The Robin Issue

Dan DiDio famously hates Dick Grayson.

DiDio is the DC equivalent of Joe Quesada – not just in terms of their position, but in terms of their attitudes towards superheroes. He hates endings, he hates characters getting to grow, and he thinks happy endings are boring. It’s been a long running joke in fandom that Nightwing’s greatest nemesis isn’t Deathstroke or Blockbuster, it’s DiDio. And a while back, he made a comment about precisely why he hates Dick that I found interesting – and by interesting, I mean frustratingly ridiculous. And that comment was that he hates him because he’s getting older.

The reason that I hate Nightwing is that he’s getting older… The reason people like Nightwing because he aged with them. But Batman can’t get older.

This is something I disagree with for multiple reasons – mainly because I think it’s silly to claim that a character as popular as Nightwing is only liked for one reason, and that it’s completely inaccurate to say he can’t get older. But even though I disagree, the comment made me think about the roles Dick has had in comics throughout the years, and comments I’ve seen from various people about different members of the Batfamily, and I came to a rather unfortunate conclusion that it’s not really that I disagree with his point so much as that I disagree with who the point is about.

I adore Dick Grayson and his relationships with other members of the Batfamily, but we’ve reached the point of oversaturation. DC has spent so long relying on a formula that works when it comes to non-powered heroes that they’ve wrung out just about every bit of use they can get out of it. As the first, and arguably the last, kid sidekick, Robin is hugely important to the Batman mythos…but I think it might be time to retire the mantle.

The Many Characters To Use The Name

Batman-and-Robins

A few months ago, there was this whole thing going on. Zack Snyder had mentioned on Vero that he had envisioned the Robin whose suit we saw in Batman v Superman. There was quite an uproar about that, with a lot of people objecting to the idea because “being killed by the Joker is Jason’s story”. Similarly, many people complained about the characterization of Dick in Titans, insisting that he was behaving more like Jason or Damian. I found both of these complaints very strange. Because you know what? Even assuming they’re true, after everything that the other Robins have taken from Dick, I don’t see a problem in Dick retaliating.

The thing is, Robin is one of the legacy characters with the most people that have held the title. The Batfamily in general is enormous. Between Alfred, Dick, Jason, Tim, Barbara, Stephanie, Cass, Damian, and Duke – even if the current roster doesn’t include all those people – it’s a massive slate. And the one that ultimately loses out is Dick.

For a significant amount of time – close on twenty years, really – what we now call the Batfamily was just Bruce, Dick, and Alfred. And it was a dynamic that worked, which was why Jason was introduced to begin with. But now? Now, it’s too much. There are too many characters, and because so few writers have a good enough sense of nuance, there’s little sense of what makes each of them unique. It’s not a zero sum game, or at least, it shouldn’t be. But every time there’s a new Robin, they get some of Dick’s character traits, plot points, even friends, in an attempt to give them a clearly defined role within the family. To try and justify their existence – to make their value clear – writers have to lessen Dick, make him less competent, intelligent, driven. He’s a hugely popular character. Yet with how he often gets treated in works where he’s not the central character, you’d think he’s the Betty Kane to Jason, Tim, Damian’s Barbara Gordon – a far less competent character than the others to bear the name whose only claim to fame was being there first. That is painfully far from being true, because Dick defined Robin. Everyone to take up the mantle after him took on at least some of his traits.

Jason got Dick’s sometimes strained relationship with Bruce. Tim got his intelligence. Cass got his “best athlete in the Batfam” thing. Different people have started arguing that everyone should get his position as heir to Batman. Even Alfred plays a role, because he took on the position that was originally Dick’s as the most important person in Bruce’s life, the first one that he trusted and considered family. That last one has now been true for longer than it wasn’t, so I don’t mind it so much, but it is frustrating to see just how many comics involve writers forgetting how important Dick is while singing the praises of other characters for something Dick was first.

The Gradual Lessening Of Character Complexity

Dick is hard to write well, because even more so than the other characters in the family, because you can’t really distill him down to core characteristics. If you do, you’ll end up with seemingly contradictory traits that you’re forced to choose between, because he is that much of a complex character. It took him years to truly define himself, but when it comes down to it, he learned his attitude from Superman and how to deal with criminals from Batman. When Dick is written well, he’s the jack of all trades. He might not be as good a hacker as Barbara or Tim, as good a marksman as Jason, as good at fighting as Cass, but he can easily beat anyone else at all of those things. He has one of the worst tempers in DC while also being one of the nicest people. He’s a loner with social skills. He’s the former teen rebel that became the Golden Boy that set the standard all his successors have to live up to.  He’s a character that really can’t be simplified without cutting out half of what makes him interesting. It’s why he’s my favourite character.

