november 05, 2010 03:41pm

Back into the swing of things

Chapter 28 of the third novel has been released. This is a significant milestone, because it signals the beginning of another action-packed sequence of chapters.

Up until now, this novel has been more like our first one. Character and story focused. From this point on, we're going to be more like the second novel, which is action focused. Which do the readers prefer? Well, hopefully they like it all.

In other news, I'd like to use this to nerd-out for a second.

I'm a fairly avid Batman fanboy. I recently sat down and reread all of the 80s, 90s, and 2000's Batman comics. There have been ups and downs, and obviously each reader's mileage will vary.

For example, I've always found the Black Mask to be a dreadfully dull villain. He's really not much more than a glorified mob boss. And Two-Face has spent a lot of his time relegated to lowly mob-boss status (for example, during the No Man's Land saga), but he usually has some good old-fashioned insanity keeping him more interesting.

Black Mask, however, has never really been all that insane. He's just straight-up mob lord. And like all of the great Batman mob lords, dating back to Sal Maroni... he's just uninteresting. Amongst a pantheon of colorful villains with remarkable, unforgettable personalities, only Black Mask's face stands out. And a face does not a Batman villain make.

This is a long, round-about way of me saying that I did not enjoy the "War Games/War Crimes" series of comics. It also brings me to a more interesting point, though.

Since they killed the original Black Mask and reinvented him, I was all for it. *spoilers ahead*.

I even loved the direction they took. Transforming Jeremiah Arkham into a villain is something that's been coming for a long time, but his transformation into the new Black Mask during the "Arkham Reborn" series was, in my opinion, poignant, gripping, and a great jumping-off point into a new, wonderful addition to the Batman rogue's gallery.

And then I read Batman: Life After Death.

This is where my complaints begin, and the list is a long. First of all, the end of Arkham Reborn left me believing that Jeremiah had evolved, and become a new master criminal genius, a transformation I was all too willing to embrace. In his appearance in Life After Death, however, he's reduced to a split-personality case. This is a theme that, let's face it, has pretty much been beaten to death at this point. What's worse is that, other than his interesting selection of associates from Arkham itself, he's reduced to almost a poor caricature of the Ventriloquist, without a puppet (or rather, playing the part of the ventriloquist and the puppet).

This bothered me quite a bit. Especially the element that he's only Black Mask as long as he has the mask. This goes very strongly against the theme left lingering at the end of Arkham Reborn, where Jeremiah himself, sans mask, effortlessly overpowers and scars Zsasz.

So, what looked to be a promising new villain for Batman was very quickly torn down for me. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Arkham Reborn series, Jeremiah has already lost his place in my heart, and Black Mask has been relegated to a second-stringer Batman villain in my book. Such a shame.

But enough about villains. Let's get on to my real complaint.

I truly hate this series' handling of Dick Grayson. I'm not the first to make this complaint, I know, but I'm going to proceed anyway.

Dick Grayson is not Batman.

I don't mean this in the typical fanboy, "There's only one Batman and it's Bruce Wayne!" fashion. Though believe me, I've made that rant before.

No, what I mean is that Dick Grayson--Nightwing--is a different person than Batman. He operates in a different fashion. He has his share of gadgets, he's a great fighter, he plans ahead, he quips... but it's all different. I've been following Dick Grayson for years (decades in comic time), and I truly love his character.

However, Dick Grayson does not make an appearance in Batman: Life After Death.

The cover of the Trade Paperback has a peculiar tagline on it. It says, "...a spot-on expression of the character's mythos."

This immediately struck me as odd, because... Dick doesn't have Batman's mythos. I mean, sure, his parents were murdered when he was young. But he didn't pledge his life to fighting crime because of it. He didn't travel around the world training to be the best. He didn't spend his family's fortune becoming the best at what he does. He didn't form a major player in nearly every incarnation of the Justice League.

