Archive for the 'Comic Books' Category

Dec 25 2010

Tales from the Bully Pulpit was incredible

Published by under Comedy,Comic Books

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Tales from the Bully Pulpit was 84 pages of this.  Teddy Roosevelt steals HG Wells’ time machine and meets up with Thomas Edison’s ghost to stop Argentinian Nazis from conquering Mars.

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6 responses so far

Nov 09 2010

Differences Between Marvel and DC Comics

Caveat: Both companies have thousands of characters, so obviously there will be exceptions to every generalization. That said, here are some general differences between the two.


1.  Marvel characters are more likely to come from relatively ordinary backgrounds than DC characters.  For example, Spider-Man, Captain America and most of the X-Men had largely unremarkable lives before developing superpowers.  In contrast, the three most prominent DC characters are a billionaire playboy/ninja, an extraterrestrial, and an Amazon princess that may be a CEO.


2.  DC usually uses more epic superpowers.  For example, Superman doesn’t just have eye-beams or incredible strength or incredible speed or the ability to fly, but all of those and more.   In contrast, a lot of Marvel characters get just one (think Cyclops, the Hulk, Quicksilver, Angel, etc).  Most Marvel characters usually have somewhat more ordinary capabilities.  (The Sentry is a notable exception for Marvel).


3. DC characters were usually created earlier. Most of Marvel’s main characters date to the 1960s and 1970s, whereas most of DC’s date back to the late 1930s and 1940s.

  • This is one reason Marvel has characters named [Modifier] Man/Woman/Boy/Lad: Iron Man, Spiderman and the Invisible Woman vs. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Aqua Lad, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, etc.
  • Many major DC characters were introduced before superhero teams became commonplace*.


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55 responses so far

Sep 24 2010

Plot discrepancies in comic books

FilmFodder wrote a comic book review, How Not to Write a Comic Book. Most of it is helpful–I agree that having too many team meetings or random fights can drive the plot to a screeching halt, as if the writer is trying to burn up time while he figures out where the plot is headed.

However, I’d like to offer a qualification for the following statement: “Here’s a hint to the writer and artist: if the writer has a person saying one thing, don’t show her doing the exact opposite.” Okay, it could be a problem if readers don’t understand why there would be a discrepancy. (I haven’t read the issue, but based on the review it sounds like there isn’t a good reason for the character to explain why she’s refusing to train as she is training). However, under some circumstances, having a character say one thing while doing another might be dramatically effective.

  • The character is being hypocritical. For example, a character talking about the need for sacrifice at the same time he’s eating a lavish dinner.  In most cases, a hypocritical character won’t be aware of the hypocrisy, but perhaps he does know and just doesn’t care what the other characters in the scene think of him.
  • The character’s perspective of the situation is off. For example, if a really angry guy gets asked to calm down, he might scream something like “I’m being perfectly calm.  Don’t ****ing tell me to calm down!”
  • The character is lying from off-panel. For example, John might give Mark’s widow a sob story about the horrible “accident” that killed Mark, but as he says that the camera flashes back to John shooting Mark in the back.
  • The character is using misleading language or a double-entendre. For example, if Mark’s widow thanked him for being there with him until the very end, he could say something like “I always had his back.”

If readers don’t understand why there is a discrepancy between what a character says and what you’re showing the readers, readers will probably get confused.

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Aug 27 2010

Best Free Comic Book Fonts: All-Caps Body

Most comic books and graphic novels letter the body text (dialogue and narration) in all-caps.  Here are some of the best all-caps free fonts. If you’d like to download any of the fonts, please see the links below.

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9 responses so far

Aug 14 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World was both awesomely absurd and absurdly awesome

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Scott Pilgrim’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 80%.  It was so neck-deep in every sort of geeky awesomeness that it totally made sense when the hero used a 1-Up as a “get out of death free” card.  The highlight of the movie was definitely the superpowered kung fu. The romantic comedy was reasonably effective, better than suggested in the trailer. The first 33 seconds of the trailer are forgettable, but the movie is substantially better, particularly if you’re into people getting drop-kicked in the face by vegan supervillains.

