The Holidays are Upon Us!

Which means new reads! And new games!

Honestly, part of the reason why I’ve been hard pressed for blogable content has been that I’ve spent the last couple months reading the 156 stories we received in submissions.

The other part has been that most of my reading that hasn’t been for Castalia House has been in the form of Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People. Which has been absolutely fantastic, but just hasn’t been great for blog-fodder, at least insomuch as I can’t easily relate it to D&D or the Pulps. Not that Churchill’s hot takes haven’t gotten me in a bit of trouble. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m hoping that by the new year I’ll be finished with it and be able to plunge headlong into some Jack Vance. PC Bushi has been kicking my ass in the Vance area and by now has probably read more than me! I’ll need to catch up.

I’ve also been steeped in Battle for Wesnoth, which DolusMiles recommended to me, and OMG, this is up my alley. I’ve been working my way through the core campaigns, but I may have stalled out late-game in the first really big elf campaign.

Asshole elf-brother: Now that we’ve exhausted our forces fighting orcs, it’s time to exact additional retribution on the lizardmen that we fought once. By the way, I am totally not turning evil from that philtre of invisibility extracted from the blood of lich that we used to assassinate the Orc Warchief.

Healer: This is messed up, dude. I’m going home and taking all of the fairies, sorceresses, and ents with me.

Lizardmen: Please don’t murder us! ::sends a bunch of max level sorcerers and spearmen to slaughter my meager forces::

I don’t think I did well enough in the previous mission, because I’m starting with too little gold to recruit enough troops to hold off lizardmen in a mission with a)no healers and b)no friendly villages to recover health at. Of course, it’s a cascading issue.

The Human Alliance mission has infinite Trolls, and a little over half-way through, I did what I could to fall back but I lost a few really good units. The next mission in the ice fields, I won, but I had too little gold and too few troops to get a lot of bonus gold by finishing early. So, I’d need to go back two or more battles to substantially improve my situation. Oh, well…

I’ve been savoring Outsiders Vol 2, and I think I’m putting off finishing it because it’s been one of the best Outsiders titles I’ve read so far. I may do a cap on it here once I’m done.

Batman & the Outsiders Vol 3 has been postponed until at least March, which had me hopping mad when I first heard about it, but honestly, since issue 5, Terrifics has been giving me just about everything I could want from an Outsiders title except for having more than one actual Outsider in it.

Amusingly, I’m back in a spot where I’m hardly buying any new comics except for the Wal-Mart giants; quite the shift from about this time a year ago, when I’d been following Metal, Batman and followed Snyder’s story into the Justice League. I may post a full on breakdown of my comic reading at some point, but I went from all-in on Tom King’s Batman to done with both him and Snyder’s arc, which lost momentum hard after No Justice.

The best contemporary comic books I’ve read this year have been Valiant’s Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome and DC’s Brave and the Bold and Batman: Kings of Fear mini-series.

Anywho…

The lineup for Cirsova 2019 is almost finalized. We have one outstanding offer that needs to be resolved, and I need to see that people who asked for checks received them, but we should be able to make our official announcement pretty soon.

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Outsiders Are Making a Comeback

Over the weekend, I managed to link up a pretty good run of Outsiders that I hadn’t yet started on. Outsiders Vol2. #3 has been out of stock from most places where I could have bought it at a reasonable price, and I’ve been reticent to pay ebay prices (especially S&H) for a single issue, when I knew that if Midtown had it in stock, it would’ve only cost maybe a dollar [and I’d just fill in some other gaps to make the S&H worth it]. But, the guy at one of the local flea markets finally got his booth organized [and kind of sorted!—almost unheard of for flea market comic booths], and while ain’t nobody is paying his prices for some random-ass Rai & the Future Force issues, I was ready to pay $3.25 for the issue of Outsiders I’d been looking for since this spring.

But this is a post about Bryan Edward Hill’s upcoming Batman & the Outsiders Volume 3.

Back in the summer of last year, Scott Snyder teased a return of the original Outsiders lineup in The Forge [the prelude to the Metal event]. It was just a tease—a holo-dossier image of the team with the quip “Batman has a black ops team?” And then we got nothing, until the No Justice epilogue of Metal when Batman tells Black Lightning he could use someone working from the Outside.

