Doing the Bat-Tusi: Batman and His Lady Friends

Jul-14-08

Superman has Lois Lane. Spider-Man has Mary Jane (Whoops! Well, he did have her). Mr. Fantastic has the Invisible Woman. Cyclops has Jean Grey. Every major super-hero at every major company (at least the ones I can think of; I’m sure someone can remember one I’ve missed) has a romantic lead that is identified with them. Who does Batman have? Well, it depends on what era we’re discussing.

Originally, Batman’s romantic interest was Julie Madison, an actress with no personality. To be fair, this was the Golden Age of comics, when the heroes themselves considered themselves fortunate to have personalities, and supporting casts existed to function as plot points, not fully rounded characters. Julie Madison was like many of the love interests of early comic heroes, in love with her man, but bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t be as brave, strong or adventurous as the thrilling Batman. Bruce, meanwhile, often seemed like he could barely remember her name. She had no value for the series, and was quickly sent packing when the writers realized that they couldn’t bring her relationship with Bruce to fruition, and they were as sick of her as the readers.

The next serious (and I use that term loosely) love interest for Batman was Vicki Vale, who first appeared in the 1950s, but then disappeared for decade, before returning in the 1980s. No one would likely remember Vicki Vale were it not for her appearance in Tim Burton’s original Batman film, where she was played by Kim Basinger. Vale was a photo-journalist and in the style of Lois Lane, she was willing to take chances to get her stories. In many ways, she seemed to have the closest temperament to Bruce (she certainly was less of a shrinking violet than Julie Madison), but the two were never really close, and they broke-up without much fuss.

During the Silver Age, Batman was supposedly romantically involved with Batwoman, one Kathy Kane, but this relationship was even more tepid than the ones previously mentioned. We never saw them doing anything that couples do, and Batman seemed more embarrassed by Batwoman than in love with her. Scuttlebutt is that the relationship was forced into the series to help sink rumors that Batman and Robin were gay, and whether or not that was true, the entire “relationship” was removed from the DC universe during “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. (For the completists out there, he actually married a woman and had a son back in those Pre-Crisis days, but all of that was removed when DC management decided that Batman needed to be more of a jerk.)

Batman has been romantically linked with Catwoman, and especially during the “Hush” storyline, he ran around with her for a short time. There seemed to be some actual sparks between the two characters, but it was a very short lived romance, and shows no signs of returning. He was also linked with Talia, the daughter of his villainous foe Ra’s Al Ghul, and she claims that he fathered her child. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but his relationships with either of these women were quick and virtually nonexistent.

There have been other ladies who have passed through his life; in the late 70s, Silver St. Cloud was introduced for a few story arcs. It was suggested that she figured out that Bruce was Batman, but neither one of them could quite bring themselves to talk to the other about Bruce’s dual identity, and so they broke up. He was involved with his doctor, Shondra Kinsolving, and that seemed serious, so there was a plot which ended with her mind being regressed to that of a toddler. He also briefly had a fling with Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard, Sasha Bordeaux, but this quick fling also faded away after a short time. Not a good track record.

There’s a few things I’d like to point out here. First of all, with a few exceptions, most of these women didn’t leave Bruce after a dramatic and exciting storyline….they just faded away as writers got tired of dealing with them. This brings me to the second point, which is that most writers get tired of these women because they have no strong personality, and no real connection to Bruce Wayne. There is no real passion in these romances, and the relationships never feel real; they feel very fake. If you like at the other iconic heroes that permeate our culture, almost all of them have love interests who are well known and sometimes as much a part of the cultural firmament as the hero themselves. Except for the few villains that Batman has dallied with, does anyone know any of his other loves, and if so, is it just because that love ended up in a movie? And then they never get more than one movie; there’s always a new one in the next movie. Batman is as bad as James Bond when it comes to keeping a woman.

The problem with all of this is that many comics readers and members of the general public will say that Batman is their favorite hero because he is a human with no powers and he’s more relatable. I have to disagree with this notion, especially when applied to the current DCU Batman; I find him completely unrelatable, and would say Superman is more human than Batman is. I find it very odd and rather disturbing that Bruce Wayne has apparently no sexual drive or need for companionship. I’ll be the first to say that not every story needs a love interest and I myself get frustrated when they are shoehorned into a story where they do not belong. However, Batman has been consistently unable to maintain a relationship with any woman for any length of time throughout his entire career and when he does have a woman around, there’s rarely any sort of chemistry between them.

So, does Batman need a love interest? Is he better off without one? What sort of woman could fit into his world?

I would like to believe that Batman would be a bit less of an uptight bastard if he had a little…release…once in a while. Give him an opportunity to let go of some of those pent-up aggressions and frustrations. Let him get his Bat-Groove on, so to speak.

And it makes sense. It would ground him, give him something to protect outside of the abstract, and add some vulnerability to his nigh-unrealistic portrayal as the never-smiling, never-sleeping Broodmaster General. This is another of the topics that I think will end up coloring our revamp of Batman in the long run. I mean, if he has no friends and no love interest, then what’s the fighting for? If Batman doesn’t care about anybody then why should anybody care about him?

