‘Titans’ Season Two: Time To Extrapolate From And Overreact To A Minute Long Trailer Again

Okay. So. Titans season two. Like I said before, I adored most of season one, but the whole thing ended up falling kind of flat because of the terrible finale. This was a little surprising, because the lead up to the show was weird. I was getting whiplash between stuff that made me excited and stuff that I didn’t like. The first trailer was terrible and the second was great. And then when the show actually came out, it was good! So now I know I probably shouldn’t get all worked up about the first look at season two. Except, too bad, I’m going to anyway. Let’s do this.

1. Donna Fucking Troy

LOOK AT HER. I didn’t think I liked her suit when we first saw pictures of it, but it’s grown on me. I definitely would prefer to see her black one from the comics, because I adore that and Conor Leslie would look SO good in it, but this is pretty good, too.

2. Why is Batman blonde?

I first saw the trailer when it was leaked last night. And I still can’t get over the fact they didn’t darken Iain Glen’s hair. I don’t know why this bothers me. This is a weird thing to be bothered by. And yet it just freaks me out. This is a thing I’ve been lowkey worried about since the casting was announced! Especially because we saw Bruce from behind in the season one flashbacks. He had a full head of black hair. Are we meant to assume that raising Dick was so hard for this guy that fifteen years turned his hair blondish grey? All the evidence we’ve been given indicates that it can’t have been that hard because Bruce was the king of distant parenting – dude communicated through leaving cryptic notes on trays.

3. Scottish Batman

It’s not that I dislike Scottish accents. Not at all, they’re great. But it’s somehow off putting to hear Scottish Bruce Wayne. And while I’m sure it’s better than risking him being bad at a fake accent, the combination of blonde hair and a Scottish accent weirds me out. Like…is this something he picked up from Alfred? Is Alfred Scottish in this universe? Is it something he picked up while travelling? Did he meet Talia in Scotland? Are we going to get five seasons in and meet Talia and Damian with Scottish accents? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.

5. Wilson Family

My first thought about this is that I need to hear Rose called Ravager at least once, because that’s a badass name and she looked SO COOL. My second thought is that I love getting both Rose and Joey in the same show, this is great. My third thought is that I want to see Slade’s suit in more detail before I make a judgement on whether or not I like it. And my fourth thought is that that bit at the end made me uncomfortable, because in a lot of ways, Deathstroke is Dick’s archnemesis, and I don’t like the thought of Jason being the one to tell Dick who he is.

4. Jason Todd

It’s no secret that I don’t exactly love Jason. At least when it comes to this. And like….I think this intensified that feeling. I’m a big fan of when Robin is presented as almost more mysterious than Batman himself – like this semi-mythological figure that most people don’t even believe is real. I hate the idea of everyone knowing how many Robins there have been or what happened to them or what names they’re going by now. So Jason jumping in front of a camera crew to shout about how the Titans are back – and seriously? Back? YOU WERE NEVER ONE OF THEM – bothers me. Also, I have to reiterate that I’m not into the idea of him knowing who Deathstroke is before Dick. Seeing as this was only a one minute trailer, it’s very possible that that’s not quite how it plays out in the actual show, but…I just don’t like how Jason is being pushed into stories he has no business being in. That’s never going to change.

5. Dick Training Rachel

I am bizarrely delighted by Dick training Rachel while wielding a sword. And the reason for that can almost certainly be traced back to one specific issue in pre-52 Nightwing.

Dick Kicks Ra's In The Face

Dick is…really good with a sword, guys. He once beat Ra’s al Ghul in a swordfight then kicked him in the face. It was awesome. So I’m excited to see if this season explores how Dick is actually super competent and awesome at a lot of different things.

6. Original Titans

Hank and Dawn are freaking awesome, and I’m still in awe that their episode somehow turned out to be probably the most well made in the whole first season, despite being crammed between a cliffhanger and its payoff. I’m delighted to see more of them. I’m so excited to see what the relationship between them, Donna, Dick, and Garth turns out to be. I’m still a bit disappointed that we’re not getting Roy and Wally, but I’ll live.

I could go on and start rambling about many other elements of this trailer, from Krypto to the little glimpse of the Dick Bruce dynamic to the fact that this seems to imply that the Trigon story is going to be wrapped up in the first episode which is not cool. For once in my life, I’m going to restrain myself. As many things that there are that bother me about this, there are other things that I’m excited to see! And if I stop paying so much attention to what other people are saying, I’ll probably enjoy it more! So I’m going to set my reservations aside again, like I did before season one. It might be good or it might not, but I’ll do my best to enjoy the ride anyway.

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Issue With Barbara As Batgirl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.