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.

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The Robin Issue

Dan DiDio famously hates Dick Grayson.

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

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

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

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

The Many Characters To Use The Name

Batman-and-Robins

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

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

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

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

The Gradual Lessening Of Character Complexity

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

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

nightwing.jpg

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

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

The Attitude That The Status Quo Is God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Jason Todd

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

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

5. Commissioner Gordon

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

4. Oswald Cobblepot

Oooh, look, the one villain on this list!

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

3. Barbara Gordon

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

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

2. Clark Kent

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

1. Dick Grayson

Of course.

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

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

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

World Building And Lived In Universes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strange Sense Of Elitism In Film Criticism

There was a debate all over my Twitter timeline a while ago about something Ethan Hawke said about how superhero movies get overpraised and that Logan is a fine superhero movie, but not a great movie. And regardless of my feelings towards Logan  specifically, I think this betrays the typical genre elitism that does more harm than good by preventing excellent works from being recognized as excellent and thus keeping standards from getting higher.

There are countless counterexamples to Hawke’s point. So instead of listing all of them, let’s focus on three main points: the literary merit of commercial entertainment, the dismissal of the superhero genre, and the pretentiousness behind the idea that literary fiction is its own category.

Meaningful Stories In Popular Media

If you pick out any member of the Animorphs fandom and ask them about the series, I doubt you’d find a single one that would argue that it isn’t kind of trashy sci fi aimed at children. Because it is. They were cheap paperbacks pushed out at a breakneck pace to sell toys to kids with a lot of lighthearted, funny scenes largely centred around fish-out-of-water comedy. No one will deny that. But that absolutely does not preclude them from having literary merit.

It’s a story about child soldiers and trauma and galaxy wide imperialism. Sure, there are moments where the lead characters argue over Teletubbies and an alien eats chocolate off the floor, but that doesn’t negate the themes of genocide, slavery, and depression. They coexist. They work together to build multifaceted characters. Anyone is free to not like it, or think it’s not well written, but if your argument for why it doesn’t have merit or why those themes aren’t meaningful is it’s about kids turning into animals, you’re not making a good case.

“It’s written in a simplistic style targeted at children and lacks the sophistication necessary to appeal to me” is a fair enough statement. I can’t say I’ve ever felt the same way about a novel – sure, I like things that sound good, pieces of literature that can flow over me where how it makes me feel is somewhat more important than what specifically is happening, but I’ve always felt that that is best suited for poetry and short stories than for a full length novel – but I can understand why someone would feel that way. I don’t agree, but it’s an infinitely better case than “it’s not a great book, it’s a fine adventure story, it’s still about kids turning into animals”.

I don’t have much use for media that doesn’t tell me a compelling story. Characters, plot, themes, and style all work together to create a story. No amount of interesting style or themes or both of them put together is enough to make up for boring characters or a nonexistent plot. Animorphs? It does a great job handling all of them together. The books take themselves just seriously enough. They’re a perfect example of how meaningful and pretentiousness don’t have to go hand in hand, how there doesn’t have to be a trade off between developed characters and a developed plot, how themes in children’s literature can be handled more subtly than by dropping an anvil over the reader’s head, how a blunt style isn’t inherently worse than anything else. Most of all, they demonstrate how it doesn’t even matter what the plot is – any plot can be the plot of a meaningful story.

Dismissal of Superheroes

I genuinely don’t understand this need to be all it’s not a superhero story, it’s a whatever story with superheroes! “Superhero” isn’t a genre, it’s an archetype. A wide range of stories can fall into the superhero category. It comes across as people trying to separate something they enjoy from other things with similar elements, not for the sake of describing what it is, but for the sake of making it sound more “high brow”. This extends far beyond superhero stories. Like, what does the phrase “genre fiction” even mean? Nothing. It means nothing.

It becomes a vicious cycle. People expect superhero movies to be straightforward, so people go watch them when they want some shallow entertainment. That results in those that try something new not doing as well, which in turn results in less creative movies, which solidifies people’s belief that superhero movies should be straightforward entertainment. Then you have Batman v Superman, which is a whole different thing altogether.

