Tagged: Bruce Wayne

Dennis O’Neil: Batman’s War

As I engage with the machine before me, it is the evening of May 26th – yes, Memorial Day, wherein we commemorate the most noble and glorious of human activities. And what else? Well, as you may have heard, Batman celebrates his 75th this year. Yes, the caped crusader, the dark knight, Bruce Wayne’s elseperson made his debut in May of 1939. (Okay, you pickies might observe that, given publishing practices of the time, Batman may have actually appeared in late April. Go away, pickies.)

Now, given Batman’s birthday and Memorial Day being so close, is it not appropriate that we conflate those two. Honor Batman’s participation in the defining event of his early years, War the Deuce? Where did he serve? The European front? The Pacific?

Ooops! Nowhere is where he did his war duty.

Of course (again nodding to pickies, who have not gone away) that’s not necessarily true. Yes, yes, you could read every comic book in which he appears from, say, 1941 to 1945 and find nary a trace of him in foreign combat zones. But look at the contemporary movies and yup, there he is, in a 15-chapter serial that got into theaters in 1943. It is not terrible, measured against stuff like it, and it did contribute The Batcave to the Batman mythos, for which, I guess, we can be grateful. But it was what it was, a kiddie entertainment made cheaply at the height of a world war, and so flavored with chauvinism. Here’s a couple of the narrator’s lines: “This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs. it has become virtually a ghost street.”

It was what it was.

And that was that when the subject was Batman and the war? Nope. I said that Batman engaged in no war activity in comics published while the war was actually being fought but fast forward to 1969 and we find Batman teaming up with Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy joes of Easy Company. It’s a flashback story, but what’s flashed back to is Batman fighting in Europe with Rock and the guys.

So…the comic book Batman did not participate in the war while it was happening, but he did participate in it after it was long ended. I’ll wait while you untwist your mind.

I don’t know why the comics folk kept Batman out of the conflict abroad – other comics characters participated in it – and this may be one of those facts that history has annihilated, lost to us forever. Most people thought, and think, that it was that rarity, a just war and nobody sitting at my computer is arguing, not about World War Two. About other wars? Let’s not get started.

But I wonder: if the comics guys had done a Batman war story during the war, what kind of story would it have been? Batman leaping from the trenches and leading his troops into the enemy’s withering machine gun fire? Or Batman slinking around a blacked-out city searching for spies? Or would they have opted for realism and given us a story full of mud and suffering and pain and fear and ignominious death?

Not likely. Not then.

Probably not now.

Dennis O’Neil: SHIELD, Arrow, and Superstuff

Both prime time comic-book based television series had their season finales this week, a day or two after I write this, and so any commentary on them might be premature. I mean, maybe some humungous game changer is in the offing, some gobsmacking surprise that will leave us gasping for breath, numbed and awed by the storytelling splendor we have just witnessed.

Or maybe not.

The shows I refer to are, of course, Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow, and although they are, as noted above, comics-derived, they aren’t two heads of the same critter. I think that Arrow is the more… well – I’m lacking precise terminology here, so let’s call Arrow the more “comicbooky” of the two. It is all about superheroes, comics’ prime export: one such hero in particular the Arrow of the show’s title, who wears a costume and has a double identity and has tricks up his sleeve – his quiver? – that might make an Olympic archer seek another sport. And over the months he’s acquired some friends who might qualify as superheroes and some enemies that might qualify as supervillains. SHIELD, on the other hand, is a hybrid, a series that occurs in a world where superheroes exist, but which is not about superheroes per se. (And yes, o astute reader, I did exile a bunch of periods from the show’s name. Sue me.) The SHIELDers aren’t super themselves, but they’ve got some supers in their Rolodexes.