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It’s pretty clear that whatever’s going to happen with the team, it’s not going to jibe with how the team was originally teased [all 5 original members, a team that had been together for some time in the background, just without their exploits featured in any current Rebirth titles or the Geoff Johns version that is appearing in Doomsday Clock], but right now, I’m okay with that.

Bryan Edward Hill was given the reins of Detective Comics for an unfortunately brief 5-issue run which will lead into his book: Batman & The Outsiders Vol. 3. All of my fears and trepidation about the quality of an upcoming Outsiders book have melted away in the wake of this series.

One of the complaints I’ve seen about recent Detective is not just that it’s a Bat Family book, but that the Bat Family has gotten rather crowded. It’s strange that the lone-wolf Dark Knight seems up to his elbows in teenagers who “dilute” the Batman brand. At least in the Detective books, Wayne Manor is overrun by unruly teenagers. Hill runs with this idea, with a villain intent on targeting Batman’s weakness: the young Bat Family members who he’s relied on.

Batman realizes that the kids need to be reined in. To this end, Bats brings in Jefferson Pierce, Black Lightning. Why? Because Pierce was a high school teacher [now principal, IIR] with years of experience working with troubled teens who have issues with authority. Oh, and Katana’s back!

So what have we got here?

-A new Batman & the Outsiders team with fan-favorites Black Lightning and Katana at the core with some of the new Bat Family kids having a chance to shine without it having to be in Bat’s books.

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-New Bat-villains with ties to Markovia; Karma, the main villain of this 5 issue arc was a terrorist that Batman severely injured in Markovia—which definitely feels like a callback to 80s Mike Barr callous asshole Batman—who would be worthy of recurring in other Bat stories, if writers could figure out how to make him more than a one trick pony. Other new main villain will be explored more in the opening story of the new BatO, which will likely see the team back in Markovia to investigate.

-80s fans who were constantly writing in saying that Black Lighting or Katana should be leading the team are finally getting their wish. Geoforce was a good dude but a poor team leader. It always made sense that Katana, who was already “mom” for the team or Black Lightning, who had both practical street smarts and leadership experience as a teacher, should be leading the team. When Batman was around, cases could be made that either of them were his “second”. But with Batman gone and only Markovian financial backing to keep the team going, the job fell to Brion Markov—and it went about as well as you’d expect: the team went from one screw-up to the next until Batman showed up and took over again.

-No Looker. I am more than okay with this.

What we’re probably not getting:

-We’re in the Rebirth continuity and Dr. Jace was never reintroduced Post-Crisis. There has never been a Dr. Jace in the current continuity. This is a good thing for Dr. Jace fans. I thought she was a cool character, and I hate that she got thrown under the bus for the Millennium event [all DC writers were instructed that they had to throw one character from their book under the bus to be a Manhunter sleeper agent; in the case of the Outsiders, it was decided that the woman who had given the team leader his powers and acted as the chief science advisor and almost defacto leader would suddenly betray the Outsiders for no reason, get Metamorpho killed, and be buried without honors as a traitor. It was terrible]. There is a chance we could have Dr. Jace back and all of that “she was a Manhunter sleeper all along” could be wiped out. I don’t think this is a real possibility, but I can cross my fingers.

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-I’ve never liked the modern look for Katana. It’s ugly and dumb, and the association of the Rising Sun iconography with her because of her ethnicity is double so with a character whose ethnicity was not her defining characteristic. Sure, the orange and gold costume was garish [though I prefer it to even the crimson/maroon and gold she had in later stories], but it had a charm that’s thoroughly lacking in her black & white get-up she’s had for the last several years. IIRC, one of the rules of Suicide Squad was “no costumes”, so maybe that’s part of the justification for the look, but I’ve always though it was drab and made worse by the one spot of color being that lampshade hung on her race. The new look is a more streamlined, though slightly more colorful version of her look from New 52. She’s drawn “sexy”, which, while not a problem in and of itself, feels out of place for Katana, as she was an inversion of the “dragon lady” trope. The unflattering nature of the original costume vs. what was typical of female comic characters underscored this.

