Thursday, March 14, 2013

Broken Bat

To understand Batman as a character it is essential to grasp the fact that as a person Bruce Wayne is broken. His sanity is held together by force of will alone.

As a child he witnessed the graphic murder of his parents. The trauma of this event was so powerful that Bruce began , as a little boy, the single minded pursuit of avenging his parent’s death. He dedicated, and continues to dedicate his entire life towards this reckoning. It is not a reckoning with any individual. It is a reckoning with death itself.
Batman is at war with death. Always has been. Always will be. He KNOWS he is going to lose this battle. There is no way anyone could win it.

But he never wavers…never falters…never quits…and NEVER loses sight of the mission.
“No one dies on MY watch” is Batman’s mission statement.

That single mindedness is what saves him from insanity…it saved him from becoming the Punisher. Where Frank Castle seeks REVENGE, Batman seeks to AVENGE.

It saved him…it is also why he is broken.

Batman does some pretty INSANE things after all. He has no special powers and yet he dresses up like a bat, jumps off of buildings and hurls himself into battle night after night with the very worst psychopaths in Gotham.
It is also clearly insane to take children into his extremely dangerous battle, KNOWING that they could die. He knew it with Dick, with Jason and with Tim.

But the mission always comes first with Batman, so he did it anyway.

Damian, died as Robin.

Of course there was a difference with Damian. The boy was Bruce’s son.

I know Jason died as well …and came back. Dick and Tim survived to become heroes apart from the shadow of the bat.
But Damian was Bruce’s SON.

This is a trauma that must by it’s very nature be even more impactful than the death of his parents. Any parent I have ever known has a nightmare. It tickles the back of our minds. It is a constant whisper. We learn to live with it because we have to. It is the nightmare that someday , SOMETHING will happen to our children. An accident, an illness or a crime of violence. Something we cannot protect them from.

When a parent loses a child to death there is no word to describe how they feel. “Grief” does not even begin to describe it. Even the shadow of that emotion from the nightmare is almost crippling in the moment that we feel it.
Imagine how this must effect Bruce. As Batman, HE lead Damian down the path that ultimately culminated in the boy’s death. As a parent, how Bruce deals with this will drive the character for some time to come.

It is also a great opportunity for creators to take Batman down entirely new paths.

Will he bottom out? Will he quit? Will he rededicate himself?
Probably all three.

Will he finally come to the realization that there should NEVER be a Robin? Never again be a child in his life that he leads into danger?

Probably not.

It is often said, “Batman needs a Robin”

This is never really explained, just accepted.

Here is why Batman needs a Robin. Robin anchors Batman to life. Bruce has no ability to function as a balanced human being. Unlike Clark Kent who has friends, family and a love life, Bruce is almost completely isolated himself.
The only people he has true interaction with ate those he USES to assist the Batman’s agenda. All but TWO have proven to be disposable relationships.

The only two indispensible, irreplaceable people in his life are Alfred…and The Joker. BOTH are essential to Batman.
Alfred is the perfect assistant. A detective in his own right, field medic and man Friday. He is also completely devoted not only to Bruce Wayne but BATMAN’S MISSION.

The Joker defines the REASON for Batman. He is Batman’s polar opposite and reminds Batman as no other adversary does of the NEED for the Dark Knight.

It is also why Batman continues to allow the Joker to live. On some deep level “Batman also needs a Joker.”
Like I said, Batman is broken. He is going to need a Robin, and pretty soon.

What makes him a HERO is his ability to continue on DESPITE being broken. Bruce has gone to very dark places but he has never fallen down the hole that Frank Castle was happy to JUMP into.

Castle quit. Revenge is the act of a coward and The Punisher is nothing if not a coward. He is certainly no hero.
Bruce does not know HOW to quit. He looked into the abyss and the abyss blinked.

He is after all The Batman. A hero.

Make no mistake, this is the single worst blow Batman has ever suffered. I believe that Batman’s creative team recognizes this and will use this as a jumping off point to really examine the nature of The Bat for some time to come.

I’m looking forward to it.

That’s 30!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

By “George”, It’s Been 50 Years!

To be perfectly honest the only time my birthday enters my mind is when I turn the calendar to March. When I flipped my Marvel Comics 2013 wall calendar a few days ago, right after making note that this month is The Hulk, I realized that my 56th birthday hits on the 16th. Of course I ALREADY knew this, I just choose to ignore it most of the time.

But THIS birthday coincides with an anniversary that I DO want to reflect on. 2013 marks my 50th year as a comic collector!

And it all started with George.

When you visit my office…IF you visit my office the first thing you might notice (after you step over three years worth of paperwork, coffee cups and news papers) is a framed charcoal picture of MY generation’s Superman on the wall.

And then there is this…

Detect a theme?

How does a grown man (obviously well spoken, educated, erudite and of course modest to a fault) surround himself with images and statues of comic book figures? The very stuff of Saturday kiddie cartoon shows?

