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28 June 2008 @ 11:53 pm
Batman: Rest in Pieces  
For those of you who follow comic books, the title "Batman: RIP" should probably conjure a variety of feelings. For those who want to avoid possible spoilers of current DC plot arcs, that's exactly what I'm going to discuss here, so you might want to plug your ears, cover your eyes, and navigate to another page. For those who don't follow comic books, you can skip this whole thing, because it's just opinionated noodling on my part.

Dan "kill em all and let the next EIC sort em out" DiDio and Grant "there are other writers?" Morrison have each hinted that, while the Batman will continue, Bruce Wayne might not. Easiest way to read this is that the Black Hand will kill Bruce Wayne but that his war on crime will go on, fought by the soldiers he has assembled over the years. Personally speaking? Fine.

Over the last fifteen years or so, the Batman has been increasingly portrayed as being the single most dangerous and effective costumed hero in the entire DC universe. There is no villain the Bat cannot conquer with enough advance warning. There is nothing the Bat either does not already know or cannot find out in short order. He is a master of all fields. He can do anything except fly under his own power. He does not need to breathe, or at least no one has managed to withhold oxygen long enough to suffocate him. The Bat can survive in hard vacuum.

Further, the Bat is a humorless dick. He treats his own most loyal soldiers like whipping boys (no slash intended), withholds information, runs any group like he was born to it, and is such a complete ass that they had him go on a fucking spiritual quest just to siphon off the incipient insanity and rampant dickery of the previous years. Oh, who came up with that idea? Grant Morrison. Oh, whose revision in 52 did all the other writers in DC ignore since then? Grant Morrison. Bruce is back to being a humorless dick just like he was before the One Year Later jump. The idea that Bruce Wayne as the Batman is just a complete jerk is so ingrained in DC, resetting his character in 52 did not stick. Partially, that might have been an intentional reaction on every other writer's part just because they're sick to death of Grant Morrison acting like the only toddler in the sandbox, but I think it's more of a failure to know how to write Bruce as anything other than a jackass.

The Bat as he exists today is fuckin' Chuck Norris. There is nothing he can't do. The only way to bring the character universally back under the leash, to take away the Batgod and replace him with a Batman, is to replace him. They tried this back in the Knightfall arc, when Bane broke Bruce's back. Bruce replaced himself in the Batsuit with a guy named Jean Paul, aka Azrael. Now, there's been question of whether the replacement was intended to be temporary all along or if editorial caved to fan disgust, but Azrael was written out no more than two years later, and Bruce Wayne... well, Bruce conquered paraplegia through sheer force of will. Okay, not really just that... but effectively, just like that.

The Batman as he exists now is not only a damned jackass, but something far worse: he's boring. He's got to go, and he's got to be gone in a way that the fans will accept, that they'll roll with and want to read to see what will happen.

Please understand that I find most of the DC work by Grant Morrison to be excrement. Truly, the guy used to write good stuff, but he's at his best in "Elseworlds," "What Ifs?" and with original, unshared stories and characters. When other people have to try to pick up where he lets off once he's bored with a project and moves on, it's like he's salted the Earth for anyone who isn't him. No one can follow Grant Morrison, and I don't mean he's just that damned awesome. I mean no other writer can figure out where the hell he was going in any coherent manner. Despite this, the Batman still needs a revamp, even if it is Morrison doing it.

Now, I'm going to give you my roster of the Bat Family, how I think things would work and why.
Bruce Wayne: dead and buried. Folks, it's not comics blasphemy; the Batman of Earth-2 was killed in that continuity and lives continued.
The Batman: The cowl, the Wayne fortune, all of it should be taken up by the one man who has lived in the shadow of the Bat the longest. Richard "Dick" Grayson should take on the mantle of the Bat. Dick is now where the Batman was when he was several years into his war on crime. What the Bat lacked back then, Dick has in spades: friends and family. More, Dick had the ultimate mentor, namely the Batman. Dick also has something that Bruce has completely lost: his fucking mind. Dick has a sense of humor, a sense of perspective, and the understanding that you can't do everything alone. Dick has led several teams successfully, including the Teen Titans and the Outsiders.
Robin: Tim Drake should continue on as Robin. He's part of it, now, and has brought his own identity to the character. He no longer lives in Dick's shadow as the first Robin. Drake is NOT skilled or experienced enough to take on the mantle of the Bat, though he may be someday.
Batgirl: Cass Cain. Let her keep the cowl she's got, and Dick should try to reintegrate her into the fold fully. This may be happening anyway; there are hints that an upcoming Batgirl mini-series will show her return to the Wayne camp.
Nightwing: I do not think that we should lose this hero identity. Dick has made the Nightwing name into a force all his own, and it still has value, even if his original chosen home is currently a radioactive no man's land. Still, who would wear the costume? If Dick takes over as the Batman and Drake stays on as Robin, who would fill the blue wing? Stephanie Brown, aka "Spoiler." Face it: Spoiler as a hero name makes sense only when you know that her father was the villainous Cluemaster. Steph's only recently back from "the dead," in other words hiding in semi-retirement, and she has put on the purple mask once more as she rejoins the game. Thing is, she's given up the Spoiler identity once before for a name you might recognize: Robin. In-continuity, she was the first female Robin, a position she held for far too short a time. She's been trained by Bruce Wayne, is easily the equal of Drake as Robin, and was skilled enough several years ago in comics time to fill the role of Batman's sidekick. Steph's been poorly used and sadly underused. What could make her stronger than taking on the role designed to help its bearer grow out from the shadow of the Bat? Further, Steph's got fans, people, fans like you wouldn't believe. They would support seeing her take a deeper role in the Bat Family, though there are some I'm sure who'd resent any more changes to Spoiler, even something like giving up a hero ID that no longer makes sense on its own.
Alfred Pennyworth: Good question. Alfred might not be around by the end of Batman: RIP, which I think would be a crime. Folks, Marvel has already fucked over the Avengers using Jarvis. It's just not right to have the butler do it in every damned major plotline of both big houses this year. Don't fuck with Alfred. If DC thought Spoiler had dedicated fans, they may not be prepared for the hell betraying the legacy of Alfred could unleash.

