Romance In Comics And The Editorial Tug Of War Over Characters

Hi! Popping back in after weeks of absence to discuss how romance in comics can serve as an indication of what is currently seen as the most important aspect of a character.

As probably anyone that’s reading this knows, I love Dick Grayson. I’m very much invested in stories about him. But I do not care whether he ends up in a romantic relationship with Starfire or Barbara Gordon or any other character. I like Kory, I love Barbara, and there’s probably not going to be a new love interest that I actively can’t stand, so. It does not matter to me. What does is Dick getting to remain the beautifully complex character I’ve literally loved for more than half my life and develop so that he doesn’t stay stagnant forever. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about his development – past, present, and future – without discussing his romantic relationships. This is because his relationships with his two most prominent love interests act as kind of a barometer for what editorial considers most important about him, and as such, what we can expect in the future.

Characters that have their own solo series – characters that are considered anchors, of a sort – usually have their own supporting cast from which the key players are chosen, the key players being love interests, Rogues Galleries, family members, and the like. It makes sense – it’s way cleaner than trying crossover pairings. I think that’s one of the many reasons Superman and Wonder Woman didn’t work. It’s not just about Lois. It’s that you can’t have them as main characters in each other’s solo titles. Forget about in universe reasons and how iconic Superman and Lois Lane’s relationship is. Long term, Superman and Wonder Woman can’t last, because it’s not practical in terms of writing. That brings me back to Dick.

Dick is a unique case. He’s undoubtedly a major character – he’s got his own series and supporting cast. He’s one of the core members of the Batfamily. He’s led the Titans – hell, he’s led the Justice League. He’s absolutely not a character that’s only perceived as important as a member of the Titans. Despite that, for a long time, his most important romantic relationship was with his fellow Titan, Kory. Someone that has absolutely nothing to do with Gotham or Bludhaven. What’s interesting about this is that while in many cases, this sort of relationship would indicate to me a character that writers and editors had no intention of developing as an individual, the context and timeline behind it make it seem more like the era in Dick’s publication history where he was most independent.

Dick joining the Titans was him asserting his independence, because he didn’t have a solo series until the 90s. He was defined by his partnership with Bruce. His relationship with Kory, his leadership of the Titans…those things helped him break free of being considered a supporting character. And you know how I said that I don’t really care whether Dick’s with Kory or with Babs or with someone else altogether? That’s still true, but despite all the good elements of stories featuring him in recent years, despite the fact that I’ve loved seeing him as Batman and as the eldest son of the family, all told, the era where he and Kory were a couple and he was on his own was probably better for him as a character.

Dick’s relationship with Kory spoke of a time of freedom for him. He was involved with her when he gave up the Robin identity, when he became Nightwing, when he wasn’t on good terms with Bruce. They went through a lot together. And they could have still been together today…had it not been for the tug of war between those writing the two of them and those that wanted to bring Dick back into the Batfamily. The latter won out. And as much as I do love his dynamics with the different members of the family, it kind of sucks that him going back home involved pushing him back into being, on some level, a Batman sidekick, rather than the completely independent and awesome hero he had become.

When Dick is off with a team – whether that team be the Titans or the JLA – he gets to be the hero that learned from both Batman and Superman, the former sidekick that’s surpassed his mentor. But – as I brought up in a post I wrote a while back on the issue with the ever expanding Batfamily – when he’s back in Gotham, in the same story as Bruce, he’s often pushed back into Batman’s shadow, because Bruce has to be so special that his son can’t ever be better than him at anything. So he gets deaged, made less competent, and has parts of his history erased. That brings us to his relationship with Barbara.

When Dick shifted back to being considered a Bat character, we started to see the rise of his and Barbara’s romantic relationship. That has continued into the present. When it comes to comics, Dick is nowadays considered primarily a Bat character and secondarily a Titan. His relationship with Kory has been left to the past. He doesn’t spend nearly as much time as he once did far away from Gotham with the Titans. The focus is on his relationship with his family. Romantically, he’ll have brief relationships with others, but those are relationships that we know have expiration dates. Even while he’s in those, there are reminders of his and Barbara’s relationship. Right now, that’s a pretty significant part of who he is (of course, once we bring in the Ric thing, there’s a lot more discussion to be had about the nature of who he is and Barbara’s importance, but frankly, I’m way too tired for that. Let’s not talk about Ric).

