Saturday, 29 November 2008

Bat Rant

Warning: This blog contains spoilers for the current "Batman: RIP" storyline. If you don't want to know the end, look away now...

Ever since I started reading American comics*, I've mainly been a DC boy. No, that's not some admission of sexual preferences, just a way of saying that I preferred one of the major comics publishers to the others - DC (home of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) to Marvel (where Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk roam). That's not to say that I didn't read any Marvel comics - the X-Men have always been a favourite - but DC appealed more. The one I first started reading was The Flash, oddly enough, as there was a cheap and cheesy TV version on at the time but, as soon as discovered The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison**, Batman became the comic of choice for me. Now, after nearly 16 years of reading, have I come to the end of the road?

There's been some publicity about the character recently. You may even have read reports that he has been killed off. Well, having read the issue in question, I'd have to say that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated - and not for the first time. Every few years, I guess in an attempt to reinvigorate the character, the suggestion rises that Bruce Wayne will no longer be Batman. Anticipation is built, a temporary change occurs and everything returns to normal after a little while (usually accompanied by the phrase "it's time to get back to basics"). This time, it felt like they were really going for it. The storyline was entitled "Batman: RIP". Statements emerged claiming that, by the end of the story, Bruce Wayne would be dead or retired for good. It would permanently change the status quo. Nothing would ever be the same. Etcetera, etcetera.

So this week, the final part rolls around. Articles start appearing on news sites:- "End of the road for Batman". I studiously avoid them all, not wishing to spoil it for myself. I pick up the issue yesterday. I actually read it in the shop - first time I've ever done that, I must admit***. I get to the end. Bruce Wayne's on top of a helicopter out over the water. It explodes. All that's found is his cape.

What? That's it? From that we're genuinely supposed to believe that he's dead or that he's given up? The word anti-climax doesn't even begin to describe it. And now the back-tracking begins. Quote today from the head of DC comics:- "He's not dead, though he'll definitely be gone for a while. Batman and Bruce Wayne have been here long before me and they'll be around long after me."

Right, so it's just another story, then? Great. To be fair, it's been a decent enough storyline - full of the usual joys and flaws of Grant Morrison's writing (he likes to throw a lot of ideas at the wall - not all of them stick but they are at least pretty much all bizarre). It's just another example of the marketing machine twisting something out of proportion into something it's not. But they've been doing this for years. In fact, when I started reading Batman comics, it was at the beginning of storyline in which Bruce Wayne quit as Batman after breaking his back and another man took over for over a year (before executing a triumphant return, naturally). Maybe that's part of it - a feeling of coming round full circle ("hang on, isn't this where I got on in the first place?"). Maybe it's the lack of balls displayed in not actually doing something radical. Marvel killed off Captain America a few years ago and he's still dead (in fact, it's vastly improved his comic, to be honest). This feels like the ultimate cop-out, spending months telling us he's going to change forever, only to have him kind of vanish for a bit with the promise he'll be back later on.

Does this mean the end of my Batman reading career? In all likelihood, probably not. Like any good addict, not matter how bad it is, I'm still in there for my next fix. I mean, what if next time, it really does get good? Yeah, I know, I'm a hopeless case...

* Til I hit my teenage years, it was pretty much just the staunchly British 2000 AD and Judge Dredd for me. Tally ho!

**Both part of the influence on the most recent Batman films, I'd say. Go check 'em out, they're good stuff and definitely not comics for kids.

***Don't worry, I still bought it, I'm not a free-loading reader.

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