Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thirteen things you probably won't see in Batman comics anymore, ever.

Recently, a friend gave me a box of comics he hadn't been able to unload at a garage sale, since he knew I'd give 'em a good home. And of course I will, since there's no way I could give up a copy of Batman #315, "Danger on the Wing!" Seriously. If I had five copies and you had none, I'd still have to really, really think about it. It's a problem. (Written by Len Wein, art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin.)

Anyway, this box had some recent Winick issues, a couple All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and I think most of the Joker: Last Laugh limited from a few years back, yet I kept coming back to Batman #315. I think it's because there's so much in this comic that we just don't see from Batman anymore. It's a 1979 issue, but it might as well be 1949 for as much relevance it has. Let's count off some things that are no longer welcome in Batman comics:

1. From the splash page, the overwrought narration makes a little simile that Batman is like a protective parent to Gotham; then flips it: Batman is a child of the violence of Gotham. Yeah, currently I don't think anything about Batman is allowed to be childlike, or compared to a child; for fear that adult readers will suddenly realize it's kind of dumb for a grown man to dress up like a bat to avenge his parents' deaths. (One of the Batman/Punisher crossovers had the Joker pointing out that Batman was obviously traumatized as a kid, since he was trying to deal with crime like a kid; while the Punisher was as an adult, and solved problems with guns. It made Batman seem like a wounded little man-child, which he probably is; while making the Punisher seem hardcore and not at all psychotic. God, I probably paid five bucks for both parts of that crossover. I'm sure the thought of those comics will keep me warm in my old age.)

It's like they built a slum for Kandor.2. Huh. The splash page looked like just a dramatic image of Batman looming over the city, symbolically. In a tiny panel on page 2, we realize Batman's looming over a bottled model of Gotham City. Little models and/or giant replicas of things aren't as welcome anymore, although it's one of those things that would be unbelievably weak if say, Winick tried it, but Grant Morrison could make it sing.

3. Batman faces a generic thug with "nunchaku." What's the accepted spelling on those now? Nunchuks? They were probably big five years before this issue hit the stands, now only popular with children destined for chipped teeth. Bats gets steamed since he's been threatened with them twice in one that logic, he should be homicidally enraged by guns, or even squirting flowers.

Does anyone give up anymore? Or does even the gimpiest thug try to fight it out?4. On the roof, a thug somehow managed to fold a set of blueprints into a kite, then send it on it's way to Kite-Man before being captured by Batman. (Admittedly, it appears he brought the tail and remote control frame in for it.) Origami-Man surrenders without a fight, presumably unwilling to risk harming his expert hands. But do you see that anymore? Or does Batman have to punch-out, gas, drug, club, chase down, and/or possibly tase every single thug now? I miss seeing the occasional chicken thug, who would throw up his hands like he just didn't care at the first sight of Batman, electing instead to keep his teeth.
The next time you even see someone twice on your way to work, they're obviously after you.
5. Subplot pages! Lucius Fox is worried about his relationship with his son and his son's bad crowd, when he realizes he's being followed again. So he does what anyone would do: Puts his stalker in a headlock, that's what! Hell, yeah. Lucius does get a judo flip for his trouble, but he's pretty game for a middle-aged executive type. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Lucius has got more love from the movie and the new cartoon than he has in the last umpteen years in the comics. Also, I just realized Robbie Robertson over in Amazing Spider-Man had almost the exact same subplot about his son.

6. The subplot pages mention an airline's payroll coming into Gotham, so of course on the next page it's due to be robbed. Comics aren't getting any more subtle, but in this age of decompression, there's usually at least a couple more pages between introduction of the Macguffin and the theft attempt. Kite-Man uses a series of fireworks kites as a distraction so his crew can walk in the front door. So, if you're going to commit any kind of crime in Gotham, I would suggest leaving a kite or a riddle or a 22-cent stamp or something at the scene. While Batman hunts down the usual suspects, you should have plenty of time to flee town.