In adaptations, it’s different. The Bats aren’t so much the priority anymore – not like they were in the 90s and early 2000s with Batman: The Animated Series and the related movies. Even though the comics version of Dick and Kory’s relationship has been left to the past, that’s Dick’s primary relationship in the adaptations, possibly just because we haven’t had as much real Batman stuff as we used to. The exception appears to be Young Justice, as of season 3, because that version of Dick is involved with Barbara. This is interesting, because it seems to me a sign that the Batfamily – and by that, I mean the family, not just Batman or Nightwing – seems to becoming a priority in at least this one adaptation. Dick has been a major character from the beginning, of course. And Bruce has had quite a few significant scenes, and is arguably one of the most important supporting characters. But it wasn’t until season three that we really started delving into the others. We have Tim, of course – we knew that already – and Steph, and promos have shown we’re getting Cass…but in a spectacular wham shot, we now know we’re going to see Jason and baby Damian, as well! This season is likely going to have a lot of the Batfamily, and we should have seen that coming from the second we found out that Barbara had become Oracle and was flirting with Dick via text, because the second we knew Young Justice involved their relationship, we knew that this version of him is most definitely being written as a Bat.

I find this a tiny bit frustrating, not because I’m opposed to any of these relationships or to having a character fit different roles in different stories, but because it implies that writers and editors find Dick to be kind of a piece of clay that they can stick in different places to tell other stories.He is a malleable character. None of his relationships are comparable to, say, Clark Kent and Lois Lane in terms of how essential to the character it is. He does serve different purposes in different stories, and I’m all for exploring his different relationships. But that doesn’t mean it always has to be romantic. I’d like some more focus on his consistent traits and on the strength of his friendships. Because those are just as important – indeed, when it comes to Dick, probably more – than his romances, and having this much weight given to his romances really isn’t all that helpful to actual character exploration.

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‘Titans’ And The Strange Feeling Of Enjoying Each Episode While Being Disappointed By The Whole

The first season of Titans had eleven episodes. Of those, I at least liked ten, and loved maybe eight. Despite that, the entire thing left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. That being said, I disagree with quite a few of the reasons I’ve seen other people give as to why they didn’t like the finale.

Nightwing

From what I’ve gathered, there is a lot of conflicting opinions about Dick this season. A lot of people are upset that he’s been getting so much screen time compared to the others – my response to that is, he is easily the most popular character in the main cast, he’s my favourite comic character of all time, and he’s getting a beautifully nuanced live action take for the first time, so don’t you dare try to ruin it for me. Another large contingent has been complaining that we didn’t get to see him become Nightwing in the finale. Now that I’m going to talk about in detail.

I’m okay that we didn’t get Nightwing yet! I really am. I love Dick Grayson with all my heart. I love his journey into becoming Nightwing, I love him taking on the mantle of Batman, I love his relationships with his family and friends and the lasting impact he’s had on comics as a whole. And because of that, I want it to continue to be a slow build. I want it to be earned, not rushed. Because the costume change is just that – a costume change. Him becoming Nightwing is far more than that. It’s about him choosing his path, about moving on and growing up.

So, no. I’m not disappointed that we didn’t get a Nightwing suit in this episode. Or, well…maybe a little. The show really felt like it was building to that with the first eight episodes. But given the context of the finale and the previous episode – Dick running into the house after Rachel – it wouldn’t have made sense. When would he have had time to make a new suit? Why the hell would that be his priority? The reveal wouldn’t have had time to breathe properly, so I’m glad that’s going to happen later, when it can have the dramatic weight it deserves. What I am disappointed about? That the episode just ended with Trigon corrupting Dick.

