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In this issue: deciding the greatest comic book basketball player ever; playing HERO, VILLAIN or ANTI-HERO with 2016's NBA stars + a prize giveaway

Which comic character would be
the greatest NBA player?

The marriage of basketball (my favorite sport) and comics (my favorite storytelling medium) has long been something I thought of in elaborate ways. You may have guessed that if you're an Off Panel listener, as The Ringer's Jason Concepcion and I picked comic character equivalents for ten of the NBA's greatest figures last year. Going even further back in the day, my buddy Brandon and I talked who would make the best hoops players on our video show 4 Color News & Brews more than once. I just can't help it. I love them both so much I gotta mash them together sometimes.

Today, we're taking the concept as far as it can go, as once and for all, I'm going to figure out who would make the best (and worst) basketball players in comics. This is based off a combination of in-continuity references, combine like statistics, and personal scouting. It's going to get real.

Before it does, though, a quick walkthrough on my ground rules. Also, shout out to Shea Serrano - whose Street Fighter II break down was a structural guiding light - and to my wife Amber for the copious photoshop work.
- Every comic universe (Marvel, DC, Mignolaverse, Image titles, Fantagraphics, Tintin, whatever) was considered
- Superpowers are fair game, but standard rules apply. Thus, certain powers work better than others
- Basketball is a team sport, so we're thinking from a team building standpoint
- We're going to do this in reverse order, from worst to best

Tier V. Stick to the day job

Wolverine (Logan)
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 300 lbs.

Pretty much every factor of Wolverine's existence works against him from a hoops standpoint, but let's break down the parts that work against him the most:
  • Terrible measurables: People forget Wolverine is 5'3". I blame Hugh Jackman. Wolverine's Muggsy Bogues' size, and there's only one Muggsy.
  • He's a feral, berserker of a man: You get six fouls in the NBA - or two technicals/one flagrant two - before getting disqualified from the game. As soon as Andrew Bogut plants Wolverine with one of his patented "are they or aren't they legal" screens, the claws would pop and he'd make the Malice in the Palace look like a Banana Boat crew vacation.
  • Claws = not an advantage: While the healing factor is cool - he'd never miss a game, for sure - the claws are more of a hindrance. Beyond being a flagrant machine, he'd also probably pop the ball which...seems like a foul? Ish?
  • Natural Born Canadian: With apologies to Steve Nash, Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson, being Canadian has rarely been a plus in hoops.
  • Dude's like...130: Players that go to college for four years are borderline undraftable at times. This would not be received well.
Wolverine gets my vote as the major character that would be the worst NBA player. The good news is, you can still buy a Wolverine basketball jersey if you want.

Batman
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210 lbs.

Theoretically, Batman could be an amazing player. He's incredibly athletic, he has a great mind and he could field a lineup just with former Robins and him. There are two main things that work against him, though. One: he's not a team player. Can you imagine Gregg Popovich getting ahold of Batman's scouting reports on his teammates like Ra's Al Ghul did in Tower of Babel? Nightmare. Two: unless his parents were actually killed by, I don't know, Shaq or something, he has zero motivation to be good at basketball. And as everyone knows, Joe Chill did it.


Hulk
Height: 7'5"
Weight: 1,000 lbs.+

The Hulk is the one character that has a 100%, completely obvious current NBA analog: Boogie Cousins. The problem for the Hulk is, despite his incredible size that would ensure he would finish second in the NBA in rebounding behind Andre Drummond, he'd be like Boogie minus the skill. Basically, he'd have all the physical gifts and the part that gets mad at teammates/refs/humanity, but little else. Not ideal.

Tier IV. Developmental prospects

Superman
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 235

You might be wondering, "how could Superman not finish higher up this list?" He has great size for a lead guard, he's a team player, and he has an amazing power set for the sport. Who wouldn't want a player who is near invulnerable, has super strength and can fly (and I don't mean in an MJ way)? All those things considered, it's legit to question me.

Here's my reason, though: Superman was involved in the single worst basketball scene in the history of fiction, and if he talked like J. Michael Straczynski wrote him in that scene, literally no one in the NBA would trust him. He's definitely the police. That's a backbreaker. So is it okay if you dial in, Superman? No. It is absolutely not okay.


