Readin’ Some Batman!

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and game-playing with little mind to how I could blog about it.

While it has been liberating, it certainly hasn’t been good for blogging.

I’ve actually taken a bit of a break from old Sci-Fi and even the Pulps (though I’m managing to stay on top of my column for Castalia House) to plow through the massive stacks of Batman I’ve acquired over the last couple of years.

At one point, I found a list that put a ton of the Batman trades in Chronological order (Year One/Post-Crisis Batman) and entered them into my Amazon wishlist.  Because I entered them in order, that meant that a bunch of the latter day Batman books were at the top of the list, so, when people bought stuff off my wishlist, I tended to get those books close to the ‘end’ of pre-Flashpoint universe. Meanwhile, when I buy single issue runs, I go for early Legends of the Dark Knight stuff when I can, and I also bought someone’s graphic novel collection which includes bookends of the Cataclysm/No Man’s Land arc which I’m currently filling out.

So, where I’m at now, I’ve been reading the post-whichever-Crisis Dick Grayson Batman and 90s Batman, and eventually I will end up in a place where they will meet. Someday. There’s still a lot of Batman in between.

90s Chuck Dixon/Alan Grant Batman is some of my favorite, with some really great story-telling and creepy villains. The 90s stuff really strikes that great balance of crime, horror, and superhero stuff that tonally sets Batman apart from rest of the DC world he’s in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruce Wayne as Batman – he is THE Batman, but I also really enjoyed the Prodigal arc epilogue of Knightfall, during which a Grayson/Drake dynamic duo fill in while Batman gets his head right (and returns with 3-foot ears and terrible artwork in time for Troika). It was a different dynamic with different psychological baggage to unpack. I don’t really care one way or the other for Grayson’s Robin, nor have I ever gotten into Nightwing, but I really enjoy seeing Grayson as Batman and his struggles to fill the enormous shoes of his mentor. I liked it in Prodigal, and I still like it in post-Battle for the Cowl Batman arcs I’ve read.

It does seem like Tim Drake gets a bit hung out to dry, though. In a lot of ways, Tim Drake is the definitive Robin of my generation – he was the Robin in the comics, he was the Robin in the last season of BtAS, he was probably Robin in Teen Titans, while Dick was the “old Robin” and those of us who weren’t as up on the comics had no idea who Jason Todd was. While I enjoyed the relationship between Bruce and Damien, a Batman struggling to figure out what to do with an ACTUAL son, I think I preferred the Grayson/Drake pairing to Grayson/Wayne. BUT, I can understand why Tim has to be shuffled out of the mix – by the time the mantle has been passed on, Drake and Grayson are too close to the same age, so it’s a different relationship (Drake doesn’t need the mentoring anymore the way Damien does).

It’s still kind of sad seeing the exchange during the earthquake arc where Bruce tells Tim that hopes that one day he will take up the mantle, knowing that it is not meant to be. Jean Paul Valley was a disaster, and Bruce himself says that Dick Grayson was the wrong person. Bruce may have changed his mind on that during the intervening years, but Dick probably knew Bruce felt that way at least at one point, and has that, along with all of his other doubts, hanging over him.

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.

kr

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.

katana1

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.

The Devil is in the (Errors Within Your) Details, or Mike Barr Didn’t Know How Football Scoring Works

I mentioned the other day how at SpaCon I picked up a run of several issues of Batman and the Outsiders.  Let me start by saying that I love this title, and it has better writing than a lot of the comics I’ve read. Katana is one of my favorite DC characters, so you can imagine how annoying it was to see her solo one-shot ruined by a fundamental lack of understanding regarding how scoring in football works.

The conceit of the Katana solo is that the radio broadcast of a game between Gotham and Metropolis is syncing up with the action as Katana foils the heist of a priceless museum artifact.  Sounds cool, right? It would’ve been, but in the first panel, the announcer tells us that Gotham is down 14-18 with only minutes to go in the fourth and Gotham desperately needs a field goal.  Not even Tony Kornheiser would make this call. When the day is saved by Katana making a Hail Mary pass to the museum curator, Gotham scores a touchdown to win the game 19-18.

So what’s my point in this? If you’re going to try to incorporate elements of a game into your story, be sure you can display at least a basic understanding of the rules, otherwise it will pull the reader/viewer out of the story, and they will only be able to focus on the part you got wrong. Or like how I wince every time I hear the line from Punk Rock Girl, “Someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox. It was California Dreamin.”*

This is something I’ve noticed that happens a lot when some show or movie tries to portray D&D, and it’s the point where shows get tons of praise for being within the ballpark.

