‘Titans’ Team, You Brilliant Bastards, You Did It Again: The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Promo Material

Caring about this show is emotionally exhausting, because even when episodes aren’t airing, the creators seem to be on a specific mission of making me feel every emotion between dislike and sheer glee. This trailer? It brought me back to the glee side of the spectrum.

Last year, before season one started airing, we got a few pieces of news and two trailers. And I wrote about how everything we found out was making me feel more and more confused as to how I felt about the show, and then the second trailer came out, after which I withdrew all my reservations and went all in, because it was awesome. This year seems a repeat. I loved this trailer.

The Wilsons are so wonderful to see! Slade looks great, the little glimpse of Jericho was cool, and Rose is everythingThe relationships between Dick and Slade, Slade and Rose, and Rose and Dick are all so rich and complex in the comics that Dick and Rose sparring – with him using wood while she uses steel! – is the most delightful thing. Dick leading the team, training the newer members, the confident smile when he answered in the affirmative to Kory asking if he was ready for this – this is what I mean when I say Nightwing is a journey, not a destination. Because his growth into a confident, settled person defines him. He’s such a nuanced character that I love getting to see all these sides of him. There’s this line in…I forget which run it is. But Wally is thinking about Dick, and he refers to him as “perfection in a mask”. During Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans, Wally muses about how Dick can juggle half a dozen problems at once and still do everything perfectly. Dick is so good at so many things, he sets the standard to which everyone around him tries to live up. I think part of why the Titans version of the character is so controversial is that people forget that that image – confident Mr. Well Adjusted with great social skills – is partially a mask; partially the result of Flanderization; and partially something that took a lot of time, pain, and character growth for Dick to become. So Titans acknowledging that he’s been through a lot and does have some anger issues and all that, then having him grow past that partially because of a need to train people like Rachel and Rose? So good.

When the first trailer was released, I commented that I was a bit worried about how it was Jason that answered “Deathstroke” to Dick’s “what” because Deathstroke is so heavily associated with Dick. In my defense, I said from the beginning of that post I was extrapolating from and overreacting to a minute long trailer. But this one seems to have totally cleared up that issue, because Slade was apparently why the original Titans shuttered the tower. Eeek! Love it.

I’m back to being excited about Dick and Bruce’s relationship! I still don’t want him to be in it much – this is a Titans show, after all, and Bruce has a tendency to suck up all the oxygen in a story (which is also kind of my issue with Jason, but that’s another story). However, the bit of dialogue we got to hear – “Would you do it again? Devote all that time and trouble for someone who just wants to leave?” I would do everything exactly the same” – made me clap my hands together. We’re getting the Dick and Bruce reconciliation – an absolutely crucial step in Dick’s character development – and it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be less one sided than in the comics, where it was entirely because of Dick’s efforts that they repaired their relationship, and Bruce is going to affirm to him that he has no regrets about raising him. I’m so excited.

The screech I let out when I heard the “Be Batman” line was embarrassingly high pitched. Like, sure, it’s probably not going to be literal. It’s probably too soon in the story for Dick to take up that mantle. But in a figurative sense, with Dick deciding who he is and what he represents and how he wants to come across to the world as an independent hero that isn’t the other half of a team…that’s just as good, just as important, and it could well lead to one of my favourite things ever – Dick as actually Batman.

I love it when Dick puts on the cowl. Every time. It’s such a great chapter in his journey, and later, a great aspect of his character. Becoming Batman is a much bigger deal for him than it could be for anyone else, because he defined the role just as much as Bruce did, by being present for the beginning of it all. And every time he puts it on, it means something different. When Bane broke Bruce’s back, it was an issue of why Dick wasn’t his first choice for it. After Final Crisis, it was an all encompassing issue, this crushing burden that he was struggling under the weight of and learned to carry and thrive under. By the time Bruce comes back from the dead and returns to the mantle, Dick can casually sub in for him, no problems at all. It’s such a good story, and even the thought that Titans might eventually include it makes me giddy.

I understand why all fans have a different character they want to don the mantle. Like, duh – Batman is such a big deal, and a character being a part of that legacy has the potential to make them a lot more popular. I just happen to believe that it’s not as important for the Batfamily characters that aren’t Dick. People always latch onto the idea that Dick doesn’t like being Batman and doesn’t want to be Batman as a reason that someone else – usually Cass – should get it. But I think it’s important to remember that the only thing he hates more than wearing the cowl is watching someone else do it. He specifically admits it. And he grew out of his hatred! He learned how to be Batman on his own terms, how to be what Gotham needs.

When he took up the cowl while Bruce was presumed dead, he had to be Batman on hard mode. Bruce got to ease into it. He got a traumatized kid, but one that, all things considered, wasn’t that hard to raise. He was dealing with the rise of supervillains, sure, but mostly just non-meta organized crime. But Dick got Damian. He had to deal with Damian, Tim, Steph, and Jason all at the same time. Superman randomly decided he didn’t like Dick wearing the cowl. A bunch of new villains popped up. He had so much going on, and thanks to all the timeline compressions and retcons, he was apparently doing that when he was nineteen. It says a lot about how capable he is that he not only managed, but thrived. I know it’s not technically relevant to a Titans show, but it is something that I’d love to see.

This trailer was so fantastic, it brought back all my hype for the show after it had been mostly killed by the season one finale and the mediocre bits of news! That’s ridiculously impressive. Little over a week left! Can’t wait.