The entire season focused on Dick overcoming his darkness. On Dick moving past Robin; coming to terms with his past; realizing that while Bruce wasn’t a perfect parent, he still tried really damn hard. Dick was the central character. He was the heart of the show. And to end the season without that arc resolved, without him deciding, no, I’m not giving into that darkness, is just a really dumb cop out. It’s lazy writing that cheapens his beautiful development. It would have been one thing had this been the penultimate episode, rather than the finale – a setback before he pushes his way through the illusion for Rachel – but it wasn’t. And I know, a lot of that’s probably due to Trigon’s manipulation, but the problem with that is…I don’t think that matters. Not when it comes to a season finale. It doesn’t matter why, it just matters that this character arc – the only real character arc in the show – didn’t get a proper resolution, rendering all of Dick’s character development not quite meaning-less, but certainly not meaning-ful. The suit is just a suit. But the season should have ended with Dick at a point where he’s ready to be the hero that wears it.

And even setting aside the thematic issues, if Dick killing Bruce is due to Trigon’s influence, it wasn’t done in what I consider a compelling way. Yes, it was cool to see how he bent reality every time Dick was ready to walk away to push him into confronting Bruce. But even so, the moment when Dick killed Bruce fell flat. It didn’t feel like much of anything, least of all the climax of anything. It was just a letdown.

Guest Star Spotlight Episodes

There have been five episodes out of the eleven that were named for/centred around/introduced guest characters: “Hawk and Dove”, “Doom Patrol”, “Jason Todd”, “Donna Troy”, and “Hank and Dawn”And when you look at it just from a numbers perspective, then, yeah, it does seem like an inordinate amount of time focusing on characters that aren’t in the main cast. But I really don’t see it that way.

For a start, not one of these episodes is included in my personal list of “episodes I didn’t love”. I thought every one of them was excellent. “Hank and Dawn” deserves special mention in that category as well, because I was hugely skeptical going in – it was placed right after a cliffhanger, it was the second guest episode in a row, it was a flashback episode without the main cast, it was the antepenultimate episode – but when I watched it? I loved it. It kept my attention the entire way through, and I didn’t miss the main cast at all.

In addition to this, just about all the guest episodes aside from “Hank and Dawn” weren’t really about the guest. “Hawk and Dove” introduced Hank and Dawn, but focused more on Dick and Rachel’s relationship and Dick’s issues with family. “Doom Patrol” was more about introducing Gar and having him join the team. “Jason Todd” and “Donna Troy” were both about Dick’s relationship with his past and the Robin identity and the struggle he has to reconcile his love for Bruce with his anger towards him. Titans has mostly been a character focused show, and all these guest episodes served as a way of exploring the lead character.

In what might be a controversial opinion, I also think that two of the guest episodes – “Doom Patrol” and “Donna Troy” – were some of the most cohesive episodes in terms of developing the entire main cast and balancing plot with character development. In the former, we had Rachel bonding with Gar and Dick clashing with Kory, as well as Gar joining the other three. In the latter, we had more character development. We got to explore more of Dick’s past and his lighter side, through his relationship with his best friend. We also had scenes of Kory, Rachel, and Gar on the train, with Kory and Gar – who’d had very little interaction until this point – talking and bonding. We found out what Kory’s mission was. It was a very, very well constructed episode. I don’t think there’s a single episode without the guest stars – except maybe, maybe “Asylum” – that managed that level of cohesiveness.

So my issue with the guest star episodes isn’t at all that they existed. It’s not that guest stars were spotlighted more than the team as a whole. It’s not that they took up too much time in the season. It’s that they didn’t really go anywhere. When it comes to comic book media, I love a meandering, character driven story, because that’s a lot of what the heart of comics are. But that doesn’t mean the plot can be entirely abandoned or that character arcs can be nonsensical. If you’re going to having a running plot instead of actually leaning into the idea of “miscellaneous stories in the same world”, there still has to be thematic coherence and some amount of resolution. And with the finale, we didn’t get that. It felt like stopping at an absolutely inexplicable time.

What I thought was going to happen after seeing both “Hank and Dawn” and the preview for “Dick Grayson” was that Rachel was going to call Hank and Dawn, tell them to find Jason, all of that because she was trying to save Dick and snap him out of his Trigon hallucination. I figured the episode was going to be split between Dick in the illusion and Rachel outside of it, connecting the episode plot to the overall season plot, to the overall importance of Dick and Rachel’s relationship. But none of that happened. We only saw Rachel at the very end. Gar was nowhere to be seen, Kory and Donna were both stuck outside, Hank and Dawn were presumably still at the hospital, and Jason was probably in Gotham. It was messy, with too many dangling threads.