Never once does it shy away from being a superhero story, because there’s no denying that’s what it is. It’s based on a comic book. It’s about the most iconic superheroes of all time. But that doesn’t preclude it from being a layered story, filled with allusions and themes. It’s the most high budget arthouse movie ever made. All the political themes are interwoven into the story. It’s more than just pseudo-deep quotes, all the themes are rooted throughout the movie. That the characters are public figures and heroes mattersIt’s thoughtful and unique. But critics expected they didn’t have to pay much attention because it’s a superhero movie and didn’t get nearly as much out of it as people thought about what they were watching.

If our expectations for superhero movies included that they must mean something, and critics actually thought critically, the reaction to Batman v Superman would have been hugely different. If you took the same movie and didn’t tell them it was directed by Zack Snyder – because critics clearly have something against him – it would have just as much action and bombast, but critics would be more receptive to the themes and quiet drama of the whole movie. They’d call it – rightfully – a work of art and a political statement. They might even go so far as to make the mistake in saying it’s not a superhero movie, it’s a drama about our relationship with power. It is that. But it matters that it’s told using superheroes. Pretty much the only reason that critics didn’t analyze it through that lens is because it’s a superhero movie. This goes back to the “superhero movie” as compared to “movie with superheroes” issue. If you extend that further, you get the frequent argument that something is not part of a given genre, it just has elements of that genre. That takes us to the “literary fiction” debate.

Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction

Perhaps the reason a certain demographic claims “genre fiction” is a lesser art form than so-called “literary fiction” is that they’re constantly redefining the best works in any genre as something other than what it is – especially in retrospect. Consider – The Book Thief has beautiful characterization and striking prose. It’s a piece of historical fiction set in Nazi Germany, and it’s widely considered to be an excellent book. It’s also narrated by Death – that makes it a fantasy. But I’ve seen multiple critics ignore that fantasy aspect and focus solely on the historical setting. Similarly, I saw an article once about literary fiction that claimed All the Pretty Horses is not a Western and 1984 is not sci fi. I think most of us can agree those claims are absurd. Style doesn’t change the genre. Being well written or memorable or having literary merit for whatever reason doesn’t stop something from fitting the conventions of a given genre.

It especially irks me when it comes to the topic of science fiction, because some of the core tenants of sci fi have always been questioning the world and society. It’s a weird kind of self-importance to suggest that only literary fiction addresses those themes, and even weirder to pitch your work as literature, as if that’s something you or critics get to decide and not time. There are lots of movies and novels that have literary merit. But that doesn’t change the fact that they belong to different genres. It reminds me a bit of the way some Game of Thrones fans try to talk about how much it transcends a genreThere’s a line about it in Parks and Recreation that’s something along the lines of “they’re telling human stories in a fantasy world”. Is there something about fantasy which means fantasy writers don’t tell human stories? No, because that’s stupid. Everyone tells human stories. Saying that it’s not a fantasy story, it’s something else in a fantasy setting doesn’t actually mean anything.


Hawke had a very valid point in that when it comes to superhero movies, most aren’t very good, and they’re praised for being mindless entertainment. But the reason for that has nothing to do with what they are. It has nothing to do with “people wearing tights” or “having metal coming out of their hands”. I’ve been vocal about my issues with Logan as a movie, but something I will never say is that one of the problems with it is the fact it involves people with metal claws. You can make anything sound silly if you talk about it like that – Slaughterhouse-Five is about a man who gets put on display in an alien zoo.

With live action superhero movies, we’re talking about a fairly small sample size. Sure, that’s expanded a huge amount in the past fifteen years, but we’re not talking about anything so broad as “fantasy” or “science fiction”. So we can say things like most superhero movies are lazy without generalizing, because a lot of people have seen a significant percentage of the movies that fall into that category. If that’s what Hawke meant, that’s what he should have said. But what he did say was dismissive of entire genre based on what the genre is, rather than what it’s produced. We have to judge people’s statements for what they are, not bend over backwards trying to find a way to justify them as correct because we agree with something kind of relevant to what they’re talking about.

Logan isn’t a great movie and most superhero movies are overpraised and carefully calculated to sell rather than actually make a point. Yeah. True. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the science fiction and fantasy elements of those stories.