Big Barda
Height: 7'
Weight: 197

There's a lot to like about Big Barda as an NBA prospect. She's 7 feet tall, has superhuman reflexes/stamina, and makes Bill Laimbeer look soft. Beyond that, she has the allure of being a "foreign" prospect as a New God. If Chad Ford loses his mind over someone from Lithuania, wait until you see his thoughts on this seven footer from Apokolips.

However, she makes Brandon Ingram look robust in comparison, and believe it or not, Granny Goodness does not teach post moves. She'd probably have to spend half a decade in the NBADL before even seeing garbage time minutes.
Bizarro
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 345


Bizarro is the type of prospect no one can resist. His pre-draft workout tape would be like Yi Jianlian's showdown versus a chair times a thousand. He'd be like a slightly shorter Charles Barkley, beasting in the post, getting every board in sight, and showcasing a physicality that betrays his size. It wouldn't even matter that his agent won't allow workouts against other players: he'd still be a top pick in the draft.

That's when the team would discover the biggest problem with Bizarro: he exclusively scores and rebounds against his own team. He'd be dropping Reign Man style thunder dunks on his teammates, tomahawking and breaking backboards on throwdowns that count against his squad. He'd also be completely uncoachable, as no matter what, he'd do the opposite of what people say. He'd be a complete liability on the court, even if he would be a Vine sensation.

Tier III. Role Players

Bullseye
Height: 6'
Weight: 175 lbs.

Three important facts from Bullseye's Wikipedia page:
  1. He "throws projectiles with lethal accuracy"
  2. He has the "agility, reflexes, stamina, and speed of a professional athlete"
  3. He has a "compulsive need to study his targets' histories, abilities, and relationships before engaging them"
So he's an exceptional athlete who is a dead-eye shooter that studies game tape like its a list of Matt Murdock's greatest weaknesses, plus he's an incredible trash talker. Based off that, it might seem like he's super underrated here. I mean, isn't that at worst a rich man's Kyle Korver? For sure.

The problem is shown above: he would always be in trouble with the refs, if he wasn't kicked out of the league right off the bat. The dude's a psychopathic murderer, and he'd be a constant threat to kill teammates/opponents/refs/hecklers. I mean, can you even imagine what would happen if one of his teammates owed him gambling money? Blood bath.


Nightcrawler
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 171

I've long been a believer in Kurt Wagner's athletic ability. When you combine his nimbleness with his reflexes and agility, plus his athletic (circus) background, you have a recipe for glory. He's a hell of a team player, too, as he's proven to be, in many ways, the quintessential X-Man.


But he's small as hell, and let's be real: his power set is basically traveling in a really unique way. If he teleports from point A to point B without taking a dribble, that might seem like a gray area in a way that flying would be as well, but on ground-to-ground teleports, that'd be a textbook travel. He'd still be good - I bet he'd be a solid point guard - but his domination would be limited by the traveling rules that would work against him.
Colossus
Height: 7'5"
Weight: 500

Piotr Rasputin would be the Omer Asik of comic book basketball players. Big as hell, physical as all get out, and a complete disaster with the ball in his hands. They're both like Frankenstein's monster unleashed on the NBA, showcasing how the league never forgets Red Auerbach's adage "you can't teach height" even in the spread offense era.

Tier II. All Stars

Gambit
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 180

Out of all of the characters in comics, Gambit came as close to the top spot as anyone. There's a number of reasons - he's crazy athletic, he has superhuman reflexes, he could probably use his kinetic charge powers in sneaky ways, he's a thief so steals like crazy - but the biggest is it is absolute continuity that Remy LeBeau is a straight up baller. In an early issue of (adjectiveless) X-Men, Gambit and Jubilee took on Wolverine and Rogue, and Remy smoked 'em. Sure, we've established that Wolverine is trash on the court, but Gambit's got game, regardless of the competition.


Wiz Kid
Height: Unknown
Weight: Unknown

The co-lead of Sam Bosma's wonderful Fantasy Sports is a certified killer on the court. Her skills are a mix between Kyrie and Steph, but if you introduced literal magic into the equation. Sure, she's tiny as hell, but with a handle like hers combined with a silky J and wizarding skills, she'd be a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.