Both in and out of universe, Dick was a trailblazer. He inspired a whole generation of heroes. He’s a monument to everything Bruce has ever done right. He has – or maybe has had is more accurate – interesting relationships with just about everyone else in DC. And because all of this was built up over eighty years, it all felt earned. Nothing felt rushed or undeserved – everything to do with his character, from leading the Titans to moving to Bludhaven to becoming Batman – was a natural progression of the character. It’s why I can buy his version of “student surpassing the mentor”. It took pretty much the entire time from his debut in 1940 to being the Batman to Damian’s Robin to do it fully. It was a lot of effort and time, but he did it.

nightwing.jpg

A lot of the newer characters just don’t have that level of nuance. Whether it’s because DC is impatient or they haven’t had good enough writers yet or any number of other reasons, their progress into becoming a hero falls flat. Take characters like Harper Row. Sure, she’s not used too much anymore (if at all, I can’t remember), but when she was, she came across to me as a complete creator’s pet. She had the same “get characteristics from predecessors” thing, but it was poorly done and felt jarring, because the writers felt it wasn’t enough to have one thing she was great at or many things she was good at, she had to be more determined than Steph, better with tech than Tim, be described by Bruce as his ideal Robin. That’s a problem that I think will only get worse with time and more new characters, especially if those characters become Robin.

The Batfamily is now considered by many to be basically everyone in Gotham. The roster as it stands is too much. Gotham has too many heroes. I’m not saying that DC should simplify it by not including some of them. Of course not. At this point, pretty much all of them have a long history and unique fanbases. But it is beyond time to stop adding new members. Certainly Robins, but maybe even in general, because at a certain point, it’s going to be all but impossible to give all these characters sufficiently nuanced personalities. They’ll end up more similar than different.

The Attitude That The Status Quo Is God

batman-dick-grayson.jpg

DiDio also once claimed that Dick was redundant because he was never going to be Batman and wasn’t Robin anymore, arguing that once characters are allowed to age, they all become too similar – again, this is clearly ridiculous, but buried in there is something approximating a valid point.

Yes, it’s true that Dick’s not Robin anymore and will never go back – which is good, I have no idea why DiDio seems to think that’s a bad thing and have no desire to try to unpack that one. But it’s also obviously false that he’s never going to be Batman, because he has been. Repeatedly. The first time he donned the cowl was in 1994! And you know what? It’s completely untrue to say fans would never accept him as Batman on a more permanent basis, because we did. Dick as Batman after Final Crisis was widely loved to the point that readers lamented him going back to Nightwing. It’s completely false to say that any of this is because of the fans. No, this is because of writers that can’t move on – fanboys are running the asylum, and they don’t want to tell characters to grow.

Because of this fixation on the past, DC reboots its entire universe at the drop of a hat. They compress timescales, send loved characters off into limbo, erase relationships from existence, and force characters back into old roles rather than letting them move on. As long as they’re doing that, they have to stop adding new characters, because then it’s just getting ridiculous – there are so many vigilantes in Gotham, all serving approximately the same purpose, that it’s a wonder someone can even jaywalk without getting stopped!

Dick has been shoved back into Bruce’s shadow, because various people refuse to actually allow the student to surpass the teacher. The pre-Flashpoint Dick was the single most beloved hero in the DC Universe. He’d grown up and had his own life going on. He was extremely competent. He learned from both Batman and Superman. Everyone respected him. He was Bruce’s first son and his most trusted partner, an older brother to the other Robins. But now? The scale has been compressed so much because writers refuse to let Bruce be older than, like, thirty five. It’s resulted in Dick being presented more like Bruce’s younger brother than his son, and all of his accomplishments going unacknowledged. He’s gotten mentors that he stopped needing years ago, and stopped having relationships nearly as meaningful with his friends from outside Gotham. It’s nonsensical. And if that’s all that Robins have to look forward to – being unable to age or grow up or become heroes of their own – what’s the point in adding more?

Robin as a legacy once hugely important. It was good for Dick’s successors, because there was a precedent set they could both follow and stray from and a person from whom they could learn. It was good for Dick, because it demonstrated just how influential he was, proved irrefutably that he’d moved on, and let him complete the cycle as a mentor rather than a mentee. But that legacy, as much as I love it, has been used about as much as it can be. It’s time to let it rest, if not retire forever.

I made a post a while back about how Chris Claremont has never moved on from a certain plot point. In it, I noted that he wanted characters to get to grow and change, but that he was writing endings in a medium that doesn’t do endings. But you know what? Claremont’s approach seems largely the way to go, when we’re talking about DC and Robin. He’s very much not a fanboy running the asylum. He wouldn’t be afraid of letting characters grow up and change and move on, even as they maintained relationships with each other. In the hands of a writer like Claremont, given the freedom to make creative choices, I might not think it’s time to put down the Robin mantle. Unfortunately, that’s probably not happening.

I love Robin. I love the concept of Batman and Robin and the idea of the Batfamily. But unless DC completely changes its approach – and soon – I don’t see a way for the mantle to continue past Damian.

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‘X-Men: Red’, Jean Grey, and Autonomy

Neither X-Men: Blue nor X-Men: Gold do it for me. Do they have their moments? Sure. But overall, they’re not titles I care to keep up on, even when I have enough time to read regularly. Red, though? I think that’s far more worth the time and cost, because of how it treats Jean.

