The iFanboy Letter Column – 02/12/2010

Friday means many things to many people. For some, Friday means freedom as the work week has ended and the weekend can begin. For others, Friday means it’s time to get down get down, get down get down.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time.

You write. We answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of our shows or answered here, keep them coming —



Love the site and the podcasts, especially the most recent one where the guy phoned in about what to do when you start to lose interest in comics. I collected comics throughout the 80’s and early 90’s and was an X-zombie (like Ron), but then gave up on comics in late ’93 when speculation and the lack of good writing were wrecking the industry. After the Spider-Man/X-Men movies came out in the early 2000’s, I decided to jump back into collecting and was hooked by the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil run and Planetary. Now I mostly stay away from superhero comics and read fringe titles like Fables, Hellboy/B.P.R.D., and Ex Machina as well as early 2000’s classics like Alias, Sleeper, and Punisher MAX.

Here’s my question, though, since you guys stuck it out through what I consider the Dark Age of comics (the mid to late 90’s): what were you enjoying back then and would recommend for someone like me who might has missed some hidden gems back then?

Scott from Orlando, Florida

The thing about the 1990s was that they get painted with this negative light, which by all rights is deserving for some things (speculations, gimmick covers, the Clone Saga etc.), but what everyone seems to forget or to not realize is that the mid to late 1990s actually had some really kickass comics. It was almost that like by the time we got through that rough early 1990s period, sales were down and publishers and creators took more risks. That’s just speculation on my end, but the mid to late 1990s definitely gave us some great comics.

If I were to suggest some for you to check out, I would probably start by recommending Grant Morrison’s run on JLA. I was never a DC fan up to this point, and never read any Justice League books, but something about what Grant Morrison and Howard Porter (at the beginning) were able to do by taking the core characters that make up the pantheon of heroes for DC and tell modern, and honestly awesome, stories was something special. Also over at DC at this time, Garth Ennis was not only making history with Preacher, but he was having fun with Hitman. Not much was going on at Marvel during this time period, other than the beginnings of what Marvel is today with the Marvel Knights line. If you like Daredevil and haven’t read Kevin Smith’s run on Daredevil with art by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, then you’ve got to stop what you’re doing and go check that out.

If the mainstream, Big 2 publishers aren’t your thing, there was some cool stuff going on at Image Comics at the time. One of my favorite comics of all time began in the late 1990s at Image, Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. We did an entire show on the book and it’s easily a must read if you ask me. Also at Image, Alan Moore and James Robinson both did great runs on WildC.A.T.S. that were recently collected in trades, and going back to DC Comics for a moment, Starman by James Robinson and Tony Harris is one of the most detailed and modern comics of the 1990s and one of the best, hands down, and if you’re already reading Ex Machina, then you’ll be familiar with Harris’ style. Go get the beautiful hardcovers they’ve recently started releasing.

Also at this time Warren Ellis was doing some great work with StormWatch, which eventually lead to The Authority. If you like his work on Planetary, then you might want to check those titles out. You could go even deeper into the indie world and check out Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, Bone by Jeff Smith or Stray Bullets by David Lapham, which were the indie stalwarts of the time, and progressed on into the 2000s, but those books got their start in the late 1990s.

I seriously could go on and on and rattle off even more titles, but that’s probably enough for you to find something from that last that resonates with you. I think I’ve also made the point that the 1990s weren’t so bad for comics, now were they?

Ron Richards

I’ve noticed that Kryptonian characters Connor Kent Superboy and Chris Kent Nightwing have/had a power called Tactile Telekinesis. I understand the gist of what the power does but do not understand why someone has it. Superboy is a clone and only half Kryptonian and originally had Tactile Telekinesis to later get regular Kryptonian powers. Then there is Nightwing who is full Kryptonian but was born in the Phantom Zone and only, at the moment, has Tactile Telekinesis. Two very separate characters that share the same heritage but its never to my knowledge given a reason for Tactile Telekinesis powers or why they have them.

Chris (lantern4life) from St. Louis, Missouri

SuperboyMuch like the game of cricket and the enduring appeal of Two and a Half Men, no one really quite understands tactile telekinesis. What do I know about it? I know that Ron likes to say “tactile telekinesis” and then giggle.

But I will do my best to wrack my addled memory to try to help you out here, Chris. As I recall — correctly or incorrectly, we’ll find out in the comments! — way back in the late 80s and early 90s after Superman was rebooted post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, attempts were made to explain how Superman’s powers could work in the real world (they can’t). How could a man float and fly? Telekinesis, that’s how! It was posited that Superman had an invisible force field surrounding him, and oh what a force field it was! It allowed him to fly, protected him from friction, it kept his costume from ripping, hell it even kept him clean! There’s nothing that darn force field couldn’t do, except maybe preserve the wonder and the mystery of comic books.