No, Dick was orphaned by a mob boss, then taken under the wing of Batman at an impressionable age. Depending on which version you stick too, he either left Bruce amicably to become Nightwing, or he broke off on harsh terms in order to "escape his shadow". He led the original Teen Titans. He loved Batgirl. He loved Starfire. He loved Oracle. He loved Huntress. He loved Oracle again. He has a mythos, but it is not the same mythos as Batman.

So then, how can this story be such a spot-on expression of the character's mythos?

Well, I'm sad to say, that cover blurb is spot-on. This story is NOT about Dick Grayson. It's about Batman. The same Batman that DC has been writing for years. The brilliant detective, the amazing mastermind, the brooding, angry figure. The loner. It's all here.

And Dick Grayson is nowhere to be seen.

I'll get into a more detailed explanation in a second, but first I'd like to mention something. Before this I had read Batman: The Long Shadows, and while I didn't think it was a particularly amazing story, I at least felt it was a good handling of Dick as a person. He suffers a bit from "trying too hard" syndrome, but it could also be argued that that's natural for the situation he's been thrown into. At least he's still good-natured. At least he's vocal, he's (god forgive me) flamboyant. Alfred even goes so far as to call him a "neurotic Batman" at one point. It's all Dick Grayson. And it's good.

I didn't see any of this in Life After Death.

Dick spends his time analyzing crime scenes. He goes through evidence meticulously. He's always trying to figure out the next step, think one step ahead of his villain. He's never particularly pleasant company. Even when he's out of uniform at one point, at a party with Helena, his first frame is drawn slumped over a banister brooding quite heinously. He blows a building up at one point and walks away dramatically, letting his ominous cape sway in the heat of the explosion, while his thought-bubble echoes his bitter attitude. "Wrong answer," he says. Seriously, how is this not Bruce Wayne?

Oh that's right. Because they keep saying his name is Dick.

But let's get past all of that for a moment. Let's say that this is all just the job "wearing" on Dick.

Come with me, for a moment, into the final arc. Spoilers coming very hard.

Dick goes in to investigate a hideout he magically traced a phone call to. He goes in to see what's up, and somehow winds up brainwashed by a combination of Black Mask toxins (something Arkham has had Dr. Strange whipping up to let him control his new False Faces) and Mad Hatter technology. Penguin uses him to wage war against Black Mask. He does some terrible things, takes out Catwoman, and nearly kills Blask Mask.

At the last minute, however, he regains his senses and injects himself with an antidote. We're reliving these events as Dick is regaining his memories, so at this time it all becomes clear: he planned this. He intended to get taken in so he could get close to the Black Mask, to figure out who he was. It works. Voila. Deus ex machina, proceed to final fisticuffs, Batman wins.

It's a standard formula. One that I personally have loved and adored for years. When Bruce pulls this stuff off, the fanboy inside of me screams for joy. "Batman rules!"

But this is NOT Bruce Wayne! This is Dick Grayson! And since WHEN does Dick operate in this manner? I admit he's pulled a few crafty tricks in his time, like tricking Two-Face into thinking one of his old friends (now turned target) was dead when in fact Dick has saved her. But something insane like this? Make the villain use you so you can use them? That's so very Batman of him. And I don't really mean Batman, I mean Bruce Wayne.

Which brings me full circle to my original point:

Where's Dick Grayson?

The only real difference I saw here is the different reactions when Batman makes a mistake. Because if you've been reading Batman comics long enough, you know that one recurring theme is that yes, Batman ALWAYS makes mistakes. Like, every other issue, he's berating himself for "not being good enough", or "getting cocky". Happens all the time.

However when Dick does it, his thought is always, "Bruce would have known better", "Bruce would've seen the trap coming".

But he wouldn't have! That's the thing! Once again, Dick is behaving like Bruce in EVERY respect.

After reading Batman: Life After Death, I actually found myself missing Bruce Wayne a little less, and mourning instead Dick Grayson. For apparently DC has decided that, yes, anyone can be Batman.

