Romance In Comics And The Editorial Tug Of War Over Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightwing

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Star Spotlight Episodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kory and Gar

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

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


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

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

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