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Speaker: Villians and heroes are closer than they seem

By Jennifer Hazeldine
On November 4, 2013

  • Joseph Michael Sommers present The Joke's on Us. Chelsea Brodin

"In every good hero is an ever better villain," Joseph Michael Sommers said to an audience of comic lovers Tuesday night.
 Sommers explained that heroes and villains in graphic novels can sometimes be interrelated. Meaning, both are a bit insane and more similar to each other than it appears.  
Sommers gave a guest lecture titled "The Joke's on Us: When Heroism and Villainy Became Indistinguishable in Comics and Graphic Novels." He compared the relationships between different graphic novel characters as well as the affects they have on their audience.
Sommers is an associate professor of English language and literature at Central Michigan University.  Sommers has published numerous articles about children's and young adults' literature as well as texts with illustrations.
Sommers began with the popularity of different heroes. Batman is one of the most popular heroes and even outranks Superman. Sommers combined comedic remarks and comments throughout the night, keeping his material light and fresh.
He played several YouTube videos to illustrate some of his points. His first video was what it would be like if Batman was a dad. This was one of his comedic aspects. Batman proved to be a very serious father.
Comic audiences popularize villians. The villains in "Batman" proved to be more popular than the villains in "Superman," causing the "Batman" graphic novels to gain more popularity.
According to Sommers, sometimes the quality of the villain can make the hero more popular. In Batman's case, the Joker was so popularized and loved that the audience adored the Batman novels.
"The Joker is timeless. Everyone is afraid of clowns and the Joker is the best clown of all," Sommers said.
Another example of this would be Loki from "Thor." Sommers displayed another YouTube clip that showed a live audience cheering for Loki, following his every command, even though he was just an actor playing his character.
Sommers explained to his viewers that audiences around the world love the villains as long as those villains are fictional.
Other topics throughout the night included the real heroes of today such as firefighters, police officers and doctors. He also spoke about how fictional heroes may be created.
Sommers argued that trauma could actually be the driving force needed to create a hero. Batman witnessed the death of his parents, while Spiderman witnessed the death of his uncle. The Hulk was experimented on and Tony Stark was trapped in a cave when he built his first Iron Man suit.
Some of the audience members had their personal favorite heroes and villains too.  
"My favorite hero is the Punisher because I always find his stories the most interesting. I like how he is very dark. Through his violence, he does what he believes is the right thing," junior art and design major Jorge Arredondo said.
The recent popularity of certain comic books may have conributed to the success of the lecture.
"It was a lot of fun. It was interesting and I liked the content. I liked that he used Batman comic examples. Because I have read the comics, I could relate to them," freshman English major Shelby Scrivner said.

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