Art by Tony S. Daniel
Guys, I have something to tell you. It’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you for a while now, but, now, I just can’t hold it back anymore. It needs to be done. So here goes…
Batman just isn’t as cool as you think he is.
I know, I know, it stings. It hurts to hear. Many of you probably have already stopped reading and are trying to figure out how to leave a comment on a WordPress site. It’s below the post, just like everywhere else.
Anyway, getting serious, no character could live up to the standards that the collective conscience that is the internet and much of the comic book-reading community have set for Batman. It’s just not possible. This would have to be a character where just reading about him cures diseases, helps me drop 30 pounds, and then leaves six figures in my bank account. I read Justice League #50 a couple of weeks ago, that didn’t happen.
Almost every comic book reader loves Batman. It’s just assumed that, if you like super heroes, you must like Batman. He’s the greatest. He’s the Dark Knight Detective. He has the greatest rogue’s gallery (that part I may be able to agree with). He’s the smartest hero of either universe. He’s complicated. He represents man in the perceived man-versus-god rivalry that is Batman and Superman. Give him preparation time, and he can take down any super hero.
Much of the comic book community practically fetishize this character. DC knows about this, and they have done everything in their power to capitalize on this. You cannot escape this pointy-eared guy. He has video games, television series, at least three different comic titles, and so many movies, many of which he’s not even in (I’ll get to what I mean by that). I mean, even his city has its own television series. Needless to say, the new DC Comics logo could just be the bat symbol on Bruce Wayne’s chest.
Let me just go ahead and say, there is nothing wrong with liking Batman. I like him. He’s not one of my favorite super heroes, but definitely interesting when given to a skilled writer. This leads me to my next point: this is not intended to besmirch Scott Snyder’s critically acclaimed run on Batman. I haven’t read it for a while, but sources I trust tell me it has been just as good as everyone says it is. When I did read it, I liked it quite a bit.
The problem with Batman is that DC has allowed the intense popularity of this character to influence almost everything they do. Everything has to have a Bat-spin on it. Most of the comics they print now either have Batman or a Batman-affiliated character starring in it. Even those that don’t, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Arrow have been darker, grittier, and broodier to accommodate DC’s bat-craze. Green Arrow is one of my favorite super heroes, and, the last time I read the comic, the only thing distinguishing Oliver Queen from Bruce Wayne was the green apparel and an affinity for archery. I should never confuse charming, cocky, and hot-headed Green Arrow with dark, silent, and brooding Batman. The same goes for CW’s Arrow series.
Man of Steel was absolutely rank with wanting to be a Batman movie. This isn’t just because Cristopher Nolan was an executive producer on it, though his appointment to that job does show how badly Warner Bros. wanted it to be like the Dark Knight trilogy. Man of Steel was gloomy, ponderous, and just plain dreary. Now, this isn’t why Man of Steel was not a good movie, that point goes to the script, the directing, and the pacing. However, it didn’t help in the slightest. There can be a good, dark Superman movie, but it wouldn’t really resemble much of what has already been written about Superman. It doesn’t necessarily need to, but why mine a source material if you clearly don’t it to be of that source material. This brings us back to the main point of this digression: DC and Warner Bros. wanted Man of Steel to be a Batman movie. I don’t know why they just didn’t make it an actual Batman movie, but the jumbled mess that is Man of Steel is the result. Superman Returns is objectively a worse film, but it certainly more closely resembles a Superman movie.
Variety is the word of the day. There is nothing wrong with Batman, but, for those of us who don’t want exclusively Batman, there isn’t much reason to read comics by DC. Oversaturation results in monotony. Any inclination I once had to read about Batman has been completely wiped by the flood of Batman that DC pumps out constantly. I only have one DC title on my own pull list, and that’s Cyborg. It doesn’t constantly remind me of a Batman comic, it has its own identity, and the writing on it is great. The only other comics of the 52 or so that DC publishes as part of its New 52 line that don’t stink of Batman are Aquaman, Green Lantern, Legends of Tomorrow, and Flash.
I like dark characters and dark books, but I’m just not as in to the kind of “darkness” that Batman provides. For an angry hero, I prefer Hawkman, Spider Woman, or Wolverine. They are the kind of heroes who are angry and will let you know all about it. Batman is more passive with his anger. Then there are the heroes who bury their anger deep and struggle with it, like Daredevil or the Hulk. Batman wears his anger almost literally on his sleeve. At the end of the day Batman is just not for me. However, he is most of what DC produces. They have an extensive collection of unique and interesting characters that haven’t seen the light of day for a while, like Booster Gold, Hawkman, the Atom, Blue Beetle, and the Justice Society (Earth 2 Society does not count), but DC is just sitting on them right now.
I love both the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe, but I’m about to make a statement that will probably drive away what readers I have left on this article. I think Marvel is doing markedly better on the comics side of things right now, at least in terms of artistic merit. They offer the variety of reading material that I, as a comic book fan, generally crave. I don’t want my entire pull list to provide me the same one thing. Ultimates provides high concept sci-fi adventure. All-New, All-Different Avengers gives an old fashioned super hero team feel. Astonishing Ant-Man and New Avengers are fun and give some genuine laughs. Black Panther and Daredevil give me something more serious. You have to search hard for something that is not dark, ponderous, and dreary out of the DC’s catalogue of books being published these days.
Now there is the laisez faire argument. People want Batman, and DC wants to sell books because they are a business. Therefore, DC makes a lot of things that have Batman in it or resemble Batman. That’s correct. That’s not a bad argument, but comics are an art form. If DC just wants to put their writers in a box with a picture of Batman in it and tell them “recreate this,” something is lost artistically there. If DC just wants to use the current handful of characters that they are using right now and just bury the rest, something is lost there.
Back to the business end, yes, Batman stuff will still sell gangbusters, but they could still sell comics about their lesser known characters and just accept that they will still sell, just not as well as Batman. Not everything needs to reach that profit margin. However, DC wants everything they print to make all of the money, not just some of the money. Anything that doesn’t reach that upper echelon of sales is considered a failure. Just look back to their scheduled cancellation cycle back towards the beginning of the New 52.
This brings us to the big, new revamp of DC which starts today with the release of the Rebirth one-shot. It is certainly making its promises, and Geoff Johns’ open letter at the back of the recent DC issues does have me hopeful. It promises change and the return of many characters that haven’t been seen in a while, like the Justice Society and the Blue Beetles. Maybe this will be the turn around. I certainly do hope so. I hope DC makes a change. I want to read more of their comics again. Then again, maybe it won’t be. Maybe they’ll get scared and back down again like at the beginning of the New 52. Maybe I’ll be back here in a year talking about the same problems.