NIGHTWING NIGHTWING NIGHTWING

As I say pretty much every time I start talking about comics, Richard John Grayson has been my favourite character forever. So now that Titans is on the verge of him putting on the Nightwing suit, I think it’s time I talk about how I feel it’s handled the journey to this point. Nightwing is about far, far more than the suit. I think I made that point before when it applied to Gotham – Batman is more than just a suit that Bruce wears. That means that I have a few issues with how Titans is going about that transition.

One of the things that was wonderful about season one was that it wasn’t about Bruce. Like, at all. Dick was at the lowest point in his life, but it was about him. Yes, Bruce plays a major role in his life, but as much as Dick blames him and resents him, it’s not really about him. But since they cast someone for the part, we’re being put into a position where Dick needs Bruce for everything. He needs him and a whole team of people to make his suit. He needs him to give him Titans Tower. He needs him to make decisions. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Everything comes back to Bruce in a way that just didn’t happen in season one.

Hallucination Bruce isn’t really Bruce. Duh. He’s Dick’s conscience, his way of working through information alone, the manifestation of his worst fears and insecurities and guilt. Everything hallucination Bruce says is something that Dick knows but doesn’t want to confront, or something Dick’s subconscious knows, but his conscious mind hasn’t actually figured out yet. So that fight scene? It has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with Dick. Fandom keeps trying to make it about Bruce – like, “yes, this is exactly Batman!” Except the entire point is that it’s not. It’s Dick projecting, it’s making his father into this larger than life figure that’s strong enough to throw him clear across the room, still seeing himself as the kid that couldn’t stand on equal footing with him. It’s not about any of that being true in reality. It’s about him knowing that he’s not Robin anymore, that he’s grown up into something more, something better. Titans does a much better job than I originally anticipated of balancing the different aspects of Dick’s character, but it still fails to grasp the full scope of why he matters, and the interpretation of that fight being about Bruce is a byproduct of how the entire season has ignored has ignored a lot of what makes Nightwing.

Nightwing is interesting in part because he’s a walking contradiction. He has more friends than Bruce ever will, yet he operates independently. He has been a part of countless teams, yet he’s more introverted at heart than Bruce has ever been. The Titans writers haven’t been doing nearly as good a job lately at handling that.

Let’s start with Rose – Rose and Dick’s relationship is hugely important in the comics. He trains her; he inspires her to break away from her father and become a hero; he’s the reason that she becomes a Titan. That’s a role in her life that no one other than Dick could have taken on – it requires the relationship with Slade as well as Dick’s idealism and determination, his insistence on looking for the best in other people. Titans glosses over all of that in favour of putting Rose alongside Jason. That’s tied to an issue that I pointed out in this post – with every additional Robin, more and more of Dick’s characteristics and relationships get leeched away from him to be handed to the new Robin. In this case, the writers had to give Jason Dick’s relationship with Rose to keep him relevant to the season. Yes, they made it romantic instead of the mentor-mentee dynamic that defines how Dick and Rose interact, but it’s the same basic principle – a relationship that pulls Rose away from her father and towards heroism.

Forever Poisoned By Chronic Idealism.png
Dick talking to Deathstroke about Rose.

In Titans, it ends up falling flat because we don’t see much substance to Rose and Jason’s relationship at all. It was Rachel that stood up for her in the beginning, and she was standing up for her to Jason. We don’t see them doing anything to inspire each other. Hell, there’s barely any reason they stuck together at all.  Not only does it have to do with the way Jason ends up taking on Dick’s characteristics, it has to do with how even within this universe alone, Rose has been an afterthought. She showed up, we get some insight into her famijly dynamics, but it’s not part of the running theme of the show. It’s separable. You could remove it and the show would still make sense. That’s the same problem as with a lot of the subplots – all of them are included, but they’re so disconnected it doesn’t mean anything. In season one, the running theme was one of identity. But in season two…Kory. Rose. Hank and Dawn’s drama. There isn’t anything connecting any of those plots. They’re just there. Even Dick’s rivalry with Deathstroke, something that I love, is still a little bit lacking. As I said before, they’re still missing the full spectrum of the character.