Jean X-Men Red

Jean Grey is an awesome character with a lot of potential. She was the first female X-Man, and she’s taught so many of those that came after. She’s one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe. She has deep and nuanced relationships with her friends and family. But X-Men: Red is the first time in a long time that she’s actually gotten to be in control of her life and her choices.

For so long, Jean got no autonomy. She was the weakest member of the team whose power wasn’t hers. When she got stronger, she was manipulated into losing control of her powers, in a plotline that is remembered as “woman that can’t handle power” where the originally planned outcome was her losing those powers she couldn’t control and being retired as a character and the outcome that was used was her dying. She’s died and come back fewer times than several other characters, but she’s the one that’s the punchline of the joke about comic book death. And Phoenix, which started off as her growing up and coming into her own as an adult with plenty of her own power, wound up more as an albatross around her neck when it became an external force.

Despite being a grown woman and the Team Mom, Jean is often written in a kind of patronizing way. Jean doesn’t get ownership of any of her decisions. When she’s fighting for good, it’s taken as a given, because that’s what Xavier taught her. When she’s angry, it’s because of the Phoenix Force. When she came back from the dead, everything that happened before got retconned as being not her, because of course, she’s Jean and has to be everyone’s moral compass and doesn’t get to ever make mistakes or be a flawed human. She’s just absolved of all responsibility.

So many comics characters have done awful things while perfectly in their right mind. They got to move on from it, while still having it a thing they did. Take Wolverine. His kill count is off the charts. It’s acknowledged as something he’s done of his own volition. But he doesn’t have to atone for that. He’s not even written as an antihero anymore, he’s just portrayed as a straight hero – which is laughable, because he hardly ever demonstrates any guilt, let alone need to atone for what he’s done. Why can’t Jean get that treatment for something she was manipulated into?

The comparison that has to be brought up is with Emma. Not because they’re both women or because I like one more than the other, but because they are better foils for each other than just about any other characters, even though many writers don’t give either of them the nuance they deserve. It’s the way they’re usually portrayed as different sides of the Madonna Whore dichotomy. While Jean is depicted as a maternal figure both to her children and to the younger X-Men, as the best of all of them, so good and so pure, Emma is oftentimes the opposite.

By contrast to Jean, Emma has always owned her power and her choices. Both her good choices and her bad are hers. She decides what she’s going to do. It’s not her being manipulated by someone else. She’s not concerned about being sweet or gentle, she’s too focused on getting the job done. She cares for her students just as much as Jean does, but if Jean is kindness and gentle encouragement, Emma is tough love.

I wrote a post a while back about films noirs. In it, I brought up the idea of the femme fatale and how it’s kind of sexist, but at the time where film noir was most popular, it was the archetype of female character that usually got the most agency. You can see a modern reflection of that through the contrast between Emma and Jean. Emma is a pretty classic example of a femme fatale – one that’s been written both well and terribly. She has her own agenda. She’s sexually independent. She’s oftentimes morally ambiguous. She’s sympathetic and multifaceted. As much as I adore Jean, even in runs I like, she doesn’t often get afforded the same amount of humanity – except in X-Men: Red.

I Adore Jean Grey

Red is the first time in a long time that Jean Grey’s story has nothing to do with the Phoenix Force and everything to do with Jean Grey. It’s about her choices. She doesn’t need the Phoenix Force to be a hero. She doesn’t need be the conscience for male characters. She just needs to be Jean.

The preview for issue 10 delighted me, because for the first time I can remember, Jean actually gets to be angry. She’s not being portrayed as bad or wrong or crazy – her anger is being presented in a human, empathetic way, because she’s a person that’s tired of people like her being hunted and persecuted.

Now, this panel is probably a fakeout. It’s much more likely than not that context will turn this from Jean being frustrated and sick of the endless battle to some kind of trick or something. But you know what? Red has been good enough that I can imagine it being played straight, and that alone is something. I’m just hoping that one day, it will be. Jean deserves this anger.

X-Men Adaptations And The All But Inevitable Disappointment

I’ve brought up my issues with The Gifted repeatedly. And almost every time, it’s been through the lens of I love The Gifted, but…Not this time,though. After “afterMath”, I’m out. I can’t defend this anymore.

I’ve been iffy on this season from the beginning. The writing hasn’t been good, the character work has been sloppy at best, and the themes became a mess when they started trying to make the classic X-Men vs Brotherhood conflict work in a setting without either the X-Men or the Brotherhood. I kept watching, though, because I love the X-Men, Emma Dumont was doing an awesome job as Lorna, and the quality of the first season gave me hope that it would improve. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and while I can forgive moments of bad writing, I can’t forgive comparing people fighting against oppression to Nazis.