Blame George. Yup, George Reeves…actor…singer…raconteur , known to one and all as “Honest George The People’s Friend”…Superman.
As a VERY young boy…maybe as young as three years old my first exposure to the world of comics was The Adventures Of Superman which was on TV pretty much every day. Family lore holds that I was absolutely obsessed with all things Superman almost from the moment I could WATCH TV. In fact I drove my mom and dad SO crazy that Mom made me a homemade Superman costume using some red and blue pajamas and crepe paper and my DAD brought me my first comic BOOK when I was six. As long time readers of my column know that was a used copy of Superman Annual #1 (which I still have!)

In fact my first FIGHT was with a kid who had the NERVE to tell me that The Man of Steel was not REAL! What a fight! What a battle! It was epic! It left my Superman togs in tatters! I fought with grim determination. Never giving an inch. But in the end she was too tough for me. Weird Margaret beat me down but I still held fast to my belief in Superman. (Weird Margaret would make up for this transgression a decade later when we were 16 however by through another form of physical “combat” if you will. She was still weird but by then much more cuddly!)

THAT was 50 years ago and to this day I have never stopped reading , collecting, talking about , buying and selling comic books. Oh my interest has waxed and waned once or twice (most noticeably when I figured out that girls were not some weird alien life form but individuals that had certain advantages over your average comic book) but I have never stopped reading altogether.
How could this be? Aren’t comics for kids? Didn’t I outgrow them?

Well here’s the thing. Comics and I grew up together.

Back when I first started my comic odyssey stories were geared to the 6-10 year old set. They were short, simple and creative. The “villains” were either inept or not really all that evil. They TALKED about killing the hero but never actually did it. Those books exposed young readers to a very basic form of science fiction and fantasy AND to the heroic concept that reaches all the way back to Homer’s epic poems The Illyad and The Odyessy.

This was the height of the Silver Age of comics. And I was a boy growing towards adolescence right in it’s heyday. Batman and The Merry Marching Marvel Society were on TV. “It’s A Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!” was on Broadway. And REAL LIFE heroes named Glenn, Sheppard, Grissom and Armstrong were blazing a trail to the Moon.

It was a great time for little boys to grow up!

But change was in the air almost to the day that I began reading Comics. JFK was killed in Dallas…and then Bobby and Martin. We became embroiled in Viet Nam and had a President resign in disgrace. I was growing up during these years. Simple stories and kiddie heroes were beginning to lose their hold on me. I was about to quit.

Then a funny thing happened. As I reached adolescence and young adulthood, so did comics.

A visionary young creative team, Neil Adams and Denny O’Neill would reinvent Green Lantern and Green Arrow and address all of the issues that were important to me. For two years they would guide the Emerald Heroes and talk about drug use, war, over population, sex, cults and racism. Batman was returned to his roots as a dark avenger, Spiderman’s best friend had a drug habit, the Comics Code Authority lost it’s teeth…

and Gwen Stacy died.

Suddenly comics were not so much for kids anymore. As I entered adulthood, comics entered the Bronze Age.

I was hooked once again

Horror and Science Fiction would dominate the Bronze Age landscape with the likes of “Tomb Of Dracula”, Werewolf By Night”, “Ghost Rider” and “Swamp Thing”. Killraven was leading a revolution against the Martian invaders in a dystopian future. Captain America was dealing with a crisis of faith that would lead him to drop his mantle and take on the identity of Nomad before returning as the defender of the American IDEAL. The new X-Men swept the comic book world…The Punisher made his debut….
And then there was Wolverine. Logan, a hero who also killed. We KNEW Punisher was a few cards short of a deck but Logan was always a hero…and yet he killed.

Compelling stuff.

1978 brought “Superman The Movie” and a wonderful new Man of Steel, Christopher Reeve. A new Superman was there as I was finally leaving my teens and entering manhood.

This happened to coincide with my first real love entering my life. One of the first things we did was see this movie. She belted me in the arm and wanted to know why *I* couldn’t fly her around Metropolis like that guy in the cape. I finally knew how CLARK felt all those years!

But as far as I was concerned, every time I looked at her I WAS flying. However, like most first loves, she eventually moved on. But Superman stayed, so did comic books.

But…I was nearing 30 by 1985 and the realities of life were making comics seem a bit trivial again. What had been cutting edge a few years earlier was just formulaic now. I was on my way out again…then a funny thing happened…

Frank Miller meets Daredevil and THEN he meets Batman.

Almost at the same time “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Watchmen” usher in the Modern Age of Comics.

New themes are explored and more importantly new ways of telling stories. The Graphic Novel opens up a whole new platform for creating comics. Books like Maus , Road To Perdition and From Hell all made use of this broad new pallet by collecting comic series into a single volume or even creating whole new stories AS graphic novels.

Gaiman’s Sandman was almost too beautiful to describe and raised the art form to another level…

Comics had become literature.

The Modern Age continues to expand the storytelling pallet. New genres are opening and established genres being rebooted. There are Digital comic and motion comics. There has been a WAVE of Superhero movie.

Smallville and Arrow and Walking Dead have all been hit TV shows.

Oh and guess what? SUPERMAN is coming back to a theater near you!

I’m 56…but I’m also 6 and still looking forward to new comics every Wednesday!

Comics have grown up. Happily, they are STILL growing up…evolving and learning and staying young.

Just like me.

That’s 30!