Batman Vs. Dracula

On Halloween, I usually watch a Dracula movie or two. Sometimes I’ve watched the classic Universal Dracula or one of its sequels. Last year, I watched the first Hammer Dracula film, Horror of Dracula, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

In the run-up to Halloween, I couldn’t decide which one I’d put in the DVD player. I briefly considered Van Helsing, but I last watched that four years ago and thought it remained a deeply terrible film. I thought about NBC’s Dracula, but that’s a ten hour investment and I need my sleep. Then, a discussion on Facebook recently put The Batman vs. Dracula in mind. I bought it on DVD when it came in 2005, but I never watched it. I’d never gotten around to it at the time, and in the years since I’d pretty much forgotten that I even had it. Here, then, was a “new” Dracula film for my Halloween, and I went through my boxes of unpacked DVDs in search of it.

The Batman vs. Dracula is based on an animated television series, The Batman, that I’ve never seen. It aired about a decade ago and ran for a couple of seasons. It wasn’t connected to the DC Animated Universe of Bruce Timm that ran from Batman: The Animated Series through Batman Beyond and Justice League to Justice League Unlimited. This series had very different producers, with different character designs and different voice actors. I’d heard that The Batman was geared toward younger audiences.

In the comic books, Batman tangled with Dracula twenty-five years ago in the Doug Moench/Kelley Jones original graphic novel, Batman/Dracula: Red Rain. In that story, Dracula begins converting Gotham City’s homeless population into vampires, and Batman teams up with another vampire to defeat Dracula, which Batman does, but at the cost of his own humanity — Dracula turns Batman into a vampire in a final act of vengeance. I doubted that this animated film would have much in common with the graphic novel, except for the presence of the two titular characters.

The Batman vs. Dracula is a bit different. Dracula was, for reasons left unexplained, transported to Gotham City after the events of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and buried in a crypt in Gotham’s catacombs. The Penguin, after an escape from Arkham Asylum (that appeared to result in The Joker’s death), stumbles into the catacombs in search of a treasure he heard about from another Arkham inmate and finds, instead of the treasure, the desicated remains of Dracula. But a drop of blood from the Penguin’s hand lands on Dracula, reviving him, and he breaks free from his bonds and begins to amass an army of undead followers.

batman-dracula-coverMeanwhile, Bruce Wayne is about to unveil Wayne Industries’ newest invention, a solar power collector. Dracula, seeking to become Gotham City’s new overlord, crashes the party at Wayne Manor where he meets Wayne and his date, Vicki Vale. Batman comes to realize that Dracula is a vampire and the root cause of a mass of disappearances throughout the city, but Gotham City’s police believe that Batman is the villain and begin to hunt him down. After an initial encounter with Dracula that ends with him badly beaten, Batman begins to experiment on a way to cure vampirism and he finds a way to successfully cure The Joker, one of Dracula’s victims and not dead at all. Armed with his cure for vampirism, Batman proceeds to Dracula’s lair in the catacombs in a desperate mission to cure Gotham City’s missing population of their vampirism and rescue Vicki Vale from Dracula’s clutches.

I didn’t have any expectations of The Batman vs. Dracula going in. I quite liked it! For an animated film aimed at kids it was surprisingly dark. The story held together, and while there were a couple of dangling niggles (why was Dracula interred in Gotham? why didn’t Vicki Vale’s necklace, a family heirloom, figure in the conclusion?), overall I felt it was satisfying. The violence is brutal; there’s no blood but Batman gets thoroughly beaten in his first encounter with Dracula, and Batman’s battle with the vampire Joker in a blood bank is destructive and bruising. The vampire feedings aren’t especially bloody; it’s all handled off-screen, which actually amps up the horror because it’s not visible and leaves more to the imagination. And Dracula’s draining Vicki Vale of her life force visibly ages her. The result is something that’s not as graphic as, say, NBC’s Dracula of a few years ago, but it’s definitely more graphic than the classic Bela Lugosi film or Hammer’s Horror of Dracula.

As I’d never seen The Batman, I didn’t know what the “look” of the film would be like. The designs clearly aren’t like those of Batman: The Animated Series, nor was the film’s style anything like that, but I felt that, in context, it worked. The art deco stylings of Batman: The Animated Series had their place, and this was a different story, just as in the 1990s DC Comics could publish Batman comics drawn by Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle in the same month that looked and felt very, very different. There’s room for different interpretations of Batman. This was a younger, less experienced, even romantic Batman. I felt this interpretation worked.

I probably won’t run out and watch The Batman, but on its own terms, I enjoyed The Batman vs. Dracula. It wasn’t a bad Halloween choice at all.

Watchmen, Rebirth, and the DC Universe

bvsdoj-posterWhen I saw the first trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, my reaction was, basically, “That looks as much like a sequel to Watchmen as it does a sequel to Man of Steel.”

To be clear, by Watchmen, I’m referring to Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 graphic novel, not the graphic novel itself.

It wasn’t just the visual style of Snyder that prompted me to make the connection between Batman v Superman and Watchmen. It was the thematic ground. The limitations of power and who wields it. And whether or not the infinite power of super-heroes can be chained or controlled.

A few years after the Watchmen film, DC Comics published the Before Watchmen project, a series of mini-series focusing on the characters of Watchmen, fleshing out the world of the graphic novel a bit. But Before Watchmen was left unfinished; the announced Before Watchmen: Epilogue special never materialized.

Somewhere along the line, I had a thought that would have been perfect for the Before Watchmen: Epilogue or an Elseworlds project — what if, on the day after Watchmen ends, Kal-El’s Kryptonian capsule crashes in Kansas where the infant is found by a kindly, childless farmer couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent? Mark Millar asked in Superman: Red Son what would have happened if Superman were raised in the Soviet Union. I wanted to ask what would have happened if Superman were raised in the world of Watchmen.