Advertisements

‘Supergirl’, ‘Batwoman’, and the False Feminism of Replacement

I’ve seen a ton of comments about how the Supergirl movie that’s supposedly in development won’t work without Clark, and they frustrate me a lot, because I both agree with the idea that Kara and Clark need and play off each other in interesting ways and disagree with the idea that either of them is necessary for the other to have a story. Here’s the thing: as confused as her backstory is and as many different versions of her there are, Supergirl is not nor will she ever be Batgirl. It was Batgirl that was inspired by Batman, Batgirl who might have been a hero in a world without Batman, but certainly not one that went by a bat theme, Batgirl whose story cannot exist without Batman preceding her. That same principle doesn’t apply to Supergirl and Superman. Supergirl doesn’t need Superman to exist. He doesn’t matter for her origin story. The symbol is part of her family just as much as his. So a Supergirl movie can most certainly exist without needing Clark there as a character for Kara to look up to and want to emulate. The problem that actually exists is if any story tries to replace Clark with Kara because they’re both Supers. That’s a problem because they’re different people that fill different roles, their stories aren’t interchangeable, and whenever people try to substitute her in for him, they’ll get a pale imitation. That’s a large part of what’s wrong with the show.

Comics Kara Zor El knew both that she was Kryptonian and what it meant to be Kryptonian because she spent more of her life on Krypton than on Earth! She was a genius by the standards of this hugely technologically advanced society that was on track to join the science guild. She was a teenager that had lost everything she knew – her planet, her species, her culture – and landed on a planet so different from her own that she had to learn everything from scratch. What did the Supergirl show do with that? Why, it completely ignored her scientific background, added a bunch of original characters to give the scientific knowledge to so they could erase her intelligence, and aged her up so they could make her a reporter for no actual reason.

I stopped watching the show somewhere in season two. But from what I remember, this erasing of Kara’s scientific background was a large part of the reason why it felt like CW Kara was pretty much just female Clark, rather than actually Kara. She has his job. She has the same personality. There’s very little that distinguishes her as Kara. And since they aged her up, there’s not even any reason for her to be called Supergirl. So much of her show-verse background was so ill-conceived, it ended up seeming like the people responsible for the show didn’t actually want to be making a show about Kara.

Batwoman looks like it’s going to be similar. As controversial an opinion as this might be, Kate is not a member of the Batfamily in the comics. She’s Bruce’s cousin, sure, but that does not mean they were ever close (for all that it was revealed that she comforted him at his parents’ funeral, that closeness had never been brought up before or since). She operates alone, with her own supporting cast and own villains. She didn’t even know Bruce was Batman. She is absolutely not the person Bruce calls when he needs help or that takes responsibility for Gotham in his absence. But in the show, she’s apparently going to be facing off against multiple Batman villains, including Thomas Elliot – you know, the guy whose whole schtick revolves around being obsessed with Bruce.

I’ve seen attempts at justifying this by saying things like, “of course Bruce’s villains didn’t just leave when he vanished! It makes sense with the premise of the show that she’s fighting them!” To that, I kind of have to say…well, yeah! That’s the problem! This isn’t a Batwoman show! They’re making her replacement Batman, and there’s frankly no point in doing that. Taking an existing character and turning her into female Batman defeats the purpose. Doing that will always get you a pale imitation of a character, not a real one. With Kate, it ends up seeming even worse than with Kara. With Kara, the missteps and verging into Clark territory come across as accidental, as people that did genuinely want to write about Kara, but didn’t spend much time considering what makes her unique. The Batwoman writers – judging by what we know about the show before the release – aren’t actually interested in Kate. They like the bat image, they like the idea of tapping into the idea of feminism as a part of the cultural zeitgeist rather than actual feminist themes, they like Gotham. Kate as Kate? Not so much.

There was a time in comics where the next generation was leading the Justice League. Dick was Batman. Donna and Kara had replaced Diana and Clark respectively. And you know what? It most certainly wasn’t that they were just acting as the symbols, because what mattered was the Dick, Donna, and Kara of it. It was a very deliberate writing choice to have a Bat, a Wonder, and a Super on the team. It was an even more deliberate choice to have them succeed by being themselves. That was a cool exploration of what it means to step up to fill your mentor’s shoes, to represent a symbol that means a lot to a lot of people, and it worked as it did because it let characters that had an important relationship with their predecessors and the symbols they wore embrace those symbols on their own terms. None of that holds true for Kate.

Kara and Kate are both amazing characters with a lot to love about them. Kara has decades of deeply, deeply confusing material that can be pulled from, including a different but just as valid understanding of what the symbol she wears means to her. Kate doesn’t have as much history or as many stories, but she has her own set of villains and a supporting cast and a rich backstory featuring a healthy amount of her own motivation that has nothing to do with Gotham as a city or bats as a specific motif. Those are all things that can be drawn upon to create great stories about women becoming heroes. Having Kate and Kara replace Clark and Bruce, though? That doesn’t a great story make. That fails to understand who these characters are and pretends as if the only thing separating Superman from Supergirl or Batman from Batwoman is gender. That’s untrue and does an enormous disservice to all four characters. Writers…you can do better than that.

Why I Hate The Thought Of Jason Todd As A Regular In ‘Titans’

I started writing this post when it was first announced that Jason would be a regular in season two of Titans. It was supposed to be just about him. Except I spent so long trying to finish it that it was announced that Bruce was cast. And after that I had enough time to watch Game of Thrones and figure out what I think of the Bruce actor’s acting.  Anyway, my point is…I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I think of the inclusion of both characters, and my immediate reaction still holds: I don’t like it. The announcement about Bruce just intensified all my feelings about Jason.. So now I’m going to talk about both of these characters and why their inclusion is just not fair to Dick. Let’s start with Jason.

The Titans as a team have always been Dick and Tim’s thing. There was a backlash not too long ago about that – DC tried to remove the Titans from Dick’s history and say that Tim’s Titans was the first group of teen heroes. Fans, naturally, were not having that. Anyway, that’s not the point. What is is that Jason barely ever counted as a Titan, he just went on, like, two missions with them. Hell, when he came back from the dead and broke into Titans Tower, he was furious because he didn’t have a memorial! Which they would have given him, had he actually been a Titan! I wrote a post a while back about how the more Robins there are, the more of Dick’s traits get passed on to others, and I think that’s very much relevant here. The Titans are Dick’s thing. And to not only include Jason in them, but to have him there from pretty much the beginning, tied to their first becoming a team? That dilutes and cheapens something that’s fundamental to who Dick is as a character in a way even further than the comics go.

