By Regie Rigby
Well, this time, it really has been a while, hasn’t it?
There are all sorts of reasons for my long absence – all of them unavoidable, and all of them good. I think I won’t bore you with them because, well, frankly, whilst they’re all tremendously important to me, they’re not gonna matter too much to anyone else. Suffice to say, if I could’ve been here, I would’ve.
After a silence of such duration I have to wonder whether anyone is still out there listening, but for now I’m going to assume that somebody is. After all, by definition, if you’re reading this, you’re well used to the concept of the “reboot”, that stage in every comic book character’s life when the writers say something to the effect of either “Damn – we’ve written ourselves into a right hole here, let’s start again” or “Ah what the hell, this character’s been out of it for ages, and he/she is pretty dated, but there are some good ideas here, let’s give it all a bit of a new twist”.
Or, of course, there is the third, and in my mind the least honourable reason for a reboot. The, “I know a good game! Let’s take a character everyone really loves – one of the iconic ones – then let’s get loads of publicity by smashing up every aspect of him/her, change everything completely – in fact let’s betray the whole concept behind the character and everything that made it great in the first place, and then, in a couple of years, let’s change everything back like nothing’s happened.”
We’ll get back to that one.
Anyway. I’ve been gone a long while – in almost every sense of that phrase, but I’m back, and rebooted, more or less, if you’ll have me. My “reboot” basically involves making some changes in the way things are done here at Fool Central, and probably the only thing you’ll notice about it is that I’ll be here every Wednesday from now on, on time and on form. Promise.
What hasn’t changed is that some things about comics still really really piss me off – and since I’m talking about reboots…
What the hell is going on in Gotham City right now?
I didn’t read any of the Batman R.I.P. arc. I’ve got all the issues, and at some point* I’ll get around to reading them, but as the arc was getting started the “stuff” that has kept me from your interwebs for so many weeks was kicking off and I just never got into it. You know how it is with long story arcs, you miss a few issues and then there’s so much to catch up with before you can get into the narrative it somehow starts to feel too much like hard work.
So anyway. I waited patiently for the arc to finish and whatever the “aftermath” arc** was going to be to start. Have to say, it took its time, but eventually the “Batman: Reborn” banners started to appear on the batbook covers and I tentatively started reading.
I suspect that anyone likely to give a toss knows an awful lot more about this than I do, but you have to make the effort, don’t you?
So, as far as I can figure out, the big news is that Bruce Wayne is dead. Not clear on how he died, but he’s dead. Dick Grayson has stepped into the cowl and taken on Damien, Bruce’s son, as Robin. This has pissed off Tim Drake, who has adopted the soubriquet “Red Robin”*** and run off on a world tour to find Bruce because Tim refuses to accept that Wayne is dead. The “Batfamily” think he’s having “issues” managing his grief, but the rest of the world agrees with him, mostly because Wayne’s nemesis “Hush” is now running around wearing Bruce Wayne’s face and giving away his fortune.
Elsewhere, the cops are noticing the difference, and Detective Comics now features not a Batman but a Batwoman****, who actually might well be in serious running for the “Best New Character” award at the Jesters*****. I’ve only read a couple of instalments, but I really do like what I see. This new Batwoman is serious, and skilled, and embroiled in all the issues you might expect somebody starting out in the vigilante business to be dealing with. She also happens to be gay, and while I was more than a little cynical about that when I first heard about it, so far that aspect of her persona does not seem to be the salacious marketing stunt I expected. Could it possibly be we have a new member in the rather sparse ranks of gay characters in comics who aren’t caricatures or tokens and whose sexuality is just as incidental to the narrative as their straight counterparts?
It’s too early to tell of course, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Actually, I have to say, I really do quite like what I’m reading in the batboooks at the moment. The interplay between Dick, Damien and Alfred is interesting. Dick’s frustration at being forced into a role he didn’t want seems real to me, as does his desperate uncertainty about how best to deal with Damien, who was raised to be an arrogant, violent killer and whose world view simply never will mesh with the ideals the young Dick Grayson learned from Batman. Tim’s anger and hurt at being “passed over” in favour of the young upstart also reads perfectly realistically.
