Sunday, October 25, 2015

Batman and Robin Eternal #3

Gotham City gets destroyed so often they really should add a version number after the name.

In the Disqus forum of my last intellectually critical commentary on this comic book, Commenter Peg said, "[I]s this a thing that keeps happening? That canon doesn't matter, because new writers will erase what happened before if they don't like it? Because if so I quit. I'm not giving my money anymore on these expensive comics if they can't keep their story straight. If history doesn't matter, then might as well make up my own. What's the difference? I don't even have to pay anything for it," in response to my claim that "comic book continuity is always being fucked with depending on the writer, editors, and the current zeitgeist." I must answer "Yes, this is a thing" because comic books are a strange beast which stands alone in our entertainment sphere, especially now in the 21st Century and the internet age. Today, we expect television shows, book trilogies (trilogy here meaning, of course, however many books are published until the author dies or gets bored), and movie franchises to tell coherent long-form stories. In these formats, nobody expects something that was mentioned in Episode Eight of a television show, or in the first book of a trilogy, or in the third sequel of a movie franchise to suddenly be changed on a whim. My guess is that people born post Return of the Jedi have lived in a world where most of the entertainment media they've consumed has tried its best to maintain a cohesive narrative. But comic books are of a different nature because they do not, and were never meant, to tell a structured story with a beginning, middle, and end. The characters must exist outside of time but must also appeal to the current generations picking them up and reading them. They must reflect the current zeitgeist or they will become relics. And for this to happen, the characters must constantly be reimagined.

Because of the expected narrative structure of every bit of media we consume today, it's hard to swallow when comic books do the unimaginable and change the histories of the characters. Can you imagine if Lost had kept changing its mind on what things meant and then...oh wait. That's a bad example. What if the writers of Bones decided that in the current season, Angel was just never married to Jess's sister anymore? People would go apeshit! I think. Does anybody even watch Bones anymore? Anyway, we expect television to not mess with the story told to us in previous episodes and seasons. It's hard to believe there was a time when television shows hardly cared about the continuity from one episode to the next. They generally maintained a sense of "soft continuity" which was really just the established parameters of the premise or the situation. My mother used to dislike shows which she disdainfully referred to as "soap operas" because they relied too much on a long story arc across the season. Before that, characters could change and grow but they really were just plunked down in the same situation week after week without any real reference to previous episodes. The comedy Soap was called Soap because they were playing off the idea that the show's story just kept continuing week after week. But if you watch it now, the continuing premise wouldn't be anything different and the title would be redundant. Soap might just be called Arrested Development and everybody would expect the story to continue from one week to the next. The first drama I watched which I really remember telling the kind of long narrative story expected from television shows today was Wiseguy. Twin Peaks also broke that barrier but even Lynch's show played on the idea that it was basically a soap opera. It even parodied itself in the fake in-show soap opera, "Invitation to Love."

Just a bit of imagery to break up the boring words.

Movie franchises were a bit ahead of television shows in trying to keep a cohesive narrative across multiple films. But even here, it was rare. A series like The Godfather or Star Wars were made to tell a long story and would have been ruined by playing fast and loose with the previous movie's revelations. But continuity mattered less in other film franchises which only produced sequels because the first movie was a hit. And of course novels have always been expected to play as fair as possible. But comic books...oh, comic books. What was going on with them?

Comic books have never had the luxury of maintaining a cohesive narrative across long stretches of time because their audience is constantly changing. Nobody expected anyone but kids to be reading Batman when he first came on the scene. And nobody expected those kids to keep reading Batman as they aged. So Batman couldn't age. Who wants to read about a sixty-five year old vigilante breaking his hip as he tries to swing across Gotham? So the characters aren't allowed to age but they have to interact with the world in which the readers live. The scenery behind the characters flits past, constantly changing and updating, while the characters remain the same age. Certain historical moments that might have been incorporated into the story of the character have to change as those moments move further and further into the past and mean less and less to the new readers coming of comic book reading age. And what about the writers, artists, and editors? The characters outlive them decade after decade. Of course no new writer is going to be compelled to come on to a Batman book if they have to keep the character true to its decades old roots. Sometimes writers will come along and write a new definitive take on a character which the current generation latches onto. That's now who Batman is no matter how upset it might make Batman's older fans who never thought of Batman in this updated way. And eventually, Batman becomes the culmination of a whole bunch of seminal stories that nearly everybody thinks of when they think of Batman. And if there were times in Batman's history that nobody looks fondly on? They're forgotten as if they never happened. But for some people who like that time? They still matter. Things have to change. Things must constantly be updated. But the characters have so much history, parts of which conflict with other parts, that the character means something different to everybody who loves it.

My main point about loving comic book characters no matter how much they change due to "writers, editors, or the current zeitgeist" is that any character you fall in love with continues to exist no matter what future changes eventually turn the character on its head. Because the character you fell in love with is almost certainly not the character she was fifteen years before you discovered her. Do not let the comic book company dictate the stories you cherish simply because they've retconned them out of existence. Do not give the companies power over your fandom. Things in comics will change because they have to change. They are not indebted to any one generation's likes, values, and mores. Nor should they be.