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Anyway…

Hill can tell an exciting story and has shown that he can add some reflective depth to the characters; one of the things that always kept me sticking with the Outsiders was the potential that these characters had to show some real depth—we got flashes of it with Barr writing, but I think that under Hill’s writing, we’ll finally see some of them really living up to that potential.

I’m completely stoked for this, and at this point, I don’t care that the origins of the team may contradict how Snyder set them up. The wheels fell off Snyder and at this point, I’m done with him. Hill, on the other hand, I’m open to and see loads of potential, and I am looking forward to his run—I can hardly wait until the new book launches.

Retrospective: Batman and the Outsiders Vol.1 & Outsiders Vol. 1

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while, but I’ve just been so busy that I’m only now getting around to it! A couple weeks back, I finished the original run of Outsiders. That includes Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1, Adventures of the Outsiders (a continuation of BatO vol 1 sans Batman), and Outsiders Vol. 1 (a deluxe format monthly that ran concurrently with the conclusion of BatO post-Crisis, taking place one year after).

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Outsiders was a title with peaks and valleys in its relatively brief run. By the time it was cancelled, it’s hard to not look at it as a mercy killing. I won’t say that Looker’s arrival ruined the Outsiders, but many of its best stories predate her addition to the team. After Jim Aparo left the original title, Mike Barr’s writing was still on enough to deliver some great stories, but by the time Jim had left the deluxe format title to other artists, like Erik Larsen (who drew Geo-Force’s chin longer than the rest of his head from the lip up), Mike had started writing for a main-line Batbook and was phoning it in a bit.

The Outsiders were never a great superhero team, and a lot of their team fights were run-of-the-mill Silver Age schlock (to which it was sort of an homage, if not the last gasp). The real charm of the Outsiders was in the deeply personal moments that these characters would sometimes share with each other and the reader.

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Halo didn’t exactly have it easy, either, but she’s pretty chipper about it.

 

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For instance, Katana begins as a very complex character; she’s lost her husband and her child and sworn bloody vengeance. Batman helps temper some of that vengeance, and taking care of Halo stirs her maternal instincts, though there’s the tension of being an adoptive mother of a teenage daughter that she has to work through. One of the great touches that I wish more had been done with was Bruce setting Tatsu up with her own oriental bookstore in Gotham as a front; she gets the ball rolling to open a store of her own on the West Coast in the deluxe series, but nothing ever comes of it. You can’t imagine how much I would love a series of Katana solving cozy oriental occult mysteries out of her bookstore. Unfortunately, Katana spends much of Outsiders Vol 1 just being the close-combat character with no powers who speaks in stilted English. While much of Katana’s personal drama actually does get resolved to satisfactory degrees (something I gather that gets rolled back in later books), the series misses out on opportunities to develop her further.

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Halo goes through a pretty powerful arc, and has a rough ride, learning she was never human to begin with, finding her human host body was a terrible person, and nearly being absconded with by Kobra cultists while trying to find herself. She unfortunately spends much of Outsiders Vol 1 filling in the twee teenager role, but without near as many of the touching moments, such as when she and Brion were teased at as a couple but mutually backed away—the great “you’re like a sister/I’ve never had a brother before” moment was powerful, especially given Terra’s death over in Titans, but it was a bond that never really developed deeply.

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Fans were often split as to whether Katana or Black Lightning were Batman’s #2 on the team while he was leading it. Many folks in the letters especially wished to see Black Lightning step up into the leadership role. And I’ll give Outsiders Vol 1 this: the arc where BL is wanting to try to get back on better terms with his ex-wife, but the African politician behind the food aid charity she’s working with turns out to be an evil dictator who’s stealing the money and turning his country into a Soviet satellite really was the best the deluxe run had to offer. And it was good. But Geo-Force was, for story reasons, the nominal team lead.

