spawn

Galactus (It would be easy to put him in the villain category, but you have to realize that he does what he does so he can survive.)

Gambit (Is he a thief or hero? Now there's a debate.)

You're right, whatever answer I give is sure to invite debate. Which is great! So here I go:

Hulk: This one's pretty complex, because there's more than one of them.

For example, the "Hulk Smash!" character I don't consider competent to be able to judge right and wrong by legal standards -- he has the emotional maturity (and possibly intellectual stunting) of a child, or mentally-retarded adult. He's neither hero nor villain -- he's just a damaged (and dangerous) child.

Mr. Fixit, on the other hand, is clearly a villain. He's a leg-breaker for the Mob, for Pete's sake!

The Professor is a selfish, temperamental guy who acts heroically when he has to. But he does occasionally act heroically, not always in his own best interests, so I classify him as a hero, reluctantly.

Bruce Banner, however, is mentally disabled -- he suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder (which, unfortunately, manifests physically due to his metagene being activated by gamma radiation). I wouldn't hold him to his actions any more than I would a schizophrenic.

Spawn: He's WRITTEN as the hero of the strip, but if you look at his actions and thoughts objectively, he's self-absorbed and amoral. Heck, he was an assassin before his death! I don't think his personal problems have changed him much; he's still looking out for No. One, but just whining about it more now that he doesn't have a face and is consigned to Hell. I'd call him an anti-hero at best; some of his actions I'd judge villainous (if you judge villainy by the standard of acting to further your own agenda even when it hurts others).

Galactus: It's been pretty well established that Galactus is a Force of Nature, like the wind and the tides, and not a personality at all. Our moral standards are inapplicable.
Gambit: Again, he's WRITTEN as a hero, but I don't think he is.

He's lied to and betrayed everybody he knows. He's a thief. He associates with the "Assassins Guild." He's directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Morlocks, and Angel's mutilation. He's a womanizer -- which, by definition, is a selfish, adolescent, predatory mode of thinking. He takes no action unless forced, always seeks the path of least resistance and shows no moral code whatsoever. He only acts in his own self-interest, and slides it all off with a wink and a grin.

Hero? Not a chance. Villain? Nah. He's just a punk.

But is Mr. Smith criticizing the writers or the characters here? If past scrutiny proves correct, he’s doing the latter, alas. And this whole commentary is nothing more than a cheap substitute for a real critique.

Gambit may be a punk, but Mr. Smith, with his track record, is nothing more than a left-wing media hack.

Now for December 21, 2000:

A little less than a year ago, I asked you about all of the new companies that were popping up in the year 2000. I was just wondering, now that the year is over, what is your reaction to the early successes and failures of these companies? Did they meet your expectations (for good or ill) or even exceed them? Did they live up to their own hype, or at least justify it?

So, what do you think now of AAA, Black Bull, CrossGen and Gorilla? If you're feeling up to it, what about Acclaim, Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel? Does Santa have a candy cane or a lump of coal for their Christmas stockings?

Ho, ho, ho! With apologies to our friends of other faiths, here's what Captain Santa awarded at Christmas:

Little CrossGeneration Comics was very, very good this year! CrossGen enchilada Mark Alessi promised to address many of the problems that afflict the industry, and -- despite the devastating loss of his wife -- delivered on every one. 1) Make all deadlines and shipping dates? Check. 2) Avoid mind-numbing continuity? Check. 3) Not rely on Spandex and write stories that might appeal outside the existing fan base? Check. 4) Retain creators for lengthy, well-crafted and planned stories? Check. 5) Give creators job security and a piece of the pie? Check. 6) Make Meridian, Mystic and Scion books the Captain would look forward to each month? Check.

Alessi's approach to hiring creators for the long-term made some people -- primarily publishing executives and other creators -- nervous. Some execs thought Alessi's plan was a license to steal their employees and freelancers. Some creators feared it was the shabby, old work-for-hire sweatshop mentality under a different name.

But the Captain doesn't think so. Publishers wouldn't have to worry about losing the likes of Barbara Kesel, Ron Marz, and Mark Waid if they gave them the same options and opportunities to begin with. And CrossGen's bullpen arrangement doesn't seem like a sweatshop to the Captain -- in fact, it sounds an awful lot like the Captain's job, and like those of most other normal working people in America. Except that the Captain's job isn't nearly as cool as writing Mystic every month, and his office doesn't have a rec room.
Captain Santa awards four candy canes (out of four).

