Taking A Few Things On Faith

June 4th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Since we get right into spoilers for Batman and Robin #1 and for Secret Six #10, I’ll put the cut up front.

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Grampa’s Batman and Robin

May 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Rafael Grampa’s Batman & Robin, that is. I found this via Sean Witzke, who found it via Grampa’s flickr.

I dig it.

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Oh, Timmy. How you have grown.

March 13th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I’m putting this entry, shallow as it is, under a cut in case any of you don’t want to be even mildly spoiled for Battle For The Cowl. Read the rest of this entry �

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Birds Of Prey: Ending Low

February 19th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

While Robin ends with Tim Drake coming into his own as a hero, Birds of Prey finishes with Barbara Gordon losing her identity.

At the end of the series, Babs has to blow up her second headquarters in two years.  She’s faced the Joker again, only to get knocked around.  She’s faced Calculator and seen him literally attain new heights while she’s left in the dust.  Her team is hated in their new town, and while they manage to disperse the criminal syndicate they were running, they can’t shut it down.  She’s lost a friend, possibly permanently.  All in all, this is a low point for her.

The different approaches to the two series make sense.  Tim is a young hero and former sidekick, so his series need to see him reach a new level of independence and maturity.  Babs is well-established, and has to find some new direction.  Her new direction is hinted at in the upcoming mini-series, Oracle: The Cure.  I know, I know, the name is supposed to be a reference to curing a sick little girl.  Still, either Babara Gordon is going to record a cover of Boys Don’t Cry, or DC is teasing us with the possibility that Babs is going to walk again and Cassandra Cain is going to have a little battle for her own cowl.

I hate being brought face-to-face with my bias as a comics reader.  The Robin series ended in a way which I didn’t approve of, but which made sense dramatically.  Tim Drake became a competent and autonomous hero while having to give up some of the things he’d loved as a child.  Couple that with the death of his last parental figure and you’ve got a strong, archetypal coming-of-age story.  I hate it.

Barbara Gordon quitting the team she established and nurtured, leaving a kid she semi-adopted, walking again, giving up her identity as Oracle and possibly stepping back into the shadow of the bat is wrong.  It’s backwards motion, it’s erasing her identity, it’s losing her place in a larger universe.  And yet I cannot find it within myself to hate it.  I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.   I need it.  I love it.  I want it. 

I want fun!  I want the original Batgirl and her adventures.  At the very least I want more mini-series!

There is a lot to be said for comics that are committed to a story, rather than bowing to popular opinion.  But honestly, I don’t want to take my comics the way I take multi-vitamins.  If there’s an Oracle mini, I’ll be there.  If it breaks in the middle to make Barbara Gordon Batgirl again, I’ll be there and tearing at the shelves.  Pander to me, DC.  Pander to me.

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Robin: Ending High

February 18th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Robin ends on a note of triumph.  Or rather, its character does.  Kind of.  Tim Drake has established himself as someone so righteous he can dictate The Rules Of All Superheroes to Spoiler, so cunning he can set it up so he beats Shiva in a fight, so self-sacrificing that he can break up with the girlfriend that I am flat-out shocked he still has, since he hasn’t seen her in the last six or so issues, and so fair-minded that he can pacify Jason Todd, who comes by to view Batman’s last will and testament, which has been set up to be recorded in a big black obelisk in the Batcave.

Truly, Tim is the badassiest of all badass heroes, and that newfound badassery is worth the several dozen pints of personality he lost.  What the world needs is another grim n’ gritty superhero with a tortured past, and what the Batverse needs is another adult hero in the shadow of the bat, and if I were a lesser blogger, I’d sneak in a little jab about how Detective Harper, Zoanne, Stephanie Brown, and Lady Shiva all got nudged aside so the male character could commune with their dead daddy figure in a big, erect phallus but I’m far too – oh did that slip out? 

