Anyone who’s read comic books for long enough can tell you that dying in the comics is about as serious as getting mono. It’s inconvenient and it’ll definitely keep you out of action for a while – maybe even months. But at some point you’ll be back on your feet, no more the worse for wear.
The death of a major comics character has become something of a cliche, a cheap trick used to sell books and hopefully refresh the character without doing any actual character development. Death in comics is actually beginning to be a boring non-consequence, a plot device whose overuse highlights the inherent unsustainability of trying to maintain an ongoing story and character for, in some cases, 70+ years.
As in all things, though, there is an exception and it is, oddly enough, in one of the oldest characters in comic-dom – the recent death of the Dark Knight himself.
For those of you who don’t know, Batman (well, Bruce Wayne more specifically) recently disappeared from the DC Universe, though the cause of his death seems a little muddled – he’s either been killed in a helicopter explosion after an encounter with the Black Hand or killed by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction at the end of the Final Crisis or sent back in time by said Omega Sanction or turned into a small, furtive newt-like creature. Okay, I made that last one up, but regardless, it’s all very confusing.
The fuzzy details notwithstanding, one thing is clear – Gotham City is now without its Bruce Wayne and, in typical comic-book, publicity-stunt style, there have been a whole host of special issues, cross-overs and new title launches to commemorate the occasion.
What’s not typical about this particular comic book death, though, is that – despite the fact that nobody has any business believing that this is more than a temporary set-back for the Dark Knight – Batman’s death is proving to be fertile source material for the development of one of comics’ most interesting characters: Dick Grayson.
Grayson – the original Robin – is interesting because he’s one of the few characters in comics who has experienced genuine character growth, rather than simply being batted around (hi-oh!) by tangential side-plots meant to sell a few comics before returning neatly to the status quo. After starting his comic life as Robin, Batman’s trusty Boy Wonder side-kick, Grayson eventually left the Batcave and Gotham to pursue his own crime-fighting career as Nightwing, stalwart defender of the city of Bludhaven (Gotham’s neighbour across the river).
Contrary to comic-dom’s SOP, the change has stuck to this day, and many writers of both Batman and Nightwing stories have mined the development for rich source material, as Grayson tries to establish himself as a crime-fighter in his own right, occasionally languishing in the shadow of his mentor, and as Batman attempts to find and train a new protege (with, so far, only marginal success).
With Batman’s recent “Death”, Grayson has put his activities as Nightwing on hold and has taken up the cape and cowl, attempting to fill the shoes of the original caped crusader (and do so seamlessly enough that Gotham’s cadre of supervillainy doesn’t catch on that Batman was ever killed in the first place).
Grayson’s new role has allowed some of DC’s better bat-writers – specifically, Grant Morrison (Batman & Robin) and Judd Winnick (Batman) to do some genuine character exploration into both Grayson and Bruce Wayne, as Dick grieves the loss of his friend, struggles with filling the Batman’s shoes and tries to manage the latest, and possibly most incorrigible incarnation of Robin, Bruce Wayne’s Shadow-League-trained son, Damian.
Unable to master either Batman’s voice or his style – in one particularly astutely constructed scene, he complains to Alfred about having to wear a cape again, one of the first accoutrements he shed upon leaving the Batcave – and is forced to both examine and adapt the Batman identity in order to be comfortable in his own skin, effective as a crime fighter, and worthy to fill the role of his mentor.
Leave it to Grant Morrison (We3, All-Star Superman), who seems to be the man in charge of this whole Bat-evolution (having penned both Final Crisis and the Batman story arc that culminated in Wayne’s death, and who continues the story in Batman & Robin) to pull off this kind of soft-restart of the character in a way that breathes life into the franchise without making a much-overused gimmick too… well, gimmicky. He already did it once with the (New) X-Men in the early ’00s and it looks like he may be on track to do it again with the Dark Knight.