When the mad scientists at Project Cadmus discovered this telekinetic force field that surrounded Superman they used it as the basis for Superboy’s powers (he was grown in a Project Cadmus lab). Things were taken a step further when it was revealed that Superboy had an additional use for that telekinetic force field — he could manipulate objects with it, tactile-ly. I have no recollection of their being a reason why he was given this additional power other than to separate Superboy from Superman (as if the floppy hair, the earring, the John Lennon glasses, and the leather jacket weren’t enough).

How the hell Chris Kent has the same power is beyond me. Are they saying that tactile telekinesis is an ability that some Kryptonians have? Is it an ability that Superman just never learned to master because he was too busy getting up early to milk the cows? Or will this be something that will be explained later on (or perhaps explained already and I just didn’t read that particular issue)?

Conor Kilpatrick


There’s probably some obvious answer to this, but it’s just been on my mind lately. I’m curious to know the legalities of what happens when a character turns up that has powers or characteristics similar to another existing character, more so between different companies. I remember reading about how DC sued Fawcett over the similarities between Captain Marvel and Superman, but does that still happen? I know there are a lot of Superman-style flying bricks out there but they are usually quite different in attitude and costume and powers too, so maybe that’s a clue. Could someone write stories about a human torch, or a man who’s body turns into ice, or a guy that shoots optic blasts from his eyes?


That is an awesome question, and I should probably start by saying that I have no idea. I’m not a lawyer, and I wouldn’t have any idea where to even look up that information. And if I found it, I’m sure I couldn’t decipher the language used.

That being said, it’s a curious phenomena, because as you rightly point out, it used to happen all the time in the “golden age,” most notably with the Captain Marvel/Superman properties, in which Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were witnesses, I believe. But since then, things have certainly cooled down. It feels sort of like the industry reached a parity, where they all agreed that there were only so many superheroes that could be created, and Marvel and DC have just decided not to bother.

I mean, the list of incredibly similar concepts is boggling. Green Arrow and Hawkeye. Slade and Wade Wilson. Nova and Green Lantern. The Sentry and Superman. Batman and Moon Knight. These are, if not intentional, fairly obvious similarities. In the ’30s and ’40s there would have been a ton of lawsuits over these characters. But today, when there are perhaps larger global IP opportunities at hand, we never hear about lawsuits anymore. And your question is fair. Why not? I can only hazard a guess. In the last decade or so, in comic book publishing, the profits have been so insignificant, that it simply hasn’t been worth it. Will that change in an era when Disney owns Marvel? I don’t know, but it’s more likely, for sure. But when Marvel was just coming out of bankruptcy, and the top selling books struggled to reach 100,000 copies, any lawsuits would have eaten up all the capital, and a loss would have been disastrous. Prior to that, when things were flying high in the early 90’s? I’m guessing there was so much money going around that everyone was pretty happy. In the few lawsuits we’ve seen, things get incredibly messy, and we’re stuck wondering if we’ll ever actually read Miracle Man, and what it is that Marvel actually bought, and who they paid. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on in the future.

Josh Flanagan


  1. Hey! I like Two and a Half Men!

    But neat article otherwise 🙂

  2. Alan Moore…now there’s a guy who knows how to plagiarize existing superheroes!  Boy he plagiarizes good!

  3. I know I’ll catch some flak for this, but I began reading comics around this time, and I really loved the Batman Knightfall stuff.  Not the crap with Azrael and the armored Batman, but the original arc where Bane broke everyone out of Arkham and basically broke Bruce mentally is stil, to me, a pretty interesting character study as to what it takes to push someone like Batman to the edge and over…even if it was event-driven.

  4. @jdeitch25 – No flack here, man. Love what ya love. And that sounds like good enough reason to me. 

  5. @josh:  a nice summary of the various forms of intellectual property protection that extend to characters can be found at  [] (I unlinked the URL).

    The short answer is that you could write a story about a character that has a similar set of powers/abilities as say, Superman, but that character couldn’t be Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter, really Kal El the last son of Krypton, etc. etc. etc.  The unique personality, physical or historical traits of the character.

    The appearance, trade dress (symbols) and even names of certain characters may also be protected as trademarks of the company that owns the marks.   

  6. woops, or at least I thought I unlinked the URL

  7. Ron–you picked some good comics from the 90’s and I agree, Marvel was not the company to read during that era (though if I jogged my brain, I might could think of something they might have published). However, I started buying more independents.  You mentioned Bone, Strangers in Paradise, those are good comics. I’d also recommend Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, Hellboy, Grendel, and Sin City were all making noise over at Dark Horse Comics. I think Morrison was writing The Invisibles then although I might be mistaken.  They were fun to read, but not as good as his run on Doom Patrol or Animal Man.

    I might also mention Harvy Pekar’s Our Cancer Year, a DC mini series The Tale of One Bad Rat (about a runaway young girl) and From Hell. 

  8. I’m in law school now and we’ve talked about the superhero thing.  Basically, 2-d characters (like Scarlet O’Hara in gone with the wind, or Sam Spade) can’t be protecteded because they aren’t fixed enough (we can see them in different ways).  A character like Tarzan would have a better shot, because of the extensive use in books.


