The Shelf Is Half Full

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Archive for the category “Batman”

Can Batman Be A Better Character?

If you’ve clicked on this post or follow The Shelf Is Half Full, chances are you are a pretty big comic book fan. And if comic book sales, t-shirt sales and movie ticket sales are any indication, it probably means you are a pretty big fan of Batman. After all, Batman and his mythos have jumped from the pages of comic books and become ingrained in pulp culture for the better part of his seventy-five years of publication. He’s been the subject of live-action and cartoon TV series as well as animated and live-action movies. His image and his symbol have become a marketing juggernaut, and even casual fans would find it easy to relate his secret identity, the city he works in, and the name of everyone from his villains to his butler.

Which begs the question: is Batman really all that great of a character?

Batman

Okay, before you come at me with torches and pitchforks; yes, Batman is an awesome character. I am a fan of Batman, I think he’s awesome. But just because I like something doesn’t mean I can turn a blind eye when a character has some flaws. And sadly, Batman’s long history has shown us that the character has some major flaws. These aren’t the types of flaws that make him endearing either, but I’ll explain that in a minute. This of course, isn’t Batman’s fault; he’s simply a fictional character after all, and as at the mercy of whoever is in charge of writing for him at the time. And while there have been many, many good writers who have done right by the character, there’s also quite a few poor or at the very least misguided writers who have done some damage to the character as well.

This is not an article meant to be a character assassination of Batman. The purpose of this is to talk about some of the problems I have with the way the character is written and show examples of how it can be done better. After all, comic books will continue and there will be new writers for Batman, and I hope that anyone who takes on that challenge thinks a little more carefully about how to approach the character.

Detective

1) Batman Is Often Too Angry and Brooding

The Problem – We all know that Batman was born out of tragedy; Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in front of him when he was a young child and he vowed vengeance on all criminals. That’s all well and good, and it does help define who Batman is. However, I feel that certain writers dwell too much on these aspects of the character; they characterize Batman as a rage-fueled sociopath without compassion or mercy. Writer/artist (and I use this term loosely) Frank Miller gets a lot of credit for redefining Batman in the 1980’s with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns but that isn’t always a good thing. Much like Miller himself, that Batman is fueled by hatred, self-righteous rage, and is generally an all around unpleasant person to be around. And don’t even get me started on Miller’s atrocious All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder comics where Batman is a sexist, homophobic S.O.B. who calls Robin “retarded”.

Sadly, crappy writing like Miller’s has become a large part of Batman’s identity, and some people have latched onto it. That’s why we’re getting a movie in 2016 where Batman wants to make Superman bleed. Ugh…

The Solution – To me, Batman’s story isn’t about someone who is consumed by grief and rage. That’s a sad and honestly pathetic take on the character and I’d like to think that Batman is a better hero than that. I believe that most humans prefer heroes who overcome tragedy and move on, becoming stronger, not people who dwell endlessly on the problems of the past. It’s okay for Batman to feel sad or angry just as it’s okay for anyone else, but he should also be allowed to feel happy or content once in a while. Batman: The Animated Series portrayed a Batman who was just as quick to throw humorous one-liners as he was to throw punches, and I don’t think anyone would say that show ruined Batman by allowing Bruce to smile and make jokes. Even Chris Nolan’s super serious Dark Knight trilogy shows that Batman has a keen sense of humor and is capable of making friends.

Balance is the key; I’m not suggesting that Batman be the 1966 Adam West version (though there’s certainly room for that), but he doesn’t need to be the brooding monster that Miller wrote his as. Somewhere between the two extremes should be the goal. Most of my favorite Batman stories tend to show a lighter side of Batman.

Tower of Babel

2) Batman is Often Too Arrogant and Self-Righteous

The Problem – Bruce Wayne is a very smart person with a mostly black and white view on morality. These aren’t necessarily bad traits; they give him the edge he needs to be a determined and successful crime fighter and detective. But you know, even geniuses screw up from time to time, and they often screw up in epic ways. Unfortunately, many writers believe that because Batman is the smartest person on the planet that he should have a contingency plan for everything. You know who else has contingency plans for everything? Lex Luthor. Doctor Doom. Just because Batman is brilliant doesn’t mean he should behave a like a mad scientist. Some writers also have an annoying tendency to show that Batman is more clever, better prepared and smarter than anyone he’s working with, including the Justice League. Sorry, I’m just not buying that, and any time I read a comic where Batman calls one of his heroes an idiot I want to find the writer and tell them to stop making Bruce such a pompous jerk.

And let’s get into another thing that comes out of this line of thought that Batman is the best there is at everything. One of the key aspects of Batman’s character is that he doesn’t kill. I am entirely in support of this: Bruce’s entire life was changed because of murder and he should be opposed to killing. Bruce also believes that it isn’t his place to be the judge of criminals and he shouldn’t execute them. That’s fine, that’s noble, it gives him a code to live by. But let’s just set aside the fact that Bruce should probably have killed Joker by now because the scales really don’t add up. If Bruce really believes that killing will be the step that drives him over the edge, fine. I’ll allow that. But man, it really annoys me when he tries to enforce his beliefs on other people; other than Superman and Flash, most of the Justice League is willing to make a judgment call of when it’s okay to kill someone. Batman has an annoying tendency to say that they shouldn’t under any circumstances. That’s just self-righteous and short-sighted, and Bruce should trust his friends to make their own calls.

The Solution – This is one of my biggest problems with Batman and sadly, one of the easiest to fix. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to not make Batman a self-righteous and arrogant jerk. I think that from time to time, Batman’s should make decisions that don’t necessarily live up to his standards, as we all do. And that includes his killing rule. In Hush, Batman nearly killed the Joker after his friend Thomas Elliot was killed, deciding it was finally time to put an end to Joker’s killing. In the movie Under the Red Hood Batman admits to Jason Todd that he thinks about killing Joker every day. In Born to Kill, he straight up tells a criminal named Nobody that he is going to kill him for attempting to murder his son Damien. In all of these instances something happened to keep Bruce from actually going through with the kill, but showing that the intent was there humanizes Bruce and shows that he isn’t always bound by his code; this actually serves to make his no-killing rule more meaningful because of genuine temptation.

Vulnerable

3) Batman Never Fails

The Problem – One of the things that annoys me most about devoted Batman fans is their insistence that he is the smartest, most resourceful hero there is and thus is impossible to beat. These are the people that claim that Batman would beat Superman in a fight because he’s so much smarter than Clark, so much better prepared and so much more ruthless. And despite the insane impossibility of this situation, some writers like to go that route, including Frank Miller. You know what a character who is so smart and so brutal that he can beat Superman with ease is? Every bit as invulnerable and therefore every bit as boring as Superman. This is what I like to call “God Mode Batman”, and yeah, every once in a while it is fun to see Batman go into this mode, just like its fun to see any hero at their best.

But take a look at the picture above and tell me that honestly that you aren’t more invested in a Batman who is pushed to the brink of death, with seemingly no escape. A Batman who has all the odds against him, and has to use his wits and his heart and his will to fight back and survive? Yeah, you can’t. Vulnerability creates tension and drama, and that is the essence of good storytelling.

The Solution – Fortunately, this one is more a problem with fans than writers. Most good writers know the basics of storytelling call for the hero to be in peril or at the very least in danger of failing to save others. The best Batman stories are always the ones where he is pushed to his mental and physical limits, the ones where he almost dies because, well, he’s human. Those are the ones that make us connect with the character and root for him to succeed. Heroes should always be more human than godlike. Even if they almost always win in the end.

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Supervillain Spotlight – The Joker

Gotham City is home to many of the greatest comic book villains ever created, meaning that Batman never has any shortage of bad guys to challenge him or compelling stories to be told about his adventures. But it’s telling that in a list of rogues that is considered by most comic books fans to be the best in the business, there is also one criminal mastermind that stands above them all. The pure antithesis of The Dark Knight has just celebrated his seventy-fifth anniversary this month, and it’s only fitting that the final Supervillain Spotlight of June 2015 is dedicated to The Clown Prince of Crime.

Golden Age

The Joker

Little is known about who The Red Hood was before he fell in a vat of toxic chemicals while confronting Batman at the ACE Chemical factory. Did the chemical bath turn a decent human being into a psychotic killer, or simply reveal the monster that was already there? It matters little: The Joker was permanently changed into a ghoulish figure with sickly green hair, ghastly white skin and blood red lips almost always fixed into a laughing grin. That image has been terrifying Gotham ever since, his obsession with Batman driving him to create chaos and murder wherever he goes. While the city’s greatest hero was a grim, dark symbol of vengeance, the greatest villain would be a brightly colored, smiling clown.

Created by Jim Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, The Joker debuted in June of 1940, as the primary villain of Batman #1, the then bi-monthly companion piece to Detective Comics, the title where Batman had made his debut a year earlier. Joker was based on a combination of the famous playing card jester and Conrad Veidt’s appearance in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs. The Joker was a deranged serial killer with a knack for gallows humor, murdering civilians with his trademark “Joker Toxin”, a poison that left the victim’s face in the same horrible grin as the villain. Though he was intended to be killed off by the creative team in the first issue, the DC editing team saw dollar signs on the character and Joker would go on to become Batman’s arch nemesis.

Joker

The Man Who Laughs 

Despite his origins as a monstrous serial killer, The Joker managed to endure the massive shifts in the comic book world brought on by The Seduction of the Innocent and the Comics Code Authority. Writers had already softened the character to make him more comical and less murderous as a way to make him accessible to their primary audience (young children). But the new standards of the CCA forced writers to make The Joker more of an irritating trickster archetype instead of the monster he had been. This wasn’t completely a bad thing; the Silver Age introduced much of the thematic gadgetry that allows Joker to put up a fight against Batman; electric joybuzzers, acid-spewing flowers and the like. Joker’s sense of humor also became less grim and Joker became as well known for his comedy as his penchant for murder.