When I finally saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Dawn of Justice, maybe because I was already thinking of BvS as a spiritual sequel to Watchmen, I found it was very easy to imagine the two movies, Watchmen and BvS, connected in exactly that way.

wm4_1280x1024Bruce Wayne, aged about fifteen, remembers the devastation that Dr. Manhattan (apparently) unleashed on New York City. Metropolis and Gotham become the cultural and financial capitals of the United States due to New York’s widespread devastation. Kal-El comes of age in Kansas. His father cautions him not to use his powers out of fear for what Dr. Manhattan wrought. Bruce Wayne, when he trains to become Batman, trains with Dan Dreiberg, better known as Nite Owl II. Watchmen can, in unexpected ways, fit and function as backstory to Batman v Superman.

It appears that I was ahead of the curve with my idle thinking. Geoff Johns of DC Comics was also thinking in that direction — in the DC Rebirth Special, out next Wednesday, Johns explicitly ties the world of Watchmen to the DC Universe:

[In] a comic full of big moments, there’s one that will stand out above the rest — namely, that the malevolent force that has stolen 10 years from the DC Universe (and murdered Pandora, the symbol of the New 52, in a particularly subversive jab) is none other than Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan. When you read it, you might feel the air leave you, and it might be one of the smartest bits Johns has come up with since Sinestro Corps War. Of course the cynicism of the DC Universe began here — and the only way to counteract that is to call out the “world’s greatest graphic novel” for its sins. It serves to both heighten the stakes tremendously, as Johns taps into DC’s final frontier, but also serves as a great bit of metacommentary.

wm6_1280x1024That strange howling sound you hear is undoubtedly Alan Moore, shouting at the top of his lungs from Northamption. (Moore is famously bitter at DC Comics; he feels that they stole Watchmen from him.) The publication of Before Watchmen was famously controversial; the weaving of the world of Watchmen into the history of the DC Universe will undoubtedly be a controversial development.

Frankly, I’m fine with this. There are no sacred cows in literature.

WM_MANHATTAN-1I want to see how Johns and DC develop this idea, that the DC Universe co-exists with the world of Watchmen. I’d love to see a throwdown between Darkseid and Dr. Manhattan. I’d love to see a story in which the Minutemen team up with the Justice Society. (Get Jerry Ordway to draw it!) I’d love to see Ozymandias and Ra’s al Ghul match wits in the 1970s and 1980s. I’d love to see the Watchmen generation of heroes as an interim age of heroes between the Golden Age and the modern age.

I’d been thinking of things like this, either as an Elseworlds or as backstory to the DC Universe movies. But this is now the reality of DC Comics going forward. I see genuine potential. The old fannish instinct, to tie together things that were never, ever meant to go together into one tapestry, comes to the fore.

This is exciting stuff. Roll on Wednesday. I cannot wait to read the DC Rebirth Special. :)

The Meaning of Superman

With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice out next month, The Atlantic takes a look at Superman’s history and asks whether or not DC Comics and Warner Bros. understand how and why the character works.

It’s not a spoiler to say that the article’s conclusion is that sometimes they do, but that mostly they don’t. The writer, Asher Elbein, points to the various reboots/retoolings that DC has attempted over the years (going back to the Silver Age, then Jack Kirby and Denny O’Neil, then John Byrne, and finally the New 52) that have tried to update the character and make him relevant to the times and the audiences of those times. And the article especially notes the look and feel of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman (which, weird as this may sound, I view as what Superman would be like in the universe of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen; watch Man of Steel as a sequel to Watchmen and it actually works) and criticizes them as missing the point.

bvs-supermanI see where Elbein is coming from. I even agree with much of it. Elbein’s right that Superman’s greatest power is his infinite empathy. He’s not flashy or showy about it. It’s something there, under the surface. He’s a role model because he demonstrates it; he uses his god-like powers for compassion, not malice. (This is why interpretations of the character that play up Superman as an asshole — like Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns or the New 52 — don’t sit well with me.)

But where I disagree with Elbein is that I think Man of Steel, the movie, gets this. We see Clark using his powers to help people; it’s Jonathan Kent who advocates that he hide his powers and not help people. Some argue that’s a character assassination on Jonathan, and I see where that’s coming from, especially as someone who loved the post-Crisis relationship between the adult Clark and his parents, but I also see where Jonathan is coming from in the film — Clark is his son, he loves his son, and he doesn’t want people hating or fearing his son because he’s different.

I feel like Batman v Superman will make it clear who Superman is and what drives him. We’re going to see the stark contrast between Superman and Batman, their methods, their worldviews. Batman is a character driven by vengeance and anger and pain. Superman isn’t. I think the contrast with Batman will show audiences that there’s a better way than Batman’s way and remind them why Superman matters.

Because Superman is about hope.

And we need hope in this world.

Things I’ve Been Reading: Batman Adventures Volume 2

Batman Adventures Volume 2
DC Comics
Written by Kelley Puckett
Art by Mike Parobeck and Rich Burchett

If you were to ask me who my three favorite Batman artists were, you could make a decent guess at my age. Or at least, when I was really reading comic books. Those three artists would be Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, and Mike Parobeck.

Of the three, Aparo had the longest career on the Caped Crusader. He went from The Brave and the Bold in the 70s to Batman and the Outsiders in the 80s to Batman and Detective Comics in the 90s. Breyfogle started with Detective Comics around 1987 or 1988 with Alan Grant, and, as a team, they moved on to Batman and Shadow of the Bat in the 90s. Parobeck had the shortest tenure (for tragic reasons) of the three artists; his Batman tenure was thirty-odd issues of Batman Adventures, a comic based on Batman: The Animated Series, in the early 1990s.