12 responses so far

Aug 08 2010

What You Should Know About Comic Book Lettering Before You Write Your Script

Blambot has an awesome article about formatting comic book balloons.  It’s aimed at comic book letterers, but I think there are some key points also useful for comic book writers doing a script.  For example, do you know how to handle translated dialogue or when to use quotation marks?

  • Only use quotation marks when somebody is speaking off-panel.  If the speaker is on-panel, readers don’t need quotation marks to know it’s dialogue.
  • If you ever end a shouted question with a question mark and an exclamation point, put the question mark first. Readers will have many context clues that the line is being shouted, such as body language and the bolded/italicized text, but the question mark is pretty much the only indication that a question is involved.
  • Each period should be followed by one space, not two. Double spaces take too much space and look awkward.  (If you habitually use double-spaces, it may help to use your text processor’s Find/Replace feature to replace all periods followed by two spaces with periods followed by single spaces).
  • How to handle text translated from a language besides English. See below.  Note: Generally, the “*Translated from [Language]” caption is necessary just once per scene.  After that, readers can figure out what language the characters are speaking when you use the <greater than/less than signs>.

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Jul 24 2010

Comic Sans Must Die

Published by under Fonts

Graphic novelist Jason Brubaker offers seven strong arguments against Comic Sans.

Here’s mine: Comic Sans is editor Kryptonite. It’s usually too kiddie for the tone of the project and handles capital letters poorly (which is a major problem, given that most comic books and graphic novels are published in all-caps). If you like the feel of Comic Sans but need something for an audience older than 5-13 year olds, I would highly recommend checking out this list of similar-but-more-professional alternatives.

Relatedly: The fonts available on most newly-purchased computers are generally unsuitable for most comic books, webcomics and graphic novels. If Comic Sans looks like your best option, please check out the free font selections at 1001 Free Fonts or Blambots.

(Note: Comic Sans crops up most often in comic book sample pages and rarely (ick) scripts, but like some vampiric Loch Ness monster it has made poorly-documented but much-rumored appearances in the novel-publishing industry.   Don’t get in bed with a vampiric Loch Ness monster.  Say no to Comic Sans.

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Jul 21 2010

Other writing problems and career disputes I’d love to have

Published by under Comic Books

Alan Moore: “I don’t want Watchmen back.

B. Mac: “I’ll take it!”

Apparently the hangup was that DC Comics would only give him the rights back if he agreed to some (inevitably awful) prequels and sequels.  I was expecting an author vs. publisher bloodbath, but this is only a bit more rancorous than “You paid me too much” and “Do I really need that many assistants?”

12 responses so far

Jul 20 2010

Rocking the iPad with Fingerpainting and Ironman

I also liked this one of Ironman.

3 responses so far

Jul 16 2010

Do critics hate comic book movies?

Over at the Sun Times, Jim Emerson argues that “critics seem to overwhelmingly approve of the current crops of comic-book, graphic-novel and superhero movies.”

One of the commenters responds:

While critics in general are happy to give approval to comic book films (and, I think, many critics do treat them fairly), I think there’s no question that there are elements of bias in many critics’ reviews.

First, look at the language many critics use. When giving a positive review, many will say things like “despite its comic book origins,” or “leaping beyond comic books,” as if being based on a comic book is in some way a handicap.

Actually, I think being based on a comic book (or a novel or TV show or anything else) is a handicap for a movie.

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9 responses so far

Jun 29 2010

Some tips on dealing with unpleasant-teammate situations

I saw this today on LinkedIn:

I paid a name artist five months ago in advance for a pin-up for [series name].  In fact, I’ve had several artists, mostly old friends… all consummate professionals.