It’s pretty sad that the character has been around for nearly 70 years and the first girlfriends I could come up with for him were Kim Basinger and Katie Holmes…or at least the characters they played in 1989 and 2005. And one of them was created specifically for the movie!

I agree with your assessment that, out of all the potential flings DC presented him with, Vicki Vale was the most likely to stick. She had a spunkiness to her, but her personality came off (probably because it was originated as such) as a copy of Lois Lane. “Hey,” the DC editors seemed to announce to whomever was listening at the time, “that female reporter angle gives us a continuing plot device as well as romance!” All the other girls were just wet rags thrown at the feet of Bruce Wayne or Batman, which he either wooed half-assedly or just ignored altogether.

And he needs a strong woman. He needs someone who can stand toe-to-toe with him. Hell, he even needs a woman who is BETTER than him. Let his nonchalance be his downfall. Let him go ga-ga over a chick who clearly sees him as a step down the ladder. Who could this be? Not sure yet, but I have an idea…

You can’t retcon a love interest in. That’s both too obvious and too lazy. Just as Hush seemed like a cop-out villain once his identity was revealed, the “back in the day” lover would be just as reviled. You also can’t just spring some new woman into one of the Batman titles out of the blue. Those kinds of telegraphed maneuvers can kill any momentum you may hope to build. No, this has to be a gradual thing, something that readers may not even notice at first. And it can’t be anyone to whom Batman has any sort of connection. This has to be a strictly Bruce Wayne relationship. Why? Well, Bruce is Batman’s weakness, the part of him without the mask to hide behind, the part that the public knows and identifies with. Bruce Wayne is Batman’s ultimate vulnerability, his Achilles heel.

Here’s my proposal: we introduce a business rival, but we don’t reveal that this powerful woman is the head of the company. Perhaps there’s a takeover attempt or some sort of collaboration involved, something that makes them sit down at a table together. However, the woman has to be written so that she doesn’t take any of Bruce’s flak. She’s impervious to his supposed playboy charm. She’s strictly business…and maybe she’s the one that sets the pace of the relationship, putting Bruce in the awkward position of being the pursuer. He’s off his mark and it affects his Batman work as well. Bottom line: he’s smitten.

Sure, there’s an inherent disconnect in the fact that Batman would let someone like this get to him, but maybe he sees something he hasn’t seen in a long time: a challenge.

Can you take this nugget of an idea and build it into something plausible?

Before I tackle your suggested romantic interest, I wanted to expound on something you mentioned in your post, because I think it really cements why it’s so vitally important that Batman have a love interest. Without a love interest and without a family of some sort around him, what exactly is Batman fighting for? Sure, you can say that he’s fighting so that everyone else can have these things, but isn’t Bruce also fighting for the memory of his parents? And how would his parents feel about what he’s become?

In the Greg Rucka/Klaus Janson mini-series Death and the Maidens, Batman take a drug provided by Ra’s al Ghul, which supposedly lets him communicate with the spirit of his dead parents. The story leaves it for the reader to decide if he actually speaks with them, or if the whole thing is simply a delusion, but the important thing is that his parents are angry with him, as they feel he’s wasted his life. Being Batman is not what they wanted for their son, and they certainly didn’t want him to wall himself off from the rest of humanity. By choosing this celibate life, be living an almost monastic existence (at least as far as sex and companionship are concerned), Bruce is dishonoring the memory of his parents, who I believe truly would be saddened by what has become of their son. I’m sure we may come back to this idea as we continue to explore the Batman, but I wanted to put it out there now for everyone to consider.

Of course, as we move back to your idea for Bruce’s love interest, I can’t help but feel we’re also going to start moving toward our next topic, which is how Batman and Bruce Wayne coexist. Personally, I feel that you’ve nailed one of the most important components of what sort of love interest Bruce Wayne needs, in that this woman is someone he meets as Bruce Wayne. This is why Talia and Catwoman don’t work as love interests (or, at least, one reason); they are part of Batman’s world, and when he’s Batman, all of his defenses are in place. A woman needs to hit the Bruce Wayne side of our title character first, where he’s more vulnerable and willing to allow himself to feel, at least a little.

You ask if I can make this something plausible, but I think you’ve already done that. A strong businesswoman (perhaps even a rival businesswoman) is a great start, and it works well if we have Batman spending more time as Bruce Wayne (again, that would be our next post). They meet in the course of business, and she catches Wayne’s eye and things progress from there. Again, not to step all over the feet of other posts (which, I suppose, is the danger of breaking them up like this, although this would have been a heck of a lot to do in one post), but perhaps one of the things that Bruce loves about her is that, while she’s whip-smart and tough, she’s also been able to do a lot of good with her fortune and her company, much as he always tries to with his. It also might be a nice touch to have had her lose someone close to her to violence. Making it her parents seems too convenient and cliche, but it could be a former lover, a sibling, a long time friend….if she’s known the pain that senseless acts of criminal violence can bring to someone, then she’s got something vitally important that she shares with Bruce. Perhaps this loss is even what convinced her to start doing the charitable acts that helped attract Bruce to her.

I think this is a strong idea. Do we want to explore it here, or in a separate Bruce Wayne post? Then we could tie it all together in our final Batman post.