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Except once Batman left, Brion kinda lost his chill, and Looker showing up to cheat on her husband (and lead Brion to cheat with Denise) didn’t help things. Looker, who was something of a knock-off of Dazzler, is portrayed as a chronic narcissist, is drawn like a drag queen, and never gets any character development beyond “Thot who cheats on her husband who misses her deeply”. Which is a real shame, because her origin arc in the final issues of BatO was really good and set her up to be a potentially better character than she ultimately ended up being.

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Emily Briggs ultimately cheats on her husband because he loved her for who she was; she wanted him to be attracted to the attention seeking fame-whore persona she adopted when her physique changed. It’s pretty tragic.

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Metamorpho was pretty great throughout. I really have no complaints where Rex was concerned other than the fact that he gets killed off for the garbage Millennium Crossover. He doesn’t get Ben Grimmed too hard, but his condition does give him some motivation. Stuff with he and Sapphire Stagg was solid, and just before he’s killed off, the two of them adopt a child together.

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I get that it was a way they could end the comic and it had to tie into Millennium somehow, but making Dr. Jace a Manhunter sleeper agent was a terrible choice. After Batman left, she became the de facto team coordinator (if not leader), since Brion was usually having mantrums. She helped keep the team together, and really even played a role in starting it, since it was she who gave Brion his powers. Making Looker, who had sewn discord among them members of the team pretty much from the moment she showed up to the last battle with the Manhunters, the mole would’ve been a much better twist than making Dr. Jace suddenly evil for no reason.

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Barr wrote a brutal, violent, and often petulant Batman, yet somehow his other characters from Outsiders tended to shine the brightest when he was around. His return at the end of Outsiders Vol 1. and the appearance in the Annual (a story that made me reconsider whether Kobra was trash-tier) were bright spots not for him, but for the other team members, but it wasn’t quite enough. Halo’s haircut, Looker being foisted front-and-center on so many occasions, and the character development that made first run what it was getting kind of tossed in some cases, flatlined in others, left an ensemble title with the ensemble spread thin even when the stories themselves were solid.

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I need a better camera. I did a grid transfer enlargement of a panel of Geo-Force fighting Superman from BatO 19, one of the best issues. 

It sounds like I’m dumping really hard on a series that I do love, but I guess I kind of am. I’ll admit that a lot of the love I have for the Outsiders is for the potential that the characters and the title had that ultimately go unrealized. But I don’t want anyone to think that there weren’t high points. There were. Lots of them. And that’s why it was hard to watch a title that had so many great moments and great character development begin to grow stale and flanderize some of its best characters.

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Oh, yeah, and Atomic Knight is an Outsider for like 3 or 4 issues.

Resurrecting Hitler: Generally the Worst Idea

The first big Outsiders arc after Looker’s origin is a second invasion of Markovia. Baron Bedlam’s back with a cadre of Soviet soldiers, he’s kidnapped the royal family and the kingdom is on the verge of falling before the Red Army and the Master of Disaster. Also, he has a harebrained scheme to resurrect Hitler. Bedlam died after the first war in Markovia, but a chubby German mad scientist lady was able to bring him back to life via cloning, memories intact. Bedlam’s great idea was to get her to do the same for Hitler. It worked out as poorly as you’d expect from this kind of thing, only with the twist that, given a Jewish maid-servant who was supposed trigger cloned-Hitler’s Jew-hate, clone-Hitler is driven mad by his memories when they start to return and he kills himself again.

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It got me thinking, though, about the cloning/resurrecting Hitler trope that comes up so often in comics. Of all the Nazis to resurrect, unless you were a Hitler-cultist (which admittedly some neo-Nazis are), Hitler seems like probably the least beneficial one to whatever evil super villain cause you might have. Unless your plan relied entirely on the charisma and oratorical skills of a man that three generations around the world have been taught to hate like the devil himself, with Hitler, you’re really getting all of the worst elements of the Reich with none of the benefits.

Best case scenario (aside from the clone killing itself), Hitler is going to unseat you from your evil plans Serpentor-style and proceed to undermine any strategic and/or tactical advantages you might have (cuz that’s what he does).

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You thought you were in charge here?