Just this one artist, who seems to be a bad actor. At the time he said contact him in two weeks and he’d give me an update on the status. Two weeks later I emailed him — nothing. I’ve been emailing him every few weeks very politely at first. Still no response at all. My last couple of emails were more strongly worded and in my last one I told him I’d be telling everyone I know on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and on our blog about it and name him by name. Hell, I’m thinking I’ll put out a press release, too.

What do you think? Does he get away with it, and I have a lesson learned, or do I go nuclear on his ass?

Don’t go public about backstage drama.  It can only make the situation worse.  First, verify what you can. Is he actually being delinquent? You would look like a damn idiot if you accused your artist of going AWOL and it turns out that he was actually in an emergency room after getting hit by a car. (It happens).  At the very least, do not stumble into a slander lawsuit until you actually know (rather than suspect) what is going on!

If you have an editor/publisher, address any concerns to them and discuss whether you need to replace your artist.  Unlike publically accusing your artist of fraud, replacing your artist does not open you up to a slander/libel lawsuit if it turns out his absence was totally innocuous.  If you don’t yet have an editor/publisher, make the determination on your own.  It will cost you time and money and you’ll probably have to scrap most of the work by the original artist.  It’s highly bothersome and usually unprofessional for an artist to go missing for several weeks, but switching to another artist may well be a cure worse than the disease.

Finally, besides getting back at your original artist, going public doesn’t actually help you in any way.  It certainly doesn’t make it any likelier that he’ll come up with the art for you.  It may raise questions about your professionalism and will probably make you look inept.  (Don’t give yourself a reputation for workplace drama).

Some other general ideas to minimize problems with your teammates:

  • When you work with freelancers, pay no more than half upfront and the rest on completion. This increases the artist’s incentive to complete the job.  It also limits the amount of money you lose if everything goes to hell.
  • Work out a schedule ahead of time. I’m not sure what the case was above, but making your expectations clear is usually helpful.
  • Maybe exchange phone numbers. You may be uncomfortable asking for this if you’ve never actually met your freelancer.  However, when you’ve committed yourself to paying somebody thousands of dollars, I think your business relationship is strong enough to justify this request.  (At the very least, as a matter of customer service).
  • Business etiquette: when should you call (rather than e-mail) your freelancer? Since a call is more intrusive than an e-mail, I would only call if your artist hasn’t responded to an urgent e-mail within 1-3 weeks.  For example: the artist misses a deadline by more than a week (without explaining why) and doesn’t respond to an e-mail requesting a status update.  If you call your artist, politely remind him about the schedule, ask if there’s anything you can do to help*, and ask about when he thinks he can have the art in to you.  *Unless he needs clarification, there probably won’t be, but offering is still friendly.

One response so far

Jun 28 2010

Is there a quality difference between Marvel and DC movies?

Judging by ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, DC movies do almost as well on average (although its bombs tend to be uniquely awful).

For the sake of convenience and clean numbers, I took the top 20 grossing movies from each publisher and then gathered their Rotten Tomato rankings, which are averages of hundreds or thousands of reviews.  (A RT ranking isn’t a perfect measure of quality, but it’s probably pretty accurate).

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7 responses so far

Apr 22 2010

If you want a good artist for your comic book script, paying on-spec is not realistic

I saw this today on a comic book forum: “searching 4 artists who want to draw my comics’ covers. its NOT be a paid Job, but ur name will be mentioned with the artwork, and yes, it will commence our long term professional relationship.”

Artist: “Umm, how about you commence our long-term professional relationship by paying me? Also, why would I want to work with a writer that writes worse than I do?”

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2 responses so far

Apr 21 2010

Comic book movies without superheroes have struggled recently

I want to see The Losers when it comes out, although it’s probably awful, and was pleasantly surprised by Kick-Ass (which has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).  This got me thinking about financially successful comic book movies without superheroes.  After running some numbers, I found they’re really rare nowadays.

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Apr 15 2010

Celebrity comics, summarized in a single image

Published by under Comic Books,Parody

16 responses so far

Mar 09 2010

Fraggmented Takes On Silver Age Wackiness

Published by under Comic Books

Check out Fraggmented’s “Comic Book Insanity” category.   Here are some choice excerpts.

