Tag Archives: Batman

A Meeting of the Minds

6 Aug

An airport taxi pulls up to a trendy restaurant in the Malibu Hills whose name, “Hohu” is back-lit by purple neon. The back door of the taxi opens and comic book writer FRANK MILLER emerges, pauses dramatically, and drinks in the lush surroundings. He begins walking to the entrance of the restuarant. Past the colored fountains of mythical Ambrosia, past the live mermaids playfully swimming in giant tanks, right up to the door of “Hohu” which is an exact replica of the front door of the Wizard’s castle from The Wizard of Oz. The door opens ceremoniously and FRANK MILLER steps through it.
Inside the spacious and lushly-decorated restaurant we see a single, circular table with three settings and a dim lamp as the centerpiece. Seated at the table and facing the entrance are CHRISTOPHER NOLAN and ZACK SNYDER, famous movie makers. They wave FRANK MILLER over and gesture for him to take a seat, which he does…

CN: (grinning) I’m glad you could make it, Frank.

FM: (taking his seat) Please, call me Frank.

CN: I suppose you know why we’ve asked to speak with you.

FM: Of course I know. The whole goddamned internet knows. You want to talk about Batman.

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A slight and obsequious WAITER shuffles over to the table and, in a deep bow, utters

WAITER: Good evening gentlemen. May I take your drink orders?

CN: I’ll have a liter of angel’s tears.

ZS: I’ll have the chilled blood of a Dodo bird in a straight glass.

FM: A can of Schaeffer beer from 1958, please.

WAITER: Very good, sirs. WAITER exits, walking backwards and still in a deep bow.

ZS: Anyway.

CN: How was your flight, Frank?

FM: Let’s get down to brass tacks. You asked me here so we could discuss the Batman. So let’s discuss the character.

ZS: (nervously tugging at his collar) Hurm.

CN: Yes, well, no need for formalities. Obviously you know by now that the sequel to this summer’s blockbuster Man of Steel will feature Batman.

ZS: Indeed.

CN: And more than feature Batman, it will actually pit Batman against Superman. We were inspired by that scene from your historic comic book work, The Dark Knight Returns.

ZS: Oh yes. Very inspired. A runner appears with the drinks, arranges them at the table, and slinks away without ever making eye contact.

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CN: We would like to pick your brain about that scene, the characters, their motivations.

FM: Cracks his beer and takes a long sip from the can. I’ll make this real simple for you. Superman is a jerk, Batman is an asshole.

ZS: (with alacrity) Ulp!

CN: Hmm, yes. Our take on Superman was a bit different.

FM: I didn’t see your silly movie so I wouldn’t know, but I assume you made him a real pansy. And he is a pansy, but he’s also a government stooge. Batman stands in opposition to that because he’s a complete asshole.

CN: Right.

FM: (continuing) See Batman’s whole motivation is to avenge the death of his parents. That’s his only motivation. But he can’t avenge them without pummeling the shit out of everyone. And that includes Superman.

CN: What about Batman’s pursuit of justice?

ZS: Yes, uh, what of justice?

FM: Are you fucking retarded? Justice? There’s no justice, just pimps and hookers and junkies and pedophiles all heaped together in a pile of shit. And on top of that pile, the King Shit of all the little shitlings, is Batman.

The WAITER sidles up to the table, again in a deep bow, and speaking to his shoes, utters

WAITER: I beg your pardon, gentlemen. May I take your orders?

CN: I’ll have a Bengal tiger fillet with a side of Gingold.

ZS: I’ll have an everlasting Gobstopper in fairy’s wing sauce.

FM: Steak. Medium-well.

WAITER: Very good, sirs, I’ll bring that right out. WAITER backs away again, disappearing into the darkness.

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CN: Frank, let me ask you…do you like Batman?

FM: What do you mean?

CN: Well I wouldn’t expect someone who likes Batman to describe him as “King Shit.”

ZS: (nods spastically)

FM: Of course I like Batman! I’ve written dozens of Batman comic books!

CN: Of course, we must defer to your wisdom. Tell us more about the Batman, as you see him.

FM: Well another thing you should know about Batman is that he dislikes people.

CN: What?

FM: Batman dislikes people. Doesn’t care for them. They interfere with his mission.

CN: I see. If he dislikes people, why is he saving their lives all the time?

FM: Just to shut up their whiny mewling. He sees them as annoying hurdles in his war against Superman.

CN: Batman is at war with Superman?

FM: Of course, he’s at war with everybody.

CN: What about Robin?

FM: He’s at war with him.

CN: What about Alfred?

FM: He’s at war with that limey.

ZS: Sweating nervously, ZACK SNYDER looks about ready to pass out.

CN: Why does he employ them if he’s at war with them?

FM: First of all, he doesn’t “employ” Robin. Robin is some little dickwad that keeps hanging around Batman while he’s trying to wage war on everyone.

CN: Right.

FM: It’s almost more trouble for Batman to throw Robin off a cliff than you let him bounce around during fights. Plus he can distract villains and draw their fire.

CN: But Batman is shown to clearly care for Robin in the comics. Did you ever read Robin Dies at Dawn?

FM: Oh, I don’t read comics.

CN: What?!

FM: That’s kid stuff. I write comics, I don’t read the stupid things.

CN: (looks over at ZACK SNYDER who is pale and quivering) Okayyy…

A runner arrives with plates of food, which he sets before the seated men and quickly and silently absconds, never making eye contact.

CN: I don’t know if we are going to go in this same direction with Batman, Frank.

FM: (chewing on a piece of steak) Okay, what’s your take?

CN: Extends his arms and articulates his thumbs and forefingers as a makeshift frame. The movie opens in darkness.

ZS: Nods head enthusiastically. Darkness, definitely darkness.

CN: From the darkness, we see a shadowy fist emerge.

ZS: Darkness. Pitch black darkness.

CN: Is it Superman’s fist? Whose shaded fist can this be, issuing from billowy blackness?

ZS: Lights out. Dark. Darkness.

CN: Everyone’s going to think it’s Superman’s fist.

ZS: Everyone.

CN: But it’s not.

ZS: Darkness.

CN: It’s Batman’s fist. In a sequel to Man of Steel. Can you picture it?