Dennis O’Neil and Neil Adams combined the two elements in 1973, setting the tone for how Joker would be portrayed for the next four and a half decades. Joker was able to kill again and often did so in truly gruesome ways. His design was also changed to be more menacing rather than the comical, non-threatening makeover he was given in the sixties. But some of the more appealing aspects of the Silver Age remained intact; his humor and his insanely high-concept crimes. Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers once wrote a story called “The Laughing Fish”, where Joker poisoned all of the fish in Gotham so they carried his famous face… so that Joker could make money by getting a patent on the fish. It was utterly ridiculous yet completely entertaining and served as the basis for my single favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series. This era also made it clear that Joker was obsessed with Batman, something that become expanded upon more in the 1980’s.

Killing Joke

The Harlequin of Hate

While I am loathe to admit that Frank Miller ever wrote anything good, it’s impossible to deny his impact on the genre in the 1980’s. His extremely popular story The Dark Knight Returns, set in a dystopic future where an aged Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl one more time to defend Gotham City does have a very important take on The Joker. When Batman retires, Joker stays in Arkham Asylum and never bothers to get out; there is no challenge anymore. This idea that Joker needs Batman to be who he is not only makes the character more interesting, but also opens up the idea to questions about whether Batman is responsible for creating the villains. After all, would Joker be as much of a menace to Gotham if Batman weren’t around for him to fixate his psychosis on?

The 1980’s also saw The Joker and Batman’s rivalry become a more personal one. Thanks to reader votes (and a bit of controversy), The Joker murdered Jason Todd, the second Robin, in the climactic chapter of A Death in the Family. He also shot Barbara Gordon (Batgirl and daughter of Police Commisioner James Gordon) in The Killing Joke, leaving her paralyzed before he removed her clothes and took pictures of her bleeding, naked body in order to torture Gordon and prove that one bad day could make the sanest man alive lose their mind. This story, often considered the definitive take on the character, shown both the horrible depravity of the character while also bringing up his more tragic side. These horrible crimes left a deep mark on Batman, who has to live with the fact that his refusal to kill The Joker has had terrible consequences.

Bomb

Joker in Other Media

Batman has been adapted into both animated and live-action television as well as film and video games, and unsurprisingly The Joker has followed him everywhere he’s gone. Actors like Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson have made their own marks on the character, though perhaps the most famous version was Heath Ledger’s incredibly dark take on the character in The Dark Knight, a role which earned Ledger a posthumous Oscar award for Best Supporting Actor and has cemented the Joker as one of the great villains of cinema. But many Batman fans consider to be the definitive version of the character to be from Batman: The Animated Series where he was voiced by Mark Hamill. Hamill’s ability to capture everything from the camp silliness to the murderous menace makes him perhaps the most complete interpretation of the character, and he proved that evil laughter can indeed be an art form.

This series also added a new layer to The Joker character by introducing the world to Harleen Quinzel, the perky female sidekick and love interest of The Joker, going by the name of Harley Quinn. This new dynamic of having a love interest for a murdering psychopath allowed the writers to toy with the idea that Joker has a softer side that most of us never see. But it also allowed for exploring abusive relationships; Joker is verbally, emotionally and physically abusive towards Harley, and yet she enables him out of a mad love for him, believing that he really loves her despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Whether it inspires the viewer to see Joker as a misunderstood madman or just a loathsome evil scumbag (guess which camp I fall into!), it certainly makes him a more interesting villain.

Ledger

The Clown Prince of Crime

In my unbiased opinion, Joker is the greatest pure villain in comic book history. To me, he is absolute evil incarnate, wrapping himself up in a colorful package that fools some people, while continuously showing that he is an unrepentant murderer. Chaos, anarchy and madness are all The Joker truly loves, and everything else is just there for his hatred and amusement. He doesn’t need superpowers or gadgets even a gun; his depravity and imagination are the most lethal tools in his arsenal. While some villains have layers that make them more sympathetic or even seem justified, The Joker is simply a madman who wants the world to burn. And I wouldn’t have him any other way.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #20-11

It’s time for the second part of this list, and just in case you haven’t gotten the memo from the first part, this is more of a critical look at why readers fall in love with certain comic book women. This is not an excuse to post pictures of comic book characters in revealing clothing. I actually nearly gave myself a headache trying to find pictures of some of these women that were in relatively normal clothes and were still quality art.

At the end of the day, personality is a lot sexier than a pretty girl in a bikini. These are the DC and Marvel heroines that fit all that criteria.

Psylocke

#20. Betsy Braddock (Psylocke)

One of the archetypal character types for making a woman who is, shall we say, designed to have sex appeal is to make them an exotic beauty, a woman who doesn’t look like everyone around here. Exotic is different, different is exciting, it makes us want to know more about that person because we feel like they’ve lived a life we don’t know about. Elizabeth Braddock is a British model whose signature is her purple hair. Well that should already make her stand out from the pack. But nope, Marvel did us one better; through a crazy psychic body swap, Betsy’s mind is now in the body of Kwannan. So now she’s a British model living in the body of a Japanese ninja with purple hair. And those don’t come around too often. So Psylocke is already super attractive just because she stands out from virtually everybody.

Psylocke is also the first psychic to be on the list (she won’t be the only one), and that is an interesting trait. The idea of a woman being able to read a man’s mind can be utterly terrifying, especially given Betsy is best known for her stripperiffic outfit shown above in the most tasteful pose I could find. But on the other end, the idea that Betsy could fall in love with us even though she knows what we are thinking is really attractive. People want to be accepted for who they are and at the end of the day you can’t lie to a psychic. So if Betsy’s in love with you, you must be pretty special. The idea of being that in tune with someone is a pretty awesome thing to think about.

Supergirl

#19. Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

And from the extremely exotic to the epitome of the “girl next door” trope, we know have Supergirl. Like her cousin, Kara is kind of meant to embody the “feminine ideal” for readers. This of course means that she’s gone through some phases in different points in history that don’t exactly hold up to feminist standards. And no, Supergirl in her original incarnation is not a character I particularly enjoy; she’s pretty and compassionate and well… “nice”. But she lacks agency or layers to her personality, and Superman is in far too much control of her life. The only thing I like about this Supergirl is that I can at least look at her outfit without feeling a dirty old man.

But the more modern takes on the character are much more interesting. She’s no longer obedient, she rebels from time to time and sometimes that works out for her and sometimes it gets her in trouble. Which is a much better take on teenage characters, something that is easier to relate to. I enjoy her even more in the New 52, where she has little to do with her cousin and is instead a girl trying to find her place in the world. She’s somebody who feels like she could be your best friend, somebody who would go on an adventure with you.

She-Hulk

#18. Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk)

I am a firm believer that many men are attracted to women who can beat them up. There’s a sense of danger there and danger is exciting. But especially in a genre with as much action as comic books, it’s also nice to know that our partner can take care of themselves and can save us if we need them too. Yeah, there’s appeal in the “damsel in distress” character, but it can also get really annoying in a hurry. One look at She-Hulk, Strongest Woman There Is, and we know she can take care of herself.

Fortunately, She-Hulk’s personality is as much of a force of nature as her body. Jennifer Walters is Bruce Banner’s cousin, a lawyer who is a bit timid but very smart and very funny; the She-Hulk however, lacks her inhibitions. She’s not afraid to be funny or outspoken or confident in her abilities. This again is very appealing trait; She-Hulk just doesn’t know how to be fake. She’s always honest and always blunt, and there’s a lot of appeal in that. And of course, this can’t be overstated; She-Hulk has never hesitated about pursuing relationships; she’s not going to be chased, she’s the chaser. Again, blunt honesty and aggression is a turn-on for plenty of guys; the fact that she’s funny is even better.

Gwen Stacey

#17. Gwen Stacy (Spider-Woman)

Peter Parker first met Gwen Stacey in college, and despite a few obstacles, they quickly hit it off and were a well-functioning couple. Being the girlfriend of one of the most popular characters in comics, especially the one who was most designed to relate to teenagers, Gwen was sort of an “America’s Sweetheart” type; everyone loved Gwen. She was kind of the Betty to Mary Jane’s Veronica; not as outgoing or “exciting”, but kinder, more mature and more capable of handling a stable relationship. Honestly, were it not for her death, I imagine that Peter and Gwen would have become married. Many consider Gwen’s death to be the moment when comics lost their innocence and “grew up” to face the real world, which wasn’t always happy. Gwen is a symbol of that childlike innocence and the hope that we could have a happy ending.

Gwen was before my time, although her impact was still felt in later media. The Mary Jane Watson from Sam Raimi’s movies honestly has a lot more in common with Gwen than the comics MJ as far as personality goes. And conversely, the Gwen Stacey that Emma Stone plays (a much better love interest) has a bit of MJ’s fire, but is still definitely Gwen. Marvel has tried different ways to bring Gwen back (clones… ugh), but I think by far the most successful has been “Spider-Gwen”, an alternate reality where Gwen is bitten by the radioactive spider. And… yeah, that is pretty much a perfect idea. Gwen Stacey as Spider-Woman is awesome. Definitely a good way to update the character for more modern tastes.

Pepper Potts

#16. Pepper Potts

Pepper Potts is kind of an interesting case. Though she was introduced as Tony Stark’s personality secretary with a crush, their relationship was never one that went anywhere. No, she eventually fell in love with and married Harold “Happy” Hogan, Stark’s butler. And yep, the idea that a smart, funny, pretty girl like Pepper would eventually give up on the selfish, arrogant pretty boy for the steady, reliable guy who doesn’t look like Hercules is a huge point in her favor. I am sure most comic book fans have a lot more in common with Happy Hogan than with Iron Man. The “nice guy wins” is a story that is always going to make that guy’s partner more attractive.