All things considered I’m loving it all.******
Yes, I know. I surprised myself to be honest. I expected to hate it. I even wanted to hate it. But no, it’s not the change that’s pissing me off. For once they seem to have managed a Batman Reboot that really doesn’t piss all over the character and the readers’ intelligence. No. What annoys me about this is that, just like all the others, it is so obviously not going to last.
They never do.
Remember when Bruce Wayne had his back broken and was replaced as Batman by the psychotically violent Jean Paul Valley, aka Azrael? Or the time Gotham City was declared a no-go zone beyond the protection of the United States?******* Or the time Superman suddenly turned blue and became an energy being.******** Or the time Superman died, come to think about it.
Batman and Superman aren’t the only victims of this phenomenon, but they do seem to suffer with it the most. There seems to be one of these major “events” every couple of years, which might not sound all that many on paper – two years is a long time after all. But comics are a slow business. Two years is a mere twenty four issues or at twenty two story pages a month, a mere five hundred and twenty eight pages of narrative. Given that the “event” itself probably takes up half of that, you don’t have a lot of space to tell stories about the “new order” before the old status quo comes crashing back in.
This has two negative effects.
In the first place, it really really pisses off the fanboys*********. I’m sorry, and I hate to be old fashioned about things, but frankly I know who Batman and Superman are. You can change the things you say about them in the comics if you like, but if you do, I’ll know you’re wrong. It really doesn’t matter what the legal people say – Characters like Supes, and Bats, and Spidey, they don’t really belong to their publishers anymore. The rights holders are simply that – the people who own the right to make money from the characters. Whatever the legal position, in reality these characters belong to the general readership, and anyone who wants to exercise their right to make money from them needs to give the readership stories about the characters they know. At the end of the day, if you take the characters too far away from what the readers know them to be, they’ll stop reading.
If that happens, the rights holders make no money.
The other problem is that it confuses the newbies.
The truth is that, even if they’ve never ever read one of the comics, the vast majority of the public has a pretty clear idea about who characters like Batman and Superman are. When they do pick up an issues of the comic, they are expecting the “real thing”. What are they going to think if they pick up a copy of Batman right now? They’d be lost, and the chances are they’d just give up.
And that’s why any really major changes to the iconic characters will never stick. It’s a simple case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, a commercial imperative that no publisher can afford to ignore. In the end, it is the inescapable gravitational pull of reader expectation that will always drag these iconic characters back to the point they began. You might be able to tinker around the edges – alter the sidekicks every now and then, for example – but you can’t change the fundamentals. When Batman’s sidekick grew up and left to make his own way it wasn’t long before a new Robin, in the form of Jason Todd, appeared. When he was killed********** it didn’t take long for another improbably talented teenager to happen along.
It turns out that you can change Robin, but “Batman and Robin” is not negotiable. Knowing this, any pretence that Robin has gone is disingenuous. Similarly, you can’t do without Commissioner Gordon, or The Joker. They’ll never be rid of Lois Lane, or Lex Luthor either.
And so it is that these pretences of change, when somebody else takes over Batman’s cowl, or Superman dies, or Spider-Man gets a new costume, or Judge Dredd gets replaced by a clone, really get on my nerves. Much as I’m enjoying the current changes, I know they’re going to change it all back, and that just makes me wish they’d get on with it.
*Given how I currently feel about the apparent result, this is likely to be around the same time that Satan starts ice skating to work in the morning…
**Because there always is one.
***Apparently because he wants to distance himself from the Bat Family. I can see how that would work – nobody is going to connect “Red Robin” with “Robin” are they? Mind you, nobody in Metropolis ever noticed that when he took his glasses off Clark Kent looked exactly like Superman, so maybe the stupid gene is genuinely quite strong in the DCU.
****Mercifully we are, I think, going to be spared the exploding powder puff that the original character to hold that title used to wield.
*****You remember the Jesters, right? Still looking for all your comments on characters, books and creators you think might be worthy of a gong. Make up your own category if you have to, just tell me what’s good.
******I’ve even liking Gotham City Sirens so far, but I am a little bit pissed off that they’ve put Catwoman back in heels. She’s a cat burglar. Really, stilettos are not the way to go, no matter how sexy comics artists and thirteen year old boys think they look.
*******Or something. I forget the details and to be brutally frank there is no way I’m putting myself through the horrors of reading it all again.
********Or something. See above footnote.
*********And I count myself amongst this number.
**********In one of the most badly written and shamefully inept examples of what I’m tlking about.
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