“Let’s not listen to the generals regarding realistic strategic operational objectives,” “Give the Paratroopers trucks, use them as regular infantry,” “Let’s attack Russia.” You’d really get more bang for your villain buck resurrecting/cloning Rommel, Guderian, Student, or (if you were really evil and needed a super evil underling) Peiper. There’s actually a lot of really good, nuanced comic fodder for any of those beyond what we normally see from Hitler clone stories.

Anyway, I mentioned that I thought Looker’s origin story was probably one of the best mini-arcs from Batman and the Outsiders; in the letters column, Mike Barr confirmed that it was inspired largely by Lester Dent and playing with the notion of Batman as Doc Savage and the Outsiders as his Fab Five.

Later this week, I may tease out my (admittedly ham-fisted) idea for a Force of July one-off. It will be tacky and jingoistic as suits them.

A Throw-Away Post About Comics and Mary Lou Retton

Paperwork Ninja noticed that Sparkler (despite being a Hispanic dude) looks like he may have been modeled after Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton.

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Given that the Force of July a) debuted around the same time that MLR was at her Olympic peak and b) was created as a strawman to beat up on Reagan-patriotism, it’s actually plausible!

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Ronald Reagan photographed endorsing Sparkler just following the announcement that he’d be joining the Force of July.

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All members of the Force of July were killed off in the godawful hodgepodge Checkmate/Suicide Squad crossover event, The Janus Directive. Here’s Sparkler getting killed by Dr. Light.

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Mayflower was my favorite member of the Force. Her deal was that she had control over plants and talked with a cheesy Dickensian urchin accent, all “‘ello, guv’nor!” like.

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She got garroted by some shmuck :/Ravan_0009

Now for something to be happy about.

Halo is so chipper that Raven has a hard time being a wet blanket around her.

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This panel is hella ironic, tho, given Halo’s origin story and what a train-wreck Violet Harper was before an alien consciousness inhabited her dead body.

Thoughts on Looker and the End of Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

I’m nearing the end of Batman and the Outsiders, and though overall I’ve loved it, I have enough future issues to be somewhat wary of the direction that it may go in Outsiders Vol.1.*

The tail-end of Batman and the Outsiders introduces the new character, Looker, and several of the Outsiders solo covers on early issues promise some really hammy villains (the Duke of Oil, the Nuclear Family, and the godawful Force of July**).

 

Even though Looker’s 4 issue origin arc was one of the best runs since Katana’s yakuza arc, there are dark clouds appearing on the horizon.

First of all, the redesign of Halo. It first showed up in Outsiders #1 the previous month, but it shows up for the first time in continuity here. Frankly, she looks awful with a pompadour.IMG_5412

Beyond looking awful, this feels somewhat questionable because it’s coinciding with the introduction of Looker. I guess they couldn’t have two pretty women with long hair on the Outsiders, so they gave Halo this awful do to help differentiate between them?

Outsiders31Emily Briggs’ introduction and the foreshadowing of the character hint at her being a much more interesting character than I’m almost certain she’ll end up being. I don’t want to prejudge too much, but it looks like they’re going to play her up as being a sex-pot despite giving her some potential for real nuance. She’s a plain-jane bank-teller who wishes her husband would notice her more, and the comic sets her up for a friendship with Tatsu, but I spoiled it for myself and find out that once she gets her powers and joins the Outsiders, she ends up being something like the “bad-mom” to Katana’s “good-mom” where Halo’s concerned.

And it’s weird that I can tell I’m going to hate this character despite the fact that she had a perfect origin story. Really, it’s because she has such a perfect origin that I feel so certain I’m going to hate her, because I know that she won’t live up to its potential.