Jesse Custer
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 165

In terms of actual tangible basketball skills, Preacher's Jesse Custer would be terrible. He's not particularly large, he's surly as hell (he'd definitely kick Draymond Green in the nuts right back), and as an old school Texan fostered by a presumably not very basketball inclined family, he doesn't have the type of characteristics you'd want out of a prospect. Not only that, but the guy smokes and drinks like it's his job. He does have one extreme advantage going for him, though: the Word of God.

His power allows him to make people do what he wants, so one of two things would happen: he'd either run amok on the court and give his team a crazy advantage in free agency ("you're signing with the Mavericks, Steph") or he'd basically require all teams to constantly wear noise canceling earplugs, which means all communication on the court would be shot. That's a big deal. He's a big ol' monkey wrench, even if he'd basically stand around and do nothing on most plays.

Tier I. The Greatest Player in NBA History

Taskmaster
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 220

Here he is. This is the comic character that would dominate the NBA in a way no one before him has. You might be surprised by this pick, but let me remind you of his powers: he can "instantly replicate the physical movement of peak-level humans." Basically, if you put Taskmaster in front of YouTube for a couple hours and told him to watch a bunch of NBA videos, he'd come out with Steph's shooting form, AI's crossover, Kareem's skyhook, Hakeem's Dream Shake, LeBron's court vision, Nash's passing, the Worm's rebounding, and defense that marries Kawhi and Dikembe's skill sets. He'd laugh at Oscar Robertson's triple double season: dude would average a quintuple double.

He has great size, is an incredible athlete, and as a side effect of his powers, he also can predict the movements of others to a stunning degree. He'd be a one man wrecking crew that would lead and complement any team he plays on. And the good news is, he's a mercenary. He'd be motivated as long as the checks keep coming, which would be as long as he wants to play.

Hero, Villain or Anti-Hero: NBA Edition

With just a little over two weeks until the most welcome night of the United States' sports calendar - the open of the NBA season - everything is starting to get into focus for the league, its teams and its players. Narratives are coming into play, and we're hearing all of the classic beats from the offseason (my favorite: weight loss stories).

While the season determines a lot of things, quite often, you have a pretty good idea who is going to be one of the league's "good guys" and who will be the "bad guys," which is always one of the most interesting narratives that colors a season. While there's no official list or anything, you know who is who a lot of the time, as do the players. I mean, my guy Reggie Miller spent his career as a villain, and everybody knew it. Same with dudes like Bill Laimbeer, while others like David Robinson or Tim Duncan lived on the side of light despite the dark jerseys they frequently wore with the Spurs.

2016's no different, and boy oh boy, does this season have some fascinating face and/or heel turns already locked in. To give a primer to the hoops fans here, we're going to break down who is a HERO, VILLAIN or ANTI-HERO going into this season, and we're factoring in a few key points about each player to determine where they land. Here's what each type looks like.
  • Hero: Has a positive narrative going into the season, generally highly favorable fan esteem, has a reason for people to root for them
  • Villain: People are out on them for one reason or another, with recent (or life) events fueling rage on Twitter and beyond
  • Anti-Hero: A total wild card that could be good or bad depending on the day/week/opponent. Generally rough but still weirdly likable?
Kevin Durant

This might be the easiest call of all: Kevin Durant is the 2016-17 NBA season's most obvious villain. You probably know the reasons, but let's break them down:
  1. He broke the heart of a (once) loving fan base
  2. He became a "frontrunner," moving to the team that beat his in the playoffs
  3. He did both of those things after a swank weekend in the Hamptons, which probably fueled some of the anger
  4. It's established continuity
Is it a little weird he's considered a villain given that Durant seems like a pretty cool dude and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players in the game? Nah. Of course he was going to be a villain. That said, it's kind of hard to blame him. The Warriors are going to be fun to watch (and, I'm sure, to play for) and he had to find a way to lift The Based God's curse. Still, there was only one way for this to end for him.