In an era where the main Batman comics saw Batman’s back broken and the rise of a psychopathic Batman in the form of Jean-Paul Valley, Batman Adventures was a breath of fresh air. Kelley Puckett’s storytelling was fairly straightforward — and occasionally a little more violent than FOX allowed on Batman: The Animated Series. Each issue was a one-and-done, each story was broken up into three distinct chapters. People are threatened, Batman (or one of his allies) investigates and takes action, there’s an action-packed climax, and, usually, a final punchline or coda to make you think. If you want to study the nuts-and-bolts of comic book storytelling, Batman Adventures would be a good place to start.

I didn’t read Batman Adventures for Puckett’s writing, though. I read it for Parobeck’s artwork.

Parobeck took over the book with issue #7 and, for a book based on a television series with a distinctive visual style, he made it his own. When I think of Batman: The Animated Series, I’m as likely to think of the way Parobeck interpreted the series in the comics as I am of the way Bruce Timm and his artists produced the series for FOX.

I discovered Parobeck with a 1991 Justice Society of America mini-series (set in the 1950s), then I followed him to The Fly (DC’s updating of an Archie Comics super-hero), and after that came another Justice Society series (this one set in the 1990s). There aren’t words to express how much fun Justice Society was. Yes, it was a book about a bunch of senior citizen super-heroes, but it was gorgeous and it was dynamic. Looking at the way Parobeck drew Jay Garrick or Alan Scott was joyful. It’s a criminal shame that this Justice Society work hasn’t been collected. Criminal shame!

I digress.

The point is, when Parobeck took over the art chores on Batman Adventures from Ty Templeton, a book I was only aware of suddenly became a must-buy.

batman-adventures-volume-2DC has started collecting Batman Adventures, and last week they released volume 2, collecting issues 11 through 20. I read it this weekend, and I didn’t even read it in order. It’s the nature of the stories; as one-and-dones, the stories are self-contained and there’s no continuity between the issues. I read the Batgirl issues first, followed by the Talia issue, then the Man-Bat issue, etc. Essentially, I went through the book at random, reading what interested me.

The stories were more interesting than I expected, perhaps because I was better aware of the structural needs of storytelling now than I was back then. And Parobeck’s artwork was better than I remembered. I can see Bruce Timm’s vision in Parobeck’s artwork, but I also see Parobeck’s distinctive style. He suggests the world of the Batman: The Animated Series, and then he does his own thing. And it’s glorious.

As for the stories, my favorite in the volume was the Talia story. Batman and Talia find that they’re after the same people, so they team up on an international quest that takes them to Paris. The middle part of the story is a charming sequence in which Batman and Talia have a Parisian romance, which makes the coda of the story — and Talia’s final line — utterly heartbreaking. It’s a narratively strong story, and Parobeck conveys a lot of emotion with his artwork.

The Man-Bat story, which kicks off the issue, is powerful, though I saw where it was going very early on.

The Batgirl stories were fun. One is Barbara Gordon’s first outing as Batgirl — and she comes up against Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn quite unexpectedly. The other is the first meeting of Batgirl and Robin, and they work together on a case.

There’s an interesting Ra’s al-Ghul story. I wasn’t quite sure where it was going, and it genuinely surprised me in places.

The final story in the book features a trio of villains created for the Batman Adventures comic — Mastermind, the Professor, and Mr. Nice. Mastermind (who looks like former DC editor Mike Carlin) is a genius; he’s so smart and can see so many moves ahead that he can probably beat Spock at eleven dimensional chess. The Professor (who looks like former DC editor Denny O’Neil) doesn’t seem to have any useful skill, though he likes to chronicle their adventures. And Mr. Nice (who looks like the late DC editor Archie Goodwin) is the group’s strongman — but his downfall is that he’s a terribly nice person and can’t really be bad. It’s a genuinely funny story, and I liked it.

There’s some fun storytelling in Batman Adventures Volume 2. What really makes it worth having, in my opinion, is Mike Parobeck’s artwork. If you love Batman: The Animated Series, prepare to fall in love all over again when you experience it through Parobeck’s pencils. It’s wonderful stuff. :)

Harlan Ellison’s Batman ’66: The Lost Episode

Batman ’66: The Lost Episode
DC Comics
Written by Len Wein, based on a television treatment by Harlan Ellison (inspired by “The Crimes of Two-Face” by Bill Finger)
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

For the last two years, DC Comics has been publishing original comics based on the Adam West Batman television series, ranging from digital shorts that have been published as Batman ’66 to a longer-form story by Kevin Smith that brings together, once more, Batman and Green Hornet.

This week, DC published Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, a story based on an outline Harlan Ellison wrote for Batman producer William Dozier in the 1960s, a story that would have involved Batman battling Two-Face, a major Batman character who never appeared in the series. For a variety of reasons, which I went into when the book was announced in July, Ellison’s outline wasn’t bought by Dozier and the story was never produced.

Ellison’s involvement is this project is fairly minimal; though his outline is printed in the comic (to the tune of eleven pages), Len Wein handles the actual script. Though there’s dialogue in Ellison’s outline, Wein uses none of it. Instead, Wein takes Ellison’s outline as the basis for his own take on the world of Batman ’66. It’s things like that that make the presence of the outline interesting; the reader can compare Wein’s script to Ellison’s story and see how the process of adaptation works.

That raises a curious omission. Ellison’s outline, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face,” was itself inspired by Bill Finger’s “The Crimes of Two-Face” from Detective Comics #66. DC has published a collection of Batman stories that served as the inspiration for the Batman television series. Perhaps DC could have published “The Crimes of Two-Face,” which is also the first appearance of Two-Face, in this special issue as well.

