Tagged: Bruce Wayne

Marc Alan Fishman: Gotham Gets Better

Gotham-penguinBack in November I lamented that Gotham was a train-wreck with glimmers of hope peaking out amongst the smoldering boxcars abandoned near Arkham Asylum. Well, here we are, a large smattering of episodes later, and I’m starting to change my outlook on Fox’s proto-Batman dramedy. Hear me out, skeptics.

My turn of opinion first peeked its tepid head out into the light when I came to the realization that the show was not, nor would it ever be, Gotham Central by way of Ed Brubaker. The fact is I’ve circled my wagons around the ideology that business and the boardroom will always help dictate the creative endeavors of the Big Two™’s creations. That means that as critically acclaimed a graphic novel may be, at the end of the day all Warner Bros is going to care about is ratings and the potential syndication of Gotham. Hence, the fact that producers are making a show that by-and-large is built to appeal to the widest audience possible by way of brazen continuity-shattering canon-damning characterizations was bound to happen. Or in lesser terms, we were never ever ever going to not get interpretations of Batman’s rogue gallery. So I got over it.

And when I did, the sky opened up, and the show instantly became more entertaining to me. Jim Gordon – the John Wayne of Gotham – and his trusty drunkish sidekick Harvey Bullock are the lone moral compass amidst a sea of corruption. Hell, Bullock up until the 8th or 9th time Gordon saved his ass was as much a part of the problem as anyone. But as the show settled into itself, there was a slight shift in the dynamic duo’s camaraderie.

After sticking his neck out on the line enough times, Bullock and the police chief both turned from broken records (“You’ll never beat this city, Jim!) into begrudging do-gooders. And it did the series a hell of a favor. Instead of one man against a city, there was a subtle cracking of a window, piercing the muck and mire with rays of hope.

Hope. It’s the biggest concept the show misplaced at the onset. But over time, the cases of the week gave way to those notions that yes, in fact, some people did want to fight against the rampant corruption. And to a degree even those who existed on the other side of the law started to show depth of character. Make no bones about it: Carmine Falcone is an evil and bad man. But he bleeds the same blood as we do, and through the plot line of Fish Moody’s planted girlfriend, we saw shades of grey in what was an otherwise black and white caricature of any gangster we’ve seen a million places elsewhere. OK, and let me not give too much credit here. The shtick of an Italian-American loving his mother is not exactly original storytelling. Again, lowest-common-denominator here. Take the small victories as big ones.

Because Gotham was given more than twenty shows to produce within the first season, the writing team has been very sneaky in utilizing slow-burn storytelling in-between the predictable ratings bait. While we’ve been treated to outright terrible iterations of the Scarecrow and the maybe-Joker to-be, we’ve been privy to the ebb and flow of several well-defined debauchees.

Oswald Cobblepot immediately comes to mind. Robin Lord Taylor steals nearly every scene he’s in. While his recent pyrrhic victory over Fish has left him her club, yes, it’s at the cost of anyone believing him ever again. His playing of Maroni and Falcone has no doubt left him as a pawn to more powerful men – until he figures out yet-another way to squawk out of harm.

Outside of The Penguin, the aforementioned Fish herself has been perhaps the only other critically acclaimed person on the show. And while I had not been fond of her personally, I see the appeal. A strong female lead who plays an elegant sexy versus the traditionally slutty alternative amongst Batty’s libertine ladies does leave a better taste in the mouth. Combine this with her more recent turn as a sympathetic heel and you have the makings of another breakout star. My hope though is when she makes an eventual return to Gotham City she does so to rebuild her empire independently. Let Ozzie keep the club for now. Heck, maybe he should turn it into a casino.

And then there’s Bruce. There was no way around the awkwardness of his origins. We’d seen them done dozens of times before. The pearls. The gun shots. The scream into the night. Followed of course by stoic angst amidst solid oak furniture and priceless bric-a-brac. But once Gotham got past the traditional beats, we’ve been granted a look into Bruce Wayne’s life that otherwise has not been better captured. As Alfred would denote several times since my last writing, the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne have granted their sire an unyielding independent streak. He’s been focused (even when gallivanting as the weakest looking punk ever depicted on TV, with Selina Kyle), keen-eyed, and bright. And he’s been all of this whilst figuring how to cope with the grief. The performance has been stilted now and again, but the storytelling has been solid as a rock. This is a Bruce Wayne about to enter adolescence. And it’s slowly become an enjoyable B story against the cases of the week.

