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Sunday, April 26, 2020 

Why does Hero Initiative want Batman art commissions but not Superman?

I've been paying attention to how many projects seem to turn up all over the place involving Batman as opposed to Superman. No matter how much I admire Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creation of Batman, it doesn't mean I approve of considerable overexposure, something the Joker gone through quite a bit in the past to boot, and this report on what Jim Lee's doing for the Book Charity Foundation to raise funding during the Coronavirus crisis makes me feel more than a bit annoyed:
Lee is proving through his daily series of sketches raising money for comic book shops through the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC) that demand for his original sketches exist in rarified air. His so-far 20 sketches have generated over $205k in bids.

And that's good news for Hero Initiative, as Lee has newly-drawn this sketch for the charity's upcoming Batman 100 Project.
It may be good news for them, but is it good news for those who believe in the inspiration Superman's meant to stand for? I think raising funds for the book industry is great. But why is Batman the first one they think of? Isn't it possible to market Superman as a way to send a message of encouragement to those hoping there'll be an improvement in the Corona situation? Why, even Supergirl and Superboy could serve the purpose well. Ditto Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Yet Lee and the Hero Initiative choose Batman for their fundraising goals. Honestly, I think there's some kind of bias in play here. Certainly, Brian Bendis overseeing the Superman franchise obviously dampens enthusiasm for the Man of Steel, but outside of that, I can't see why they won't choose Superman for this particular project.

And Batman's not the only one Lee's taken to drawing for charity sketches. There's also one of the villains from the comics:
Jim Lee's latest sketch features one of Batman's classic villains: Victor Zsasz. The DC Comics publisher is auctioning the sketch off on eBay, with all proceeds dedicated to helping comic book shops impacted by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

[...] Zsasz debuted in 1992's Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1 by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. He is a serial killer who carves a tally mark into his flesh for every one of his victims. Chris Messina portrayed Zsasz in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), while Tim Booth played him in Batman Begins.
Now why should such a gruesome villain make a great choice for auction and purchase, rather than a figure who's meant to inspire like Superman? And if it has to be a villain, why not Lex Luthor or Mr. Mxyzptlk? Yet emphasizing villains is not how to give an encouraging feeling to people. It's emphasizing heroes that is. And while it may be over a quarter century since Zsasz debuted, a character introduced so recently as opposed to Two-Face and Scarecrow is hardly what I'd describe as "classic", a word whose exact definition is becoming less clear all the time.

And when Lee does draw something to do with Superman, it turns out, as this recent Observer article notes, it's an illustration of Bizarro:
On the last day of its auction, the Nightwing sketch is set to go for at least $4,300. A subsequent auction featuring Bizarro Superman (which Lee wrote he’s never previously had the chance to draw) is at a $2,325 bid.
That Lee's drawn a sketch of Nightwing is only slightly better, since, while he's usually been given the more optimistic personality than Batman's, he's still a character whose solo book world was portrayed as dark - certainly when Chuck Dixon took to launching one for him in 1996, and what's so great about Bizarro, apart from Lee's claim he'd never drawn him before? This wouldn't be such an issue if Lee had made Superman the prime focus of his charity auctions, but unfortunately, he didn't, and given that Bizarro is as much a crook as a distorted reflection of the real Superman, that's why it's more discouraging than encouraging.

The Observer article also notes that Rob Liefeld, of all people, is taking advantage of this pandemic to market some illustrations of his own:
Following Lee’s post on Monday, illustrator Rob Liefeld followed suit, posting, “WIN ORIGINAL ART! Comic books gave me my career! I love this art form so much and it’s time to give back! I’ll be auctioning off one original sketch every day here on @instagram with proceeds going towards comic book stores in need! They need our help now more than ever in these difficult times!”

Liefeld gained prominence in the comic book industry during the 1990s, when he co-created some of Marvel’s most enduring characters of that era, especially the mutants Cable and Deadpool, among other achievements. [...]

Subsequent sketches have featured major villains Venom & The Joker and the unexpected duo of a Venom/Deadpool mash-up accompanied by Raphael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Anyone interested in having a say in Liefeld’s next sketch should sound-off in the comments on his latest post.
There are characters I'd like to ask notable artists to draw sketches of, but no way would I want to ask Liefeld for one. I'm not one to look upon such an overrated artist through rose-colored lens. And look at that, he too is putting an emphasis on villains. I think it'd be far better to emphasize heroes. Besides, think of this: the Joker, for example, has conceived toxins and poisons in the past, which is basically what COVID-19 happens to be. Why should there be some kind of emphasis on the very villains who could brew up lethal poisons that could do to civilization just what COVID can?

The way the art commission community's been going about during this pandemic is nothing short of slapdash and insulting. Emphasizing the dark far more than the light, and selling sketches of villains in auctions as a way of fundraising. The reliance on the most obvious examples of superheroes and supervillains alike is another problem. I haven't seen any reports on whether any artists involved in these projects are auctioning sketches of Donna Troy, Cyborg and Starfire, for example. One more reason why these art commission auctions are a dreadful joke.

Update: and now, IGN's making a big fuss over Lee's sketches of the Joker. Though he does seem to have at least drawn sketches of 2nd Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark and Aquaman, the Bat-related sketches still remain far more noticeable. And that's why I find the approach taken by these people so ludicrous.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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