Then, while passing a volcano, Carol comments that Wonder Woman’s invisible plane obeys her every command “like magic!” To which WW responds, “The magic of science, Carol!” This is bitterly ironic, given that less than ten issues earlier Kanigher had explained that Wonder Woman’s plane was made when a magical cloud turned a flying horse into an invisible airplane. But she goes on to explain that little computers in the plane make it obey Wonder Woman and only Wonder Woman, just like even smaller computers in the lasso do the same thing! (Those of you going, “Huh?!?!?!?” should probably take a little break from reading this. It doesn’t get any better.)

In the original ‘X-Men’ #1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, we open with a sequence of Professor X running the team through their training regimen. Beast has to do a difficult acrobatic routine, Angel must fly an obstacle course…then the young sixteen-year old Iceman gets a turn, but Professor X is “going easy” on him by merely requiring him to display his powers. Iceman frosts himself over with snow…and Professor X telepathically tells the Beast to chuck a bowling ball at his head while he’s distracted, to “test his reflexes”.

At some point, logic dictates that he’s secretly trying to kill Iceman, and the whole “training exercise” thing is just an alibi.

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Mar 01 2010

Peter Parker got fired…

Published by under Comic Books

…and faces eviction.  I bet he feels like an idiot now for not selling those inauguration tickets.

16 responses so far

Feb 24 2010

The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies

Wahab Algarmi put together a free comic, The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies, and would like you to read it.

Here are some impressions.

–The characterization for the four protagonists is handled fairly well.  In particular, I recommend page 21 as a dramatic portrayal of loyalty as a character trait.  Usually, I roll my eyes when authors say a character is “loyal”  because “loyal” characters rarely get opportunities to act differently than a super-bland protagonist.  In fiction, EVERYBODY will save friends in trouble, so  a character that is truly loyal needs to go beyond the norm.  It helps if the decision to help someone bears a high cost on the loyal character, something more definite than “it could be dangerous.”  In this case, a loyal protagonist spends crucial seconds tending to a dying teammate rather than trying to defuse a bomb.

–I wasn’t fond of the political edge. Among other things, it made the side-characters a bit cartoonish.

–The art was generally passable, but one of the four characters is sort of horrifying.  Natalie looks like a man in a wig!

–A “Charles in Charge” pun… What the hell?  That show got cancelled 20 years ago.

–I love the final panel on page 24. Great use of empty space.

–As far as cliffhangers go, the last page is okay.  It could have been more effective if it had foreshadowed more about the new girl, but the concept is okay.  Or at least, I *hope* the concept is okay, because the first issue of my comic book ends very similarly.

19 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

How to Find an Artist for Your Comic Book

1.  Most artists won’t work with authors that write worse than they do. When you post your job listing on a website like DeviantArt or LinkedIn, you will be judged on the quality of your writing.  I’d recommend proofreading it. Avoid extraneous details that won’t matter to an artist.  Also, list your published works, if any.  (Experienced partners are usually less risky).


2.  The more specific, the better. “John has adventures” says much less about the art you want than “Haxley is a barbarian that has to mangle his way to the throne.”   If you have a two-sentence synopsis, use it.  For more advice on doing two-sentence synopses, please see this.


3.  What exactly do you need from the artist? If you’re doing a color comic with just one illustrator, you need pencils, inks, colors and letters.   How many pages do you need?  If you’re looking to put together a sample for publishers, you’ll probably want around 5 pages and possibly a cover.  Check the submissions guidelines for each publisher, of course.  If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need the entire issue, which will probably be 22+ pages per issue.


4.  Describe the sorts of characters and creatures you’ll need illustrated. Just regular humans?  A superhero whose power sets him on fire?  Supersoldiers in powersuits?  Fantasy creatures like griffins and dragons?  Werewolves and vampires?  Angels and demons?  Hydras and Zeus? Eldritch horrors?  Eldritch horrors tanning on the beach? Before you hire an artist, make sure he’s comfortable with every major character and the mood of the work.