It’s really fucked up to compare the Inner Circle’s goals of a mutant homeland where members of a persecuted minority aren’t getting murdered on the streets to “Hitler’s big dreams”. Especially when one of the members is Lorna – you know, the half Jewish daughter of a man whose entire family was murdered by Nazis. Under some circumstances, I would probably assume this was intentional – an example of the members of the underground being so caught up in their issues that they got distracted from who the real enemy was – and give the writers the benefit of the doubt for another episode or two. After all, this comparison occurred in the same episode where Purifiers stormed a clinic looking for mutants and threatened the staff. The same episode where a roomful of those Purifiers started chanting “they will not replace us”, a sentiment that was instantly and terrifyingly recognizable. But if this season of The Gifted has proven anything to me, it’s that I shouldn’t give the writers any such benefit.

So much of this season has been about why the Inner Circle is wrong, even though they haven’t done much to be wrong about, or why their methods are evil. And sure, killing people is obviously bad. But that’s one of the biggest Captain Obvious Aesops I’ve ever heard. It’s the smug cowardice of centrists, the idea that “oh, taking a stand against oppression just means we’re sinking to their level!” Every time someone has been uneasy with what the group they’ve allied themselves with is doing this season, it’s been a member of the Inner Circle. The underground is still too busy being self righteous to consider the fact that they aren’t helping. If that weren’t the case, I’d be willing to wait for the season to play out. But it’s not. So I’m not.

you tell 'em magneto
Magneto (AKA the most famous Jewish character in comics) not down with murderous gas clouds.

We’ve seen this same thing in comics for years. Characters referred to Cyclops as “mutant Hitler” for destroying a toxic gas cloud that was killing mutants. Very obviously not Hitlerian at all, right? You would think so. But the writers, despite obviously recognizing what that whole storyline brought to mind, continued to behave as if Scott was a genocidal terrorist, rather than the guy trying to save lives. I am not even remotely down for watching a similar story play out with Lorna in live action.

It’s disappointing. The Gifted began with a huge amount of potential. And even this episode had a lot going for it – the themes of police brutality, the Purifiers, Jace Turner, the contrast between Rebecca’s desire to see the world burn after gaining her freedom and the other mutant’s forgiveness of the jury that put her in the mental hospital. But that one line, casually comparing the Inner Circle to Nazis, on top of the way there are more PoC as extras in the Sentinel Services and Purifiers than with any mutant group…it just goes to show that the writers don’t really understand the issues they’re trying to represent. And I’m done hoping that’s going to change.

“Fuck Batman”: The 7 Most Likely Characters To Call Bruce Wayne Out On His Bullshit

There was a lot of debate upon the release of the first Titans trailer about whether or not Dick Grayson would ever say “fuck Batman”. That debate lessened upon the release of the first episode, where it became clear that it sounded way better in context. But there was still a lot of people that evidently think it was out of character, judging from how many comments I saw saying that’s more something Jason would say. Personally, I think that’s nonsense and Dick would absolutely say that. When it comes to calling out Bruce and doing the opposite of what he says, Dick is the original. But he’s far from the only one.

7. Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Slaps Bruce.pngWhat an icon.

So the context of this panel is that Steph just found out that Bruce is, in fact, not dead. Naturally, she was mad, and demanded to know if all she’d just gone through was some kind of trick or game. Bruce, being Bruce (which is to say, kind of a dumbass, sometimes), told her it was a test. Stephanie…did not take that very well.

Steph and Bruce have often not gotten along, what with him frequently telling her not to do stuff, dismissing her abilities, and used her to make Tim jealous so he’d come back. So this slap was kind of a long time coming. After this, she was all, oh God, did I really just slap Batman? Bruce was more, what just happened? Then she told him she was glad he wasn’t dead, then ran off. Go, Stephanie. This was beautiful.

My point by all that rambling: Stephanie’s middle name might as well be “Fuck Batman”.

6. Jason Todd

Okay, this one’s a no-brainer. As much as I disagree with the claims that Titans Dick is more like Jason than Dick, it’s true that Jason has spent years being in a state of fuck Batman. Unlike Dick, though – and most others on this list – Jason’s fuck Batman is mainly in words, not spirit.

Jason spent a huge amount of time post revival complaining about how the Joker was still alive, how Bruce would have killed him for Dick, and a lot of other similar things. He claims he doesn’t care what Bruce thinks about what he does, but he very clearly does – he does a string of irrational nonsense for the sake of getting Bruce’s attention. He could have gone anywhere after his resurrection, but he went back to Gotham. Because unlike Dick, who felt smothered and wanted space/for everyone to see him as him and not an extension of Bruce, Jason acted out so people would look at him.

5. Commissioner Gordon

Oh, look, the guy that’s just trying to get through the day when Batman shows up and vanishes on him when he’s talking. And probably introducing quite a few problems and villains even as he deals with others. The Commissioner Gordon brand of “fuck Batman”: “Fuck Batman, here I am, doing my job and this guy insists upon being obnoxious when interrupting me”.

4. Oswald Cobblepot

Oooh, look, the one villain on this list!

If there’s a single villain that’s gonna say “Fuck Batman”, it’s got to be Penguin, just for the sake of Love Bird. It all amounted to a very sweet story where Batman spoke on his behalf and explained everything to his girlfriend, but still! Penguin was trying to go straight with an umbrella factory and help out ex-cons who couldn’t get jobs elsewhere, Bruce saw felons entering the building and burst in to investigate, and Penguin got sent back to jail for violating his parole by consorting with known felons. Come on, Bruce!

3. Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, Oracle, one of the coolest heroes in all of Gotham. Also: viewed by practically everyone as a lesser version of Bruce.

As Oracle, she’s not second to anyone. She’s a member of the Batfamily, yes. She’ll work with all of them with relatively few issues. But Bruce Wayne being the control freak that he still tries to push her around, even though she’s not his sidekick, she’s his equal. So perhaps not fuck Batman…but definitely shut the fuck up, Batman.

2. Clark Kent

When it’s not Bruce’s relatives, it’s Clark that has to deal with Bruce. And as much as I love their friendship, Bruce is not an easy person to be friends with. The man keeps a chunk of kryptonite in the Batcave. The sole purpose of said substance is incapacitating Kryptonians! Clark may have nigh-incomprehensible amounts of patience, but Bruce has got to be trying even him.

1. Dick Grayson

Of course.

Dick has to get the number one slot in this list, just by seniority. Yes, technically Gordon predates him. But Dick has spent more time actually putting up with Bruce’s nonsense. Think of all the gripes he must have by now:

  • Firing him
    • Granted, this one depends on which version of continuity we’re going with, but Post-Crisis, Bruce fired Dick as Robin. Dude! Not cool.
  • Making Jason Robin without giving him so much as a heads up text
    • Sure, Dick had grown out of being Bruce’s sidekick. And I’m pretty sure Dick approved of letting Jason have the mantle pretty quickly in all versions of the story. But that was still his name! It wasn’t Bruce’s to give.
  • Constantly criticizing his decisions
  • Only singing his praises to everyone when he’s not there
    • I mean, yes. Bruce is probably less stingy with the praise to Dick than to any of
    • Only Thing Bruce Ever Did Rightthe other Batkids. But the stuff he says to other people about him is so much
      nicer, and if Dick finds out about it at all, it’s through someone else. Come on, Bruce! Rude.

And that’s not even half of it. They have a long history! So I don’t care what anyone says when they’re whining about Titans Dick being more like Jason or Damian. He’s got “fuck Batman” seniority.

World Building And Lived In Universes

When the second episode of Titans – “Hawk and Dove” – came out, one of the things I thought was that it felt like Batman v Superman. Coming from me? That’s about as high of a compliment as I can give something.

It’s strange, because in a lot of ways, they’re very little alike. Batman v Superman was a sequel, not the start of a new universe that Titans is. But they still feel similar, because they’re both set in already established worlds. In Titans, there were obviously the big details, like how Dawn, Hank, and Dick all knew each other prior to the series and the fact that Dick isn’t working with Bruce anymore. But there were the smaller things, too – Dawn’s Superman T-shirt. The photograph of what was presumably this universe’s first incarnation of Titans. Dick’s contacts list, which included not only Bruce and Alfred, but Donna Troy and Lucius Fox, as well as an assortment of minor characters – Bridget Clancy, Bonnie Linseed, Lori Elton. This is a continuation of the same pattern in the pilot, where Dick’s coworkers are talking about how he’s from Gotham, and how it’s anybody’s guess what happened to his old partner – he could have even been gassed by the Joker. That’s how everything about Gotham feels in BvS.

Like I said, Batman v Superman was a sequel. But while it continued plot points from Man of Steel, it introduced Batman as an already established hero that’s gotten much more brutal recently. He’s twenty years into his career. Losing everyone that’s ever mattered to him has left him jaded and brutal. We don’t see much of Gotham, but we know it’s a crime ridden cesspool with a pretty bad reputation. The Joker doesn’t play a role, but we know that Gotham has a history with him. Even in regards to Superman – we know how he started off – we saw that in Man of Steel. But we weren’t shown all the details of his life since then. We see the gist of it, not the details – he saved a bunch of people, moved in with Lois, is in a good place.

By contrast, there are shows like Gotham. That’s my favourite comic book show. I love it with all my heart. And it has a very different vibe. The city feels like one with a lot of history, like a city that was holding on by a thread until the Wayne murders. But the show, the characters…that all feels fresh and new. However lived in the world may be, there’s a new world order coming and a new status quo that the residents will have to live with. That’s because the show is a prolonged origin story, and over the seasons, we’ve been there for just everything that makes Bruce Wayne who he is.

We were there when he watched his parents’ murder. We were there when he failed to deal with it. We were there when he met Jim Gordon, when he met Selina Kyle and found a reason to smile. We saw him train and grow and confront villains, saw him regress and pick himself back up and start fighting crime for the first time in a world where the new phenomenon of supervillains is emerging. That’s not at all what it’s like in Titans or Batman v Superman, because they start in the middle, not at the beginning.

