The second issue of Fallen Ash, the fantasy comic about the residents of Aldergilt, dealing with the loss of their warrior, Ash, is out on Comixology today! In case you missed my interview with the creators, Kimberly Smith, Benjamin Bartolome, and Sam Gungon, have no fear! I've got you covered right here.
Here's some preview pages to get you guys amped up! Just click on each image to see a larger copy.
The first issue of Fallen Ash has received some excellent reviews from BleedingCool and Comic Book Resources.
You can download the two issues at the links below. If you're using a Kindle, the third issue is actually out on Amazon as well, although it's not on Comixology yet:
Fallen Ash #1: Amazon / Comixology
Fallen Ash #2: Amazon / Comixology
Fallen Ash #3: Amazon
Jul 24, 2014
Jul 22, 2014
Women in Comics
aka Thor is Going to Be a Woman for a While
"Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." Those are the word inscribed on Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor. Recently, Marvel announced that sometime later this year Thor would be portrayed as a woman. Essentially, the only thing changing about Thor (according to the sources) would be the character’s shape and appropriate personal pronoun. Grandiose speech, lightning, butt-kicking won’t change. Naturally, such a change produced Internet Outrage.
First off, Marvel was very clear to point out a few key pieces of information I think are particularly relevant:
- This new character is Thor, not some female variation of Thor, just straight up Thor
- They proudly announced it, this isn’t some gimmick (well, no more than usual promotional gimmicks) or cheap stunt
These are good points to remember because, when all is said and done, this change won’t be permanent. Male Thor isn’t going away and will obviously be back from some reason, most likely regaining his worthiness. That, sadly, is another function of the main universe of any comic, things eventually revert to normal. Very little is “permanent” or even permanent forever (ahem, Barry Allen).
Second, I think the haters have forgotten a few key principles of comic books. The first is that they are a work of fiction, ergo of imagination. The fault of a comic changing and you not being able to keep up is not necessarily a failing of the particular artist or writer, but rather a failure of imagination to follow along. Unless the art and story are horrible (which, lets be honest, happens) the characters and design are there to be shaped, molded and, yes, changed by times and the needs of the story. Whatever a character’s color, shape, size, sex or gender, there is a core truth to the character that a writer and artist articulate to make the character a success.
Spider-Man and Batman are on a quest to right a past wrong. Batman wants to stop other eight year old boys from ever having to lose their parents. Spider-Man is attempting to make up for a single mistake he made that cost him his uncle and father figure. What in these descriptions required the protagonist to be male? Nothing. Superman is an orphan from a distant star, sent to Earth and gifted with extraordinary powers. He choose to use those powers to benefit all of humankind. But Superman does not have to be a man to do this, the character just needs to be Kryptonian.
Third, it might be hard to admit this fact, but comics might no longer consider you a target audience. I don’t think I am. I may infrequently buy comics (very, very infrequently) and primarily seen 2/3’s of the movies (GotG, you’re number 2 of 3 for the year), but I know that there are people who aren’t reading comics who might give DC and Marvel a shot if the person being drawn as Thor/Iron-Man/Batman/Aquaman/Green Lantern looked even a little like them.
Readers want to be able to see themselves in the characters and situations. The true essence of the character remains, avenging a loss, making up for a mistake, flying around in a billion dollar piece of tech you designed to hide your alcoholism. The point is a reader of comics chooses them for a variety of reasons. One is nostalgia, but another is to use one's imagination to live the life of a superpowered being.
Fourth, and to reiterate, the changes to Thor will obviously not be permanent. Why? Because Big Blondey isn’t disappearing, he’s been found “unworthy.” So, you can get all upset that Thor won’t be exactly the same as he’s always been, forever unchanging and never, ever being a crippled doctor. Or, you can give something new a try and maybe, just maybe, it might be good. Now, you’ve just carved out a space for the possibility that comics can be a dynamic medium and not a static one.
Being temporary doesn’t diminish the change being made to Asgard. Rather, it challenges the comic, the story and the environment to welcome something new. Give it space to breath and see if it will work. If a woman being found worthy makes Thor a better book, a better story, a better place for readers to park their eyeballs for a while, who is really hurt by this change?
Finally, comics are escapism in a pretty blatant sense. If you can’t escape into the characters, why would you read and pay money for the stories? Moreover, comics - especially those in the Marvel universe - are about embracing those who are different, imperfect, and (ok, some not actually) human beings. They are about embracing change, with superpowers.
Without change, we would live in a world without Days of Future Past, a world without either Phoenix Saga, a world without any sort of Crisis. Our world, as comic book readers and society as a whole would be less because change was not allowed to happen. There is always going to be a vocal minority that wants comics to reflect an imagined past of art, story and characterizations. They desire the familiar, but it always just makes me think...
Discuss this story here.