ZS: Boom.

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FM: Yes, well, what happens in the movie?

CN: We haven’t gotten to that part yet. All we’ve come up with is the thing with the fist.

ZS: And the darkness.

CN: Yes, we came up with the darkness. We were hoping you would help us flesh out the plot.

FM: I see.

CN: Though honestly I’m not sure if we can use your hateful, spiteful Batman.

ZS: Nods slowly.

FM: Oh, so you want to use some pussy Batman? Like the Adam West bullshit?

CN: (thoughtfully) Hmm…maybe. But darker.

FM: Abruptly gets up from the table, pushing his chair back, and throws his cloth napkin onto his half-eaten steak. FRANK MILLER chews what he’s got in his mouth slowly and methodically, holding CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’s gaze with a piercing stare. After two full minutes, FRANK MILLER swallows his last bite of steak, clears his throat, and speaks. Gentlemen, you offend me. I thought you brought me here to teach you about the Batman, his motivations and complete hatred for humanity and life. But I was wrong. You’re just a couple of slick Hollywood hucksters who want to take the pure story of a complete douchebag’s struggle against sluts and jerkwads and turn it into some kind of rodeo circus. Well I, for one, will have no part of it. Don’t you know who I am? I’m goddamned Frank Miller! Good day. FRANK MILLER strides purposefully from the table and is enveloped in the surrounding shadows.

ZS: In a state of shock, begin weeping.

CN: Watches FRANK MILLER exit, then begins eating his dinner. Well that was unpleasant. Looks around the empty, darkened restaurant, and waves his fork at nothing in particular. It’s a bit bright in here, isn’t it?

Give the Boot to Reboots

7 Feb

It’s been about a year and a half since DC Comics restarted their entire line-up of titles with The New 52, a company-wide event that did away with the past histories of their diverse line of characters and started all over again to attract new readers. I thought it was a hare-brained idea at the time, but being that I don’t buy floppy comics and I’m fairly used to DC making incomprehensible business decisions, I decided not to opine. Sure, I was pessimistic, but that’s my nature. What the hell do I know about a good Flash comic anyway? The best thing you could do for a Flash comic, in my opinion, is cancel it.

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Well, the dust has settled, trade editions of the first New 52 comics have trickled out, and what we see isn’t a more tempered, sensible universe than the one that preceded it, but the same confuddled claptrap as always. Some origins have been changed, Barbara Gordon has overcome her paralysis to become Batgirl again, but there’s no sense that we’re seeing anything new and fresh. And why should we? DC Comics has a history spanning nine decades, one they periodically try to omit with little success. DC’s concern with its past seems to revolve around the fact that their characters have been portrayed in many ways over the years. This makes sense because different people have written and drawn the comics, and public sensibilities have changed radically in the last century. For some reason, this doesn’t sit well with the powers that be: they feel that Superman should never be depicted changing clothes inside a phone booth when we live in a cellular phone world.

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I think that DC Comics should embrace their storied history, and not in the cornball way they usually do by dragging kitschy characters like Challengers of the Unknown and the Bat Mite out of storage for a “modern” revamp. A “reboot” usually means the male heroes will all have stubble and wrestle with their consciences while they clobber globs of snot from outer space. Instead, DC should admit that they have a lot of characters spanning a healthy person’s lifetime and let writers do what they fucking want. You want to write a story about the early days of Wonder Woman? Go ahead. You want to depict Batman with an iPhone and a Bat-Segway? Let’s see what you’ve got. Many of these characters have become archetypes for our culture and personal gratification. The important part about Superman is that he can punch people through walls, not whether or not his adoptive Earth parents wore spectacles. Cut it out with these title-spanning events that change DC continuity and make Superman have to wear ridiculous costumes.

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What I’m saying is that a fictional world of people who can fly unencumbered through space and fire laser beams from their fingertips doesn’t need a reboot. It’s fantasy, and as such writers should feel free to depict these characters in any fashion, from any era, and respect the readership enough to take these stories at face value. I know DC has its Elseworlds line, but I’m talking about having fun with these heroes and villains in series. Maybe depict the Joker with some humanity. Allow Superman to fight alongside Aquaman with the bureaucracy of the Justice League getting in the way. Let the Green Lantern cut a fart now and again. His uniform already leaves little to the imagination, it’s not a far leap to begin showing his endocrine functions.

Forget the Stupid Justice League Movie Already

14 Dec

Hey, there’s been some recent news about the long-rumored Justice League film, due out 2015! Isn’t that exciting? Haven’t you been waiting for a movie about the Justice League for like freaking ever?! You know the Justice League, right? That collection of DC Comics properties that includes Superman, Batman…I think Wonder Woman is in it…also the Flash and Green Lantern, and…that green guy. No, not Green Lantern, I already mentioned him. The other one. The guy that’s as strong as Superman plus he turns invisible. Also the guy with the wings, Hawkman is in it. I think that’s it. Oh wait, Aquaman, he’s got to be in there. Basically everyone from the SuperFriends except the non-white characters.

Wait, there’s more heroes in the League? You say that the Justice League contains every hero belonging to DC Comics, going back to 1938? Well, fuck me. There’s something lackluster about a specialized league that anyone with a talent remotely approaching a super power can join. They have two heroes with the power to stretch themselves like taffy. There are about four that can run faster than the speed of sound. And there are so many meta-humans with the power of flight, that their base of operations has to be held on a fucking satellite. Otherwise, they’d have to employ air traffic controllers, opening up a host of labor problems. There are more people in tights in the Justice League than the Ringling Bros. circus. And every time they hold a meeting, there’s a rift in the space-time continuum or something that spells imminent disaster for the cosmos. I mean, I’m not saying there’s a causal relationship, but it’s a coincidence worth investigating since the fate of the universe seems to depend on it.