Well, it’s not like I’ve made a secret of my feelings toward this character’s trajectory.  I will sum it all up with this – when anyone told him that something sucked, my old physics teacher used to say, “There is no ‘suck’ or ‘blow.’  There are only differences in pressure.”  I can now prove him wrong, since this new grim, infallible, omnipotent Robin somehow manages to both suck and blow at the same time.

The character is on top of the world, but I’m feeling pretty cold about him.  Of course it’s natural for characters to progress as their comics go on, but this one grew out of any interest I had in him.  Oh, well.  With comics, every Wednesday has the possibility of  a fresh start.  So, out with the old, in with the Battle For The Cowl, and on to next Wednesday.

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Fan Tantrums: Have Them Below. (I know I will.)

January 21st, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I was reading a scans_daily post about a Wonder Woman story quite some time ago.  In the story a deranged Green Lantern was attempting to destroy a race which had slaughtered his people.  The discussion threads were pretty standard; lewd comments, art critique, Simone-worship, and snarking about the story.  In other words, all the reasons why people read scans_daily.

But one comment stood out.  A poster went off, just went off, about how this comic was another horrible smear on the name of the Green Lanterns, and how there seemed to be a sort of conspiracy dedicated to refusing to let the Green Lanterns be the noble, scrupulous guardians of the galaxy they used to be.

From what I remember, the comment was not received well.  The responses ranged from telling the commenter to relax because that wasn’t the intention of the story, to outright mockery of the fan’s rage.  Still, I think that that comment struck a chord, because is there a fan in the world who is sure that they won’t be next?  Who among us doesn’t have a few characters that, if they’re not handled in a way we approve of, will have us do the forum-post equivalent of biting the head off of a live chicken painting our faces with its blood?

What I’m saying is; batten down the hatches and don’t read any more if you don’t want to be spoiled for Robin #182.

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Something Light For Friday: Who Would Win In a Fight?

November 21st, 2008 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

We’ve all done Batman vs Superman, and Batman vs Captain America.

How about Original Bucky vs Original Dick Grayson?

It seems like an uneven fight, since Original Bucky fought Nazis while Original Dick Grayson just ran around in a futile effort to make Batman seem less gay, but I’ll be buried deep in the cold, cold ground before I admit a Marvel anything trumps a DC anything, so I’m going to call it for Dick Grayson.

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Batman: Half man, half amazing.

October 15th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Oh, Batman. Is there no end of your willingness to fight the good fight on behalf of all Americans.
(from batman #02)

Another amazing early Batman short.

(from batman #05)

Thanks to SomethingAwful forums user snackmar for these scans. They’re absolutely nuts. Gavin hooked me up with this Superman page that he described as “one of [his] all-time favorite Superman moments.” It’s from Superman: Sunday Classics from 1941.

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July 11th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Basically, my interpretation of Batman is this: Batman loves his job. There’s more to it, of course, but that’s the most important bit.

Part of Batman enjoying his job means that the “Bruce Wayne is the mask” interpretation is both true and false. In the sense that Bruce Wayne is overall expendable and exists solely to provide income for Batman, it is definitely untrue. As Jon Bernhardt says in this piece for Funnybook Babylon, Bruce Wayne as Mask is a drastic misreading of Dark Knight Returns, and antithetical to the idea of Batman.

In essence, Batman wears two masks. One is the Batman mask– it’s an urban Zorro. The other is Playboy Bruce Wayne, and that one is an exercise in theatrical distraction. Playboy Bruce Wayne provides the perfect alibi. Who’d believe that this flighty guy could ever do anything worthwhile? This is part of the reason that Bruce Wayne hasn’t had a lasting relationship. The Playboy role is a barrier against that.

The Batman mask, though, is the interesting one. Bruce Wayne is, at heart, damaged goods. When his parents were murdered in front of his eyes, Bruce Wayne immediately went from innocent to lost. He can’t make the same emotional connections that other people do. Look at his best friends– all costumes. Does Bruce Wayne have non-costumed, or non-costume related, friends? Lucius Fox, perhaps.