If, as I’ve heard, Hank, Dawn, Donna, and Jason are all going to be recurring characters in season three, then there is too much going on. Especially with the stinger featuring Conner escaping Cadmus. They keep introducing new characters and plot threads, but don’t seem to care enough to wrap them up, or even bring them all together so that they can eventually wrapped up. They’re juggling a lot and dropping the balls.

Kory and Gar

Look, everyone reading this probably already knows I’m biased. As I’ve said in just about every post I’ve made about comics and related media, including this one, Dick is my favourite character. And I’ve never really been a fan of either Starfire or Beast Boy. So I’m never going to complain about the show or season focusing primarily on Dick and his growth into the best version of himself. And while I wouldn’t object to Kory, Gar, and the team as a whole getting more focus, I totally disagree with the claim that centring the story on Dick is the problem, or even one of them.

like this interpretation of Kory just fine – hot blooded, the first one to resort to violence to solve a problem, cocky, a kind of weird sense of justice…but frankly, there’s not enough there for me to love her. She’s a pretty shallow character so far. There are traits that can be interpreted from her actions, but she hasn’t had a real arc, hasn’t had those traits clearly defined and reiterated. I don’t mind watching her, but I also don’t really care either way. I’ve rewatched the pilot a couple times, and I’ve skipped through her scenes. While Anna Diop was engaging enough to keep me from getting bored the first time I saw it, I didn’t care enough to watch those scenes again, and skipped through them to get to what I really wanted to see. If season two focuses more on her, I’m going to need it to be with a much more compelling plot than she has amnesia and wants to figure out who she is. Gar has had even less screentime than Kory so far. And to me, that’s weirder than how little Kory we’ve gotten, because there’s, like…no actual reason for him to be around, either in terms of plot or in terms of the writers having something they want to do with him. He’s just here to be here. It feels kind of like how it always felt to see Storm in the X-Men movies. She was there…but not actually to do anything. Just because the writers thought, oh, X-Men, we need Storm, right? He’s going to need a lot more fleshing out in the future…but the lack of fleshing out so far isn’t why the story fell flat.


I liked episodes 1, 3, and 10. I loved 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. And with 11, I enjoyed several different aspects of it. But overall, it didn’t make much sense. It neither advanced the plot nor advanced the characters, and in some ways, reversed the character development that had already happened for the sake of getting them to a certain point. And that made the meandering plot and the slow focus on character growth far less appealing because of how jarring the finale was.

I’ve heard several rumours about the season and how it was supposed to go – that they cut an episode and merged parts of it with other episodes, that they cut large chunks out of the finale, that they even split it in two to make the second half the premier of the second season. I don’t know if there’s any truth to any of those rumours. But if the last one is true…that would make way more sense than what we got. It’d be frustrating, sure – but at least then, I’d know that it was just a bad idea, rather than writers setting something up perfectly, then screwing it all up.

I still enjoyed each individual episode enough to want to watch season two. I’m reasonably confident I’ll be at least entertained. But I’m really hoping that season two will be more coherent.

Batfamily Dynamics In ‘Titans’

So you know how I love the Batfamily? Well, I do. And that’s another reason watching Titans makes me geek out like an idiot. It’s so centred on Dick and his growth that we get a lot of insight into how his family affected him. It gives us a unique and compelling take on Dick’s relationships with both Bruce and Jason, without having them as his entire story, and it’s fascinating to watch.