I have no qualms about going into the topic here…it’ll help us make the case for a stronger Bruce Wayne later on without having to waste time going over it again. Of course, in my quest to make a point about this particular type of love interest, I’m going to delve into another part of the Bruce Wayne identity: just how good of a businessman is he really? Bruce inherited the Wayne fortune, passed down through generations of industry and real estate investments, but what has he done on his own to back up this supposed “business genius” tag that he’s been handed? I’m not assaulting his character per se, I’m just setting up a scenario that this woman could fit into properly.

What if Bruce isn’t that great of a businessman? What if his success is more along the lines of just riding coattails instead of leading with new innovations. I mean, I don’t see him as a parallel to Tony Stark. It’s been established in the movies (and to a lesser degree in the comics) that he relies on someone else for his technology and his toys. I don’t want to get too far off topic here, but these things should be explained better. “International Playboy” is not some sort of code for “Genius” in anyone’s book. He could see this woman as someone to aspire towards. She handles it all so much better than he ever has.

Then again, we need to be careful that we’re not just creating a female version of Bruce Wayne. For her to have the same business inklings is one thing, but to push it so that she’s also had violent death in her family…and has some sort of secret she can’t tell Bruce…and has a group of surrounding friends that she ignores…is a bit too convenient as well. Oooh…what if there are two women that we introduce semi-simultaneously? We could have the strong businesswoman who plays hard to get (or just really isn’t interested in the first place) and, on the flip side, we could have the obnoxiously rich jetsetter type who appeals more to the playboy image of Bruce Wayne…someone who can’t be bothered by all that business hubbub. She has people that do that for her. She’s more interested in the downtime. Two successful women with two completely different outlooks on what success means.

The introduction of two women would make it much less obvious that this was telegraphed from the beginning. Readers wouldn’t assume that one or the other was going to be a long-term love interest for Bruce. And, hey, DC’s done it before…why not have a 900 number they can call in and vote on? Ha-ha!

Well, I’m not sure (and by “not sure”, I mean “very sure”) that I suggested that the proposed love interest be an analog of Bruce Wayne. My point about her having a family tragedy was simply because I think it would take a special woman to grab his attention and a special woman to want to be a part of his world. Of course, it’s not necessary to have the tragedy in her backstory and it can easily be forgotten.

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about Wayne’s business acumen, and it’s something we’ll discuss more soon. However, I would say without any hesitation that Lucius Fox runs the company. Even if Bruce Wayne had any business skills, he never spends time at work (he’s worse than a character on a daytime soap opera….does Bruce ever go to the office?) so he can’t have any sort of active role in the leadership of his company. That’s what Fox is for. I’m not even sure that Bruce has an interest in running his company, although again, he could be inspired to do so when he either: 1. Loses an important business deal to his proposed love interest and has to learn how to play the big business game so he can get what he wanted back from her, or 2. Sees what the proposed love interest has managed to do with her business and realizes that he could do the same with his. Either way, this woman would spark the idea that Bruce could do a lot of good with his business, which would push us forward into our discussion of how Batman relates to Bruce Wayne and vice versa.

Introducing two women sounds like a good plan, although if one is depicted as shallow and obnoxious, is there going to be any reader who honestly believes that Bruce Wayne would end up with such a woman?

Wait…you mean based on everyone’s past view of the character and all the long-term relationships he’s held throughout his life? You really think no one would believe Bruce going after the easy target? And I didn’t mean to set it up like she’s some sort of bimbo or anything, just more of an affected socialite who feels she has better things to do than rabble with the hoi polloi. Granted, I don’t think it’s the best move to have him go after her, but it could be just enough distraction for readers that they wouldn’t suspect him falling for the strong businesswoman. It’s a red herring!

I’d love to see him develop a relationship with a woman who was his superior in some way. And I didn’t mean to bust on you for suggesting she should have a similar loss in her past, but I could see it veering off into she-Bruce territory and I thought we should be careful. The last thing we need is another two-dimensional romance for Batman. I think it would be great if this woman came from a very stable background…almost the complete opposite of Bruce Wayne and maybe that’s what attracts him to her. She has it all. She doesn’t really need him. Y’know?

We also need to set her up as the iconic partner. Bruce Wayne needs his Betty Ross, his Sue Storm, his Lois Lane. We have to make her memorable and likable and realistic. She has to have her own goals and not just play off as a plot twist that conveniently shows up when some new female villain rolls into town. And this all needs to develop over the span of a year or so before we even hint at the fact that Bruce is interested. Let her become a character in her own right before she’s thrust into the obvious situation, make it as far from obvious as possible. Hell, maybe at first they can’t even stand to be in the same room together…then something innocent, like being stuck in a stalled elevator trading stories, brings a glimmer of romance only to have it squashed again in their next negotiation. Play it back and forth like that for a few appearances. It would work as a nice tension-building parallel to whatever criminal Batman was tracking at night.

I agree with you that the woman needs to be introduced and established before a romance begins. I also think that they might not hit it off at first. I still like the idea of this woman besting Bruce’s company in some deal and doing it because this woman is simply a better businesswoman than Bruce (which shouldn’t be too difficult). I think that would be the impetus for Bruce to become more involved in running his company, and would force him to up his game in the corporate arena, which seems pretty bad.