Bruce is incapable of sustaining a regular relationship. He connects best with the other people who wear costumes, or run in those same circles. Look at his long-term on-again/off-again relationship with Catwoman. Look at Zatanna and Wonder Woman. Maybe it’s just a side effect of the job and shared experiences, but he tends to hang with super-women.

Anyway, going from innocent to lost doesn’t mean that you stop being a kid inside. The Batman mask and persona, if you think about it, are the reaction of a kid who had his childhood stolen from him. He puts on a mask and a cape, emulating his favorite hero, and fights the thing that hurt him when he was a child. He goes out at night and plays at being a hero. Look at Batman’s conduct. He puts on a gruff voice and uses parlor tricks to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, who are “a superstitious and cowardly lot.” He’s acting like something he thinks criminals would be afraid of.

Though, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love his job. Being Batman is what Bruce Wayne uses as an outlet for his aggression. One thing Frank Miller does in All-Star Batman that I love is that he writes a Bruce Wayne who has a childlike glee at being Batman. Everything from the dialogue to the inner monologue speaks to a man who is a) acting (he’s deciding which persona to put on before he strikes), b) acting poorly (Dick Grayson sees through him immediately), and c) loves doing it anyway (“Every inch of me is alive“). He strikes with a laugh, rather, “the laugh” because he knows it scares criminals. He makes it a point to use theatrics when he fights. It gives him an advantage in the fight and it lets him playact.

I mean, for real, though. That giant t-rex and all those other trophies were in the cave before Robin got there. That’s Brucie at work.

Batman is a dark, serious, brooding, and violent knight, but he’s also someone who has to enjoy what he does. He likes getting out there, acting gruff, and breaking bones. He likes being able to make people safe and striking terror into the heart of criminals. In DKSA, this is best shown by the scene where he’s relaxing and leaning back in his Batplane, hands behind his head and feet up on the console. “Striking terror. Best part of the job.”

Batman is also that guy who is scarily competent at everything. It isn’t that he’s a genius. He’s just a person of maybe slightly above-average intelligence who applies himself. He studies and practices and trains with a fervor most people don’t ever employ. He can place the origins of accents by simply hearing them, give you the etymology of certain words and which poems they were used in and why, and even track a wolf eighteen miles through the underbrush. Why? Because he thought it’d be a good idea to know all these things.

He’s the ultimate jack-of-all-trades. In hindsight, he essentially spent the remainder of his childhood studying to become the Batman. He travelled the world, studied martial arts, science, and who knows what else solely so that he could be the best at his job. He turned himself into a detective of incredible skill just in case he needed it later. He’s an obsessive amongst obsessives, if that makes sense. Capo di tutti capi.

Finally, Batman has to have Robin. Robin is the perfect foil for Batman. Where Batman is the guy who lost his childhood, but never really left it behind, Robin is the child that came close to losing his, but managed to find it again. Batman isn’t so much a father figure to Robin as a big brother. They go and hang out together and play all the same games.

Robin existing gives both of them a chance to win back some lost humanity. They can use each other for moral support, since they are so similar in origin, and when that doesn’t work, they can go out and bust heads together. For Bruce, Robin is in danger of going down the same path he did. He’s lost his parents in a tragedy, just like Bruce did, but being Robin gives him a chance to cope. It gives him an outlet for his grief.

Alfred keeps Bruce honest. When he sometimes slips a little too deep into the Batman persona and starts to walk his talk, Alfred is there to call him out on it. His constantly sarcastic wit reminds Bruce that he is still a human being, and an adult at that.

The somber, super serious, depressed, hates-to-live Batman that was popularized a few years back is a mistake. Batman gives Bruce Wayne a reason to live and enjoy life. He likes being Batman. He feels that it’s right. Robin provides a balance to his darkness, and Alfred keeps him honest.

That’s the way it should work, anyway.

