Friday, March 03, 2006

Will Comics Lighten Up? The Definitive Test

Allegedly, post-Infinite Crisis DC Comics will be lighter in tone and more joyful than the dour and boring comics of the last few years.

I remain skeptical.

However, I have figured out a test. A test to determine if the DC line has indeed regained its capacity for wonder and fun...

Read a new issue of Batman and ask yourself:

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Would the current creative team be willing to have The Dark Knight sneak past sentries by wearing a big glass diving helmet with a fake seagull on top? Could they recognize the breathtaking awesomeness of the stunt?

You know in your hearts that "Batman with a gull on his noggin" is a beautiful moment in comics. James Bond stole this bit in Goldfinger, for cryin' out loud. That's impressive.

If the answer is "no, Batman would never do that," then the DC bigwigs are talking through their hats, and we're still stuck with comics that confuse depression for depth.

If the answer is "yes, Batman just might strap a fake bird to his head," then let us rejoice, for fun has come back to town.!)

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21 Comments:

Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

As much as I appreciate gull-wearing Batman, I believe there's reasonable space between "Batman with bird strapped to his head" and "crazed stubble-faced Batman hitting a twelve-year-old" to write a character which is both dark and fun.

3/03/2006 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

I also don't think DC's ever promised anything so explicit as a "lightening" or a "return to fun." Mark Waid said they were doing something like that in an interview last year, but if you'll recall he was almost instantly corrected by either Didio or some component of Johnuckanick. They've talked a lot about how Infinite Crisis is going to "change the tone" in DC, but they've said much, much less about what that tone is supposed to be. If it's "lighter," and "lighter" just means "lighter than we are now, where Superboy is punching off people's heads and Elongated Man's wife is dead and raped," then that doesn't exactly have to be Batman in a pink suit fighting day-glo aliens, does it?

Personally, I've never seen "Crisis 2" as aiming to do anything as radical as the first one - either bringing back the multiverse or radically changing the tone whatever. The real point, as far as I can tell, is One Year Later - the line-wide revamp, which follows no single particular pattern and serves mainly to boost sales on all the titles.

3/03/2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Man, I just want a Batman who isn't such a delusional, humorless butthead. A Batman who, when coming up with ways to slip undetected past thugs on a pier, thinks that putting a fake bird on his diving helmet is a nice touch.

I'd say that the character was capable of such decisions until the last ten or fifteen years. I could see Jim Aparo drawing something akin to this in 1990. He's driven, but he's also human.

Self-seriousness and bitterness got the better of his character. He's now the stick-up-the-butt Unstoppable Super Robot God of the JLA. To which I say "bleaugh."

Me, all I'm looking for is a hint of wit, self-awareness, or charm. Sure, a pink suit and day-glo aliens would be a nice change of pace, but I don't see any burning need to go that far.

(Oddly, I could see Frank Miller doing a "bird on the head" gag in All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. I don't like the book, but it does have an undercurrent of silliness comics need.)

If, in fact, the post-Infinite Crisis plans are not focused on lightening up and fun, then man, what a waste. I shall wear a fake seagull atop my head for a month as protest. That'll show 'em!

3/03/2006 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I remain skeptical too.

Batman is supposed to be lighter in tone but in the latest issue of Detective he still acts like a dick to the new cop that introduces herself and Robin has to apologize for him,

And in the preview for 52, we see Ralph Dibney crying and putting a gun in his mouth as he's about to blow out his brains.

So for all the talk lamenting the darkening of DC in Infinite Crisis, I think it's going to be business as usual.

3/03/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

I don't think there's a problem with setting up rules and parameters with regards to what a character will and will not do. It's just as valid for the modern Batman to have a taboo against being goofy as it is for him to have a taboo against killing people, because being intimidating, dark, and scary is his whole shtick. If readers can laugh at him, we believe criminals can laugh at him, and it breaks our suspension of diselief in a character who goes out there to put terror into the hearts of a "superstitious and cowardly lot."

I think having a non-goofy Batman is also quite a different phenomenon than the one you're identifying - the "delusional, humorless butthead" who's so socially inept he constantly alienates his closest friends and allies. The Batman of the Dini/Timm cartoon would never wear a bird on his head, or fight pink aliens, because like the Batman of the last twenty years he had a very conscious image to maintain. But those cartoons were plenty of fun, despite having a Batman that did take himself rather seriously.

Frank Miller's "All Star Batman," on the other hand, isn't fun, despite the fact that it really is goofy. It has plenty of elements that should be fun, and goes out of its way to point them out (Batman's car turns into a plane, then a submarine), but is such a poorly-written bloated mess that it comes across as a painful slog to read. For god's sake, it's been four issues and they haven't even made it into the Batcave yet. Fun isn't in the elements - in how many ducks you can strap to Batman's head. It's in what you do with them.