The other reason I hate the idea of Jason as a main character isn’t about comic book accuracy at all. It’s, as counterintuitive as it may sound, about all the years of solo Bat material without Robin.

I’m a Robin fan. Of course. And I’ve spent a long, long time being bitter about how creators kept dismissing the importance of Robin specifically and the Batfamily in general. So I should be excited that we’re getting them! I should be excited that we’re getting multiple Robins interacting with each other and with Batman. But more than a Robin fan, I’m a Dick Grayson fan. A Nightwing fan. A Dick!Bats fan (not to be confused with Bat!Dick as seen in DC Black Label). And since Dick was the first Robin…he’s the one that’s lost out most because of creatives that hate the idea of Batman not being a broody loner. He’s the one with by far the longest history, the reason we even know about Robin. He’s the one that paved the way for all the others and demonstrated better than anyone else the potential for a sidekick growing into their own hero. And yet, we never actually get to see that in adaptations.

In live action, we’ve had Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Those were not good movies. They didn’t explore what Robin means, much less everything to do with Nightwing. They weren’t set it a world with other heroes for him to develop friendships with. In animation, we’ve had Teen Titans, which gave us nothing on where he came from or what the nuances of his personality are. We’ve had Batman: The Animated Series, which did have some good moments –  “Robin’s Reckoning” is one of my absolute favourite things ever – but was ultimately still heavily Batman focused and still something in which the rift between the two was largely glossed over. We’ve had Young Justice, in which we skipped past major chunks of his life including when he decided to stop being Robin and take up Nightwing. Titans was supposed to be his chance to shine with a full story and not just bits of it, because as much as the Titans are a team, Dick is the star. To a degree, that was the case in season one. And since Jason is going to be there, it does not look like that’ll carry through to season two.

Jason being so heavily involved is drawing attention away from Dick when the attention by all rights should be on Dick. This isn’t the comics, where Dick has had big stories and long made a name for himself. This is the first real adaptation about him. And by shoehorning Jason – and Bruce, in a different way – into it so early, it’s changing that part of the story from being a Dick Grayson story to a Robin story. A Batman and Robin story. Because Robin isn’t seen as having value alone by the writers, Dick isn’t seen as having value alone. What’s viewed as valuable is the cultural idea of Batman and Robin, of Nightwing.

People talk about Nightwing as if the costume is the end goal. When season one was airing, I saw so many comments along the lines of “season one finale will be Nightwing”. But what does that even mean? He just puts on a new costume and all the troubles go away? Nightwing is the destination? That’s not it! It’s a journey. The costume is just a symbol, one that Dick was not ready to put on. I’m very much glad that season one didn’t end with him taking on a new name and costume that would have felt too early. I’m not glad at the pace of the journey and Jason’s influence. In the comics, after Dick stopped being Robin, he didn’t immediately become Nightwing. He wasn’t wearing a costume for a while. He voluntarily gave up Robin, ceded the mantle to Jason, and took up Nightwing when he felt he was ready to move on. But in Titans, both the fans and seemingly the writers want to rush us to Dick as Nightwing and Jason as Robin. So they had Bruce hand over Dick’s name and costume without Dick’s knowledge, much less his permission. They’re stripping Dick of his agency and choice in the matter for Jason’s sake, just like I complained about the comics doing in this post, and it is so, painfully frustrating.

I understand that in an ensemble show, the focus will have to shift eventually to the other characters. I respect that. They certainly deserve it, too. But it seems absurd to shift that focus a) before the first character has completed his first arc and b) to give a character that’s not one of the title characters more screen time. Which leads us to Bruce and why the obsession with fitting him into everything is likely to be harmful to the careful character work done over the majority of the first season of Titans.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Iain Glen’s acting, even after watching GoT. He’s fine. I don’t hate the idea, so long as he dyes his hair. Black, dark brown, grey, I don’t care, I just cannot stand for a blond Batman. But I saw the character description, and that worries me.

After decades of fighting crime as Batman, billionaire Bruce Wayne is just as driven to protect Gotham from evil as he was in his prime. Needing to reconcile his relationship with Dick Grayson, the duo hope to forge a new dynamic as Bruce tries to help his former sidekick and the Titans achieve success.

If they’d just left it at “hope to forge a new dynamic” and left out the part about helping Dick and the Titans achieve success, I’d have been fine! That would have made sense! But “tries to help his former sidekick and the Titans achieve success”? This is negating Dick’s entire character arc. A huge part of that arc – in the comics as well as the show – is that Dick can go off on his own, as far away from Gotham as he can get, and thrive. Yes, he reconciles with Bruce, but that’s because Bruce is his family and he cares about him enough to put in the effort, not because he needs him, or even because Bruce deserves that effort. But the message this description sends is that Dick still needs Bruce’s help. He needs Bruce to fund his suit and his team. He needs Bruce to teach him to be a leader. He needs Bruce’s money, he needs his knowledge, he needs his resources. It’s the same issue as when there was a debate a while ago as to how he was getting his weaponry and such and a lot of people suggested, “oh, maybe Alfred helped him”. Setting aside the fact that the narrative itself made it clear that Dick reaching out to Alfred about Rachel was a one time thing, I think these people are missing the point of Nightwing!

Nightwing represents independence. The whole point of Dick becoming Nightwing is that he’s surpassed Bruce, that he’s Batman with social skills. He’s not lesser in any area of crime fighting. It diminishes the whole idea of Nightwing to have Bruce help him. Yes. After Dick and Bruce reconcile, it’s kind of cool to see how Dick views money as a tool in the same way Bruce does, and insists upon asserting his independence at the same time as he’s find with using Bruce’s money for tactical purposes. It’s cool to see when he is and isn’t okay accepting help. But that doesn’t work if he doesn’t get to prove that he can operate independently.

