It has been a while since I have ranted (a good thing for you all, my art and my family). However, Batman has come to the forefront of topics in mind, due to the tragic event in Aurora, CO, the film, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Batman comic run and my graphic designing and inking the above piece.
Batman himself is pithy and iconic, so you might hope this would not be verbose. Nevertheless, this is one of my blog posts, not a comic and we have 74 years to cover. As per usual, spelling and grammar are my kryptonite…so obligatory apologies. Sorry, you have caught me monologuing .
I have a good, fellow cartoonist, friend who lives in Aurora, CO. We were once roommates, employees at the college book store and students studying comics. He embodies the joyful spirit of comics and my thought immediately went to him that night. If not for moving to the other side of town, it is not unlikely that he and his brother would have been there. He was not, but with imaginations like ours, it’s not a stretch to empathize with the family and friends of those who were. However, even with our imaginations, I cannot fathom the true nature of what it was like to actually be there. Ironically he was called on by a national paper, he did freelance with, to verify graphics depicting the theater, because he had frequented it.
My potential path to that theater is slim to none, other than being born in Colorado, and having friends there, not much else. Still through my friend, our love of comics and Batman, I feel connected to the people in the theater. Perhaps, we all do, through shared humanity.
My imagination also allows for complex, perhaps slightly distasteful, connections to this tragedy. I also quickly thought of the Columbine Shooting and what one professor of ours brought up the next day; that we were in trouble (comics, cartoonists), we were not being blamed for the Delinquency of Youth on that day; it was next old stand by, Rock ‘n Roll and the new upstart, video games. Comics were once king of the accused. Heck, they formed a Senatorial Comity to address our storytelling mediums affects in 1954. Now we are celebrated by librarians and fine art critics. Until this summer. I haven’t outright heard of complaints about comics influence, or comic book burning. We are insulated by the film version, lack of clarity of facts and honest horror and action by Christian Bale among others. But it doesn’t take much to imagine that the alleged perpetrator has created a real life villainy strait from the source. His booby trapped apartments, his appearance, the armory, the notebook all point to classic elements of a Batman villain. All that is missing, perhaps to come, like a Richard Allan Davis, all that is missing is the villains monologue. Hell, the man was even working on his brain doctorate. Clichés abound. In it’s wake REAL people’s lives shattered. And I can’t help feel like many, our visual storytelling played a part. Usually, as a consumer, creator, parent, teacher, voter and healthcare provider in our culture I am usually the first to denounce the effects of a piece of visual art, a piece of literature a songs effect on the actions of the insane. For only he could put all the pieces together in such an evil way. Perhaps we have matured enough to see it’s a cacophony of influences, all impotent on their own.
So we see shadows of the Joker, Bane (my wife just pointed out the irony of the villains name, given current politics) and Scarecrow in this tragedy. But what of Batman. I don’t think he plays a part here. If he did, guns would not have been in the room. He himself would not have been on the perpetrators mind, at least not as conceived and executed. So please forgive me for stepping away here from focus on what’s real and actually important and step toward the fictional worlds running alongside. For a moment.
Above I inked and designed a bat symbol compiling my favorite incarnations of Batman, 14 Pencilers (Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Neil Adams, Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, David Mazzuccelli, Tim Sale, Paul Pope, J.H. Williams III and Greg Capullo) in clouding Batman co-creator Bob Kane (also created by writer Bill Finger, not credited at the end of the new Batman film…worth it’s own rant….see Kirby Rant) and pencils and inking portraits of 3 Actors (Adam West, Michael Keaten and Christian Bale).
Batman once brandished a gun, I am told…but not since 1940. Even in Libertarian Cartoonist Icon Frank Miller’s seminal Batman Graphic Novel The Dark Knight Returns, Batman brakes a shot gun and calls guns “weapons of the enemy.” BATMAN REMAINS ANTI-GUNS FOR 72 YEARS. Including in the latest film (see discussion between Batman and Catwomen in the film). Those who sight him as an inspiration for gun violence of this nature, simply don’t understand his message, his symbolism. Miller’s book was the first time, I am aware of, where Batman took a life, the Jokers, without a gun. Prior to that he didn’t kill. Period. This was an extreme case, the greatest evil he has known. Batman’s greatest weapon is FEAR, he does not need a gun. For those he battles are fearful. Their fear has transformed them insane. As was the man who slaughtered those people with his guns.