The story, it pains me to say, is weak. Two-Face is committing a series of thefts, and then he gives back what he’s stolen with interest. He doesn’t seem to be doing this for any reason other than he’s insane. The lack of motive on the part of Two-Face has Batman and Robin passively following in Two-Face’s wake as they investigate his crimes, but that doesn’t bring them any closer to bringing Two-Face to justice until, finally, Batman stumbles across Two-Face’s second hidden lair. Ellison’s story feels like a pedestrian — and aimless — Silver Age Batman story with some of the trappings of the television series rather than something that the television series would actually have done. Wein’s script throws some bones in the directon of the Batman ’66 feel, like calling Two-Face “the double-crossing duke of duplicity” and additional alliterative aliases, but it’s far too serious to evoke the tongue-in-cheek feeling of the television series.

The art of Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, on the other hand, is fantastic. It’s by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and one would expect no less. Following the main story, DC publishes Garcia-Lopez’s pencils in full so that readers can see how detailed and impressive his artwork is. Garcia-Lopez’s likenesses aren’t always spot on, but even so he conveys Adam West and Burt Ward quite well. Two-Face doesn’t seem to have been “cast”; Two-Face looks like the standard DC Comics version of Two-Face.

And that raises an issue as well. The tone of the piece is wrong. Garcia-Lopez’s artwork doesn’t fit the ethos of Batman ’66. It’s too refined and too modern. His Two-Face looks like Two-Face; he doesn’t look like an actor who spent four hours in a make-up chair in 1966. Add to the serious artwork Ellison’s serious story, and the result is something very strange — excellent artwork, weak story, not really Batman ’66.

Now, what if William Dozier had bought “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face”? Could it have been made?

I have doubts. This reads like an expensive story to me. The cast is fairly small, most locations could be handled on the studio backlot, there would be a lot of crappy rear-projection work, such as with the Bat-Copter. Batman’s aquatic adventure would have been difficult. Two-Face has two hideouts — one in a lunar observatory, the other on a wooden pirate ship in an underground grotto — and one of them has a death trap. And I’m not sure how they would have handled some of the coin tricks. Had this gone to script, I suspect that Dozier would have had similar budget issues that Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman faced with Ellison’s original script for “City on the Edge of Forever.” Add to that the tonal issues in Ellison’s story that would have required rewrites to bring it in line with the series, and I am forced to conclude that “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was a bullet dodged for Batman.

However, had it worked, Star Trek fandom might’ve been spared the quarter-century Roddenberry/Ellison feud (since Ellison would’ve been busy with Batman at the time when Roddenberry was taking Star Trek pitches), and Batman fandom might’ve had stories of Ellison eating Dozier’s potted plants while he slaved away on his very-late script.

Conclusion? I have a hard time recommending this, especially at its price point ($9.99). The Garcia-Lopez artwork is fantastic. The story from Ellison and Wein (and, to a lesser extent, Finger) is decidedly not. Batman ’66: The Lost Episode is an interesting curiosity, but it’s not a lost classic. I can’t say I was disappointed by it, but I was certainly left underwhelmed.

Why Harlan Ellison’s Batman Story Isn’t “Lost”

At San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, DC Entertainment announced Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, an adaptation by Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez of a Harlan Ellison story for the Adam West Batman television series that would have seen the Caped Crusader do battle with Two-Face.

A Harlan Ellison-penned story for Batman? you say. How did this not end up on our televisions in 1966?

Because “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” never got far enough to be filmed. William Dozier, the producer of Batman never commissioned the story. Ellison never wrote a script. “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” never got past the pitch.

Now, to be fair, there are extenuating circumstances. Dozier was interested in buying the pitch. Ellison wrote an outline in anticipation of the commission. However, Ellison had, in true Ellisonian fashion, made himself unhirable at ABC. A physical altercation with an ABC executive over script changes will do that. I’ll let Mike Cecchini of Den of Geek explain the circumstances:

Why didn’t we get to see “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face?” Brain Movies editor, Jason Davis provided Den of Geek with some background information, which confirms the idea that Ellison’s difficulties working with ABC stemmed from a physical altercation with Adrian Samish, head of ABC’s Broadcast Standards and Practices department, which ended with Samish threatening that “Ellison will NEVER work on ABC again!” A threat Samish apparently made good on. From Mr. Davis:

Indeed, Ellison only pitched to Batman because Samish was leaving ABC; in a case of poor timing, his storyline went to the network for approval on Samish’s last day on the job. Ellison remembers sitting in executive producer William Dozier’s office as several storylines were approved while his was deep-sixed with the phrase “Ellison doesn’t work on ABC.” The vendetta evidently continued after Samish left ABC for Quinn Martin Productions, where Ellison’s superb storyline for an episode of The Manhunter (in Brain Movies, Volume 3) was cut off before going to script.

Nonetheless, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was nothing more than a pitch and outline that met the same fate as dozens of pitches in Hollywood every single day — rejection. Contracts were not signed, a commission was not given, a script was not written. Most pitches are rejected because the producer wasn’t interested in the idea at hand. This pitch died because the sale could never be made. The end result is the same. It became something for the files.

Calling the adaptation of Ellison’s outline “The Lost Story,” then, is really something of a misnomer. Dozier, like any Hollywood producer, rejected far more pitches than he actually bought, yet no one in the industry would call those unbought pitches “lost stories.” If Les Crutchfield, a Gunsmoke writer of that era whom I’ve frankly never heard of, had pitched “The Two-Way Crimes” and it went unbought, no one would remember it or care, yet we know of this because it’s an Ellisonian idea.

There are genuinely “lost stories” which were commissioned and scripts were bought, but which, for whatever reason, were never put into production. Alan Dean Foster talked at Farpoint this year about his lost Batman script; I don’t remember the exact details, but the story involved India and Catwoman. Undoubtedly there are others. Doctor Who has lost stories that went to script and were never filmed; Stephen Fry wrote one for the second season of the revived series in 2006. The point is, Ellison’s pitch doesn’t merit being labeled a “lost story.” It never got that far.