So, Looker’s deal is that she’s a descendant of a god-blooded race of kings from the inner earth; the Abyssian royal family had been growing more and more powerful and warlike until one of them decided to throw on the brakes and preach peace–he’s exiled and stewards rule in the family’s place while searching for a descendant to put upon the throne as a puppet. Briggs turns out to be the granddaughter of the exiled king, and the warring brother and sister pretenders are fighting over her. They unlock her god-blood powers (and beauty), and each magically brainwashes her. Before Halley’s comet can destroy the earth (wait, isn’t that the sort of thing Superman is for?), Looker shakes off the conflicting magical controls and ends the bloody civil war once and for all, naming a couple mooks rulers and ushering in an egalitarian society. While Batman’s more cynical as to how Looker overcame the conflicting brainwashing, Tatsu is certain it was Briggs’ love for her husband that broke the spell (she snapped out of it and wrecked the pretender king after he broke her wedding band and demanded she be his queen). Briggs’ husband realizes he’s been taking her for granted and how much he appreciates and loves her–he spent most of the arc devastated and praying that Batman can rescue his wife (and as a mirror to Sapphire Stagg, whom Metamorpho had just married and is in the same straits); at the end of the adventure, Briggs surprises her husband as Looker happy that she can treat her husband as ‘a woman as beautiful as she thinks he deserves’.

Based on how she’s set up, Looker seems like she could go down a number of interesting paths. She could keep up her friendship with Tatsu and help her dealing with her grief over her husband and child. She could play around a lot with the ‘true beauty is on the inside’ trope, with Looker being Briggs’ “inner self brought out”, as just a really good and loving person trying her hardest. Lots of stuff. But no, she ends up being self-centered and narcissistic and even has an affair with Geo-Force (which is really not a direction I like to see him going as the team’s “Righteous Dude”).

Eventually she becomes a vampire thot or something. :/New_52_Looker

Anyway, of the issues I’m missing out B&tO, it would have to be the two immediately preceding the consecutive run of nearly 20 other issues I own, so it may be a minute before I find out just how wrong or how right I turn out to be.

*:The first several issues of Outsiders vol.1 ran concurrently with Batman and the Outsiders and the post-Batman “Adventures of the Outsiders”, the solo series takes place a year after the events of the original and still ongoing (though wrapping up) title. So, yay for confusing continuity.

**:For what it’s worth, I think that in the right hands, Force of July could be a great property. If they were given their own book in which they were presented unironically as good and earnest patriots who loved and fought for America instead of just being used a cheap punching-bag to attack Reagan Republicans, they would have a ton of potential for great stories as a kind of D or C list Justice League. I love their designs, particularly Mayflower’s. 

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The Force of July: A Villain Team, Obviously!

Katana!

This is the McDonald’s DC Girls toy that I finally had to break down and buy from eBay. I repainted her using the color scheme from Katana’s original costume from Batman and the Outsiders.

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A long while back on Free Comic Book Day, I grabbed an issue of a title called DC Girls in hopes that would be something akin to Teen Titans Go. I’d say it was kind of like Monster High, except the one Monster High cartoon I saw was deep as fuck. Really, DC Girls is a way to sell the DC IP to little girls by taking the characters in a very “girlie” direction using old-as-dirt tropes, such as putting them in high school together, talking about feelings and friendship and everyday problems, etc. etc. etc. In doing so, the characters are necessarily distilled to their simplest aspects.

This doesn’t really work for Katana. You could say the same thing about Harley, but at least childhood regression and actually BEING a child go hand in hand enough to make it work. While most popular incarnations of Supergirl and Batgirl are, well, girls, Katana was a woman.

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Katana was either intentionally or unintentionally created as a subversion of the Asian ‘Dragonlady’ trope – the dangerous femme fatale seductress from the Orient. Though she’s certainly deadly with her blade, Tatsu Yamashiro is a widow in mourning. She has lost husband, whom she loved and still loves deeply, and her own children. This loss is a big part of what defines her, so she is certainly not around to be played up as an exotic love interest for anyone, nor does she use ‘feminine wiles’ in her arsenal. She projects her motherly feelings onto Halo, the youngest member of the Outsiders, acting as her surrogate mother and guardian while she is recovering from her amnesia and has nowhere to stay, and Tatsu fights tooth and nail to protect innocent children put in harm’s way by criminals.

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Katana was ‘Team Mom’ and Batman’s trusted second. Her driving motivation to protect and see justice was as a wife and mother. These are core elements of her character that I can’t really see working if you rewrite her as a high school teenager who is the same age as all the other super characters.