My Utterly Unsolicited Opinion On Dick Grayson as the Robin in ‘Batman v Superman’

Zack Snyder commented on a Vero post today. This is nothing unusual. He spends a lot of time on Vero, and he comments on a lot of posts. But this time, he was saying that the dead Robin in Batman v Superman – the one pretty much everyone assumed was Jason, even though I do remember some debate based on that one picture of a gravestone labelled Richard Grayson – was in fact Dick, not Jason. This prompted Twitter freaking out. I…think that’s an overreaction.

As I’ve pointed out countless times, I adore Dick Grayson. He’s my favourite comic book character of all time, and the very first comic I read was his miniseries from 1995. I love him as Robin, I love him as Nightwing, and I love him as Batman. So believe me when I say…what I’m going to say has absolutely nothing to do with me being a “Snyder fanboy”. I adore Zack Snyder. I think he’s an awesome storyteller. But my love for Dick Grayson goes back a long way. I’ve loved his character since the same year 300 came out. Like all my posts about him illustrate, I’m very protective of how he’s interpreted. So my defending Snyder’s creative choices – even ones that I’m unsure about – has nothing to do with being a blind follower and everything to do with how Snyder has given me reasons to trust him.

I saw several Tweets along the lines of “having Dick be the dead Robin would have been a terrible idea”. To those, I just have to laugh, because you know something? Snyder has demonstrated that he knows how to make something incredible out of “terrible ideas”.

I do not like Frank Miller. I think The Dark Knight Returns is a bad comic that really doesn’t have many redeeming qualities in it. My instinct would have been to say that adapting it would have been a terrible idea. But that’s what Snyder did when he made Batman v Superman, and that was awesome. I love that movie with all my heart. There is no comic book movie on that level of incredible. And that’s because Snyder thinks things through. He creates nuanced takes. He found the good in The Dark Knight Returns and turned it from something I consider kind of terrible to something beautiful. That he could do that is huge. As it is, it doesn’t really matter to whom the Robin suit in Batman v Superman belonged, just that a loss had a major impact on Bruce. But I absolutely believe Snyder could have made something unique and compelling out of making it explicitly Dick rather than Jason.

Another comment I saw – that a lot of people were upset about – was about how it makes so much sense that it was Dick and not Jason that made Bruce so reclusive and angry in Batman v Superman. People often take comments about Bruce’s love for Dick being special as attacks on the other members of the Batfamily, but that’s not it. Of course Bruce has the capacity to love multiple people. He has room in his heart for all of his children and all of Gotham. That doesn’t mean that he and Dick don’t have a unique and beautiful relationship. Dick is his first son. His first partner. Dick saved Bruce from a dark path. Bruce once kept a whole universe from getting destroyed because Dick was in it. Dick has been there through everything. As a character, he predates Alfred, Barbara, Jason, Selina. He’s Bruce’s most valued partner and the one thing he did right. He’s utterly crucial.

One of the reasons Jason was so upset that Bruce didn’t kill the Joker was because he thought he would have done it had it been Dick who died. And there is some basis for that – Bruce completely flipped out and tried to strangle Lex during Forever Evil when he thought Lex had killed Dick. In Infinite Crisis, he grabbed a gun and threatened to shoot alternate universe Lex because of the same reason. The only reason he didn’t in both those cases was because Dick wasn’t actually dead. It’s a pattern of behaviour in the comics, carried through different writers, that Bruce probably would kill someone for Dick. So canonically, there could be that basis for why Snyder wanted it to be Dick and not Jason. But I don’t think that’s the real point. It’s not about what Dick’s place in the birth order means for his relationship with Bruce, but about what it means for the entire concept of the Batfamily.

Without Dick, there wouldn’t have been any other Robins. Tim could come after Jason because Dick already set the precedent for a success, for illustrating why Batman needs a Robin. But there’s no way in hell that Jason would have come along after Dick if Dick died instead. And without Jason – without the rest of the Batfamily – there would be no one to hold Bruce back and keep him from a dark path. So of course Bruce would be alone ten years after losing his partner. Of course he would be hugely more cynical and unwilling to work with other people. Of course feeling threatened by Superman could tip him into being ready to kill. That’s why Robin matters.

