Jul 25, 2013

Roundtable: 10 Arguments That Never Die

This is the first Comics Cube Roundtable, where we at the Cube give our takes on certain comics arguments. Click here for the full list.

So, Ben wrote an article called "Ten Arguments That Never Die," kicking it off with this:

Comic book fans like to argue. They like to argue about what’s good, what’s bad, and why what you think is good or bad is incorrect. Some of these arguments come and go, and then there are some that will never die, like the Rolling Stones, or math.

So, here are ten comic book arguments, in no particular order, that never end, and my final verdict on each. Next time you see this argument being carried out, simple refer them to this list, so they can be duly informed that the matter has been resolved permanently (yes, I am the final arbiter).

Then he said it would be more fun if it was a back and forth. So I just decided to pull the whole gang into it. Read on for our individual takes on ten comic book arguments that just never die.

Ben: To me, this isn’t even a contest. The evidence all points to a single Spider-Man providing a better platform to tell great stories. Look at the most well-regarded and popular Spider-Man stories throughout his publishing history. All of them have come either before the marriage, or after the marriage was removed. Only Kraven’s Last Hunt (which came so close to the beginning of the marriage that it really shouldn’t count as having been developed with the marriage in place, because it wasn’t) and The Clone Saga (which was ironically conceived as a means to get rid of the marriage) could be considered classic Spider-Man stories that happened with a married Spider-Man. The rest of the time, Mary Jane was an albatross for the book, making both herself and Peter Parker less enjoyable to read about as characters.

Here are the three core Mary Jane subplots from her time as Mary Jane Watson Parker, rinse and repeat:

- Wanting Peter to quit being Spider-Man, until she remembers that he can’t
- Wanting out of a life as the wife of a superhero, until she remembers her love for Peter
- One or both of them are attracted to someone else, until they remember they love each other
Doesn’t exactly make for exciting storytelling.

(And don’t get me started on JMS’ depressing take on Spider-Man. Erotic thunder aside, that dialogue was just too stilted and corny to be believable. Pages of them lying in bed talking about their love, rendered in dark and muddy artwork. Shouldn’t Spider-Man be punching someone? It’s a depiction of a “mature” relationship that only someone that has never been in one would believe.)

Ben's Verdict: Single

Travis: I have read some excellent comics where Spidey was married. I’ve read some great ones where he was single. Most stories with Spider-Man married didn’t hinge on or really use his marriage in any big way, while many of his stories when he’s not seeing someone do directly address it. Unless it has a direct relation on the story at hand, I couldn’t care either way.

It’s not a real marriage, it’s a fictional, imaginary thing, and the methods which they used to end it weren’t a straight up retcon, they were in-story, which means someone in-story knows, and there’s always the potential, then, for everyone to know. It doesn’t remove the married stories, and it doesn’t invalidate any point in the past that he was single, either.

The Spider-Man I prefer to read about isn’t married or single, he’s the guy who’s dating, and usually who’s dating women who are, as they say, out of his league. That’s win/win.

Travis' Verdict: Spider-Man should date more (and more Carlie).

Duy: I wrote this once, and unsurprisingly got lambasted for it by the people who think Spidey should be married to Mary Jane. But my argument was never about whether it was fundamentally bad for Spider-Man to be married. I had an issue with the way it was portrayed, as I thought it was used to amp up the melodrama a whole lot, and I do generally think that single, alone Peter is a more compelling character. Most of my favorite Spider-Man stories from the married era happened in spite of Mary Jane, or things like Untold Tales or Ben Reilly, which were... stories about a single Spider-Man. But I still can't bring myself to say "Single Peter is better," because this comic exists.

What If...? #24, asking what would happen if Peter Parker had been able to save Gwen Stacy from dying, holds the distinction of being one of maybe two or three What If...? comics that make me think, "Yeah, that is what would have happened." More often than not, What If...? kinda reached, and their resolutions were unconvincing. In this one, I was pretty convinced. Peter saves Gwen, proposes, gets her to get over her fear of Spidey, then they get married. Norman gets cured of his multiple personality disorder, but not before he, as the Green Goblin, gives Peter's secret identity to J.Jonah Jameson, who barges in right after Peter and Gwen were pronounced husband and wife. The comic ends with the police after Spider-Man and Peter unable to reach his wife.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that there's a whole story there, and it might have been better than most of the next decade that followed. For sure, Spider-Man was still a fun character, but I can't really name anything in the span between Gwen dying and the Hobgoblin showing up for the first time that would have counted as seminal. Peter married but on the run as a fugitive? I know they did that eventually (at a time when I wasn't reading), but that may have been a better direction. And they don't need to stay married, either. Things can always end. For sure, transition periods between status quos are jarring, but I don't think that should stop you from changing the status quo when you might a story to tell with another.