Jul 21, 2014
The Embarrassing State of Comic Book Fandom
It's Not Me, It's You
I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed and frustrated to be a comic book fan, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the comic books themselves. I try my best to be a positive source of comic book information and conversation on the internet, because there certainly is no shortage of negativity, and I’d much rather share the books I love than complain about the ones I don’t. Unlike the past, comics have arguably never been more socially acceptable as they are now, and yet I find myself increasingly embarrassed to be associated with the comic book “fans” that populate the internet. This is not a commentary on comic book fandom as a whole (if the following words don’t apply to you, then don’t take offense) but the annoying subculture of online fans that are as annoying as they are ignorant.
It was bad enough with all the rampant racism following the announcement of Michael B Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie. Now, that same racism has reared its ugly head with the announcement of Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon, taking on the mantle of Captain America. Not to be outdone, some fans have decided to show how sexist they can be too, in regards to the announcement that a female will soon wield the power of Thor. These basement-dwellers often hide behind words like tradition, never realizing that if we steadfast held to traditions in the United States, there would still be slaves and women wouldn’t be able to vote. (I don’t mean to suggest that comic book characters are important as either of those two things, only that racists and sexists have historically hidden behind the same excuses.)
I understand the trepidation that can come with a favorite character being altered from the version that made you a fan of them in the first place. The thing about comics (and it’s shocking to me that anyone that has read comics for more than a few years continuously fails to grasp this) is that no changes are ever permanent. Thor will be a man before long, and Steve Rogers back in the red, white, and blue.
On the opposite side, would it really be so bad to have a woman and a black man as part of the unquestioned “big three” of the Avengers books? I happen to think these changes would arguably be better for the long-term viability and health of comic books. (It’s funny, many of the same commenters that are so irate about these changes, are the same people that complain that no change is ever permanent in comics.) The Avengers and the Justice League are a little too lily white to be accurate representations of it’s readership, and society as a whole.
Another criticism often lobbed by the perpetually angry, is that Marvel and DC should just create brand new characters, as if it is that simple. The only characters created by Marvel or DC in the past 30 years that have proved viable enough to sustain an audience, are probably Deadpool and Lobo, and that’s about it. Cranky Editor Man will point out that Ben missed Cable, as if adding Cable to this short list makes a difference to his point. Fans have repeatedly shown they aren’t interested in supporting new characters, so publishers really have no alternative if they are truly going to try and portray the varied demographic that buys their products. (Never mind that writers and artists are going to save any truly inspired creations they have for comics they can own and profit off of, such as Hellboy, and they should.) That cannot be done if they continue to rely on the same all-white, all-male characters created, at minimum, 50 years ago.
I know comic books can never be as great as they were when you were 10 years old, not many things can. If comics are no longer enjoyable for you (and they are supposed to be fun; remember, it’s entertainment) then it’s time to move on to other things. If you have nothing nice to say about comics as a whole, and not just a specific comic you found disappointing, please do us the favor of shutting up about it. You’re making the rest of us look bad. The world is a far too negative place as it is, your energy is better spent talking about things you enjoy. But that’s trying to reason to with the unreasonable, and the perpetually unsatisfied. It’s the main reason I will now be more cautious when talking online about the medium I love, something I could only have dreamed of having the capability to do when I was a little boy. That seems like a tremendous shame.
Cranky Editor Man has to wonder how anyone reading comics for more than a few years still gets worked up about these things, remembers how people went insane when Bucky replaced Captain America, then went insane again when Steve Rogers came back. It's fiction, folks. There's other stuff worth getting pissed about. I talk more about it here. But in general, how can a Thor fan not look forward to badass unworthy Thor?
Jul 16, 2014
Riding the Lightning: Talking About Wally West in 2014
In a few months, the Flash is making it back to TV after two decades, and Grant Gustin is playing Barry Allen. Although initial reviews of the pilot have been good (I'm personally happy he looks like he has fun being the Flash instead of something grimdark), there are several common threads I've seen to discussion about it, and they tend to be common threads whenever the Flash comes up as a topic of discussion. By far, the one that leads to the most discussion is this:
The Flash should be Wally West, not Barry Allen.
That one's a bit important to me, since if I had to have a Flash to call my own, his name would be Wally West. This wasn't always the case — I first started liking the character of the Flash with the first Super Powers action figure, followed by the first time I saw his entry in DC's Who's Who, straight after Crisis on Infinite Earths. And that Flash was Barry Allen. Even when Wally replaced him, it seemed kind of lame. I mean, Barry could travel at speeds faster than light, and Wally's top speed, once he took on the mantle of the Flash, was the... speed of sound?
In a word: la-aaaa-aaame.
But something funny happened, as time went on. I saw this on the stands.
|Art by Brian Bolland|
The Return of Barry Allen? All right! Never mind the fact that trade paperbacks were so rare back then that a storyline that got collected must have been special, but come on! Barry Allen was back! That's MY Flash! So, of course, I quickly snapped it up.