Why Warner Bros., parent devils to DC Comics are so gung-ho for a Justice League movie, I have no idea. It’s not like their other attempts at comic books-turned movies in the new millennium have been successful excepting Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and, to a lesser extent, attempts to turn Alan Moore’s graphic novels into movies. Green Lantern was an irredeemable piece of shit. Superman Returns was almost as confusing as it was boring. What DC has proven is that when they have a lot of input into how one of their characters is represented in movies, the result is garbage. Only when more talented people take the ball and run with it, like Nolan did, are the results satisfactory. “Perhaps,” you begin, pushing your coke-bottle glasses up the greasy bridge of your blackhead-specked nose, “comics are already in their perfect medium and require no film representation at all.” You might be right, despite the cloud of halitosis you belched in making that comment. But Marvel comics has made a bunch of superhero movies in the 2000s that are entertaining and enjoyable. They even made a pretty good movie around their clown costume conglomerate, The Avengers, which collects a bunch of well-known Marvel heroes, many of them already established in their own films.

That’s the first reason that the Justice League movie shouldn’t be made: we haven’t seen decent representation of the heroes involved outside of comic books and cartoons. And let’s face it, only nerds and fatties watch cartoons and read comic books. The rest of the world will be scratching their heads wondering why a hero like the Flash exists when there is already an even buffer dude named Superman who can move at super-speed. Batman as represented in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy obviously doesn’t exist in a universe populated by other superheroes, and besides–spoiler alert for this movie that’s been out for six months–Bruce Wayne gives up the Batman mantle at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. It would seriously taint an otherwise solid trilogy if DC dragged the same character out of retirement so he could fight space fish with Dr. Fate and Plastic Man. The implication of the article linked in the first paragraph is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Batman in the Justice League movie, tying it to the Nolan trilogy since Gordon-Levitt was in the last movie. But that strikes me as totally unnecessary and stupid. For one thing, this would mean that Bruce Wayne will not be Batman in the Justice League movie, which will thoroughly befuddle and irritate the average person who is familiar with popular representations of Batman. For another thing, it’s entirely unnecessary. The tale of Batman is timeless, it can be (and has been) told and re-told a lot of ways, provided the basic tenet–that the son of wealthy socialites deals with the trauma of having watched his parents get gunned down before him by dressing up like a bat–remains the same. Jospeh Gordon-Levitt could fit that bill well enough, particularly if he’s to be surrounded by other heroes in their technicolor dreamcoats. He would be a cog in the Justice League machine, so a fully fleshed-out character may not be necessary.

But even given that fact, a Justice League movie would only serve the highlight the fact that DC has made little progress ingratiating their characters with the general public. Where is the long-rumored Wonder Woman movie? How about an attempt at telling Hawkman’s fairly intricate origin story outside of a film that will have to squeeze in the characterizations of at least half a dozen super folks? Baby steps, people. This apparent need for DC to skip to the end of the story was the main flaw in the Green Lantern movie. Yes, as I wrote before, Ryan Reynolds was mis-cast in his role as Hal Jordan. But it might have been a serviceable movie had his character not gone from ordinary test pilot to a cgi space cop battling the oldest evil in the universe in the space of one movie. In the comics, Hal Jordan doesn’t even get contacted by the Intergalactic Nerd Cops until he’s dicked around with his new ring for a while. They might have stretched the Green Lantern story into two and three movies, instead of making one largely incomprehensible piece of shit. And that’s what we’re looking at in a Justice League movie in two years.

It’s the movie few people understand and nobody wants. Maybe if I thought they’d do the Justice League from Keith Giffen’s run in the 1980s, I’d get on board. That was a group of secondary heroes doing a kind of Moonlighting/Hill Street Blues type of thing, and the characters were evinced through dialogue with each other. I guess I fear that the Justice League movie in 2015 might open with Batman and Superman standing on the bridge of their satellite headquarters, then during the credits they get attacked by Starro the space monster. Twenty minutes later, they’re already on an alternate earth fighting Owlman and Ultraman. By the last half hour of the movie, they’re replaying the events of Infinite Crisis to a thoroughly bewildered and bored audience. But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Or maybe I ACTUALLY WATCHED THAT FUCKING GREEN LANTERN MOVIE WITH RYAN REYNOLDS AND I WANT MY GODDAMNED TWO HOURS BACK.

Sins of the Father

18 Apr

For as long as I could remember, my dad’s evening commute included a one-mile walk from the 7 train’s terminus at Main Street, Flushing to our two-family home in Auburndale. Usually, he would come sauntering through the door, whistling some complicated tune and swinging his canvas briefcase like a happy grade-schooler handling his lunchbox. He’d maintain this jocular mood while walking up the steps to our second-floor apartment, then his happiness would disperse and he’d adopt his regular sour puss in preparation for what was to come–for very often, there was some situation involving my brother. Adem was caught cutting class again. Adem drank all the beer in the house. Adem punched the bathroom mirror, shattering it and lacerating his hands with the shards. In the ten seconds it took for my father to traverse the hallway between the front door and the door to our apartment, between his guises as Employed Guy and Punitive Father, you could catch a glimpse of the man in his natural state, unencumbered by responsibilities and ethics and harsh realities. And you know, I’m glad he had that much. Because as bad as my brother could be, there are plenty of dads who don’t get even that time to be themselves, to be absolved of their own anger and guilt and whatever other stupid feelings parents have towards their wayward children. For want of a twenty-minute walk home from the subway, other dads have no respite at all.

Take, for instance, Commissioner James Gordon, that well-known fictional character from the Batman universe. Doggedly devoted to his job and a high-minded concept of justice, Gordon is commonly depicted sympathetically by applicable funny book writers, sort of the “good cop” to Batman’s “bad cop.” But he is not without his faults, and along with his awards and trophies and commendations for stellar police work, Gordon is also the owner of one failed marriage, one second wife tragically murdered in the line of duty, a handful of crooked cops making merry on his watch, and other assorted failures and derogatory accusations. These hurdles, they wear on any man, even dads. And Commissioner Gordon is a dad, to his adopted daughter (in the current iteration) Barbara Gordon and his biological son, James Gordon, Jr.

Oh, you don’t know about James Gordon, Jr.? You don’t remember when, as a baby, he was rescued by Bruce Wayne in Batman: Year One? That act of heroism is why then-Captain Gordon started trusting Batman in the first place. See, now you remember, but you didn’t remember before because James, Jr. appears in Batman: Year One and practically nowhere else. He figures prominently in the well-done graphic novel Night Cries by Archie Goodwyn–in which we actually see Gordon’s first wife separate from him and move to Chicago–but otherwise, we don’t learn too much about the lil tyke. We’re so intimate with Barbara Gordon that we can predict her menstrual cycle, but James Gordon, Jr. remains an enigma.

