Jan 9, 2020 Last updated on Jan 9, 2020 Intro Borda Counts Comic Creation and Data Results Conclusion Acknowledgements Resources You do Batman right, and he’s going to be popular. He’s a great character. I was once asked by somebody if writing ‘Batman’ was like holding a Ming vase or something. And I said, ‘No, it’s like holding a big-ass diamond that you can’t break. You can throw him against the ceiling, against the floor, anywhere, and you just can’t break Batman.’ Frank Miller Intro Not so long ago I put together a meta top-10 list of the best Batman graphic novels. I needed a reading list. I’ve done my reading now. It was great! But the technique I used to create the list is useful for a lot more than just creating a best novels list. I can also adapt it to look into favourite Batman creators. Batman was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane in 1939[^1], back in the earliest days of superhero comics (the Phantom predates this by only 6 years – here’s a history if you are interested). Obviously these two creators should take pride of place, but only the dedicated fans are reading back that far these days, and their work didn’t rate that highly in my earlier meta-list. So which artists and writers do fans of today really like? We can answer that using the same approach as before: create a meta-top-10 from other peoples’ top-N lists using a Borda count. Just in case you want to stop here, the lists are in Table 1. Table 1: Meta-Top-10 Batman creators list Script Pencils Cover Inks Colors Letters Frank Miller (35.74) Frank Miller (17.85) Klaus Janson (19.0) Klaus Janson (19.0) Lynn Varley (17.85) Richard Starkings (36.78) Jeph Loeb (24.11) David Mazzucchelli (17.62) David Mazzucchelli (17.62) David Mazzucchelli (17.62) Richmond Lewis (17.83) John Costanza (31.56) Grant Morrison (14.41) Tim Sale (17.5) Tim Sale (16.69) Tim Sale (17.5) Gregory Wright (14.36) Todd Klein (23.44) Alan Moore (13.48) Brian Bolland (13.48) Brian Bolland (13.48) Brian Bolland (13.48) John Higgins (13.48) Gaspar Saladino (10.21) Scott Snyder (10.54) Dave McKean (10.21) Dave McKean (10.21) Dave McKean (10.21) Dave McKean (10.21) Rob Leigh (6.87) Jim Starlin (9.41) Jim Lee (7.36) Jim Lee (6.61) Scott Williams (7.08) Alex Sinclair (8.38) Richard Starkings/Jimmy Betancourt/Comicraft (5.11) Ed Brubaker (3.93) Jim Aparo/Mike Mignola/Mike DeCarlo (5.8) Jim Aparo (5.8) Jim Aparo/Mike Mignola (5.8) Adrienne Roy/Anthony Tollin (5.8) Todd Klein/Jared K. Fletcher/Sal Cipriano (4.4) Dennis O'Neil (2.82) Greg Capullo (5.65) Greg Capullo (5.59) Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion (5.11) FCO Plascencia (5.65) John Workman (2.5) Doug Moench (2.82) Jock/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Kelley Jones/Bob LeRose/Sam Kieth (4.62) Jock/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) David Baron/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Jared K. Fletcher/John Workman (1.91) Brian Augustyn (2.5) Tim Sale/Doug Mahnke/Patrick Zircher (3.93) Jock/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Bernie Wrightson (3.6) David Baron (3.93) Ken Lopez (1.84) The number in brackets gives the total score for each creator. If you want to learn more about how these lists and the scores they are based on were derived, and what they mean, read on. Borda Counts I discussed Borda counts, Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, and Condorcet in a previous post. A quick recap is worthwhile though. I know how hard it is to click back on that link. Jean-Charles, Chevalier de Borda (1733-1799) was a French mathematician who suggested his eponymous method as a means to elect members to the French Academy. The idea of a Borda count is that each voter writes a list of candidates ranked in their order of preference, and then points are awarded to each candidate based on their position in each list. The standard method awards points corresponding to the number of other candidates you beat, for instance see Table 2. In an election we only care about who comes first, and so the person with the top Borda count would win. However, here we use the scores to determine a new meta-ranking. Simple Borda counts won’t work here. The simple version assumes a fixed list of candidates, and that every voter lists them all in descending order. However, the rank