So while it lacks the fanfare and media attention of the death of the Man of Steel in the ’90s or the recent demise of Captain America, the death of Batman may be one instance of a comic writer actually having the skill to do comic death right. If I wasn’t before, this would have made me a huge Grant Morrison fan – and I look forward to seeing how the rest of this story plays out.
Filed under: Media | Tags: Digital media, Distribution, Failed predictions, Media, Predictions, Social Media
Making predictions about where the world is headed – especially the world of media and technology – is a dice game at best. We’ve all heard (and laughed at) the ones that failed to come true (here are some good ones). However, the subject of the current direction of media technology just seems to keep coming up in my conversations with people these days, so let’s have a go at it. In 10 years, feel free to laugh at me when none of these come true.
DVDs are the last hard medium
Has anyone else noticed how little everyone seemed to care about the fact that Blueray beat out HD DVD to become the home movie industry’s official next-generation format? For something that was supposed to change the home entertainment market as much as the VHS/Beta battle or the invention of the DVD itself, nobody really seems all that fussed about the fact that all of our DVD players are supposed to become obsolete in the next few years.
Maybe it’s because everything is going online – with more and more material becoming available via download-on-demand, the rapid increase in worldwide broadband penetration, and the availability of hi-def features over cable, it’s just not worth it to upgrade your hard-media player anymore. Even video games are going online – Wii users are able to download and play games from older Nintendo systems, for example, and one next generation handheld – the new PSP – makes games available by download only. With the convenience and quality of online content, there is just no reason to waste space and material on hard media – and it may just be that DVDs are the last of their kind.
Copyright laws are going to change to reflect the new media environment
I was watching a UFC event on cable the other weekend and at one point, one of the announcers had to read out the obligatory statement threatening legal action against anyone who copied or rebroadcast the program without permission. The announcer had barely finished the last sentence of the disclaimer when his partner (Joe Rogan – what a guy) piped up with something along the lines of “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t stop the internet, baby.” It was hilarious and, more importantly, it points out the futility of copyright laws based on 18th century principles of content distribution.
With the rise of digital media, these principles (e.g., exclusive ownership of the content by the author, exclusive control by one party over the means and the channels of distribution) just don’t hold anymore, and laws created and enforced by people who still cling to them are bound to become irrelevant and fall apart, if for no other reason that they become essentially unenforceable (ask the RIAA). The question, of course, is that if nobody is following the laws, nobody seems all that upset when they’re broken, and attempts to enforce the laws are often met with indifference or scorn, do the laws still reflect and work towards the needs of the population? And if not, shouldn’t they change?
Social networking will become the new dominant mode of communication
This is a no-brainer. We’ve all seen this. We all know that everyone – everyone – is already on some kind of social network somewhere. And at least a few people know that social networking now is as important to communication as email was in the 90s. It’s a game-changer, and before long, not having a profile on at least one social networking site will make you look about as ridiculous as you would right now if you didn’t have an email (or, for that matter, a phone number)
One-way communication will become completely obsolete
Audiences will come to expect the ability to engage with content to the point that content producers will not be able to get away with one-way communication – your resource either enables two-way communication (which means the online version becomes the centre-piece) or your resource dies. Content will be about creating a community, not about just informing an audience. One-way communication will become obsolete.
Print media’s role within the media environment will radically shift
I will stop at predicting the demise of printed media – but, given the above, plus the fact that hand-held browsers and readers take away print’s last major competitive edge (portability), it will stop being the cornerstone of…well, really anything. It will be a peripheral element of the media environment, not its centre like it is now (or was five years ago – you could argue this has already happened). It will still provide a certain type of experience that digital media can’t replicate (there are tactile elements to reading a newspaper, for example, that I imagine some people find comforting), but as generations grow up with digital media and, thus, don’t care about those types of experiences, even that advantage will fade away.
And finally –
Pong: The Movie will become a reality
It’ll happen. Just wait.