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“There’s Zo, but…”

June 24th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

I read the Robin/Spoiler Special the other week.

Basically, the special is two stories. The a-side is about Robin and Spoiler catching up and going out vigilante-ing sometime after she revealed that she was back. They go out as Tim and Steph to hang out in an abandoned warehouse with a bunch of a kids in a rough crowd (where there are water guns, but somehow no drugs) and rescue a toddler from kidnappers together. There is also flirting and an examination of their relationship. The b-side is a story about what Spoiler did after she left Gotham. She went to Africa with Leslie Thompkins after the events of War Games. They stay there for over a year, doing charity work, when some… well, I don’t know what to call them. A mix of medicine men and a death squad come to the village they’re at and Spoiler has to dress up to save the day.

Both stories have pretty awesome art. Rafael (Blue Beetle) Albuquerque does the art chores on the first story, while Victor Ibañez gets it done on the second story. It’s a seriously handsome book. We all know how awesome Raf is, but Ibañez has a style that reminds me of the great work going on in Secret History of the Authority: Jack Hawksmoor. Rock solid and visually interesting.

It’s also basically the book that explains why Spoiler is back in Gotham after War Games. If you think of it as an apology or peace offering for War Games, which is basically the worst crossover I’ve read in years, you’d be more or less right. (this is a dope cover, though, and i own a print of it signed by dustin nguyen) She was done dirty there, so here’s what basically amounts to Spoiler: Rebirth.

Yeah, I gotta say, I didn’t feel it at all. I realize Chuck Dixon has had a hard week or whatever, but that comic was no good, man. I’ve got three reasons and I bought visual aids.

Leslie and Steph are in east Africa. Kenya, Somalia, I dunno. Maybe it’s Outer Heaven. I just know that they have to know Swahili to be there. They’ve been there a little over a year, according to Steph, and she’s had trouble with the language. The whole reason that they are there is that Leslie Thompkins faked Spoiler’s death after the torture and near-murder she experienced in War Games to rescue her from the life of a vigilante and give her a chance to start over.

from robin 174

Dr Thompkins felt that she’d suffered enough, and Stephanie agreed, so they left the country. She voluntarily went with Leslie to Africa in order to catch a break, but felt guilty about it. This makes sense, because Stephanie forgot about something important while she was skipping town.


So, think about it. Since War Games, Stephanie’s mom has had to go through 1) her daughter disappearing without a word or a trace, 2) finding out that her daughter is dead, 3) finding out that her daughter is Spoiler in War Crimes, which was inexplicably worse than War Games, and now 4) finding out that her daughter is not only alive, but faked her death and moved to Africa.

Why did Stephanie and Leslie fake her death? To protect Steph from being a vigilante. Essentially, she got in too deep and had to find a way out. That way out just happened to be going completely off the radar.

One problem with this is that I don’t think anyone knew who Spoiler was until War Crimes, which happened specifically because she “died.” She still had a secret identity. It’s been a while since I read it, though, so I’ll grant that I may be off, but I don’t think I am.

My other problem with this is actually also why I feel like the return damaged Spoiler as a character. Batman, more so than pretty much every character other than Peter Parker, has family as an important backdrop to his franchise. He does what he does to both avenge and please his parents. They are a constant specter over his work. He’s chastised other characters when they screw up their parenthood (Plastic Man) and respected others for their relationships with their parents (Superman). Family is important to him.

I can’t really imagine his reaction to Stephanie having faked her death just being a “Yeah, I figured.” If Batman is going to put Huntress on blast for almost killing Prometheus, or fire Dick Grayson for whatever reason that was years ago, he’d definitely put the boot to Stephanie, too.

Faking Stephanie’s death put her mother through a ridiculous amount of trauma. There’s the old saying about how no parent should ever have to bury a child– it’s true. What makes it worse is that Stephanie did it for reasons that boil down to “I had something horrible happen to me and I didn’t want to be a hero any more.” What was stopping her from just quitting being a hero and living with her mother? Why did she have to fake her death and leave the country? She could’ve told her mom she was Spoiler, explained what happened, and then moved to Metropolis. What would her mom say? No? Yeah, right.