lists I have here: vary in length (e.g., top-5 or top-25); don’t consider the same list of candidate graphic novels; and some are just “to read” lists, which are unordered. Table 2: Example scoring from ranks. The scores are the points that the candidate gets for their relative place in this ranking. Candidate Ranking Borda points Dowdall points My points (alpha=0.5) Alice 1 4 1 1 Bob 2 3 1/2 0.707 Catherine 3 2 1/3 0.577 David 4 1 1/4 0.5 Eleanor unranked 0 0 0 My Borda count has been adapted to these conditions by: presuming that all rankings are selecting from the larger list, and that unranked candidates are at the bottom (see Table 2); and where a “to read” list has N candidates, we assume they are all equal Nth on the list. We could have made them equal 1st, but this really over-weights some candidates by a lot. I have adjusted my weighting: Borda doesn’t differentiate enough between first and second place. I found in the last post that a power weighting seems to have a good balance between not enough weighting on first place, and too much (as in the Dowdall system). A “power” weighting gives $$1/n^\alpha$$ points for $$n$$ th place, where $$\alpha$$ is between 0 and 1. When $$\alpha = 1$$ we get the Dowdall system, but we can tune how much weight 1st place gets by choosing a smaller value. I tried a few and eventually settled on the simple choice of $$\alpha = 1/2$$ . Table 2 shows the points awarded by the different scoring systems for a ranked list of candidates. There are an almost infinite number of other election/ranking systems. I found a really nice table comparing them here. None are perfect (see Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem) but the approaches above have an advantage over many other systems: they can be used to rank other aspects of the items being ranked. All we need do is accumulate the points under whatever heading is relevant. If we want to rank writers, we assign each author points based on the rankings of the novels they authored. Comic Creation and Data Comics are usually created by a team. Sometimes just a pair: e.g., Bill Finger and Bob Kane for the original Batman, but these days there are usually more people involved. The standard breakdown is to have seperate artists for pencils, inks, colouring and lettering. A nice description of these roles is here, but simply speaking there are five stages: Script: a writer produces the dialogue and some “stage direction” about what will happen in the panels. It’s called the script. Pencils: a sketch of the panel structure and artwork is produced by the penciler, following the directions in the script, but interpreting it. Inks: the inker adds sharp lines, texture and shading, again adding a layer of intepretation to the pencils, which essentially go away after this stage. Colors: a colorist turns the black and white inks into color drawings, choosing the palette and shadings. This can have a big impact on mood: making the scene gloomy or jaunty. Letters: the letterer places and fills the dialogue balloons, choosing fonts and ordering to make the sequence clear. There are other people involved (flatters, editors, cover artists) but the list above is those primarily responsible for creating the content. And sometimes a single artist does multiple steps. Naively, the ordering above lists the creators in order of creative contribution, with the writer having the largest creative input and so on. But it would be unfair to think that artists further down the chain are not making important creative decisions; even the letterer. Inking is not simply tracing over pencilled lines, and placement of word balloons can have important implications. And often the relationship between artists isn’t a simple one of producer/consumer. