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The Vast Depths of My Comic Ignorance

Although like any kid I had my enthusiasms growing up, I have never been a big fan of superheroes generally. There are just soooooo many weak planks in the foundation of the premise that all you need to do is to lightly tug one and the whole genre comes falling down. As such, I have never followed mainstream comics much. I read Detective Comics, Green Arrow, and The Question for a couple of years in the “Longbow Archers” post-Tim-Burton-movie era, before it all just turned into “crapsack world,” but really my favorite stuff was always the Diniverse or the comic spinoffs thereof, and even that I only read for a while, c. 1990 or so.

Fast forward to this past month, when I started up a Tumblr account, which I use primarily to consume other people’s feeds. On some fundamental level I still don’t GET Tumblr, but say what you will, there are lots of pretty pictures on it. Through my Tumblr account I started following Gail Simone, Diane Duane, and a variety of other accounts that blog a lot about geekery, comics, and particularly women in geekery/comics.

One thing that many of these accounts have in common is an obsession with Batgirl, Batwoman, or both, and more generally with the fifteen or twenty “Bat-titles” going at any given time, and their peculiar interconnections, contradictions, and conundrums. It would seem that there are about twelve Robins, three Batgirls, four Batwomen, and at any given time any or all of them might be Nightwing, just to be different.

Also, I recently discovered that Renee Montoya (who I know mostly as “the smart cop from Batman: The Animated Series“) was The Question for a while. Which is neat, but came at me out of left field.

The net result of all of which is to make me just sort of raise my eyebrows, go “Huh,” and decide to make peace with the vast depths of my comic ignorance instead of trying to parse it all. I’m sure the others are awesome characters, but in my mind Batgirl = Barbara Gordon and is played by Yvonne Craig; then again, in my mind, superheroes exist in a kind of static world where time doesn’t pass, ‘cos otherwise how could Bruce Wayne still be Batman (which is the case as far as I know) seventy years later?

I realize that it’s a variation of this mindset that’s leading to the retro-reboots that have been whitewashing comics lately, and I certainly agree that’s a bad thing– if I were creating mainstream superhero comics these days (by some very peculiar whim of fate) I’m sure I would be much more interested in creating something that better reflects modern ideas and issues than just echoing the creative works of fifty years ago.

But again, this what-decade-is-this change-without-changing nature of the beast leads back to one of my big problems with the superhero genre generally, but especially in comics. Superheroes need sunsetting, but by their nature can never have it. With the exception of a character like The Phantom (whose whole premise is that the mantle is passed on from father to son) or some sort of immortal like The Doctor, the active career of any superhero (especially of the super-trained mortal type) should be ten years at the longest stretch, and way shorter for most of them. The window of “young, strong, and beautiful” is shockingly short. But the vast majority of readers (self included, guilty) don’t really care much for “new” superheroes– they want the big, iconic ones they know from their childhood.

Thus, the comic universes keep getting rebooted, so they can keep the same familiar faces but make them young again. But fan favorites from previous incarnations need to stick around, so they’re grafted into the new incarnation, giving each reboot progressively more and more leftover baggage… meh. It’s a mess. See also, “there’s always another Sith” and “*M*A*S*H* lasted three times longer than the actual Korean war.” :P

Anyhow… not sure where I was going with this, now. :D I hope I got there. But long story short: please write your stories/comics with a beginning, middle, and end! Don’t just have them go on forever!

-The Gneech

Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 13th, 2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
I agree with you on most of this, especially the need for hero sunsets and the need of the audience to keep the characters around.

Like many of the rest of your tumblr feed I'm a fan of the satellite bats. Particularly Oracle (aka Barbara Gordon post Killing Joke), Question (Renee Montoya era) and Huntress (Helena Bertinelli).

The problem, really, comes down to maturity of the reader. Most readers start connecting with their characters while they're young. Pre-teens or teens. Or (like myself) early college age. They get attached, they get involved. And they occasionally wonder what drugs certain writers are on when the new issue comes out.

But the comics themselves are timeless. It seems that your 10 years thing is pretty accurate. Every 10-15 or so years they retell an origin story for a character. Rebuilding the setting into something a modern audience will find familiar. Heck, there's usually a media tie-in that will ease the reboot.

Batman was reset during TAS, and then again for the Nolan films, Supes got a reboot at his animated series. And so on and so forth.