At the same time, we introduced another female. Perhaps this is a society heiress with little interest in work or in her family’s business. This woman is smart, and more importantly, she’s adventurous. Bruce meets her at one of the parties he’s always forced to attend for his cover, and she charms him immediately. She invites him to do something dangerous with her (sky diving, mountain climbing or something like that) and he agrees. While he’s done things that are much more dangerous than any of these activities, he hasn’t done them as Bruce Wayne, and he finds the excitement of that, and the excitement of doing these things with this gorgeous woman, fills him with life. This woman is kind, and she gives lots of money to charities, but she doesn’t really give her time. She’s a good person, but she’s a little selfish; not blatantly selfish, but we pepper the stories with very subtle signs that this woman thinks of herself first. She’ll give millions to homeless shelters, but she doesn’t check on how her money is being spent, and if asked to come and do a television appearance to raise more money, she refuses, as she has to go pearl diving off the coast of Mexico.

While we have this going on in Bruce’s life, he continues to tangle with the businesswoman. He’s working hard to become her business equal, and he’s also investigating her company and her. He sees that she is doing a lot of good in her own way, but he still wants to best her in business, perhaps at this point for the sheer challenge of doing so. Over the course of a few months, he begins to realize that the challenge of matching wits with this woman is just as exciting, in its own way, as doing things with his heiress friend, and that the businesswoman is much deeper. It’s a somewhat slow but he starts to come around and starts thinking of the businesswoman is more than a rival….

At least, that’s how I see it playing out. These would all be subplots that would play behind the real action for quite awhile. You said a year, and I think that’s probably an accurate idea of the time this would take.

Yeah, you can’t take all the action away from a Batman book to focus on romance. You’d have a bit of a fan revolt, I believe. I think your approach works best…setting up two women who are unwittingly competing for completely different parts of the Bruce Wayne persona. Which is more intriguing to him? And which one will have a longer-lasting involvement in his life. It’s a good challenge to have.

That said, we’re not the only people clamoring for such changes. This article also talks about how isolated the Batman character seems in its latest movie incarnation (of course, I think their suggestions are rather short-sighted). The people have spoken…and they want love!


Batman: Introducing the Bat-Bunch

Jul-10-08

We’ve been spending the last week or more talking about what makes the bad guys bad (and how to make them badder), so I thought it was about time to change the pace a bit. We were going to switch gears and talk about improving Batman’s supporting cast, but John and I came to the general conclusion that we approve of pretty much everyone the Dark Knight surrounds himself with…from Alfred to Oracle, Commissioner Gordon to the rest of the Gotham City PD. Hell, I even have nice things to say about Bat-Mite (I really don’t).

No, the problems we have aren’t with Team Batman themselves, but rather with the way Batman treats his supporting cast. And these problems will be explored in the next few posts as we cover everything from background players to love interests to the Bruce Wayne alter ego to our final hypothesis on “fixing” Batman.

So let’s get the ball rolling on the rest of the good guys. Let me see if I can drum up a rough timeline of Batman’s prominent bit players. Jim Gordon makes his first appearance in the same Detective Comics #27as Batman (interesting to note that Gordon’s early appearances put him in opposition to Batman while showing a friendship with Bruce Wayne…Gordon is also the only major Bat-confidante who doesn’t know his secret identity), Robin (Dick Grayson) shows up a year later followed by Catwoman (first as a villain), Alfred Pennyworth, Barbara Gordon (first as Batgirl…not to be confused with Bat-Girl), the second Robin (Jason Todd), Huntress (who later became the second Batgirl), another Robin (Tim Drake), Spoiler (who then became the fourth Robin) and finally a third Batgirl.

That was easy to follow, right? And, heck, I didn’t even include his former bodyguard (Sasha Bordeaux), his son (Damian) to the daughter of one of his archenemies, the violent weirdo who temporarily replaced him (Azrael), a friend who became a villain (Harvey Dent), an enemy who has become a tenuous ally (Riddler), an obsessed other-dimensional imp (Bat-Mite), or his domino-masked German Shepherd Ace the Bat-Hound.

So where do they all fit in? How do they all come together? And what the heck is Batman’s problem with teamwork? Let’s explain.

It’s funny that Batman is often considered the quintessential loner, when in actuality he has a larger supporting cast than almost any other hero I can name. We’ve spoken at length about the strength (and breadth) of his Rogues Gallery, but his allies are just as strong. These are some well rounded characters and they fill important roles in Batman’s universe. I wouldn’t say I don’t have a few minor quibbles (is there anything Alfred can’t do? He’s a boxer and can fight; he’s a medic and can do minor surgeries; he’s an actor and can fool anyone with his disguises; he’s enough of a mechanic to do some maintenance on the Bat-Toys; plus, he makes some great food, washes windows, and vacuums. The man is amazing.) with some of the cast, but overall, these are great characters. The biggest problem I have with them is Batman.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when Batman stopped being a Dark Knight and became an unofficial policeman who opened shopping malls, Batman treated everyone in his supporting cast as though they were his best friend (except the ladies, who enjoyed his condescension, but that was ok since they were girls). Words like “chum” and “pal” were liberally sprinkled throughout Batman’s dialogue, and the idea that anyone feared this man was ludicrous, since he was about as threatening as a hall monitor. When it became obvious that Batman had strayed too far from his core concept, and that he needed to become a Dark Knight once again, one of the first things they did was to push his supporting cast to arm’s length. Even Robin, who had been like a son to Bruce, got pushed away (all the way to college for some years). This wasn’t to say that Batman wouldn’t have allies; he just wouldn’t be quite as chummy with them.