It matters that we see Dick and Bruce reconcile. It is important that their rift gets focus. They are an important part of each other’s lives and stories. But this is an awkward attempt at blending their pre and post Crisis relationship in a way that makes no sense, and it adds onto all the nonsense going in comics to make it seem like DC doesn’t actually want Dick to succeed. I understand that fans are impatient and that fans want Bruce and Jason and the whole Batfamily. But what fans want isn’t necessarily what we should get.

I saw a comment about how the poster didn’t want this to become the Batfamily show. And that I agree with. It’s a sentiment that a lot of people have expressed, and I agreed when they said it, too. But what stood out to me about this specific comment was that the poster went on to ask, “Where’s Superman and Wonder Woman”, talking about if the League was going to show up and saying that they should. That’s not the problem here! I think it is far more essential to have Batman play some role than Superman or Wonder Woman, just because he’s much more essential to Robin’s story on a personal level than Superman or Wonder Woman are to Kon and Donna. I am a firm believer that Dick can and should stand on his own as a character…but I recognize that the established context of this specific show kind of necessitates including Batman on some small level. Even so, Titans has very much been a character driven piece, and even though Bruce mattered for that, now, he’s being inserted into the plot where he doesn’t belong, and that does nothing for advancing anyone’s character. The desire to include Batman isn’t enough to justify this.

Furthermore, I think what the writers want isn’t necessarily what’s best for the story. When it comes to comics and comic based media, we really do run into the problem of the writers being fans. I’m about eighty percent certain that the only reason Superboy is going to be in season two is that he’s Geoff Johns’s favourite. Johns isn’t completely blind to pushing his favourites at the expense of everyone else – after all, we are talking about someone that offered up this very same favourite character in place of Nightwing when Dan DiDio wanted the latter dead. But Johns also tends to prioritize his old favourites over newer characters. I have no difficulty believing that ties into Bruce and Jason’s roles.

I  know that I’ve spoken out before on how adaptations need to approach the material differently than the comics. But it’s very different when we’re talking about a character that hasn’t gotten to take the centre stage before. So I’m not thrilled with this approach to Dick’s Nightwing journey. I don’t want Jason or Bruce around for more than a little bit. I don’t want a costume or a contrived way of him choosing the name Nightwing. I just want the slow, measured character development that made me love the start of the show.

Superhero Adaptations As Completely Separate From Superhero Comics: Why Adaptations Can Tell Different Stories

I’ve made multiple posts about the nature of adaptations of superhero comics – one about why we don’t need word for word translations, one about the impact they have on how we perceive characters,  one about how adaptations sometimes displace the material they’re based on in public memory, and a few more. But now I have to make yet another, because a while back, I saw a post saying that you can’t make comic adaptations realistic without completely changing the heart of the comics, and I disagree with all my heart. Because I think that’s why adaptations are nice. By their nature, they’re not going to continue for decades. And that lets you explore topics that will, no matter how good the writing or the art, always end up falling flat in the comics themselves.

You cannot really delve into certain topics in comics because the nature of the medium means they’re never going to change. Take Robin. Obviously, I adore the concept of Robin, the characters to have borne the mantle, and all that. I think Robin is so essential to Batman, that you cannot have a Batman story that rings true without them – or, at least, one of them. But I’m also well aware that, if you apply that to a real world setting, it goes from being a lovely concept of a found family of misfits and strays that don’t fit in anywhere but with each other saving other people so that no one has to suffer the way they did to a frankly disturbing story of reckless child endangerment. This is especially true when you consider the not-Dick Robins, because Dick’s case was unique. He had skills that the others most definitely did not, and the same anger/grief/what have you that Bruce did. By the end of it, he came out shockingly well adjusted. This combination makes it easy to believe that Bruce did more good than harm, and that Dick would have got himself killed had he been left on his own. The others? Not so much! They didn’t have the same skills and training. They didn’t have the same motivation where they were going to do it regardless of what he did or said. They were brought into vigilantism because of the precedent Dick set…and the fact they looked up hugely to Batman. The person that was supposed to be the responsible adult telling them, no, you most certainly cannot go out at night and fight supervillains, these guys are killers. However, Robin – as a concept – is so much part of the foundation of DC that it’s not going to die anytime soon.

My feelings about the oversaturation of the Batfamily aside, Robin as a legacy matters, no matter who’s using the nameSo you can’t have meaningful stories questioning whether or not the legacy should exist. Not really, because even if you have a great story challenging how heroic someone can be if they’re taking a child into combat situations…it’ll fall flat, because nothing changes. It doesn’t matter. It’ll be a forgotten Aesop in a month. You probably think I’m exaggerating, right? After all, we don’t forget about Jason! But even though he’ll always be remembered as the Robin who died and his death had a huge impact on Bruce and Dick, it didn’t really last, because Death In The Family and Under the Red Hood didn’t end the Robin mantle. Court of Owls and all the unflattering parallels drawn between Bruce and the Court didn’t end the Robin mantle. So despite how great those stories were, themes alone don’t really mean anything unless there’s follow through.

You can make plenty of arguments as to how Tim, Steph, and Damian were different from Jason. Sure, Bruce tried to dissuade them more than he ever tried with Dick or Jason. Tim knew full well what he was going into. Stephanie, like Dick, had personal reasons motivating her and was already in costume before she became Robin. Damian was raised to be an assassin. But the fact of the matter is that Robin continues to exist, not because the post-Jason Robins were different from Jason, but because the legacy is too iconic to let die.

Comics work because they’re not set in a real world. They’re in a fantasy where people can have problems that are either like ours or just similar enough to be relatable, but where the solutions they have are not the solutions that should work in a real world. They’re in a world which is just different enough that when something seems weird, we can just shrug and accept that that’s how this other universe is. Comics can delve further into topics like, how healthy is it to deal with your trauma by going out at night and beating up criminals? or is training a sidekick the same thing as using a child soldier? but the second they do, the whole damn universe falls apart, because once you start trying to apply real logic, you can’t stop until there’s nothing left. Once you start trying to ask these questions, more and more will arise. You simply cannot try to apply comic book tropes to a real world setting.