However, Pepper seems to be subject of a bit of a war between some writers who want her with Tony and others who want her with Hogan. Sadly, Tony eventually won out in order to make things more in line with the Iron Man movies, where Gwyneth Paltrow stars as the character and is the primary love interest of Tony. Fortunately, I am a big fan of that couple and Paltrow definitely brings a lot of personality that has influenced the comics version in positive ways. Pepper fulfills two things that will always be attractive. She’s got that blunt honesty that I talked about with She-Hulk; she always calls out Tony on his crap; self-respect and standards are always a good thing. But she’s also the ultimate caretaker; her job is basically the same as Alfred Pennyworth. She is the ultimate support system for Tony, and that is probably what makes her stand out most.

Batwoman

#15. Kate Kane (Batwoman)

Again, being unique is always a good way to endear readers. Being easily the highest profile lesbian in comics gives Batwoman a huge edge in that department; she’s the standard that future gay characters are probably going to be held to. Kate Kane is actually the second version of Batwoman; the Silver Age version of the character was, ironically enough, created to make a love interest for Batman to show that he was not gay after concerns raised by the book “The Seduction of the Innocent”. Fortunately, we have evolved a bit as a society and there is a growing desire to see LGBT characters be represented in comics. Kate is an excellent example of this. While being gay is not her only defining trait thanks to her superhero career, close relationship with her father and her military background, it is not a simple personality quirk either. A major part of Batwoman comics is about Kate’s relationships with other women.

And not just the sex stuff either. The dates, the personality clashes, the ups and downs of a relationship. Kate’s relationship with Maggie Sawyer is one of my favorite in comics, and one of the more unique. In addition to being an example of a lesbian relationship that is given a lot of time and development and is usually pretty healthy, it’s also a generational gap. Maggie is much older than Kate and that is a key dynamic of their relationship. While there is plenty to love about Batwoman comics, from the supernatural element to J.H. Williams III’s gorgeous art style, what always stands out to me is that it is a romance comic done right. And well written relationships with two likable yet distinct characters will always be sexy.

Kitty

#14. Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat)

From one Jewish Katherine to another, it’s time to take a look at the X-Men who can walk through walls, Kitty Pryde. When it comes to examining why Kitty is on this list, it comes down to a pretty simple reason. X-Men fans have grown up with her, and she has grown up with them. Kitty was introduced as a fourteen year old girl who wasn’t quite ready to be on the team; in many ways, a link between the typical reader and the fantastic world of X-Men comics. And she’s likable from the start; full of spunk, creativity and courage but also emotionally vulnerable and often out of her depth. Easy to relate to, Kitty is a character that many people saw themselves in, and many fell in love with.

Fortunately, Kitty has been anything but stagnant. We’ve seen her take on rigorous warrior training from Wolverine, so we know that she’s tough and has self-discipline. We’ve seen her leave the team to join Excalibur, so we know she’s independent and willing to take risks. We’ve seen her become a teacher and a leader, so we know she’s intelligent and capable and confident. And yet through all of that, Kitty has never stopped being the optimistic, compassionate person that we first knew. And she recently became one of the spokesman for why the anti-bigotry message of the X-Men will always be important; she’s proud of who she is, unafraid to claim it, and inspires us to be the same.

Black Widow

#13. Natasha Romanov (Black Widow)

The fact that Black Widow has become a breakout character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is played by one of the most attractive women on the planet has certainly raised awareness of the character and helped make her a more major player. But this isn’t about Scarlett Johanssen and how awesome she is. Black Widow from the comics still has plenty to like about her. She’s still the best spy in the Marvel Universe and is an incredibly dangerous fighter, and a member of the Avengers. There’s that danger thing I keep bringing up. She’s also a bad girl turned good; she debuted as a villain but eventually had a change of heart and joined The Avengers. Yep, there’s another mark in her favor.

But perhaps the most important difference between the comic version and the movie version is that Black Widow is a much older woman. So instead of being the incredibly hot twenty something who we probably shouldn’t mess with, she’s the incredibly hot older woman who is so dangerous that she could eat us alive.Yeah, that about seals the deal. Natasha’s mix of intelligence, skill as a warrior, willingness to use her sexuality to her advantage, ability to bend the rules, and a long life of experience make her an extremely intimidating woman. And that is always going to appeal to certain people, including me.

Donna Troy

#12. Donna Troy (Wonder Girl)

To understand the appeal of Donna Troy, Wonder Woman’s sidekick/protegy, one first needs to understand what makes Wonder Woman appealing. Wonder Woman is a warrior, but one who fights for peace and equality. She holds up very lofty ideals and is very capable of standing up for them. She is simultaneously fierce and gentle, compassionate and ruthless. That is all very awesome. Now take these traits, and add them to a younger girl who is closer in age to the target audience. Where can you go wrong? Donna Troy has Diana’s lofty ideals, but has a younger perspective on things. When Wonder Woman gives a speech about equality it can almost come across as a scolding mother. When it’s Donna, it feels like a friend giving helpful advice to help you grow as a person.

But beyond that, Donna is mostly just a girl who feels like she just knows how to handle the world and whatever it throws at her. If you read George Perez and Marv Wolfman’s run on Teen Titans, you’ll notice that Donna is the only Titan holding down a job. She’s got her own boyfriend and it isn’t another superhero, but a teacher without superpowers. And she has enough experience as a fighter not to be afraid of the danger that goes on around her. And like Kitty Pryde, she’s a character that grew along with the audience, going from a young teenager to a young woman; that feeling that you’ve grown up with someone and seen them reach their potential provides an intimate relationship that lends itself to fan crushes.

Mary Jane

#11. Mary Jane Watson

Can I just take a moment to please ask any fans of Mary Jane Watson who have pictures of her where she isn’t undressing, wearing Spider-Man clothes, or showing off impossible flexibility, please put them up on the internet? I love Mary Jane, but man it was hard to find a picture of her that was more current and didn’t make me feel like I was one step away from looking at pornography. And that’s really why I’m doing this list; there is so much more that goes into sexual attraction than just physical attractiveness and these should be realized. A good writer and a good artist should be able to make their characters appealing and yes, even sexy, without showing them undressing. That way, when the character does show off a bit we have an established emotional connection to the character. This is the difference between “fan service” and “cheesecake”; one is showing off the sensuality of a beloved character and the other is just sexual objectification.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s talk about Mary Jane Watson, the iconic girlfriend/wife of Spider-Man. There’s basically two key phases of Mary Jane’s life that are extremely sexually appealing, but in different ways. She first shows up as a confident, self-assured party-goer who is way out of Peter Parker’s league but doesn’t see herself that way. The character has flaws, being a bit stuck up and shallow, but that just makes her a bit more human. And it means all the more when she grows out of that after Gwen Stacy’s death; she was just as close to Gwen as Peter was and that death causes her to grow up a bit. This brings me to other important aspect; MJ and Peter married and spent a very long time as a couple. And as the ultra-supportive, loving wife of Spider-Man she fulfills a fantasy that a lot of people don’t get; a loving, committed partner who is in for the long haul.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #30-21

If this is your first time reading an article from “The Shelf is Half Full” and you are expecting a post full of cheesecake drawings that amounts to click bait, this isn’t what you’ll find here. I sincerely hope that isn’t disappointing. This list is more of a psychological look at why comic book readers develop a sexual attraction to fictional characters. And while some of you may be thinking that the answer is obvious, it really isn’t. Because thinking that it’s just a sexy drawing that attracts us to a character ignores an obvious fact of comic books.

Any artist of decent skill can draw any character as being physically attractive.

And many of them do, sadly in a way that can come across as being exploitative. There are artists like Gillen Land who is known for tracing pornography to draw his characters, particularly women. But I’d like to think that most artists, writers and comic book fans would rather have their women stand out as being fully realized characters with attractive personalities that transcend artwork. Because ultimately, a sexy drawing is just that; a drawing. And no self-respecting comic reader develops a fan crush just because of a sexy drawing.

Well… okay. Sometimes it helps. But this is about the reasons we invest emotionally in female characters and find ourselves falling in love with them. So, with that clarification out of the way, let’s get this completely subjective and in no way definitive list of the Sexiest Comic Heroines (from Marvel and DC anyway) started.

And yeah, for those wondering if there’s going to be a list of Sexiest Guys in comics? Wait until August.

Wasp

#30. Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp)

Janet Van Dyne was introduced to comics as the girlfriend of Hank Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, and possesses similar powers. Namely she shrinks to a small size. But since she’s named “Wasp” she also flies using specialized wings and fires bio-electric energy bolts (“stingers”). Outgoing, energetic and with a love of adventure and “super heroing”, Janet’s personality could best be described as “pixie like”. This plays off of Hank’s introverted, quieter personality quite well, and when they are actually functioning Ant-Man and Wasp are one of my favorite couples in comic books. Sadly, Janet has also been the victim of Hank’s anger problems and his physical abuse. Which, believe it or not, does actually make her more appealing to readers; people feel compelled to save victims of abuse, and if you don’t believe me, look at Harley Quinn.

Fortunately, Wasp doesn’t need to be rescued. Somewhat surprisingly for a character intended only to be a sidekick/love interest, Janet Van Dyne has arguably become a more important player in the Marvel Universe than her ex-husband. She’s consistently been a member of the Avengers and has served as their leader on more than one occasion. These days, she is semi-retired and mostly works as a promoter for the team. Plucky, outgoing and tougher than she looks, Janet is the dream girl for quite a few comic readers.

Polaris

#29. Lorna Dane (Polaris)

I’ve got to be honest here; the green hair does it for me. I mean, there are other things to like about Lorna Dane, but the green hair is one of the smartest character design decisions ever in my opinion. She has a truly distinct physical trait that identifies her character. And no, Abigail Brand doesn’t pull it off as well. Anyway, Polaris is the daughter of X-Men villain Magneto (sometimes anyway, depending on the writer) and possesses similar magnetic abilities. She was actually the second woman to join the X-Men and has a long history as the lover of Alex Summers, alias Havok. For a long time they were one of the few couples that managed to retire happily from the superhero business.