I know, I know, this is kind of like the cultural appropriation argument, you’re thinking, but it’s not. I’m all for including stuff in your stories; you just need to make sure you don’t do it in such a way that people are going to think you’re an idiot or a space alien. If you’re going to include some sort of detail, whether it’s gaming or culture, that’s a key point in your story, you need to do the research to get it right for YOUR benefit so that people who might otherwise be drawn to your work for highlighting something relevant to their interest won’t just write you and your story off off for doing it wrong.

*:And it turns out that Beach Boys did do a weird kinda new wavey cover in the 80s; see? I didn’t do the research!

 

Does This Mean We Can Have a Batman and the Outsiders Now?

With the success of Suicide Squad and a DC Cinematic Universe debut for Katana, here is my pitch for a Batman and the Outsiders Movies to follow the new Justice League movie that can make Mike Barr’s asinine origin story for the team actually work and be relevant:

After whatever strains between heroes the Justice League incidents create, tensions remain high between DC heroes.  Batman wants the Justice League to intervene in a Civil War in Markovia, because he knows that the leader of the country is a good man with western values and the revolutionaries are terrorists; other members of the Justice League say “no way”, so Batman says “Screw You Guys, I’m starting a new team”. Batman’s team of misfits join up with Brion Markov, AKA Geo-Force, to fight the terrorists who are trying to destabilize Markovia. It turns out that Terra (who in this version can be an anti-western radical unlike her brother who wants his country to be an anchor of civilization in an anarchic region) is behind the rebels, and Amanda Waller and the US government are behind Terra – the whole Markovia op is a US backed move to subvert and destabilize the country as part of a proxy war with Russia. While Bruce Wayne is forced into the political sphere to unravel corruption in the US government, he turns the reins of the Outsiders over to Katana.

How awesome would that be?

out6-2-3

Almost as awesome as the fact that Halo is obsessed with Wrath of Khan.

Okay, so, my actual thoughts on Suicide Squad.  Was it worth watching? Yes. Was it the best DC movie I’ve seen since Nolan wrapped his Batman trilogy? Yes. Was it a great, amazing memorable movie? Eh.

If it were up to me, I would’ve tightened a lot up in editing, axing all of the intros and flashbacks. Waller comes in, gives a brief description, we get to the action.  While I accept that this Harley is not the Harley I grew up with, I can’t help feel like she’s out of place. Harley was never much of a fighter back in her early incarnations, though she’d always talk a big game (which was part of the joke); she could get in some cheap shots while someone wasn’t looking, but seeing her as some kind of waif-fu action girl who could hold her own alongside Killer Croc was odd.  I get why she’s there – she’s a popular and attractive female character that they could stick on a team where even slightly more than casual DC fans have not heard of half the characters. Still, she’s ‘notmyharley’, just not for the reasons most folks are bandying about. Ironically, as the one character that everyone knew the backstory for, she had the most attention paid to hers in flashbacks despite only one actual plot point revolving around her and Joker. Again, something I would’ve tightened up.

It was fun to see Will Smith being Will Smith again, even if it was as a two-bit Batman villain and even if he did dial it back a lot.  Cuz last time we got to see Will Smith be Will Smith was MIB 3. The Harley stuff kept SS from being more of a Deadshot movie, which it felt like it wanted to be at times and may have been better had it been. The biggest travesty of Suicide Squad was the missed opportunity for Will Smith to refer to Captain Boomerang as Captain Kangaroo.

Much as I woulda liked to see CCH Pounder as Waller, I gotta admit, Viola Davis was solid.

Killer Croc had the best laugh lines.

The movie coulda used a better villain/story/plot – as it was it was kinda “Rollerskating carrying a plate of spaghetti is a bad idea: the movie.” Oh, crap, now the spaghetti is everywhere and they’ve gotta clean it up, but they haven’t taken the rollerskates off!  What are they gonna do?!  Really, though, the plot and villain felt like the sort of thing you’d see in a second movie in a series.  At least they didn’t spend the ENTIRE movie setting up the characters’ backstories and trying to painstakingly show the team origins. Assault on Arkham was a better Suicide Squad movie, but this one was still worth watching, even though it seems like I’m doggin’ on it.

So, what are the odds on Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk secretly being a Wonder Woman tie-in?