I’m not sure that this was a bad decision. I am not the first one to point out that Batman would want to surround himself with allies, as he’s building himself a new family, to replace the one that was taken from him. However, I also agree that Batman is not particularly cuddly, and that he probably does keep most people at a distance. I certainly can live without ever seeing Batman call someone “chum” again. Unfortunately, starting in the early 90s, and just getting worse in the current decade, writers have gone too far and instead of simply maintaining a distance from his allies, Batman now treats most of them with utter contempt and disrespect. In short, Batman has become a prick, and its his allies on whom he takes out his anti-social tendencies.

To illustrate this point, let’s go back to the early 90s (1993, to be exact) and look at one of the biggest storylines in Batman’s post-Crisis history, Knightfall. In this story, a new enemy named Bane stages a massive breakout at Arkham Asylum, releasing all of Batman’s enemies at once. After Batman has managed to defeat these enemies, but when he’s still tired from the battles, Bane then attacks Batman and breaks his back, paralyzing him. Bruce Wayne decides that someone needs to continue to be Batman, and he chooses as that person….Azrael. Um, who? Yeah, just some character that Batman barely knew, someone who had been shown to be mentally unstable, someone Batman had known for less than a year. He chose that person over Dick Grayson, someone who is like a son to him, someone he’d known for over a decade, and someone he should trust implicitly. And, to make matters worse, when he was questioned on that decision by other allies, Batman blew those allies off.

Fast forward to another huge Batman crossover called No Man’s Land. I’ve referred to it before (rarely kindly) and will refer to it again, since there are so many huge, underlying problems with this storyline. However, in the context of this discussion, we can again see Batman treating his associates with contempt. When Gotham City is declared to be no longer part of the United States (don’t get me started) and it’s citizens are ordered by the federal government to leave by a certain time, since after that time anyone attempting to enter or exit the city will be attacked by federal troops (I said don’t get me started), Batman disappears. Certain of his allies remain behind in Gotham City (Gordon and Oracle foremost among them) and some leave the city (like Robin), but Batman doesn’t tell any of them that he’s leaving, and he doesn’t tell them where he’s going. For three months he simply disappears, with no word to anyone. When he finally returns, he expects things to be as they were before, but many of his allies are upset at the way they’ve been treated. To which I say, it’s about bloody time.

My point is this: I do not believe that Batman feels the utter contempt that he so often shows to his allies, and while I agree that he would not be having tea with Oracle or playing Call of Duty 4 on his PS3 with Robin, I do believe that he would show them respect. Being somewhat isolated from others does not mean that you treat them like dirt. It is very possible to keep your own counsel while still respecting those around you. This, to me, is the biggest problem with Batman and his allies; the way he treats them, and the fact that they so rarely object and that they continue to follow him. I would have gone to work with Blue Beetle years ago.

Could you imagine the holy hell that would rain down if Batman was in a high-speed chase with some of Black Mask’s henchmen and he buzzed Oracle to have her redirect some traffic signals and she told him to “Hold your horses. I’m bit-torrenting last week’s Desperate Housewives.”? That’s how I like to put things in perspective. Just flip the tables on Batman and see if he’d like to be treated the way he treats his associates.

I agree that Alfred is one helluva Jack-of-all-Trades. I believe he has even impersonated Batman himself on numerous occasions. And yet I can’t recall a single time that he’s been thanked for his work. Bruce must have set him up with one monster of a retirement plan for him to stick around so faithfully.

The Bane thing blows my mind as well, which brings into focus the current “Batman R.I.P.” storyline and the whispers of “who’s going to replace Bruce Wayne as Batman this time?” The way he’s been operating lately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull some random dude off the street and stuff the suit with crumpled up newspaper to make it seem realistic. At this point, it would almost be a slap in the face to hand the duties over to Nightwing or Robin…like he didn’t want to have anything to do with them before, but fully expects them to step up when he beckons them now. Kneel down and kiss my ring, peons!

The dynamic with Gordon has always interested me. I know he’s had his valiant moments and has faced down a ton of corruption within his own department, but Jim Gordon has always come across as some exasperated schlub to me. He’s just a figurehead at this point. There’s absolutely nothing he can do to control Batman, instead he just has to pretty much stand by whatever Batman decides is best. The line between lawful pursuit of crime and crazy man in colorful pajamas yelling from the rooftops should never be as slim as it truly is in Gotham City. But that’s a whole other topic to pursue.