Sure, we see the basics of Dick and Bruce’s lives and traumas in those stories. In the case of the former, we’ll probably see more as Titans progresses. But how we see that is very different. In both cases, it’s through flashbacks, not what’s occurring in the present. More than that – with many shows and movies, flashbacks are just regular scenes set in the past, sometimes with a different colouring to indicate that it’s not the usual timeline. Not so in Titans and BvS. There, there’s a separation. Stylistically, it comes across as a memory.

In Titans, the first flashback to the Flying Graysons is from Rachel’s perspective, not Dick’s. We hear voices as echoes, we don’t see every detail of what happens, it’s more like flashes of images than a scene. And in one of Dick’s very first scenes, we see him years older wearing a costume we never saw him put on, much less for the first time, and confronting criminals who already know who he is, even though we didn’t see when he got that name. We know that he had a life before this show, one that we’re never going to know all the details of. In Batman v Superman, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s a compressed telling. It’s stylized. We don’t hear voices or see every frame, we just hit the main points – what Bruce is never going to forget.

This particular brand of storytelling appeals to me so much – sure, it’s great to be with characters through the entire journey, but when flashbacks are a major part of it, I like not seeing all of it, or piecing it together slowly. It’s not all thrown at us at once. It’s enjoyable.

Chris Claremont And When Characters Should Get To Move On

So I’ve written about my issues with Grant Morrison. I’ve written about my issues with Geoff Johns. Now it’s time for something a little more controversial: my issues with Chris Claremont.

Claremont is an icon. He defined the X-Men. Forget Stan Lee, it’s Claremont whose baby this universe really is. Most of the best X-Men stories come from him. You can see that by the movies and what they choose to adapt – Dark Phoenix? Based on his work. X2? That’s based on God Loves, Man Kills, another of his. Days of Future Past? Ding, ding, that’s him. And it’s not even just his older work which is good – recently, he’s done the Magneto issue of X-Men: Black, which is fantastic (and anyone that’s read it should totally message me so we can geek out about it together). But there’s a reason that, for the most part, I mostly avoid talking about what he’s done past about the year 1981, and that’s that I staunchly disagree with the way he’s interpreted Scott Summers since then.

Let me be clear. Claremont is one of – if not the – best Cyclops writers of all time, and for much of the same reasons that he’s pretty much the undisputed king of all X-Men material. He’s written many outstanding stories that showed Scott as a human, with strengths and flaws alike. He’s one of the reasons that I’m a Cyclops fan. But he also makes me really sad, because he’s never let go of a certain editorially mandated plot: the Madelyne Pryor thing.

And the thing is, I do understand where his anger comes from! I do! Without Claremont, the X-Men probably wouldn’t still exist. They’d have faded into obscurity, because before him, they were nothing. If anyone has a right to object to how other writers have treated the characters, or what executive meddling made him do, it’s him. I fully understand his commitment to the long game, to character arcs, to letting characters grow and change. I even admire it a lot – he didn’t want the roster to stay stagnant, he wanted the Xavier Institute to be more than just a training ground for superheroes, he wanted the X-Men to have enough successes that the members could move on and have a real life, rather than fighting an endless battle doomed to failure. All that is good. BUT…the characters still have to remain true to who they are, even as they get to grow. And a Scott Summers that would just stay home when someone needs him is no Scott Summers at all. So while I do think the way in which he abandoned his wife and child was poorly written and out of character, I can’t fault him for the action of going, because he didn’t leave Madelyne to be with Jean, he left to see if she was alive and help mutants with every intention of returning to be with his family.

Let me reiterate that because it bears repeating: Scott didn’t leave Madelyne for Jean. SCOTT DIDN’T LEAVE MADELYNE FOR JEAN.  He left to find out if she was alive. He went back because Warren was like, hey, Scott, we need you. And Maddie was all, if you leave, don’t bother coming back. And Scott was just, Maddie, they’re my friends, they need me. The fact that that Claremont has always referred to that event as Scott dumping his wife for his ex signifies to me that he’s so emotionally involved with the characters, that he can’t see them clearly and misremembers the details.

Again, I love Claremont’s work. But I can also recognize that when he started taking all his issues with the editors out on Cyclops, he was forgetting he was the writer. Sure, he didn’t write the issue where Scott left Maddie. He wasn’t the one that made the decision to bring Jean back. But he’s a talented enough writer that he could have made it work, and of the reasons it didn’t was because everything involving Maddie was bad writing from the beginning.

I’m never sure what I think about her as a character, even before the Goblin Queen thing, because it seems kind of like Claremont wanted it both ways. It wasn’t his idea to kill Jean at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, it was Jim Shooter’s. Claremont wanted her to lose her powers and leave the team with Scott, blah, blah, blah. Obviously, that didn’t happen. What did was Scott met Madelyne and proposed very, very quickly, ultimately going off to do the same thing he would have done had Jean lived, just with a different woman. That looked and sounded exactly like his dead girlfriend. Who wasn’t originally intended to be a Jean clone, but still had a lot of weird things about her character indicating that she was still someone unusual and tied to Jean somehow, even though Claremont claimed she was just a normal woman who, in a one in a million coincidence, happened to look just like Jean. Claremont was simultaneously using Maddie as a Jean substitute and insisting that that’s not what she was.