Batman & the Outsiders, Sentinels of the Multiverse and Superdiversity (image heavy)

So, I think I’ve got a fancrush on Halo. She loves video games and her favorite movie is Wrath of Khan*: she has made Katana take her to see it over and over to the point of exasperation.

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Her taste in sci-fi makes up for her taste in clothing.

One of the things that has been pretty cool about the Outsiders is it captures the kind of diversity that you hear people always asking for, but it never really makes a big deal out of it. It never smacks you in the face and is all “Look, this team has a black guy and women on it and one of the women is Asian!**” And this was over 30 years ago! If DC or Marvel did something like this now, you can bet you’d see a million PR stories out there about how finally comics were starting to show diversity, and “Hey, look at all these colored folk*** to make you white nerds feel better about yourselves!”

But anyway, I was thinking about that because I got to play Sentinels of the Multiverse over the weekend. It wasn’t until about 30 minutes in that it clicked in my mind that I’d heard of this before: some blog had been complaining about the racist and sexist character designs. If we lived in the real world, the game would be praised for its wide range of diverse characters who are an homage to comic book cheese; feminists would praise the fact that in this game several badass heroes are female and Wealthy-Stealth-Fighter-With-Computers-and-Gadgets-Who-Is-Legally-Distinct-From-Batman is a woman****. Unfortunately, since we live in the evil mirror universe (don’t try to tell me we don’t, I’ve seen the beards on you guys!) people complain that the ethnically diverse cast are stereotypical and that the women don’t represent a diverse enough range of body types (because they’re all variants of athletic and fit).

There are DOZENS of characters in SotM, but here are a few examples stolen from the wiki.

Black Iron Man isn't good enough for you people.

Black Iron Man isn’t good enough for you people.

Someone complained that Ra is a white guy, but with a name like Dr. Washington he's probably a lighter skinned black man.

Someone complained that Ra is a white guy, but with a name like Dr. Washington he’s probably a lighter skinned black man.

Redeemer Fanatic

Unacceptable body type!

And just to be clear, Fanatic is non-white.

And just to be clear, Fanatic is non-white.

Yay, Wraith!

Yay, Wraith!

Oh, noes! D:  #genderequalityisatwoedgedsword

Oh, noes! D:
#genderequalityisatwoedgedsword

Okay, Visionary IS kind of weird looking; you can make a character chesty or go for the Hartman Hips, but doing both just ends up looking kind of off.

Okay, Visionary IS kind of weird looking; you can make a character chesty or go for the Hartman Hips, but doing both just ends up looking kind of off.

So, in conclusion, check out Batman and the Outsiders and check out Sentinels of the Multiverse, because they are both awesome.

If people are serious about “improving” things, they ought to support stuff like this and say “look at all the things these did right; here are some things that can be done better next time.”  When all of the criticism comes out as “LOOK AT HOW BAD YOU’VE DONE!”, the message becomes that you shouldn’t even try.

*:Which Star Trek movie is not specified, but at the time, Search for Spock had not come out yet and Wrath of Khan had been out for a little over a year, but was almost certainly still showing in discount theaters.  Batman & the Outsiders issue 6 came out January 1984.

**: Sure it relevant in her origin story that Tatsu is from Japan, but I think that’s something that is sometime relevant for, y’know, most Japanese people.

***: Because what is ‘Persons of Color’ but a way to say ‘colored folk’ while trying to sound high fallutin’?

****: Wraith is seriously a pretty awesome character; I’d probably read comics starring her.

Misfit Super Teams: Runaways and Batman and the Outsiders

I’m mostly a DC fan, but I’ve got to admit, I have a soft spot for Runaways. It’s one of the Marvel titles I enjoy enough to consider trying to follow, or at least catch up on the various gaps in what I’ve read.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Runaways is the kids of a group of Supervillains discover that their parents are evil and (TITLE!) run away. They (I think, I missed that volume) kill their parents and take over their secret base, trying to cope with the power vacuum of villainy that the removal of their parents created.

I particularly like the older run, as it presents an ongoing relatively non-episodic story that more adheres to the narrative structure that got me into comics in the first place (graphic novels & manga).  I still have a hard time with strictly episodic superhero stories, though I’ve warmed up to mainstream comics in general a bit in the form of short arcs within a continuity. I’ll admit that one thing that kept me away from Runaways for some time despite loving the first volume was the assumption on my part that, like all other ongoing western comics, there would be no satisfying resolution and eventually the story would go off in radically divergent directions away from the establishing narrative, the characters would get replaced or Flanderized, and it would turn into a hugely disappointing unending mess. Well, I’m starting to try to just enjoy the ride, and once the road gets too bumpy, I’ll get off.