I mentioned game changers a couple of paragraphs ago. Both Arrow and SHIELD have already changed the game a bit. SHIELD, as part of a nifty crossover with a movie, has gone from being a CIA/NSA-type spook organization to being a bunch of noble folk running from the authority figures, outlawed by the baddies’s takeover of whatever agency controls SHIELD. (I confess that I’ve never quite understood who signs SHIELD paychecks. A U.S. government honcho? Somebody as the United Nations? A scientologist?)

Some of you may want to read political commentary into SHIELD’s status change. Be my guest.

Arrow’s game has also changed, on a smaller scale than SHIELD’s, but kind of drastically nonetheless. The storyline replicated some comic book stuff from years – nay, decades – back. To wit: bow-twanging hero Oliver Queen loses his fortune. He’s no longer a member of the one percent. No more rich kid. I don’t know why the television guys made the change and, after all these years, I’m not sure why we comic bookers did, either. Maybe so our archer would be less like Batman/Bruce Wayne. Maybe to give him some (fictitious) street cred. Or maybe we just weren’t all that fond of mansion dwellers. Or… all of the above?

To end on a what-the-hell-difference-does-that-make note: In the comics, the Arrow was the Green Arrow, as many of you know. I approve of the renaming. I mean, why green?


‘Gotham’ Gets Series Order on Fox

Exactly a week before Fox is slated to present its schedule to advertisers, the network has given a formal series pickup to Gotham. The project, based on characters from the DC universe, had a series commitment and had been considered a lock for the spot on the 2014-15 schedule. An origin story of the great DC Comics supervillains and vigilantes, Gotham explores the early years of Commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as an idealistic rookie detective in Gotham City and the rogues’ gallery of villains that made the city infamous. The pilot for the project, from Warner Bros TV, was written/executive produced by creator Bruno Heller and directed/exec produced by Danny Cannon.

Co-starring alongside McKenzie are Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, David Mazouz as young Bruce Wayne, Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, Carmen Bicondova as Selina Kyle, Erin Richards as Barbara Kean, Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth and Zabryna Guevara as Captain Essen.

via ‘Gotham’ Gets Fox Series Order — Batman Prequel Picked Up.

REVIEW: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition

BatmanDKR Deluxe EditionWe should have seen this coming. Last fall, Warner Animation unleashed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, adapting the first two issues of Frank Miller’s seminal prestige format miniseries. In January, we finally got Part 2, completing the story of 50 year old Bruce Wayne being forced to don the cape and cowl once more, to bring justice back to a crumbling Gotham City. Out now is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition, seamlessly editing the two sections into a 148-minute feature.

As previously reviewed, the adaptation is largely successful, recreating the bleak look and feel of a fascist world, protected by a Man of Steel working for a government Wayne no longer recognizes. The story is clearly Miller’s musing on the role of heroes in the time of Ronald Reagan but it is also a thrilling adventure, looking at a bitter, somewhat broken hero who has turned his back on the people he swore to protect. Events and destiny, though, have something to say about that choice.

So, the question becomes, is it worth buying the combined parts in a single disc? As a film, no, not really. Being a successful adaptation, it lays the ground work in the first half so things explode and rush along in the second., Splicing them together, it plays nicely and ramps things up and without waiting six months, delivers on the promised climax. It’s a satisfying adaptation from writer Bob Goodman and director Jay Oliva.

What you also get that’s new is a fun, interesting Audio Commentary track from Oliva, Goodman and voice director Andrea Romano and a second Blu-ray disc containing all the previous features plus a brand new lengthy documentary on Miller. Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (69 minutes), narrated by Malcolm McDowell, not only talks to Miller at length but includes colleagues including Jenette Kahn, Editor Denny O’Neil, collaborator Klaus Janson, admirers Grant Morrison, Michael Uslan, and Mike Carlin. We meet the Virginia fan boy who successfully found work as an artist at Marvel, getting noticed for his work on Daredevil, leading to coming over to DC for Ronin then Dark Knight, helping shape the next generation of storytelling. Unfortunately, we don’t see the remainder of his sporadic career in comics and Hollywood.