Fighting skills are a very small part of the picture of what makes a character, so in most cases it wouldn’t bother me to see Dick depicted as not Deathstroke’s equal. But in the trailer, we see him knocked to the ground, seemingly in the same scene as initially confronting Deathstroke, so Rose can fight her father. While that’s obviously an important thing to see…the timing is frustrating. Dick putting on the Nightwing suit and taking on the Nightwing name is a huge moment. It’s important. Dick is the central character of the story. The plot of the first season may have revolved around Rachel; there may be a huge number of characters with subplots. But the constant is Dick. The entire show has been building up to him leaving Robin behind. And to have the moment where we finally get a visual recognition of how he’s moved on be undercut with an immediate shift towards someone else…well, that’s not great. It’s what Titans did last year all over again, in terms of fumbling at the end.

And then there’s the issue of the Stu thing. I get it – it was pretty funny. But that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make sense. For a start, is there a single person in this entire universe that doesn’t know Batman’s identity? But more importantly, Nightwing is about independence. It’s one thing for him to use Bruce’s money once he’s established – he does that frequently in the comics, and I have no objection. It’s an entirely different thing for him to need Bruce’s resources to become Nightwing at all. In Titans, not only does he need to go to Bruce’s guy to get a suit made, Bruce already had him start on it. It’s taking away so much of Dick’s agency in the matter. He’s being made into a perpetual second stringer, rather than a grown adult that doesn’t need Bruce’s help or permission to be a hero.

None of this really matters. Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I’m so ecstatic to see Nightwing finally exist in live action. That has been true and still is true. I’m just…a little displeased with how the leadup has been handled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Gotham’ Season Five: A Disappointing Dip In Quality From A Team That Can Do Much Better

I love Gotham. It’s genuinely awesome, I love watching every episode, and for the most part, I think the general trend in its quality was upwards. That’s both why I’ve been a bit disappointed in season five and why I’m posting this now instead of after the finale: I know these are people that can do much better than they are now; I’m holding out hope that they kill it with the last two episodes; and even if they don’t, I still want to end the show on a positive note, thinking about what’s good about it, not what’s disappointing. So let’s talk about season five.

One of the things that was awesome about about the show was that it felt like it was constantly improving. Even at its messiest, it was still enjoyable. It’s not that season five has been terrible. The writers didn’t drop the ball as much or as obviously as the Titans writers did with their season one finale…but it sure wasn’t as awesome as different parts of the show has been. As much as I enjoyed certain parts of it, the entirety of the season has made me think, oh. Huh.

Use Of Characters

It started from the very beginning. Season four ended in a spectacular fashion. That finale was amazing. The bridges were blown; the Rogues were carving up territory; Alfred and Selina were about to leave Gotham while Bruce stayed to be completely on his own for the first time; Bruce declared that he was making Gotham his responsibility, effortlessly beat up criminals to find out where Jeremiah was, and stood by Gordon on the roof of the GCPD as an equal. It completely upended the status quo of the show…except 5×01 walked back on Alfred and Selina leaving, so we didn’t get to see how Bruce handles himself alone.

I love Selina and Alfred. They have a great dynamic with each other, they each have a great relationship with Bruce, and the interactions between the three of them is fantastic, because character development is traditionally something this show has done a great job with. But I’d have really appreciated even just an episode or two of Bruce working solo before they got back to the island! An episode of Alfred and Selina on their own! Batman isn’t a solitary hero. He needs his allies. And it would be nice to have that demonstrated definitively in this specific universe by taking away the two people that have served as his primary supports.

Season five Lee is basically season two Lee again. I’ve seen other people complaining about that on Tumblr only to be met with the condescending response that we just don’t appreciate that an ordinary woman can be just as interesting as the Queen of the Narrows. That’s an inaccurate assessment of why we find it annoying. It’s not about Lee’s role in the story or position, it’s about character growth. While where she ended up in season five could have been interesting and earned…we missed a few steps. And honestly? Missed steps or no, I also think season four Lee was closer to being like the Leslie Thompkins of the comics than season five Lee could ever be. She was harder, she was tougher, she’d stopped worrying about anything other than the people of the Narrows and how she could help them. Season five Lee isn’t a result of growth past her dark phase. It’s just her regressing in the most boring way. Which brings us to the next way in which the season has been a bit of a disappointment – the lack of regard for continuity.