(None of this is to say there's no room for a Batman who fights pink aliens on top of giant typewriters; it's just that that Batman can't be the only Batman. Comics don't "need" silliness any more than they "need" to be serious or grim. In my ideal world, DC would publish separate ongoing Bat-titles for goofball Silver-Age style adventures, for streel-level crime stories, and for over-the-top Millerian grittiness, keeping a wide range of readers happy and finally shutting up both ends of the pendulum.)

3/03/2006 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

"The Batman of the Dini/Timm cartoon would never wear a bird on his head..."

You know, I think he would. I really do. Not on a regular basis or anything, but yeah, I could see him do it.

And yeah, goofiness is not enough. My complaint is that it's undervalued as a virtue in serious comics.

3/03/2006 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Well, the new team (eventually) is supposed to be Grant Morrison and Paul Dini. I'd say they'd approve of gull-helmet Batman, although Morrison would probably put some kind of dark-matter-fueled seagull pheromone generator in it so Batman could also fool *real seagulls*.

3/03/2006 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Bully said...

I want to see a Batman/Hawkman Brave and the Bold issue where Batman wears Hawkman on his head.

Is that so wrong?

3/03/2006 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger gschienke said...

I suggest that DC will have found its center again if it had the guts to produce a story where a practical joke is played or by Batman. If that happens, then we'll have the true DCU back.

3/03/2006 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Zard said...

I'll know classic DC is back when every month I see Superman coming up with new ways to murder Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.

3/03/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Youri Zoutman said...

I'm still trying to figure out why Batman ever stopped strapping fake birds to his head

3/03/2006 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be perfectly happy if I just don't have to watch c-list characters punching z-list characters heads off on-panel to prove that they're b-list characters. Not just Superboy, it happened in GL too. Does Geoff Johns have some kind of severed neck stump sex fetish? It's just vulgar. When Ennis does it in Punisher its vulgar, but at least its funny. Is this his idea of an ironic comment on the cover of Crime SuspenStories #22 which led to readers getting shafted with the CCA in the first place? I'm not going back to Batman wearing rainbow costumes and travelling into outer space, so some of these jackasses need to stop rocking the boat. That said, the bird thing was genius. Oh, and the Morrison Batman that everyone hates because he was "Batgod?" The JLA episode where General Eiling inhabits the Shaggy Man has Batman running away in almost every scene. Except one. Where he tries to subdue. The Shaggy Man. With hypnosis. Bat-hypnosis. Anyone who thinks that isn't Golden Age is talking out of their hat.

Tim

3/03/2006 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Well, *I* love Batgod, and I can totally see the gull-hat coming back.

Because a bird on the head is worth two stupid puns or something.

3/03/2006 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Vaklam said...

I want Batman with a bird on his head. Right. Now.

3/03/2006 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

Morrison will have him wearing a space monkey in a scuba suit decoy on his head and Robin will be dressed as Fidel Castro in a raft chasing him. So in other words. It will be even better!

Personally though, I would rather have "good stories", no matter how dark or light.

3/03/2006 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

"The JLA episode where General Eiling inhabits the Shaggy Man has Batman running away in almost every scene. Except one. Where he tries to subdue. The Shaggy Man. With hypnosis. Bat-hypnosis."

Oh my sweet merciful crap...that's spectacular. I wish I had seen that.

3/04/2006 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

The awesome thing about Morrison's Bat-hypnosis is that:

1. It almost works
2. It actually comes off as pretty bad-ass.

So yes, a talented writer can integrate Silly elements quite well into a Serious character without overwhelming said character with them.

3/04/2006 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Cade said...

I miss the days of BWAH HA HA...
in the JLA--those were good comics--yet at the same time some intense Batman stories were told--why can't comics do both?

3/05/2006 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

It's worth noting that the panel comes from "The Origin of Batman!", the story in which Batman finally catches up with Joe Chill, that ends with Chill getting gunned down by a bunch of angry crooks who want him to pay for inadvertently creating Batman in the first place.

In other words, a good Batman story should be capable of taking that sudden sharp turn from the laughably absurd to the bloody and macabre. My favorite example of this would be Englehart and Rogers' "The Laughing Fish." That's my idea of how to walk that tightrope.

3/06/2006 12:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely not lighting up...check out the preview for "52" with Elongated Man sticking a pistol in his mouth. Wow, what fun!

In addition, they are promising another hero will die in '52'...do they realize how bored we all are by hero deaths by this point? Why all the bloodthirstiness? Did Dan Didio and Geoff Johns get their lollipops stolen when they were kids or something?

3/09/2006 04:45:00 PM  
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