That’s what’s nice about adaptations. Things like Titans and the Under the Red Hood  movie can contextualize comics. They can apply the issues raised to a real world setting. And that’s okay, because they end. When we’re watching an adaptation, we can see things change for the better, we can see characters learning lessons, without having to deal with the fact they’ll inevitably forget those lessons so that the story can continue, because in adaptations, the story isn’t supposed to continue! I talked about something similar in this post about how Jason isn’t a sustainable character. My reasoning revolved mostly around how I didn’t think he had a place to go as a character while still being a vigilante, and I think the heart of that argument is basically the same as this one: conclusions give stories weight. That post is largely about how Jason’s character development keeps getting reversed because he can’t really exist without the angst over his death, and this one is about how in adaptations, he doesn’t need to. In an adaptation, we can have a character that completes an arc, then doesn’t go back on it, because it ends. We can have a story that means something continue to mean something, because it doesn’t continue on only to for the moral of the story to be forgotten.

Death doesn’t mean much in comics. Not just in terms of people coming back, but in terms of the impact on other characters. It can’t. Not when there’s so much going on. It’s not that a death will never be brought up again. But it’s rare that it has a consistent, continuous impact on others, unless it’s relevant to the story being told, like Bruce’s after Final Crisis. And deaths and resurrections are now so common that they lose their impact on the reader. The greatest comics are those that have a point, and when the story is endless, those points almost inevitably get confused.

Furthermore, the writers of adaptations thinking critically about the source material and making changes keeps things fresh and interesting. It gives us things that are different, stories of which we don’t know the outcome going in. That’s not a betrayal of canon. The specific changes made might demonstrate a lack of love for the source material, but it might also demonstrate an enduring love for it. Take Gotham. A lot of people used to – not so much anymore – complain about how it “messed up the chronology”. To be fair, I used to kind of agree. Gotham was sold as a gritty crime drama about the mob families. As a prequel that would tell the story of how Gotham got to becoming the city that needed Batman, the city where supervillains thrived. And that was great. Except that, with a few exceptions, most of the villains that are traditionally around Bruce’s age were aged up so that they were already fully grown adults at the start of the series, while Bruce was only twelve. Meaning that, if the writers followed the traditional timeline, the villains would be well into middle age by the time Bruce put on the cowl, and by the time most of the Batfam showed up, they’d be fighting senior citizens. Which is why it was so great that by seasons two and three the writers had completely abandoned that premise. It became very clearly an Elseworlds tale, because instead of being a Batman prequel, it became what was, essentially, a Batman story, if Batman were a teenager. It’s about Bruce having to get his training from within Gotham, not outside it, and finding ways to help well before developing fighting skills. It’s an awesome take on the mythos and a sign of writers that care about the long history of Batman and telling a good Batman story while also making something we’ve never seen before.

Comic fans are impossible to please, and we all know that. You have people that complain about Gotham being too little like the comics and people that complain about Watchmen being too much like them. So the best way to tell a story based on superhero comics has to be embracing the new medium. As great and universal as the characters are, comics are different from animation are different from live action, and different stories are best suited for each medium. The more that idea is embraced, the better stories we can get.

The Robin Mantle: How Dick Grayson Is One Of The Few Characters To Get No Say Over Who Bears His Name

As with many people, I’m not a fan of the current direction of Nightwing comics. And that’s for a lot of reasons – how isolated it feels, with so few of Dick’s friends and family coming to see him; how silly the whole amnesia plot is; how I half suspect that this is an elaborate plot by Dan DiDio to make sure sales on the book drop so he has an excuse to cancel it and send Dick off into limbo for a while; and so on. But I think the primary reason it bugs me is the context of it in terms of how Dick made the Nightwing identity and how the Robin one ceased to be his.

When Jason became Robin, it was because Bruce decided the title was Batman’s to pass on. When Tim became Robin, it was because he stole the suit, and Dick accepted him partially out of guilt. When Stephanie became Robin, it was because she sneaked into the Batcave and demanded Bruce train her. When Damian became Robin, it was because Dick gave it to him – the only time when Dick actually got to choose who bore his name. My point with all this? That Dick almost never gets a say as to what happens with the first identity he forged. Which makes it absolutely essential he does with the second.

Robin was the first sidekick – even though when it comes to Robin, sidekick isn’t really the right word. And he was really the only one with a codename unique to him with no connection to his mentor – one that could really be the codename of an adult. Think about the Titans – Wally went by Kid Flash. Donna was Wonder Girl, Garth was Aqualad. All of those are names that have a limit on them. You can’t have an adult going around calling themselves any of those, because they’re not a kid, a girl, a lad. If they were to do that, they would always be beneath their mentors. Even the name Speedy – sure, it doesn’t have the same problem where it defines an age, but it was still connected to Green Arrow, because Roy only got that name because of how quickly he could shoot relative to Oliver. Robin was unique. Dick chose it. It had nothing to do with his mentor’s bat motif. And there was nothing about it that meant he couldn’t continue using it as an adult – hell, his Earth Two counterpart did. He moved on, not because he had to, but because he wanted to, and he wanted to not because the name had stopped mattering to him but because the name was too much associated with Batman.