Until the story arc contained in Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder. Perhaps you’ve been avoiding reading recent Batman fare because all of the established constants of the mythological world he inhabits are perpetually shifting as of late. Or maybe you never gave a shit about Batman and are asking yourself why you’ve read this much of my review. For the purposes of The Black Mirror, it’s only important to know that the usual Batman, Bruce Wayne, has taken leave and left his ward, Dick Grayson (aka Nightwing, aka the first Robin) to wear the Batman costume. Get all that? So where the Bruce Wayne Batman is all brooding and large swaths of black ink, the Dick Grayson Batman is more convivial and happy, preferring the high-flying trapeze routines recalled from his youth as a circus performer to wallowing in the filthy streets, violently separating miscreants from their teeth. Got all that? Any questions? Good. You should have questions.

So in The Black Mirror, you’ve got Dick Grayson playing Batman, trying to fill the shoes worn by his adoptive father, Bruce Wayne. You’ve got the bastard daughter of mafia boss Tony Zucco, now a bank manager trying to escape from the shadow of her biological dad’s criminal past. And you’ve got James Gordon, Jr., who approaches his poppa with an apparently sincere desire to reconnect with his family. The rub is that James Junior is a psychopath, he does not feel empathy for his fellow man, and is suspected by his dad of having committed several violent crimes. Intertwining all of these characters, The Black Mirror challenges the idealized nature of father/son relationships, affirming the dichotomy of being any member of a family and its contradictions. Parents are sometimes required to dole tough love, children need to be self-reliant and independent in order to prove that they’ve been raised with due attention. Dealing with members of your immediate family can sometimes be like looking into a mirror, a black mirror at that, a very similar reflection turned unfamiliar by obfuscating the features we expect to see.

And that, my patient readers, is where The Black Mirror fails. For while I was able to create an adequate metaphor for the story based on the title of this trade collection, Todd Snyder goes on for the entire run about how Gotham City is “hungry,” how it feeds on pain or whatever trite bullshit you want to assume about a city that’s positively famished. Sure, Gotham City is hungry, it’s also sleepy and sneezy and Doc if you sit and think about it long enough. You can apply virtually any metaphor on a fictional city, so why Snyder insisted on going to the long way around to describe its hunger is beyond me. It’s called Black Mirror, many parent/child relationships can be construed as each person being a mirror for the other, and sometimes that mirror is blackened in that we see things about ourselves that might not be pleasant. How does a starving city play into this? What does a corrupting, peckish city have to do with fathers and sons? Very little, I think, and Snyder doesn’t seem to care enough to draw even those parallels. It’s more like he wanted a noir concept to run through the series in order to tie the narrative together, but either didn’t see or care to acknowledge the lay-up concept. No matter. It’s disappointing to see an easily-fielded ball dropped, but it doesn’t mar this engaging story terribly. Check it out, Batman fans.

The Dark Knight Rankles

20 Jul

My hordes of faithful readers already know that I’m a pretty big fan of Batman. I know I’m not his only fan, and I don’t think I’m his number one fan, but I think Batman is cool as shit and I’ve followed his comic book exploits religiously since I was about eleven years old. I’ve even gone back to get reprints of older Batman comics so I could get the full scoop on this enigmatic multi-billionaire superhero–yes, even many of the incredibly shitty Batman comics from the 1950s where he hangs out with space aliens and crap like that. Turns out that my research was for nothing, since DC has rebooted their overall continuity more times than I care to remember, effectively doing away with Batman’s past right after the point that his parents’ lifeless forms crumpled in Crime Alley, leaving poor Brucie Wayne an orphan.

In 2012, the final movie of Christopher Nolan’s triumphant Batman trilogy comes out, and I am pretty excited about it. “Geeked out” would be a better term, as I’ve been on the internet speculating about this imminent film since before the last movie was even out of theaters. Of particular consideration was which members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery would be facing off with the Dark Knight in the last chapter of Nolan’s saga. Pretty much every name was thrown out, and several were derided and discarded by more vociferous fans as not being in tune with Nolan’s “realistic” portrayal of Batman. Among the villains assumed to be too weird for the movie were Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and Killer Croc.

Which criminal has been confirmed? Bane, that South American in a luchador’s mask whose mass increases by a factor of ten when he shoots himself up with specially-formulated steroids.

When Christopher Nolan said he wouldn’t brook any silliness in his Batman movies, I assumed this was only in contrast to the prior live action series directed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Because, to my mind, if you’re going to make a Batman movie, there’s going to be some silliness in there. Once you assume that one of the world’s wealthiest men would suit up as a bat in order to pummel criminals more efficently, then you can pretty much go wherever you want with the story. In actual reality, a man like that would be locked up and the key hidden in a stack of All-Star Batman and Robin comic books, never to be found again. I mean, the last movie had Two Face in it, for crying out loud, and featured a guy with half of his face burned off and an eye hanging out of its socket hopping out of his hospital bed to gain haphazard revenge on people who, you know, didn’t have half of their faces burned off. That fairly well stretches the limit of credibility, as far as I’m concerned.

Why Bane is a more sensible villain than, say, the Penguin is also beyond my comprehension. In medical terms, Bane’s existence (heh) is a load of grade A horse shit, while the Penguin is just a dumpy little guy named Oswald Cobblepot that has a lot of trick umbrellas. In fact, there’s no real reason a guy like the Penguin couldn’t exist, except maybe that an umbrella-helicopter wouldn’t actually work. Also, he’s alarmingly agile for a man with Danny DeVito’s body type. The more important question here is: why are we trying to make a “realistic” Batman movie? Sometimes realism can show all of your flaws, like in the live action Garfield movies. We knew he was a fucking annoying and lazy cat, but only computer graphics could show us how godawful ugly he is.