I loved getting to see Dick interact with Jason. But I haven’t seen anyone discussing the one thing that kind of weirded the comics fan in me out – the ages and the impact they have on the inter-Batfam relationships. Jason is the only character whose age we canonically know, because it was actually brought up in the show. Sure, people involved with the show have given us some numbers – or at least, vague ideas – for the others, but remember, Writers Cannot Do Math. So until everyone else’s age is solidified within the show, the only thing I’m willing to assume is Jason’s. Unless he was lying for some reason I don’t understand, Jason is explicitly nineteen. He’s also explicitly been with Bruce for about a year, so pretty much immediately after Dick left. Presumably, him going out as Robin has been recent, both because Robin hadn’t been seen in over a year as per the beginning of the pilot and because he needed time to learn the necessary skills. That confuses me, because it means Jason has been a legal adult for the entirety of his relationship with Bruce. He’s not an adopted son anymore. He’s not a child soldier. He’s young, brash, stupid, but he’s not exactly the kid that sees it as a game – he loves it, thinks it’s fun, but he also is okay with the idea that he’s drawing fire. It changes the relationship between all of them.

I’ve always thought that the age of becoming Robin was most essential to Dick, and less so for everyone else. This is because Dick’s story was about loss and pain. It’s a clear parallel to Bruce’s – they lost their parents at about the same age. They started fighting crime to deal with it. By the time Dick became Nightwing, he’d been Robin for pretty much half his life, and he’d set aside the role in a way Bruce never would have been able to, had their positions been switched. In the show, he’s been Robin for even longer. So it makes perfect sense that in the show, he is having a hard time letting go! With everyone else, except perhaps Damian, it seemed like their age was much less important. But now, I’m wondering if I was wrong. It may not matter whether Jason is eleven, thirteen, sixteen. But I think it does kind of matter that he’s a minor.

One of the recurring points in the comics is that Jason kind of saw being Robin as a game. He wasn’t as emotionally invested as Dick, who had a personal reason for putting on the mask. He was a kid that was kind of in over his head. Aging him up changes the tragedy, because now he knows what he’s going into. He’s not just a kid having fun and loving the attention anymore, he’s an adult more capable of making his own choices. So for me, his anger at Bruce upon his resurrection won’t ring as true anymore. Likely, Bruce’s guilt won’t, either. It seems likely that, if Death In The Family is ever adapted in this show – which I doubt, honestly – they’ll have to take his becoming Red Hood in a very different way. With the implication that Dick telling him he should cut out the tracker in his arm will lead to him doing just that, leaving Bruce unable to find him, I wonder if adapting that arc would focus more on Dick’s guilt than Bruce’s.

That leads me to Jason and Dick’s relationship. I find that very interesting, thanks to the age gap. DC often tries to convince us that they’re very close in age, rather than Jason being closer to Tim’s than Dick’s. I seem to recall Rebirth insisting that they’re only a year or two apart. This is despite the fact that I’m pretty sure when Jason was introduced, he was eleven and Dick was eighteen. But Titans is actually acknowledging that Dick is significantly older. More than that – because both of them have been aged up, it’s easier to see how much they’re in different stages of their lives. That made it fascinating to watch, because Dick was clearly trying not to take out his anger at Bruce on Jason, and only partially succeeding.

Throughout the scenes when they were discussing the Robin moniker, I was unsure whether it was clever or an oversight due to DC’s long history of ignoring how personal Robin is to Dick. When I look at it from my own perspective – that of a fan that knows the history of Robin – I think the former. And since it’s on a DC streaming service, viewership is mostly limited to DC fans with a solid knowledge of the comics history. So from that perspective, it makes a beautiful amount of sense to not bring up what Robin really means to Dick – his family’s colours. His mother’s nickname for him. Dick has spent a long time closed off from other people. He’s not going to just spill his life’s story to the random kid that came barging into his life wearing his costume and calling himself by his name. It’s more than enough that the audience knows why he’s questioning why Jason didn’t make his own identity, why he’s upset that his father figure handed over his name and costume to someone else the second he left, why he’s having such a hard time letting go of Robin and carrying the suit with him across the country. But. That doesn’t work as elegantly for viewers  that aren’t comic fans.

The episode didn’t delve into the origins of Robin, why Dick has so much difficulty letting go, why he has every damn right to take his suit all around the country and be annoyed at the kid that acts like he knows what Robin represents without knowing any of the history behind it. So for viewers that don’t know and love Dick Grayson, it must come across very differently. Jason’s speech must seem like a genuine armour piercing speech, cutting to the heart of Dick’s issues. And to an extent, that is the case. Dick doesn’t really know who he is, doesn’t know what he wants or needs. But it isn’t like he’s a kid that’s outgrown his favourite sweater but doesn’t want his little brother to get to have it. This isn’t about him refusing to move on. It’s about him being unable tobecause he’s afraid of what letting go will mean.