Turns out, it wasn't Barry Allen at all, but his old nemesis, Eobard Thawne, better known as Professor Zoom, but better known to me as the Reverse-Flash. Longtime Cube readers are aware of my irrational love for evil doubles, and if Barry wasn't gonna be Barry, this was the perfect twist for someone like me.
|Art by Ty Templeton|
What really amazes me, after having read it again recently, is that I now realize this: I was not bothered, when I read it all those years ago, that "The Return of Barry Allen" was anything but. I was not bothered that they dangled this tease in front of me, I fell for it, and it turned out to be false. It was perfectly fine. And it was fine because the story made Wally West one of my favorite characters ever, and used his superpowers as a metaphor for growing up. It was a good, old coming-of-age story, and for a guy who was into coming-of-age stories, it was as close to being a perfect superhero comic as I could hope for.
You see, Wally could only travel at the speed of sound, but Thawne could travel at light speed. With the help of his fellow speedsters Jay Garrick (the original Flash), Johnny Quick (who I marked out for because one of my first comics had Johnny Quick's origin in it), and Max Mercury (the Zen master of speed), Wally ended up figuring out that the reason he couldn't move as fast as Barry was because he was afraid of replacing Barry, confirming that indeed, he was nothing more than a memory. Thawne forced his hand — if he didn't replace Barry, Thawne would end up doing it. The ensuing fight scene was great, a truly climactic fight scene with a beautiful splash page to punctuate the theme of the torch being passed, and the perfect double-page spread to show Wally just taking the torch in no uncertain terms.
|Art by Greg LaRocque|
I followed Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn's run on Flash sporadically from then on. I bought the paperback for Terminal Velocity, the story in which Wally discovers the source of his power (The Speed Force), enters it, and comes back, becoming the first person to do so, because he was anchored to this life by the love he shared with his girlfriend, Linda Park.
|Art by Carlos Pacheco, Oscar Jimenez, and Jose Marzan Jr.|
I saw the love between Wally and Linda grow so organically and so naturally. Reading it now, some 15 years later, it even, if anything, feels more genuine. Here's a short sequence that occurs when Flash had to kiss his ex, Frances Kane, on public TV in order to get her to stop destroying town. Linda is understanding but upset, or so Wally wants to convince himself.
|Art by Mike Wieringo|
(Side note: Waid and Augustyn's Flash used picture-specific storytelling more and almost better than anyone else was at the time. I really appreciated this because it taught me not to take anything for granted in comics, since I had grown up reading comics where almost everything was overexplained. Comics have been criticized for being too decompressed in the past decade, and there is truth to that, but at the same time, it's not like most of the material from back when comics took a while to read wasn't unnecessary and artless exposition.)
In Waid and Augustyn's run (with a year of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar writing in between), Wally and Linda fall deeply in love, work on their relationship, and eventually get married. Waid and Augustyn leave with the honeymoon issue. Maybe that story arc, combined with the fact that I just love the iconography of the Flash, would have been enough to interest me in the series, but fortunately, it was so much more than that. After working his way out of Barry Allen's shadow, Wally West went adventuring with one of the most entertaining supporting casts of all time.
|Art by Paul Pelletier|
In addition to Jay, Johnny, and Max, the Flash Family consisted of Jesse Quick (Johnny's daughter) and Impulse (Barry's grandson from the future). Fans and creators alike tend to cite some ridiculous notion when it comes to characters with the same powers; they say that it dilutes the main character, but Waid and Augustyn proved this didn't have to be the case, and showed that superpowers are only a part of a character. If anything, it was about roles, and the Flash Family was just that: a family. They're the family you build, and Wally, having just "graduated" and coming into his own as the Flash, was the head.
|Art by Mike Wieringo|
Seeing Wally West's growth from insecure kid sidekick left on his own to the guy coming up with the carefully calculated plan to save the day was like seeing a friend grow up and come into his own.
The last storyline Waid and Augustyn did, involving the Dark Flash, where he shunted Wally off elsewhere for a while and replaced him with a darker version of himself (this plot device has been around for a while, but you wouldn't know it from the people still overreacting to things like "Thor's going to be replaced by a woman" news) really makes one appreciate Wally and Linda. Cut off from the rest of the world, where everyone has forgotten Linda and everyone thinks the Dark Flash is Wally, the Lightning Couple has to find a way to get everything back to normal. And they do, because Wally and Linda don't give up on each other and because, despite faulty memories and mistaken identities, the Flash Family somehow finds a way to get it together.
So on some level, yes, I am disappointed that Wally West isn't the Flash in the TV show.
But you know what I realized?
This isn't my Flash either.
That's Wally West from the critically acclaimed series from the 1980s, New Teen Titans, by Marv Wolfman and George Perez (only my favorite comic book creator ever). I spent two years tracking down just about every issue of this run, thinking, hey, I like Wally West and I like Dick Grayson and this series is critically acclaimed, so I should love this series. But no — I was still find with Grayson, but my other favorite character in the series became Donna Troy. Wally West? Well, in the series, he was weak-willed (they actually described him this way), temperamental, and a bigot. This characterization continued into his own series, although he was much less unlikable, until Waid and Augustyn took over the writing duties.
Making a character grow up is the job of a creative team, and Waid and Augustyn did it beautifully, but that portion of Wally West's life, to the extent that fictional characters have lives, is not only uninteresting to me; it's flat out cringeworthy. It's almost a completely different character.