The very idea of a serious approach to Batman is patently retarded. “Finally! The truth can be told about the lonely billionaire who swings above city rooftops in his underwear.” It’s this same impetus that makes comics fans and creators alike such sticklers for continuity, as if consistency regarding these decades-old fictional characters means fuck all. What would Batman be like in the real world? Most likely, he’d be dead, tripped up by one of his own Bat-laces or felled by a well-placed bullet from the gun spray of some gangbanger. We love Batman, we don’t want him to die. So let him fight Poison Ivy and leave the realistic, serious criminals to that Jason Bourne guy.

Make Mine Brand Echh

13 May

At one time, my father worked for DC Comics. He isn’t anyone famous, he wasn’t a high-profile employee, but one of the “perks” of this job was that he’d bring home each comic from both Marvel and DC every month, a gigantic pile of comics which soon littered my bedroom floor and cascaded down the staircase to the living room, an uncontainable flood of pulp paper. This was during the mid 1980s, when direct sales of comics through a burgeoning comic book store network revitalized the flagging industry. As a result, there were lots of experiments in comics at the time, some good like The Dark Knight Returns and Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, while others were sort of retarded, like Amethyst and the Fraggle Rock comic. I mean, here’s a comic about a television show that features puppets. It’s the comic book equivalent of broadcasting a ventriloquist on the radio.

It’s true what they say: too much of a good thing can be not so good. Or something like that. What you need to understand is that every title from both DC and Marvel (and Marvel’s adult [read: boobs with nipples] imprint, Epic) totaled a couple hundred comic books per month. Because it wasn’t just Detective Comics Presents Batman and The Amazing Spider-Man, but Batman & Robin and The Spectacular Spider-Man as well. Every big name hero gets at least four titles, one per week, with many branching off into other titles like The Avengers and World’s Finest where they pal around with other, lesser superheroes. Then there’s the titles for those assholes, and then you’ve got berserk shit like the Heathcliff comic and Ambush Bug specials just to apply more pressure to my old man’s aching back. He’d complain about bringing them home, but bring them home he would, to some degree because, as part of his job, he was expected to read every fucking comic from both comic book publishers in order to maintain overall continuity. So basically, you’re asking a grown man to read Power Pack. I don’t think he read all or even most of them and I don’t blame him a bit.

I, on the other hand, read each and every comic, each and every month. When they cost money, I didn’t give a shit about comic books, but since they were free I was happy to paw through every retarded page in every issue I could lay my hands on, before my brother could hermetically seal them in acid-free comic book bags with coated cardboard backing. I actually read more Marvel comics this way, because the copies from that publisher that my dad brought home had COMPLIMENTARY COPY stamped across the front in purple ink, thereby rendering them valueless. I didn’t care about collecting comics, I just wanted to read them. It was part of my voracious desire to read continuously and about a variety of subjects. Periodically, my mom would come into my room and nearly faint dead away at the sight of the foot-high pile of comics that comprised my bedroom floor. We’d shovel them into big black garbage bags and leave them at the curb for garbage trucks. This was before the planet was dying and people had to recycle.

Despite the fact that I was able to read Marvel comics with greater freedom, I preferred DC’s fare much more. I can’t really explain why. It certainly has nothing to do with loyalty to my dad, who never felt or expressed any loyalty to DC in the first place. Had I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk over Legends of the Dark Knight, I don’t think he would have noticed or cared. But I didn’t, I always thought Hulk’s plots were stupid and drawn out, while Batman comics contained neat story arcs that didn’t require my purchasing every back issue in existence to figure out what the hell was going on. It’s funny to me that Marvel is considered by many to contain the better human stories, because I couldn’t disagree more. I do understand that when Marvel first hit the scene in 1960, their in-depth explorations of many superheroes’ alter egos was revolutionary. However, by the time I was checking comics out, DC had long since caught up and their characters were likewise having crises of conscience on every other page.

It’s probable that the time I got into comics, when DC was first printing “FOR MATURE READERS ONLY” on the covers of some of their more salacious titles, has a lot to do with my preference. The first comic book I remember really enjoying was Swamp Thing, and I began reading it precisely when Alan Moore first started writing the series, beginning with the brilliant story The Anatomy Lesson. Here was a comic book with big words, literary pacing, and a science-fiction twist which turned Swamp Thing from a big strong guy covered in moss to one of the most powerful and ethereal characters in the DC universe. Watchmen by Alan Moore also came out around this time, and I’ve already written about its impact on me. Keith Giffen was writing for The Legion of Super Heroes which made a ridiculous idea of a super-powered, futuristic police force somewhat compelling. And then, of course, there was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is probably the singular cause for my ongoing Batman obsession.

My dad wasn’t thrilled about me reading these “mature” comics, but by the time I was ten I had already read The Catcher in the Rye and Go Ask Alice, so the adult themes presented in these comics books–largely copious amounts of cleavage and light sexual innuendo–seemed pretty tame in comparison. I mean, I saw Revenge of the Nerds in the theater when I was nine, for crying out loud, and that had full frontal nudity. I think that the reason I preferred DC over Marvel is because I am a fan of reading more than I am a fan of looking at pictures, and while the drawing for many Marvel comics was far superior to DC’s at the time (no dis to George PĂ©rez), I found the stories inane and stupid. A good comparison would be between Marvel’s Secret Wars and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Both are company-wide crossover events involving every character in their respective continuities, but Secret Wars was a kind of gimmick that had few repercussions on the Marvel universe after it was done. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a complete revision of DC’s continuity, killing off many characters and rebooting the origins of others. It’s like the former took an easy way out while the latter really worked to make a cohesive plot. Which is not to say that Crisis on Infinite Earths was perfect, by any means. I could deride that particularly overburdened Dear John letter to Julie Schwartz all day.

Pop eventually quit working at DC, and the deluge of comic books ceased instantly. I got over it. Comics were a nice diversion, but nothing I really wanted to spend money on. Except for Batman, which I followed in various forms throughout my twenties, I pretty much abandoned comics until I got nostalgic for my wasted youth and started buying up trade collections of titles I remembered, and reading ones lent to me by friends. And you know what? I still prefer DC by far. I’ve amassed a good collection of Superman and Justice League books, a lot of titles under their Vertigo imprint, a bunch of Green Lantern paperbacks, and the bulk of collections that survived the nearly thirty years since my dad worked at DC are from that publisher. In fact, I don’t have any more comics with the purple COMPLIMENTARY COPY stamp on the front at all. I wish I had held on to the complete run of Atari Force that my brother bagged, though.