I think the simple dynamic of being the daughter of a mutant terrorist is something that makes Lorna an interesting character. She is, generally speaking, a sweet and gentle person and initially hates that Magneto is her father. However, as she gets older and experiences more trauma, like the mutant massacre, she begins to appreciate his view of things a bit more and often serves as a devil’s advocate to the X-Men. Though she’s occasionally been the same kind of bitter supervillain that her father is, I think she’s most recognizable as a selfless hero. And let’s face it; there’s something incredibly tantalizing about the idea of dating the daughter of one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe.

Silver

#28. Silver St. Cloud

This list isn’t entirely made of superheroes; many of the most famous women in comics have never put on a costume and battled villains. But that doesn’t make them less interesting, and it certainly doesn’t disqualify them from this list. After all, serving as the emotional support for other characters is just as noble, and arguably more thankless. So the first of those characters to make this list is more of a sentimental favorite of mine; Silver St. Cloud. Silver was one of Bruce Wayne’s more serious girlfriends, appearing in several issues during the Bronze Age of comics and actually cracking through Bruce’s armor a bit to form a serious relationship. One of the more interesting things about her is that she is the first woman that Bruce is explicitly shown to have been in a physical relationship with. While some of that is indicative of the time as the comics code was loosening, I like to think that from a canon perspective Bruce was genuinely in love with Silver.

But I think what I admire most about Silver is that she’s not a clueless idiot. She immediately suspects that her boyfriend is hiding something. She’s even essential to solving a case where Hugo Strange tries to impersonate Bruce; she’s so in tune with who Bruce is as a person that she knows it isn’t him and calls Dick Grayson to inform him. And the first time she sees Batman up close, she immediately recognizes him. Despite being in love with him, she knows she can’t deal with the stress of worrying about his life every night and calls off the relationship. This has always stood out to me as a rare case where Batman was in a serious emotional relationship and may have lost his best shot at happiness because of his career as a vigilante. That hits hard and has always made Silver St. Cloud a personal favorite.

Carol Ferris

#27. Carol Ferris (Star Sapphire)

Carol Ferris is the owner of Ferris Aircraft, where future Green Lantern Hal Jordan works as a pilot. And despite the fact that she’s Hal’s boss, she’s also his primary love interest. And yes, that dynamic is one of the reasons Carol is on this list. The idea of seducing your powerful, gorgeous boss is a fantasy for a lot of people; it’s scandalous and therefore incredibly hot. It also puts a lot of natural tension between the two; they are clearly attracted to each other and even get along well. Hal brings a sense of fun and adventure to Carol’s life while she grounds him and holds him accountable for his reckless and insensitive behavior. They are a couple that’s easy to root for and the drama of if they will ever actually commit to each other instead of letting their jobs get in the way provides a lot of drama.

However, one of the biggest marks in Carol’s favor is that she isn’t just another pedestrian girlfriend for the male character to save. Carol has a dual identity as Star Sapphire, a character that was initially an enemy of Green Lantern’s who possessed Carol, using Carol’s love for Hal to power her own ring. Again, more tension, and that’s always a good thing. Later on, Carol has more control of her Star Sapphire persona and becomes a hero in her own right, helping to save the universe on a handful of occasions and even saving Hal’s life a couple of times. Whatever her role, Carol is always a woman in power, and that is exactly what Hal needs in his life. And since Hal is a character that many, many comic book readers relate to, it’s not surprising that Carol has landed a spot on this list.

Amanda Waller

#26. Amanda Waller

Yes, there are some shallow people who will claim that Amanda Waller doesn’t belong anywhere near this list because she is a middle-aged woman of size. Fortunately for those people, DC decided to remake Waller as a younger, thinner character who at least as Waller’s personality. So consider that version for this list if you prefer. As for me, and I imagine most fans of Waller, we prefer her the way she was originally portrayed; large and in charge. Waller is a government agent who primarily works on defending the United States from metahumans, both the villains and the heroes alike. Though she is often written as the antagonist of her books, Waller always has the best interests of people at heart. This makes her one of the most realistic, least idealized, most human characters in comics. And that is why she is so freaking awesome.

Amanda Waller is a woman in power and she has no problem exerting her authority. She is smart and capable and will not let anybody push her around, and guess what; that’s super attractive. Even though she has her fair share of enemies and can be a downright scumbag of a human being at times, she’s always doing it with the best of intentions. She’s a character that readers love to hate, and in some cases, just love. Let me put it this way; there’s a reason DC redesigned her to fit more… um… accepted standards of beauty. It’s because plenty of people were already in love with her to begin with.

Raven

#25. Raven

Marv Wolfman is one of the best character writers in comic books; he works extremely well with large casts, excelling at making several different and distinct characters as possible. So it really shouldn’t be surprising that several members of the Teen Titans make their way on this list. Wolfman was never shy about embracing the sexuality of his characters; after all, his characters were teenagers and marketed towards teenagers and there were a lot of hormones going around. But he was always tasteful, and the male characters were given just as much sex appeal as the gals. But this list is about women, and Raven is the first to show up on this list. And she may be the best example of the psychology of sexual attraction in comics.

See, Raven is an introverted, quiet, damaged character who doesn’t open up about her self or her past very much. This makes her mysterious and makes the reader compelled to find out more about her. Thanks to the strong friendships she forges with her teammates, Raven eventually starts to open up a bit. She never becomes an extrovert; that’s not her nature. But she becomes receptive to friendship and emotion and gives it back in kind, even eventually finding romance with her teammate Garfield Logan, a similarly damaged young man who hides his pain by playing the fool. Raven is a character that lures the reader in, rarely showing vulnerability and forcing us to get to know her to see how beautiful she is. And Raven is one of the best examples of the quiet type who feels emotions strongly but doesn’t show them; and yes, there are plenty of people who find women like this incredibly attractive.

Abigail Arcane

#24. Abigail Arcane

Alan Moore’s The Saga of Swamp Thing is one of the first comic books I’ve ever loved, and Abigail Arcane has always been a favorite of mine. What is it with white hair? Anyway, in those comics she’s young and quick to show compassion and love, and has a very “girl next door” kind of feel to her. Granted, it comes with a sick twist because her closest living relative is one of the most horrible monsters in comics, Anton Arcane. Who once took over Abbey’s husband’s body… and I’ll live the rest up to your imagination. Again, Abigail is a victim, and an innocent one; she inspires our protective instincts. We want to comfort her and tell her that everything is going to be okay, even though we know it never really will be. While I’m not advocating an increase in sexually abused characters in media, I won’t deny that it does create immediate sympathy. As long as the character remains compelling beyond that initial sympathy, it is likely to form a strong emotional bond for the reader.

And Abigail is pretty awesome. I’ve always had tremendous respect for her because she falls in love with Swamp Thing and doesn’t care that he is well… Swamp Thing. He’s a plant. She doesn’t care that he looks like a monster or that she’ll never have a true sexual relationship with him (psychedelic plant sex aside), or that some people will judge her. She’s truly in love with the kind, gentle soul that Swamp Thing is. And it’s hard not to love a character that doesn’t hesitate to fall in love with a man who isn’t even a man. Then she comes back in Scott Snyder’s run on Swampy as an older, more grizzled woman and becomes even hotter. I especially loved how Scott made her hesitant to fall for Alec since the Swamp Thing she fell in love with was a plant with Alec’s memories. There’s loyalty there that is admirable and when she finally realizes that Alec is the the Swamp Thing she knows and loves, it makes her decision to fall in love again all the more powerful.

Mera

#23. Queen Mera

Continuing the trend of extremely loyal people who have gone through a lot of crap by sticking with their loved one, we now have Aquaman’s wife Mera. The redhead queen of Atlantis is a superhero in her own right, possessing the same strength and durability that Arthur has in addition to specialized combat training and hydrokinesis; the ability to control water. This makes Mera one of the few examples of a superhero’s significant other who is able to fight alongside that superhero. Mera is awesome and I love having her as Aquaman’s partner. And there’s plenty of appeal in a fierce fighter who commands respect and doesn’t put up with anyone’s crap. Not even Arthur’s.

Arthur and Mera have been through a lot together; they have lost children, Arthur has died and come back from the dead, Mera has succumbed to madness and served as an enemy to Arthur from time to time. It’s an exaggerated scale, but they are an example of a couple who have gone through real problems and yet still care for each other. They always come back to each other because they love each other and want to be together. It’s love through adversity, and without getting too sentimental, it’s hard not to admire them for that. For everything she adds to Aquaman comics and for how awesome she is in her own right, Mera was an easy choice to make this list.

Scarlet Witch

#22. Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

Well, the joke’s got to be made; Magneto must have some good genes, because all of his children are ridiculously attractive. Similar to her sister Lorna, Wanda has the immediate benefit of being the daughter of a ridiculously powerful super villain who you do not want to cross. And like Lorna, Wanda’s chaos magic makes her plenty dangerous on her own; I’d honestly rather cross an angry Magneto. Who doesn’t love a good challenge though? Danger is exciting; danger is sexy. However, Wanda has a considerable edge on her sister because she’s been developed a great deal more, and thus feels like more of a complete character than just a sexy archetype.

Wanda actually started as a somewhat reluctant villain, working as part of the Brotherhood of Mutants under her father’s leadership. Along with her twin brother Pietro, she quickly left that life behind and joined The Avengers, beginning a much more distinguished career as a hero than a villain. She does sometimes wonder if she should side with her father, but usually sticks to her principles… when she’s not going crazy anyway. And like Abigail Arcane, she gets major points for being unafraid to fall in love with Vision, an android that most people wouldn’t consider truly human. Including her brother. Wanda has gone through a lot of problems but still maintains a level of popularity; I think most of us see the good in her and hope it wins out. Combining many of the attributes that got Raven, Abigail, and Polaris on this list, she manages to edge them all out.