You almost have to feel bad for the Robin legacy. Here’s a character that is embroiled in just as much danger and backlash as Batman, but never gets the recognition from either the public or Batman himself. The work is just expected of him. And even when a Robin does break free of the Bat-Nest, he’s constantly compared to his mentor yet never really given the chance to live up to or surpass his iconic status. At least Flash, Green Arrow, Atom and Green Lantern have some sort of legacy behind their public images…the name stays the same while the person behind the mask evolves. Behind the scenes you’re faced with living up to your predecessor, but outwardly you follow the same path and gain the same accolades because their identity is now your identity. Robin is just an eternal sidekick, even when he’s no longer Robin (just look at how ravenous the DC brass is in their drive to rid the world of Dick Grayson).

I had forgotten about all the references to “old chum” and “dear friend” that were peppered throughout the Batman mythos for years. Hilarious when you think of the current media portrayal of the “Dark Knight.” Obviously, the character took a wrong turn which justified Frank Miller’s near-parodic skewering of such in Dark Knight Returns. However, to then continue to use “grim and gritty” as your basis for every decision and every reaction a character makes for the next 25 years is equally idiotic and DC should be diligently working to backtrack on that demeanor. I thought they were headed in that direction with the One Year Later scenario of Bruce, Dick and Tim touring the world by freighter. Alas, the whole OYL deal fell apart pretty quickly in the midst of 52 and then Countdown that hardly anyone even remembers what the plan was to begin with.

So Batman’s “Family” is treated like enlisted grunts in a wartime military. They have orders barked at them and are expected to respond with quickness and with little individual thought. No one dares question the orders and no one dares defy their leader. But forced respect often brings resentment, anger and a growing desire for mutiny. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting storyline?

I agree that it would be a fascinating storyline, and it’s one that needs to be addressed. It’s enough for the Bat-Family to have an intervention and sit the Dark Knight down and say, “Stop being such a prick.” Something has to happen to bring things to head.

I believe it could come from one of two directions: either Batman himself realizes he needs to stop treating those around him with such disregard, or his supporting cast need to stand up and say that enough is enough. If you go the first option, then I think you’re talking about something traumatic happening to either Batman himself, or someone close to him. Perhaps Batman could come close to death, and in so doing (perhaps in a moment of delirium) he realizes the value of his extended family. However, that seems hokey, and not very satisfying. It might be better for his revelation to occur because someone in that extended family leaves the family; either through their own choice or through circumstance. I kind of like the idea of one of the Bat-Family saying that they’ve just had enough, and getting the heck out of there. I think that Oracle might be the best one for this; she’s very close, but isn’t actually part of the family (if Dick Grayson hasn’t told Bruce Wayne off yet, he’s never going to) and she has so much else going on that she could believably become fed up and just walk (um, so to speak). Your example of Batman contacting her for work and her blowing him off actually reads true to me, and perhaps if something like that happened, it would wake Bruce up to the way he treats people. Of course, there’s a danger with such a storyline as well; if Bruce contacts Oracle for help in a case, and she refuses, and as a result someone is injured and killed, then she looks like a total tool, and Batman comes out looking like a victim. That would be bad. So it would have to be a very carefully crafted story.

Or perhaps there’s a better way to do this. Do you even think it needs to be addressed? The comics have danced around this issue on more than one ocassion, but after a little bit of actual emotion from Bruce, he goes back to being a jerk. What can we do to change that?

I do remember the situation being addressed to some extent in the “Bruce Wayne: Murderer?/Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” storylines that preceded “Hush.” Oracle, Robin, and Nightwing all confronted Bruce about his aloofness, but I don’t remember what the ultimate solution was…either that or I just gave up out of boredom before the arc finished.

I think the core of the question surrounding his interaction with his supporting cast is: how do we revamp Batman so he isn’t such a big jerk? And I think we’ll be confronting that issue in our Batman: Broken? post later this week…


Batman’s Bad Men (And Women)!

Jun-23-08

We’ve threatened to do it before and this time we’re following through on it. It’s DC time at “Meanwhile…Comics!” After realizing that the Young Justice post we did a while back has remained our most popular item (which is interesting in itself, since it’s the only post that didn’t offer any true solutions to the questions it raised, but I digress) and seeing that the new Batman film will hit the streets in less than four weeks, we’re dedicating all of our posts until then to the Dark Knight himself.

Today’s entry is similar in scope to the YJ post in that it’s just going to give an overview, mention some discrepancies, and most likely just kind of fizzle out at the end without a resolution or even a feasible recap. That’s the way we roll, playa. We’re award-nominated now. We have to keep it real.

So bring on the bad guys!

Of all the popular comic book characters in modern times, none has a more recognizable rogues gallery than Batman. Sure, the Spider-Man movies have shone the spotlight on a few of Spidey’s most popular foes, but no one outside of the nine circles of fandom would know The Jackal or be able to identify The Chameleon in a lineup (even trickier considering his abilities). Batman’s villains owe a lot to the media…from toys to films to television to lunchboxes to cartoons to party favors…in making them as everyday as they are. I don’t know a single person who couldn’t name these four ne’er-do-wells:

Bif. Bam. Pow. Sigh.