Continuity And Timelines

The way continuity used to work in Gotham is that everyone did so many terrible things to each other, that they eventually had to start prioritizing. They’d set aside grudges and feuds, sometimes forever, because they needed the help of whoever they were feuding with to handle something else. There would be nods to past feuds or events, but there would always be something driving them forward so that while past events happened, the focus remained on what was to come. But in season five, it just feels like they’re ignoring all those past events.

Arguably the longest lasting grudge was Lee and Barbara’s – Lee was still mad at Barbara until literally the most recent episode. Unlike most others grudges, this one didn’t fade. Even when Lee had other priorities, she never let go of the fact Barbara tried to kill her. This extended to her being upset at Jim for sleeping with her. Which would have been fine and consistent and logical…except no one brought up Ed.

It’s not that I expected Lee – or even Jim – to point out that it’s hypocritical for Lee to be mad about Jim sleeping with the woman that tried to kill her when she herself had been involved with the man that framed Jim for murder and got him tossed in Arkham. But the fact that no one did, not Harvey or Barbara or any of the people that knew about Lee and Ed’s relationship felt more like a dismissal of continuity and everything that happened in season four than it did an intentional characterization decision. Doubly so in that there was pretty much no conclusion to what happened between those two.

Season four could have been a solid ending for Lee and Ed. They literally stabbed each other! If that’s not a send off for their relationship, I don’t know what is. Problem is, they came back. And not just as minor characters, as characters with pretty substantive plots going on. Had they just not appeared in the season and we were left knowing Hugo Strange had brought them back or had they been in smaller roles that didn’t explore any of their thoughts, feelings, and histories, it would have definitely felt like a cop out…but it also wouldn’t have left us with this awkward situation we got the briefest mention of what happened between them – via Ed telling Lee that she stabbed him first – without it affecting them in any lasting way. The way Lee and Jim left things in season four also felt like a very definitive ending. They weren’t angry with each other anymore, but they weren’t about to get back together, either. Cue season five, where they decided, screw that! They should get married!

The idea of reunification has been a Yo-Yo Plot Point all season. As a result, episodes that are probably good out of context feel like they’re just taking up space and time because they don’t have lasting consequences. Like, what does it matter that Jeremiah dumped chemicals into the river and stopped reunification? The river was cleaned up off screen by the next episode and reunification was on the table again anyway. It’s been going on all season, and it’s getting stale. That kind of back and forth plot with no resolution is fine when it comes to things like relationships and feuds because we’re talking about villains doing bad things, and it’s not like they’re always getting mad about the same thing. But when it comes to the overarching story rather than the characters…it’s just not fun.

All this lack of regard for continuity is even more apparent when you think about how the season four finale ended – the Rogues were all dividing up territory! As I brought up earlier, Selina and Alfred were about to leave the island! But then in season five, Alfred and Selina turned out to have not gone anywhere, and some of the Rogues that were carving up the city, like Firefly and Mr. Freeze, haven’t been seen at all. Even disregarding how the events of this season fit in with the previous seasons, the timeline is a mess! It’s all over the place! Some episodes take place over the span of a few hours or days, either immediately before or after the events of a different episode. Others take place over weeks or months, well after whatever happened in the previous episode. At the end of one episode, Barbara announced she was pregnant. The episode after that was about the couple days after that announcement, and the one immediately after that was her giving birth. The GCPD took back the rest of the city from the gangs and cleaned up the river and whatever else they were doing all off screen! Between episodes! Do I know why they’ve been doing that? Sure. They only had ten episodes to work with, then got two added after the fact. They had a plan as to how they wanted to end the show, and ultimately had to cram it into fewer episodes than they wanted to, with the additional two episodes not being helpful as more than filler because they weren’t told they had them until late in the game. But my understanding doesn’t make it any less messy.