Babs, They Did You Dirty

12 Apr

Batman is often projected as an inconsolable loner, someone so emotionally distant and single-minded in his crusade that no one can ever get close to him. Funny thing, really, since Batman works with a gang of no fewer than half a dozen superheroes at any given time. Suffice to say, if you slip on a pair of tights and a domino mask in Batman’s town, you’ll be working for him soon enough whether you like it or not. It’s a wonder that criminals even attempt to cause mischief in Gotham, it being the best-patrolled city in the fictional DC Universe.

Batman’s cadre of muscular weirdos are organized via a high-tech Bluetooth (or maybe Bat-tooth) system of intelligence gathering and dissemination. This system is controlled by the enigmatic Oracle, who we, the readers, know is Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner James Gordon and one-time Batgirl. Barbara “Babs” Gordon was the first Batgirl, she whose fiery tresses streamed from beneath her cowl and whose reversible skirt could turn into a cape. All that changed with the publication of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, a Batman story where the Joker shoots Babs in the spine and photographs her naked in an attempt to drive her father insane. That doesn’t work: Commissioner Gordon is seemingly none the worse for the wear after enduring a surrealistic ordeal at the hands of the Joker, Batman captures the Clown Prince of Crime who presumably gets carted off to Arkham Asylum. Everything is as it was before, ready for the next installment of Batman where he’ll probably slap Killer Croc around while Robin hops about making whimsical puns.

Except for Barbara Gordon. She wound up crippled for life.

I have to thank the brilliant and wonderfully talented Sarah Velez for opening my eyes to this inconsistency. Because, for people whose lives are too full of joy to scrutinize such things, characters become critically damaged and bounce back to a full recovery on a regular basis in comic books. In fact, superheroes routinely die and come back to life. There are very few permanent changes to the status quo in comics: whatever given facts you know about a character are almost always immutable in the long run. To make this point even more cruelly, within the Batman universe alone there have been so many miraculous recoveries and lives after death that Barbara Gordon sticks out like a sore, wheelchair-bound thumb. Batman, himself, had his back broken and still resturned to full power to kick the crap out of a pretender to his throne. Yet Babs sits behind an array of computer screens, sending intel to any garish acrobat that skirts the rooftops of Gotham with an earpiece in.

I didn’t notice this inconsistency at first because, well, by and large I never gave a shit about Batgirl. Similarly, I never cared about Ace the Bat-Hound or Bat Mite or any of the other ancillary characters that padded out Batman Family. It just seems uncreative, really, to hit paydirt with Batman and then saddle anything that has a pulse with a pointy-eared cowl and a bat silhouette across its chest. It’s ironic, because if Batman was real–which is to say if dogs wore bedroom slippers and people walked on their hands–there certainly would be scores of Bat-wannabes. But as long as I am believing that there is a reality where citizens condone a maniac shooting zip lines along the roofs of Gotham City, I prefer to believe that he’s the only one doing it.

I would be remiss to sell Batgirl short, however. Batgirl is one of the most recognized characters in Batman’s many media incarnations. And unlike quickie characters like Bat Woman (the original one, not the post-Crisis lady), Barbara Gordon has a rich back story and a tight DNA connection to one of the main people in Batman: Commissioner James Gordon. So while I was never a huge Batgirl fan, I never mocked her stories like I did, say, Alfred Pennyworth’s. I took it for granted that she hung around, and suffered the occasional romantic tension between she and Robin whenever that cropped up.

But the bigger reason I didn’t notice how fucked up it is that Barbara Gordon has been left in a wheelchair is because her newer incarnation as Oracle is so awesome. Using her as a conduit for information has made Batman almost totally unstoppable: through Oracle, he has access to city plans, blueprints, surveillance camera feeds, and just about anything else that can be divined via computer. I think Batman is the first hero to make such use of the information superhighway, and it would be difficult now to imagine him doing his work otherwise. Oracle is so awesome, she’s even spawned her own successful and long-running comic book series, Birds of Prey where she’s the point person for a team of lady heroes. The comic birthed an awful television series that died after thirteen episodes, but I don’t blame Oracle for that.

Oracle has become something of a handi-capable idol to comic book fans everywhere, making her miraculous recovery an even more remote possibility. That, claims DC, is reason enough not to return Babs to her walking state, particularly since a few other waifs have adopted the Batgirl name (if not the precise mantle) with reasonably good effect. And for handicapped fans, I’m glad for them. But it’s still fucked up. There’s no reason an entirely new character couldn’t have been introduced, or even dredged up from days of forgotten comics lore, who could have become Oracle. Alan Moore himself was shocked that DC decided to keep Barbara in a wheelchair: he never intended The Killing Joke to be canonical, and even if it did become part of Batman’s continuity, he assumed she would be repaired and walking around right as rain like every other fucking hero in comics. But that didn’t happen. The Flash died and came back to life twenty years later, but Barbara Gordon still rolls around on dubs.

I think it all boils down to misogyny, personally. While there have been plenty of female heroes who have been battered and broken only to make a full recovery, it’s safe to say that they’d never leave Green Arrow in a wheelchair. Hell, they’d never leave Jimmy Olsen in a wheelchair, and he’s not even a superhero (well, most of the time he isn’t). But Batgirl, being a kind of second-string female in a very macho comic where a grown man horses around with a teenage boy, she’s okay to make an example of. It’s fucked up, and despite that I think Oracle is a great and integral character to the Batman universe, I can’t read the comic anymore without thinking about the disservice that’s been done to this fictional person.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t click hotlinks, then please visit Sarah Velez’s website at http://sarahhorrocks.wordpress.com/. She’s really talented.

Yeah I’m Pretty Into Gotham Central

31 Mar

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode of a police show other than Police Story starring Leslie Nielsen. I’m just not interested, really, in the interpersonal relationships of overworked police officers and their frightening, dangerous lives. I like some forensic detective shows and I’ve read plenty of true crime pulp paperbacks, but it’s the cop drama shit that leaves me cold. I love the theme song to Hill Street Blues yet never sat through an episode.