While Gotham is still significantly flawed, it has leapt forward in its ability to put a smile on my face. When the show isn’t confined to redefining known properties, there’s an original mish-moshing of noir, black comedy, and a decent (if dumb) police procedural.

Combine this with an astoundingly nice production budget, and the backing of a major network and you have a show that I once thought would be unsalvageable, and over time has become a minor fleet-of-fancy. It’s not Flash or Arrow mind you… but for the time being it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to ultimately calm down and realize its best adventures are still yet to come.


Dennis O’Neil: Gotham’s Doctor, Batman’s Saint

You may have seen it yourself: the scene a while back in which James Gordon and Dr. Leslie Thompkins stand in front of their police department colleagues getting very well acquainted. It happened during an episode of Gotham and although the television Leslie wasn’t the Leslie Dick Giordano and I introduced in Detective Comics #457, I didn’t mind. I know that television shows are not comic books: they have different techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and that the story being told there on the tube wasn’t our story and that serialized characters have to evolve if they are to survive for decades, as Leslie has.

In the weeks since the television Leslie was introduced, we’ve seen her become her own person – witty, intelligent, feisty. Independent. I’d happily watch her if her name were Honorifica Flabdiggle, especially if Bertha, like Leslie, were played by the talented and truly lovely Morena Baccarin.

She was created – Leslie, not Honorifica- to serve the plot of the particular story we were working on, to supplement Bruce Wayne’s biography, and to add an element to the Batman mythos.

I had a real person in mind when I was writing Detective #457, someone I’d once met named Dorothy Day. Dorothy began her professional life as a journalist, wrote a novel, lived the Greenwich Village life. In 1939, she cofounded The Catholic Worker, an organization located in a section of lower Manhattan not much frequented by the white shoe crowd. The Worker had three missions: to serve the poor by providing food, shelter and clothing; to help drunks get sober; and to protest war – all war, any war, and any violence.

We incorporated Dorothy’s pacifism into Leslie. There wasn’t much; I can’t recall any particular story in which it was a major element. But look for it and you could find it.

What the fictional Leslie did for Bruce Wayne was to serve as a surrogate for his murdered mother and to give him information; she told him that not everyone believed that violence solved problems. If Bruce had existed – these are fictions, remember – he might have been sympathized with Leslie’s convictions and regretted his own dependence on violence, while having nothing he considered to be another viable modus operandi.

I don’t expect to hear Dr. Leslie Thompkins endorsing Dorothy Day’s convictions. Gotham is a venue for action/melodrama, after all, and not a pulpit. And there are reasons why we respond to this sort of entertainment and they’re not too distant from the reasons our wonky species hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs. But still…what would be wrong with giving the video Leslie a pacifist leaning or two? She could maybe slip them into a subordinate clause where nobody would notice them anyway. And they would give the character Ms. Baccarin and her cohorts are so ably creating a nuance uniquely her own.

Just asking.


Dennis O’Neil: Thinking Christopher Nolan

Warning: Spoilers below.

So when the lights came on, I turned in my seat and said to the man behind me “Not bad, Chris. Not the worst flick I’ve seen this month. Except for – and this’ll come as no surprise to you – the ending. Sucks pizzle through a potato. Real stink city. Alfred runs into Bruce in Paris? Come on! The flick ends when the helicopter goes blooey and we gotta think Bats dies. Sacrifices himself to save others. Real redemption stuff. That’s your ending and that last scene…Chris, you gotta know that it ruins everything else. What, did some suit twist your arm? Listen, maybe it’s not to late. Movie doesn’t open till…when? Friday? Might be time enough to get some scissions and cut the last couple minutes off the prints. Yeah, I know that there are maybe a thousand copies of the flick and it won’t be easy, what I’m suggesting, but we’re talking art, Chrissy, and sacrifices must be made. Dig?”

Okay, okay, that really didn’t happen. It’s true that a some of us comic book guys got invited to a premier screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a Manhattan theater (and yes, indeedy, it was one big honkin’ deal.) And, as it happened, Marifran and I were seated in front of the movie’s director, Christopher Nolan, but I didn’t know that until much later, after we were home and Mari told me.

If I had known? Probably, not much would have changed. I’m not a fellow to approach strangers, especially not celebrities because I think they must get bellies full of uninvited attention and are properly sick of it.