The documentary makes this worth owning while the combined feature is a more satisfying viewing experience.

John Ostrander: Fashion Statements

My good friend Martha Thomases, as usual, wrote an interesting column this week on her way to the Baltimore Con. She wrote about choosing what to wear at the Con and that, in turn, set me to thinking and provided grist for my own essay mill. Some weeks I need a lot of grist.

Something that’s important in comics and too little discussed is the importance of clothes. The fashion choices made by a character says something about that character. What you wear makes a statement about who you are even if that statement is, “I don’t care.” As often as not, my criterion still is, “Is it clean? Is it clean-ish? Does it at least not smell? Does it not smell too badly?”

However, I can dress up. I clean up fairly well, to be honest. I’m not keen on wearing ties but I know how and when to do so. I like hats, especially fedoras, although the Irish cloth cap works well on me. One wonderful fan made me a beret like GrimJack wears and I like that a lot and can be seen at conventions with it.

Some people dress for success. Some people dress to be invisible. Choices are made even when it appears to be a non-choice. If you say, “I don’t care how I look; I don’t think it’s important,” that’s a choice. It says something and don’t bother maintaining that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. It does. We make up our minds about people right away depending on how they appear to us. They do the same with us. Assuming the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” Is true, why is it true? The answer is we want people to perceive us in a certain way even if our goal is not to be perceived, to blend in.

When I was working with student artists, I wanted them to look at different source materials for the way people dressed. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne would be more likely to dress out of GQ whereas Peter Parker might dress from the Old Navy store.  Here’s an extra-points question – how would Tony Stark dress differently from Bruce Wayne? Bruce’s suits are a costume for the playboy image he plays whereas Tony’s wardrobe is who he is (and, yes, I’m including the Iron Man costume).

Certain costumes can be a short-hand to who the character is – in Westerns, it used to be the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats. Made things simple – an oversimplification, really. Clothing and costumes can describe a character but they can’t be substituted for characterization itself.

Clothing can reveal character: who the individual is, how they think of themselves, how they present an image of themselves. We do it (deny it if you want) and so characters do it as well. What’s true in life should be true on the page.

A very fun aspect of this in the past few years has been the rising importance of cosplay (costume playing for those of you who don’t know the term) as part of fandom. Fans become the characters they see in the comics or on the screen. The costumes can be elaborate or silly or elaborately silly or anywhere in that spectrum. They’ve become fixtures at most conventions these days and are often stunning. They’re a merger of the person who is wearing the costume and the character they represent.

Whether it’s in a drawing or in prose, clothes can make the character and if you want to work as an artist or a writer, you’d do well to remember that.



Mike Gold: And This Is How The World Ends!

Gold Art 130828OMG! OMG! Did you hear who they’ve signed to play Batman in a whole bunch of movies, starting with Man of Steel 2? No, not Anthony Weiner. And not Ann Coulter –she’s already signed to play Nick Fury in the S.H.I.E.L.D. teevee series. No, Warner Bros. found somebody far worse. They hired the very personification of celluloid evil: Ben Affleck.

Yes, I’m sure you heard of this. So did literally tens of thousands of “fans” who were so upset they signed a petition condemning the action. And seemingly hundreds of thousands went to Facebook, to Twitter, hell some even reactivated their My Space accounts to express their extreme displeasure. Yea, verily, Ragnarök is upon us!

To quote the immortal William Shatner, get a life. You’re entitled to your opinion; if you don’t think Ben Affleck is a worthy actor, that’s your opinion. In my opinion, you’re wrong – Ben Affleck is a perfectly fine actor on his worst day. Besides, it doesn’t matter who’s inside the rubber suit. Lassie would look fine in the Batsuit, as long as she didn’t try to lick herself.

The question is, can the performer handle the role of Bruce Wayne? Quite frankly, this is not a tricky part to handle. Any handsome high school senior who did The Great Gatsby can do it. It’s hard to imagine Affleck turning in any less a performance than Michael Keaton – who I thought was fine – and a better performance than Keaton’s first two successors.