Wait, background checks aren't OK? God, I'm glad I'm not dating anymore.7. Bruce has a lunch date with Selina Kyle, the reformed pre-Crisis non-prostitute Catwoman. She's figured out Bruce had a background check run on her, pretty innovative for 1979, although I'm not sure why since he would've known anything the cops knew about her. Selina throws a drink in his face and splits. It's really more a sign of the times than anything, but the book seemed to be laboring under the misconception that Selina, trying to go straight, would be having trouble getting a job, a boyfriend, etc. It doesn't help that both she and Bruce are drawn with some of the worst civilian clothes ever.

Well, technically, it's not your job either, Bats...8. I like this late-model Batmobile, a slight update of the classic TV show style. Nowadays, Batman has to drive some kind of tank/SUV thing. I miss the sportier models that didn't take up three lanes on the highway.

9. The airline's apparently paying off it's employees in small untraceable bills, as opposed to, I don't know, checks or something. Reminds me of a Blue Devil issue where the Trickster tries to rob a bank in midair, only to be shown later the money being moved separately by armored car.

10. Kite-man gases the payroll guards, with one of them exclaiming "Nerve gas!" Which only knocks the guards out, as opposed to paralysis or vomiting and death. This is why he never got a return engagement: a triple-digit body count is practically mandatory for Batman's rouges' gallery. Oh, well, that and the kites, I guess.

Man, the narration is breaking its legs trying to sell you Kite-Man.11. Batman goes after Kite-man with a bat-shaped glider, as opposed to the Bat-plane, Bat-copter, that whirly-bat thing he used to unfold out of the Batmobile...ah, the whirly-bat. It's like Iron Man's roller skates: when you see them, you have a pretty good idea when that comic came out. They're also so dated and cheesy and fun, that it'll never come back again.

12. Knowing Kite-man is a better hang-glider than he is, Batman takes precautions. Now, while Batman's planning has reached megalomaniac levels in the last several years, it is currently unacceptable for Batman to admit not being the be-all end-all best at everything he does, has done, or will do. Even kite flying. There's just something unwholesome about flying a kite at night.
In a modern comic, Batman would've foiled Kite-man's scheme with a Wayne Industries hyperlight kevlar-weave superconductive...throw in at least three more science words there, glider, beating him at his own game and then pummelling him before poor Kitey has a chance to even start crying. Sort of like Richie Rich, Batman solves his problems by throwing money at them while making you feel like dirt.

13. The next issue Batman comics even have those anymore? Do any comics?...hypes up next month's return of Robin. Fair enough. And the "incredible menace of Crazy Quilt!" Well, good luck with that.

Different times, different times. I understand Kite-Man was killed and possibly eaten in one of the big event books or One Year Later or somewhere, which is as unnecessary as killing off the Ten-Eyed Man or the Bug-Eyed Bandit. No emotional involvement, not enough name recognition to mean anything to the readers, except as a trivia question. I like the idea of Kite-Man as a point man for really specialized criminals, and that anyone in Gotham that becomes the best at something is going to try and use it for crime. Best croquet player? Get a costume! Win a lot of eBay auctions? Mask up!

Also, I'm positive it's terrible, but there's a note in this issue about Kite-Man fighting Hawkman. Now, that would've been well before his current "Conan-with-wings" turn, but it would still take some guts to fight Hawkman--a guy with an anti-gravity belt, really--when all you've got is a hang-glider. Oh, and a bunch of crappy kite gimmicks. Never mind.


SallyP said...

Poor Kite-Man. This just illustrates one of the things that really annoys me about Batman. He's TOO fabulous. At least he is portrayed that way now.

He's the smartest, handsomemest, bestes, richest, etc. etc. Bah! Boring.

Ted and Booster weren't the best at anything, but they still managed to get the job done.

MrB398 said...

Hehe, maybe a background check on The Joker would have solved some of Batmans problems.