As someone that loves Dick, loves how he’s the gold standard that all his successors feel like they need to live up to, loves that he’s the member of the Batfamily most naturally suited to the job they all chose, and loves that Bruce considers him his greatest success, it upsets me to think that in the movies, that’s not the case and that he’s the Robin Bruce failed to save instead. But it also makes a huge amount of sense in this universe, even down to the simple matter of explaining where all the other members of the family were during the movie.

Is Jason best known for being killed by the Joker? Yeah. But we’re talking about superhero comics and their adaptations. Characters die and come back all the time. Killing a different Robin isn’t the same as taking something that’s fundamentally part of Jason’s story and not anyone else’s. And beyond that, movies are an adaptation. Changes are inevitable. It’s more important to me that they remain true to the spirit of the material than any particular storyline. And Zack Snyder has demonstrated that he has a lot of respect for the comics.

I wouldn’t want Dick to be the dead Robin, even though it does make a lot of sense and I know Snyder could make something awesome out of it that would, in all likelihood, respect Dick as a character, just because I love the Batfamily, I love Dick’s relationships with all kinds of different heroes, and I love how he’s the heart of the DCU. If he made a movie further exploring this, I’d go see it, and I’d be excited because it would be him making it, but I wouldn’t feel the same level of excitement as I do about other superhero movies, just because I get most excited about the other members of the Batfamily when they’re interacting with each other, especially with Dick. I wouldn’t be nearly excited to see any of them without that dynamic and a lot of emphasis on the importance of the Robin legacy and Bruce and Dick’s relationship. I really don’t care about Carrie Kelley, who Snyder said it a later comment, he’d have brought in (He said that Dick would have stayed dead until Carrie. I didn’t quite know what that meant – was that just referring to there being no Robin until Carrie, or was he saying that Dick himself would have come back to life after Carrie was introduced?).

And honestly, none of this really matters. It was left open ended at the time, presumably for the director of the Batsolo to decide how they want to handle it. For all we know, Matt Reeves won’t handle it at all. But I think it’s crazy to have such rigid opinions on how a movie that we probably won’t see would have been based on a one word comment. There are a million ways that story could go. I’m not saying I’d be thrilled about this deviation from the comics, and it might not have been what I wanted, but Zack Snyder has demonstrated that he makes purposeful changes. He doesn’t just change what’s in the source material for no reason. He cares about these characters. I trust that he’d give us an interesting story.

The ‘Titans’ Trailer and My Complicated Feelings About This Show

As I say a lot, Dick Grayson is my favourite comics character. Ever. So my initial reaction to the announcement of Titans was much the same as my reaction to the announcement of his solo movie – a healthy mixture of excitement and apprehension. And time – along with information – has only increased that feeling for me.

I want to go into this open minded. By that logic, I shouldn’t say anything – if I have a negative opinion going in, a confirmation bias might prevent me from enjoying something great, and it’s not like we’ve seen much yet. But that’s difficult when this is the first real adaptation of my favourite character, where he’s going to be taken totally seriously. I have a lot of opinions.

I saw a Tweet that was something alone the lines of, “people that don’t like this portrayal of Dick are usually not familiar with the post-Crisis version of the character” and that just set me off. I myself am guilty of doing the same sometimes – I occasionally pull out the comics when I’m making a point. I shouldn’t, usually, but it’s become a habit. And it is true that people are trying to use the Teen Titans cartoon as “evidence”  that Titans  doesn’t respect the source material, which is utter nonsense. But – ready for a controversial opinion? Here goes. Nobody “knows the comics”. I’m a comics fan. I have a decent amount of knowledge of a lot of characters. But superhero comics have existed for decades, it’s not possible to read them all, and what one writer says will be blatantly contradicted by another. There are different, equally valid interpretations. That’s not to say there aren’t common traits that should be kept consistent. But it is to say that it’s condescending and stupid to suggest that the reason people don’t like a portrayal is that they don’t know the comics. Maybe for some. But certainly not all.

For me, part of the reason I’m not sold on this is a simple matter of the fact they aged up Dick. Brenton Thwaites is twenty eight. And yet the Dick Grayson he’s playing is still Robin, not Nightwing. And that casts a whole different light on his, for lack of a better term, rebel period. I talked a little bit here about what I find off about the portrayal of Bruce and Dick’s falling out, and all that is still true, but now that the trailer has been released, I see a different issue – behaviour that would be believable if this Dick were, as is traditionally the case, a teenager comes across as just childish and immature.