The Newfound Obsession With Elements Of The Mythos

What’s great about Gotham is how it’s an amalgamation of different DC canons. Throughout all the seasons, the creators have taken bits and pieces from comics and movies, blended them with the familiar notes that everyone knows, and put their own unique spin on it to make something that, while very recognizably Batman, is still something we haven’t seen before. Which is why the way this season has handled the Joker and Bane isn’t particularly appealing to me.

I love Jeremiah. And that’s honestly surprising to me because I almost never care about the Joker. The Dark Knight, while a movie I have complicated feelings about, is one where pretty much everyone, regardless of their feelings towards the movie as a whole, adores Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. For me…he was very good, but I think Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face was better! (Actually, I have complicated feelings about that, too, but more in terms of the writing than the acting, and either way, this isn’t the place. But if anyone wants to talk about that…I could talk all day. With dramatic gestures.) I wasn’t left in awe of the Joker! I don’t consider that the greatest villain performance ever or anything. Similarly, Gotham viewers loved Jerome. But Jerome always kind of bored me. He didn’t come across as particularly threatening. He was overshadowed by many of the other villains. Not the case with Jeremiah. But the writers were so fixated on the idea of the Joker and creating this rivalry with Bruce, it felt as if they started buying into the idea that’s been propagated lately about the Joker as the single most important Batman villain, with the biggest role in Bruce’s life, and decided that it’s essential they bring that part of the mythos into the show. The thing is…that’s been so shoehorned in, it falls a bit flat.

In the comics, if we accept it as true that Bruce has any more focus on the Joker than any of his other villains, the only reason for that is that the Joker has hurt his family more directly. Since that family doesn’t exist here, we’re getting Jeremiah pushed in some really awkward ways. It’s not solely a season five problem – the origins of this awkward pushing go back all the way to season two with Jerome. Selina getting shot in season four was very clearly a shout out to The Killing Joke, which I didn’t love that for a lot of reasons. But it’s a problem that’s most glaring here. The allusions to the mythos didn’t feel nearly as much there for the sake of the checkbox as the Ace Chemicals thing or Ecco as a stand in for Harley. Those weren’t necessary, there was no build up. Jeremiah learning about Bruce’s parents and fixating on him so much as his best friend ended up feeling like they were adding more elements of Harvey Dent – who we haven’t seen in forever and who wasn’t much like his comics counterpart – to Jeremiah and making him some strange composite character than actually giving us organic growth to increase Jeremiah’s importance.

On top of all that, neither Bane nor the introduction of Nyssa has done anything for me. For a start, they were both whitewashed, which sucks. Especially because Ra’s wasn’t.  That was great casting, and the first time that the role hasn’t been whitewashed, which made it all the more disappointing to see Bane and Nyssa whitewashed. Even outside of the casting issue, everything about the two of them comes across as derivative of something else. They marked off the checkbox of “Bane breaks Bruce’s back” with a forced, awkwardly crammed in visual of him tossing Alfred to the side. It’s empty. Is Knightfall a good story? Sure. But trying to tie it in here is trite and unnecessary. And a lot of the rest of it comes across as a ripoff of The Dark Knight Rises, just with Nyssa replacing Talia, from the general “Ra’s’s daughter wants revenge” to the specific quotes they use. That’s unfortunate, because Gotham hasn’t actually done that before. Not that directly. It’s always putting unique spins on whatever they’re homaging in a given instant. But this season has just been painfully lazy.  It means that they really have to land the last two episodes to ensure that the show gets a good send off. Unfortunately, some of what we know about them is making me very nervous.

The Finale

From what I understand, Camren Bicondova won’t be playing Selina Kyle in the flash forward. This was a surprise to learn, and I’m still kind of crossing my fingers and hoping it isn’t true. But if it is…yikes.