But that ending.

I did think it was a mistake, though not a drastic one, and if that’s so, how did it happen? Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an online news item that reported a comment by someone connected to the film. This person observed that the brief scene I’m objecting to is foreshadowed earlier in the narrative when Alfred tells of a dream he had in which he meets his boss, Bruce Wayne, in Paris – exactly what happens after Bruce apparently dies in an explosion. So was that last scene another dream? A way for Alfred’s subconscious to cope with the loss of his friend? If not, what’s the dream Alfred describes doing in the script? It doesn’t seem to add anything to plot or character unless… it allows the writers to have an upbeat ending and still tell the story they want to tell. You want to think Bruce is in a cafe munching croissants? Be my guest. Or do you want to join me in believing that the screenplay is better than I was giving it credit for?

Me? I’ll just mutter bravo, but I’ll mutter it here where it can’t possibly bother Mr. Nolan.


Martha Thomases: Party Time!

I’m having a hard time focusing this week. See, Sunday is my annual Hanukkah party, and I’m in a tizzy making sure that I have enough food for my guests. My parents taught me that if I don’t have leftovers, I didn’t get enough. I don’t know how many people are coming.

Which is complicated even after the food is ordered. There’s the entertainment.

There was a time when I had a day job and most of my friends had day jobs, and we’d see each other at the various office parties we attended. In my time, I’ve attended holiday parties at DC and at Marvel. Both were fun. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, but I never saw any of the shenanigans associated with office parties. No one was photocopying his naked butt. No one was having sex in a closet, or in a desk piled with coats. Nobody even vomited in a public place. Everyone was aware that while this was a party, it was a party on the job, and no one was going to be too embarrassed to come back to work in the morning. At least not that I saw.

Those days are gone. People don’t have permanent jobs so much anymore, and those that do either don’t have parties or have tougher security so I can’t get in.

Which is fine. I mean, my favorite thing about my party is the mix of people. There are my friends from high school, from the neighborhood, and from knitting. There are people I know from the peace movement and from freelance journalism and from comics. Sometimes some of my son’s friends show up, which makes me feel like the cool mom.

It is the mix that entertains me. I like to see who clicks and who doesn’t. Naturally, because I honor my inner eight-year-old, I then wonder what it would be like if superheroes had holiday parties.

When Clark and Lois (I like to think they’re still married) host a tree-decorating party, does Bruce Wayne come? Does Guy Gardner? I like to think so. If they do, how are they introduced?

For that matter, when Tony Stark has a party, does he invite Bruce Wayne? They would seem to travel in the same circles. Holiday parties are the perfect place to plan new corporate strategies. Lex Luthor would probably have to be there, and I’m sure Stark Industries does enough business with the federal government to have a relationship with various embassies. Wonder Woman would certainly have to be invited.

A lot of superheroes know intergalactic aliens. Does this make catering more difficult? I don’t think there is any reason to believe that a Kree or a Dryad or Martian can eat, much less digest food from Earth. And what does that do to the plumbing? Is that covered by home-owners insurance?

I would bet the Guardians of Oa (not the Galaxy) have an etiquette book that answers these questions.

Any party is improved with a touch of the unexpected. Certain characters, not born in comics but occasional residents, should be welcomed. Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear, Dobie Gillis, Jerry Lewis – these are folks who add spice to the mix. And they would be someone for the Angel and the Ape to talk to.

Would any of these parties be as much fun as mine? I doubt it.

Have a wonderful Hanukkah party, folks. I wish you the most landings on gimmel.


Marc Alan Fishman: Gotham Is Close, But So Far Away…

… from being what it could be. In short, they’re uncertainty is palpable, and it’s sickening to watch week to week.

For the uninitiated: Gotham creates a timeline in which a young James Gordon arrives in the titular city right as Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered. The city that will one day be protected by a dark knight is at present a cesspool incarnate. Corruption is common and even embraced by the police force. Politicians are mob-owned. And the mob itself has its nightclubs, contractors and restaurants littering the yellow pages. Impending war between Don Maroni and Carmine Falcone is discussed as much as the local sports scores and the weather (the Knights won, and it’s always going to rain). And literally crammed into every visible orifice on screen, a future commoner of the caped crusader’s cadre of kooky criminals lays in waiting.