Titans is shockingly subtle for a superhero TV show. It’s utterly character driven. I’m not used to this kind of storytelling when it comes to superhero media. It’s slow. It’s indirect. It waves forward than rolls back. It has characters go through similar storylines for very different purposes. If 1×06 was about Dick’s relationship with Bruce, 1×07 was the obvious follow through – his relationship with himself. His self loathing and anger and confrontation of the fact that it’s not really Bruce he’s mad at – he’s mad at himself. 1×06 ended with Dick acknowledging that Bruce did the best he could. 1×07 focused on Dick hitting rock bottom, because if he’s done blaming Bruce, it’s time to look inwards at himself. It’s nuanced. It’s hard to watch. It’s awesome.

It seems most people weren’t expecting anything this subtle, and as such, aren’t taking the time to interpret it as they would non superhero stories. You can see that both through the complaints that 1×07 was the same thing as 1×06 and through the complaints about Donna “badmouthing” Bruce in 1×08 when she contrasted Batman and Wonder Woman by saying Batman was created to punish the guilty, rather than protect the innocent. I saw a lot of people mad about that, saying that it’s missing the point of Batman and all that, but I don’t think that’s true at all – it’s been made very clear throughout the show that this perspective on Bruce is only part of who Bruce really is, and it’s coloured by bitterness and anger. Donna’s quote was even more like that than Dick’s own thoughts on Bruce, because Donna’s attached to Dick. She loves him and cares about him and saw how much all of it was affecting him.

That doesn’t mean that Dick doesn’t still care for Bruce! It doesn’t mean Bruce is the “bad guy”. It means that Bruce and Dick are flawed people with a flawed relationship. It means that vigilantism as a lifestyle is ridiculously unhealthy. It does a disservice to the quality of the writing to simplify it down to “they’re painting Bruce as a villain”. Dick went from refusing to talk about Bruce to casually referring to him as his dad to a stranger. And yeah, sure, that was probably at least in part because it was the easiest way to get the point across without delving into their whole relationship to a random person – the guy was already weirded out by Dick reminiscing about when Donna got her first camera before even introducing himself, how much more weirded out would he be if Dick started going on about his foster father that took him in after his parents fell to their deaths in a trapeze accident? But it was also about Dick coming to terms with himself and his relationship with the man that raised him. It was him remembering that his childhood had good times as well as bad.

Kory joked about Jason being younger, healthier, and smarter than Dick. As comic fans, we know only one of those things is true. But it made me consider what I know about this version of Dick – not comics knowledge, not cartoon knowledge, just what has been revealed in the show. And that’s kind of awesome to think about, because Dick hasn’t done any real acrobatics yet. For all that a segment of the viewership complains about it being the Dick Grayson show, we don’t really know all that much about his past, either. He hasn’t gotten a chance to show off many of his skills. That’s because the focus has been on who he is, not what he can do or how he learned it or the details of how he became who he is. And it works.

I’m obviously biased, due to my love for him, but even if I weren’t, I think it would still be pretty clear to me that Robin is one of the main characters of all those to have ever been part of the Titans. Almost certainly the most popular. Dick was the only member of the original roster that was included in the main cast of the cartoon and the main cast of this show. He leads the team. He’s had a successful solo series. He’s the poster boy for how Sidekick Graduations Stick. So, yes. It doesn’t bother me at all that the show is called Titans, while really being about Dick. It probably would if any other members of the Batfamily – except Tim, but that won’t happen for a while, if at all – end up as main characters, because that would be making it not a Titans show. Focusing on Dick? That’s just picking a main character.

Dick’s arc has moved beyond his issues with Bruce and into the territory of his issues with himself. So we don’t need a confrontation to conclude the character arc he’s going through – which is good, because introducing Batman will no doubt pull focus from the team that the show centres on, even though we know full well he exists without him showing up. However, because Bruce has been a spectre hanging over Dick since the first episode, we at least need something. It’s not going to be enough for Dick to be like, “hey, I worked stuff out with Bruce, we’re cool now”. For better or for worse, whether the resolution is us hearing the beginnings of a phone call or a season ending with him knocking on the door of Wayne Manor, we have to get something, and it has to have some amount of dramatic weight. The build up has been subtle. But the conclusion needs to be more.