I had my reservations when I learned that the finale will be set in the future. I discussed that a little here. After we found out how it was going to go in regards to Bruce – David Mazouz’s head imposed on a double’s body – those reservations were mostly centred around whether it would look weird or if Mazouz looks too young to convincingly pass as someone a decade older. But now we’re going back to my original concern: they’re really giving us a finale without all the characters we’ve spent five seasons with. By the time the finale airs, we’ll have spent ninety nine episodes with Bicondova as Selina. We’ve spent so many episodes with them

And what’s worse is there’s no actual reason for the recasting.

It can’t be about age, because they’re using Mazouz for Bruce. It can’t be about “looking like the character” because not only does Lili Simmons, who will apparently be playing older Selina, not bear much more resemblance to the comics version of the character than Bicondova does, they made a decision when they cast Bicondova to begin with that it would be absurd to walk back on now. It can’t be about ability to play the character because Bicondova has owned the role for years, has the athletic skills necessarily to pull off whatever she needs to, and besides, there’s no reason they can’t impose her face on a double as they’re doing with Mazouz if there were major stunts involved. There is absolutely no legitimate reason that Bicondova can’t play adult Selina.

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Simmons doesn’t look dissimilar to Bicondova. But the ways in which she looks different aren’t exactly ways that are believable changes with age. When you consider the fact that she is a few years older, considerably taller, and has a narrower face…it ends up feeling like a rehash of what they did with Ivy. It feels like they’re saying that Bicondova was good enough to play teenage Selina, but they have a rigid image of an adult Catwoman that they’re not willing to budge on, no matter how perfectly Bicondova played the role. And as unpleasant as it is, the rigid image is a very specific “sexiness”,  regardless how little sense that makes for this version of the character. The creators can’t envision a Catwoman that’s not tall and slender and sultry. It doesn’t matter to them that Camren Bicondova is both gorgeous and a great Selina because they apparently care more about their ideal Catwoman aesthetic than they do all the fantastic quirks and nuances to her performance that can’t just be duplicated.

I have nothing against Simmons. I don’t even know who she is. But if this is really happening, it’s gross. Bicondova deserves better than being tossed aside after spending five seasons developing this character. Selina deserves better than to be diminished to just the way she looks. And the audience deserves better than this kind of ending.


Now, look. Gotham is almost always an enjoyable time. Even though I haven’t loved this season, it’s had many good moments. It’s been fun to watch. And perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high going into this season just because of how much I loved season four. But I can’t help but be disappointed anyway. Final seasons should be a culmination of the best parts of a show. They should involve the writers learning from what worked in the previous seasons and learning from their missteps to come up with something amazing. They should remind the audience of why they love the show at all. Gotham‘s season five hasn’t done any of that. After the last two episodes air, I’ll be much more positive and focusing on everything I love about the show, because it’s a lot. But I just had to make note of what I found frustrating first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking The Part vs. Embodying the Role

David Mazouz was born to play Bruce Wayne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability and Character Depth: My Issue With Jason Todd

I don’t hate Jason. For a while, he was even one of my favourite members of the Batfamily. But then…I came to realize that I was loving him more for his potential as a character than anything, because he’s so inconsistently written. Much of what fandom loves about Jason has little to no basis in canon. It’s great that fandom has made him into a more interesting and three dimensional character, but that doesn’t mean it exists in the canon version of him. And when I look at the canon version of him…well, he just doesn’t actually have much of his own.

I wrote a post a while back about the issue with the Robin mantle, where I discussed how the Batfamily is collapsing under its own weight. And I think if you exclude characters like Harper Row and Duke Thomas to focus on what’s usually considered the “core” Batfamily, it’s most obvious with Jason, to the point of being actually glaring. Sure, Jason has largely grown out of being the Dick clone who even had his same backstory that he was pre-Crisis, but for a long time, everything he got was Dick’s castoffs. He doesn’t even really have a generation of his own – in the very brief period during which he worked with the Titans, he was there as Dick’s younger brother, because that was the original team that Dick had founded. In the first Red Hood and the Outlaws, he was partnered with Roy and Kory – again, Dick’s friends, not his own. And in order to make that work – to the limited extent that it did – DC had to take two characters, both with much more history of their own than Jason and tear apart all their characterization. The end result? No one except Jason fans was happy.