I realize it’s heresy to say this, but that’s never stopped me before: Christian Bale didn’t have all that much to do as Bruce Wayne. When he did, he was fine but nobody was wailing about his being cheated out of an Oscar (Registered Trademark, AMPAS, All Rights Reserved, Watch Yer Ass).

I’ll even defend the Daredevil movie. Ben Affleck wasn’t what was wrong with that movie, and, honestly, in my opinion it wasn’t a bad movie. We had come to expect better Marvel superhero movies, but it was better than both Hulks and either Fantastic Four. More important, the director’s cut was actually a good movie. Not Spider-Man 2 good, not The Dark Knight good, but a solidly entertaining movie with some fine performances. Direct your wrath at whomever cut the theatrical print.

Besides, Affleck can’t help but walk all over Henry Cavill. It’s the approach to Man of Steel 2 that concerns me. The first one was totally misguided. It wasn’t Superman. Actually, it was Batman.

I’ll say one thing for the hiring of Ben Affleck. It shows that Warner Bros. is willing to put their money where their, well, their sundry body parts are. Signing him to a multi-movie contract shows they’re in it for the long haul. It shows they understand what Robert Downey Jr. did for the Marvel movie universe.

And if there’s ever a Marvel/DC crossover movie – calm down; this is just a what-if – I can’t think of a more enjoyable pairing than Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Affleck.

Besides, we already know Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark sit on each other’s board of directors.




John Ostrander: Details, details, details…

OStrander Art 130407There’s a saying that goes “The devil is in the detailsl, but so is character, whether writing, drawing, or acting. I had the opportunity of teaching at the Joe Kubert School a few times (and the inestimable pleasure of getting to know not only the legendary Joe Kubert but so many others working at the school) and I had the maybe unenviable task of teaching writing to a bunch of art students. Some didn’t take to that right away; after all, they were there to learn how to draw. From talking to some of the graduates over the years, however, I think most found it worthwhile and I enjoyed it.

For me, everything in comics is about character and storytelling. Design to me means nothing unless it is tied to those two points. I’m not interested in a mask or costume whose design is simply “cool” or its what the artist wants to draw.  The character has chosen to make or wear a given mask, costume, or uniform. What does that tell us about him or her? Famously, Batman wants to invoke a bat because criminals are (supposedly) a cowardly and superstitious lot. He wants to invoke fear in them.

One exercise I gave the students was to create their own mask – not for a character but something that would express and freeze some aspect of themself. It would both reveal them and, because it was a mask, it would also conceal them. They were safe behind the mask. It was and was not them.

When the masks were completed, I asked them to wear them. Masks in many societies have power; often, they represent a god and the wearer (supposedly) channels the power of the god. I asked the students to let the mask act upon them; how did they act, how did they feel, how did they move? What – if anything – changed in them?

The purpose was to get them to understand the affects that the masks the characters they wore had upon the characters they were writing and/or drawing. Spider-Man, for example, certainly reacts differently than Peter Parker. Batman, on the other hand, becomes more of who he is when he wears the cowl; his true mask may be Bruce Wayne, as perceived by others.

We do the same thing with what we choose to wear. We say something about ourselves, about who we perceive ourselves to be, of how we want to be perceived by others. Even a careless choice – “whatever is clean” or “whatever I grab” says something. Even if the message being sent out, “I can’t be judged by my clothes; I’m deeper than that.” that is still making a statement. Maybe the message is – I don’t want to be noticed. That is also still a statement. That’s a choice being made and that tells us something about a person – or a character.

What kind of clothes does your character wear? Bruce Wayne may wear Armani; I asked my students if they knew what an Armani suit looked like. Peter Parker is going to shop off the rack. Which rack?

In movies and TV, they have a whole team of people deciding what the rooms look like. Bedrooms, offices, desks, kitchens – depending on the person and what room is most important to them, what are the telling details about them that personalize the space, that say something about the character?