Shortly after Waid and Augustyn left, Geoff Johns took over the title, and he did some interesting things, especially with the Rogues (Flash's almost affectionate term for his villains), what ended up going on with Wally, Linda, and the rest just did not interest me at all. It was almost like Wally became a supporting character in his own book, so that when they finally brought Barry back in 2008 and shunted Wally off to the side, it didn't interest me either.
DC's New 52 continuity recently introduced a new version of Wally West, who is probably a good character in his own right, but it's not my Wally West, not the one I have any interest in reading.
I guess what I'm really saying is, to the extent Wally West is my Flash, there is also the fact that Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn (and again, I have to mention Grant Morrison and Mark Miller for that year in between as well as for Morrison's concurrent handling of him in JLA) handled my Wally West. Before that, he was plain unlikable. After that, he was just plain. Really, the only other version of Wally West I've been interested in has been the one in Justice League Unlimited, which is really unfair because I like just about everyone on that show.
I can be annoyed that the Flash on the new TV show isn't Wally West, but what would the point be, unless I just wanted to be annoyed? It wouldn't have been my Wally West anyway. My Wally West existed in the pages of approximately 80 issues of his own series and some 50 issues of co-starring with the Justice League. If reading those issues was like watching a good friend come into his own, everything that came after is like if you and that friend grew apart, you doing his own thing and him doing his own thing, you curious enough to check in on him once in a while to see what's going on, but in the end, being fine with not really hanging out anymore.
And you know, that's okay. Maybe TV's version of Barry Allen will be yet another character I get invested in, maybe the show will flop. Hell, maybe it will end up being my favorite version of Barry Allen! All I know is that after being a Flash fan since I first found out he existed via a Super Powers action figure, I'm just happy that this is going to come onto my screen at some point.
Have something to say? Discuss this column at the Classic Comics Forum!
Jul 14, 2014
With the all-important question of who is the ultimate inductee to the inaugural fictional superhero hall of fame finally answered, it’s time to milk this idea for all its worth, like a mid-‘90s Marvel storyline. Also, because I have no new ideas.
With that in mind, I’m going to discuss the greatest weapons from superhero comic books, based much less on science and math, and more on which ones I can think of while I’m typing this. So, just keep in mind, this is not a list of the most powerful weapons in superhero comics, but the overall best ones. Style over substance. Make sense? Oh well, there’s only so much I can do.
Last Place: Starman’s Cosmic Rod
Any weapon that sounds more like a euphemism for Starman’s genitals than it does some powerful object for destruction, automatically loses. Sorry, Duy.
Second to Last Place: Quantum Bands
Quasar, ‘nuff said.
20. Green Arrow’s Bow and Arrows
Gets the edge over Hawkeye’s arrows based purely on the boxing glove arrow.
19. Sword of Omens
18. He-Man’s Power Sword
Sort of like Lion-O’s sword, except instead of being Lion-O you get to be a super-strong space Conan. Also, it turns your giant green space tiger into a giant green space tiger wearing battle armor. Plus, Teela.
Keeping the sword thing going, this is the best of all swords, because it’s the biggest. It’s also capable of ending the universe if unsheathed, which is as good an excuse for a sex joke as I’ve ever heard. Insert your own here.
The seminal weapon of the immortal Paste Pot Pete, who went around spraying people with his viscous white fluid. How this guy hasn’t anchored a major motion picture yet, I cannot understand.
15. Cosmic Control Rod
Like Starman’s Cosmic Rod, it contains the word rod, which is never not funny. Unlike Starman, this is a cool weapon for a cool character, Annihilus, ruler of the Negative Zone. Negative points for making me think of insect genitalia.
14. The Destroyer
An indestructible suit of pure chaos, powered by the soul of a willing, or unwilling, sentient being. That’s the main reason Duy chose it as his user name for his deviant lifestyle online profile.
13. Mandarin’s Rings
Ten rings of power used by a man named after an orange, or a language, or something. Either way it’s racist and you’re in the wrong for not enjoying Iron Man 3 more. Watch it again without your nerd rage and it’s pretty enjoyable.
12. Ultimate Nullifier
Anything that can make Galactus run away and hide, while making the Silver Surfer more miserable as a result, is a weapon worth making a ridiculous list. Bonus points for a name that could double as a sex toy.
11. The Good Samaritan
Hellboy’s big honking gun is filled with helpful stuff like sanctified wood and metal, and is used to kill everything from vampires to werewolves. In general, bigger is better.
10. Eye of Agamotto
Among other things, it gives Doctor Strange the power to see a person’s deepest and darkest thoughts, which is totally a thing a guy dressed in pajamas and a cape with a mustache like that would want to see on a regular basis. There’s a reason Strange is Duy’s personal role model.
9. Emerald Eye of Ekron
Actually the severed right eye of a Green Lantern power construct called Ekron, and used by the Emerald Empress of the Fatal Five in the far future of the DC universe. Emerald Empress has green hair, is hot, and runs around with a floating green eyeball, how did she not make the hall of fame?