Did Maddie deserve better? Yes. Undoubtedly. We’re talking about a perfectly nice, normal woman that was turned into a villain so audiences would stop caring about her and the impact of her husband dumping her. She’s Nathan’s mother, who loved him and didn’t get a chance to raise him – and to add insult to injury, Jean did. AKA, the woman Maddie was cloned from and whom she didn’t want to be compared to and whom her husband loved. So, yeah, there’s no argument from me that Maddie deserved better than what she got. But she was also hugely contrived. She was some of the worst writing Claremont has ever produced. For a start, clones are almost never the right answer, but somehow, Claremont managed the one storyline where that made more sense than just about anything else. Beyond that, Maddie just didn’t feel like a Claremont creation.

Claremont usually plays the long game. He sets things up that you have to wait to see pay off. Not so with Madelyne. Everything involving her happened way too fast for that. Her first appearance was in April of 1983. The issue in which she and Scott got married? That was released in November of that same year. So in the span of three years real time, Scott lost Jean, met a woman identical to her that he thought was her, and married her. It was rushed. It was sloppy. Neither of those things are things Claremont is known for.

It was undoubtedly sexist that everything that went wrong in Scott and Maddie’s relationship got put on her and she was made a villain so people would stop blaming Scott for walking out. But it was also sexist that Claremont’s vision of a happy ending involved Scott leaving the team with a woman identical to Jean, who he couldn’t have because she was dead. There’s a disconnect between what the Scott/Maddie relationship was supposed to be and what it came across as. Scott claimed he knew Maddie wasn’t Jean and loved her for her, but their whole relationship progressed so fast, and for the sake of letting Scott fade to black, that it didn’t at all feel like the happy ending Claremont saw it as. Especially when you consider the scenes of things like Maddie angry with Scott for still being worried about mutant issues, as if retiring from the X-Men changed the fact that he was a mutant. Their marriage involved glossing over Scott’s grief for Jean, the discrimination he faced as a mutant, the importance of the X-Men to him, and his years of trauma. It felt more like a deeply traumatized man that was still grieving latching onto someone because of how much she reminded him of the love of his life and trying to convince himself it wasn’t just him trying to replace her, like a story about loss and unhealthy coping mechanisms, than a romantic happily ever after.

Sure, looks aren’t everything. But I’d still see Claremont’s side of it a lot more if Maddie looked nothing like Jean. If she was just some random woman that Scott happened to fall in love with, who helped him get over losing Jean. Because as much as Claremont tried to say that that’s what she was, it was at least partially negated by her resemblance to Jean, because it would never have been possible for Scott to look at her without seeing Jean, who he wasn’t with because she died, not because they’d broken up. Maddie was fine. And it did make Scott look horrible – and very out of character – to leave her. But for me, Claremont never put enough work into actually defining her outside of who she wasn’t.

Claremont was so bitter about how Scott treated Maddie, he felt so strongly that that tarnished Scott’s character forever, that I think he ultimately did more damage to more characters because of it. He took out his anger at the editors out on Scott, which ruined a lot of stories and assassinated even more characters in the process, especially Jean.

Claremont wrote the definitive Jean Grey story in the Dark Phoenix Saga. It’s been retconned to hell and back, but it’s his most well known story. It’s the one that just about everyone, comic fan or not, knows. It’s the single greatest love story in all of X-Men canon, and it’s not just a love story about Scott and Jean, it’s one to them. Because Jean is love, because it was the love she and Scott shared that brought her back to himself. It was an amazing story that showed just what Claremont thought of the two characters. It was also very clearly intended as an ending for them, in a medium that doesn’t really have endings in that sense. Because of that, because Scott lived while Jean didn’t and Claremont tried to give him an ending similar to what he would have had if they’d both survived, things got messy. And since 1986, when X-Factor started coming out and the whole Scott Jean Maddie thing went down, Claremont hasn’t looked at them the same. He’s been trying to kill their relationship ever since, cheapening Jean’s love for Scott, making Logan look like an obsessive stalker creep. Classic X-Men, which I’m pretty sure was the first time anyone had ever indicated that Jean was attracted to Logan, rather than it being entirely onesided. X-Men Forever,  where Jean cheated on Scott with Logan. I saw someone comment a while ago that if Claremont were writing the Dark Phoenix Saga today, he’d have probably made it about Jean and Logan rather than Jean and Scott, and it breaks my heart to realize that that’s probably true. He’s been so bitter about Cyclops that he’s assassinated not only Scott’s character, but Jean and Logan’s as well.

I think my main problem with Claremont is that I know he’s largely right – not about Scott, not about Maddie, but about the progression of characters in general –  but I hate how he deals with that on a fundamental level. He’s of a mind that the roster can’t be ever expanding. People have to leave to make room for the new ones. Which I get. Like I said in this post, I’m all for stories that are self contained and that end. But Scott Summers matters too much to me. The idea of shelving him upsets me beyond the point of rationality. For me, saying that he should just be put aside to focus on other characters, maybe dusting him off now and then to cameo…it’s the equivalent of someone saying, oh, how about we send Superman back to his farm so we can focus on Kara and Kon instead?