In a way it's not a bad thing. It has a nice benefit of clearing the decks for writers and letting them start with the character and take him into new directions, while still bending to the audience and giving them back their favorites.

But it has it's problems. The number of good heroes being created has seriously dwindled since the 70's because they're not profitable to the publishers.
Aug. 13th, 2012 06:05 pm (UTC)
I think the current Batman storyline (I read wiki once and learned about Bat-Mite, and a whole Bat family...) results in something like this:

Batman (Bruce) + Robin (Dick Grayson) + Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)

Dick becomes Nightwing and eventually Batman when the world thinks that Bruce is dead. While Dick is Batman, we get our fifth Robin, Damien Wayne (son of Bruce W. and Selena Kyle).

While Dick is Nightwing, we get Robin #2: Jason Todd, who dies (and comes back as Red Hood), Robin #3: Tim Drake (forced to stop by his father), and the first female Robin (and only to my knowledge): Stephanie Brown (previously known as the Spoiler, Tim's girlfriend. dies, comes back, is a version of Batgirl - possibly the current one.)

Barbara gets shot by the Joker and paralyzed. She becomes Oracle.

I can't explain the various people as Batwoman outside of the animated movie - least of all the silent one, or the other Batgirls.

I also know there was "Batman, Inc" at one point, wherein Wayne sponsored various international versions of Batman.

So yes, I agree complete that it's a bit headache inducing and hard to keep up with.

There's a reason the only mainstream comic I follow is Transformers: the don't generally go all wonky like DC or Marvel.
Aug. 13th, 2012 07:29 pm (UTC)
Except I gather that Babs G. has since become unparalyzed and gone back to being Batgirl, much to the annoyance of both Oracle fans and New Batgirl fans.

Aug. 13th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's good for Babs, bad for Oracle fans.
Aug. 13th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
Almost right... Sorta.

Batman (Bruce Wayne), Robin (Dick Greyson) and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)

Dick grows up and goes to college, sitting on both a large settlement from his parent's deaths and an entailment from the Wayne trust. Moves out, becomes Nightwing.

Barbara gets attacked by Joker during Killing Joke, paralyzed from the waist down, permanetly put in a wheelchair. She eventually gets back into the game as Oracle, white-hat hacker supreme.

Jason Todd comes in (late 80's) works as Robin for a while, killed by the Joker (with a Crowbar).

Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) tried to be Batgirl for a while, but Batman slapped a copyright takedown on her.

Batgirl #2 is Cassie Cain (Not the same as Kate Kane who is Batwoman)

After Cassie retires, a new Batgirl shows up, Charlie Gage, aka Misfit (she's got some funky powers) Oracle puts the kibosh on this one.

Tim Drake becomes Robin, dates Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), eventually is forced to retire from being Robin and then becomes Red Robin.

Robin #4 is Stephanie Brown, who was the Spoiler, and later becomes Batgirl (#3).

Somewhere here, Batman kinda dies. Ish. Actually he's been zapped by Darkseid and it gets complicated. Dick Greyson becomes Batman.

Robin #5 is Damian Wayne, son of Bruce and Talia al'Ghul (also, he wants Daddy's legacy pretty bad)

Bruce comes back, takes back the cowl and lets Dick go back to being nightwing, and now you're all caught up.

(yes, I skipped a lot of stuff, there's a hell of a lot of stuff in the 70 odd years of history here)
Aug. 13th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
I forgot to mention that somewhere in here Jason Todd comes back, claws his way out of his grave, and becomes the Red Hood
Aug. 13th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
Who cares about all the ReBoots?

There's only ONE Batman!
(Played by Adam West of course)
Forget everything about batgirls, female Robins and whatnot.
The only woman that matters is Catwoman!
(Julie Newmar is good, but Eartha Kitt has the right voice...)

Aug. 14th, 2012 02:50 am (UTC)
Line that popped into my head when I read the first paragraph: Fantasy can have Superman leap tall buildings in a single bound. Science fiction has to explain why he doesn't kick a hole in the ground every time he does it.

Which in turn reminded me of a book that came out about how superheroes stack up against real-life. (I can't remember the title. "The Science of Superheroes" or something like that?) The book club catalog blurb said Bruce Wayne/Batman's superhero career would be about as long the career of an NFL lineman, for a lot of the same reasons.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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