Titans leaves me both wanting more of the Batfam and knowing there are few ways in which that could actually work. I don’t think Jason can carry a show. I know making any other members of the family recurring characters will pull too much focus away from what the show is supposed to be about. And being one of the Titans, rather than in a Batfam show where he’d always be second fiddle to Bruce, is better for Dick as a character. All this together means that I’m holding my breath, waiting to see how the writers handle the issue in the end of season one/beginning of season two, because they’ve built it up so beautifully, it’ll be downright tragic if the conclusion doesn’t measure up.

‘Titans’: Character Growth And Respect For Dick Grayson

Now that we’re most of the way through the first season of Titans, I finally feel ready to comment: I genuinely love it.

I was very much surprised to find that that’s the case, between that first trailer, the story details, and the weird age lifts. Though maybe I shouldn’t have been – Geoff Johns is heavily involved, and I have my issues with him and his approach, but he is the man that flat out refused to write Nightwing’s death in Infinite Crisis. He has a healthy amount of appreciation for Dick as a character. I should have had more confidence that my favourite character was going to be treated well. He has been. And that’s good, because even though the show is called Titans and it’s Rachel that drives the plot, at heart, this is a show about Dick Grayson – and specifically as Dick Grayson, not Robin or Nightwing. It’s about him figuring out who he is and what he wants. It’s a character driven story. The plot matters, the villains matter, but it’s primarily about Dick and his internal conflict, his familial relationship with Rachel, how his figurative demons parallel her literal ones.

Fans of the Titans team may or may not love it. And I’ve seen a number of comments from people that are frustrated by the backseat the others – particularly Gar – have taken in favour of Dick and guest stars. But as someone whose primary investment in DC has always been Dick…it’s kind of perfect for me. After all the mixed feelings and confusion about how it was going to turn out, I’m really glad I watched it. I was terrified of this show for the same reason that I was terrified when the Nightwing movie was announced – he’s a hard character to get right. But much to my shock, Titans gets it. What it does spectacularly is capture the almost paradoxical nature of Dick Grayson.

When I first saw the story details, I anticipated it flattening his character by focusing on the anger that was a huge part of his character in the 80s. And that’s certainly part of him. But it’s also not even close to everything, because even though he is angry, even though he’s obsessive and paranoid, he’s also funny and charming and likeable. In a lot of ways, he’s a more complex character than even Batman, because with Batman, there are a ton of equally valid interpretations. You could focus on his obsessiveness driving everyone that loves him away. You could focus on his refusal to stay down. And any one of those will help you understand a solid chunk of who Bruce Wayne is. That works, because those are all different sides of the same type of trait. That’s not the case with Dick, because with him, you kind of need a solid grasp of all those elements of his character, because his traits are so different from each other while all equally important. Titans is doing a genuinely impressive job presenting all those traits in a way that makes sense.

The characterization doesn’t feel flat at all. Dick does have that anger, that need to move out of Bruce’s shadow, but he’s also got his comics counterpart’s charm and decency – it’s most obvious with the motel owner in “Together”, who he turns down politely and tactfully when she’s hitting on him, but we also see it with Amy, who warms up to him after a thirty second conversation despite how much he tried to keep to himself before, and Kory, when their arguing softens into friendly and flirty bickering. Through his relationship with Rachel, we see the comfortably steady and reliable figure he’s becoming, the one that in the comics-verse is so important to guiding Damian. We see his intensity through his interactions with everyone. And through all of it, we see the seeds being planted for him facing his past, reconciling with Bruce, becoming more comfortable with who he is, letting go of Robin and becoming Nightwing.