Were it not for Bruce's impending resurrect, I would suspect that by this time next year Dick would have counter-measures for all of his allies, maybe counter-measures for what to do if the White Martians come back.

And my exasperation is only enhanced by DC's insistence to have Dick REMAIN as Batman once Bruce comes back. Are they going to, at that time, manage to focus on the differences in the characters? Or are they going to be the same person, with Bruce being a little older and a little (though not much) crankier?

To me, this is all just disrespectful. It's not disrespectful to Batman, who has actually retained his identity quite well. Rather, it's disrespectful for the characters, the men beneath the masks that we try, against all odds, to love and sympathize with throughout their outrageous exploits. It's disrespectful to what Bruce was and what he accomplished. It's disrespectful to Dick as a person. They went from, "He's trying to escape Bruce's shadow" to "nevermind, he is Bruce's shadow. Perfectly." Which is even more ridiculous because I think by now we all know if anyone is going to be the next Bruce Wayne, it's Tim Drake.

And allow me to say, on a closing, positive note: in an era when the Batman universe has lost most of its luster for me, when Batwoman--who is in my opinion a sad, weak, and irrational spin of "let's make Batman into a woman! That'll be better than trying to come up with a real female superhero!"--rules Detective Comics, and Robin is an annoying little prick who I want to die even MORE than Jason Todd (seriously, what happened here? Damien seemed to be maturing toward the end of the Grant Morrison run of RIP, then during and after Battle for the Cowl he made a COMPLETE regression. Being a snot-nosed punk is only endearing when it's temporary, and someone's growing out of it), in this era, I have found even more love for Tim Drake, a character I already hold dear.

I have long said that Tim Drake is, without a doubt, the best Robin. Dick was great, but only through the magic of nostalgia. Going back, the Batman comics of that era just don't hold the same magic, and reading Batman's exploits during Dick Grayson's heyday is, frankly, a bit painful. Jason Todd was poorly used, and suffered from the same syndrome Damien's suffering from right now, which is that writers refused to mature him. He remained trapped as the same aggravating pest. And ultimately, more fans wanted him dead than alive. Stephanie Brown was a *horrible* mistake. I like her current run as Batgirl, but Robin? Awful decision, during a period when Stephanie herself was an AWFUL character, still nowhere near mature enough to really fit into the Bat-Family. And Bruce allowing her to be Robin, even when he constantly said he knew she wasn't ready, was just horrible writing.

But Tim Drake has been superb from the very beginning. His origin story as Robin is the best, without doubt. He wasn't originally marred by tragedy. He didn't become Robin because his family was killed. He became Robin because he had the talent for it. Because he was already a detective at heart. And because, most of all... he wanted to be Robin. He wanted to fight alongside Batman. God bless him, don't we all.

And as time passed his character was increasingly marred by tragedy. Events in the DC universe conspired around him, robbing him of all of his best friends and, eventually, all three people who have ever been a parent to him. He became dark, broken, but most of all determined. Uncompromising.

Bruce Wayne is Batman. But if there's anyone else who's worthy of the mantle, it has to be Tim Drake.

Which is another thing that bugs me. For nearly 10 years now, Bruce has said on several occasions that Tim is destined to be the next Batman. Dick's his "own man". Bruce told Dick to NOT become Batman. Why is it that, in spite of all evidence, DC decided to boost Dick up and toss Tim aside?

Still, while I don't appreciate his disenfranchisement, I don't particularly mind. The Red Robin series has been stellar, even beyond the normal great material I've always gotten from Tim Drake stories. His character is portrayed perfectly, without compromise, without missing a beat. He thinks like Batman. He fights like Batman. He broods like Batman. So while he might not be wearing the cowl, or sporting the name, or even appearing in the titular series, Tim Drake's my Batman.

And when Ra's Al Ghul called him "Detective" (right before throwing him out a window), I could not have been a happier fanboy.

Posted By: abaddononion

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