Look, kiddos. I don’t have an issue with starting the show with Bruce Wayne’s orphaning (yeah, I’m coining the term). It’s a pivotal moment with plenty of roots into the budding season’s serial storyline. What I take umbrage towards is how desperate it all feels. It’s truly as if the writers, producers, and executives behind the show are compelled to scream at the viewing public “People! It’s Batman! This is the Batman show! Don’t you like Batmaaaaaan!?” I know this is a common thought that’s traveling amongst the blogosphere, but, seriously, why can’t DC and Warner Bros. just take a page from Marvel’s handbook?

When the House of Mouse announced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., comic book fans largely held their breath. By anchoring their TV presence with a concept that could play in their cinematic sandbox but seemingly not require our favorite Avengers to drop by for a cameo… it took the better part of a season to truly win over the public at large. And when the words “Hail Hydra” were whispered, everyone rightly lost their marbles over the cleverness of it all. In contrast, Gotham has been obsessed with planting seeds that are so obvious they might as well just be trees already. Instead of trying to build a DC Universe, or even just a plausible setting, Gotham would rather be another Elseworlds tale. And were DC to have the smarts to tell us in any way that was the actual plan, maybe I would have happily declined even setting my DVR.

That’s a point I’d like to repeat for posterity. For Geoff Johns to drop even the inkling of a hint that the DCU-on-TV (Flash and Arrow clearly being coupled, Gotham, and potentially Krypton) could each exist in a parallel dimension to the movies, et al, is just dumb-dumb-doodle-dum. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. To think that the pencil pushers at DC Entertainment will eventually have to sell us a compendium guide to the Multiverse just so we can officially know where each damned show is in relation to one another is just sad to think about. Can you hear it now off in the distance? “Yeah, that Batman in Batman v. Superman isn’t the Batman from Gotham. No, I know that makes no sense [person who doesn’t understand Multiverse Concept].” Sigh.

As I’m prone to do at junctures like this, I’m apt to celebrate a few small victories the show has for itself. The cast – while anchored with pretty hammy dialogue – are all perfect fits. Our young Gordon is a proper police detective to Donal Logue’s lazy Harvey Bullock. The mobsters are all perfect caricatures we’d expect. And for what it’s worth, the Penguin is pitch perfect when he’s not going all kinds of Patrick Bateman on people wearing shoes he covets. The look of the show is also a small saving grace. Every edge is crammed with garbage and sepia toned grime. While it leaves little to no room for levity, the show is heads and shoulders above S.H.I.E.L.D. when it comes to environments… what little we’ve had to explore. And even young master Wayne is one of the better child actors I’ve seen cast. While (again) the script has called for less-than-stellar set-pieces for him to chew on (near suicide off the roof much, Brucey?), David Mazouz delivers a credible sell when he’s trying to be the rich kid forced to grow up too soon.

Beyond those points, Gotham is just too heavy fisted for its own damned good. With Edward Nygma posing poignant puzzles at every possible point he can, or Selena Kyle practically walking on all fours and meowing when she wants to be called Cat, it’s not as clever a turn as the showrunners seem to think. The public at large knows enough about the Batman mythos; few know about the brilliant shades of gray that exist in his world outside of the well-known rogues gallery. Why force feed us proto-Riddlers and Penguins when you can flesh out lesser-knowns like Mr. Zsasz, or Calendar Man who could tie to the mob war so much better than the current gaggle of goons being bum-rushed towards the credit roll. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. taught us that you need not depend on the name brands to be entertaining or credible. Don’t think so? Two words: Phil Coulson.

There’s still plenty of time for Gotham to turn things around. But the question to ask yourself is this: even if the show is successful, how will they find a way to not end up with fully developed supervillains straight outta Bat’s belfrey… all while he’s still having Alfred picking up Oxy at the Rite Aid? If the folks creating this cacophony could just take a deep breath and believe in Jim Gordon and solid police drama set in a slightly exaggerated world, Marvel might actually look up from their continuously growing pile of money and pay attention.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


John Ostrander: The Bat, Man!

As the Bat-mythos goes, Bruce Wayne saw a bat fly into his window and thought, “Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. I shall become a bat!” I’ve never been quite sure how the first half of that statement leads to the second half, but never mind. Maybe the bat flying in so freaked Bruce out that he thought he’d freak everyone else out by becoming a bat.

