Falling Out with Batman
I’ve always loved comics. I was into them as a kid and bought up a ton of them, although I didn’t read all of them. Somewhere in my early teens, I fell out of the medium. I got back into comics during my sophomore year in college thanks to my roommate, Anthony. One weekend, I binged every book he had picked up during that semester and then set up my own pull list. This grew to a $50-$60 a week habit before I quit cold turkey about five years later. I got back in once I started writing for HorrorTalk. During these three phases, I had different levels of appreciation for comics. Now I wonder where it will go next because I don’t see the fun in the output of the Big Two publishers that I once did.
This isn’t meant to be a doom and gloom post about the downfall of the comic book industry. It’s also not meant to be a Simpsons Comic Book Guy type rant about how super hero books are for kids. With my decades of exposure to comics, I’ve developed a few observations. Most recently, I’ve noticed that there really isn’t much in the way of character development when it comes to any of the major characters of Marvel or DC. There are some exceptions to this rule and I’ll get to them in a moment, but stay with me for a second.
Let’s start with Batman. Aside from his revolving door of sidekicks (who have progressed far more than he ever has), is Batman really all that different today than he was 5 years ago? What about 10 years ago? 25? 50? 75? The core principles remain, of course. He’s fighting a never-ending war on crime to avenge the death of his parents. But, has he changed or developed as a character? No, he hasn’t. He’s still the same, gruff loner that he’s always been. Although talented creators have told incredible stories featuring the Dark Knight, he hasn’t learned anything in his 75+ years of existence. He still makes the same mistakes. He still doesn’t let anyone in (which also leads to the same mistakes). His war on crime might as well be America’s war on drugs or war on terror. It’s never going to end and there’s no way to win it.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read every single Batman comic. There may be stories out there that show real character development for the world’s greatest detective. I would argue that those are exceptions to the rule and/or momentary tangents from the main storyline. To put it in NASCAR terms for a moment, those are pit stops along a racetrack. He’s going around and around, occasionally stopping to refuel.
I have a glimmer of hope with some of the titles spinning out of DC Rebirth, the linewide relaunch, primarily Detective Comics, written by James Tynion IV with artwork from various artists. It focuses on a Batman who is building a team around him including Batwoman, Red Robin, Clayface, Orphan (Cassandra Cain), Spoiler, and later Bat Wing and Azrael. He recognizes that he can’t fight this war alone and begins training the next generation of heroes to protect Gotham City. Despite this awesome premise and a terrific cast, Batman still succumbs to the same pitfalls he always does, especially with how he handles loss. Spoiler alert: NOT WELL. When a member of his team “dies,” he retreats inward, thinking that he has to fight and train harder to prevent anyone from ever getting hurt ever again. He shoulders the entire responsibility, turning his grief into a burden he must bear to protect not only this city, but anyone he cares about. This pushes everyone away, even though they’re also in mourning. The one person they can turn to who has been through this on several occasions (with his parents and Jason Todd to name a few), is emotionally absent and actively shuns them. There is no shoulder to cry on here. There is no grief counselor to help you get through it. Instead, there’s just Batman who won’t even look at you.
The main Batman title, written by Tom King, while incredible, is more of the same with a smaller supporting cast. Again, I want to clarify that I love both of these titles. If I still had a pull list, they would both be on there. I’ve been fortunate that DC Comics has started sending review copies out of their books so I’ve been able to catch up a bit between those and recent ComiXology sales. It’s just that after reading hundreds and hundreds of comics from publishers big and small, I want to see these characters grow and change. Most importantly, I want to see them learn from their mistakes, not make the same ones time and time again.
I think this is one of the many reasons why I loved Logan so much. It showed an ending for a super hero character that is incredibly rare. It was fitting and showed real growth. If you look at Wolverine in the first X-Men movie and look at him in Logan, that is a changed man in more ways than one. You can see how he went from X-Men to Logan. Granted, this is a different medium and Hollywood has some luxuries that comics do not, but I believe the same principles can apply.
Warner Brothers owns Batman. They can do whatever they want with the character. Why not show an ending? Why not show where Bruce Wayne’s life will end up? Then you can reboot it anyway. It’s not like there isn’t precedent for something like this. Archie Comics did it a few years ago with Life with Archie, showing a future versions of the character where he married Betty or Veronica. This depicted the adult lives of the signature characters as they went through common struggles. It ultimately led to Archie’s death and people LOVED it. Then Archie got rebooted and it’s one of my favorite books on the stands right now. It can be done. Take the chance and see what happens.
This ended up longer than I thought it would. I’m going to break this up into another post with the next one showing a recent example of a DC character that has changed and in a really awesome way: Superman.