5.  Will you need unusual props? For example, if you’re writing military sci-fi set in the 23th century, your artist will do a lot of exotic vehicles and weaponry.  If you’re writing a romantic comedy starring me, probably not so much.   Except for the Pimpmobile.

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15 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

Liz Argall has some advice about how to find an artist for your comic…

Check it out here!

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Jan 29 2010

Some tips on checking your comic book’s art

When your team is putting together the comic book, you need to identify potential problems as soon as possible. If you decide that there’s a problem with the outlines but you’ve already gone to coloring, you’ll have to throw out some coloring work and probably some inking. Here are some problems that you need to spot early.

1. Check for continuity. Are the dimensions of the room consistent? Are the characters consistently portrayed? Are the characters as tall and wide as they’re supposed to be? Also, in the toning and coloring stages, please make sure that the lighting sources are consistent.

2. Character placement. Does the placement of the characters make sense? For example, if two characters are walking somewhere but only one of them knows the way, he should probably be in front. Does each character have enough space to perform his later actions? For example, we once had to redo a page because we were boxed in by the walls–it was impossible to have a superhero drop behind a character that was leaning against a wall.

3. Are the character expressions consistent with their lines of dialogue? One particularly tricky area here is when the character’s emotions change dramatically mid-panel. If your script goes something like this, you’re screwed.

Panel 1.
WIFE, annoyed: Your boss kept you late tonight. What gives?
HUSBAND: I got a promotion!
WIFE, excited: Hooray!

Since it’d be very difficult to show the wife being annoyed and excited at the same time, this panel is pretty much doomed.  This is a problem that you need to solve before the page goes to your artist.  For example, you could break this into two panels so that she can emote her annoyance and excitement separately.

4.  Is the amount of dialogue consistent with the panel’s pacing?  For example, if you’re doing an action panel of someone leaping at an enemy, giving them 25+ words of dialogue will damage the pace.  No one can plausibly say that many words in the span of a jump. Too many words will make the action feel slower and less exciting than it should be.   As a rule of thumb, the more intense and involved the action, the fewer words you should use.

5. If something changes, like a character drawing out a prop or something, is it clear where the change came from? For example, if John is unarmed in panel 1 and wielding a gun in the next, readers might wonder where the gun came from.   You could solve that by adding an intermediate panel of him reaching for the gun, or by using motion lines to show that his hand is moving from where his gun used to be.  Alternately, just show time passing or the scene changing.  For example, if panel 1 shows us a police officer driving with his gun holstered, it’ll make sense if his gun is drawn when he gets out to storm a building in panel 2.  We didn’t see him draw the gun, but the situation has changed–now he’s in a much more dangerous situation.

6. If a character has a prop or accessory, does it appear consistently? It’s really easy to lose track of what each character is holding.  Be careful.

Did this article help? If so, please submit it to Stumble!

7 responses so far

Jan 23 2010

“I Kill Giants” is hilarious

Published by under Comedy,Comic Books

It’s not quite a superhero comic book, but

please check it out anyway.

4 responses so far

Dec 01 2009

Ideas for future articles…

Published by under Webcomic

I think I’ll do some articles on webcomics. That’d be neat for a change of pace. Can you think of anything else that might be interesting? (Ideally related to writing and/or superheroes).

9 responses so far

Nov 22 2009

What goes into a comic book submission?

Short answer: usually some combination of…

  1. Script of the first issue.
  2. Synopsis of the larger work (either the first issue, arc or series as a whole).
  3. Sample pages inked, colored and lettered.

For a more detailed look at these three items, I’ll focus on Dark Horse specifically because I think DH is pretty standard.  But always check the publisher’s submissions page.  For example, Dark Horse’s submissions page is here and Image’s is here.

