Ed Asner's Best Comic Book Roles, From Uncle Ben to Granny Goodness
The late Ed Asner had well over 400 IMDB credits to his name – a staggering count by any measure – and a full slate of announced roles when his passing was reported at the age of 91. That included a great deal of voice-over work, which in turn meant a number of roles in superhero shows. What’s especially notable is how prominent each role was – all of his characters, in their own way, were vital ingredients to the project – and how readily he put his own stamp on each one. A list of them follows, in chronological order.
Roland Daggett (Batman: The Animated Series, 1992-1995)
From the beginning, Batman: The Animated Series took chances with the Caped Crusader that hadn’t been seen since the days of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Part of its formula was an adherence to Batman’s noir roots, which meant villains weren’t always punished for their crimes. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Asner’s Roland Daggett, a ruthless, barely legitimate businessman who didn’t need a costume or a superpower to do terrible things in the name of profit. He first appeared in Season 1, Episode 5, “Feat of Clay, Part 1” where he cheerfully makes actor Matt Hagan an addict to his “miracle” make-up that ultimately turns the man into Clayface. He made three more appearances in the series, but the most telling was Season 1, Episode 12, “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Publicly confronted with his accomplices in arson, he casually claims ignorance of their activities and walks away, leaving Batman fuming powerlessly in his wake. Sometimes, the bad guys won in this Gotham, a fact that Asner’s supremely cynical Dagget made clear.
J. Jonah Jameson (Spider-Man: The Animated Series, 1994-1997)
Speaking of cynical, before JK Simmons put his indelible stamp on the character in various live-action movies, Asner was a staple of the 90s Spider-Man animated series: appearing in almost half of the show’s 75 episodes. He dialed down the character’s anger more than other incarnations, portraying comic-dom’s most infamous yellow journalist as more world-weary than openly hostile. His glee at inadvertently making Spidey’s life harder came out in little snippets – often when thinking about how many copies the Bugle would sell when pictures of the latest costumed villain were published – hidden beneath a veneer of quiet, detached hostility. It wasn't so much that he hated Spider-Man. It was that he took such a special, secret joy in chaos.
Granny Goodness (Superman: The Animated Series, 1998-2000)
If the likes of Daggett and Jameson were well within Asner’s wheelhouse, then Granny Goodness came like a thunderbolt out of the blue. She first appeared in the Diniverse in Superman: The Animated Series, Season 2, Episode 27, “Little Girl Lost, Part 1,” as the guiding force behind a wave of Intergang attacks. She soon sets her sights on Kara Zor-El, a typical arc for the character. Asner had a lot of competition for memorable villains in the series – notably Michael Ironside’s indelible Darkseid – and yet the sheer creepiness of Granny still stands out. Asner gave her steel claws barely disguised between honeyed words: a sado-maternal nightmare who want her charges to know how much it disappoints her that they made her hurt them so badly. Somewhere in there, he found an indelible essence to the character.
Ben Parker (The Spectacular Spider-Man, 2008-2009)
Though it lasted only two seasons, The Spectacular Spider-Man earned high praise for its strong stories and loyalty to the comics. Asner’s appearance in the series was comparatively brief, but very important. Season 1, Episode 12, “Intervention,” features Peter under control of the symbiote costume, which forces him to relive his origin story. Asner’s Ben Parker is the perfect antithesis to the actor's Jameson, kind and caring with nothing but love for his nephew. The reversal hits home even harder when Asner – voicing Peter’s memories of Ben – helps him throw off the psychic influence of the symbiote, namely with a pitch-perfect rendition of Ben’s famous “with great power comes great responsibility” speech.
Perry White (All-Star Superman, 2011)
Jameson was always intended to tweak the nose of Perry White, Marvel's sleazy tabloid reality to counter DC’s crusading editor journalist. But just as he did with Ben Parker, Asner approached the polar opposite of a part he already played, and did it superbly. As with the comic that inspired it, All-Star Superman focuses on the Man of Steel’s unearthly side, leaving White – a serious, dedicated journalist – to report objectively on the stuff of supermarket tabloids. Asner’s performance makes him no less cynical than Jameson, but bolstered by a sense of public welfare and the impact the Daily Planet might have on it. In some ways, it’s an identical performance to Jameson’s. In other ways, they’re as different as night and day. That’s the strength of a good performance.