    With superheroes, they can be seen, so you can copyright them; however there is only a finite number of super abilities (as the court sees it) and so borrowing is OK.  Basically the question becomes is it taking the heart of the character/trying to capitalize it (infringement) or is it different/commenting on it.

     An example would be the tv show Greatest American Hero and Superman.  This one was litigated, and although both characters are aliens with similar powers, there was no infringement because the former was humorous and drank and the latter was more serious.

    Conversely, Captain Marvel or the original Wonderman  were too similar so changes had to be made.

  9. @KickAss
    You do know that every superhero character since Superman is pretty much plagiarized right? 
  10. The last legal action like this I remember was in 2004, when "Super Hero Happy Hour" changed its name to avoid going to court. Apparently, Marvel and DC literally, legally co-own the word "superhero."

  11. Good defense of the ’90s, Ron. There was a lot of crap and a lot of gimmicks, but there was some awesome stuff. Marvels, Alan Moore’s Supreme, Astro City when it was GREAT, Preacher, Hitman, Joe Mad and the Kubert boys doing regular work, Sandman, Bone. There was great stuff. On average, I think the ’00s were of higher quality, but I think the ’90s hit higher highs, if that makes sense. And as far as gimmicks go, the late ’00s have had their fair share as well (many many many variant covers, many many many crossover tie-ins, plastic ring promos, Deadpool as overexposed as Cable and Wolverine were in the ’90s, silly gimmicky titles like Cowboy Ninja Viking and things like Hit-Monkey). It’s all fun, though. I don’t dislike any of that stuff per se, but the gimmicks are still out there. From my p.o.v., though, chromium covers were kind of fun. I dunno, I got a soft spot for the ’90s and I think a lot of the negativity directed towards them could better be used to survey the shortcomings of the ’00s (too much decompression, too many shipping delays, the gimmicks I mentioned). Every era has it’s good and bad points. It’s just that the bad aspects of the ’90s are really easy to see.

  12. @Jimski:  I just looked it up.  Marvel and DC co-own the registered trademark for SUPER HERO and SUPER HEROES.

  13. @connor:

    I understand the game of Cricket pretty well. I am with you on that horrible sitcom.


    Didn’t Sleeper start in the 90s.

  14. I knew someone would answer it better than I could.  Thanks!

  15. Well I’m glad I’m not alone in the mystery of Tactile Telekinesis. Thx Conor

  16. Cap Marvel always has been in his own universe to me. Similar to Xmen nowadays.  When you aquire universes its not always a good idea to fold into your existing one.

  17. I assumed the reason Chris Kent had tactile TK was to tease the readers that Conner Kent had come back from the dead, which he hadn’t then. The in-story reason is his long exposure to the Phantom Zone . . . like that makes sense!

  18. I don’t know much about kryptonian powers except for the fact that for last however many years I’ve been reading it as TACTICAL telekinesis. Yeah…that makes so much more sense. 🙂 But maybe there’s a statistic that like 1 in every 10,000 kryptonians can manipulate their energy fieldy thingy and do stuff. I don’t believe it either.

    Thanks for answering my question about lawsuits and copyrights Josh and everyone! It’s cleared things up for me a LOT!

  19. There were a lot of great comics in the mid to late 90s, just not too many of them were Marvel/DC Superhero books. Grendal Tales was my favorite book of that time. great stuff! And as stated in the response, Preacher was going on. A time-period that started my favorite comic of all time can’t be all bad, right? And wasn’t that when Sandman was in it’s heyday? Come to think of it, that time period was kind of like a "non-superhero" Golden Age of comics.

  20. I understand that Wildcats is important historically, as Alan Moore brought comics out of the dark and gritty trend that started with WAtchmen and Dark Night Returns.

    I also heard that Alan Moore was the first to use different artists with flashbacks. (in Supreem)


    But I may be wrong.


  21. Supreme by Alan Moore! There’s two trades called ‘the story of the year’ and ‘the return’, but it’s one long adventure really that is like the opposite of watchmen’s deconstruction of superheroes. I only read that recently but I had so much fun reading it. Not to spoil anything but you see that Hillary Clinton would scare even supervillains!

  22. I understand that is used as an example of "reconstruction…" 

    I am curious with all the concepts, and in an email I wrote I was wondering in pertaining to comics, what are the definitions of retcon, deconstruction, reconstruction, and if there were any other words as such.

    Moore didn’t like that the dark tone presented in Watchmen was becoming to widespread in most of the comics of the time.that most comics that followed tried to emulate.  He made superheroes fun again, and laid the ground work of many comics I enjoy today (Ultimate Spiderman).

    But this is all my understanding, and expressing my understandings of said things is very difficult for me.


    @iFanboys:  could you verify or refute my 2 recent comment posts?  Is what I wrote in anyway accurate?