Nowadays, Bruce’s thing for adopting every kid he meets is a fandom joke. But I think it’s important to remember how that started – he got lonely and missed Dick so he brought home Jason. It was only after forty years of contentment with his one kid that he felt the need to adopt another, and that was only because his one kid had left home. Contrary to what fandom would have you believe, Bruce does have some element of self control. He’s met plenty of kids without feeling the need to take them home. Dick was different because of how much he saw himself in him. The only reason the Batfamily as we know it exists is because DC realized Dick was too good and too popular a character to remain Bruce’s sidekick forever, but still wanted to preserve the Batman and Robin dynamic in some form. That form was Jason. Jason was literally Dick’s replacement, both in and out of universe. His issues stemming from that are so hugely important to his character that when he moves past it…where does he even go? You could argue that Dick had a similar issue, with a large chunk of his character revolving around his need to move out of Bruce’s shadow, but he also had plenty of other stuff going on so that he could become his own hero and still have stories worth telling, even though a number of writers do go back to that tired idea of him struggling to live up to Bruce. Jason, not really so much. He’s too heavily defined by two stories.

I came across a discussion the other day about Dick and how you can argue that he’s been around longer than all the other Robins combined. Sure, it depends on whether or not you count the years in which one of them was dead, but Dick’s history is so long, his impact on the universe so heavy, that I started immediately thinking about the idea of how that legacy has impacted the stories we get. Legacy matters in DC. This is especially true for the Batfamily. Jason as Robin was one of the first legacy characters in that he was specifically introduced to take up the Robin mantle. And because of this, writers didn’t know what to do with him beyond having him fill Dick’s shoes alongside Bruce, which resulted in a weird kind of limbo where he didn’t have his own friends or own storylines or anything – just him, the only one in his generation, with stories that were just rehashes of Dick’s. Dick has Wally, Donna, Kory, Roy, Garth. Tim, Cass, and Steph are all in the same generation, along with Kon, Cassie, and more. Who does Jason have, though? Maybe Artemis and Bizarro, now, but mostly he’s dependent on Bruce and the Robin mantle for meaning. This can translate a little awkwardly into stories.

Let’s consider the Young Justice cartoon for a second. I absolutely adore YJ. I was so happy when we learned we were getting a season three. As far as I’m concerned, it stands as a model for how to please both comics fans and those that have never read a comic in their life. It respects canon while not being tethered by it. But. Jason’s existence in that universe coupled with the fact that he actually appears in season three makes me question what they’re going for with him in a thematic sense. The show compressed the timescale and skipped five years in which a lot happened. We don’t know how old Dick was when he became Nightwing, just that in five years, he went from being not ready to lead the team to an eighteen year old kid with two younger brothers, one of which is dead, playing speed chess with everyone around him, who everyone listens to. And as a Nightwing fan, as much as I would have wanted to see those years we missed, that’s awesome! Season two of Young Justice let us see him be his own hero. In a lot of ways, it did the same thing Titans is doing right now – not really showing us the origin, because it doesn’t matter. We know Dick and the how isn’t quite as important. But if I consider it from a different perspective, the fact that in those five years, Dick grew up, Jason came and went, and Tim became Robin? It’s a lot. Too much. They’re all uncomfortable close in age, and it kind of diminishes the legacy, which doesn’t do Jason any favours.