8. The Cosmic Cube
Known as the Tesseract to all the movie fans, the Cosmic Cube of the comic books basically grants the wielder the ability to turn any wish into reality. It’s the equivalent of a small child telling the genie of the lamp that for his/her first wish, (s)he wants infinite wishes, except usually the Red Skull is around, which isn’t good. In summary, Cosmic Cube is a much cooler name than tesseract. Also, to clarify, I’m saying keep your children away from the Red Skull. Parenting tips are just one of the benefits of reading Back Issue Ben.
7. The Infinity Gauntlet
For fans of the Marvel movies wondering what all this talk of stones has been lately, they’re referring to the infinity gems, which when combined into gauntlet form, gave Thanos God-like power (not Asgardian God type power, Jesus type) including omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and probably a few more omni words. The gems that comprise the gauntlet are Power, Mind, Space, Soul, Time, and another one I can never remember (Reality).
6. Spider-Man’s Web Shooters
5. Lasso of Truth
Humbly speaking for all men, the single most terrifying weapon any woman could wield.
4. Batman’s Utility Belt/Batarangs
Batman’s utility belt has the greatest power of all, ultimate plot macguffin capabilities. Anything Batman might need to get out of any given situation is contained within this belt, because Batman equals preparation, and preparation rhymes with masturbation, which is something most Batman fans are very familiar with. (As opposed to Spider-Man fans, who are totally beating the ladies/dudes off with a stick. Wow, I totally didn’t type that euphemism intentionally, but I’m leaving it in.) Batman’s Batarang’s are the most common thing he pulls out of his fanny pack of justice, and they’re pretty cool, I have to admit. Though I don’t know how throwing a pointy-ended bat boomerang made of steel is supposed to be less lethal than using a gun, but whatever.
3. Captain America’s Shield
Captain America’s shield is probably the last weapon anyone else would grab before heading out onto a battlefield, but for him it’s absolutely devastating, whether it be on the field of battle in WWII Europe, or facing down Thanos in the middle of space. Indestructible (except when it isn’t) with amazing implausible ricochet capabilities, it might not be the most obvious offensive weapon, but in the hands of Steven Rogers it’s one of the greatest comic book weapons ever created. It’s also very hard to come up with inappropriate sexual jokes about, which is another feather in its vibranium cap.
2. Green Lantern’s Power Ring
The power ring is kinda like the top weapon on this list, except it turns you into Green Lantern, which is… not as good. It gives you all sorts of indeterminate powers like constructs and space bubbles, because…willpower, and it does other things like flight, space bubbles, and space flight bubbles. Plus, boxing gloves made of determination. On the bad side, it automatically makes you a target for purple space hitlers, and giant spiders. On the super plus side, Arisia is totally into Earthlings.
All the other weapons were all fine and dandy, but this is the only one that gives you the powers of Thor. That’s better than Lion-O’s telescope sword.
There you have it, the definitive inaugural inductees to the weapons room of the superhero hall of fame. I actually started the list believing that DC had far more weapons in their arsenal, but like in most areas, Marvel outclasses them in terms of quantity and quality.
Unless you want to add Penguin’s umbrellas, but you’d be the only one that does.
Next time, maybe something else.
Want to talk about which weapons should have made the list? Discuss this article at the Classic Comics Forum!
Jul 7, 2014
The Superhero Hall of Fame: The Final Showdown
Those of you that have taken this long and arduous journey with me down the hallways of greatness, have most likely guessed at the remaining two contestants vying for the coveting prize of top dog in my imaginary Superhero Hall of Fame. Batman and Spider-Man.
The determining criteria has already been established, and so in the interest of fairness and transparency, my only recourse is to explore this matchup head-to-head by category. A winner will be determined, greatness achieved, without dispute or argument for the remainder of our natural born lives, as well as what may come beyond.
Let the madness end.
Spider-Man’s role in the death of his beloved Uncle Ben adds the extra element of tragedy to his origin, that pushes it past Batman’s as the greatest of all time. They both suffered a great loss, but Spider-Man has guilt to go along with it.
Cranky Editor Man agrees with this. Spider-Man being indirectly responsible for the death of his uncle makes it worse. And also, his origin is significantly more plausible given the rules of that world, in which a radioactive spider gives you powers instead of killing you. If you got spider-powers, the first thing you would do is try to cash in on it. If you had billions and your parents were killed in front of you, the last thing you would try to do is become Batman. And you know it's true.
Batman’s skills involve being the best hand-to hand fighter in the room, the most prepared strategist, and often the smartest and coolest guy in the room, no matter the room. It’s often said that Batman can beat anyone given enough time, and that he always has a plan for any given situation. Being unbeatable can be a very appealing trait. Plus, he has all the coolest toys.
Spider-Man has the coolest power set outside of Superman. Batman may have his batarangs and grappling gun, but nothing can match the idea of swinging through the city on your own webs. Along with super strength, spider sense, enhanced speed and agility, and of course, the ability to stick to walls. Spider-Man’s greatest power though, is his determination to win. He will never stop and never quit, which makes him as unbeatable, if not more so, than Batman.
