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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Batfamily Dynamics In ‘Titans’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Jason Todd

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

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

5. Commissioner Gordon

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

4. Oswald Cobblepot

Oooh, look, the one villain on this list!

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

3. Barbara Gordon

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

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

2. Clark Kent

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

1. Dick Grayson

Of course.

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

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

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

The Awkwardness Of ‘Titans’

I’ve talked before about my mixed feelings about Titans. I’ve talked about its interpretation of Dick Grayson and why I’m apprehensive of how my favourite comics character is going to be portrayed. I remember telling a friend a while ago – like, before the trailer – that every piece of new information we found out about the show was making me more and more conflicted about whether or not I wanted to see it. Like, they’d tell us that we were getting Donna, but then say that Dick blames Bruce for ruining his life. They’d tell us Jason is going to have an episode revolving around him, then the set photos featuring Kory’s ridiculous wig leaked. And then of course, there was the trailer, to which my reaction can been summarized as what. On the whole, this show, while something I’m definitely going to give a chance, confuses the hell out of me. I feel like I’m getting whiplash.

Maybe it’s stupid to try to analyze this before the show actually airs, but the overall vibe I get is of a show that’s unsure of what it should be. It’s using the cartoon’s roster. It’s drawing inspiration from the comics run. While it’s hard to tell from stills from before the other characters suit up, it seems like they dropped all their budget on Dick’s cape and ran out of money for everything else. It’s only thirteen episodes and supposedly has a central plot, but it’s going to have all kinds of character introductions, including an episode that’ll be the launching point for a Doom Patrol series, threatening to render the whole show overstuffed from trying to do too much at once. The age lift makes it seem like the Bruce Dick relationship may be shifting from a father son dynamic to a brotherly one. It sets off my internal alarm bells. As excited as I am to see it, it’s more because it’s happening – that a show, featuring my favourite character is actually going to exist, regardless of quality – than that it looks like something I’ll wholeheartedly love.

I’m going to watch it. I’m going to try to let go of all my preconceived notions of what it should be and figure out if I like it for what it is. How can I not? We’re talking about the Batfamily here! But I’m still going to be chewing through my lip and trying to reserve judgement until the end of the season.

The Strange Need For Adaptations Of Specific Storylines

Every time a rumour about the Batman movie surfaces, I see countless Tweets saying that it absolutely has to be an Under The Red Hood adaptation. This has been going on for years – ever since the picture of the Robin suit from Batman v Superman was released, people have been jumping up and down about Jason Todd. There are constantly people that don’t like the DCEU whining that it’s not just like the animated universe and that they should just make live action versions of those movies. I don’t get that.

One of the reasons I love Batman v Superman is that while it’s loosely based on a specific story – that being The Dark Knight Returns – it’s not chained to it. It takes liberties with the source material and makes it something unique, while still lovingly bringing to life certain panels and the rough plot and referencing countless other comics. It may get criticized for making those changes, but what’s the point in watching something that’s just slavishly devoted to depicting something with complete accuracy that already exists without any imagination or creativity?

I’d love to see Jason Todd in live action as much as the next girl, but if I wanted to see Under the Red Hood, I’d watch the animation. It’s an excellent movie. It’s well worth a watch. But if that plotline were included in a live action movie, I’d want to see more than just Jason and Bruce. I think the rest of the Batfamily should have a role, especially Dick and Tim, because Jason becoming Red Hood had a lot to do with the legacy of Robin and the feelings of being replaced. The DC animated movies are good, but also very simplistic, without complex character arcs. Live action movies can elaborate on all those things.

The upcoming Dark Phoenix movie bothers me for different, but related reasons. Let’s set aside the retcons and continuity issues and the Phoenix Force for a minute. As iconic as that comic arc is, as much as it was an excellent story, the way that it’s remembered is a fundamentally sexist premise based on the idea that the most powerful character in the universe can’t possibly be a woman, because women are temperamental. That’s not entirely accurate – people tend to forget that in the actual comic, Jean did maintain control for a very long time. It was the Hellfire Club messing with her head and manipulating her that made her lose her hold on her powers. But at this point it doesn’t matter, because like the phrase beam me up, Scotty, it’s so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that Jean Grey went crazy and couldn’t control the Phoenix Force, no amount of pointing out that that wasn’t really what happened will be enough to make people forget it. I’m not interested in seeing that committed to screen. I want to see creative changes made to the source material, challenges to how we perceive stories and characters.

So many Superman stories revolve around locking Lois out of the loop and either insulting her intelligence by making her, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, suspecting but incapable of proving that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person; insulting her intelligence by making her so oblivious, she can’t see what’s right in front of her; or turn Clark into an asshole that lies to and tricks her. Sure, maybe that’s historically a major part of the Superman mythos. Doesn’t mean it’s right, or a good plot element. Man of Steel didn’t include any attempt at lying to Lois, and that was one of the best decisions it made.

Adaptations are great because they’re adaptations. After all, translations themselves can be works of art. This NPR article does a fantastic job of explaining how that’s the case. Works based on another don’t need to follow a specific storyline, or adapt them word for word, image for image. The creators get to make their own choices about what it should be like, what story they want to tell, what needs to be there and what doesn’t. And we can disagree on whether they made the right choices, or whether their choices made for a good movie, but it’s important that they get to make those choices. I disagree with many of the creative choices in the X-Men movies, and I’m completely free to discuss that, but that doesn’t matter, because their job is to make the movie they think they should, not what I do. I don’t get to tell them how to do their job or what they should write. They can’t stop me from expressing what I do and don’t like.

It’s not just about comics – the same thing holds true for the live action versions of Disney movies. I don’t understand why we need them. Animation isn’t some lesser form of art that’s just a trial run for a story before it gets made into live action. It’s great and gorgeous on its own merits. You don’t see people trying to claim that Impressionist paintings aren’t important works of art because they aren’t photorealistic. The Impressionist movement was shunned and dismissed at the beginning, but over time, we’ve come to recognize the value and beauty in their work. Animation involves just as much skill as live action films. It needs excellent actors and a whole lot of time and effort. It’s disrespectful to everyone involved to suggest that a live action movie must be exactly the same as an animation. To the people involved with the live action movie, by saying their talents should be used to make a paint by numbers instead of an actually creative work. To the people involved with the animation, by saying their work has to be remade, usually with singers less skilled than the original ones.

The difference between the live action Disney movies and comic adaptations is that I don’t even think the former should exist, at least not as they are. I’m not a fan of remakes that don’t make any kind of meaningful change to the story. If they do, viewers can either like the change or not, but otherwise, there’ll just be comparisons to the voice actors, and the voice actors are almost inevitably going to be better at singing/emoting vocally, just because their job requires a different skill set than actors that are used to being seen and being able to rely on non verbal action. There’s plenty of reason to make comic adaptations still, because there’s a wealth of unexplored material, but only if they’re genuine adaptations, not just blind reconstructions. Being inspired and holding true to the spirit of the source material is good. Using it as a crutch and being utterly dependent on it is bad. Drawing upon what’s not in the actual source but in an adaptation, or that’s somehow made it into our collective memory of the story? That’s the worst of all.