Oracle

#21. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Barbara Gordon may be my single biggest fan crush. She’s got all the traits I find most appealing in women. For one, she’s super intelligent and always relies on her brain to solve her problems. She’s kind of a nerd, always stuck in a computer and alternating between extremely shy and awkwardly funny. And she’s tough and resilient; even a bullet that rendered her paralyzed couldn’t keep the former Batgirl down. She recreated herself as Oracle, communications expert and information broker for the Bat-family, the Birds of Prey and even the Justice League of America. And she’s someone who is very ruled by her emotions. When she’s happy, she’s joyful, when she’s angry she’s furious, and when she’s sad she isn’t afraid to cry. She is both strong and vulnerable and I like that a great deal.

Babs, for me, is a perfect example of why this subject is worth writing about. While fictional characters are obviously not real, a good writer can make a character feel real. A good character has a distinct personality, strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears, and meaningful relationships. Fan crushes on comic book characters can actually be a good thing; they help us to identify the important traits that we value in a partner. I fell in love with Barbara because of her intelligence, her ability to overcome obstacles, her loyalty to her friends and family, and her emotional vulnerability. She isn’t a stereotypical bombshell, but she’s pretty and she has a ton of character. And that’s what I want out of any real life partner.

The Top Twelve – Superhero Movies

This list is just my own person favorites and not intended to be a scientific or definitive list. I don’t expect my opinions to be shared by everyone, but at least that should make this a refreshing read, right?

X2

#12. X2: X-Men United (2003)

Not enough credit is given to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films these days. I think the poor quality of X-Men 3 (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) as well as the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made people forget that before X-Men released to positive reviews in 2000, superhero movies were pretty much a joke. The Batman franchise was dead and buried thanks to Batman and Robin (1998) and the most successful comic book franchise was Blade. Anyway, the first film was good but the second one was even better. Wolverine’s origins were explored, the tension between humans and mutants took center stage, Nightcrawler was a worthy addition to the cast, and everyone from Mystique to Pyro got meaningful character development. Twelve years later this film still stands as one of the best ensemble superhero movies and arguably the blueprint for The Avengers movies.

Superman

#11. Superman (1978)

The first modern superhero film is still one of the best. The movie told us that we would believe a man would fly, and thanks to the cutting edge special effects, it’s still easy to believe Superman can fly almost four decades later. But more importantly, thanks to Christopher Reeve we believed that Superman could act; his portrayal of the Man of Steel was so different from his portrayal as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent that it was easy to believe nobody could make the connection. To me this is the standard for everything that was to come; it’s also so much better than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) that it isn’t even funny.

Spidey

#10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Yesterday I wrote about how awesome Doctor Octopus was in this film and how the movie raised the bar for action in the genre. But there is plenty more to love about Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie. The characters are older and more complex. Peter feels more of the toll that being Spider-Man takes on his personal life, which is probably the most important dynamic of the character in the comics. Harry Osborn really comes into his own in this film as well. While the franchise took a nose dive after this, this is still a high point and I feel is the film that should be most closely modeled when Marvel brings Peter Parker into their cinematic universe.

Ultron

#9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The most recent addition to this list, Age of Ultron is a worthy follow up to the most successful superhero movie of all time and another hit in Marvel’s recent flurry of creative successes. The all-star casts returns and by this point could play the characters in their sleep. Jeremy Renner’s increased role as Hawkeye arguably makes him the breakout star of the movie, but everyone has their moments. The Maximoff Twins worked better than I could have hoped and the Vision ended up as one of the best parts of the movie instead of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ultron was also a strong antagonist who entertained me in ways I didn’t expect. While not as good as the first one, it’s still a great time at the movies.

Logan

#8. The Wolverine (2013)

Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for about fifteen years at this point, but for my money, it’s this film where he gave his greatest performance as the character. I love this movie because it is a great character study and a solid action film and doesn’t try to be more than that. I also enjoy the film for helping wipe away the bad memory of Logan’s first solo film, and for not trying to insult me for being a comic book fan like other movies from 2013. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet I highly recommend it.

CA.0417.ironman

#7. Iron Man (2008)

I remember going to the theaters to see this movie and not having overly high expectations. As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Tony Stark was hardly a pop culture icon. I knew of him mostly because I played War of the Gems on Super Nintendo. By the time the movie was over I was in love with Iron Man and even more in love with Robert Downey, Jr. Turns out I wasn’t the only one; this movie helped launch Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and made Robert a high profile star once again. And it still holds up as one of the most fun comic movies out there, and is far better than its sequels.

Lights

#6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I remember when Marvel announced that they were doing this movie shortly after the release of The Avengers and thinking that they may have gone in over their heads a bit. Sure, Iron Man and Thor weren’t exactly cultural icons but the Guardians of the Galaxy were obscure even by comic book standards. I expected this to bomb hard, but that is why Kevin Feige is a millionaire and I am writing about his movies. Guardians of the Galaxy was irreverent, innovative and glorious entertainment, introducing audiences to a slew of new characters that almost all comic book fans have come to adore. Including myself. This movie is fantastic and arguably the best launch of a franchise ever.

Batman

#5. Batman Begins (2005)

Then again, this is a pretty good argument too. While I have gained a certain appreciation for the 1989 Tim Burton film Batman, especially Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader, I have to say that on the whole those movies fell flat for me. And let’s not even talk about the Joel Schumacher films. But Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the character in movies was the breath of fresh air that the character needed, the most serious dramatic film based on a comic book to date. This told the origin and training of Batman so well that I don’t think it ever needs to be addressed again.

Future

#4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

It was a long and bumpy road, but the third Bryan Singer directed X-Men film was more than worth the wait. Featuring a story that was loosely based on one of the best stories in the X-Men’s history, this film brings together the cast of the original series with the younger cast from X-Men: First Class (2011) to stellar results. In many ways this is my favorite comic book movie, because it felt like a reward for sticking with the series even after it burned me as a viewer more than a couple of times. Unfortunately, being a movie that runs on time travel, there are some serious logic problems that sometimes distract from the experience, but other than the film is a blast. Especially when Pietro is involved.

Avengers

#3. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Here’s a bright idea; take a World War II soldier, a Norse God, Frankenstein’s monster, a female James Bond, a male Katniss Everdeen, and a man in a flying robot suit and make a movie. This should have been a disaster, but Marvel’s careful world building mixed with talented actors mixed with Joss Whedon’s writing and directing somehow formed the perfect mixture for what may be the best comic book movie ever. It’s a miracle that this film works as well as it does. Which is spectacularly. I think I saw this movie around five times in theaters and was never bored, and I still like to throw it in when I have nothing better to do. One of the best popcorn flicks ever put together.

Joker

#2. The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman Begins was a great… beginning, but it turned out to be a mere appetizer for the most critically acclaimed film based on a comic book ever. The Dark Knight is more of a serious crime thriller than escapist popcorn fun, though it does have its moments. However, this was one of the first movies to take the heroes and villains seriously and show that they actually can be symbols with greater meaning. Even if it did beat those points into the ground. Still, it’s got a ton of great performances and an Oscar-winning Heath Ledger as The Joker, one of the all time great antagonists in cinema; not just comic book movies, but movies in general. It’s a remarkable piece of film making, and it just happens to involve a guy in a bat mask.

Scuffle

#1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

If one takes the comic book escapism of The Avengers and blends it with the real world seriousness of The Dark Knight, you get the conspiracy thriller action film called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was a huge fan of the first Captain America film but the sequel was an improvement in every single way. Chris Evans is brilliant as Steve Rogers, there’s a strong supporting cast and a genuinely compelling plot. The action scenes are gorgeously choreographed and feature a lot of practical stunt work, and the film even brings in political concepts from the real world to discuss them. It’s my favorite comic book movie and I think it’ll be a while before anything challenges it.

Superhero Spotlight – Dick Grayson

When Batman was introduced to comic book readers in the spring of 1939, he was a brooding vigilante who had no regard for the life of criminals, a far cry from even the modern Dark Knight. He was a product of the times; America was in the Great Depression and Batman’s grim stories connected with audiences. However, as the costumed crime fighter became more popular with young readers, it was decided by the creative team to soften the character. A major part of this process was the addition of a teenage sidekick, someone the younger readers could relate to (and by proxy giving Batman someone to talk to). Detective Comics #38 labeled him as Robin “The Boy Wonder”, and these days he usually goes by Nightwing. But his real name is

Dick Grayson

Detective #38

The Dark Knight’s Squire

Dick Grayson was the son of circus acrobats John and Mary Grayson, and like Batman he is orphaned by crime when the owner of Haley’s Circus refuses to pay off extortionist Tony Zucco. Zucco cuts the line when the Flying Graysons are performing their trapeze act and they fall to their death. Bruce Wayne takes him in as his ward and Dick becomes the first “sidekick” in superhero comics; Robin was synonymous with Batman for the next three decades; they were the dynamic duo and along with Superman were probably the most well known superheroes until Stan Lee kickstarted the Marvel Universe in the 1960’s.

Of course, being well known doesn’t mean that Robin didn’t have his fair share of critics. Many kids failed to connect to the character and often found him to be something of a nuisance who causes more problems than he solved. The Dynamic Duo also came under fire for supposed homosexual undertones… scourge of decency everywhere. (This is sarcasm.) The important to know here is that Robin as Batman’s sidekick became a bit played out by the 1970’s and in order for Dick Grayson to continue to be a viable part of DC’s universe. Fortunately, Robin had another major role to play.