Cranky Editor Man says, They've been doing that whole "I don't give up" thing with Batman for a while, and that's DC's entire problem. Now everyone who gets into a fight with Batman is sure to lose, so DC can't ever build up new franchises (they've already basically left Superman at the sacrificial altar of the bat), and WB is too scared to do anything without Batman.
Batman has a rotating assortment of Robins, to include the first and greatest, Dick Grayson. Alfred and Commissioner Gordon have become staples of any interpretation of Batman. Detective’s Montoya and Bullock are often interesting in their own right. Lucius Fox has gained greater prominence from the movies. While it might be a little unfair to count Robin, since he’s a hero in his own right, it can’t be denied that he is a supporting character of the Batbooks, and between him and Gordon, have the most potential for independent storytelling.
At one point, Spider-Man had the strongest supporting cast in all of comics. Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, Harry Osborn, Joe Robertson, Betty Brant, Ned Leeds, and J Jonah Jameson just to name a few. However, over the years, most of that cast has been killed off or marginalized to the point of non-use. Despite the presence of JJJ, arguably the strongest supporting cast member of either character, this has to go to Batman.
Cranky Editor Man thinks that Marvel doesn't use Spidey's supporting cast enough, and fondly remembers the three-issue Daily Bugle series from the 90s.
Spider-Man has my favorite rogues gallery in comics, with its assortment of animal themed characters and goblins. Notables include Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, Electro, Sandman, the Lizard, Scorpion, the Vulture, and Carnage. The original Hobgoblin was my personal favorite. A strong list top to bottom, but Spidey’s cast of villainous foes suffers a little bit from the lack of a clear top dog. Depending on who you ask, it could be Doctor Octopus, the Green Gobin, Venom, or even J Jonah Jameson.
Again, in the interest of objectivity, I have to concede that Batman has the far more celebrated roster of villains. Two-Face, the Penguin, Catwoman, Rah’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Mr Freeze, Mad Hatter, the Riddler, and Bane. Most, if not all, have headlined their own books at some point, and that’s before you even get to arguably the top villain in all of comics, The Joker.
Cranky Editor Man says, Batman wins this by a landslide, proving once again that the best parts of Batman aren't Batman.
Batman’s most consistent and lasting romantic entanglement continues to be Catwoman. Even then, she’s most often portrayed as the forbidden fruit, never to be indulged permanently. Characters like Talia Al Ghul, Vicki Vale, and Silver St Cloud have all had their chances to shine, but ultimately Batman’s true love is, and always will be, vengeance.
Spider-Man has a bit of an unfair advantage in his category, as he was created very specifically to have real life problems, which very specifically includes the struggles of romantic entanglement. Mary Jane is obviously the most popular and most beloved of his love interests, having been married to him in the comics for the span of 20 years. Outside of her, you have the never-ending shadow cast by the loss of Gwen Stacy, or the adventurousness and fun of the Black Cat. All are far more fun and entertaining than the dour pining of Batman for Catwoman.
Cranky Editor Man says, Batman's entire romantic life is even more evidence against Batman being a "realistic" superhero, or even, to some extent, an admirable one. This man will let anyone, be she a master thief or a global terrorist go, as long as he's got a shot at sleeping with her. What a dick. At least Spider-Man stops at the thief.
Batman has one of the most iconic costumes and logos in all of comics, whether it be the yellow oval, or the black bat. Easily adaptable by artists, with little flourishes most often taken with the length of the bat ears, or the color scheme of the cape and cowl, blue or black. It’s as striking in silhouette as it is in full view, if not more so.
Spider-Man’s costume is iconic as well at his point, if maybe just a tick below Batman’s. It’s easily identifiable from any angle, no matter how much of the costume is in view, which was deliberate on the part of co-creator Steve Ditko. It can be spooky in the right environment, or flashy and colorful in another. It also has plenty of room for artistic flourishes, in terms of a blue or black color scheme, the design of his eyelets, or the interpretation of the webbing on the costume.
The first advantage for Spider-Man is the full face mask, making it a little more practical for concealing the secret identity, and also having the added effect of allowing any kid of any gender, race, or color the ability to pretend they’re Spider-Man under the costume. The second advantage is that Spider-Man has far more variations of his costume that are just as visually appealing as the red and blue. The black costume alone is enough to put Spider-Man over the top in this category.
Cranky Editor Man says, Batman's costume may be a stronger concept, but Spider-Man's costume is a stronger design, in the strictest definition of those meanings. You can tweak Batman's costume a bunch of ways, but by and large, Spider-Man's costume adheres to the same principles. You're definitely not going to get a debate on something as basic as the colors. "Oh hey, yeah, blue and gray. That's stealthy." Way to go, Batman.
Batman has certainly had more than a few runs of sustained excellence in his publishing history. But I’ve read enough Batman to also know there have been just as many runs of average to below average storytelling.
However, I feel like Spider-Man has presented the most consistent level of entertaining stories since his creation in all of comics, particularly in the flagship Amazing title. In the interest of transparency, let’s break it down by decade, not counting the pre-1960s Batman comics, because that would be unfair.