Being married or single shouldn't dictate your stories. Do it when you have a good story, and you can always break them up later on. It's serial fiction. It's part of the game.

Duy's Verdict: I'm going to go against everything I just said and say "single." The Black Cat's existence singlehandedly justifies single Spidey, because that's almost always a fun story.

Matt: So, my thoughts on this issue are extremely limited due to the fact that I never read much Spider-Man as a kid and didn't really get into it until Slott's run on Amazing. Those stories are all about single/dating Peter Parker and I was immediately blown away by the quality of the writing. I think my views come down squarely in the "tell a good story" camp.

Matt's Verdict: Relationship status doesn't trump story quality.


Matt: I think this one is something of a false dichotomy. Batman, due in no small part to seeing his parents murdered before his eye as a kid, is going to be at least a little dark. I thought the New 52 Dark Knight went too far in that direction while Detective Comics went far enough without making Bruce depraved (granted I stopped reading the latter after 6 issues, so maybe it changed). But, Batman can be happy/campy/funny/serious/determined all in the same issue or story. The best is when you get to see Batman not be so determined and focused he missed the forest for the trees (or in a better analogy, the darkness for the dawn — someone write that down!). I think a great example of a well-rounded Batman is actually in the DC Animated Universe. B:TAS is dark, but there are moments of humanized Batman. Plus, plus, in JLU, he gets to sing.

Matt's Verdict: Kevin Conroy's Batman is the only Batman

Travis: Batman doesn’t have to be the same every time you use him. Your Batman does not have to be anyone else’s Batman. So he can be a grieving, tireless avenger, but he can also be a strict patriarch, a smiling do-gooder, or a rich guy with a pipe who gets bored sometimes and shoots vampires, kicks muggers.

Travis' Verdict: Both, preferably in adjacent stories.

Duy: I was watching the first episode of Justice League a couple of weeks ago, and there's a scene early on where Superman gets knocked down, only for Batman to help him back up. Now, keep in mind, I've seen every episode of the DC Animated Universe before, but I still expected Batman to just yell at him. That's how much DC has succeeded into making me think Batman is an unforgiving, inconsiderate, petulant jackass in recent years, that he can't even be bothered to help a friend get up. I hate what they've turned Batman into. I love Kevin Conroy's Batman. I love Adam West's. I love the one in Brave and the Bold. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' version may be my favorite comic version, but I also love Frank Miller and Jim Lee's in All-Star because it's just so over the top. So I've got room for all kinds of interpretations — he is, after all, the most versatile character in the history of comics. But if you're talking about the "main" Batman, consumed by the comic book public, used as a basis for the movies and other media, then by all means, Batman should be DC's closest thing to a perfect human being, but you can't be that unless you have the closest thing to a perfect heart, and you can't have that if you're a paranoiac who can't trust your friends.

Duy's Verdict: Balance!

Ben: I'm getting older, I have kids, so I’ve found myself just kind of naturally being drawn towards comics that aren’t all doom and gloom, gritty humorless comics about the utter seriousness of costumed crime-fighting.  I will concede that if there is any character that can benefit from that type of approach, it is Batman.  But the great thing about Batman, and what has made him arguably the most popular comic book superhero worldwide, is his versatility.  (A versatility that is borne of him basically being a blank slate.  Think about it, what personality does Batman consistently really have other than determined crimefighter?)  As evidenced in the old Brave and the Bold series (and the Brave and the Bold cartoon for that matter) Batman can absolutely crack a smile and still hate the criminal element.  There’s nothing wrong with providing a “fun,” or more lighthearted story to contrast with the dark and violent.  He can support it, he has twenty books per month.

Ben's Verdict: Both.

Ben: Wonder Woman’s pants.  Emma Frost.  Starfire.  I’m going to do my best not to sound like a misogynist here (and for the record, my wife agrees with me on these points, and she is a woman), because I do think that not every female superhero needs to be in a bathing suit.  That being said, this is a visual medium, and artists should feel free to render character’s in the most visually appealing manner they deem appropriate.  I, for one, miss Huntress and Power Girl’s completely nonsensical “windows.”  I want Black Canary and Zatanna’s stockings back.  Not because I want to sexually abuse myself to the images, but because they look better than the generic bodysuits they’re in now.  They just look better!  I don’t care about Starfire or Emma Frost’s looks all that much, but those characters were kind of created to be those types of characters.  Wonder Woman, well, I may be the one person on the planet that actually didn’t think her pants look was all that bad.  Psylocke, I actually kinda like her new full bodysuit look.  It’s all a balance.