Take pre-Flashpoint Barbara. She defined Batgirl, and it was only with her blessing that Cass took on the role. That blessing led to a really great dynamic between the two of them, and I loved that it happened. But despite this, one can argue that “Batgirl” isn’t really Barbara’s enough that it had to. Because it was a name derivative of Batman. Because as Batgirl, Barbara was just another vigilante with nothing really unique about her. Because even though it was Batman and Robin, not Batman and Batgirl, it was Robin that was less tied to Batman and Gotham. Batgirl wasn’t personal to Babs. Her being a vigilante was. That’s not the same thing. I think Barbara is better as Oracle. I think she moved on a long time ago and it was a mistake to make her Batgirl again, but before the writers did that, her legacy was a beautiful one of choice. Barbara got to choose her successors, Bruce got to choose his. It’s only Dick that’s denied that right – and denied that right repeatedly. People think they have a right to his identity. Not only that, they behave as though they have the right to tell him what his name means, whether that be in the form of Alphonse Whatsit unknowingly telling Ric what Nightwing represents – and not in the form of a pep talk – or Duke claiming that he’s Robin now. Hell, in Robin War, Dick even said that Bruce told him what Robin means. That’s not even remotely what happened! By contrast, despite the fact that the idea of the bat as a symbol has been pushed forever, we don’t see people that are supposed to be seen as heroes dressing as Batman. We have people that are inspired by him choosing their own Bat-identities with their own costumes – Batgirl, Batwoman. But anyone that goes around calling themselves Batman? They’re always considered crazy imposters. Even down to Dick! When he first put on the suit in Morrison’s run, he complained about how he was considered just another imposter and not Batman!

I enjoyed a number of scenes in Robin War. But Dick has always been my favourite comics character, and I felt like it didn’t grasp the point of Robin, or how much Dick shaped that legacy. What’s strange is that it did that without actually characterizing Dick poorly. While I liked that he was written as smart enough to outmanoeuvre all the other players, that the reason he got his brothers to train the kids wasn’t because he thought they were in the right to use the name, but because he was setting them up to be caught by the police so he could get them off the streets and out of trouble and implement his real plan…this was a story that was supposed to be celebrating his anniversary. And it didn’t celebrate what Robin means, what the legacy and symbol represent to the people of Gotham, but focused on the idea that anyone can be Robin. Which isn’t at all what other canon says. Robin War ignored the fact that other official Robins flat out could not be Robin the way Dick was by acting like it’s just a legacy that can be filled by anyone, with or without training, with or without any connection to what Robin means. And it really bothers me how obvious it is that no other character gets this kind of treatment. Hell, one of the “Robins” joined the movement because she idolized Batgirl.  Not Robin. So why the fuck didn’t she put on a Batgirl suit and fight crime?! The concept of Robin is iconic and necessary, but doesn’t get much respect. Lee Bermejo wanted to “update” it by trying to make it into a movement. I think that’s bullshit. If you’re updating Robin, you gotta do the same damn thing to Batgirl. To Batman. But that’s not what happens. You don’t see a We Are Batman movement, because Bruce gets acknowledged as special  somehow. 

And then there’s Nightwing. I like seeing the impact Dick has had on Bludhaven and that he’s inspired others to follow in his footsteps. It’s as if he’s getting deeper ties to Bludhaven as a city, rather than being halfway to Gotham all the time. But it’s another example of people behaving like they have a right to Dick’s identity and taking it on without permission. Dick as Nightwing demonstrates how to take on a legacy with respect and make it your own, how he wished Robin had been passed on – he talked to Clark who told him a story, and Dick, with permission, took on the name as a way of honouring both his mentors. All these other Nightwings don’t know Dick or what Nightwing means. They just took on the costume and started calling themselves Nightwing. And the people that buy Nightwing aren’t doing it to read about a bunch of random characters that only showed up now. We’re doing it because we care about Dick Grayson and the Nightwing identity he made. This feels like writers that are so determined to leave a mark on the mythos that they’re willing to do all kinds of stupid things and use a popular character to do it. It kind of reminds me of Harper Row, and the way her Bluebird costume was so clearly a reflection of the pre-52 Nightwing suit at a time when Dick was off being a spy. These are things that should be his that are being handed off to other characters by writers that expect fans to be excited just because it’s an “homage” to a character we love. It’s really, really not. I’d make the case that Dick is the most important legacy out there. So it is long past time writers stopped giving people elements of his mantles as a way to give them a popularity boost and start actually respecting what those legacies are.

That’s one of the things I enjoyed about when Dick became Batman after Battle for the Cowl. Bruce said that he didn’t want anyone to take up the mantle. Dick saw that he needed to and did it anyway. It’s the only time he’s ever gotten close to doing what so many other characters have done to him. And yet, it was done in a way that made sense in the story, made sense with the characters, and respected the legacy Bruce had built. That’s never happened with Nightwing, and has only sort of ever happened with Robin.

What makes superhero stories interesting is the idea that anyone can be a hero, whether or not they have powers or special abilities of any kind. Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean anyone can be Robin or Nightwing. It means that Leslie Thompkins can open a free clinic in the worst part of Gotham and keep helping people with nothing but medical knowledge and willpower. It means Lois Lane can solve all kinds of problems and fight for truth and justice, armed with nothing but her brain and determination. It means that Bruce Wayne can spend years training to become someone capable of protecting his city. It does not mean that any random person can take up the legacies Dick fought for and forged to honour the people he loves as if he had no unique skills whatsoever. Not everyone can be Lois Lane. Not anyone can be Nightwing. What it means that everyone can be a hero is that everyone can become their own hero.

Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I love Nightwing and all it represents. And I don’t have a problem with Dick setting it aside to go do something else, because he as a character is way more than the name Nightwing. Thematically, though, it does not work anymore for someone else to take up his mantle without him choosing to pass it down. So after this arc is resolved, if the writers want Dick to go off and do something totally different while someone else takes Nightwing? Fine! But that someone else had better be someone Dick cares about, and it better be his choice to give it away.

Looking The Part vs. Embodying the Role

David Mazouz was born to play Bruce Wayne.

Child actors are often pretty hit or miss, right? I mean, sure, you could argue the same thing is true of adults. But it’s often worse when it comes to kids, due to a combination of inexperience and scripts written by people that have apparently not interacted with anyone under the age of eighteen in years. Because of this, the combination of a talented child actor and a competent writer can be absolutely memorable. That’s definitely the case with Gotham.