In Dan Jurgens' Bat-mite, Gridlock says, "I have sworn to preserve the world as it is and forestall the devastating changes younger generations would inflict on us." That seems to be a common theme with comic book fans who dislike change. As much as I love to make fun of Dan Jurgens for being stuck in the eighties, his current Bat-mite is an intelligently put together parable about how each generation of comic book fans believes the era in which they fell in love with comics to remain the norm. And that's just not how comic books work. The longer you remain a fan, the more often some character or story or Reboot is going to break your heart. Once you can learn to live with this fact, and realize that the characters you love are made up of the stories you choose to remember, the less angry letters to the editors forum rants you'll wind up writing.

And now it's time to read the comic book!

Dick and the other Batkids arrive at Noonan's Sleazy Bar to keep Jason Todd from getting killed by Cassandra Cain. Is this the part where Sixpack tries to recruit them all for Section Eight? I think Dick would fit in perfectly. He could change his name to Tight Ass and wear ass-less chaps. Between Dick Grayson and Bueno Excellente, they could seduce any super villain they encounter!

The Batkids head out to the Batcave because Batman is out of town. Or his mind. Whatever. It's definitely an adult-free space so it's the place to hang and have sex with each other. They can do Scarecrow Toxin Whippits and play Seven Minutes Behind the Giant Penny. Although the giant penny was turned into a merry-go-round at Lucius Fox's Home for Wayward Youths. And the giant dinosaur was turned into a slide although the giant dinosaur is still in the cave with the randy kids. Continuity Violation! I call Continuity Violation!

Once in the cave, Harper gets laid up in the intravenous healing tea injection table while the rest of the Batkids try to figure out a way to get Cassandra Cain to talk.

Blasphemy! Candy does not equal circus peanuts! And Tim's supposed to be the smart one!

Cassandra taps each of the male Batkids in safe places: Hood is the hand, Tim is the head, Dick is the heart. Then she goes over to touch Harper's stubbornness and Stephanie's funny bone.

Helena gets back in touch with Dick to let him know that she found a reference to Mother in one of Agent Zero's diaries from about twenty-five years ago. It turns out Mother has the capability of producing "designer human beings" for anything a person might need. Red Hood suggests that maybe Batman used it to design his Robins. Dick and Tim seem like they'd like to argue the point but, really, how many times has Batman betrayed their trust in the past? Pretty much once per week. I'm pointing to the Circus Peanuts as treats as proof of one betrayal.

It's only Issue Three and I've actually already voiced my objections to the Batman creating his sidekicks plot when the Sneak Peek came out on my birthday Batman Day. If it turns out that Batman somehow had a hand in creating each Robin, even if he just special ordered them through Mother, the writing crew had better come up with an incredibly crazy but believable and emotional reason for it. Otherwise they're just cribbing the "Joker made Jason Todd into Robin" plot from Scott Lobdell's Red Hood and the Outlaws Zero Issue. Which I ranted and raved about back then.

Time for a flashback to after Dick was gassed by the Scarecrow and Batman rushed him back to the Batcave to describe the experience. I mean to care for him! No, no. It really was just to describe the experience. Batman is one hard motherfucker.

I like how Dick is giving Bruce a little side glance as he admits to his fear, just waiting for Batman to assure him it's not true. Or fearful Bruce is going to agree.

Bruce tells Robin that he saw nothing when he was dosed. Now Dick's memory ramps up his paranoia that what Bruce saw had something to do with Mother and her help in creating the Robins. His flashback is interrupted by Helena with more information. It seems Poppy ate her nanites. But before doing so, one of them hacked her cell phone and figured out where Poppy's outgoing calls to Gotham were headed. To a place where Bruce Wayne is being celebrated. Dick ditches the other kids and rushes off to save Bruce in much the same way Batman would have ditched them all without actually telling them all the details and asking for help. He really is a good Batman replacement!

Tim Drake mans the Batcomputer to watch Dick's back while Cassandra Cain and Harper Row slip off into the shadows to hopefully get that Batkid sex going. Somebody's got to do something sexual soon! I'd be happy with Red Hood pulling out his balls and lying them against Tim's neck as Tim is concentrating on the Batcomputer!

Bruce Wayne gets invited to check out the kitchen at the "Welcome Back, Bruce Wayne (Again!)" party. But instead of getting a tasty treat, he gets ambushed by a bunch of Mother's children. He'd better hope his martial arts training wasn't written over by the Dionesium!

Batman and Robin Eternal #3 Rating: +1 Ranking. I'd better give it as many increases in rank as I can while I'm still enjoying the interactions of the Batkids. I have a feeling when Bruce's Bat-secret is revealed, things are going to get incredibly stupid and outlandish and unbelievable and insane and I'm really not going to be very happy about it all.

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