New Titans

The Teen Wonder: Leader of the Teen Titans

In a world where teenage heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men were able to operate independently without having an adult watch their back, the idea of a teenage sidekick seemed to be a quaint and outdated concept. However, Robin was still an iconic character, and DC began throwing various sidekicks like Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick) and Aqualad together as a group called The Teen Titans. It didn’t exactly work, but eventually the creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez fine tuned the idea, introduced some new characters to compliment the ones who had been around forever, and created one of the most popular and high quality comic runs of all time. The New Teen Titans is a masterpiece of character development with dozens of characters given unique fleshed out personalities that play off of each other in diverse and entertaining ways. And Dick Grayson benefited greatly from his involvement.

Despite lacking any superpowers, Robin’s experience as a crime fighter and his years of training under Batman made him the natural choice for a leader. He is a tactician on the battlefield and a diplomat off of it, reigning in the various personalities and making them work together as a cohesive unit. Writing Robin as an intelligent and capable leader helped to make him cooler than he’d ever been, and to give him his own unique identity outside of simply being Batman’s sidekick. For comic book readers, the name “Robin” is as synonymous with the Teen Titans as it is with Batman. But in order to complete the transition, Dick Grayson would have to adopt a new persona, inspired by the Bat but completely his own.

Nightwing

Dick Grayson Grows Up

One of the unique things about Dick Grayson is that he has grown up throughout the years. While his character was largely stagnant throughout the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics, Robin started going to college in the 1970’s. He became independent from Bruce Wayne and began to clash with him. Readers who might have found Robin uncool as a kid now got to see him develop into a young adult, challenging the standards that his father figure set and becoming his own man. He had gone from being a sidekick to a team leader to being a solo star as Nightwing, headlining his own comic book series and defending his own town from criminals: Bludhaven.

We have also seen Dick take the mantle of Batman from Bruce Wayne for a few significant periods of time, which have shown that he has grown exponentially as a hero. Despite their personality differences, putting Dick in the Batman suit has never felt wrong; it fits like a glove. And I’d like to imagine that in some imaginary future Dick does become Batman full time, but I have to say that to me, Dick Grayson is Nightwing. It’s not the identity given to him by Batman, and it’s not the one he is destined to inherit. It is his persona, the name he chose for himself.

Dick Grayson was created so that kids would have somebody to relate to; he has become a character that comic book fans have literally grown up with, going through the same things they do. In some ways, he is DC’s answer to Spider-Man, and along the way he has cemented his own legacy as one of the greatest characters in the history of comic books.

Prodigal

The Top 12 Batman Villains

Batman is one of the longest running characters in the history of comics, and there are many reasons why he has been so successful. One of the main reasons is that he has, without reasonable debate, the best rogues gallery of any superhero. Here, I’m counting down my Top Twelve Batman Villains, based on a combination of factors such as quality of the character, their presence in popular culture, and personal preference. But the main determining factor was “how well does this villain work in contrast to Batman?” A strong protagonist-antagonist relationship is one that helps both characters come out looking better at the end of the day.

Clayface

#12. Clayface (Basil Karlo/Matt Hagen)

Choosing the#12 spot was not easy, and basically boiled down to personal preference. Other characters that were considered include Killer Croc, Mr. Zsasz, The Red Hood, Man-Bat and Black Mask. But there’s something about Clayface that just speaks to me as a reader. I am a fan of monsters (think Frankenstein and the Wolfman) and I also enjoy villains who have a tragic backstory that makes me feel for them. Clayface fits both of these bills nicely. While the original Clayface was simply an actor named Basil Karlo who used make-up to make his face look however he wanted, the Clayface most people recognized was Matt Hagen, a treasure hunter who turns into a massive shapeshifting blob of mud. My favorite interpretation of the character is from Batman: The Animated Series, where Hagen’s name and powers are used, but he is given Basil Karlo’s backstory. Clayface is also a rare Batman villain who can challenge him physically, adding an extra element of danger to stories involving him.

Freeze

#11. Mr. Freeze (Victor Fries)

Very few Batman villains benefitted more from Batman: The Animated Series than Dr. Victor Fries, a scientist who suffers through a horrific accident that turns him into a being that has to stay at zero degrees in order to survive. Taking on the alias of Mr. Freeze, Victor creates a survival suit and a cold gun capable of rapidly freezing anything to terrorize the people who ruined his life. Originally a one-note character from the Silver Age named Mr. Zero, the television show fleshed out the character and in turn made him one of the most sympathetic bad guys of all time. In addition to his accident, it was revealed that Victor’s primary motivation for his crimes was to raise money to save the life of his wife Nora, the victim of a rare disease. To save her life, he had her chryogenically frozen, only to be made into a monster by those same chemicals. He is a villain motivated by love and loss; in many ways, a representation of what Batman could become if he allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment.

Harley

#10. Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel)

Almost from the moment she arrived on our television screens as The Joker’s perky but psychotic girlfriend, Harley Quinn started accumulating a fanbase that has turned her into one of DC’s most successful marketing machines despite only being around for about two decades. Funny, dorky, and more than a bit off of her rocker, Harley brought a new layer to The Joker but more impressively carved a niche for herself. Her mad, inexplicable love for the madman allowed DC to explore an emotionally and physically abusive relationship in a complex way, something that I am sure has contributed to Harley’s popularity. The reason she is low on the list is that she very quickly became an anti-hero because of how easy she is to root for, and because ultimately, she’s not that much of a Batman villain. She’s gone up against the Bat a couple of times, but she is mostly a character that contrasts with The Joker and more importantly, a compelling character in her own right.

Riddler

#9. The Riddler (Edward Nigma)

Conundrums and puzzles are obsession of Edward Nigma, perhaps the smartest idiot in the DC universe. Intellectually superior to most, his narcissism compels him to leave clues to his crimes in the forms of riddles. While he is smart enough to fool the Gotham Police most of the time, he is rarely ever a match for Batman. While not a physical threat, Riddler is perhaps the best villain for one of the most important roles that Batman plays; the Detective. Requiring an intelligent and creative writer in order to use effectively, Riddler is somewhat underutilized but still has a place among Batman’s greatest rogues because when he’s done right, he’s just a brilliantly entertaining character. I also think readers identify with him as he tries to think of a problem that Batman cannot solve.

Bane

#8. Bane

Bane was one of the hottest villains in comics when I was a child; the brand new menace to Batman who was both a mental and physical threat. Bane’s greatest story was his debut story; a brilliant strategist with a burning hatred of Batman, he planned a massive escape from Arkham Asylum that stretched the Batman to his absolute limits as he battled every major foe he’d ever been put up against. Knowing that Batman was Bruce Wayne, Bane waited until he was was physically exhausted before assualting him in his home, breaking Batman’s back in one of the most famous Batman moments ever. While his intelligence and physical skills are already impressive, Bane’s most unique source of power is “Venom”, a unique blend of steroids that exponentially increases his strength. While there aren’t many great Bane stories aside from that debut, he made an incredible first impression and dominated Batman comics for the better part of two years.

Harvey

#7. Two-Face (Harvey Dent)

Harvey Dent was once the handsome, noble and popular District Attourney of Gotham City, one of Batman’s strongest allies in his fight against crime. However, Harvey carried a dark secrect, a dual personality that was one of the most sadistic men in Gotham. When a vat of acid was thrown in his face during a trial, Harvey was left physically scarred on the left side of his face and his personality was split down the middle. A criminal mastermind whose every deed, good or ill, is determined by the flip of a two-headed silver dollar, Two-Face is an interesting look at duality. He was a noble man on a crusade for justice, much like Batman, but one bad day turned him into a monster, albeit one who still occasionally acts on the side of good when his better nature wins out. I think the story of how Harvey becomes Two-Face will always be a compelling tragedy, but I do think that the villain only has a limited amount of use after that point.

Penguin

#6. The Penguin (Oswald Cobblepott)

While most of Batman’s rogues serve as twisted reflections against Batman, Oswald Cobblepott is more of a dark reflection of Bruce Wayne. Born poor and ugly but determined to improve his lot in life, the man who would come to be called The Penguin fought his way through Gotham’s criminal element to become one of the most influential crime lords in Gotham. Known for having an element of class but also ruthless cruelty, Cobblepott is kind of Batman’s version of Lex Luthor; more interesting as a guy that Bruce can never quite put away but is always fighting against. He’s also an interesting example of how a character can have a sympathetic backstory without being sympathetic; he’s a cruel, heartless man and I love him for it.

Ivy

#5. Poison Ivy (Pamela isley)

Poison Ivy is probably my second favorite Batman villain, a femme fatale who is one of the most powerful female villains in comics. Possessing the ability to manipulate plant life to her will and also producing deadly toxin through her lips and pheramones that no man (or woman) can resist, Pamela Lillian Isley is truly a beautiful nightmare. She’s also a great analysis of extremism; Bruce Wayne is not unsympathetic to taking care of the environment, but Ivy values the lives of plants more than people. Ivy just stands out as a unique character in the Batman pantheon and I think that’s what draws me to her; she’s different and fantasticly so.

Demon's Head

#4. Ra’s al Ghul

Ra’s al Ghul is the Moriarty to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant man with a twisted sense of morality who wants to remold the world into one that fits his vision of perfection. Nearly immortal thanks to numerous baths in mystical pools called Lazarus Pits, Ra’s possesses near infinite resources and limitless ambition. While he views Batman as his rival, he also views him as his equal and would like to sway to his point of view, inheriting the earth as the bride of his daughter Talia. Ra’s is a character that I’ve personally never been fond of, but I respect that he is a great concept for a villain and has been a part of some of Batman’s best stories.

Catwoman

#3. Catwoman (Selina Kyle)

I debated whether to put Selina on this list at all, since she is less of a villain these days and more of an anti-hero; however, I think that her role as an antagonist to Batman is a crucial element to the character that can’t be ignored. If nothing else, she is one of the most essential characters to the Batman mythology, giving the character a gray area of morality in a world where most people are either wholly good or wholly evil. Selina is a little of both. Catwoman is one of the greatest comic book characters of all time, and one of my favorites, but when it comes to the best Batman rogues, two men are superior foes in my opinion.