Here are some of the most common complaints I’ve seen on this subject:

- It’s not realistic for battle.  My counterpoint is that neither is a full body leotard or body stocking, so at some point you have to surrender your adult desire for realism to the fantasy of it all.
- It’s objectifying women.  This is a tricky one, and one that I can’t really deny with any of surety, since I am not a woman.  But, I will say that, on a much smaller scale, nobody has ever complained about Namor or Colossus’ speedos, Nightcrawlers full body thong, or the standard issue six-pack for every male hero in comics.  I don’t pretend to claim these are anywhere in equal measure to the average female costume, but I think it falls under what an artist finds visually appealing.  (I personally think the ways in which female characters are often posed, is a far greater problem them their clothing.  Psylocke’s thong isn’t probably as offensive if she isn’t drawn as leaping into battle ass first.)

At some point, you may have seen a website or meme depicting male heroes wearing famous female character’s costumes, as some kind of statement about the inequality of their depictions.  I hate this!  If you want to find a surefire way to anger me, send me one of those.  I don’t think I should have to break down the specific differences between the male and female body, and society’s expectations about what is considered normal wear, so let me just say that if a man and woman both arrive at a picnic wearing a halter top and short-shorts, the reactions toward both are not going to be the same.

Again, before you accuse me of insensitivity and being overbearingly male, I am stressing that variety is key.  I don’t think dictating pants-wear across the board is any better than all bikinis all the time (well, maybe bikinis…).

Ben's Verdict: Variety!

Travis: The thing of it is, for me, that just saying “female character costumes,” we know what the argument is. It’s not “are they stylish” or “do they come in enough colors?” It’s “howcome the bellywindows and thong on a bulletproof suit?”

And, we know why. Be honest about it. If you want to have a character running around in a bulletproof bikini, fighting crime in a bra, just do it. But if you’re using what’s traditionally a children’s character to do so, be prepared to be called out on that. If you’re dumb enough to try justifying keyhole blouses with “she has no symbol, no home, so the cleavage represents her loneliness” be prepared to be called out on that.

For me, it comes down much more to body language than to costuming, or even how the costume is drawn on the body, but that’s because I mentally excuse battle bikinis and I know I do it.

Seriously, if I go to a major comics message board right now, I can find a guy who’s complained about shirtless Thor in the past few days, or about Superman’s bulge, and how that’s ruining comics and destroying superheroes and whine whine whine, and I guarantee, if I look at their other posts, they’re making up reasons why Wonder Woman should never have leggings and thongs make high kicks easier.

Travis' Verdict: Design for a purpose.

Matt: I actually think Ben and Travis make good points on this one. The female costumes can be ridiculous, so can really any costume from the 90s. Personally, I haven't been reading a lot of superhero books that have women in crazy costumes. Susan Richards is in a skin-tight costume, but it's not crazy and revealing. She is, after all, a mom and I think they give her a well-designed themed costume that doesn't hide the fact that she is a woman and doesn't hit you over the head with it. For more of a commentary on the use of female costumes and posturing, I suggest you look to Hank Venture's role as Destiny in a few recent Venture Bros. episodes.

Both male and female character and costume designs do not represent reality (seriously, they all must be doing crunches non-stop except for the Blob), but they don't have to shove it in your face (often literally).

Matt's Verdict: Costumes to reflect characters, not artist's fanboy fantasies

Duy: Power Girl's costume, with the boob window, gets a lot of flak — but it's the best costume she's ever had. (Really, look at her other costumes. Go on. I'll wait.) Sex sells. Sex will always sell. To try to change that isn't going to work. And we know that from life. When Halloween hit when I was in college, a bunch of sorority girls would dress up in miniskirts and heels — never mind the fact that it was in Eastern Pennsylvania and was really freaking cold outside and all that walking in those heels can't be good for them. And it's not like they did this just for Halloween; they did it every time they went out late, even in the middle of winter, when it was snowing. So female costumes can be impractical — but so are some fashions, in real life.

But you know what also holds true in life? Overkill. That Power Girl has gigantic breasts and a boob window doesn't mean that should be the norm (although there's probably a story in there about trendsetting). When girls are all wearing the same thing, you see them as a pack, and it's hard to see what makes each one of them special, unless you speak to every single one of them individually. I watch pro wrestling, and there was never a better time for women's wrestling in my lifetime than in the early to mid 2000s, when they had different female wrestlers of different body types and different hairstyles and different motions, because it gave you a reason to care about them individually. Eventually, that variety went away and we were stuck with a bunch of blondes of approximately the same height. One of them (Maryse) was quite talented, but she never reached her full potential, and I would say that no small part of that is the fact that she looked so similar to everyone else. (Looks are important in pro wrestling, mainly because you'll have to earn your way to having enough minutes in a match to actually show your talent.)