Either I’m cowardly and/or superstitious or I’m a criminal but we had a bat in the house incident recently and it freaked me out. For those of you who are bat enthusiasts, you should know that I don’t hate the flying rodents. I know that they eat mosquitoes and other supposedly useful things. I just don’t want them in the room with me. This isn’t as hotel. They aren’t paying rent. Their place is somewhere else, preferably outside.

We know we have bats in the attic. We’ve been intending to get rid of them but there have been other priorities so it’s been live and let live.

One night My Mary and I were in the living room, watching TV and eating dinner as is our wont. That’s when Mary screamed. There was a bat flying around the kitchen, having found a way downstairs from the attic. Mary’s Amazonian scream freaked the bat and it flew into my office. We closed the door and sealed it off from the rest of the house while we figured our next move.

That’s when we realized that our youngest cat, Hildy, was probably still in the office.

Hildy has become quite a hunter. In one 24-hour period recently, she found 11 baby mice in the basement and brought their carcasses to us. We were both repulsed and impressed and appropriately praised her. Now, however, we had a problem.

This is actually where it got serious. The bat could have rabies. Michigan, where we live, has been having an outbreak of rabies in bats. Hildy had last gotten a rabies shot two years ago but it was effective for one year only. What with moving last year, we had neglected to update her shots.

bat boyWe opened the office door a little bit and tried coaxing Hildy out. She didn’t come, which meant she was busy elsewhere – which meant it could have been the bat. Before dashing in to get her, we had to seal off the entry to the rest of the house or the basement in case the bat flew out again. We draped sheets. By the time we’d accomplished that, Hildy was scratching at the office door to be let out. We opened the door a crack and she popped out.

There were no bites on her that we could see but bats have needle like teeth and we could miss it. We called the vet in the morning and then we realized the seriousness of the problem.

We had to recover the bat and it had to be tested for rabies. Otherwise, there were two options. She could be quarantined for six months or she could be euthanized. The same went for our other cat, Windy, since we had failed to quarantine Hildy the previous night and the two cats had been in contact. We had already lost my buddy, Micah, a few weeks earlier and I was not ready to lose our last two cats.

Mary read up on the Internet on how to capture a bat that involved surreptitiously putting a box over it and then sliding another sheet of cardboard behind the box and trapping the vermin. Yeah. Right.

First we had to determine if the bat was still in the office or if it had gone back up in to the attic. If it had, we were sunk. We snuck into the office with all the caution of Elmer Fudd hunting that Wascally Wabbit. We found it hanging on the door of the office closet, up by the top. A good sign. Not likely Hildy could get at it there.

It appeared to be sleeping. Mary carefully negotiated the box around it but, as she tried to slip the cardboard between door and the bat, the li’l bugger got free and started flying around the room.

Gaaaah! Run away, run away, run away! The beastie flew over our heads and at one point it flew right at my face! Mary almost trampled me trying to get out. We needed another plan.

Or maybe a stiff drink. Well, Mary doesn’t drink, but I needed a stiff drink… but I waited.

Mary devised a new catcher – she took a large clear heavy plastic Tupperware cake lid and duct taped it to a squeegee mop handle. We fashioned bat costumes of our own – I had on my cap and Mary tied a long sleeved shirt around her head. We were ready or as ready as we were going to get. I needed a batarang.

Problem was, we weren’t sure where the bat had migrated. We opened the door cautiously, hunched over, and glanced around.

The nasty bugger was hanging from the ceiling right above the damn door, looking at us.

Squelching a yelp, we got in and closed the door and proceeded with the plan. Deftly, Mary got the cake lid over it and slid the beastie down until we could slide the cardboard behind it. This time we could see the bat and could make sure it didn’t escape. It was trapped. We duct taped the shit out that sucker to make sure it couldn’t get loose and Mary punched some tiny air holes in the cardboard.

Now we had to find a place to take it and get tested. This was now Friday afternoon before the Labor Day weekend. The last thing we wanted was to entertain our batty guest for the three-day weekend.

Some quick phoning around directed me to the state Public Health and Environmental Concerns office and so Mary and I drove up to Saginaw to deposit our little “friend.” I don’t think they get a lot of live bats brought in and there was considerable interest. A woman in the waiting room screamed and ran out when the bat stirred in its plastic cage. I guess she was part of the cowardly, superstitious lot. Maybe a criminal.

We waited some ten days before we finally got word. The report from the lab had been sent to the wrong office but eventually we found out that the bat did not have rabies. Our cats are okay, we’re okay, the bat – not so much.