(As an aside, I wonder if Ellison had been commissioned, would the writing of “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” have gone smoothly, or would the process have been as frought as the writing of Star Trek‘s “City on the Edge of Forever” was the following year? Is it possible that in a world where “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was bought that we wouldn’t have seen “City on the Edge”? How different history would have been without the pointless Ellison/Roddenberry feud!)

I realize it’s marketing. Ellison is a “name,” and the 1960s Batman series has seen a resurgence in popularity and awareness in the last few years, culminating in the long-awaited DVD release of the series this winter. Billing this Batman comic based on vintage Ellison notes as a “lost story” from the television series will generate more interest from the punters than a more honest representation would.

Don’t take this to mean that I’m disinterested in Batman ’66: The Lost Story. I’m more than likely to buy it, but not because of Ellison and not because it’s a “lost story.” No, what attacts me to this project is the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez artwork. That’s all DC had to say to pique my interest. :)

Robin Rises Omega

Robin Rises Omega
DC Entertainment
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Andy Kubert and Jonathan Glapion

Several years ago, Grant Morrison introduced comics audiences to Batman’s son, Damian Wayne. The product of an encounter with Talia al Ghul, the daughter of long-time foe Ra’s al Ghul, Damian had been raised by Talia and trained in the techniques of the League of Shadows, but now that Damian was ten he wanted to discover for himself the truth of the man who fathered him.

The story of the relationship between Damian and the Bat-family is long and complicated and very much beside the point here. Suffice it to say, Damian became the fifth Robin (following Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Stephanie Brown), he partnered for a time with Dick Grayson (during a period where Bruce Wayne was believed dead due to Darkseid and his Omega Beams), and when Dick resumed his Nightwing identity Damian remained Robin to Bruce’s Batman. When Talia unleashed a plan to destroy Gotham City and her own son, Damian attempted to stop her and was forced to battle his own cyborg clone. Then when Ra’s al Ghul stole his grandson’s body, Batman embarked on a quest to recover his son — and find a way to restore him to life.

This last part, the quest to recover his son’s body, was chronicled in Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Batman and… series over the past year. Frankly, I haven’t been following it. I did for the first few months. There was the “Requiem” issue, a silent issue in which Bruce and Alfred mourned Damian’s death. This was followed by a series of issues that introduced Carrie Kelly (the Robin from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) and saw Batman alienate Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Barbara Gordon in his single-minded quest to find a way to resurrect Damian. My interest in this flagged, and I dropped the title.

Then DC announced that Damian was going to return. And Wednesday, the one-shot that kicks off the storyline, Robin Rises Omega, came out.

My hunch is that this is, essentially, the issue of Tomasi’s Batman and… series that follows the most recent issue, albeit one that’s double-sized and drawn by Andy Kubert instead of Patrick Gleason. Because it starts with Batman, Ra’s al Ghul, Frankenstein, Man-Bat, and their army facing off with an army from Apokalips on the side of the Himalayas.

Wait. That’s not exactly true.

The first eight or so pages is a pretty decent summary of Morrison’s Batman epic (including Final Crisis and Batman’s journey through time), the early “New 52” Batman and Robin storylines, “Death of the Family,” and Bruce’s alienation of the rest of the Bat-family. If you’re curious how it all fits together or if you’re not familiar with the past ten years’ worth of Batman storylines, even though it doesn’t make any sense how Batman can have a ten-year-old son in the post-Flashpoint DC Universe’s abbreviated timeline, Tomasi lays it out.

After that, there’s a lot of exposition, a lot of fighting, a lot of exposition while fighting, a punk-ass Captain Marvel, Lex Luthor getting punched in the face, and a really pissed off Batman.

(Some quick tangential thoughts on Lex Luthor’s role. For those who don’t know, Luthor, arch-enemy of Superman, realized he could be a hero and a force for good in Forever Evil. The newly reformed Luthor has joined the Justice League. He is now, essentially, DC’s Tony Stark — a know-it-all genius asshole in super armor. I like this change in Luthor, and I hope it sticks around, especially because Luthor now knows too much, like Batman’s secret identity, for it to ever go easily back into a box.)

Overall, I felt a bit “meh” about Robin Rises Omega. It’s effective at what it does, there’s enough exposition so that someone could figure out what’s happening, it has a good cliffhanger. But, it’s also Batman fighting Parademons and the forces of Apokalips, and, to be frank, that’s not exactly the kind of Batman story I like.

Batman and the New Gods are a bit incongruous. Batman is a rational, highly trained human being. He’s a gritty, street-level hero. There are some fantasy elements, but he’s basically grounded. The New Gods, on the other hand, as far in advance of humanity as we are in advance of frogs. They are basically magic. I accepted it in Final Crisis because I understood what Morrison was working with — ancient mythologies are replete with stories of man challenging the gods, and final Crisis sees the ultimate man, Batman, challenge the ultimate god, Darkseid, and murder him to free the humanity from the gods’ dominion — and I’m not sold on the idea that Batman must go to Apokalips to resurrect his son.

I’m going to quote Star Trek V here — “I need my pain.” Batman needs his pain. A Batman without tragedy driving him simply isn’t Batman. Batman isn’t emotionally well-adjusted. When Jason Todd was murdered by the Joker (and it took about fifteen years for Jason to “get better”), Batman went off the deep end. It took the Bat-family and the introduction of Tim Drake to pull him back from the brink. If Robin Rises Omega is the story of Batman going to any lengths and going too far, breaking all the laws of man and nature in a single-minded quest to restore his son in which he ultimately fails, I’m down with that.

But I don’t think that’s what we’re going to see. I think we’re going to see Batman going to Apokalips like Denzel Washington in Man on Fire, laying waste to everything and everyone until he gets what he wants — his son back and restored to life. And, to me, that’s too much magic in the world of Batman.