In the mid-90s, there was the Bad Girl craze, where just about every new female character had gigantic breasts and in skimpy clothing. Eventually, even the comic book community had its fill of such excess. I recently picked up some back issues of Billy Tucci's Shi, something I never picked up back then, because it seemed to be just another one of the pack — and it turns out, it's pretty good, and the costume even makes sense. And I wish I had paid attention to it sooner. But I just could not be bothered back then, in that glutted market. Meanwhile, someone like Rogue, who absorbs powers involuntarily, wears a full body suit and gloves, and it makes sense, and it's not like she's less attractive in-story or out of it because of it. The sexiest Catwoman costume, I think, has been Jim Balent's purple full-body catsuit, despite the fact that the 1970s costume was more elegant and the 2000s costume was more practical (both showed more skin than Balent's).

There are different kinds of beauty, and we should appreciate all of them.

Duy's Verdict: Beauty works best when contrasted with different kinds of beauty.

Kimberly: I like the female costumes. If you're gorgeous, why not show it off? When I read a comic book (as a female) I like to be able to put myself in the character's place. If they are ugly or tacky, I don't want to do that. It's the same with men. Would you rather be Captain America or Bouncing Boy? Plus men's costumes are just as skin tight and sexy as females. Why? Because, again, as a female, I want to look at Captain America......not Bouncing Boy. It's not my fault sex sells. It's not my fault people are more attracted and interested in things that are appealing to the eye. It's just the way the world and humanity works.

Kimberly's Verdict: Cosplay!


Travis: Should supeheroes have little shorts holding up their tights? Depends on the superhero and the purpose of the portrayal.

Travis' Verdict: Whatever.

Ben: Maybe I was just blissfully unaware as a younger reader, but I never paid much thought to the distinguishing color demarcations on some character’s uniforms that could be construed as “underwear.”  To me, it was all just part of the design, which I don’t think was ever a consideration for ridicule until the comic book audience started skewing older, and therefore more subject to an “adult’s” cynicism on these types of things.

Bottom line, it goes back to what’s most visually appealing.  Batman’s lack of underwear isn’t as jarring to me, because his dark color pattern doesn’t make it so.  However, Superman’s all blue bodysuit, needs something else to offset all that unbroken blue.  It just doesn’t look right, and I don’t think it’s a matter of just getting used to it.  (And please, get rid of the collars in comics.)  Put it this way — who looked more ridiculous, Christopher Reeve, or the new guy whose name I can’t remember because of the laughable bulge in his tights?

Ben's Verdict: Go outside and interact with human beings!

Matt: See last rant.

Matt's Verdict: Well-designed or deal with my ridicule.

Duy: When they came up with the trunks, it made sense, because it was based on circus strongmen and wrestlers. There's not really much of a need for it anymore, but for crying out loud, removing the red underwear on Superman doesn't mean you should just leave the whole thing blue. Then it actually just does look like long underwear. Which... I guess it is in Man of Steel, what with the armor that's supposed to go over the long underwear; armor that Superman does not have, so I guess Superman... actually is...in...underwear? Points for Snyder, I guess.

Duy's Verdict: Are we actually talking about underwear?

Travis: Can Superman beat up Batman? Can Batman defeat Superman? Depends on the story, the circumstances, and the point.

Plus, they’re imaginary, they can do whatever any of us imagine them doing.

Travis' Verdict: Is there a point anymore?

Matt: I think things can go too far into the Batman is unstoppable angle. It makes sense on some levels that Batman is prepared to deal with teammates going rogue. It makes sense for the character and it makes sense as Batman's representative for the normal person (relatively speaking and bear with me) on the Justice League. However, you can take that too far. Batman shouldn't be picking fights with a teammate, it sort of ruins the book and makes him look petulant. It would be the same if Captain America was constantly undermining his team by proving he could beat up Thor whenever he felt like it.

Matt's Verdict: Superman is Batman's counter-measure for Wonder Woman (I read that somewhere, so he definitely needs to stop picking on Clark)

Ben: This is largely a byproduct of a much larger systemic problem at DC, which is the infallibility of Batman as a character.  As Duy will tell you, Batman’s super power is the ability to instantly make everyone else in the room look like an idiot, even if it’s the supposedly super-genius Superman.  One of the problems as some characters get ever-increasingly more popular, is that they also get increasingly more unbeatable.  Batman and Wolverine are the two most glaring examples of this.  (Wolverine’s slow incline from completely killable to capable of regrowing from a single cell is one of the most frustrating things in comics to me.)