Every single time I watch an episode of Gotham, whether it’s one from the first season or one from the fifth, I’m left completely in awe of how well Mazouz plays Bruce. In a show full of impressive performances, it’s Mazouz’s Bruce that stands out the most to me. That’s partly because of great writing that shows him developing from a helpless kid that doesn’t know what he’s doing into a capable, confident, and driven young man that may not have all the training he one day will but still embodies the spirit of Batman. The rest of it is because Mazouz’s excellent performance brings the character to life. I look at him and think, this is Bruce Wayne. He’s still a teenager. He doesn’t have the height or build we expect. But you know what? To me, at least, he still feels like Batman.

Maybe it’ll be awkward seeing him in the suit at the end, because he still looks young. I keep seeing people say things to that effect – like, I can’t take him seriously as Batman, he’s too scrawny and young! I disagree, though. Sure, maybe seeing his head imposed on a body double as they try to pass him off as a decade older will be a bit jarring. It’s not like they’re trying to make a thirty year old look forty, where it’s just a question of maybe greying the hair a bit and adding some lines, they’re trying to make a teenager an adult. But I have absolutely no issue with him being Batman. None.

I’ve seen a lot of people – and this was before it was announced that the series finale will take place in the future – saying stuff about how they want to see Batman, or they want to recast with a timeskip because Mazouz was great for kid Bruce, but not Batman. I think all those people are kind of missing the point, because they’re too focused on Batman as “big guy in a cool suit”, and because they’re not seeing that suit, they’re still talking about “when are we going to see Batman”. The way I see it, the answer to that question is we already have.

Forget the proto-suit he wore at the beginning of season four. Forget about the future scene we’re going to get. Forget about how people are always drawing distinctions between Bruce Wayne and Batman. And think about scenes like in 3×14, where he fought Jerome and decided that I will not kill will be his mantra, or when he told Selina’s fence he should have taken the offered deal in 4×15, or at the end of 4×22, when he slams a guy into a storage unit; demands to know where Jeremiah is; then, once the guy claims ignorance, tells him to tell Jeremiah Bruce is looking for him and knocks him out. Those scenes? Those are more Batman than most actors to have played the role have ever gotten. He may not have the name. He may not have the costume. He may not have the build or the age. But he already embodies Batman.

You can see something similar if you look back at Michael Keaton’s version of the character. Keaton is only 5’9″. I’m pretty sure he’s the shortest actor to have ever played adult Bruce. And I think until Mazouz and Affleck, he was the best. With Mazouz, I think people that would otherwise care about the height manage to set that aside just because they see it as him not really playing Batman – which, I guess, is justified by the fact they’re using a stand in in the finale, despite my feelings about how perfectly Mazouz embodies the character. With Keaton, it was more a question of a good use of the camera so his height wasn’t noticeable – and, when we look back on his movies, probably some element of nostalgia. But Keaton’s performance was also convincing enough to pull focus away from how he looked. Looking the part is good. Embodying the role is better.

I was very disappointed when the news broke that there’ll be a new Batman for the DCEU solo movie – especially coming, as it did, so close to the end of Gotham. Ben Affleck’s performance was one of my favourite parts of  Batman v Superman – a movie that everyone reading this probably already knows I love. For me, Affleck was completely unparalleled casting, both because of the fact he looks the part – height, musculature, good looks – and the fact that he nailed the spirit of the character – the intensity, the determination, the drive. The looks alone will never be enough, but it was a very nice bonus. It’s breaking my heart to lose both that Bruce and Gotham‘s so close together.

The problem when it comes to me accepting a future Batman in the films is that Affleck both looked the part and embodied the role. While obviously I prioritize an actor that embodies the character over one that looks the way I expect the character to look, both is preferable. I’d be able to set that aside for an actor that does as tremendous a job as David Mazouz in making Bruce Wayne believable…but I’m not seeing that happening with this next movie. We were fortunate enough to get to two fantastic incarnations of Batman at the same time with Affleck and Mazouz. Now I think we’re going back to decent. After being so spoiled with Gotham and Batman v Superman, I can’t help but be disappointed.

I would have loved to see Mazouz play adult Bruce in ten, fifteen years. He might get taller or he might not, but he’d be fully grown, so his face wouldn’t look weird under the cowl, and he’s already demonstrated how good he is in the role. We’re not going to get that. We’re probably not even going to get someone at that level. So I think all I can do now is hope that whoever is next cast as Batman can do even close to as good a job as Mazouz, because if he can’t…well, his movie is going to be about a Bruce early in his crime fighting career. If he’s not up for the task, I’m going to go back and rewatch  Gotham instead.

My Issue With Barbara As Batgirl

A while ago, I wrote a post about the Robin issue, and I touched upon the idea that writers were paradoxically claiming that Nightwing is what Dick was meant to be and that Nightwing is a lesser hero than Batman, refusing to let him be truly independent. That made me want to write another post on something very similar that happened to a different character: Barbara Gordon, when she was pushed back into her role as Batgirl.

There has been a lot of debate over the years over Barbara’s status and disability, such as in this article from 2009. Now, the writer does a pretty good job of expressing why returning her to her state pre-paralysis is problematic, pointing out that Barbara is one of the very few disabled characters in comics and undoing her paralysis would be making the slate less representative of the world as it is, but he also says something that I staunchly disagree with, and that’s the following:

One could argue that curing Barbara and allowing her to be Batgirl again would simply allow her to do more good fighting crime than she ever could in a wheelchair, but then you look insensitive to the ability and usefulness she has in other capacities as Oracle. Conversely, you could say that removing Barbara from her wheelchair drastically alters her character, but then wouldn’t that indicate that this is a character defined by her handicap? This begs the question [sic] of why so many fans adore her: is it because she’s a bold and daring leader that rivals the Calculator in brains? Or is it because she’s all of that, but stuck in a wheelchair? Think about the question, and surely many of you will find an answer you don’t like.