Still. On its own, Kubert’s art looked nice, the opening sequence is effective and good, it’s action packed, there are mysteries laid, and Batman punches Luthor in the face. If you’re interested in the mechanics of Damian’s return to the DC universe, then this is an effective starting point. And if you think Batman shouldn’t be fighting the New Gods, stay far, far away.

On the Angel Tree Package

I mentioned a few days ago that I was putting together an Angel Tree package at the office. I talked about that here.

Tonight I finished wrapping the thing, and tomorrow I’m going to take it to the office. MY work will be done.

The tag I picked off the tree was for a seven year-old boy. He wanted LEGO, cars, and wrestling men. The tag also indicated his clothing sizes.

I set myself a budget — 40 dollars. I came in under that budget.

The hardest thing to find turned out to be the first thing I settled upon. He wanted LEGO and cars, and I thought that Hasbro’s KRE-O Transformers Optimus Prime (small size, not the big size) would be pretty cool. It’s knock-off LEGO, true, but it’s also really well made. I should know, I have one at the office; Optimus has teamed up with the Cybermen to oversee their conversion complex. Anyway, it took some hunting to find this, which surprised me because it used to be everywhere.

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I bought some more knock-off LEGO. These Best-Lock car sets were two dollars each at Rite Aid.

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However, don’t think he wasn’t getting some real LEGO! Target offered this LEGO Batmobile set for four dollars, and I picked up a Batman action figure, too. Kids like Batman. :)

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I also picked up some Spider-Man stuff — a puzzle and some flying discs — at Dollar Tree:

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He could use clothes, so I picked up two shirts at Target. I don’t know what colors work for him. I picked colors I would wear.

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And he could use some reading material, too! I had two copies of this book for some reason. I suspect I received one at the office for some reason or another. In any event, he can give it a good home. It’s LEGO, it has a minifig, and it’s vibrant and colorful.

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I wrote a letter to the little boy from Julenissen, Norway’s Christmas Gnome. We know him as Santa Claus, of course. It was fun to write, and Julenissen talks about a lot of things. He doesn’t live at the North Pole — there’s nothing there but ice — but he and his Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes do live in a mighty castle (Slott Julenissen) north of the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. Julenissen had a lot to say, five pages worth!

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Here’s the pile of wrapped packages:

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The package has been repacked:

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There it is. All wrapped and ready to go to the office tomorrow:

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On Christmas morning, he’ll unwrap the big box, open it, and discover lots of other things inside.

That’s going to be awesome. I hope he has a great Christmas. And if he has little brothers and sisters, I hope he shares. (Julenissen in his letter tells him he needs to share.)

There you have it — my first-ever Angel Tree package. :)

On Allyn’s 2012 Shore Leave Schedule

At long last, Shore Leave is at hand!

Shore Leave is a convention, held outside Baltimore in Hunt Valley, that I’ve attended every year since 2001, and every year as a guest since 2006. Normally, Shore Leave is in July. This year, however, it’s in August.

The big thing for me this year is the release of Crazy 8 Press’ ReDeus: Divine Tales. I have a short story in the anthology titled “The Ginger Kid,” a baseball tale set in an urban fantasy world. It’s a different kind of story for me, but I’ll say no more at this juncture.

The big thing for you, the reader of this, is where I can be found this weekend at Shore Leave. And to that end, I’ve produced this handy stalker’s guide. Did I say stalker? I meant fan.

Friday, August 3rd

The Dark Knight Rises
6pm, Hunt
Panelists: Greg Cox (the author of Titan Books’ novelization), Glenn Hauman, David Mack, and me
A discussion on the final chapter in the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy.

Meet the Pros
10pm, the Downstairs Hallway
The annual book signing fest. I’ll have a few copies of ReDeus: Divine Tales for sale, and I probably have some older stuff as well.

Saturday, August 4th
The Hobbit: A Long-Expected Film
11am, Salon F
Panelists: Me
This December Peter Jackson returns to the world of Middle-Earth with his long-awaited film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, nearly a decade after Frodo Baggins cast the One Ring into the fiery chasm of Mount Doom. What can audiences expect of the return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and will Jackson recapture the Middle-Earth magic?
Note: I’m sure I’ll address the news today that The Hobbit, planned as a two film set, will now be split into three with reshoots and additional filming to take place next summer. Mind you, I don’t know anything official, but I have a theory. :)

What Is a Weekend?: The Magic of Masterpiece‘s Downton Abbey
12 Noon, Salon E
Panelists: Me, Jen Rosenberg, Howard Weinstein, Renee Wilson
For two years PBS audiences have been captivated by the world of Downton Abbey, with its noble aristocracy headed by the Earl of Grantham and its serving class led by the unflappable Mr. Carson. Audiences have swooned to the romances of Matthew and Mary, Mr. Bates and Anna, and hissed at the machinations of Miss O’Brien and Thomas. What has made this British import such a hit in its two seasons, and what can fans expect from the forthcoming third season?
Note: Yes, I pitched a straight-up Downton Abbey panel at a science-fiction convention. I love pitching off-the-wall things…

Everything is Better with a TARDIS
1pm, Salon A
Panelists: Me, Lorraine Anderson, T. Alan Chafin, Kieryn Nicolas, Phil Giunta, Terri Osborne
Doctor Who is a unique television program in that it can cross genres from story to story, moving from sci-fi space opera to historic costume drama to contemporary settings without missing a beat. The panelists will discuss non-Whovian movies and television series that would work as Doctor Who stories and speculate on which existing characters would work as companions. Get a different view of your favorite stories by dropping the Doctor into something like Blade Runner, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, A Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and many more, and discover what makes a good Doctor Who story work!
Note: I’m going to double-check with my co-panelists and make sure they’re okay with this concept for a panel; it’s what I pitched, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure that they don’t think I had an ordinary “Steven Moffat is a golden god” Doctor Who panel in mind. There’s three other Doctor Who panels at Shore Leave this weekend. Yes, four hours of Doctor Who programming at Shore Leave. I remember when I suggested one back in 2005 and got a packed room.