Look, I get that the appeal of Batman is that he is a non-powered human that has trained himself to the pinnacle of his physical capabilities.  I know he’s the smartest, most well-prepared, strategic mastermind around.  Those are some of his most enduring appeals to fans.  But what most people seem to forget, is the human part of that sentence.  (Spider-Man balances this dynamic perfectly.  With all the many victories against foes out of his league, there are the crushing defeats, and those defeats only serve to make the victories all that much more satisfying.)  For all this strengths and impressive abilities, Batman is still just a man.  But Clark Kent, well, he is a SUPER-man.  (Seriously, he could fry him with his heat vision from space.   Prepare for that smart guy!)

Ben's Verdict: Superman, duh. 

Duy: I hate this whole idea that Batman can and will beat anyone. Why? Because every superhero should have the capability of winning, especially when the odds are against them. I believe this is the appeal for Batman to most people — that he is a "normal" person (he is not!) capable of taking down people far more powerful. But if he never loses, if he's always winning, then how exactly is he an underdog? Superman haters complain that there is nothing that can give Superman any sense of suspense or drama because he can't be hurt, but if Batman is so prepared for anything that he can go into a fight with anyone assured of victory, how does that have any suspense?

But I really hate the Superman/Batman argument because it all started when Miller did it in Dark Knight Returns. Despite the fact that he's admitted to changing Superman's character to suit Batman's story, it just started a trend — a trend where the point was missed. When Miller did it, it had a point. It served the story. When it's done now, what exactly is the point? Not to mention, Superman will never win this fight, because if he beats up Bruce, then he's just a big superpowered bully. If he doesn't, then he's a giant wuss who can't beat up a regular dude. Comics in which Superman have gotten the upper hand on Batman have lasted for all of a few panels. It's just not a story.

Duy's Verdict: Dog bites man isn't a story; man bites dog is a story. Superman beating Batman will never be a story. But it should be, because Batman now is just as unstoppable than Superman at his most unstoppable peak.

Duy: It's not about how strong he is. But given that, if you decide to go with a weaker Superman, you probably shouldn't spend a good portion of the story highlighting how much weaker he is, as in Justice League, Season 1, when they had him grunting at everything he was lifting (when no one else was), or even in the rest of JLU, when he'd be the only one in a spacesuit while others weren't. That kind of thing always seems to scream, "Look! See how weak he is!" And, by that same token, if you go with superstrong Superman, you probably should try to make sure that you write villains who can give him a run for his money, that you have issues that he can't solve just by punching, and that if a fight is tearing an entire city apart, that he still is trying to find a way to save the little people.

Duy's Verdict: Superman isn't his powers.

Ben: This goes back to the ongoing struggle of how to make Superman a character that readers can relate to.  In olden times (Silver Age or so) Superman had reached power levels of indescribable proportions.  Towing planets, or blowing out stars with a huff and a puff, he was the unbeatable physical foe.  So unbeatable, that writers (or readers, or both) decided he needed to be brought down a couple levels.  “He just isn’t relatable.”  Never mind that I don’t think Superman is a character that should be related to on a personal level.  (Relatability is such an overused word in comics.  I don’t think readers need to find something of themselves in every single character.  What they should be able to do is be able to understand and empathize with that character’s life and struggles, so they can be fully immersed in their world.)

Personally, the only way I can imagine wanting to read about Superman on a regular basis is if he’s fighting cross dimensional Godzillas and throwing cities into orbit (but not snapping the necks of villains).  Basically, the Silver Age version in the present.  It pretty much comes down to which version will be more conducive to telling entertaining stories, and I don’t think everything needs to be so set in stone and quantifiable in comics.  He’s as strong as he need to be, or doesn’t need to be.

Ben's Verdict: Storytelling!

Travis: I prefer Superman to be insanely powerful and to have lots of new unexpected powers all the time, like amnesia kisses and that miniature Superman that flies out of his hand. I can handle a Superman who struggles to leap out of our atmosphere or flinches when a train hits him, too. But, when he can ice-breath a city or push the moon back into orbit, I don’t want a robot made of earthly metals to be capable of smacking him around.

When Luthor was the American President, I wanted to see Superman use his powers as Clark Kent to demolish and depose his archenemy, because you can’t just punch the standing prez out of office. Instead, a criminal mastermind helped the helpless superheroes and then there were fisticuffs.
It’s the things superpowers cannot fix, it is for me, hard choices, that make Superman worth reading about or watching, more than the smackdowns, but yes, Superman could use some big, impressive smackdowns, and not the ones where he’s the one being brutalized. But if it is solvable without violence, I think Superman is definitely the superhero who should be giving that a go, especially a mature, in his element Supes.

Travis' Verdict: Zoom! Bam! Pow! Kablooey! Ethics!

Matt: I think Travis' points illustrate the core recommendations I have for these intractable issues. The problem with insanely powered/depowered Superman isn't the powers, it's bad storytelling. Clark Kent (or the Planet or even Lois Lane), taking down President Luthor would be interesting. He could use his powers to gather evidence, or whatever, but in the end, he can't punch his way out of that universe. Superman, in my view, isn't defined by what his powers are, but with how he uses them.