AAA Pop Comics was also very good this year! Mike Allred also promised to avoid "The Image Syndrome" of missed shipping dates, and succeeded with 12 monthly issues. And, while the retro approach of The Atomics may not appeal to everybody, the sheer relish that Allred puts into every issue makes The Atomics a pure joy to read. It's so much fun, in fact, that it reminds the Captain of the giddy, gee-whiz feel of early Marvel Comics. Captain Santa awards three candy canes and a free trip to Yancy Street.

Gorilla Comics also turned out some gems last year -- Empire, Shock Rockets, Tellos and Section Zero are well-crafted delights. Crimson Plague is incomprehensible so far, but an .800 batting average is pretty darn good!

Unfortunately, due to financing falling through at the last minute, Gorilla was unable to avoid The Image Syndrome of missed shipping dates, resolicited books and overall general lateness. It wasn't the creators' fault, true -- but a good excuse is still an excuse. Captain Santa awards three candy canes for the stories, and one lump of coal to whomever it was that made them late.

Black Bull was very naughty this year. They published exactly one comic book -- Gatecrasher -- and it was a stinker. I generally delight in the work of Mark Waid and Amanda Conner, but they seemed to be going through the motions on this one. Gatecrasher was a string of cliches that did nothing for me, with its initial premise uncomfortably similar to WildStorm's recently-canceled The Patriots. The last several issues have shown improvement, but you can imagine that at any other company this book would have already been canceled.

That alone wouldn't make Captain Santa so annoyed, except that Wizard hyped the living stew out of this book -- they made no pretense of objective journalism while covering it in the magazine, and attempted to manipulate the market and reader perception to make it "hot." This makes Captain Santa -- who's worked in journalism for 20 years -- very, very angry. He's thinking four lumps of coal, and a wedgie for Wizard publisher Gareb Shamus.

Marvel Comics has had a rough year, and Captain Santa is loath to jump on the dogpile.

They've put out some good books and some bad books -- and the former is almost a miracle, given their skeleton staff, upheaval in upper management and financial desperation.

It's easy to crab about what's wrong with Marvel, but let's look at the positive side: The elevation of Marvel Knights wizard Joe Quesada to editor-in-chief was the best creative move they could possibly make, the Ultimates are a bold effort to fix what's ailing the industry, and the hiring of unorthodox top guns like Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, J. Michael Straczynski, and Brian Michael Bendis gives Captain Santa warm and fuzzy feelings about the future.

Let's give Marvel a candy cane, a pat on the head … and cross our fingers.

DC keeps chugging along with the best superhero stuff on the market, with virtually every DCU title worth reading. (Although they could give the Dark Knight a breather from overexposure). Most of WildStorm is pretty banal (Countdown? Brass? Most Wanted?), but Planetary, The Authority, and Alan Moore's "America's Best Comics" border on genius. Vertigo's nothing to shout about anymore (outside of Brian Azzarello's 100 Bullets and Hellblazer), but despite setbacks they continue to experiment. And DC's success with the Archives, Millennium Editions and trade-paperback program may someday be the blueprint for how the industry operates.
Let's give DC three candy canes, and a laurel and hearty handshake.

Which brings us to Image Comics, which would very much like to be a bad boy but doesn't always quite manage it.

The Big I gets points for Jim Valentino's bold stand against the preponderance of T&A that used to be synonymous with Image. (Now it's just synonymous with Top Cow.) They also get points for having faith in Age of Bronze and Geeksville, and for the brilliant Powers.

But they still suffer from a complete inability to ship on time, there's still too much T&A, and some of their books are -- let's face it - aimed at the kids on the short bus. Two candy canes for Valentino trying to upgrade the product; two lumps of coal for the Fathom Swimsuit Special alone.

Dark Horse is also a mixed bag. I'm not much of a manga fan, but the industry desperately needs it -- so three cheers for Super Manga Blast, Gunsmith Cats, etc. Licensed properties, by their nature, are limited to what stories they can tell -- but, again, the industry needs those books, so let's hear it for Star Wars, Predator, Terminator, etc.

Then there are the gems in Dark Horse's bridle: Lone Wolf & Cub, The Ring of the Nibelung, Usagi Yojimbo, plus anything and everything by Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, and Sergio Aragones. What can Captain Santa say about some of the best books by some of the best creators on the market?