No more so then the Joker, brandished this weapon and in a powerfully controversial moment (mostly under the bright light of truth in feminism), where he paralyzed Barbara Gordon, Bat Girl in Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s otherwise exceptional exploration into what makes this monster, The Killing Joke. However, even under the specter of explanation of motive and insanity…the Joker remains a villain.
Bane maybe another mater, in the film, being allegedly born out of what most men fear (…oh plot twist and spoiler temptations). Let’s change the subject from the dark to the lite.
Batman once was campy (which obviously I enjoy too), but he began in the and returned to the dark. As aforementioned, his power is like the Shadow, he uses fear. Which can be a challenge against the criminally insane. His fear mongering is berthed out of confronting his own fears. His parents SHOT and KILLED in front of a THEATER make for a horrid precursor to Aurora’s current tragedy, at best. Yes he is a trained martial artist, with uncanny detective skills and endless resources. But what makes him so effective and interesting all this time is the duality of his enemies insanity and his narrowly controlled sanity. He always seems to be wound up tight…ready to give. This makes for DC’s most human of characters (that and no powers).
This line of tension of persona has been replicated, somewhat, uniquely in Greg Rucca and Williams’s take on Batwomen (Not Campy). Along with Batman in the superhero comic publishing right now…no characters are getting better treatment. Snyder and Capullo’s Batman (Not Campy) take Gotham and make it with a new set of villains, Talon and his bosses the Court Of Owl’s. Batwomen is only undermined by giving deserved shots to other Pencilers. Batman only is hurt by pages of the villain getting caught monologuing.
Let’s not ignore what was a campy character after Infantino redesigned him and Adam West played him. Then the two incarnations met in Batman, Super Friends, Scooby Doo and Wacky Races. This Batman remains for many, “the” Batman. I find him to be the hart, for I doubt very much, that Batman would have lived this long with out some fun. His place in America culture, is defined here. It is here that we all new him as a teacher to Robin and his audience.
The original and subsequent two decades of the Bat, was truthfully under development, a precursor for what was a dark future, but also easily transitioned into the campy versions we fell in love with. With Miller’s work, we get Tim Burton, Keaton and Danny Elfman. Something new. This births Bruce Timm’s the Animation series which bridges all that comes before in terms of Batman. In what is essentially the top of pure Batman and pure quality storytelling. Where the campy cartoon once stood, now we have American Animation utilizing the best of visual storytelling, before Pixar started really trying. Leading the way for this treatment of more DC superheroes and new genius comic book artist like Darwyn Cooke.
This teacher, aging, was explored in Millers work. Broken down, but determined to remain a symbol. This remains consistent in the Noland films (clearly with some of it’s resolutions…again brilliant spoiler temptations). He is a symbol and as with all great Batman incarnations the symbolism and action does not end with one man…there are Robins, Bat Girls, Batwomen, Batmen, Ravens, Oracles and Sons of Batman…and a new, appropriate twist (it is what I had thought and then was convinced was not…I will say no more…I am speaking like the Riddler…I really am monologuing here…I have no aspirations beyond being a normal ordinary citizen). Gotham has many who aid her. But Bruce Wayne is usually the teacher here, with Alfred Pennyworth taking an assisting role. Acceptation is Batwomen, who holds her own as crazy teacher hero.
In Noland’s film, we see a discussion that mirrors what we are debating today, and it’s not simply horrid coincidence about guns in America. In fact the film directly references the lack of luxury in assuming coincidence of you are trying to get to truth, as a detective would. Batman first and almost always since, has appeared in the Detective comics. He would note, these issues are intertwined in a mystery. And our lessons are to sort it out. I would hope this tragedy would grow our abilities to address the intertwined issues discussed in the film and in all Batman stories. The role of citizens in protecting our community, mental health, gun rights, class warfare, on and on…it’s all there. We should not run from it. We should obsess, like Bruce. We should look for the truth and unfold it. Resolve it. And like Bruce, we will need other players to assist and lead. Super Friends. Without them, we end up like the shooter in Aurora. Taking action, without conscience.