Matt's Verdict: Write better stories and don't worry about powers.


Matt: This argument falls in the same one as the Spider-Man argument. I never read much Flash growing up (read, really, any). I think Barry's sacrifice in Crisis made him a character creators have put on a pedestal. I enjoy his interactions with Hal, they have an easy camaraderie, but I'm not invested enough in the character to really care who the Flash is, just so long as the story is well done. I do think the Flash can play a role as a lighter member of the Justice League. His villains are more colorful and he doesn't have the baggage or responsibility of Clark/Bruce/Diana, that factor is what should be emphasized, not the person behind the mask.

Matt's Verdict: If the ring doesn't fit, you must acquit. Tell a good story and I don't care which Flash you use.

Duy: I want to say I like Wally more, but I don't really like Wally until William Messner-Loebs got to him (read the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, and tell me you like Wally), and he doesn't become one of my favorite characters until Mark Waid got to him. But I think I would've felt the same way about Barry if Waid got to him too — he was my favorite character in JLA: Year One. I guess my point is, it doesn't really say much if the reason I love that character is Mark Waid, because Mark Waid is one of the greatest writers ever in terms of making a character awesome.

In any case, this had been a moot point for years. They gave Barry a happy ending in the early 80s, and then they killed him off and had Wally take on the mantle of the Flash. By the time Barry came back, Wally essentially had his happy ending, and Barry had been gone for so long that a story about him readjusting was built in.

Duy's Verdict: Use 'em both. Find a way. Shit, just scrap the idea of a solo Flash book and just use the whole Flash family. The best era of Flash for me is when they're all in there (well, I guess not Barry, but you get the point) — Wally, Bart, Jay, Max, Jesse. Superspeedsters should be friends with other superspeedsters. It just makes sense. (Unless you do a Justice League movie, then use Wally. He's funnier.)

Travis: Barry is a useful tool, but his greatest use as a tool was probably being not the earlier Flash and being dead so the other guy could replace him. Barry’s fun to read about, but less fun for me to read as a character. He’s a guy things happen to, a proxy for the reader to figure things out alongside, but as a personality, the Wally and Jay both have him beat. Barry’s a comics fan, and that’s cool, he was/is a police scientist, a CSI guy, and that has mileage; he’s forever late and wears bowties and people-watches at parties rather than engaging anyone and risk bugging them. Barry has bad luck with marriages.

But none of what interests me isn’t Barry, in those stories, but what Barry is.

Wally interests me as a character. I can read Wally West’s internal monologue without gliding over it absentmindedly (this is probably down to most of it I have read coming from Mark Waid, who can write internalization exceptionally well). I can read Wally and family going to dinner. Wally and Barry having a patrol night out. But, when it’s Barry and Wally, I still defer to the Wally end, while Barry may be the intended focus.

Then there’s everything outside the “real” DCU, however. And… yeah. “Wears red, runs fast,” the importance is that, it is the symbolic, the visual cues, more than the man beneath.

Travis' Verdict: Wally for me; the Flash is the Flash for most.

Ben: This is a much more focused representation of the argument between allowing characters to grow and progress in life, or keeping them locked in a perpetual iconic status quo.  (Spider-Man is another great representative of this argument, as some enjoyed how he was allowed to get married, become a teacher, get older.  I, however, believe Spider-Man should stay relatively the same as when I discovered him, so that my son, and his son can fall in love with the same character I fell in love with.  Some comic fans are so selfish, wanting Spider-Man to grow old and die with them.)

I can appreciate the appeal of DC’s legacy characters, and how their universe has a long (constantly changing) history.  I like Dick Grayson as NIghtwing much more than I would like him as a perpetual teenage Robin.  (Not that it matters, Batman will still treat him with the utmost disrespect.)  But I can also look at Teen Titans and say that the team was never better, and probably never will be better, than during the Wolfman and Perez era.  I’m just not interested in a Teen Titans book with Argent or Jericho, or whatever losers they want to fill out the team with.  Give me Robin, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire.  That’s what I want to read about.  There’s no amount of character progression that can outweigh those specific characters at that specific age in that specific lineup.  (I know they’ve brought that team back as their adult versions in books like Titans, but you just can’t recapture the magic.)  In short, I’m all for keeping the characters at their greatest points, instead of catering to a specific subset of fans that want characters to age with them.  (Also, is there anyone that really enjoys any extended period of a Justice League lineup that doesn’t involve a large portion of the “big 7”?)

All that being said, Wally West was far more interesting as the Flash, and had about as complete a character arc as any major superhero character is ever going to get in mainstream comics.  Because of that, DC should allow him to retire with his wife and kids, (or remain out of use, whatever) his story is done.