Crane

#2. Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane)

Scarecrow is my favorite Batman villain and it really isn’t close. The master of fear is perhaps the truest dark reflection of Batman; both men use fear as a weapon, but Crane uses it against the innocent. He is the one preying on the fearful, and that makes him the perfect antagonist for Batman. One of the reasons that Scarecrow is one of my favorites is that his character is unsettling and terrifying psychologically, not just physically. This is a man who enjoys to torture people through horror, and often targets children. And what’s perhaps scariest is that Jonathan Crane is not psychotic or even sociopathic. He has a full grasp on what he is doing, but does it deliberately. He is just a screwed-up, evil human being.

Joker

#1. The Joker

The Clown Prince of Crime is Batman’s greatest nemesis, a ruthless psychotic monster obsessed with killing Batman and willing to go to any means necessary to do it. If you want to know how screwed up of a place Gotham City is, the greatest hero is a man who dresses like a demon and the most vile terrorist is a man dressed as a clown. Batman is stoic, The Joker is always laughing. They play off each other perfectly because they have absolutely nothing in common, except that they will never budge. Joker is also one of the all-time greats because he is incredibly versatile as a character; he can be an almost harmless trickster suitable for children’s television, or a deranged lunatic that is one of the great cinematic villains in history in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The fact that both versions of those character feel completely true to the Joker character is a testament to how perfect he is an archetype and how effective the rivalry is. He is the obvious choice for the top spot.

Supervillain Spotlight – Catwoman

About mid-way through this week I realized that I had barely done anything to highlight comic book bad guys, while doing spotlight features on DC’s “Big Three” heroes. As people like to say, a hero is only as good as his villain. so I think it’s about time for me to give my favorite antagonists their due credit. And I’m starting with somebody who made her name as one of Batman’s most popular enemies, but is arguably more popular as somebody who walks the thin line between hero and villain.

Her real name is Selina Kyle, but Gotham newspapers and the world usually refer to her as…

Catwoman

Catwoman

The Comic Book Origin

Selina Kyle doesn’t really have a definitive origin, which I think is actually a good thing for her character. Various media has portrayed her as a street rat (The Dark Knight Rises and ABC’s Gotham among them) and as a rich socialite and animal rights activist (Batman: The Animated Series). Frank Miller had her work as some kind of sex worker, possibly a prostitute or a dominatrix. I know, Frank Miller is portraying a woman in an overly sexual manner. Shocking. I think it’s interesting that the same character can have so many origins yet still end up as basically the same character. In a city full of vigilantes, dirty cops, murderers and madmen, Selina Kyle is really just a humble thief trying to make the best of things. An extremely good thief, mind you, but it’s worth noting that she is rarely portrayed as being a homicidal maniac. When she is digging her claws into somebody, it’s usually pretty well deserved.

One of the greatest influences on the character of Batman is the United Kingdom’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. If Batman is analogous to the master detective from Baker Street, then Catwoman is certainly inspired by the character of Irene Adler. Both women were just one off characters, but their stories were instantly notable because they were able to get away from the legendary crime fighters. While Irene has certainly enjoyed a presence in Sherlock Holmes adaptations since then, I’d say Catwoman definitely fared better. Her unique dynamics with Batman’s character gave her a platform to break out on her own, and she enjoys almost the same world wide recognition from the general public.

Pfeiffer

The Real Life Origin

Catwoman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and introduced to comic book audiences in 1940 as the antagonist of one of several stories in Batman #1, although neither her true name nor her more popular alias was used in this first story. She is simply known as “The Cat”, a jewel thief who Batman and Robin stop on a cruise, although their mutual attraction seems to affect Bruce’s judgment as he allows her to escape. Kane and Finger wanted an antagonist who was different from the killers that Batman usually faced, and also wanted a degree of sex appeal for male readers and a character who women might find engaging as well. Her early stories had her occasionally in conflict with Batman but just as often aiding him on some cases when they had mutual goals. This dynamic was well established before 1954, when she disappeared from comics for almost a decade due to worries about the Comic Book Code and if her character could be portrayed at all.

However, Catwoman would return to comics in 1966, just in time to become an iconic character on the popular Batman TV Show starring Adam West where she was most famously played by Julie Newmar. Since then Catwoman has stayed a fairly consistent presence both in comics and in Batman adaptations, being famously portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns and by Anne Hathaway in Chris Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Most comic books fans consider her to be an important character because she is one of the few morally gray areas in Bruce Wayne’s life; her very presence in comics makes Batman a more rounded and compelling character.

Selina Kyle

Sexuality, Romance and Strong Female Characters

If I may get on my feminist soapbox for a second; there are many writers and artists who probably think they are promoting strong female characters, but honestly have no idea how to do it and usually overcompensate with hideous results. Some think that in order to be a strong and empowered character a woman has to be able to physically be strong and able to hold her own or even dominate in a fight. This idea in and of itself is not a bad thing, but misses the most important aspect, which I will get to momentarily. Others view a woman’s sexuality as the most important issue; a woman cannot be a strong character if she has sexual interest in men, or if she does she must be the controlling partner in that relationship. This of course ignores the fact that the vast majority of the world is made of people who want a satisfying love life and that any relationship where someone is completely in control is abusive, not healthy or empowering.

A strong female character can be someone who takes down her opponents in a fight, and she can be a woman who chooses not to have sex or is more of an aggressor in the bedroom than her partners. But these traits alone do not make a strong female character because they do not make a strong character period. If a male character’s only traits are his ability to fight people and how many people he chooses to have sex with, it’s a very bland and boring caricature that is not interesting. And the same applies to women. Using sexuality and physical prowess as the basis for how strong a character is misses the very nature of writing strong characters.

Regardless of gender, strong characters have a few things in common. They have a well-defined, three-dimensional personality that is a combination of a characters ethics, values, and other variables that you can find on any personality assessment test such as the Myers-Briggs test. Strong characters typically have a clear goal that they are working towards, or at the very least something of extreme importance to them that is worth protecting. Great characters are the ones that remain true to themselves in the face of life-changing experiences that show us who they really are under pressure. And the very best characters are the ones who bring something unique to the world that they exist in, while also providing something for the reader (or viewer) to relate to, empathize with, and cheer for. Or root against, in the case of a good villain.

Cooke

So What Makes Catwoman A Strong Character?

Catwoman’s defining character traits are not her catsuits, her claws or her bullwhip. They aren’t her thieving skills or her love and hate relationship with Batman. Selina is a confident and playful person who lives for adrenaline; whether that’s completing a heist, leaving would be attackers with nasty scars, or getting Batman to chase her on the rooftops of Gotham. It’s her selfish nature and taste for the finer things in life that threaten to make her unlikable, but she has an altruistic streak that often casts her in the role of antihero. This gray morality makes her interesting and unpredictable to a certain extent, but her philosophy basically boils down to “I’ll do whatever makes me happy and safe unless it would endanger innocent lives.” Which is not a common mindset in comics but I do think that it is one many of us can relate to.

Selina’s all of that AND she is a character that isn’t afraid of her sexual appeal, but revels in it. She’s the cat’s meow and she knows it; this is an extension of her confidence and her thrill seeking nature. Sexuality doesn’t define Selina’s character, her character defines her sexuality, which is the key difference. And she’s not just a skilled combatant and master thief for no good reason; she’s had to fight to survive, and is driven to protect the innocent when they are threatened, so being a strong fighter is a necessity. When there is a reason behind a character’s actions, we invest in them more than if there isn’t, no matter how cool those actions are in and of themselves.

In short, the more effort that is put into developing a character’s personality and why they do what they do, the stronger the character is. And Catwoman is one of the most well-thought out, unique and interesting characters in comic books, regardless of company, gender or her status as villain or anti-hero.

Nine Lives

Superhero Spotlight – Batman

My first two Superhero Spotlights featured Superman and Wonder Woman, so it seems natural to complete DC’s “Holy Trinity” of top stars before moving on to Marvel heroes. While Clark Kent and Princess Diana are known for being super powerful flying bricks, DC’s most popular comic book “superhero” is really just a man. An extremely rich, well trained and uncannily driven one, but still essentially a more vulnerable, grounded character. Other than the Man of Steel himself, it’s hard to argue that any other single character has had more influence on the comic book genre than…

Batman

Bruce Wayne

The Comic Book Origin

Bruce Wayne was a child of privilege whose life took a tragic turn when his parents, Martha and Thomas Wayne, were gunned down in Gotham City’s infamous Crime Alley. Their murders inspired Bruce to fight Gotham’s criminals so that no other child had to suffer the same fate. Believing them to be a cowardly and superstitious lot, he sought a way to use fear against those who prey on the fearful. Taking inspiration from his own childhood dread of bats, he created the persona of Batman, a masked persona that will protect his identity and his loved ones while terrifying his enemies with his nightmarish image.

Of course, fear alone isn’t enough to bring criminals down. Thankfully, Bruce Wayne has many other skills that he’s acquired in his lifetime that aid him in his war on crime. He is DC’s most prominent detective, one of the most skilled martial artists in the world, and has the ingenuity and resources to create an arsenal of gadgets ranging from a simple smoke pellets to his signature grappling gun and “batarang” throwing weapons. And since he can’t fly or run at the speed of sound like other other heroes in his universe, Batman also has several signature vehicles: the Batmobile is the most iconic, but the Batplane and Bat-cycle are also strongly associated with the character. Equal parts James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, Batman takes elements from many genres to create one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture.