As an actor, I needed to know what my character wore, how he walked, how he used his hands when talking (or did he?). What sort of shoes did he wear? I compared knowing this to an iceberg; the vast majority of the iceberg is under water and only the tip shows. However, for that tip to show, the bulk of the iceberg had to be there. (One of these days I’m probably going to have to explain what an iceberg was.) I have to know far, far more about a character than I’m actually going to use just to be able to pick the facts that I feel are salient to a given moment or story. When Tim Truman and I created GrimJack, we had a whole vast backstory figured out, some of which was revealed only much later; some of it may not have been revealed yet.

Generic backgrounds create generic characters. To be memorable, there have to be details. The more specific they are, the more memorable the character will be. That’s what we want to create; that’s what we want to read.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell



Mike Gold: Death of an Obnoxious Rugrat

Gold Art 130227According to the hubbub, today is the day Robin dies.

Sigh. If I had to choose between becoming Robin and playing drums for Spinal Tap, I’d join a convent.

The Robin in question – and there’s been a hell of a lot of them – is the little brat who was the issue of Bat(Bruce Wayne)man and Talia al Ghul, a concept I never, ever bought. Subtlety named Damien, the li’l bastard finally came onto his own in the recent, tedious, overwrought, and too-damn-long “Death of the Family” event.

His obnoxious demeanor isn’t reason I detest(ed) his character. I do not condone his birth.

Batman – Bruce Wayne no longer exists – is the poster boy for obsessive-compulsive. All the Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro combined can’t help this sucker, and yet somehow we have come to perceive his behavior as noble. If we refused to sell guns to the mentally unstable, Master Bruce wouldn’t make it to his next fox hunt.

He sublimates everything into being Batman. Everything. If it doesn’t play a role in his work, he doesn’t have patience for it. This is clear, and as consistent over the past several decades as anything ever is in the DCU. More so. In fact, much more so.

Therefore, I simply do not believe Batman would ever have sex with Talia. But if he did, it wouldn’t result in Li’l Damien. It would result in the return of the Comics Code Authority.

It might even prompt the resurrection Dr. Fredric Wertham. Check out my colleague Denny O’Neil’s ComicMix column tomorrow.

I suspect there’s already a betting pool on how long Damien stays dead. If history is any guide, there will be still another Robin (I’m guessing a female, but that’s just a guess) and, sometime after that, we will endure another multipart pseudo-event that will result in the brat’s resurrection. And we don’t simply have the experience of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake (Was he ever killed? I get confused.) We have Damien’s resurrection-happy grandpappy, who has been revived more times than Kenny McCormick.

What goes around comes around. Killing a Robin – or anybody else in the DC Universe – is as original as a bag of potato chips. “Bet you can’t kill just one.” Resurrecting the dead is even less original. It’s boring.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Dennis O’Neil: Iron Man Is A What???

O'Neil Art 130131So there I am, about to do a column themed to last Sunday’s episode of The Good Wife, when the telephone rings. It’s my main DNA-sharer and in the course of the ensuing chat, I mention the column idea and while we talk he does a Google search and – egad! – the digital oracle indicates that my premise is wrong.

Thank whatever benevolence caused Larry to call when he did, even if that benevolence is, in this instance, blind coincidence, because I really dislike being ignorant in print.

What I was going to impart to you is that on the aforementioned television program, a quiet revolution occurred. The title character, who is admirable and capable and sympathetic, came out of the ecclesiastical closet and pronounced herself an atheist. My thesis: with non-Caucasian and gay characters pretty common on the tube these days, the last barrier is the religious one. Your hero can be black or gay or female, I might have written, but your hero can not be a non-believer. Same is true in politics (I might have asserted): though the battle is not yet over, and I’m certainly not claiming that it is, race and gender no longer automatically preclude election to high office. But I can’t think of a single poobah who proclaims his atheism the way Mike Huckabee and Paul Ryan, to name just two of many, proclaim their Christianity. There may be the odd office holder here and there willing to deny faith in the almighty, as the great Senator Barney Frank denied heterosexuality, but they are emphatically in the minority.