At first viewing, I thought the “fuck Batman” line was pretty silly. But I didn’t know why. I figured it was just stilted delivery. Then I watched it again. I didn’t change my mind about the delivery – though it may sound better in the actual episode – but I came to realize that I’m just not a fan of the line. We’re talking about a grown man that’s been away from Bruce for years talking about him like a petulant child. Context suggests that there will eventually be a reconciliation between the two. After all, Jason is supposed to appear – in an important enough role that he has an episode named after him – which indicates Dick will move on to become Nightwing and presumably get past his issues with Bruce. That, coupled with the fact people will be furious if they completely set fire to Bruce and Dick’s relationship, makes it seem like Dick has spent a decade pouting because he wants to be his own person and was chafing under Bruce’s need to control him. I understand their relationship being strained. I understand Dick being mad at him from time to time. But this feels over the top and ridiculous.

On the other side of the issue, I vehemently disagree with those that are calling this show “too dark and gritty” or suggesting that Dick is acting more like Jason, whether because Dick is fighting brutally or because he said “fuck Batman”. Dick Grayson is the original rebellious Robin. Jason did not invent the concept. Dick was disobeying Batman and having screaming disagreements with him long before Jason ever existed. And as for the fighting aspects of it…Dick became Robin as a child. He has no powers and frequently fights villains that do. Even when his opponents are regular humans, when he first started fighting crime, he was much smaller than them.  It absolutely makes sense that his fighting style will be violent. Dick is an excellent character and a very good person, but he’s not just there to be the fun, light, non-action guy to Bruce’s muscle.

It seems to me that both people that like the trailer and people that don’t are flattening Dick’s character to justify their position. But the way I see it, both perspectives are true. That’s what makes him such a good character. Canonically, yes! Dick has a bit of a temper. He lashes out at and pushes away the people he cares about. He was trained by Batman, so, yeah, there’s going to be some amount of “do whatever keeps them down” in his fighting style. But he’s also a fundamentally positive character that’s admired and respected by heroes all throughout the DCU. He’s charming and likeable and good hearted. He’s been an older brother and a mentor figure to both Tim and Damian. He keeps Bruce from descending into the dark. He’s suffered and lost people, but he’s still found happiness and a family and loves the life he’s had. As he once put it, “I wouldn’t trade this for the world”. It’s one of the many reasons I love Young Justice. It managed to balance the different aspects of Dick’s character better than just about anything else.

Dick's Letter To Bruce

At first I thought Dick had crushed that one guy’s neck, which I wasn’t a fan of, because that doesn’t ring true to me – while one of his flaws is his anger and while angry, he does things he’ll regret, it takes a lot to get him there. He stopped himself from killing the man that murdered his parents. Even the Joker – Dick only beat him to death with his bare hands when he thought he’d killed Tim. So that made me worried. But then I looked closer and saw that he broke the guy’s jaw instead, which is a whole different matter. So that much I’m okay with.

On the whole, I fully support new takes on characters, but this doesn’t feel genuine. It feels contrived. The only way I can see it working is if Dick starts understanding Bruce better through his relationship with Raven. It would be similar to the way comics Dick learned to control his anger when Bruce was presumed dead and he’d been left in charge of Damian – a great dynamic and source of character development for both of them.

Moving on from Dick, not much is catching my attention about this. I’m liking the looks of the flashbacks to the Flying Graysons – maybe we’ll also get some more to Bruce and Dick in happier times? The burgeoning Dick Raven dynamic is interesting, and I’m curious as to what Dick and Kory’s relationship will be like. Aesthetically, though, it’s not doing much for me. Beast Boy and Raven’s looks aren’t appealing to me very much yet. Starfire is a little better – ironic, considering the backlash to her wig and dress a while back – but I don’t love it. So far, the heavy colour splashes feel a bit Suicide Squad-esque, and while I do think that was an entertaining enough popcorn movie, I wasn’t big on its visuals.

It’s impossible to tell what the show is going to be like from a few posters, a less than two minutes long trailer, and a single article of story details. But I didn’t love the trailer, and it hasn’t sold me on the show. Sure, it’s possible – even probable – context will make it more palatable to me. But as of right now, my expectations aren’t high.