Sunday, March 3, 2013

Robin The Dead

Editor's Note: This guest post by Matt contains commentary which might Spoil Batman Incorporated 8 which came out last week. You have been warned. - Jim

The killing, maiming, or torturing of sidekicks and supporting cast just might be the single cheapest route to drama in superhero fiction, second only to killing the hero's significant other in order to have him/her go into a beserker rage on the villain responsible.

... and of course, it's still happening.

I haven't been keeping up with the Grant Morrison run on Batman, but it's hard for me to imagine any context where this death works, simpy because DC has gone to the "kill Robin" well so many times.

Now there is the age old argument that Batman should not have sidekicks at all, because it is not a logical choice for him. Well, Batman may be the worlds greatest detective and/or the dark avenger of the night, but he's not a Vulcan. Making Dick Grayson Robin is not a logical response, but it makes sense emotionally for the character within the fantasy context of a superhero story. (Just like becoming Batman is not a logical response, but makes sense emotionally within the fantasy context of a superhero story.)

If the death of Bruce Wayne's parents impacted him enough to become the Batman, it's easy to imagine that on the night at the circus when the Flying Graysons fell to their deaths Bruce seeing Dick suddenly alone was like an out of body experience for him. He was watching his parents deaths happen all over again, seeing himself in that moment, and still could do nothing to stop it.

With that in mind, the concept of Robin already begins stretching credibility when it is something that happens more than once (let alone 5 times). Batman should not be turning every troubled teen he encounters into Robin. Especially not after any of them have been killed! However, at least in going from the death of Jason Todd to Tim Drake, they made a solid case for the very existance of Robin with a solid character to replace him for that reason. So much so it made you wish DC had just thought of Tim in the first place, and we had been able to skip the whole Jason Todd debacle all together.

While I was no fan of Jason myself, the 1-800 number campaign was revolting. This is not power that should have ever been handed to the audience, especially not upon the assumption that the fans would definitey want to save the character. The very nature of that promotion brought out the absolute worst instincts of the fandom, the desire to see someone die simply because it's dramatic. The event might not have been aimed at the lowest common denominator, but that's how it ended up hitting. The only saving grace of the entire thing was that we got Tim out of it.

While I'm at it I'm just gonna say that the Neal Adams redesign of the Robin costume for Tim is simply one of the best. Robin still looked like Robin but Neal fixed exactly what needed fixing which was basically the bottom half of the costume. Adding black to the cape was a slick touch that allowed Robin the ability to hide until it was time for the laughing daredevil to spring into action.

... and that's the thing. Robin is supposed to be fun, which I know is a four letter word in modern comics. By fun I don't even mean that I am advocating a return to the Dick Sprang era of Batman. I just mean that fun is an essential part of the point. Robin was jumping around and using wisecracks to infuriate criminals long before Spidey made it hip. If Batman's whole schtick is to strike fear and terror, Robin's thing is to humiliate them. Because let's face it, if you're a tough guy and you get your ass kicked by a mouthy kid in a yellow cape, that's a bad day.

How come it never occurs to any of these writers that if you go the "torture/kill the sidekick " route with Robin or the others, you're just hanging a needlessly huge lampshade on the impracticality of sidekicks ? It honestly makes Batman look stupid for having them. To some extent, it makes Batman look stupid for doing what he does at all. Not because he IS stupid, but because the creators have so carelessly broken the fantasy context of the genre, to such an extreme degree.

In this respect, comics have never been more predictable than they are right now. Just take whatever the crappiest scenario is that you can think of to happen to your favorite character, the sort of thing that really ought to be in the last story ever told about that character, and have it happen in-continuity in the most sensationalistic and stupid way possible. Then make sure you leave a back door open for a convoluted resurrection story down the road (not that it'll matter if you don't).

There ya go. Next year's big event or "evolutionary" step. They're pretty much all the same at this point.
- Matt


Eric said...

I definitely agree with you as a whole. But as a story that Grant Morrison has been telling for somewhere between 5 and 10 years, it actually makes perfect sense within his narrative. Especially against the backdrop of the disfuntional Al Ghul family, it makes sense.

Death in comics is cheap in general and worse with sidekicks, but I think in this case it works fine.

MattComix said...

Hey Eric! Thank you for the response! I think you do have a point about it in-narrative.

I think the problem is that no creator working on a Marvel or DC mainline title is going to have their story existing in a bubble.

If it were a separate Batman continuity where no other Robin had died before, maybe.

Even then DC has revisited this idea in very recent memory. This is still one Robin death added to an ever growing stack of them.

Reno said...

Well, no Robin has stayed dead. Spoiler became the new Batgirl, before being written out of continuity. And Jason Todd is alive and well.

But I guess that's beside the point.

Jim Shelley said...

@Reno - Is Spoiler still dead? Regardless, that's a good point. At this time in the comic universe, can we accept any death as anything than just a sales goose?

MattComix said...

I admit to being confused as to what does and does not count New 52 wise in Batman's corner of the universe. If anything the resurrections make the situation even more absurd.

At least Jason's death had some weight to it and it was a key component to Tim Drake's origin. Now we have Jason back as the mean-mad member of the Bat-Family and Tim's connection is severed while he runs around as a Falcon knock off named after a fast food chain!

Reno said...

Jim... I think the new 52 basically just ignored Spoiler. I haven't been reading Batgirl, so I don't know if there are any references to Stephanie being Batgirl in those pages.


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