But, alas, the revolution I was about to claim for The Good Wife didn’t happen. Rather, it’s been happening for a while now. Larry’s Google search revealed that there are at least 17 atheist characters on series television and – here comes the shocker! – nine in comic books. Among them is a fella I thought I knew pretty well because, for three years or so,I was his chief biographer. Tony Stark’s the name, and Iron Man’s the game.

When I was writing Iron Man for Marvel, the question of Tony’s belief system never arose, just as than the question of his favorite breakfast cereal never arose. That may be because comics are a very compressed way of delivering stories, and anything not germane to the plot is generally omitted, or it may be because somewhere in the pit of my psyche I thought that characteristics like religion were off-limits. Nobody ever told me that they were, but religion was never, ever mentioned in comics – or in movies or television or radio, and very seldom in genre novels. The no-religion stricture was one of those taboos that I assumed without really giving them much thought. However, I don’t believe that the taboo didn’t exist. My guess would be that the dudes in the carpeted offices feared that identifying a character’s religion would alienate anyone of a different faith. Maybe they were right.

By the way…the Wayne family were probably Episcopalian and if their surviving member, Bruce, were ever asked about beliefs, he’d identify with the family tradition. But he doesn’t get to church very often. Too busy jumping off roofs.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases, Howdy Doody, and Corinthians.



Martha Thomases’s Extra Heroes

Thomases Art 130125If you were to come by my place for one of my fabulous dinner parties, you would be disappointed. My kitchen table is covered with file folders and copies of every bill I paid in 2012. Yes, it’s tax season! Every person has a different set of issues with the IRS, and mine this year are especially weird. Is an ambulance deductible?

Naturally, in an attempt to avoid this tiresome chore, I’m wondering what super-heroes who find themselves in this situation do.

I mean, I’d assume that the fabulously wealthy, the Bruce Waynes, the Tony Starks, the Oliver Queens, have accountants who can write off their gear as R & D expenses at a corporate level.

And Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Doctor Doom are heads of state of sovereign nations. Whatever they might owe their respective governments, they aren’t writing checks to the IRS.

But what about the average working schmoe? Just because you can bend steel with your bare hands doesn’t mean you can deduct your spandex pants. That’s only possible if being a hero is your business, and you need your costume as a business expense. Hooters waitresses can claim their t-shirts, Grant Morrison’s Superman can’t.

It is, I think, a major problem of our tax code that this is true. Why should Anne Romney’s horse be legally deductible as business expense when Comet is a taxable money-pit.

The reason that Rafalca is a legitimate business expense is that raising her is a business, with profit and loss. Similarly, if the Romney’s chose to donate the horse (or, more likely, a piece of artwork or simply cash) to charity, they would be legally entitled to a deduction for the value of their gift.

This is a good thing. I’m in favor of philanthropy. I’m in favor of tax laws that encourage charitable giving. I might quibble with an individual’s choice of charity, but then, I quibble with my own choices, and that’s what makes a democracy.

This should also apply to heroics. If Peter Parker is saving New York from the Green Goblin, he should be allowed to deduct his web fluid. That matters more to the city’s quality of life than a dozen socialites giving their used wardrobe to the Metropolitan Museum.

And Peter needs the deduction more. He’s a working stiff.

Similarly, there are all kinds of people who do good without any fancy outfits. Working people who use their own metro-cards to help tutor at-risk kids, or work at a soup kitchen, or a thrift store. They don’t have money, so they donate their time. It would be great if we lived in a world where these problems were taken care of at a macro level by the government. Until that happens, it would be nice if our tax laws encouraged its citizens to pick up the slack.

We can use the extra heroes.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman and Something About The New 52