That’s my breaking point with the character. I guess family is really important to me, too, because I just find this ridiculous. Anyway, Stephanie went along with all of this, save for maybe the faking, voluntarily. She felt guilty (“I kept feeling like I’d run away”), and with very good reason, I’d say, but didn’t do anything about that until after she’d tried to forget that feeling and over a year had passed.

Also, she went back to being a hero before telling her mother she was alive. Slick move, that.

Now, it’s like, why should I care about this character? She hasn’t had the wealth of stories that’d let you skip past a negative character development. Is the terrible return going to be played down like Spider-Man trying to kill his pregnant wife was? I figure yes, because it frankly makes Stephanie look like the worst kind of selfish idiot.

They could’ve easily New Earth-ed it– Infinite Crisis had the Earth come back with little minor changes all over. One of which was Stephanie didn’t die after all, she was just convalescing before coming back! People act like the One More Day/New Earth retcons don’t work, but they do and have for decades. That’d be much better than the faked death that we got, if only because Stephanie comes out of it smelling like roses. She almost died, but she fought through and recovered and did therapy and now she’s back. Easy.

My second problem– those were some idiot Africans in that b-side. I mean, I realize that thugs are generally portrayed as slow-witted idiots and stumblebums, but seriously. You don’t exactly get to be a witch doctor feared throughout the region by being stupid. Case in point:


At least the stupidity is shared, though, yeah? Leslie has her own dumb thing to say, I’m sure because she doesn’t want to be shown up by African Joker.

“Medicine goes back to the Greeks.”

Leslie obviously forgot about Imhotep, who predates Hippocrates by a couple thousand years or so, and the fact that Hippocrates studied Greek medicine. She’s too busy bringing light to a blighted region to worry about minor worries like that. You keep on fighting that good fight, Les.

(Ha, does this make medicine the original rock & roll?)

So, anyway, African Joker gets all het up and straight up orders the murder of Pinkeye. His men turn on Leslie just in time for Spoiler to reappear… wearing the goods that she and Leslie were traded in exchange for medicine in what is apparently an accurate representation of Katavi, the village’s protector. Google tells me that Katavi is also a national park in Tanzania. Maybe that’s where they are.

Anyway, she dresses up like Katavi and does the ooga-booga Batman thing and scares the death squad/witch doctor/militiamen/whatever. There’s some firing into the darkness and then she beats all of them up. Let me rephrase– the sixteen or seventeen year old girl from the suburbs of Gotham, whose skill set as a hero amounts to “adequate” or “needs improvement,” puts on some scraps that were given to her, such as animal heads and skins, to make a costume of the village’s boogieman to scare away some grown men with guns who have terrorized the region for years.

Like I said before, you don’t get positions of power by being stupid. (If you really think that Bush is as stupid as you think he is, you’re just as stupid as you think he is. Dude got into office twice. That’s no accident.) You can’t sustain that power by just sheer thuggery. It’ll work for a while, but eventually, sense and desperation are going to win out. You’re gonna keep telling people “I’ma kill you!” and then you’re gonna find that one dude that’s like “Well, shoot me!” and then you got a martyr on your hands.

So, you’ll pardon me if I don’t quite buy that scene at all. That’s an entirely different class of criminal Spoiler is going up against.

Finally, my third point. This is a short one.

If Tim leaves another girlfriend for Stephanie, I’m gonna be pissed. He’s already lying to Zoanne about where he’s going to be so that he can hang out with his ex.

Tim, seriously though? Why are you hanging out with your ex-girlfriend, who let you think she was dead for over a year, like things are all good? That’s at least twice as bad as getting cheated on. You’re looking like a sucker. Don’t get caught up and have to explain yourself.

Do you really want to have to beg to be taken back after Steph fakes her death again?

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