Verdict: Barry!

Ben: At their core, most of these kinds of arguments are arbitrary, as any fictional characters fighting is going to be determined solely by the whims and story needs to the writer.  That aside, as a primarily Marvel fan, I will concede that Superman could beat Thor in the majority of any head-to-head matchups, but I at the very least require that Thor be competitive, which is why JLA/Avengers can eat a bag of dicks.  (Most of these kinds of evergreen fight arguments can also be boiled down to whose book the fight is taking place in, and which character has the higher profile at their respective company.  I don’t imagine DC is ever going to sign off on many Marvel characters beating down Superman, and shouldn’t.  Except for Venom, apparently.)

Ben's Verdict: Politics!

Duy: Damn it, Ben, JLA/Avengers addressed that!

Duy's Verdict: The real question is, who would win in a fight between Chris Hemsworth and Henry Cavill? And the answer there is the ladies, my friends. The ladies.

Matt: I didn't even know this was a thing. Magical lightning might be an issue for Superman, but heat vision might be an issue for Thor. They're both aliens, let them compete in the only game that matters: a drinking contest. The last one who can still re-arrange the orbit of a moon after each horn of mead wins. It's the only fair challenge.

Matt's Verdict: I have seriously never heard of this problem, therefore Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Travis: Superman fans will flip out and tell you he is “vulnerable to magic,” but that this does not mean he can be hurt more by magical things than by non-magical things. This is verifiably not true, by a whole ton of comics (at least seven!), since magic swords can cut him and a normal sword obviously wouldn’t. So Thor could just hammer him in the face and his face would cave in. I’m not even going to attach a simile to that. His face would cave in.

More honestly, though, whose story is it? What are the circumstances? Is one of them brainwashed? Where are they? Why are they fighting? Can Superman grab a rifle and shoot Thor? Because that can stop him.

Travis' Verdict: Let Marvel and DC negotiate it.

Matt: I enjoyed both movies, but I only enjoyed one as a superhero movie. DC has decided to make it's movies dark, drab and depressing. It can work with Batman, not sure on the other characters (or they make the movies just incredibly poorly). Marvel, to my surprise, has embraced something of the fun of superheros and acknowledges the craziness. They may not be able to make a Hulk movie, but they've made Iron Man movies where I actually like the character...I can't reconcile that with my preconceived notions regarding Tony Stark.

Matt's Verdict: Avengers

Ben: Despite the fact that they couldn’t be more dissimilar as movies, they apparently will always be compared to each other by virtue of being released in the same month.  Since each movie has very different storytelling goals they tried to achieve (like Avengers wanted to be entertaining), I can’t exactly compare them 1-to-1.  All I can do is compare how well I thought they achieved those goals.

The goal of the Avengers movie was to combine four different film franchises into one full-length action blockbuster.  It had to give them a believable reason to do so, give each character equal time and a satisfying character arc, and thrill us with some dazzling special effects.  It accomplished each and every goal it could have possibly set out to have.  It may not get the credit for being as deep as it really is, with its themes of sacrifice, teamwork, and hope, but that’s probably because it didn’t constantly batter you over the head with its themes (or they weren’t pessimistic enough).  The thing that impressed me the most about Avengers, was how each character had a moment with one of the other characters, that stayed true to their motivations, and consistently reinforced the viewer’s investment in them.  (How many of you noticed Tony Stark’s evolution as the self-centered “guy that wouldn’t lay down on the barb wire for the other guy” to making the sacrifice play at the end?  Not deep enough for you?)

The Dark Knight Rises set out to tell the story of a hero that has quit at the beginning and end of the movie, while inbetween completely devastating the city and people that he swore to spend the rest of his life protecting (on account of nobody having to experience the loss he had to experience when his parents were murdered) all so he can go off and bang Catwoman.  While I can completely sympathize with that last part, the rest of it, combined with his complete ineffectiveness as a crime fighter over the course of three films, doesn’t really make for a character I can feel good about rooting for.  In addition, it tries to make points about wealth and class structure, but what those points might actually be I have no clue.  (Seriously, was it arguing for or against the wealthy?)  There’s probably some other stuff about overcoming obstacles by crawling out of a literal hole, but that’s all kind of negated by the fact that a teenage girl beat him to it.  All of this depicted with the upmost “realism” without any of the sense of wonder of hopefulness that makes superheroes so inspiring.

In short, if you want your heroes to be uplifting and fill you with hope, go see Avengers.  If you want a false sense of feeling like you’re being smart and “mature” while watching a man in a rubber batsuit fight crime, go see that other one.

Ben's Verdict: Not even close.