I’d love it if characters could leave the teams they’re on, stop fighting crime, while still continuing to exist as characters. I’d love a comic about Scott and what he does outside of being a superhero. I’d love more stories about pushing for mutant rights in the political sphere, or teaching kids physics. But I know that’s now how it works. Characters are either in the thick of the action, or ignored. I – and I think most readers – believe they have more value than their role as fighters, but that’s not what the powers that be want to focus on. They don’t think long term character development is as important as cool powers and big fight scenes. Claremont may not have wanted Scott to entirely disappear, but if he had gotten his way, with Scott never returning to a team, he would have essentially done so.

X-Factor wasn’t what Claremont wanted. Jean coming back wasn’t what he wanted, and Scott and Jean getting back together definitely wasn’t what he wanted. But in a way, it’s a compliment, too – because Claremont crafted a Scott/Jean romance so convincing that people find it inconceivable that they won’t come back together. That doesn’t hold true for any other X-Men relationship.  It’s a testament to how powerful Claremont’s writing can be, even if he didn’t see it that way at all. Generally, I don’t mind – too much – what characters a writer chooses to pair together if the story ultimately works. And I would have been fine with Scott staying with Maddie, even if the “looks identical to Jean” thing still creeped me out. But it bothers me that Claremont remained so bitter about Scott leaving to form X-Factor – and not getting back together with Jean for a long time after that – that he could never move on.

I love Claremont. I do. But I’m not a believer in creator worship, and I have a lot of problems with some of his stuff. And that extends far beyond Scott, it’s just that Scott’s my favourite Marvel character, and I have the most opinions about him. Claremont’s positives include revamping countless characters, awesome women, clear depictions of bisexuality even when editors wouldn’t let him say it outright, and some incredible  stories. His negatives, that creepy Kitty and Piotr relationship and (I think) that gross “white woman inhabiting the body of a Japanese woman” thing. Frankly, I hold Claremont to higher standards than I do most other writers, because I think he’s better than this. He has more talent than just about every other writer that’s handled the X-Men. He completely reinvented Magneto from standard and forgettable villain to the complex, brilliant character he is today – and I repeat, everyone should go read X-Men: Black – Magneto, it’s amazing. Claremont is awesome. I just wish he could let go of the past and stop taking out his anger at editors out on characters.

‘Titans’: Reservations Withdrawn, I’m All In

Okay, so the Netflix trailer for Titans came out a few days ago, and it’s been a really  packed week for me, so I’m finally getting around to talking about it now: it was  awesome.

I’ve gone back and forth a lot on how I feel about Titans. When it was first announced, I was both excited and apprehensive. When the initial story details came out, I was like, what? When more characters were revealed, I was all ahhhh! At the leaked set pictures, I was chanting at myself to refrain from judgement until we got something official. And when the first trailer came out, I just blinked in confusion.

My reservations were not at all about things being “grimdark” because, frankly, that’s a nonsense claim that doesn’t mean anything. They were more me being unsure of how it looked or what direction they were planning on going in with it because of how it seemed like a strange cross between the comics and the cartoon. Now that we’ve seen more – the promos, the second trailer, posters – I have more of a concrete idea of what this show is going to be like, and I can actually be excited for it.

As Batman v Superman taught me, I should never listen to reviewers, because they don’t know jack. The fact that most of them seem to have enjoyed what they saw of Titans  doesn’t actually say anything – though the fact that Collider called it “joyless” and said it was awful might actually indicate that it’s awesome. Those guys never know what they’re talking about. But the trailer, with all its indications of a found family that chooses to fight together and take care of each other? That makes me think that this is the one thing about which the critics might actually be right. Some good action sequences, compelling character interactions, and – my absolute favourite thing of all – focus on the relationship between Bruce and Dick? It looks incredible.

If there’s any problem I still have, I think it’s that as of now, I don’t really care about the characters that aren’t named Dick Grayson. Maybe that’ll change once I actually see them, but from the trailers, the parts involving Dick were the most interesting to me. At first, I figured that was just my love for Dick biasing me in his favour, until I remembered that that’s crazy – after all, how many posts did I make that were basically me blathering on for a few hundred words about how important he is and how I’m terrified Titans will screw him up? I don’t know, but it was a lot. Strange, right? I started off so wary about this show and how it was going to treat him, more concerned about him than any of the other characters, because those other characters really don’t mean much to me. I like them just fine, but they’re not Dick. And now, I’m more looking forward to seeing him than I am any other character, somehow much less wary than I was when this started out. Even if the rest of the show doesn’t do it for me, I think Dick alone will be enough to make it worth it. So I’m totally done being nervous. Now I just can’t wait.

I’m subscribed to DC Universe. I’m bouncing up and down waiting for Friday. I’m already planning on making nachos to eat while I watch. Anyone want to message me after the release so we can geek out together?