However, due to my uncontrollable man-lust for Batman stories, I was very interested to read Gotham Central, described as “NYPD Blue meets Batman” by DC’s own publicity copy. The series ran some years ago, I just never got around to reading it. I finally read the series in its collected hardback editions, and it’s pretty righteous.

I think that a series like this could only work for Batman (at least in the DC Universe) because Gotham is the only city where the police have the luxury of resenting its protective superhero. In Metropolis you’ve got Superman clobbering mountain-sized aliens and swatting away nuclear missiles while people are milling about on their lunch breaks. Even though he causes incredible amounts of property damage, what are you going to tell Superman? Knock it off? Besides leaving yourself open to innumerable monster attacks, Superman is someone you want to keep on your good side. Batman is just a man in a funny costume who beats the snot out of a lot of other human beings in funny costumes, which is what the cops are supposed to do. I think that this same series set in Metropolis would be an insider’s look into a Superman Fan Club. Gotham Central, not so much.

The story centers around the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham Central Police Department, which is notorious for its corruption and inefficiency. The M.C.U., mostly hand-picked by Commissioner Gordon, are the only stalwart defenders of justice on the whole force, unwilling to take bribes or legal shortcuts to get their perps. They resent the Batman for, well, making them look silly essentially, and the rest of the GCPD resents the M.C.U. because they can’t be bought.

The first problem with this series is that Commissioner Gordon isn’t in it. Faithful followers of Batman will know why, but any casual fan who decides to pick up the series will want to see Jim Gordon. Harvey Bullock, the slovenly one-time foil for Batman also isn’t on the force, though he does figure prominently in one story arc. Again, there is a perfectly cogent reason why Bullock isn’t a cop, but if you don’t follow the overall Batman continuity religiously, then you might miss him. It could definitely be argued that Gotham Central is not a series for the occasional Batman reader, being that it’s a sort of meta story within the overall Batman series. But that’s lazy, I think. Any comic book should be able to stand on its own merits and appeal to new readers consistently, rather than manifest as some overworked, entrenched plot line only obsessive compulsive types can enjoy. Save the headier stuff for graphic novels.

A more interesting character omission is Batman, who makes a few cameo appearances but is otherwise barely seen at all. This is clearly by design, since Batman is considered to be a myth by most citizens of Gotham City and many of its rank-and-file police officers. The only ones who know for sure about Batman are the detectives in the M.C.U., being that they have control of the famous bat spotlight on top of the police station (though a citizen, an intern of the M.C.U., must turn it on and off since the GCPD publicly disavows any knowledge of the hero). Of course, Batman still figures prominently into every storyline, being that the detectives are either chasing down one of the members of his rogues’ gallery, or they are actually chasing him.

Gotham Central is a look behind the scenes of the Batman universe: what happens when supervillain evidence gets misplaced, how much emotional damage is caused by the haphazard actions of goofy-looking psychopaths, how police officers feel about being relegated to being Batman’s backup squad. Notably, Gotham Central ran during Batman’s War Games story arc, when the Caped Crusader commandeers the GCPD to combat a citywide gang war, resulting in some casualties and a lot of police resentment. The M.C.U. dismantles the spotlight on the station roof and emotions boil over as we see police officers’ helplessness against this high-flying vigilante. It was some compelling drama for a comic book.

And that it was a comic book is really my one gripe: Gotham Central did not need to be a comic book. It could have been served just as well–perhaps better–as a series of novels that delve into the inner minds of these characters. It might have also made a good cop show (and could have, if Warner Bros. hadn’t put a moratorium on Batman TV shows at the time). But for a comic book, there isn’t a whole lot of action and a there is quite a bit of people standing around saying “$@#!” to each other. However, as my girlfriend pointed out to me, would people have bothered to read it if it wasn’t a comic book? And the answer is that I would have, but I would be the exception. Batman is a comic book superhero, no matter how much I wish he was my pal.

As a fan of Batman, I really enjoyed Gotham Central. The writing was tight and well-paced, the art served the story well, and I pretty much devoured the whole series in two evenings. The series ends on a sad note as the DC universe started to reorder itself through the incomprehensible events of Final Crisis, which ironically put Jim Gordon back as Commissioner of the police department and reinstated Harvey Bullock’s badge. So it’s like Gotham Central was all a dream, a nuanced, gritty dream where everyone speaks in symbols and punctuation.

Whoa! Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is Pretty Ill!

12 Feb

Buying individual comic books is out for me. I’m a shut-in comics nerd in his mid-thirties, the last thing I need is another periodical or six to clutter up my cramped apartment. So like many of my peers, I wait for trade collections of comic books, usually (and very gratifyingly) grouped by story arc and available within a few months of the last comic in the storyline’s publication. Such is the case with Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, collecting the six-issue mini-series of the same name that came out last year.

I’ve been following Grant Morrison’s work on Batman as well as Final Crisis through their trade editions, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve liked Grant Morrison ever since Batman: Gothic, which is where I first heard of him. I feel Morrison is a great talent, and should certainly be mentioned among other great comic book authors, particularly those who can weave epic, complex stories over many issues (and sometimes, through many titles) like Neil Gaiman. However, there’s always something a little off in his stories.

I noticed it in Batman: Gothic as well. That story, which is a trade collection from the Legends of the Dark Knight series that ran after the success of Batman: Year One, is about a four-hundred year old Satantic sorcerer who sold his soul in order to survive the Black Death, and now intends to release the plague on Gotham City and barter the city’s souls against his own. We learn that, while waiting around four centuries for this prime opportunity, the Satanist has been a total prick, killing children at his whim and generally being a lecherous creep. Turns out he actually had a stint as headmaster at Bruce Wayne’s boarding school, and it was an argument with this weirdo that caused Thomas Wayne to pull his son from the school and bring him home to Wayne Manor, an event celebrated with a night out to the movies… [SPOILER ALERT: THAT’S WHEN BRUCE’S PARENTS GET KILLED IN FRONT OF HIM, INSPIRING HIM TO BECOME BATMAN.]