I swear, though, if another bat finds its way into the office I’m going to get all Joker on it.


Martha Thomases: Where’s My Batman?

Ever since I moved to New York in 1977, I wondered what it would be like if there was really a Batman.

Sure, Superman lived in a version of New York as well. So did the entire Marvel Universe. But Batman is the one who felt most like the way I lived, in my tenement apartment. Batman belonged in a city with fifth floor walk-ups.

I don’t mean that I looked up at rooftops for someone to fight crime. Even then, I didn’t normally feel physically threatened on the streets. And Batman was not going to stop the men who made disgusting comments to me as I went to work, did my chores, or met with friends. I might have been in my naïve 20s, but I knew that Batman wasn’t real.

My 20s were not only naïve, but pretentious. I hung out at CBGBs and The Mudd Club. I went to art openings at downtown galleries because I knew the artists. I stayed up all night and wore black, even though I had to be properly dressed at my very proper day-job at 8:30 AM. I knew the kinds of people who could help me stay up all night and get to work on time.

This was a different New York. There were local banks. There were local stores. There were local donut shops. Everything wasn’t part of a chain. Rents were, if not reasonable, at least affordable for someone working an entry-level job. There were bands forming and breaking up and reforming. There were alternative weekly newspapers, alternatives to the alternative weekly newspapers, poetry ‘zines and underground comix. There were community gardens and the beginning of the Green Markets.

In short, it was the kind of city where Batman would be noticed. Even the version of Batman that was then current, the urban legend thought to be a myth by most, known only to Commissioner Gordon and a few others.

I mean, this was a city where punk bands wrote songs about Bernhard Goetz and Gary Gilmore. Certainly, rumors of a giant bat (or a man dressed like a giant bat) would capture the creative imagination. Patti Smith was writing songs about Rimbaud and Verlaine; of course she would have comments on what flew through the streets at night.

As would the Dead Boys. I bet if I look closely, I can find myself in that video somewhere.

And then there is Bruce Wayne, reclusive billionaire. He’s like the opposite of Donald Trump. What would Spy Magazine have made of him? Would they send someone to dig into his affairs the way they did with Trump? Would he have a Spy nickname, like Trump did (“short-fingered vulgarian”)?

I like to imagine that New York-based fashion designers would include a lot more capes in their collections.

It’s more difficult to imagine Batman in present-day New York. While we have gang-related crime, it’s a much smaller part of our lawlessness than you’ll find in corporate boardrooms. The artists and musicians have been gentrified out of town by the international trust fund kids and their investment-minded parents. We have lots of problems, but they aren’t the kind can be fixed by someone bursting through a skylight.

We need a new kind of hero. Has anyone ever seen Elizabeth Warren and Batman in the same place?


John Ostrander: Choice, Character, and Freedom

GandhiWhich would you trust more – what a person says or what a person does? Almost anyone with life experience would say they’d trust what a person does more. Mind you, although we know better we often go with what a person says: con men, politicians and advertisers (that may be redundant) count on that.

It’s what we do with story – character is built upon choices, good or bad, which the individual makes. That’s why the writer puts them in difficult and even life-threatening situations. My late wife Kim used to ask me how I might react in a given situation. My response invariably was, “I don’t know. Ask me when I get there.” I know how I’d like to think I would act but the reality is, until faced with the given situation, I don’t really know. Nobody does.

I don’t believe it when someone says “I could never kill someone.” I think Gandhi was capable of killing given certain circumstances. The likelihood of him killing might be small, but he was human and any human is capable of the act. It’s part of our common humanity; a dark side of it, I grant you, but still part of it.

It’s not only big choices that we make that proclaim who we are (or who a character is); it’s the small ones as well. The artist in a graphic narrative, for example, must decide what a given character might wear. What we choose to wear projects how we want to present ourselves.

“Hold on there, Horsestrangler,” some of you might be saying. “I don’t care what I wear. I just throw something – possibly clean – on and go.” (Guys are more likely to say this than gals who, as usual, know better.) My response is doing so is a choice of its own and makes it own statement; it says “I don’t think that sort of thing is important. It’s shallow and trivial and doesn’t represent who I am.”

Except it does. It rejects certain values and/or it says you want to look like everyone else and blend in. Do you dress for a job interview the same way you dress for hanging with your homies? If so, good luck getting the job. If you’re going on a date with someone for the first time, how do you dress? How do you present yourself? If you had to go to a funeral, what would you choose to wear?