Verdict: Villain

Paul George

Full disclosure: I'm a die-hard Indiana Pacers fan. I subscribe to NBA League Pass - despite its endless issues - for the explicit purpose of watching every Pacers game I can. And yeah, Paul George is the team's best player, but bias doesn't drive the decision here. Because of George's return to the team he broke his leg on two years ago and because of his win of Olympic gold on said team, George is flying high in the Hero category right now. He's likable guy who plays hard on offense and defense plus can kill it on in-game dunks, and he's got a great story working for him now. There's only one way for this to go.

Verdict: Hero

DeMarcus Cousins

Good ol' Boogie's one of the most polarizing players in the NBA, and for good reason. He was compared in this very newsletter to The Hulk because the dude can rage, leading the NBA in technical fouls last year as well as a whole mess of other rage related things that aren't so easily trackable. He's perceived as a malcontent, and he gets a lot of guff from people because he's mercurial beyond words (that might be putting it gently).

ALL THAT SAID, Boogie's an incredible player who has played his entire career with a debacle of a franchise. That's no excuse for his behavior, but between that and the fact he's super fun to watch and he's more of an in-betweener than a hero or villain. He's just waiting for his moment, whatever that might be.


Verdict: Anti-Hero
James Harden

"The Beard" is one of the weirdest players in the NBA today. He's one of the two or three best scorers in the game, he's got swagger for days, and he can set up teammates incredibly well, but he also draws fouls to an unwatchable degree and is laughably disinterested in defense. People love him or hate him. For the most part, I like him - he's a lefty, and I love me some lefty athletes - but I get why people don't.

If he had a comic equivalent, it'd probably be the Punisher (apologies to Tim Duncan). You know he's good at what he does, but you're also aware that he's going about it in a way that many don't approve of. Except in his case he's just a "lazy flopper" to many, as opposed to a straight up murderer. Naturally, there's only one category for him.


Verdict: Anti-Hero

Karl Anthony-Towns

Despite having no qualms about posterizing children - which is clear cut villain behavior, even if it is super, super awesome - Karl Anthony-Towns is basically the Dick Grayson of the current NBA. He's the super promising youngster that you know isn't just going to succeed in his youth, but become one of the titans of the world. The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to be a lot of fun this year (I've been saying that since they drafted Andrew Wiggins, though), and I'm excited to see this KAT on the prowl. As is entirety of NBA Twitter. This dude's beloved and he's only in his second year.

Verdict: Hero

Draymond Green

Simply from his actions related to the greater groin area, Draymond's deep into the negative. I mean, when the NBA creates a rule to stop your reign of terror on the nether regions of opponents, you know things are getting dark. But let's be real for a second: it wasn't just that. Outside of junk stuff, Draymond had a terrible summer. I don't know if you know this, but the Golden State Warriors blew a 3 to 1 lead to the Cavs in the NBA Finals, at least in part because of Draymond's groin punch related suspension. He also could barely get off the bench in the Olympics, and when he did, he was booed. On a team that's already been stamped as the season's villains du jour, Draymond might be the most super of them all.

Verdict: Villain
Steph Curry

The reigning MVP and arguably (or inarguably) the NBA's most popular player is flat out amazing to watch. His game winning three against the Thunder last year was maybe the coolest regular season shot I've ever seen, and he can casually pull off 40 footers with better accuracy than I have from three feet. However, for the first time, he's a little tainted. His team blew a big lead in the NBA Finals (you may have heard about this), he melted down in its sixth game, and now, it's cool to hate the Warriors despite the fact they will be a basketball eyegasm next year. His glory balances with that to land him in the middle ground.

Verdict: Anti-Hero

Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside's a man of great juxtaposition. He's an awesome player on the court until he has one of his (well publicized) meltdowns. He leads the league in blocks but people question whether that's hollow (or if it isn't?). People aren't really certain about him, and giving him a max contract has certainly not caused his nature as a wild card to die down. He's a prototypical anti-hero, especially because he's one of those dudes I kind of hate my team playing. I'm 75% certain he's going to block every shot, and the other 25% thinks he's going to maim someone. You don't earn that without being a little awesome, and Hassan Whiteside is that (especially when it comes to Snapchat).