Let’s just jump into this from left to right, then we’ll hit some of the second-tier baddies.

The Penguin: A dude with trick umbrellas and henchmen with bird-based nicknames. Intriguing. I always thought that Penguin was pretty lame and he was made even worse by Tim Burton who turned him into a flippered weirdo who looked like Danny DeVito. Oh, wait, that was Danny DeVito, wasn’t it? Blah. Anyway, steps have been taken on the comics side of things to turn Mr. Oswald Cobblepot into a serious businessman/nightclub owner/smuggler. That makes a lot more sense to me. No one’s going to take a tiny fat guy with an umbrella and an avian fixation seriously as a “dangerous” villain, but he can pull off the criminal mastermind role quite well.

The Riddler: Most of my exposure to this clown comes from various cartoon series and revolves around his incessant need to not-so-cryptically telegraph his evil plans to Batman right before he tries to pull them off. Plus he dresses in a bright green, question mark-covered leotard, which is not a good thing. In the comics, he has “gone straight” and become a sort of detective in his own capacity. Again, a good turn as far as I’m concerned. There are enough horrible villains out there whose only goal is to get captured again and again. At least the Riddler keeps things interesting by making you think he’s trying to help you.

Catwoman: Never my favorite threat, she works much better as someone who travels in the gray areas of the system. Nowadays, she’s more or less on the hero side of things anyway.

The Joker: Wow. The most overused villain in all of comics. The fact that he has done so much over the years and yet has gotten no true punishment out of it just seems to reinforce the limits on superheroes in the public eye. I get it. He’s crazy. Big deal. Batman should just slit his throat and dump him in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Who’s going to miss this loser? Writers have pigeonholed him so badly that there’s no way to identify with him anymore. There’s no inner conflict, no rationality, no pathos for the bad guy. He just does stuff with no rhyme or reason…intermittently a purely crazy, bloodthirsty bastard and then a goofy sad sack who can’t seem to catch a break. I care less about The Joker than I do about Hypno-Hustler (well, that’s not really fair since I really like Hypno-Hustler even though I shouldn’t).

So, the Big Four are easily identifiable, but are they archenemy-worthy? I don’t think so. I think they’ve been used too much to have any relevance anymore. But that is up for discussion, as always.

Next, I’m going to give a short rundown of the other nuisances in Batman’s sphere of influence:

Mr. Freeze: A frozen guy who’s ticked off because he caused his own wife’s death.

Ra’s Al Ghul: Leader of the League of Assassins who can regenerate himself

Scarecrow: He dresses in hay and burlap and uses fear toxin to creep people out.

Bane: A walking stack of steroids who once broke Batman’s back.

Two-Face: Horribly scarred (physically and mentally) former district attorney with an odd sense of ethics.

Mad Hatter: A quite insane scientist who can mesmerize people with various hats (what is it with hypnotic headgear in comic books?).

Poison Ivy: Can control plants and manipulate toxins to help control others (what is it with weird forms of mind control in comic books?).

Harley Quinn: Joker’s most famous sidekick and Poison Ivy’s best buddy.

Clayface: A big pile of…uh…clay that can change his appearance

Calendar Man: A semi-retarded dude who commits crimes based on various dates. Why?

Black Mask: The first truly interesting Batman villain in years, he is a Gotham City crime boss with an eye towards total domination of the city.

Hush: Lame villain created just to throw everyone off during what was quickly becoming a horrible storyline.

Killer Croc: A giant reptile/human hybrid who lives in the sewer and likes to eat people.

Man-Bat: Right. He’s a man who can become a giant bat for reasons never truly understandable.

Ventriloquist and Scarface: A timid man with a tiny wooden puppet who thinks he’s a gangster.

Calculator: Used to wear a costume with a giant keypad on the front of it. When no one would stop laughing, he decided to become a villainous information broker, the yin to Oracle’s yang.

Ah, some of these losers make me yearn for the heady, campy TV days of Egghead, King Tut and Lola Lasagne. Let’s all dance the Batusi and talk about the good and the bad in Batman’s rogues gallery, shall we?

There is no doubt in my mind that Batman has the richest cast of characters in all of comicdom. There’s the plethora of villains that populate Gotham City (and really, who can blame the occassional psychologist or author who extends the theory that there are so many whackos in Gotham City because of Batman himself….no other city has this many freaks running around in it!), and there’s also his good guy friends (who shan’t be discussed until another post). I also think you touched upon something very important; Batman’s cast has probably seen more public exposure through various forms of media than any other comic character I can name. Even more interesting is how often the movie, cartoon or television version will begin to overwrite the original comics version. A lot of these characters have evolved considerably thanks to the fine work of some talented individuals in non-comics media (I am particularly looking at everyone involved in Batman: The Animated Series, which was one of the best super-hero portrayals anywhere, anytime, anyhow).

I think that the Big Four that you mentioned all deserve their own posts. Goodness knows the Joker does. I’d like to take a stand here on the Joker and say this for public consumption. I. HATE. THE. JOKER. He used to be an interesting character, but, as you said, he has been horribly overused, and his continued existence snaps my extension of disbelief faster than Tobias Whale sitting on wicker furniture. The fact that Gordon or one of the Gotham City cops didn’t pop a cap in his ass after No Man’s Land is one of the stupidest….at least Harvey Bullock would have……grrraaarrgh! This will be a post closer to the movie. Count on it.