Different characters in comics will dress differently. Peter Parker shouldn’t dress like Tony Stark. Clark Kent shouldn’t dress like Bruce Wayne. I remember that in an early episode of The Sopranos, the producers dressed Tony in shorts and flip-flops for a backyard party to suggest more strongly the underlying suburban setting. Advisers to the show said that Tony would never dress like that – and he never did again.

Why do people wear clothing emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo or the name of their favorite sports team and turn themselves into walking billboards for that product? Because it suggests a certain tribal affiliation the same way that inner city gangs wear certain colors. It proclaims us and marks us as part of a greater, possibly stronger, whole. At least, we may think it does.

That’s a choice that people make and it’s something that writer and artists working in the graphic medium have to keep in mind. There are hundreds, thousands, of ways of communicating to the reader who this character is, what the setting is, what’s at stake and what’s going on.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Yep. Sure are. There are situations when you have no choice to make. You can’t choose which shoes to wear when you can’t afford any shoes. Choice exists only if there is more than one thing from which to choose. Otherwise, you have to take what is given.

There is no freedom where there is no freedom of choice.


Dennis O’Neil: Wonderful Bat-Toys

batmobileWhere does he get those wonderful toys? the Joker wonders in the 1989 Batman and it’s a pretty good question. Where did the Batplane come from and how does it happened to be equipped with exactly the hardware Batman needs to thwart the Joker’s mass homicide? And that line-shooting gadget Batman totes: a device that stores a cable (or something similar) able to reach several stories into the air and whatever propels it, all crammed into something the size of a handgun. And the Batmobile… nobody notices it on the highways in and out of Gotham ad figures out where it must come from? Nothing in Tim Burton’s movie tells us that Bruce Wayne, bright guy that he is, has the kind of engineering/scientific smarts to devise such stuff and get it past the prototype stage virtually overnight. He just has what he needs when he needs it and we, sitting and watching in the darkness, don’t wonder how that can be. We’re being entertained, and entertainment is what we paid for.

We don’t ask how the gangster the Joker used to be mixed up some disfiguring chemicals and snuck in into (presumably) thousands of retail packages. Nor do we ask where Wiley E. Coyote gets those heavy objects he drops onto the Road Runner when they’re in the middle of nowhere, either.

Which is why, maybe, that I don’t have a name for the kind of screenplay Burton’s Batman is. It has to be a hybrid of crime story and cartoon and it works as what it is and, while we’re on the subject, the cartoon aspect is why we shouldn’t worry about collateral damage. Batman blows up an industrial plant and fills Gotham’s air with toxins? Does he poison his home town? If not, why not? Go away! You want hard facts, seek them elsewhere. That’s not what we’re selling here. And neither are we here to let you pick holes in a story that, really, doesn’t claim not to have those kind of holes. Fact is, in this context, they can’t be called holes. What, then? Narrative tropes?

Do we really care?

Later Batman films do, in fact, fill some holes. The wonderful toys are supplied by a genius who works for Bruce Wayne’s family corporation and he’s had prototypes of them in storage because the company’s number crunchers couldn’t figure a way for them to turn a profit. But in The Dark Knight, Batman and his resident genius put together an apparatus that allows them to monitor every electronic transmission in a city of 7,000,000 and have it up and running in a couple of days. Even if the technology preexisted…a couple of days?

We don’t live in Silicon Valley, we lovers of the strange and unnamed fantasy-melodrama we’re discussing. No, find us in the disembodied realm of myth and fairy tale. Very sophisticated myths and fairy tales, to be sure, but nobody says these things can’t be sophisticated. Today’s Batmobile might have been a horse-drawn pumpkin in times past and… we still don’t have a name for it, do we?

Aw, who cares?





The Law Is A Ass # 317: Two-Face Makes A Dent In Crime

When lawyers talk about Miranda, we mean the Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona and not a Brazilian movie star famous for her samba singing and fruit-laden hats that were so big they must have caused neck strain. When comic books talk about Miranda, it’s more of a crap shoot. I assume they’re talking about the Supreme Court case, but…

Well let’s put it this way, the banana on Carmen Miranda’s hat probably has more accurate knowledge of Miranda v. Arizona than the average comic book story. Case in point: Batman and Two-Face #27. (Or, maybe that should be court case in point.)