Duy: I refuse to actually participate in this discussion in a public setting, because I will not shut up once I start. So I will let CS Lewis do it for me. Not that I love The Chronicles of Narnia or anything, just that I completely agree with what I'm about to copy and paste here.
 “Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

I don't know the context of the above quote — for all I know, Lewis was just being defensive. But that's irrelevant; taken in a vacuum, that's how I feel about this argument. Not that Avengers was aimed just for kids — it was so perfectly all-ages — but that that's the most common criticism I've seen for it. Avengers was everything I wanted it to be and more. The Dark Knight Rises is everything I hate about superheroes in one package. And I'm going to end it there.

Duy's Verdict: I hate this discussion. Let us never mention it again.

Travis: I can watch Avengers repeatedly and do. I watched Rises, and that was enough.

Travis' Verdict:
Was this in doubt?


Ben: This one’s easy.  Marvel all the way.

Ben's Verdict: Whichever universe you read first.

Travis: I can read and enjoy books from either publisher; as publishers I don’t see a huge difference. I read less current Marvel than current DC, but I can tell you more about the Marvel U’s history.  The bulk of DC I really love are creator-owned non-shared-universe comics. In terms of their shared universes, the Marvel Universe seems to stick with me more, and that comes down mostly to Marvel Saga being more readable to me, than the two-issue The History of the DC Universe, the Marvel Handbook of old being more intriguing than its DC counterpart.

I want to say we all align with the shared universe we come to earliest, but my grandpa was alive before there was a Marvel U as we understand it, and he still remembers more of the Marvel Universe than the DCU, and the WildStorm Universe feels more concrete to me than the DCU, too, especially a DCU that’s bled the WSU into it so haphazardly.

Travis' Verdict: To each their own.

Matt: I don't think this is really a contest or an argument. While superficially similar, the publishers tells different stories with their books. I tend to think of Marvel as focusing more on outsider's perspectives. Spider-Man, the X-Men and even the Avengers are not part of the regular world, they are outcasts, outsiders looking in and trying to shape the world and be part of it. Spider-Man is a geek, mutants are feared and Captain America is a man out of time. DC more or less tells stories about people who core features of their world and integrated into it. Superman is a (mostly) beloved hero and even though he is an alien, is welcomed on Earth and part of something. Even Batman, despite being feared and whatnot, is embraced (occasionally) by the Gotham PD. In Marvel stories, superheroes are more or less merely tolerated (with some exceptions). In DC stories, they are celebrated (Flash has a museum!). I think it really comes down to which stories you like from which publisher. I haven't been reading either much recently, so in this fight, I would choose neither.

Matt's Verdict: Read widely and what you like.

Duy: I've always considered myself mainly a DC guy, even during times when I was buying more Marvel. DC had things that Marvel did not have, like legacy heroes. I love legacy heroes. Starman is pound for pound (meaning I love it from beginning to end) my favorite superhero series of all time. As Marvel Handbook was to Travis, so was Who's Who in the DC Universe to me. So there is a large part of that that owes to me discovering it first (although I don't think I actually did discover it first, per se so much as realize it was a shared universe first). And beyond its main universe, DC gave us things like Vertigo (probably the most important comic book imprint ever) and America's Best Comics (which, more than anything, really made me an Alan Moore fan, as well as a fan of like 10 of those artists), and they were responsible for reprinting The Spirit in its entirety (just in time for me to check them all out of the library, because I was in college then). Hell, for the most part, I even like (or at least am interested in) Jack Kirby's work at DC more than at Marvel!

So really, I should say DC, right? I guess, historically, DC is my answer. Marvel doesn't really have anything to tip the scales in its favor other than some of my favorite characters (and my favorite superhero). But in the last few years, Marvel has put out four of my ten favorite comic book movies ever. It has Icon, which is an imprint that, while not on the level of Vertigo, is still important and significant. It's gotten me to buy more Daredevil comics in a row than I ever thought of buying ever. It's gotten me to still buy two superhero titles in singles on a regular basis, at a time in my life when I want to read more finite and definite stories. Meanwhile, DC Comics, which has, for most of my life, been my answer to the question, "Where do you want to work if you could have your dream job?" has made news item after news item of being horribly micromanaged, with its talent leaving it left and right. Their movies have made me want to strangle them, and even their animation department, once their crown jewel, has declined in quality. There is only a small percentage of things coming out from DC now that does not make me want to roll my eyes. They have 52 titles and a cursory glance at them would indicate that at least 48 of them carry the same bleak, depressing tones that have come to define them recently.

Maybe there's some hope on the horizon, but while I have been a DC all my life, I can also say that no time period in any comic book company has frustrated me as much as DC right now. And I went through Heroes Reborn.

Duy's Verdict: Marvel. For now.

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