Anyway. I know, tl;dr. If you've made it this far, think about what I've suggested. Tell me what you think, and remember: there's a reason I'm not employed as a comic writer.
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L A: Big Kittylouisadkins on June 29th, 2008 10:19 am (UTC)
Don't fuck with Alfred. If DC thought Spoiler had dedicated fans, they may not be prepared for the hell betraying the legacy of Alfred could unleash.

Quoted for truth, as they say.
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Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on June 29th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, don't go by me, necessarily. I'm adept at sounding like I know way more about a topic than I actually do. ;)

Superhero comics are a number of things at once. They're icons, modern-day myth stories hardly different than the tales of Perseus, Hercules, Arthur, or Gawain. They represent archetypes of the human psyche, given flesh and desire. They are also marketing gold mines.

Minor characters, B and C and Z list heroes, those can be killed off for drama, for comedy, or just for a short-term ratings boost. The A listers, though, the names that everyone knows, those are treated differently. Think back over the last ten or fifteen years. The deaths of Superman and Captain America were front page news. Superman's return was akin to something out of the Bible, with mystery and false messianic characters and with the final return of the true Kryptonian. In the case of Captain America, though... Steve Rogers, the man behind the shield of whom everyone thinks when you say "Captain America," though augmented was still just a man. He is dead, and barring cloning, time-travel, or some other soap-opera device, he's expected to stay dead. The legacy of Captain America, though, that can go on without Steve Rogers (much as I don't want it to do so; Steve was a personal hero of mine as a child and remained an important figure to my adult psyche). Another man, his chosen successor, has taken up the famous shield and the identity, to carry the torch and keep the hero alive, even when the man has fallen.

There are new things in comics. New characters do appear, old characters get their own titles, and writers come along who want to take the old and make it new by shaking up the plotlines, usually by killing off a supporting character or introducing a huge complication to the hero's life, anything to alter the status quo. The comics industry has to be careful with that, though; fans like their heroes as much or more than sports fans like their teams. Major changes are risky; alienate your fanbase and you risk damaging the franchise, burning goodwill and sacrificing sometimes decades of marketing effort, let alone what it can do to the legend built up around the character.
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Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on June 29th, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
The comics industry is going moribund in its print form for a lot of reasons, beyond simply what might be viewed as creative stagnation. There are a vocal group of fans out there who would resist "creativity" as I'm reading it, which I'd say is synonymous with "anti-derivative." They don't want their beloved characters to change. They like the status quo because it is comfortable: the heroes are either paragons of goodness or deeply flawed protagonists differing from the villains only in their motivations. There are no grey areas, no moral or ethical questions that cannot be answered in less than one page of panels, and no chance that the villains might achieve a lasting victory... nor the heroes over the villains, either. You'd be more likely to see a permanent end to the struggle between Popeye and Bluto or Israel and Palestine than to see Superman achieve a lasting victory over Lex Luthor.

Good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Good escapist stories HAVE to have those things, or else they're not really letting you escape. Individual lives have beginnings and endings, certainly, but human life, the tapestry of history, just keeps winding in new threads and tying off the old ones as they end. There is something to be said for approaching comics either way, I will admit. If comics were to approach their subjects as part of the greater whole, do their best to approach a holistic view of their fictional history... or perhaps better, to blend the two approaches, well, take a look at Kurt Busiek's Astro City series for how good that can be.

Some of the best work in the field is being self-published online as Web comics. One example I've liked is D.J. Coffman's Hero By Night, though that's just one out of dozens of good heroic comic works out there.

I think there are far more comic fans out there, and far more dedicated (or "rabid" if you're pessimistic) ones, than you've experienced. From my own experience, I am a relative amateur compared to some of the fans; I know some of the names and the broad strokes of the plotlines, but there are fans out there who know intimate details like you'd hardly believe. Ever met a Star Trek fan who has memorized the deck layouts of the Enterprise down to the length via Jeffries tubeways from main Engineering to the Medical Bay, who can also tell you how many access panels you'd pass along the way? There are comics fans who obsess over certain characters or titles to just that degree, and we're talking ongoing series going back forty years.
craigers01 on July 2nd, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
www.superdickery.com

It's not porn, I promise! (Or I'm sorry, if you were... you know... looking for porn)
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on July 2nd, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC)
Seen it. Awesome cover lulz to be had.
jlbarnett on August 1st, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Some of the Bat stuff I've seen has him being far better than he used to be. His guest appearences in Blue Beetle and when he's in the Brave and the Bold. And Superman.

If he's a dick in the Batman titles, well Grant Morrison is actually writing the main one on that.
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on August 1st, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
There have been moments in the last couple of months where it has been remembered that Bruce is supposed to have a heart.

For Grant to go on writing him like a humorless prick when he himself is the one who put Bruce through the ritual in Nanda Parbat... well, let's remember that Grant is also the one who chided the fans for their concerns about continuity.