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth was written by Grant Morrison but later editions (the 15th and 25th anniversary editions) include the script he wrote with his comments. It’s extremely interesting to see how Morrison’s script was adapted by Dave McKean. The style of lettering (by Saladino) is important as well. Comic creative credit hasn’t always been clear: older comics didn’t always credit all of the participants listed above. And there isn’t always a clear boundary between words and art. Different organisations have expected different levels of detail at each stage. At the least, a writer must think pictorially, and an artist is fleshing out a story with their pictures. But what I can work with is the official credit that is given for each graphic novel. The list I have compiled for Batman is here with the first few entries shown below in Table 3. Table 3: Batman creators Title Script Cover Pencils Inks Colors Letters Batman: A Death in the Family Jim Starlin Jim Aparo Jim Aparo/Mike Mignola/Mike DeCarlo Jim Aparo/Mike Mignola Adrienne Roy/Anthony Tollin John Costanza Batman: Year One Frank Miller David Mazzucchelli David Mazzucchelli David Mazzucchelli Richmond Lewis Todd Klein Batman: Arkham Asylum Grant Morrison Dave McKean Dave McKean Dave McKean Dave McKean Gaspar Saladino Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller Klaus Janson Frank Miller Klaus Janson Lynn Varley John Costanza Batman: The Killing Joke Alan Moore Brian Bolland Brian Bolland Brian Bolland John Higgins Richard Starkings The list wasn’t trivial to obtain – I couldn’t find a single source of truth for all of this data, and the more complete sources often had inconsistent page structure making screen scraping tricky. So the list was built manually. The sources for each entry are included in the GitHub. Many graphic novels have multiple creators for each type of input. Sometimes they worked together on a single issue, but remember that many of these were originally published as serials[^2], and often different creators worked on each issue. So multiple cover artists may have contributed to a single cover, or each created a single issue cover. Even a single issue can have multiple variant covers, each with different artists. Where the team gets too large I have not included it here, but I am including groups in my listing, e.g., see Pencils for Batman: A Death in the Family. The other data I am using – people’s rankings – are described in the previous post. Results My meta-top-10 lists are given above, but a more complete view is given below. Table 4 shows the meta-top-10 creator lists for each type of creator. In this version, if you hover the mouse over a particular artist you can see which graphic novels contributed to the scores[^3]. That’s important because we can see, for instance, that Dave McKean is number 5 in Pencils, Cover, Inks and Colors, but they are all because of one novel: Arkham Asylum. We can also see that some creators get their status because of a single novel (e.g., Alan Moore) whereas others are involved in many (e.g., John Costanza as a Letterer). The table is only the top-10, but more complete lists for each type of creator are included at GitHub. Table 4: Meta-Top-10 creator lists and scores with contributing novels. Script Pencils Cover Inks Colors Letters Batman: Year OneBatman: The Dark Knight ReturnsAll Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder Frank Miller (35.74) Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again Frank Miller (17.85) Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: Gothic Klaus Janson (19.0) Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: Gothic Klaus Janson (19.0) Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again Lynn Varley (17.85) Batman: The Killing JokeBatman: HushBatman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark Victory Richard Starkings (36.78) Batman: HushBatman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark VictoryBatman: Haunted Knight Jeph Loeb (24.11) Batman: Year One David Mazzucchelli (17.62) Batman: Year One David Mazzucchelli (17.62) Batman: Year One David Mazzucchelli (17.62) Batman: Year OneBatman: Legends of the Dark Knight: Shaman Richmond Lewis (17.83) Batman: A Death in the FamilyBatman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: Son of the DemonBatman: Legends of the Dark Knight: ShamanBatman: A Lonely Place of DyingBatman: The CultBatman: GothicBatman: Prey John Costanza (31.56) Batman: Arkham AsylumBatman and SonBatman and Robin: Batman RebornJLA: Rock Of AgesBatman: R.I.P.Batman: Gothic Grant Morrison (14.41) Batman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark VictoryBatman: Haunted Knight Tim Sale (17.5) Batman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark Victory Tim Sale (16.69) Batman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark VictoryBatman: Haunted Knight Tim Sale (17.5) Batman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Haunted Knight Gregory Wright (14.36) Batman: Year OneBatman: The Last ArkhamBatman: Haunted KnightBatman: The Dark Knight Strikes AgainBatman: NoëlBatman: Blind JusticeBatman & Dracula: Red RainBatwoman: Elegy Todd Klein (23.44) Batman: The Killing Joke Alan Moore (13.48) Batman: The Killing Joke Brian Bolland (13.48) Batman: The Killing Joke Brian Bolland (13.48) Batman: The Killing Joke Brian Bolland (13.48) Batman: The Killing Joke John Higgins (13.48) Batman: Arkham Asylum Gaspar Saladino (10.21) Batman Volume 1: The Court of OwlsBatman: The Black MirrorBatman: EndgameAll Star Batman Vol. 3: The First AllyAll Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends Of The EarthDark Nights: Metal Scott Snyder (10.54) Batman: Arkham Asylum Dave McKean (10.21) Batman: Arkham Asylum Dave McKean (10.21) Batman: Arkham Asylum Dave McKean (10.21) Batman: Arkham Asylum Dave McKean (10.21) Batman and the Monster MenBatman: Earth One Vol. 1Batman: Earth One Vol. 2Justice League VS Suicide SquadBatman: The Man Who Laughs Rob Leigh (6.87) Batman: A Death in the FamilyBatman: The Cult Jim Starlin (9.41) Batman: HushAll Star Batman and Robin, the Boy WonderJustice League Origin Jim Lee (7.36) Batman: Hush Jim Lee (6.61) Batman: HushAll Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder Scott Williams (7.08) Batman: HushBatman and Robin: Batman RebornAll Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder Alex Sinclair (8.38) Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls Richard Starkings/Jimmy Betancourt/Comicraft (5.11) Batman: The Man Who Laughs Ed Brubaker (3.93) Batman: A Death in the Family Jim Aparo/Mike Mignola/Mike DeCarlo (5.8) Batman: A Death in the Family Jim Aparo (5.8) Batman: A Death in the Family Jim Aparo/Mike Mignola (5.8) Batman: A Death in the Family Adrienne Roy/Anthony Tollin (5.8) Batman: The Black Mirror Todd Klein/Jared K. Fletcher/Sal Cipriano (4.4) Batman: Birth of the DemonBatman: Legends of the Dark Knight: ShamanBatman: Venom Dennis O'Neil (2.82) Batman Volume 1: The Court of OwlsBatman: EndgameDark Nights: Metal Greg Capullo (5.65) Batman Volume 1: The Court of OwlsBatman: Night of the Owls Greg Capullo (5.59) Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion (5.11) Batman Volume 1: The Court of OwlsBatman: EndgameDark Nights: Metal FCO Plascencia (5.65) Gotham by Gaslight John Workman (2.5) Batman & Dracula: Red RainBatman: Prey Doug Moench (2.82) Batman: The Black Mirror Jock/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Batman: Knightfall, Part One: Broken Bat Kelley Jones/Bob LeRose/Sam Kieth (4.62) Batman: The Black Mirror Jock/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Batman: The Black Mirror David Baron/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Batman: Year 100 Jared K. Fletcher/John Workman (1.91) Gotham by Gaslight Brian Augustyn (2.5) Batman: The Man Who Laughs Tim Sale/Doug Mahnke/Patrick Zircher (3.93) Batman: The Black Mirror Jock/Francesco Francavilla (4.4) Batman: The Cult Bernie Wrightson (3.6) Batman: The Man Who Laughs David Baron (3.93) JLA: Rock Of AgesJLA: Tower of Babel Ken Lopez (1.84) Table 5 shows the same information, but mixing all of the contributors into one ranking. The table only has the top 20 – the complete list can be obtained by clicking on the table. Or if you want to see the ranking without grouping different types of contributor look here. Table 5: Meta-scores for all creator types ranked. Name Creator types Score Number Frank Miller Script,Pencils 53.59 5 David Mazzucchelli Pencils,Cover,Inks 52.87 3 Tim Sale Pencils,Inks,Cover 51.69 8 Dave McKean Pencils,Cover,Inks,Colors 40.86 4 Brian Bolland Pencils,Cover,Inks 40.43 3 Klaus Janson Cover,Inks 38.00 4 Richard Starkings Letters 36.78 4 John Costanza Letters 31.56 8 Jeph Loeb Script 24.11 4 Todd Klein Letters 23.44 8 Lynn Varley Colors 17.85 2 Richmond Lewis Colors 17.83 2 Grant Morrison Script 14.41 6 Gregory Wright Colors 14.36 2 Jim Lee Pencils,Cover 13.97 4 Alan Moore Script 13.48 1 John Higgins Colors 13.48 1 Jock/Francesco Francavilla Pencils,Cover,Inks 13.19 3 Greg Capullo Pencils,Cover 11.25 5 Scott Snyder Script 10.54 6 Frank Miller wins for two reasons: he wrote two of the highest rated