John Carter: Barsoom Rising
3pm, Chase
Panelists: Me, Peter David (writer of Marvel Comics’ John Carter: World of Mars), Rigel Ailur, Steve Wilson, Aaron Rosenberg
In March, Pixar visionary Andrew Stanton released his first live-action film, John Carter, based on the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Despite weak reviews, the film was warmly received by Burroughs fans and science-fiction fans as a century-old novel, A Princess of Mars, was brought up to date for modern film audiences. Did John Carter work? What could the film have done better? Is there a future for this franchise? And did the film lead audiences to discover the work of Burroughs?

Sunday, August 5th
Beyond Watchmen
10am, Derby
Panelists: Glenn Hauman, Allyn Gibson
Twenty-five years ago Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons revolutionized comic book storytelling with their graphic novel, Watchmen. This summer, DC Comics controversially revisits the world of Watchmen with a series of mini-series, Before Watchmen. Why has DC Comics decided to return to the world of Watchmen? What do these characters say to modern audiences? Are the Before Watchmen series worth the controversy? The panelists discuss the comics, the work of Alan Moore, and more!
Note: I need to get caught up on Before Watchmen this week before the convention. Also, I’m sure the Rorschach toaster will get brought up.

ReDeus: Divine Tale
1pm, Salon E
Panelists: Bob Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Phil Giunta, Allyn Gibson, William Leisner, Steve Wilson, Dave Galanter
This panel is devoted to the book that’s launching at Shore Leave this weekend. In the world of ReDeus, the ancient deity pantheons return to Earth in the present day and demand worship and fealty. What was it like to work on this project, and what will readers get out of the book?


I’m planning this week on writing up notes for my panels. Talking points are helpful to have, and when I try and “wing” a panel I either talk aimlessly or I run out of things to say. Notes are a roadmap and they’ll keep my focused.

I intend to do something different with those notes. Basically, I’m going to turn them into an epub, so I can carry them on my Nook. Then, after the convention, I may let people have my Shore Leave panel notes if, for some reason, they want them.

A random thought. It’s a packed convention. There’s stuff going on all the time this year.

My schedule isn’t quite as grueling as last year’s. (I’ve had to beg off two panels due to double-booking.) And I’m still thinking about trying to arrange a guerilla happening — a group reading of Wesley Crusher, Teenage Fuck Machine. Yes, because I’m just that crazy. :lol:

And maybe I’ll see some of you there! :h2g2:

On The Dark Knight Rises

Last night I went to see The Dark Knight Rises.

It was my second attempt. My first attempt on Saturday ended in disaster when the theater sold out while I was standing in line. I could have waited for the eleven o’clock showing, but it’s a near-three-hour film, and getting home after 2 in the morning didn’t appeal.

After dinner last night, then, I went to see the third and final film of Christian Bale’s tenure as Batman.

And I loved it.

My immediate reaction, as I posted on Twitter, was this: “The Dark Knight Rises — In a word, wow. In two words, I cried. In three words, a satisfying conclusion.”

It was all of that.

Wow? I thought this was the most gripping of Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both feel occasionally interminable, but I had no such feelings with The Dark Knight Rises. It was a thoughtful and intense film, and I was captivated. Yes, the story owed as much to The Dark Knight Returns and Knightfall, thrown in a blender, of course, as Batman Begins owed to The Long Halloween, so it played some familiar beats, yet I didn’t mind. I wanted to see where the story was going. I wanted to see if Bruce Wayne could learn how to be Batman again. I wanted to figure out what Bane was hoping to achieve. And I wanted to see if the film would bring the story of Batman to a close.

I cried? The final flight of the Bat, the faces of the orphaned boys as they follow it into the distance, the explosion… Yes, I cried. Batman, once vilified, proved himself to be an inspiration — and the ultimate hero. Batman’s story had come to an end, but Batman never ends.

A satisfying conclusion? Nolan’s Batman movies have always been focused on the man under the cowl, and with this film Bruce Wayne’s story arc comes to a conclusion. Bruce Wayne, once an innocent child tormented by the murders of his parents and the death of his true love, once again finds an inner peace. This is from an e-mail I wrote at work back on March 30, 2011: “I like the idea that, in Dark Knight Rises, Nolan will give his version of Batman a definitive end. The seeds of the ending have been planted in both films, and it’s probably Bruce walking away from the cowl because he feels (or, rather, knows) that Batman is no longer needed.” I think I had it almost right a year and a half ago — Bruce finds peace not because Batman is no longer needed but because he no longer needs to be Batman; there are others who can accomplish what he set out to do.

I thought the ending of the film was brave for a super-hero film. It’s a definitive ending, yet it’s open for interpretation. No, not the epilogue with Detective John Blake; anyone with a pulse saw that coming. No, not the epilogue about the missing piece of property, nor the epilogue with the WayneTech reveal. Not even the Commissioner Gordon epilogue. The final epilogue. I admit, I’m agnostic on that ending, because there are two ways to read it.

Spoilers, naturally.

Early in the film, Alfred Pennyworth talks about a fantasy he had in the years preceding Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne was wandering the world at that time, and every year Alfred would travel to Italy, sit in a café, and wonder if Bruce was sitting in that café, leading a carefree and happy life. Invariably, he would see someone that he would almost imagine as Bruce, but it would turn out that it wasn’t.

At Bruce’s funeral, Alfred turns to talk to the graves of Thomas and Martha Wayne. He failed them, he said with great emotion. He hadn’t protected Bruce.