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5 responses so far

Oct 27 2009

Sketch your pages to make sure you’re not screwing your artist

After you’ve written the script for a comic book page, I would recommend doing a rough sketch of the page before you give the script to your artist for pencils.  That will help you identify staging problems early.  Here are a few examples.

1.  Will the panels have enough space to comfortably fit the content? As a rule of thumb, I think it’s especially important to check this if if the page has 7+ low-action panels or 4+ action panels.  (Low-action panels, like most dialogue, usually require less space because they don’t need to show as many things happening.  For example, a dialogue panel might just have a person’s head, whereas an action shot of two boxers going at it will probably include at least the upper bodies of two men).

2.  Will the panel’s perspective portray everything you want to show? For example, if two characters are facing each other, it can be quite tricky to show their expressions, particularly if you’re trying to focus on one.  90 degree side-shots get boring fast and have trouble emphasizing either subject.

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Sep 26 2009

Comic Books in the Courtroom

Here’s an amusing excerpt from a Washington Post article

“We are at a point where no one could have even imagined 15 years ago,” said Albert J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University who has written about electronic monitoring and privacy since a New Mexico judge, inspired by Spider-Man comics, became the first to sentence a defendant to home confinement with an electronic monitor

Does this mean we’re on the verge of surgically implanting explosive nanites in dangerous parolees? In your face, recidivism!

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Sep 22 2009

Mix Up Your Comic Book Panels: Removed Narration

In most cases, a comic book writer will have the text describe what is visually shown in the panels.   For example, if two characters are speaking, usually the panel will show the characters as they speak.  But there are some great reasons you might want to consider using removed narration, where the speakers are out of the panel. 

For example, Gotham Central includes a scene where an officer is describing a raid to Internal Affairs off-panel.  On-panel, we see the raid happen in a totally different way.  That’s effective storytelling because (short-answer) it shows us that the cop is lying about what happened.  If we only saw the cop as he talked, it wouldn’t be as clear or as striking as seeing the truth. 

Here are some reasons you might want to consider removed narration. 

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5 responses so far

Sep 01 2009

Disney announces deal to buy Marvel

You can see the Associated Press’ take here and The Wall Street Journal has more here (subscription required?).   I have a few thoughts below.

  • Disney is paying roughly $50 per share, which is a 29% premium over Friday’s closing.  If you own Marvel stock, you will come out ahead quite nicely on this.  It was trading around $25 earlier this year.
  • I am cautiously optimistic that Disney knows how to buy a successful firm without ruining what made it successful.  For example, Pixar’s movies didn’t drop in quality after the Disney buyout.  (Nor have they released a lot of straight-to-DVD sequels to successful movies).
  • I doubt this will have a noticeable impact on Marvel’s products.  Even the movies.
  • I think Disney is the biggest loser here.  It’s betting 4 billion dollars that it can leverage Marvel’s characters better than Marvel did.  I’m skeptical.

10 responses so far

Aug 22 2009

Update of Webcomic #8

Published by under Webcomic

You can see the before-and-after below. What do you think?

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5 responses so far

Jul 23 2009

How I Would Reboot Superman

Superman is a waning superhero.

In the past year, his comics have consistently been outsold by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flash, Green Lantern, Deadpool, and every A-list franchise.   (For example, his top-performing comic book in June 2009 placed #43 on the bestsellers list).

According to io9, even DC Comics acknowledged that the Superman movie franchise is struggling.  Superman’s latest film-outing grossed about $390 million on a production budget of $270 million.  That’s notably worse than 1996’s Batman Forever, let alone either of the two most recent Batman films.  Yes… even Joel Schumacher, the “director” that put nipples on the Batsuit, beat Superman.

Here’s how I would reboot Superman.

1.  Give him a real personality with some actual flaws. This does not mean that he has to be brooding.  (Please see Spiderman or Ironman– characters can be three-dimensional and fun!) For example, maybe he’s a bit overconfident or careless.  Even a small flaw would make him more likable and believable.

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65 responses so far

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