Jul 29, 2016

Short-Term Permanence, Batman, and the Comics Fan

Short-Term Permanence, Batman, and the Comics Fan
Travis Hedge Coke

I’m fascinated/annoyed with people who do not read comics getting worked up over scary internet articles or misleading memes regarding the fast turnaround on changes and developments, on twists and hooks in serial comics or huge shared universes. HydraCap. Robert Downey Jr retiring from Iron Man because Marvel is forcing Iron Man to be a teenage girl. But, look, we do it ourselves. I do it. We do it. We do it to ourselves, too.

Even the most history-minded of comics fans fudges stuff a lot. The continuity of the Marvel and DC universes roll up the timeline behind them, condensing their characters’ histories, simplifying, reintroducing elements constantly. And, so too, the comics fan rolls up the real world and in-world histories into, basically, what interests us most, what we remember easiest.

I’m going to use a 2013 Newsarama article to illustrate, because it is a fun article, but it is also blatantly wrong and misleading nearly all the way through. It’s predicates a lionization of Grant Morrison and his contribution to Batman, by basically ignoring that at its heart, his lengthy Batman run was a remix, that he is, quite often, and by his own admission, an appropriation and remix author. Morrison took some of these listed elements to new levels or dealt with them thoroughly, but dealing with a thing is neither “adding” nor inventing.

So, 10 Things GRANT MORRISON Added to the BATMAN Mythos by Graeme McMillan, is going to be our window into how easy it is to just feel, because it’s new, it’s huge, and we enjoy it, that it’s first, primary, and maybe more innovative than it actually is.

Number ten, Bruce Wayne, Social Crusader, states that prior to Morrison’s run, Bruce was primarily seen as “disinterested fop,” which is true, but that Morrison invented this aspect or that it was going to be permanent and undeniable is countered both by the comics, which had people dismissing his new philanthropic gestures and comparing them to old ones that were abandoned the moment a story or writer were done, and by the article, itself, which has to immediately check itself on just those points. This isn’t a thing Morrison “added,” to Batman, it’s something he used that’s been there for decades and the article, itself, can’t even pretend otherwise.

Next, Batworld, claims that “Morrison not only created a superhero community removed from the more familiar, more insular American characters that we read about on a regular basis, but placed Batman right at the center of it,” ignoring or forgetting that this community is made up, primarily, or a team from the 1950s, the Club of Heroes/Batman of All Nations, and an iteration of the 1980s team, The Outsiders, who have supported their own ongoing multiple times. Morrison does good work with this community, these concepts and the idea of heroes inspired by Batman, but he did not add or invent it.

The menagerie of animals that Batman and his son collect during Morrison’s time writing monthly Batman comics are credited to him, but of course, some he invented, some were introduced by other writers, and this, too, comes down to his take seeming definitive more than him particularly “adding” or creating a situation. The dynamic preexisted, but he did something notable with it.

With number seven on the Newsarama list, we hit the first thing Morrison actually did add to Batman, so far. The international policing and espionage agency, SPYRAL is a Morrison invention. It’s… a big, complex spy agency. They have some style, but that’s all they are.

Six, so halfway through, we have That Other Batwoman, and the idea that somehow, using two Batwomans (if it’s a name, Batwomen, if it is a job title) who preexisted Morrison’s use here, as somehow, something he added. He did great with both, but even the article can’t really muster a defense of the idea that he added either.

And, at this point, you may be wondering, “Why are you picking apart this one article?” Which, I am, but only inasmuch as it is emblematic of larger and pervasive trends. And, “Why are you so worked up about whether Grant Morrison added, introduced, or invented these things?” In answer to which, I would steer you to more than two dozen conversations easily found with a search engine, wherein people are lauding Morrison for inventing everything. I love Morrison’s comics, for the most part, and I understand how easy it is to be ignorant of something from forty years ago, or even five years ago, how easy it is to forget things when a newer version comes around or the old one wasn’t as exciting to you. This is not about this article, in particular, but how easy it is for us to claim this writer invented something, this artist was the first to do something, this current change or hook is unlike any other ever, and so on.

So, we had SPYRAL, and with number five, we have Damian, which the article calls a “literal” bat-son, even though before Morrison wrote his first issue of the Batman ongoing, Bruce had raised Dick Grayson, temporarily adopted a boy who forced his way to Robin-hood and died in Brave and the Bold, and formally, legally adopted Tim Drake as his son. I’m sorry, but that is family like three to six different ways. You adopt a kid? That’s your kid. You live in a multigenerational household where adults care for children and there are clear dynamics of who does the dishes, who has homework? That’s family.

Number three is that Batman is an icon. That is, in all seriousness, something that the author wants us to believe he believes about Batman. And, y’know? Lots of fans will say the same and they do believe it, so maybe he does, too.

It is still wrong. And, just plain silly. We’ve had decades, literally, of Batman as symbol stories, and Batman being replaced by new people, stewards carrying on the bat-mantle.

It is a theme of Morrison’s Batman run. It is a common theme of Batman. But, not one that he added to Batman or even introduced after decades of disuse.

They up their game with the final two, which are Batman as superhero and Batman as human hero. And, this is… it’s Batman! Bat! Man!

I don’t think a guy whose run started in the Twenty-First Century added “superhero” to the Batman lexicon. I’m sorry; no. No no no.

Nor, did Grant Morrison invent the idea that Batman is a mortal man, a flawed but good human being.

What other kind of Batman have we ever had?

How does someone get to the point where they think a run starting in 2006 added the idea that Batman could be a superhero? This is not on Graeme McMillan alone. We all do this. Someone could, undoubtedly, take some of my less-careful articles and find similar, and obviously in casual conversation or message board discussions. You make intuitive leaps, the forer effect kicks in, memory tweaks and pares to make a more agreeable garden of your overgrown thoughts and knowledge.

This is not about Graeme McMillan or Grant Morrison. It’s no slight on either of them, or any of their collaborators. It’s not even, necessarily, about Batman, except that there is so much Batman out there, that it piles up and makes this confusion and conflation easier.

We self-edit, we reflexively and unintentionally edit our awareness of these characters, these huge narratives. This is part of what became known as hypertime, and it is a natural response to these huge, labyrinthine, often-contradictory or counterintuitive continuities and character histories; character existences, since they aren’t really casual or chronological the way a history should be, they’re just differing and semi-related statuses quo.

Alan Grant put politics into Batman first. Paul Dini invented Batman being heroic. Frank Miller invented serious Batman. Tim Burton invented serious Batman. Neal Adams invented serious Batman. David Finch created huggy Batman. Michael Keaton invented serious Bruce Wayne. Joel Schumacher invented sexualized Batman. Nolan Batman is the first political Batman. Nolan invented political Batman. Nolan created the first serious Batman. Nolan invented bats. Paul Dini hand drew the first full-length cartoon of bats and they were serious and friendly and introduced Harley Quinn. Part of some of these is true, but mostly, this is our brain indelicately pruning and paring our garden of knowledge to make a comforting presentation.

Even a diehard fan fail to keep all the different versions of Batman, from movies and cartoons and comics separate, and in serial comics, where things are happening and repeating over decades of monthly issues and multiple titles, it is probably impossible for a human brain to keep it all perfectly straight. We all approximate. We latch onto good hooks or memorable names. Fantastic usage becomes, in our heads, first use or first true occurrence.

But, once we have done this, if we are going to talk to others about it, either in edutainment articles or conversations, we need to be willing to re-think our position, check our facts, question our own assertions, and maybe once in awhile, just google a development to see if we’re understanding its context correctly.

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