1960s – No question that Spider-Man wins this hands-down. Not only was Ditko cranking out superhero classics that are still enjoyable to this day, but together with Stan Lee they were creating the blueprint for the Marvel superhero, and arguably for the entire medium, going forward.
1980s – This decade represented a microcosm of Marvel and DC as a whole for these two characters. Spider-Man dominated the early part of the decade, with a run by Roger Stern that included multiple classics, as well as the Hobgoblin and Black Costume sagas. Tom DeFalco followed him with a more than capable run along with frequent collaborator Ron Frenz. Not to mention the quality stories happening in Spectacular and Web of. Batman would respond later in the decade with three all-time classics, but since those are better captured in the next category, and considering I can’t really name anything from Batman beyond those, I think this decade goes to Spider-Man as well.
1990s – The less said about the ‘90s the better, but since Knightfall seems to be more fondly remembered than the Clone Saga as a whole, Batman takes the decade.
2000 and beyond – Probably Batman’s most consistently entertaining era of stories, with events like No Man’s Land, Hush, Under the Red Hood, and Fugitive. His death and return during a much celebrated run by Grant Morrison, and followed with an even more popular stint by current writer Scott Snyder. While I don’t personally enjoy the JMS years, they are cherished by a section of fandom. One More Day certainly has its detractors, but it led to a more consistently entertaining stretch of comics in Brand New Day, and then the run of sustained excellence by Dan Slott, from Big Time, to Spider-Island, to Superior, and which continues to this day. While I think Slott’s multiple-shipping Amazing and Superior represents the more consistent read over Batman’s multiple books of varying quality, I’m willing to call this a tie for the modern era.
OVERALL EDGE: Spider-Man
Cranky Editor Man has a point to make here, and it's this one: Spider-Man has been pretty consistently entertaining as the same character for the last 52 years. You've had to overhaul Batman, change his motivations, change his cast, consistently move around his trappings. 60s Batman isn't anywhere near the same guy as modern Batman. Spider-Man is Spider-Man. And that matters. Or comes close to mattering as anything else in this imaginary hall of fame, which still doesn't matter as much as having a beer after work with friends.
Also, including the pre-1960s Batman comics would be unfair, because they would be negative points for Batman.
While I feel like Spider-Man has had the more consistently entertaining books, there’s really no question that Batman easily trumps him in terms of evergreen stories. The Dark Knight Returns alone, is (along with Watchmen) the most celebrated “graphic novel” of all time, and is one of the top books in all of comics most frequently read by the casual fan. The Killing Joke, Death in the Family, and Batman: Year One are not far behind, and that’s before you get to newer classics like Hush and the Court of Owls.
Spider-Man has the benchmark of the Death of Gwen Stacy, often cited as the end of the figurative “Silver Age” of superhero comics, and a turning point in storytelling. Kraven’s Last Hunt, The Master Planner Saga (containing probably the single most famous single moment in all of comics), The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man, and Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut are all standouts, but nothing on the level of Batman’s top books. Spider-Island and No One Dies should someday be included with the greats, but they’re still not even on the level of Snyder’s much more hyped tenure.
Cranky Editor Man thinks sure, but come on, read The Killing Joke again. Really read it. A lot of it is good work that is elevated to great work because Batman is in it and people think "Hey, comics aren't for kids anymore and I can use this to legitimize my hobby!" Except for all the Miller stuff, those are genuinely great.
Short and sweet, while Spider-Man is now one of the most well-known, recognizable, and popular comic book characters ever around the globe, Batman has arguably passed Superman as the single most popular comic book character worldwide.
Cranky Editor Man says, sure, but this comes with DC putting all their eggs into one big bat-shaped basket. Marvel doesn't do that with Spider-Man and he's still the industry's top seller and still in the three most widely known superhero worldwide, and he did it without the benefit of a groundbreaking TV show, cartoon, or even a movie until the 21st century. But yes, he wins this one, because even Spider-Man quotes him:
Along with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are the most licensed characters in all of comics. All of them have multiple toy lines, and have been used to sell everything from towels to bicycles.
Batman gets the edge in animation, thanks to the ground-breaking Batman: The Animated Series, and the highly enjoyable Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But Spider-Man is no slouch either, going all the way back to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the underrated Spectacular Spider-Man, and the enjoyable all-ages Ultimate Spider-Man. Batman has enjoyed a few gems in the Animated Movie department, starting with the first (and the best) Mask of the Phantasm, continuing through Under The Red Hood, but has suffered from increasingly uninspired and overly violent entries in recent years.
The Arkham Asylum games certainly have a large contingent of fans, but Spider-Man 2 happens to be the single greatest comic book video game of all time. (Maximum Carnage held that title in its day also.)
Television is a landslide, with the ‘60s Batman series as a full-fledged phenomenon at the time, while the less said about the live-action Spider-Man series of the ‘70s, the better.