Personally, I prefer it when Dick leaves because he’s grown up and it’s time for him to live his own life, not because of any major fight with Bruce or being fired or anything like that. He grew up in a circus – he was born to be the star, not play second fiddle to Batman. Bruce said as much himself. But there still is a lot of merit to the way Titans is showing it. Them not being on speaking terms opens up a lot of areas for character development. Also, it gives Dick more room to breathe and become his own hero on his own without his mentor overtaking his story. Otherwise, there would be very little explanation for why Bruce doesn’t have more presence in the show. Beyond that, in the context of Titans, it just makes sense.

Dick and Bruce are more similar than different. It’s been noted on multiple occasions that Dick is basically Batman with social skills. As such, they’re bound to clash, especially because what Bruce wants more than anything is for Dick to be better than him. As he put it in Young Justice, when Diana asked if he’d introduced Dick to crime fighting so that he’d grow up like him: “No. So he wouldn’t.” That conflict runs deep within the show, and it’s fascinating to watch.

A large part of why comics!Dick stopped working with Batman in the comics was because of his issues with identity. He was spreading himself too thin. He didn’t know how to balance his desire to see the best in people with his learned cynicism, or how best to help people. That identity issue is at the heart of his character arc in Titans. He’s fought crime in a city so terrible, Amy’s reaction to finding out where he was from was Jesus since he was a child. That didn’t leave him much time to figure himself out. And now that he’s not on his own anymore – now that he has Rachel to protect, Kory constantly prodding at him to get him to open up – he has to figure that out and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made.

“Jason Todd” was the a major part of that character growth. It was also a clear step in the road to Nightwing. It was a fascinating episode for me, because it forced Dick to confront his past – his vicious, brutal past. Don’t get me wrong. I love the traditional, goes after Zucco but doesn’t kill him bit. But you know what? It makes a painful amount of sense that he would. It’s also very easy to connect to different pieces of DC media. For one, it reminds me a bit of Batman v Superman – as we did with Bruce there, here we see Dick making decisions that are hard to watch, that we don’t want to look at, that aren’t heroic…but that we know will lead to him growing, being better, doing better. The idea of him killing once than being horrified at what he’d become reminded me of Bruce’s arc in Gotham. It also reminded me of Batman Begins – not for what it was, but what it wasn’t. In Batman Begins, we see Bruce trying to justify leaving Ra’s to die, saying something like, “oh, not saving you isn’t the same thing as killing you”. Titans makes no such pretense. Dick acknowledges that he killed Zucco. He talks about it. It’s a whole episode of him dealing with the fact it’s time for him to stop living in the past, stop living in anger and regret, because the cycle of vengeance won’t make the world a better place. And as he does so, he comes to understand that his memory is flawed, because it’s been coloured by rage and grief, and it’s time for him to move on and forge a new identity. As Jason put it, he doesn’t know who he is. The episode culminates with him acknowledging that Bruce tried his best. It’s absolutely gorgeous character development.

Not all of the show is as well done as Dick’s arc has been so far. Some of it has been kind of sloppy.  Take the Beast Boy appearance at the end of the pilot – it wasn’t much of anything, it didn’t need to be there, it was just a minute or two of, hey, there’s Gar, he’s in this, remember? Similarly, I wasn’t big on Kory’s scenes before she met up with Rachel. I mean, I liked watching her…but only because Anna Diop has enough presence and charisma to keep me from rolling my eyes and getting annoyed with how her amnesia plot was a dumb thing to pull focus from Rachel and Dick for. And when the season is only eleven episodes, it’s kind of frustrating to have the team keep splitting up. Outside of Dick – and his relationship to Rachel, because that’s just awesome – it’s a pretty mixed bag. However, the way Dick has been handled? The progression has been so damn good, he alone will make me want to watch season two.

For a popular character, Dick doesn’t get all that much respect. I’ve written about that before. We see it with how his movie seems in permanent limbo. We see it in the comics, where he’s wandering around with amnesia and calling himself Ric. We saw it when his 75th anniversary was kind of hijacked by Harper Row, when DC kept trying to kill him, when we get increasingly ridiculous reasons why he hasn’t actually surpassed Bruce and still needs a mentor. It’s been going on a long time. But this show isn’t falling into that trap. He doesn’t need a mentor. He doesn’t need to work under Bruce. He’s Dick Grayson, and that’s fucking awesome all on its own.

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.

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.

‘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?