Tagged: Dorothy Day

Dennis O’Neil: Respectability, Gotham Style



In my uncertain early middle years, I occasionally said that it was impossible to know the history of comics without knowing the history of Twentieth Century America. This might have been simply a comment or it might have been an attempt to lend comics some cachet of respectability.

If I meant it as a comment, ‘t’were better delivered while leaning against a mantelpiece, clad in tweeds, eyes gazing into an empty distance, and I don’t think I was encountering either tweeds or mantels in those days. Not too many empty distances, either.

If I meant it to give comics respectability, well,,. hell! Who said that they needed any frickin’ respectability? Okay, yes, some still believed comics to be pernicious and associating some respectability with comics might have had an effect on them, though I kind of doubt it. Do such righteous folk ever change their minds?

Now, abra change-of-subject cadabra.

Seen any popes lately? Pope Frances, who joins my tiny list of religious leaders whom I consider to be the real deal, has been all over the television these past few days. And I didn’t mind a bit. I didn’t watch a lot of the coverage, but it was refreshing to be buried in the papacy instead of Donald Trump.

The happiest day for me was Thursday, when Francis gave Congress some truth and in the process mentioned only two American Catholics: Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, both of whom were profiled on cable news a couple of times later that night. Merton was a Trappist monk who wrote and traveled and urged a uniting of East and West spirituality. Oh, and he made trouble.

Dorothy? Well, you’re not gonna believe this, but…a few hours before Pope Francis addressed the politicians I was speaking to Dorothy’s godson, one of my oldest friends. He’d found some stuff she’d written that he thought I might want to know about, and he was right. A mild coincidence here, because I’d recently learned that Leslie Tompkins, a Batman comics character repurposed for television, was returning to the Gotham show, again portrayed by the truly lovely Morena Baccarin.

Leslie, as I may have mentioned in an earlier column, was inspired by Dorothy. I’ve got to careful not to say that Leslie was modeled on Dorothy because there are differences. But they’re kindred souls who both made choices that wouldn’t occur to most of us and improved the lot of their fellow humans. Sad that only one of them really ever existed.

So I will suggest, but not very loudly, that the aforementioned coincidence is a link between Pope Francis and comics. Would this convince comics nay-sayers that comics aren’t evil, this respectability-by-association? Doubtful.

Did I mention that Dorothy Day was a trouble maker? I don’t know about Leslie. She didn’t really make much trouble in the stories I wrote but she’s still around, in both comics and on the tube, and she has plenty of time to ruffle authoritarian feathers. I wish she would. Pope Francis might agree.

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.