Which is a swell story by itself, doesn’t need a lot more to color it in. But there’s this extension of the plot where it shows that the long-lived villain was once a devout monk living in a monastery in Austria. He was corrupted, convinced his brothers that Satan was cool, then they raped a nun…then I think the monastery was drowned…something about Batman had to bring back the Satantic monk’s heart? It was just a bit overboard, like a lovely cake that was ruined when it was served with lug nuts as a topping. The result is one of mild confusion, yet it did not keep me from enjoying the story as a whole.

I fear that Grant Morrison’s gone over the deep end now, folks. I saw it in New X-Men, we all saw it in Final Crisis, a story so dense it needs several publications and websites to annotate, deconstruct, and effectively understand it. And it’s happened here in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, though it has done nothing to dampen the Batman geek in me–in fact the story, by and large, has tickled me to the core of my Batman geek penis.

So the setting of this story is that Batman was shot by this evil god Darkseid’s laser gun, which everyone thought killed him but it actually sent him back in time. This six-issue series deals with Bruce Wayne finding his way back to present-day Gotham City (turns out every solar eclipse makes him jump forward in time), each issue concentrating on a different time period. My inner Batman fanboy salivated and clapped with glee over this nod to the 1950s era Batman, a campy, tamed version who was at times a chivalrous knight, a cowboy, or a viking. Morrison has skillfully resuscitated this much-maligned period of Batman over the course of his writing, lending gravity to once silly notions like Batmen of All Nations and the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

However it’s not as simple as Bruce Wayne merely fast-forwarding a few times, no there’s chicanery afoot. Darkseid, in his infinite wisdom, counted on Wayne having the tenacity to, you know, travel through time, so he somehow made it so that Bruce would gather Omega Energy each time he zapped forward, until he had enough to destroy the present day. It’s unclear what Omega Energy is, but suffice to say it is bad and you should not let it build up too much. To hasten Wayne’s advance through time, Darkseid also tossed out this killing, time-traveling monster to chase him through the fourth dimension. Oh, and also Superman and a few pals are cruising through time, trying to catch up to Batman before he kablooeys the present day. Who isn’t traveling through time in this fucking comic? It seems like the time stream is getting more traffic than the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

In the sixth issue, the story runs off the rails a little with that overblown redundancy I was talking about earlier. Yes, it does add information and color to the story somewhat, but I found it confusing and a little disappointing as a conclusion. I’m not going to spoil the whole ending, but the main part I will spoil: turns out Batman was instrumental in his own creation. The particulars of this and the way the story is told, however, are crucial and worth your scrutiny. It’s just this whole scene at the end, there are these weird robots cataloging time…I’d worry that I was giving important plot points away if I fully understood what was happening. Much of the sixth issue of this series is Batman talking to robots, a real decline in what had been an action-packed and compelling comic book.

Still, even with that extra stuff, the general story is great and satisfying on many levels to the avid Batman fan. If you’re a fan, you’ve already been reading the shit and you’re just reading this to see if my opinion aligns with yours. If you’re not a Batman fan, I can’t say this is a good place to get into Batman, but then if you’ve gone this far along not reading Batman then you can probably just keep on rolling and skip it. Me, I love the shit, Grant Morrison rules. Even if I might not be smart enough to understand what the hell he’s writing about.

Batman is Motherfucking Awesome

29 Jan

It’s not exactly unpopular to state that Batman is motherfucking awesome in 2011, yet it can never be overstated: Batman is motherfucking awesome. To embrace Batman is to embrace a part of the American experience, in ways more complete and truthful than offered by the jingoistic do-gooder Superman or that ball-buster with the high gloss lips, Wonder Woman. For one thing, Batman is a man, an orphaned billionaire known as Bruce Wayne, who witnessed his parents’ murder during a botched robbery and then dedicated his life and vast fortune to vanquishing all violent crime. On this point many nerds are clear: we like Batman more because he’s simply a really smart, regular dude. No different than us, essentially, except he is tremendously athletic and we need to grease our thighs to extract ourselves from high-armed office chairs for an hourly bladder relief and beverage refill. That Batman is an actual human being with no super powers certainly helps the reader to identify with his exploits, though it is safe to say that few, if any, regular readers of Batman comics are orphaned billionaires. Here is where the disconnect begins.

I think it safe to assume that, there being relatively few billionaire orphans on our earth, virtually none of the people reading this essay are orphaned billionaires nor do any of you know any orphaned billionaires intimately. If I am wrong, please feel free to contact me directly. Regardless, any assumed behavior by an orphaned billionaire would be a complete presumption on our part; I can’t even think of any historical figures who were orphaned billionaires upon which to base a personality profile. I can try to imagine what I might do as an orphaned billionaire, and after purchasing the New York Mets, a fleet of completely restored 1978 El Camino cars, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with hollow plastic balls, I don’t think I would dress up as a bat and kick the snot out of criminals. Frankly, I don’t think I would dedicate very much of my vast fortune to the task. Maybe a substantial contribution to the Police Athletic League every year and a Christmas party for my security staff. Not the cleaning staff, though. Those scurrilous thieves are always pilfering copier paper.

My point is that dressing up like a bat in order to snuff stick-up artists and rapists is a long shot for anyone, billionaire orphan or otherwise, so whoever decides to do such a thing must be a little touched in the head. And here’s where I think our real connection is with Batman: we believe Batman is awesome not for who he is, but because he fulfills our most bizarre and convoluted revenge fantasies. Batman’s story is not one of redemption, or of justice, but of eternally unsatisfied and twisted vengeance, not just on the person who killed his parents but on all people who remotely remind Batman of the offending murderer. This kind of resolute, insane passion is something we’ve all wished to enact at one time or another, against a cruel boss, or a spurious lover, or even an annoying person on line at the supermarket. We don’t normally act on these fantasies because we’re part of polite society, and because we can get over brief inconveniences and hurt feelings since we know that around the corner we’ll have our personal time in which to read Batman comics and zone out to sitcom reruns. We don’t want to jeopardize that. Still, part of us envies the mass murderer, the spiteful bureaucrat, the crazy guy in tights because they go where we won’t. They assume positions of power and use them to inflict suffering on people they don’t like. That, my dear readers, is the American Dream.

Anyway, I’m really into Batman and I’ll probably write a lot about the subject. So if you don’t like Batman for some reason, get fucked.

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