Verdict: Anti-Hero

Damian Lillard

I feel like Dame is one of the most universally likable players in the NBA. Let's count down why:
  1. His Blazers teams always seem to outperform expectations (especially last year)
  2. He loves the team that drafted him and the city he plays in
  3. His clutch reputation is one that's actually earned
  4. His shot selection is John Locke-like but absurdly exciting (and effective)
  5. He's his own dude without seeming branded at all
Any fan would be happy to have Dame. Portland just happens to be the one that does.

Verdict: Hero
LeBron James

I am by no means a Cleveland Cavaliers fan - LeBron's teams tend to be the biggest obstacle to my Pacers these days - but I don't think I'd be alone in saying that LeBron bringing a title to "The Land" was probably the coolest championship in any sport in recent memory. I was genuinely invested in their win and thrilled when they got it, and not just because it gave us shirtless J.R. Smith.

It put LeBron in a position he's never been in - the underdog savior - and it converted a fair amount (but not all) of his remaining detractors. And the crazy thing is, with the Warriors being obvious favorites and clear villains to a lot of NBA fans, LeBron gets to try on yet another role: the only hero who could save this season from a feeling of inevitability. I can't wait to see him try.


Verdict: Hero

Blake Griffin

Despite being a surprisingly funny dude, Griffin needs more than a few KIA commercials to get back where he was before last season. He was ravaged by injuries - including breaking his hand when he punched one of his team's equipment staff (who was (is?) also his friend) in the face - and there were more rumblings about a possible trade than ever before after the Clippers still steamrolled teams without him. He became their kind of/sort of forgotten man.

The weird thing is he was still awesome when he played (except in the playoffs), as his unique playmaking abilities from the four spot were continuing to develop in exciting ways, but being the apple of the NBA's eye can be a fickle thing. Only time will bring him back to the forefront, or maybe an in-game dunk on Boban Marjanovic. That'd definitely do it.


Verdict: Villain

Chris Paul

While Griffin's teammate and Clippers point guard Chris Paul may be an all-NBA talent, if you google "Chris Paul 'dirty player'" you get a ton of results (648 news stories in Google!). That's not entirely unfounded. The dude is pretty nasty on the court to opponents and teammates alike (him screaming at DeAndre Jordan to shoot at the end of a game against the Blazers two years ago is a top five comedy moment from that season), and he has his fair share of detractors. That counts, even if the people who sass his playoff record shouldn't.

However, the dude is the aspirational ideal for all point guards, and there's a reason people call him "point god." He turns pick-and-rolls into beauty contests and elbow jumpers into works of art. Sure, he's a dirty sonofabitch you love to hate at times, but the word "love" is still there.


Verdict: Anti-Hero
Russell Westbrook

Any other year and Russell Westbrook would be the prototypical anti-hero. The guy is incredible to watch but he's also intense to the point Kevin Durant was obviously pissed at him at least 12 percent of the time. My buddy think he's the worst kind of a ball hog, even if he is a triple double machine surrounded by the NBA equivalent of Glob Herman. As Bill Simmons would say, he's a 90/10 guy.

But him choosing to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder despite Kevin Durant leaving was a kingmaker of a move. I can't think of a simple re-signing that was more popular. Ever. If he pays for another meal in Oklahoma City for the next couple years, I would be shocked. And every Thunder game is going to be an event, especially the Warriors games. He's going to be go scorched earth, and he may not win, but my god, he's going to go down swinging. It's going to be so fun.

Verdict: Hero

Help The Crossover + Win a Prize

I'm trying to spread the word on The Crossover, and I could use your help, o faithful readers. Do me a solid by sharing the subscription page, the archive or this issue itself on social media while tagging me in it, and you'll immediately be entered to win a beloved prize: my extra copy of Warren Ellis's Come in Alone.
I touted this book in the last issue of the newsletter, and while it is from the year 2000, this series of columns Ellis wrote for Comic Book Resources is well worth a read for comic journos, aspiring creators or just fans of the medium. I'll randomly pick one winner, and you get an extra entry for each share you make. Just make sure you tag the SKTCHD Twitter or my own one, otherwise I probably won't see it. I'll pick a winner on Friday morning, so get your share in soon.

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Next time on The Crossover: My list of demands for Telltale Games, hearty comic recommendations, and a Q+A with Jared K. Fletcher
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