Let's give DH three candy canes -- and an extra bale of hay.

Finally we come to Acclaim. And what's to say? See the Canceled Comics Cavalcade for the iffy state of their comic-book franchise. There's no need to give them any coal -- they've already taken down their stocking.

Of all this stuff, I can certainly comment on what he says about Marvel and DC (mainly since whether the indepedents are doing any wrong is kind of a moot point for now): Boy does he know how to boast and fawn over Marvel’s choices in Bendis, Stracynski and Quesada, among others. And boy does he know how to sugarcoat the Ultimates, and what it turned out to be like. As for DC, I can’t give much credit to a bunch of “editors” who were perfectly fine with abusing Hal Jordan, and saw no problem with obliterating the second Wildcat Yolanda Montez and Dr. Mid-Nite Beth Chapel in 1993.

Come to think of it, I can’t give much credit to Dark Horse either for wasting their time with Nibelung, knowing it was a product of Josef Wagner, the anti-semitic musician who served as a nazi influence. Next, let’s bring up December 28, 2000:

Unbreakable was a terrific film. My wife and I loved it. Easily one of the best of the year. I've never been one to invest in videotapes, believing that my time was better spent away from the television. (Heck, I don't even have a VCR yet!) But after this year, I'm tempted to start a collection of superhero comic-book theme movies.

Top of my list so far: Unbreakable, X-Men, Mystery Men, Blankman, Batman (Michael Keaton), and Superman I and II (Christopher Reeve).

I'd also like to include the old John Ritter movie, Hero at Large, simply out of nostalgia, but I don't think it exists at retail.

I assume I'm missing a lot of potential titles. Help me out, please.

I've got somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 movies on VHS. Does that make me smart? Nope. Now I have to switch to DVD! It's like what Tommy Lee Jones said in Men In Black -- every time they come out with a new technology, I have to buy The White Album again. Gah!

Ah, well, that's life. In reference to your comic-book movie question, there are a lot of comic-book movies, most of them painfully bad. All of the Captain America movies, for example (made-for-TV and not). Dr. Strange. The Nick Hammond Spider-Man TV shows (which have been repackaged as "movies"). The never-released Roger Corman Fantastic Four.

But there are lots of GOOD comic-book movies. In addition to the ones you mentioned I'd recommend, for example, The Phantom (1994), The Shadow (1994), the Captain Marvel serial (1941), Dick Tracy (1990), Terminator II (hey, that WAS a comic-book movie, 1991), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, animated), The Mask (1994), The Mask of Zorro (1998), Popeye (1980), Robocop (1987), Rocketeer (1991), Mallrats (1995), X-Men (2000) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).
Then there are the so-bad-they're-good comic-book movies: The Punisher (1988), Greystoke (1984), Justice League of America (1997), Conan (1982 -- Conan's a wimp, but Sandahl Bergman's HOT!), Barb Wire (1998) and Supergirl (1984).

There are plenty of others, and anybody who wants to contribute to this list is welcome.

Okay, I’ll see what I can say, and it’s that at one time, I might’ve thought Unbreakable was a decent movie, but today, I’m really let down by the ending, if anything, in the film. We get to the end to discover that the art dealer played by Samuel Jackson who suffered from bone brittle sabotaged a number of transportation sites and other things, all just to try and find his opposite number, and on top of that, that he’s a crackpot, apparently influenced in some way or other by spending much of his time reading comic books. The biggest problem here is how it implies that comic readers are destructive. I can’t appreciate that.

Interestingly enough, the person who wrote that was an obnoxious left-wing “reporter” whom I once found writing at least one article that was very anti-Israel and even paying lip service to a Muslim cleric with shady background. Yet he never spoke to any people whose relatives were victims of 9-11, never wrote any interviews with courageous folks like Debra Burlingame and Tim Sumner of 9-11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, and the weirdest part of all is that he read superhero comics created by Jews! Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he despised Will Eisner for having the courage to address the subject of Muslim anti-semitism in his last graphic novel, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And turning to Mr. Smith’s recommendations now, I must strongly disagree with some of his picks like Robocop, if only because it was too left-wing in retrospect for my tastes. I’ll even say that The Shadow was a pale one of the old pulp tales.

I’ll continue with more of this pretentious journalist’s lamebrained excuses in a third installment, coming up next.

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