September 10th, 2011

Two-Face... FOREVER!!!

An overview of DC's new primer, BATMAN 101, which turns into rants about villains and NuFandom(?)

In conjunction with the reboot's attempt to bring in new readers, DC has released a free BATMAN 101 primer through their digital comics store, which you can read right now.





It's a pretty great idea, assuming it falls into the hands (or rather, the browsers) of those who need it. I'm not sure how to make that happen, and I'm pessimistic about how much DC wants new readers as opposed to just recapturing old ones, but it's a great idea nonetheless.

In addition to previews of all the "New 52" Bat-Books coming out this month--including the lettered Snyder/Capullo pages of Batman beating up The Incredible Melting Two-Face and Button-Eyed-Scarecrow--Batman 101 also features a handy-dandy checklist of essential issues to check out via their digital store. Again, a great idea, especially for all of those who can't go to a comic shop for one reason or another, and don't want the expense of plunking down cash for whole graphic novels.

So of their available digital wares, what does DC recommend to new readers?





... Well, I'm sure we all have complaints and nitpicks, as that always happens with lists like this. God knows I dislike Loeb's trilogy of works (and why is Dark Victory placed above The Long Halloween in order? Also, why are the Hush books BEFORE No Man's Land? ARGH, THIS OFFENDS ME AS A COMICS MIX-TAPE ORGANIZER), and I outright hate that those books set the standard for what Batman is in the minds of far too many readers of the past fifteen years. But y'know, I can't deny that they do work as gateways for other stories, as long as one knows where to go next, as this list helps provide. Personally, I think Batman: The Animated Series is a much greater gateway, but then, there's no guarantee that anybody watching that will decide to pick up a comic. After all, there was no great new influx of Batman readers after The Dark Knight, was there? So if Loeb's books get people into the greater Batman comics, well, I guess that's the lesser of two weevils even for nit-picky fans like me.

But I am kind of saddened by the fact that there's no section for the villains. Even when peripheral titles like Gotham Central and Batman Beyond get included, there's not a single book in that list dedicated to the villains or even just ONE rogue, much less a whole category.

Eh, it's not that big a deal on its own, but it is just yet another reminder of something I've been noticing in regards to how the villains are treated in comics. Full disclosure: for all my "COMICS COMICS ALWAYS COMICS" talk, I wouldn't be the Batman fan I am today if I hadn't grown up watching the Adam West show, the two Tim Burton movies, and especially Batman: The Animated Series. In all of those, Batman was the straight man, while the villains were the stars. They could be larger-than-life and they could be painfully human, often times simultaneously. When I got into the comics, it was with a love for the villains already intact, which made it all the more frustrated to often read them as little more than antagonists to get kicked in the face (see also: that opening preview of Snyder/Capullo's Batman #1), just colorful background threats and monsters rather than characters in their own right.

That's not to say there AREN'T great comics featuring the villains, but even those don't get held up alongside stories on this list. If you ask me what I'd want included, I can off-hand think of Secret Origins Special, Going Sane, Penguin Triumphant, obviously Eye of the Beholder, and Chuck Dixon's Riddler origin. That's just off the top of my head, but feel free to help hash it out in the comments.

I feel like I'm expecting too much, but I really can't be the only one who loves Batman for the villains first and foremost, can I? I don't just seem them as "twisted mirrors of Batman" or a revolving circus of weirdos or the Usual Gang of Crazies or living reflections of Gotham's own dark underbelly. I mean, I see them as all those things, but grounded in their characters and their own humanity, however twisted they might be.

And really, the villains don't get stories included in this checklist, but shit like Batman: The Cult does? Fucking WHY? That's one of the ugliest Batman comics ever created, an encapsulation of the very WORST that Frank Miller brought to Batman comics (really, the entire thing is a clear attempt to do The Dark Knight Returns in modern day), with absolutely no gateway value to any other stories. If you want a dark story that shows Batman at his weakest, why not go for Denny O'Neil's Batman: Venom, which works as a lead-in to Knightfall while also being a damn good story on its own? Shit, if you're so hung up on including a dated 80's-tacular Jim Starlin Batman story, you'd be better served including the bestselling Ten Nights of the Beast, which is both genuinely thrilling and gloriously ridiculous.

Also, is there any reason to include Batman/Catwoman: Trail of the Gun? It's awful. I mean, it's really, really awful. It's got some of Ethan Van Scriver's best artwork, but as a story, god, it's such shit! If it doesn't lead into any other comics and it isn't any good, why the hell is it there? I guess it just must be one of the ones available for sale on DC's digital store, unlike most (any?) of the villains stories I mentioned above. I look forward to the day DC digitally converts their ENTIRE back issue library for purchase online, so everyone will have access to even the most obscure little titles for a decent price.

For all my complaints, I do hope that we see an influx of new comics readers. While I side with those who are incredibly critical of DC's new dickhole-for-justice take on Superman, I feel a bit of Dent-worthy internal conflict at the news that some kids out there are actually genuinely excited to read comics about Superman. There's always the chance that the new fans won't be the kind of fans I like--and it's a very real risk, as I feel increasingly adrift from a fandom which I recognize less and less--I'd rather take that risk than see a world where people love Batman from movies and TV, but have never read a comic book. Shit, we're already living in that world right now. So hopefully this primer reaches those fans, alongside the fan-curious.

I'd like to end with my favorite part of Batman 101, which can be read more clearly in the primer itself. But if you don't mind a bit of squinting, here's my screencap of the Batman character venn diagram:





It should surprise no one that I love how Harvey is plunked right there in the center, although I'm not sure he really fits the "sane" bubble, and might instead fit better as the sole occupant of the empty "Good/Evil/Insane" section. Still, considering that Harvey's mostly depicted as being pure villain with lip-service being paid to his good/evil duality, I like seeing him where he belongs, nestled in the gray area of alignment.