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Friday, December 20, 2013

Memo to DC Comics: Everyone Can’t Be Batman!

One Size does not fit all. And when it comes to comic book characters another hero’s tights don’t either.  

Someone at DC Comics has the insane notion that the late Grim-N-Gritty 1980’s Batman’s story model can be applied to the entire DC Universe. Because everyone likes Batman. So as part of the Nu52, the plan is to turn every character in the DC Universe into dark brooding loners who see the glass as half-empty in their never-ending war on crime.

That model of storytelling may work well for Batman, but it just doesn’t work for everyone else.

Angry Superman who breaks stuff and beats people up just because he’s mad just doesn’t work. Nor does Wonder Woman who butchers whatever gets in her way.

Both of these characters have different distinct approaches to their story models that have been ignored in the Nu52. Superman is the symbol of the American dream, the ultimate immigrant who adopted the American way and found success. And because he found his American dream, he dedicates his life to protecting the hopes and dreams of others. He’s supposed to be a ray of hope. He’s an idealistic dreamer. And his city of Metropolis should reflect that, as a bright sunny place, a contrast to the dark urban Gotham City.

Wonder Woman is an ambassador of peace and goodwill. While she has the fighting skills of an Amazon warrior, she uses diplomacy and seeks a peaceful resolution to conflict FIRST. She’d rather use a smile to disarm someone rather than her fists. She only uses violence as a last resort and even then she uses defensive attacks, not offensive ones. She travels from Paradise Island to various exotic locations to go on diplomatic missions. So her view of the world should be unique, one from a female perspective.

In both their cases, there’s nothing dark about their stories. Neither of these characters are dark or angry. And Batman’s story model would never work for them. Because their worlds are completely different from Batman’s.

The way I always read it Superman was the idealist, Batman the realist, and Wonder Woman presented things from a female perspective. And since each of their views contrasted each other, their stories would be completely different from one another.

What many at DC today don’t understand is that even in Batman’s world there were different undertones and nuances similar to the shadows and highlights of a masterpiece painting that made it rich and distinct. Not everyone in the Batman Family was a dark angry person. In fact there was a lot of diversity of personalities and approaches to crime fighting in the Batman family.

Dick Grayson was often more people related in his approach to crime fighting as Robin when he got older, a total contrast from his mentor’s mysterious ways. His interpersonal skills allowed him to grow as a hero and as a man during his term as leader of the Teen Titans. He often and valued his friendships and liked working with other characters as Robin and Nightwing. And he enjoyed his downtime with friends.  

Jason Todd was angsty brooding and bitter Post Crisis. He was the poster boy for late 1980s the grim n’ gritty story model. Full of emotion, and I’d say given the mantel Robin by an emotional Bruce Wayne still upset over Dick Grayson’s departure.

 But this I believe he was made Robin to prove a point. To show readers Batman wasn’t always right. That the Dark Knight was fallible and human, capable of making mistakes. And that from his mistakes he could learn to be a better crimefighter. With his death, Batman and Bruce Wayne were able to grow as a characters.

And Just like DC editors in the 80’s were trying to make the point that Batman wasn’t always right with a Robin, They made the exact same point with Jean Paul Valley in the 1990’s. Sure Jean-Paul was a capable hero as Azrael, but Azrael’s brutal approaches just weren’t right for The Batman. Sure he was driven to get vengeance, but at the end of the day was no detective. For all the flash of his armor and weapons, he lacked Bruces’ substance. He didn’t have the discipline to mete out justice on the guilty like Bruce Wayne did. He was out to get bad guys, but not the RIGHT bad guy, the one who did the crime. If anything Jean Paul Valley, was a Valley for the world of Batman and Gotham City. A place where readers realized not just anyone could wear the mantel of the Batman. Again, proving that Bruce was fallible and human and capable of making mistakes. 

Tim Drake was also very social and open as Robin like Dick Grayson. He often had fun during cases and in between cases. . He actually LIKED doing detective work and wanted to be Batman’s apprentice. But unlike Batman, he was dedicated to learning, not driven bordering on obsession. He had time for friends like Connor Kent and Bart Allen. He had fun working with Spoiler. And when his father was alive, he had time for him too.

Barbara Gordon wasn’t angry and full of angst either. Neither was Helena Bertinelli, Stephanie Brown Selina Kyle or Helena Wayne.

Hell, even Batman himself wasn’t always so dark and angsty as he’s been depicted in Today’s DC Comics. Read any 1970s or early 1980s Batman story and you’ll see a balanced Bruce Wayne and a balanced Batman who had time for the little things in life in between his war on crime.

All of that diversity led to distinct characters. Distinct stories. And diversity that made Batman’s corner of the DC Universe one of the most entertaining for 75 years.

Yes, there was a lot of dark stories in the Batman part of the DC Universe. But there were lots of periods of Sunshine too in Gotham.

This angry, brooding, no one can be happy story model was OBSOLETE in the late 1980s. But DC’s editors insist on applying it to all their characters in their New 52 Universe to their detriment.

From a writer’s standpoint I can tell you writing characters in the New52 story model would be no challenge to me at all. Seriously, where’s the writers’ motivation to continue putting fingers to the keyboard? If a world of characters is just misery all the time, what’s the reason for them to go out and put on that costume?

A main character has to want something. And that hope of achieving that something is what motivates them as they run into the conflicts that prevent them from achieving their goal. Storytelling 101.

If anything characters sacrificing their personal lives and their happiness for other people sounds like a cop-out. An excuse for lazy writers not to challenge themselves and bring depth and dimension to the characters they were assigned to write for. 

To quote Superman in the STAS episode The Late Mr. Kent: If “I had to be Superman all the time I’d go crazy”. 

And I believe readers would go crazy reading the same stories over and over again featuring different characters. Instead of getting a three-dimensional world, we wind up with a drab, flat one-dimensional DC Universe.

The way I see it, the reader needs a reason to CARE about the characters. To CARE about the story. And in order to do that they need a payoff at the resolution of the story that’s been set up on page one.

What the editors at DC don’t understand is that their New 52 story model leads to a very BORING world. If everyone is angst filled, angry and has no hope, then there’s no hope of a payoff for the reader. And if there’s no payoff for the reader, then there’s no incentive for the reader to buy into DC Comics every month. Why pay $4 for a comic where the hero never can win or be happy?  Why pay $4 a month to read the beginning of a comic where you already know the ending?

If I want misery I can look out my window here in the South Bronx and see that for free and have $4 in my pocket for groceries.

Long-term this all misery all the time story model just doesn’t allow DC to compete in a entertainment marketplace where comics have the lowest entertainment value per dollar compared to other forms of media. A reader can get a great eBook for 99 cents on Smashwords or Kindle. A story where they can escape. Where they can have an adventure. Where they can get a laugh. Where they the good guys win.  And have $3.01 in their pocket for something else.

Bottom line, every character at DC can’t be Batman. Sure Batman rakes in all the cash at the box office and with merchandising, but it’s also possible for other characters to do so as well with the proper execution. All it takes is a willingness to write the kinds of stories that make these characters and their worlds appealing to fans.

1 comment:

  1. I do remember going to some blog about how one reader was angered by some writers working on the New 52 Flash stories by giving Barry the same problematic plot point in his backstory as Batman does (or as what this reader, Avi Green, calls it the taint of darkness). Barry's mother got killed by somebody and his father got arrested for it (it's actually a much older plot point that started with Reverse Flash riling up Barry by killing or assaulting his girlfriend which is later replicated in various forms with other characters). So it's like the writers really ran out of ideas for the characters so they keep on repeating the same thing all over again despite how different they want the results to be.