But back on topic, I think the reason why Runaways is the only Marvel title I really enjoy is that the characters perceive the rest of the Marvel Universe kind of in the way that I perceive it. Wolverine thinks he’s bad but he’s really just kind of a jerkass, Spiderman thinks he’s cool and hip and funny but actually he’s a giant tool, the X-Men are lame-os trying to be edgy, the Avengers are cool until you meet them. I actually relate to these Marvel characters because of their utter disdain for their fellow (and far more iconic) Marvel heroes, and it’s a strange feeling. They’re kind of a bizarro Teen Titans; without the guidance of A-tier heroes, they make a lot of mistakes and bad choices, but because of their interactions with the rest of the Marvel heroes, you still get the gooey angst similar to that which the Titans have for being in the shadow of their “parent” figure heroes, but since none of them are the children or side-kicks of Marvel staples, there’s not the understanding that they’ll patch things up with and eventually take up the mantle of a Jerkass Justice Leaguer Avenger or X-man. And as much as I love Raven, Nico is, if not a better character, a more interesting take on the dark magic girl insofar as how her powers work.

What I read of Volume 3 (in magazine terms, not collection terms) confirmed some of my fears about the devolution into villain of the weekisms, but the other collections I read have convinced me that I definitely need to go back and finish the stuff from Volumes 1 & 2.

And speaking of Superhero teams, in my quest to find the optimal insertion point into Batman nearly 80 year history, I grabbed a DC Showcase collection of Batman and the Outsiders from the library.

Why do I say I’m looking for an optimal insertion point? I know this probably makes me a terrible Batman fan, but my favorite Batman is early to mid-90s; I read the Dark Knight Archives that had the first 4 issues of Batman, and found it painfully dull; I read the DC Showcase Brave and the Bold Team Ups collection because I loved the Brave & the Bold cartoon show and wasn’t sure what was worse, the awful D-list villains, the overly long and boring stories, or the bad silver age 1-liners; for my money, Azbats aside, the Knightfall era is some of the best Batman I’ve read outside of some one-offs.

Why did I pick Batman and the Outsiders? Well, I liked the (wildly reimagined) Outsiders’ cameos in the Brave and the Bold cartoon and the publication dates of the Batman and the Outsiders are far closer to the era of Batman I know that like than the era of Batman I know that I don’t like.

It’s getting there. There are still some traces of bad 4th-wall breaking Silver Age cheese, though it’s generally only the occasional panel and it never goes into the full on “blah blah blah, good readers!” hyperbolic nonsense which made the Silver Age team-ups unreadable to me. The setup and introduction is a bit awkward (‘I’m quitting the JLA because you won’t invest cosmic conflict level resources into intervening in a civil war in a country smaller than Luxembourg to help me save Lucius Fox!’ ‘You guys who showed up out of nowhere and almost botched this for me: let me set you up in Bruce Wayne’s assorted safe houses. You’re my new team, because that little shit Robin is with the Teen Titans now!’), but the book finds its rhythm quickly. The interplay between the characters, particularly Halo/Katana and Halo/Geo-Force, is the strongest aspect of the title and helps to compensate for where the title lacks in good episodic stories. I’m generally not interested in whatever bottom tier villain they’re fighting, but I’m interested enough in finding out how the team members’ relationships evolve that I’m more than willing to keep reading.

I think the Outsiders hit their stride with the Teen Titans crossover; revealing Terra as Geo-Force’s missing sister suddenly makes the Outsiders relevant (in my reader’s mind, at least) to the DC Universe and its overall story. Geo-Force is a good, if troubled dude, and knowing that his sister is evil, Batman knows his sister is evil, and that his sister is going die in the not too distant continuity future… there’s gonna be some Pathos, man!  Plus, getting to see some vintage Robin Resentment and a cameo of a pre-Robin Jason Todd provides some nice fuel for my continuity-nerd furnace.

As for actual continuity, though, it’s kind of a problem since Batman and the Outsiders is, comparatively speaking, immediately before Crisis, meaning that it could’ve been wiped out partially, completely, or not at all. The Real Batman Chronology Project indicates that post-Crisis flashbacks indicate that Batman did leave the JLA, did form the Outsiders, and the lineup of Teen Titans who show up in that early crossover does hold up in post-Crisis continuity, but just how much can be ascribed to the life Batman from Year One actually lived in the second decade of his career is up in the air, and since it was so close to Crisis, there was not a wholesale post-crisis reintroduction of Batman’s formation of the Outsiders.