The problem with this quote is that it’s confusing two issues. Barbara as Oracle matters for many reasons. And yes, one of them is that she’s in a wheelchair! She’s a disabled hero, and erasing that is disgusting. There are very few disabled characters in the DC universe; she’s arguably the most popular of those; and since people in reality aren’t going to get some magical fix for all their injuries, it means something that Barbara lives in a world of aliens and mythological beings, but was still in a wheelchair. But the reasons she matters are part of a different list than that of the reasons why she’s a great character. Sure, there’s overlap, but they are still different lists.

Barbara is awesome because she’s smart and competent, a leader that grew from a teenage girl that saw injustice and was determined to do her part to stop it long before any personal tragedy. And as horribly sexist as her being shot The Killing Joke was – and believe me, I know it is, I talked about that here – it also paved the way for added depth to her character, because it gave her a tragedy. You can’t see what characters are made of until you push them to their limits, and what Barbara proved to be made of was iron willpower and determination to keep fighting.

As Oracle, Barbara wasn’t an extension of Batman. She wasn’t Batgirl, she was the one and only of her name. She’d graduated to being a full partner. She’d already given up Batgirl at the time of her paralysis because she’d outgrown the role, and her paralysis let her pave a new path. Barbara as Oracle wasn’t defined by her wheelchair or how it stopped her from being Batgirl. She was defined by how she got back up and refused to stay down, how she’s brilliant and capable and absolutely necessary to other heroes she is. That all could have happened without the wheelchair. She didn’t need to be permanently paralyzed to be Oracle. But you know what? She was. By the time of the New 52, she’d been so for literally half her publication history. I saw another comment once, from before the New 52. Someone was arguing that Barbara should return to being Batgirl because her paralysis was sexist, pointing out that when Bruce broke his back, he recovered, while Barbara was paralyzed for life. And that may be partly true. But when Bruce broke his back, he never did what Barbara did, never forged an entirely new identity, never built something new and better. When Barbara became Oracle, that’s what she did, and she was Oracle – a fully grown woman in a wheelchair, a leader of a team of superheroes, and a mentor and maternal figure to her successors as Batgirl – for too long to just erase it and force her back into a role she no longer fits.

Removing Barbara from her wheelchair may not “drastically alter her character”. With it or without, she’s still the same smart, tough, badass she always was. But removing her from her wheelchair is synonymous with removing her from the identity she created out of her trauma. It’s disregarding over twenty years of an iconic character’s history – pretty much the most interesting part. And beyond that, it’s just a gross thing to do! You can’t advocate erasing a character’s disability by saying, “oh, she’s a badass character that’s more than her wheelchair”. That’s disingenuous. It’s not a good faith argument. It’s designed to trap people into either saying that they think the wheelchair is the most important thing about her or believing that because it’s not, maybe it’s no big deal to get rid of it. Neither of those things are true! Because yes, Barbara is more than her disability, but that doesn’t mean her disability isn’t a part of who she is. Returning her to her feet was pretty much keeping the bad from The Killing Joke with none of the good that came about because of it.

Look, Barbara is great in all forms. But as Batgirl, there’s nothing special about her. She’s another generic costumed vigilante in a city that has way too many of them. Plenty of girls can be Batgirl, but only Barbara can be Oracle. She helped so many more people as Oracle than she ever could as Batgirl. Oracle is incredible because her paralysis was one of the few lasting consequences in DC. Characters die then come back to life to the point where death is just whatever. They recover from injuries that should have long lasting impacts, if not kill them out right. It’s because of this that comics can get frustrating – at times, it seems like an endless cycle of the same story over and over again, with nothing ever mattering, because we all know it’ll be undone in a few months, only to be brought up now and then when a writer wants some angst or drama. Oracle was one of the few exceptions to that.

She’s been treated terribly since Flashpoint. She’s stopped being a mentor. She stopped being an equal. She’s been deaged and devalued, going from being a long established and independent and the leader and founder of the Birds of Prey to someone that dreamed of joining that team. It’s not even just Barbara – Barry Allen returning to life, everything that happened with Wally, was almost as bad, because that, too, was getting rid of one of the few lasting changes in the universe. But Barbara being forced back into her Batgirl role is the one that bothers me, personally, the most. Batgirl is fine. And Batgirl is not a part of Barbara’s past that can be set aside. It’s her legacy. But she and Dick are counterparts. Batgirl and Robin are counterparts. Barbara has moved beyond Batgirl just as much as Dick has moved beyond Robin. It’s time to let her move on, to let Cass and Steph have Batgirl in their histories again, to let Barbara stop being Anything-girl and be an adult.

It’s also interesting – and by interesting, I mean tragic – to consider how little Barbara’s role as Oracle is really valued when it comes to adaptations. For a start, she’s not going to be in the Birds of Prey movie, even though it’s titled after her team and she was one of the only three core members. But it goes well beyond that and into the fact that we never really see Barbara’s origin. We see her as Batgirl sometimes – Young Justice, the 60s Batman, Batman: The Animated Series. We see her as Oracle sometimes – Birds of Prey,  season three of Young Justice. And sometimes, we see The Killing Joke. But not Barbara’s real origin. Because that wasn’t The Killing Joke, it was what came after. It was her refusing to let anything stop her, least of all the Joker. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy we don’t have to witness her being shot more. I find that very similar to how it’s, in most cases, going to be unnecessary to see Jason get beat to death with a crowbar. I have no issue with not seeing either of those stories played out on screen. But as much as I love seeing Babs as Oracle, it’s disappointing to not see her journey to getting there. The context is so valuable in giving us a rich story.

Barbara Gordon is too damn good a character to waste like this. Maybe we won’t ever get to see her as Oracle again in the main continuity. But if that’s the case, I at least want to see that in elseworlds tale, because call me crazy, but throwing away twenty years of history and a major chunk of a fabulous character is a dumbass decision.