Batman graphic novels of all time: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. He also did a lot of his own art work. David Mazzucchelli does well, also primarily through being involved in several stages of Year One[^4], and many of the other top raters do so for similar reasons. The final column of the table lists the number of contribution credits (of all forms) that each creator has. Interestingly, Richard Starkings and other letterers do well on this table. Often letterers are involved in more novels that other artists. I don’t know whether this is because they can do their job faster (a lot of it is helped by computers these days), or because they tend to work on a more consistent segment of the comic market. Letterers are not always given much credit in this world. I suspect there are many fans who wouldn’t even know who Richard Starkings is[^5]. But the data is suggesting that maybe we should rethink that at least a little, and look more closely at letterers. Jim Aparo and others are perhaps penalised a little because teams are treated as separate from the individuals. So his contributions to A Death in the Family are separated because each part was in concert with a different team. Alan Moore is at the top of the “single contribution” list. That is, he is the highest rated contributor who did so in one novel in one form. But then, Alan Moore is a legend. Brian Bolland probably does a little too well in this list courtesy of having done Pencils, Cover and Inks on Moore’s The Killing Joke. There are a few others (e.g., Lynn Varley on Colors) who also do very well through having worked on a famous project, so the approach used here isn’t perfect. We’d probably get a better view if the analysis wasn’t just restricted to one subject (Batman) or if we could determine better weightings for different types of contribution. More on that at a later date. Conclusion There’s not much more to say here. Borda counts give us a way to create meta-lists from independent rankings. They aren’t the only way, but the approach is extremely flexible and that is very useful here where I want to do something pretty non-standard. The final listing tells us some interesting things, but not much that is controversial. I doubt many people would dispute Frank Miller’s top spot and other top rankers such as David Mazzucchelli, Tim Sale and Dave McKean all made amazing contributions to the Batman legend. However, understanding better how the creators who aren’t traditionally given so much credit (colorists and letterers) influence the quality of the final work seems well worth some study. Acknowledgements I’d like to thank Sylvia and Jono for editing this post. Resources Julia code for Borda and other counts is included on the GitHub. The data is also in the GitHub. Footnotes [1]: At the moment you can get a free soft copy of Detective Comics #27, which has the first appearance of Batman in it. [2]: Where a collected volume consists of a core set of issues, plus some associated side issues, I tend to focus on only the core issues, though the division isn’t always obvious. [3]: Note that artists might appear singly, or in a team (which I am treating separately). [4]: I am adding the total rating (without any weighting) for each stage a creator is involved in. [5]: Richard Starkings does have a (short) wiki page and his list of credits is truly impressive, including several Eisner awards for Best Letterer. There is also a blog site with some interesting materials. He should be better known.

Batman DC Ranking

Aleph-Zero-Heros

This is a blog about (mathematical) data science of large-scale hybrid narratives and superheros in particular.

The title of the blog comes from a perhaps obscure piece of mathematics: aleph zero is (mathematically speaking) the cardinality of the set of natural numbers, which is a pretty mathsy way of saying “infinity”. So the name, aleph-zero-heros, loosely translates as infinite heroes.

The blog is going to be focused on superhero narratives, hence the title, but it is broader than just that. We’re going to look at large-scale hybrid narratives. A hybrid narrative (to me) is a story (fiction or non-fiction) that involves multiple forms of media. We can get an idea by considering simple examples of old-school hybrids

• picture books and graphic novels