Regardless of its standing within Modern Age continuity, my conclusions are:
Batman and the Outsiders is worth checking out.
While the writing is still a bit dodgy, Pre-Crisis Batman is back on my Radar.
If they aren’t stupid expensive, I might someday pick up some original issues of B&tO to get a better appreciation of them; the Showcases might be a “bargain” but coloring can be the difference between an okay and a great comic.
Geo-Force fighting Superman at Christmas because Superman & Batman wouldn’t let him murder a professor who had been sexually abusing the girl he was in love with and drove her to a suicide attempt was one hell of a crazy story!

#ChangeTheCover: So, the Artist Withdrew the Batgirl Variant Cover

Some people are saying that DC pulled the cover, but based on what I’ve seen, the artist himself, after the campaign against the cover, asked DC to withdraw the art and DC complied. It’s hard to not look at this as his being bullied into pulling down his art. Because that’s pretty much what happened.

I’m a huge Batman fan. While I’ve had some problems with what’s been done in certain Batman comics either stylistically or storywise (I hate how Catwoman is drawn when she’s in costume and I kind of hate all of the non DCAU portrayals of Harley, and I hate that one artist whose name I forget who makes all of the Robins look like they’re 40 year old Dustin Hoffmans trying to take a rock-hard dump). I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Killing Joke. What the Joker does is disgusting and the story leaves one feeling disgusted. But isn’t such a visceral reaction a sign of a powerful story?

Anyway, this variant cover was supposed to be an homage to the Killing Joke.batgirl-41-cover

The biggest complaint was that it portrayed Batgirl in a state of fearful helplessness and victimhood. Which is interesting, because the usual complaint about comics is when some character is showing off ginormo-tits in an anatomically impossible pose. Or ass in the air (I don’t care what anyone says that Spider-Woman cover was ugly and weird looking for more reasons than just ‘too-much-sexy’).

One thing that a lot of people forget (or just don’t know, because the people complaining don’t read comics) is that Batman is (at least Post-Crisis) a horror comic*. A lot of the stories look into the character’s deepest darkest fears. Serious House on Serious Earth is high-octane nightmare fuel. And that’s the sort of feeling this cover is meant to invoke. The other thing that these people are overlooking is that it is fairly typical of Batman covers to show some scene prior to the heroes’ big table-turn where they are powerless, helpless, about to be killed (often in a gruesome manner) by whichever rogue is featured in that issue. Needless to say, when people threw out the “You don’t see Batman being depowered and violated on HIS covers!”, the response was a flood of classic covers depicting the Dark Knight in all manner of predicament. Talk about Batman being depowered, what about that iconic cover of Bane snapping Batman’s back against his knee?

Bats don't bend that way!

Bats don’t bend that way!

On one hand, when Barbara was paralyzed, she didn’t come back as Batgirl, while Bruce came back as Batman. On the other hand, when Barbara came back as Oracle, she had become a more interesting and dynamic character. When Bruce finally came back, he was still just Batman, just poorly drawn and with 2 foot long bat ears (seriously, Troika had some crap art and was a pretty big let down as far as a comeback arc, especially after how well written Prodigal was).

Anyway, here are just a few examples of Batman in peril at the hands of some rogue.

I don't know what's scarier: what's about to happen to Batman or those goddamn 2 foot ears!

I don’t know what’s scarier: what’s about to happen to Batman or those goddamn 2 foot ears!

batman_189

See? Even the cover says he’s gripped by fear!

Batman, helpless at the hands of the Joker!

Batman, helpless at the hands of the Joker!

I can't think of anything more disempowering than being flying-kicked by three dudes at the same time.  Except for maybe being flying kicked by more than three dudes at the same time.  Or in combination.

I can’t think of anything more disempowering than being flying-kicked by three dudes at the same time. Except for maybe being flying kicked by more than three dudes at the same time. Or in combination.

 

Batman is totally about to be cut in two in that one cover!

Batman is totally about to be cut in two in that one cover!

*:This tends to be played with a lot more in the one-off graphic novels and some of the side titles, such as Legends of the Dark Knight and Shadow of the Bat (especially Shadow of the Bat).

Minor Update:
If this guy is representative of the rest of the creative team on Batgirl, it’s probably a shit book that doesn’t deserve a good cover anyway.
Cameron Stewart