We see Alfred in the last scene. He had returned to the café in Italy. He takes a seat, he picks up a newspaper, he looks across the piazza. And he sees Bruce Wayne, sitting with Selina Kyle. They make eye contact. Alfred smiles. Fade to black.

The thought as I left the theater? Brave and bittersweet. Brave, because Bruce Wayne died in the nuclear explosion off the coast of Gotham City. Bittersweet, because Alfred imagined for Bruce the carefree and happy life that he should have lived instead of being a costumed vigilante who gave his life to save his city.

However, that’s not the only reading of the film’s final scene. We learn, just a few minutes earlier, that the Bat — the flying vehicle created by Lucius Fox — had a functioning autopilot. Bruce Wayne could have set the Bat’s autopilot and escaped from the vehicle, letting the Bat fly out over the Atlantic Ocean unmanned and allowing the world to think that he’s dead so that he can do what Selina Kyle also wants to do — start life anew with a blank slate. In this reading of the ending, Bruce Wayne is finally free of the burden of Gotham City that he had taken upon himself, and he can now live a happy and balanced life.

Both readings of the ending are satisfying, albeit in different ways.

The “Bruce lives” ending satisfies because it means that Bruce has finally made peace with himself. The “Bruce dies” ending satisfies because it’s true to the character.

I’m not sure which interpretation I prefer to accept, and I’m glad to see that others have formulated the same interpretation. The film gives us enough evidence to make either possible, though I think the weight of the evidence is on the “Bruce dies” ending. It’s basically down to science.

There’s this awesome website called Nukemap. You can find a location and drop a nuclear bomb on it. Pick your yield, and see what the damage zones would be. For instance, this is a 340-kiloton detonation on my office building.

According to Bane, the nuclear device in The Dark Knight Rises had a 4-megaton yield. Bruce flew the Bat, with the device in tow, to a safe distance from Gotham City.

Using Nukemap, we can see that Bruce would have had to fly it about 13 miles away from land. Yes, the film says the blast radius was six miles, but a 4-megaton yield would have wider effects. The fireball from the explosion would be a half-mile in diameter, lethal doses of radiation would extend out to 2 1/2 miles, the air blast radius (high air pressure that can destroy buildings and kill) would extend out to seven miles, and the thermal blast radius (air hot enough to cause third-degree burns) would be out to almost thirteen miles.

If Gotham City were New York, he would have had to fly to a point about fifteen miles south of Long Beach, Long Island. Or if you assume that Gotham City is roughly where Atlantic City is, then the detonation was roughly fifteen miles off the coast.

Bruce had roughly a minute and a half to get the device that far from the city. (Selina kissing Bruce was nice, but it wasted precious seconds. Bruce telling Gordon who he was was a lovely moment, but again, it wasted precious seconds.) The Bat strained under the weight of the load — it seemed like it couldn’t reach a decent height — so could its engines be pushed hard enough to make the minimum safe distance? Obviously, it did, and we saw a mushroom cloud form.

The mushroom cloud is important. It means that the detonation occurred in the air close to the ground. It was not detonated below the ocean’s surface as that would not produce a mushroom cloud. Ironically, an underwater detonation would have been better — Bruce wouldn’t have had to fly as far out to sea as the water would absorb much of the energy, and Bruce could have continued in the Bat to flee the explosion after cutting the tow line. There would have been no mushroom cloud, and Gotham would have had a nice hurricane-esque storm surge.

The air burst is a point in favor of an unmanned Bat carrying the device to its final destination (since the autopilot probably wouldn’t have cut the tow line), and then that raises the question of when Bruce bailed. If Nolan played fair with his narrative, then Bruce didn’t survive — he bailed from the Bat with less than five seconds on the timer. (We see Bruce in the Bat’s cockpit having a moment of serenity, followed by the timer showing five.) He would have bailed over open water. He would have hit the water with some speed (in addition to his downward velocity, he also has the Bat’s forward velocity which was not insignificant — it had to cover at least 15 miles in about 90 seconds). He would have been weighted down by the Batsuit. He had been stabbed in side. If he survived the fall, he was in open ocean at least 13 miles from shore. He would have been very close to Ground Zero when he began his Olympic-scale swim, and if he survived the fireball he would have absorbed enough radiation to kill him.

If Nolan didn’t play fair, then Bruce bailed out much closer to Gotham — say, once the Bat cleared the bridges or the point of the main island. But that means that the shot of the serene Bruce in the Bat occurs earlier than we see it in the film — and possibly even earlier than some of the shots that come before it. This would be a moment of unreliable narration in a film series that, to that point, hadn’t relied on unreliable narration. The characters believed things that weren’t true (and there are several examples of that in this film, including a third-act reveal that I knew was coming but still surprised me), but the films themselves have played their narrative cards true.

That said, I’m still agnostic on the ending. People have pointed to other evidence, like the missing pearls, the autopilot patch, and the repaired Bat-signal, as signs that the final scene was not a fantasy of Alfred’s, and I admit that the evidence is compelling. But none of it is convincing, not even the science evidence that points to the “Bruce dies” ending.

I was satisfied with the final ending, though I think it’s ambiguous, because it marked a definitive conclusion to Bruce Wayne’s story as Batman. One way or the other, Bruce Wayne sacrificed his life — either his physical life or the life he had lead — to save Gotham City. He gave the city everything he had. That, I think, was the important thing to take away from the ending.

All in all, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises greatly. I enjoyed the arc of the film — Bruce Wayne’s arrogance leads him into an ill-considered and ill-prepared attack on Bane that leaves him broken, which forces him to learn how to be Batman once more, leading to the final confrontation where he overcomes his enemies and his own demons. I think, in years to come, we’ll look at the three Christopher Nolan Batman films as one single 8-hour film. All stories come to an end, and The Dark Knight Rises was a fine ending to Christopher Nolan’s Batman story.