Bob Kane

The Real Life Origin

Before the company was called DC Comics, the commercial success of the Superman character led to National Comics requesting more costumed heroes in order to capitalize on that initial hit. Bob Kane had created a rough blueprint for a character he called “The Bat-Man”, but it wasn’t until he sat down with artist Bill Finger and brainstormed that the character was first fleshed out into a version we would recognize. Bill Finger helped to create Batman’s iconic cowl as well as the gloves to help him be more visually distinct from Superman. The co-creators drew inspiration from many popular heroes of the time; Zorro from the movies, Sherlock Holmes from British literature, and The Phantom from pulp fiction books. Despite his considerable contributions to the Batman character, Bill Finger has never been given the proper credit by Bob Kane or DC Comics in a messy game of politics. Only comic book historians seem determined to give Finger the recognition that he deserves. To this day, Batman comics, movies and other material have the byline “Batman created by Bob Kane” with no official credit to Bill Finger.

Bill Finger

The character debuted in Detective Comics #27 as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, an aristocrat living in New York City. In his alter ego, Bruce was a dark avenger who showed little remorse for killing criminals and even used a gun and silver bullets to kill a vampire named The Monk. The only other recognizable character in the first issue was Police Commissioner James Gordon, who would prove to be a valuable ally in Batman’s war on crime and a legendary persona in his own right. Over the next several years more recognizable bits of Batman lore made their way into the comics; Robin “The Boy Wonder” was introduced as Batman’s sidekick in 1940, the fictional Gotham City became the new setting, and the costume was tweaked to include Batman’s signature winged gauntlets instead of the purple gloves he had debuted with.

More colorful villains were introduced, such as The Joker and Catwoman (both introduced in Batman #1, a sister comic to Detective Comics which now solely featured Batman as the headline character). Despite these new threats, Batman’s ethics were tweaked; instead of being a remorseless killer, Bruce became a strict believer in not taking lives. This new morality seemed to mesh better with the details of his origin and has since become one of Bruce’s defining character traits; he will bring criminals to justice but he is not an executioner.

Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight’s Influence

Over the last seventy five years Batman has evolved into one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture and one of the most successful marketing machines of all time. Batman has arguably surpassed even Superman in popularity and most consider him to be DC Comics’ flagship character in the modern age. He has starred in blockbuster movies, a campy yet charming TV show from the 1960’s, and a game-changing children’s cartoon series which have greatly increased his presence in the minds of the general public. Almost everyone knows who Batman is from his look and can probably give a solid description of him just from common knowledge. That’s a level of mainstream acceptance that very few superheros have enjoyed until recently.

While Superman is probably the overall most influential character in comic books, Batman is certainly a close second. He popularized the idea of a character that wasn’t invincible. Batman can’t afford to get hit by bullets or absorb knife wounds or even something as simple as falling on his head. This creates an extra level of tension in his stories that just isn’t present in Superman comics due to their nature. Everyone from Captain America to John Constantine owes a debt of gratitude to Batman for establishing that superhero comics weren’t just about flying and lifting heavy objects. Batman’s stories also tend to be grittier and aimed more at older readers than most other DC characters, paving the way for comics such as Watchmen to become successful.

Robin

Another important thing to remember is that Batman is the center piece for probably the richest setting in comic book history. Gotham City is more than just the Bat; it’s police officers like James Gordon and Harvey Bullock, the villains like Riddler, Two-Face and Poison Ivy, and Batman’s trusted allies like Robin, Batgirl and Alfred Pennyworth. The city is so filled with interesting characters of all kinds that one does not even have to like Batman himself to enjoy the world he lives in.  With all due respect to every other franchise in comics, there is no other character who has such a quality supporting cast. Batman comics aren’t just about the character, they are about Gotham City and everyone in it.

Batman

What Do I Like About Batman?

I suspect most people who are fans of Batman initially got into the character because the imagery spoke to them. Batman’s costume is one that lends itself to striking imagery, and Gotham City is full of character in and of itself. Comic books are a visual medium and Batman comics have always taken advantage of that. Beyond that, I have to admit that one of the reasons I become such a Batman fan is because of the quality of writing on so many of his stories. Whether it’s The Long Halloween or The Killing Joke or The Court of Owls, I know that I can pick up one of dozens of Batman stories and get an engaging read. I enjoy the detective elements and have become very fond of several supporting characters. As I’ve indicated, Batman comics are about more than Batman himself.

But if I’m asked why I enjoy Batman as a character, I guess I would have to admit that I have more in common with him than people may suspect. I relate to Bruce’s social anxiety, being more of a natural recluse and rarely feeling comfortable in public. I have a very black and white view when it comes to morality and feel passionate about what is and isn’t right, which is another trait we have in common. Bruce also shows the tendencies of a collector, keeping many trophies from his adventures in his Batcave. While I have been lucky enough to never endure the kind of tragedy that Bruce has gone through, I guess I imagine that if Bruce had lived a happier life he would be a lot like me.

Arkham

Now, some will claim that Batman is a sociopath who is just as crazy as the criminals he fights, and would say that the fact that I can relate to such a character is troubling. I can see the validity to that, but I guess for me it just lends me some extra perspective into Bruce’s mind that makes me more empathetic towards him. I don’t see him as some bloodthirsty maniac out for vengeance or some sad child that can’t get over a tragic event. I see somebody that took what could have been a crippling tragedy and used it as motivation to reach his full potential and change the world around him for the better. That’s not somebody who’s grieving; that’s somebody who dares to hope for a better tomorrow.

Batman: Hush – The Book That Made Me a Comic Fan

You never forget your first.

Well, okay, that’s not necessarily true. I know I perused through some of the Green Lantern and X-Men comics that I older brother was reading in the mid-1990’s but I don’t have any definite recollections of those. But I do have a distinct memory of the first time I went to my local library to see if they had any graphic novels I could borrow, since I was dirt-poor at the time. This was about a year after Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight movie (and Iron Man to a lesser extent) had rekindled my interest in superheroes after a slew of bad Spider-Man and X-Men movies had made me convinced they were only for kids.

Joker

At this point calling myself a “comic book nerd” would be a gross exaggeration. I had never gone to a comic store or sat down to read a comic book. I was just a guy who liked Batman and wanted to know more about him. The book that caught my eye was the second volume of Batman: Hush by the superstar creative team of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee. Lee was best known for doing the pencils on the most successful comic book of all time, X-Men #1 (1991) and had recently made the transition to DC Comics after his own comic book company was bought out. Jeph Loeb was best known for his collaborations with Tim Sale; the pair had worked on such acclaimed books as Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Grey and a few Batman books, most notably The Long Halloween.

Batman: Hush was one of the most successful runs DC has had in the last fifteen or so years, largely because Jim Lee’s artwork is always a hit with fans and Loeb at the time was a well-respected writer. But they were also able to keep readers on their toes with a mysterious new villain who was teaching Batman’s various enemies new tactics that kept Batman and the readers guessing. While that was going on, Loeb was also able to use one of his favorite characters in a big way. Selina Kyle, better known to most as Catwoman, was always a big star in Loeb’s works with Tim Sale, and she has a starring role in Hush too as Bruce Wayne pursues her as a serious romantic interest. While the suspense of the Hush mystery doesn’t have as much of an effect on me now as it did when i first read the book, I find the romance between Bruce and Selina to be really fun and it’s always what I remember most fondly about this book.

Hush

I have to give credit to the creative team here; Hush was just about the perfect story to introduce casual Batman fans like myself into the big world of comic books. Since I had watched a handful of episodes from Batman: The Animated Series (the 1990’s other great gift to superhero loving TV viewers) and the two Nolan films, I already knew who characters like Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and Ra’s al Ghul were. So I didn’t feel uncomfortable when these characters showed up and it allowed me to get wrapped up in the story and in the visuals.

And those visuals are what made me love comic books.

Jim Lee’s pencils have always been very striking, filled with minute detail on backgrounds but also bombastic posing and gripping facial expressions. And while Alex Sinclair deserves all of the credit in the world for his amazing coloring work in these comics, what stood out to me most from a visual standpoint was the flashback scenes where it’s nothing but Jim’s pencil work. For a first time comic reader, realizing the level of artistry that had gone into crafting this book was of immense importance. I started to appreciate the value of visual storytelling, how a drawing can display emotions that prose writing never could. And while it took me a while to get to a point where I could buy comic books regularly, reading these comics for the first time got me hooked on the genre.

Gatefold

Perhaps a little too hooked, honestly. I now have trouble reading normal books because I feel like they are missing something without the visuals. On the other end, I started paying a lot more attention to visuals in movies as well, which greatly enhanced my understanding of how films are made and thus my love of cinema.

Now that I have the benefit of several years and a few rereads, I will be honest and say that Hush is probably a little too drawn out at points and the ultimate reveal of who is behind the mask is really pretty obvious even early on. But that doesn’t keep it from being one of my favorite comics of all time. I always recommend it to new comic readers because it serves as a crash course into the world of Batman. The heroes, the villains, and the civilian characters like Commissioner Gordon are showcased and used remarkably well, and even a detour into Metropolis and a run in with Superman feel like a natural extension of the plot.

Jim Lee’s pencils are awesome and are made even better thanks to the inking from Scott Williams and the brilliant coloring work from Alex Sinclair. This book is still one of my favorites in terms of artwork. As for the writing, Jeph Loeb’s Bruce Wayne is one of my favorite takes on the iconic character; emotionally vulnerable without feeling out of character. Loeb seems to understand that just because Bruce has very few friends does not mean that he is unloving. If anything, he’s more attached to the people he lets into his life because he’s so careful about who he does let in.

The other reason to read this book is that there is absolutely nobody anywhere who has a better grip on Catwoman. Loeb’s love for Selina Kyle is evident any time I read one of his books featuring her and I never quite enjoy Selina the way I would like to in other writers’ hands. So if you are a fan of Catwoman or would like to know more about her, this is definitely a book that you should look into reading.

Kiss

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