Batman has eight major motion pictures under his belt, Spider-Man has five. While Batman may boast (begrudgingly by me) the best movie of the bunch in The Dark Knight (as well as my personal favorite in the 1966 version) he also boasts the absolute worst in Batman and Robin. Spider-Man 3 and The Dark Knight Rises are about as equally as bad, leaving the other four Spider-Man entries as the most consistently entertaining compared to Burton’s nostalgic-ly charming but extremely flawed Bat-movies.
What puts the Spider-Man movies over the Batman movies as a whole for me (and this cannot be chalked up to my Marvel bias, as I legitimately do not enjoy the Raimi movies anymore) is that they are all actually about Spider-Man, and spotlight him as a character. With the exception of Batman Begins, Batman is frequently overwhelmed by the showcase villain(s) of any specific movie, to the point where Batman is almost relegated to supporting character status. At most, he’s the co-lead, and to me, that should be a major discriminating factor when it comes to determining the best overall superhero character. If the public is more interested in the villain than they are the hero, that says something. On the other hand, I initially forgot about the ’66 movie, which kicks all of the other movies in the teeth with its awesomeness, and they are all bat-centric movies regardless, so what do I know.
Cranky Editor Man thinks the Arkham games are way overrated and could be done with any character with any semblance of action-genre trappings. Spider-Man video games are always distinct because Spider-Man's power set is not replicable. Also, Andrew Garfield is the best part of the Spider-Man movies. Can you really say that about any lead actor in any Batman movie? In pretty much all the Spider-Man stuff, the best thing about them is Spider-Man. You can't say that about Batman, really. Having said that, the 1966 Batman movie alone would win this for Batman. Add in the 90s cartoon, and it's a slaughter.
And while we're at it, can I just say, I plugged in Batman Forever a while back after watching Tombstone, and I legitimately do not get the hate for it. Is it overwritten? Yes. Is it campy as all hell? Yes. Is Val Kilmer the best actor to portray both Batman and Bruce Wayne? Yes. Does Nicole Kidman alone make it worth watching? Well, no, but close. See, I'm not a big movie guy, so the whole "Jim Carrey was just playing Jim Carrey" criticism doesn't work with me. His Riddler was entertaining. I don't know what more you can ask for.
With all the previous categories adding up to a complete tie up until this point, we come to the last and ultimately most important category in determining which character is greater, Batman or Spider-Man.
Bruce Wayne, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist. He doesn’t lead any sort of real life beyond making social appearances in an attempt to convince anyone that he’s not secretly Batman. His main story function is to attend parties that will eventually get crashed by some manner of villain or criminal. His dominant identity is as Batman, and even when he’s not Batman, his every action is motivated by his life and goals as Batman. This is highlighted by the fact that his supporting cast consists almost completely of his colleagues and partners as Batman, and that his primary love interests are often criminals themselves. Even his most prominent “civilian” friends, Lucius and Alfred, exist solely to support his role as Batman. Almost every attempt by a writer to give Bruce Wayne more of a focus, is invariably quickly abandoned . There’s no gold to mine in them thar hills.
Peter Parker, on the other hand, is the single greatest secret identity ever created. Instantly relateable and understandable, Peter was very specifically created to more accurately reflect the life of his reader. He famously has troubles with girls, money, jobs, and his family. While his troubles are certainly more heightened and fantastic, those basic concerns are easy for any reader to identify with. Peter Parker just seems like a fully realized person on his own, like he’s one of the guys.
Spider-Man’s real identity was a watershed moment for the medium, adding a level of depth and sophistication never before seen in comics. It not only epitomized everything Stan, Jack, and Steve had been doing up to that point at Marvel, it changed the entire approach to comic book storytelling from that point on. DC characters had to be altered to reflect real lives and real personalities outside of the suit. It was just a byproduct of the eras they were created in. They had secret identities because that was the convention of the genre, and they were mostly used to further the plot of the month. Marvel characters had the advantage of being created with their personalities and lives in place, making the ever-increasing sophistication of comic book storytelling a much smoother transition for them. Peter Parker was the catalyst for that, a true game-changer for the entire genre.
For that, I give the edge, and the title of greatest superhero comic book character ever, to Squirrel Girl. Oops, I mean Spider-Man. Feel free to disagree, but I have math to back me up, and math is never wrong.
Cranky Editor Man realized upon reading this that the entire Superhero Hall of Fame was just an excuse for Ben to say why Spider-Man is better than Batman. Which is good, because it needed to be said. And the part about Spider-Man being a game-changer is absolutely right. Batman is important, culturally and historically, but Spider-Man changed the flow of genre fiction. Shows like Buffy, and so, consequently, shows like Smallville and now Gotham, wouldn't have existed if Peter Parker didn't pave the way. And that matters.
With that, this brings to an end my ambitious and exhausting quest to create and list the inaugural superhero hall of fame. May the inductees enjoy the honor and pride that comes with such a prestigious designation. Hopefully the four of you actually reading this enjoyed doing so as much as I did putting it together. I look forward to the likely revisions as more and more superhero characters are thrushed into prominence. We live in golden times, my fellow geeks. Enjoy.