As for some of the other villains you mention, they’re an interesting bunch. At least, they can be. Mr. Freeze is undoubtedly my favorite….when he’s being written for the aforementioned Animated Series. Somehow, he never translates as well into the comics. I think one of the problems with Mr. Freeze is that he’s powerful. If you look at Batman’s Rogues Gallery, these are not very powerful villains; they’re mostly normal humans with a couple of gimmicks. Perhaps the most physically powerful of them, Killer Croc, is also an idiot, and that balances out. But Freeze is powerful and smart and I think that makes him stand out amongst the other rogues. He should be the star of the galaxy, but he’s not. And why is that his power’s fault? Well, it seems that many writers delve further into the psyches of the non-powerful Rogues, probably because the hideously scarred psyche is what makes Batman’s foes interesting. With Freeze, they have this cool power they can play with, and that seems to be what they focus on. Perhaps, without that power, they’d focus a little more on the tragic nature of the character. Of all Batman’s foes, I think Freeze may ultimately be the saddest and the one that the reader can empathize with the most; Freeze wasn’t evil, but he saw someone he loved die and was himself horribly injured in an accident, and that’s pushed him to the edge.

I don’t want to spend too much time on any one villain, and I just talked about Freeze more than I probably should, but let me hit a few other baddies real quick. I think that Batman’s main foe should be Two-Face. He has the most interesting backstory, the fact that he was both Batman’s and Gordon’s friend is unique to him as a villain, and the fact that there is some good in him also brings him to the forefront. Too many people want to write Two-Face stories where they forget about the fact that he was once very close to Batman and Gordon. For a time, he was closer to them than anyone else. He must have knowledge about them he could use against them; why hasn’t he used it? Like Freeze, he’s also a tragic character, and that doesn’t get played up enough; this was a man who had a good life, and it was stripped away from him because of an evil man. I’d play with that a little more.

Harley Quinn is wonderful, and I love seeing her, especially be herself. Keep her away from the Joker! (Have I mentioned my hatred of that character?) She doesn’t need the Joker to be interesting, and is actually much more fascinating when she’s got her own plans and is calling the shots her own way, rather than when she is playing sycophant to the most overused villain in comics. Ugh.

Clayface is another one I’d like to talk about. Batman tends to veer toward horror stories (or, at the very least, grisly, moody and spooky noir stories) and Clayface would be perfect there. Again, however, he seems to be a victim of his power, as everyone wants to write about the guy who can change his shape. Whoopdee-doo. Let’s go back to the original Clayface, Basil Karlo, a horror film actor who goes insane. You could do some very spooky stories with him; the shape changing could be a nice complement, rather than the star of the show. Scarecrow is another character that would fit well in the moodier stories, but they kind of need to figure out how to use him. He was very well done in the No Man’s Land stories (and really, savor those words, as I will likely never type them again), being used as what he is; a student of psychology, who knows how to twist people mentally to do what he wants. Then, Jeph Loeb used him in Hush and he was some crazy nursery rhyme spouting schmoe. What the hell? Scarecrow is a brilliant college professor, and can be quite spooky. Let’s give the guy his due.

Finally, one more quick note….I find the Ventriloquist both fascinating, very cool, and utterly ridiculous. I really like the idea of someone with a split personality finding an outlet for that personality through a ventriloquist’s dummy. That’s great! What a neat idea….that never seems to work. Seriously, this character always hits me as being silly and I find it difficult to believe any serious criminal would work for this man. I know most of the Bat-foes are crazy, but he takes the cake! Could there be potential here….just maybe..

So, do we break these characters down into separate posts, because I think we could do most of them justice, or do we lump them together in a few posts? Or do we just discuss them all right here, because there’s plenty of potential with these crazies!

Interesting…I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Freeze from the cartoons too. And the Snow storyline from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight retold his origin in a clear and clean way (with amazing art from the late, great Seth Fisher). I agree that, aside from B:TAS, no one has really paid attention to the anguish in his life.

I like Scarecrow too, but I prefer Mad Hatter. I think he was used brilliantly by Gail Simone in her Secret Six run. Plus, he’s quite freakin’ insane…more so than the Joker, I think. There’s a certain level of creepiness to his ramblings and random crimes (not to mention the subtle notes of pedophilia). He reaches for the unexpected immediately and I find that completely readable.

I don’t know much about Clayface in the comics. Harley Quinn is a phenomenon in her own right by the fact that the animated series made her the character she is today. You don’t often see that kind of transition. And Two-Face has his moments, but it’s hard for me to get the ridiculous Tommy Lee Jones take out of my head.

If you have nothing else to say in this intro post, I believe we can start breaking some of these villains out in their own entries and see what we can do with them. I’d like to tackle Mad Hatter. You’re free to start with Clayface, Two-Face, Ventriloquist, Scarecrow or Mr. Freeze. Then, together we can spout our hatred for The Joker. That’s seven villains ripe for revamps…and you know how I love the number seven!