Robin is a hugely important concept. The idea of Robin as a Gotham legend informs a lot of what we know about the characters to have used the name. It changes not only a lot of Dick’s character to have been Robin for less than ten years, it changes what Robin means to the entire DCU. Arguably, comics Dick is more attached to the vigilante lifestyle than any other character. He’s been doing it for well over half his life. Him being Robin for nearly ten years – half his life, at the point when he gave it up – meant that he’d made Robin into a symbol that the whole world knew. One that Jason wanted to wear. One that Tim viewed as absolutely essential for Batman’s continued existence. But in Young Justice, as gorgeous as Dick’s character development is, the mantle itself doesn’t have the same weight, because all the focus is on Dick’s complicated relationship with potentially becoming Batman, not on the heaviness of his own legacy. If it were on the latter, we’d have gotten way more mentions of Jason in season two, more scenes between Dick and Tim. But we didn’t. So I can’t say I care about his appearance nearly as much as what seems like most of the fanbase, because without the context of that history, there’s not enough there to make me actually invested. Now that we’ve seen him, I have to consider the fact that it’ll be mainly comics knowledge that makes me care. I trust the writers to make something compelling, because they’ve always done that, even with characters I didn’t come in having any investment in, but without focus on the weight of the Robin name or on the Batfamily as a family, Jason means pretty much nothing to me. His story will be entertaining…but that’s it. Nothing where he needs to be a major character, or stick around past the end of his arc. That’s almost disappointing, because in my opinion, Jason can work in adaptations better than in main continuity comics.

I was talking to a friend recently about the uniqueness of the comic medium. We lamented the fact that superhero comics have become kind of circular, and endless cycle of death and rebirth with no lasting consequences and nothing meaning anything. In fact, I wrote a post about a similar issue in X-Men comics and how Chris Claremont wanted endings in a medium without them. When it comes to DC, that seems especially applicable to Jason, because his character development is so constantly reversed. That’s why I think he’s better suited for things like miniseries or one shots – those end. The characters age and the story wraps up before it becomes necessary to recycle the plot, so Jason could grow in a way that the nature of comics just don’t allow. I’ve seen a lot of people indicate they want him to get a full show, but I don’t see that working out. With shows, there’s a similar issue to comics – there’s no clear end. And Jason needs an end to work. I said at the beginning that I thought he had potential as a character and that’s why I cared about him. But truth be told, that’s not it, either. Because for me, his potential is limited. Jason isn’t a character suited to comics as we know them. I find him interesting through to Under the Red Hood, and maybe a bit after that, if the focus is on him getting past his anger at Bruce…but not any longer than that. Not if he continues being a vigilante.

There’s nothing sufficiently unique about him as a vigilante. His strained relationship with Bruce? Uh, duh, Dick had that first, that’s why Jason even exists. Grew up poor in Gotham with parents that weren’t exactly model citizens? So did Steph. A Gotham vigilante that’s thinks killing is sometimes necessary? Helena and Kate are right there. And all these characters have more going on. Jason may be older than all of them except Dick, but that doesn’t mean he works as well. As far as I’m concerned, if Jason still has potential, it’s not as Red Hood. If his character is going to go anywhere, it’s going to have to be as a civilian. DC doesn’t really do civilians, so I know this isn’t something that’s going to happen, but vigilante!Jason just feels static to me. Sure, he occasionally has some moments of growth where he moves past his issues with the Batfamily…but those issues are so crucial to the way he’s been written for so long, pretty much all writers bring them back to prominence eventually. There hasn’t been a single writer yet that has given me a compelling story of who Jason is beyond that angst. As long as he keeps killing people, that overdone tension with the Batfamily will continue to exist, and if he stops, well…the roster of Gotham vigilantes is overcrowded either way, but at least in the first way, he’s a little different from his family.

Oftentimes, talking to a character’s fans when I’m not a huge fan of said character helps me develop more of an appreciation for them. That’s been the case with characters like Tim Drake, Conner Kent, Cassie Sandsmark, Kyle Rayner, and more. It hasn’t been the case with Jason, at all. This combined with my general lack of understanding of a possible direction for his character has left me pretty confident that as much as I can appreciate the idea of him, appreciate Lost Days and Under the Red Hood, I’m probably not going to ever be keen on him in anything ongoing. Right now, I find him too shallow a character to be sustainable. But who knows – after all, it’s almost always possible to redeem a character. I didn’t like Damian at first! Now he’s one of my favourite members of the Batfamily. So maybe there’ll be a writer some time very soon that completely changes my opinion on Jason. I hope so. Comics are way more fun when I care about all the characters that show up in the runs that I’m interested in. It’s just that the material we’ve gotten for years now makes me skeptical that’s gonna happen.

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.

‘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.