Sunday, August 30, 2015

Batman vs. Tiger Vs. Batgirl vs. Tiger

The latest issue of Batgirl featured a fight scene in which Batgirl Barbara Gordon fought a tiger hand-to-hand and, as I noted the other day, it didn't feel quite right to me, even allowing for the fact that the scene took place in a superhero comic book.

What bothered me about it the most was the fact that Barbara Gordon is pretty small. I don't know how tall she is or how much she weighs, but artist Babs Tarr and others generally draw her as small-ish; she's certainly under six-feet-tall, and I would guess she weighed somewhere between 100-135 pounds. Tigers, on the other hand, are really fucking big, and really fucking strong. The writers don't give us the stats on this particular tiger, but tigers can weigh anywhere from 200-600 pounds, and Tarr draws this one as obviously bigger than Babs.

Now, that doesn't mean Batgirl couldn't take a tiger in a fight, of course, but I was thoroughly unconvinced by the way in which she defeated the tiger. She goes a round with it using pure brute strength (not terribly convincing), and then tricks it into a locked room (convincing).

Perhaps the creators of the issue were trying to spend as little time as possible on the fight, or perhaps their was miscommunication between writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and Tarr in terms of fight choreography. But here, again, is how that fight went down.

A tiger is loose in an office building after dark, stalks an computer programmer, and then pounces at its fleeing victim. Batgirl tackles it mid-leap (see above). This is the very next page:
It looks like Batgirl grabs the tiger out of the air, keeps her balance while landing and supporting its considerable weight, holds it while she gets into proper position and then throws it. Or, in other words, Batgirl catches a leaping tiger out of the air and tosses it aside. It's not like Barbara Gordon is Sheena.

The sequence might be meant to be read as Batgirl intercepting the tiger and knocking it off balance, shifting her position mid-air at incredible speed to get under it, and then using the tiger's own weight and momentum to throw it, using some kind of super-fast gymnastic judo move. That's not precisely how it's drawn, though. It looks more like she just girl-handled a tiger.

As for the rest of the fight, after it bats Batgirl away and resumes stalking it's prey, she yells "Hey, Frosty Flakes!" ("Frosty Flakes" being the Earth-0 equivalent of Earth-33's Frosted Flakes), and when the tiger rushes at her, she flips over it and it charges into an empty conference room, which Batgirl proceeds to lock it in.

I think a large part of the reason the scene bugged me was I so vividly recalled a scene in which another Bat-person fought another tiger, and I recall it being much more difficult for that Bat-person, despite his being bigger, stronger and a more experienced fighter of jungle-cats. I am referring, of course, to Batman, and this comparison gives me a good excuse to write at some length about 1990's Detective Comics #612 by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and Steve Mitchell (with Adrienne Roy coloring and Todd Klein lettering), one of my favorite comics from one of my favorite runs by one of my favorite creative teams.

It's a very dense–one could even argue too dense–story in which Grant riffs on cats in a wide array of ways for 22 pages, the length of the entire, one-issue story. Batman thwarts some purse snatchers in front of an Alice's Adventures In Wonderland-inspired statue in Robinson Park (note the Cheshire Cat), and then finds a mangled and partially-eaten body in the bushes. Apparently, a giant cat is on the loose.

It is a 600-pound Siberian tiger named Rasputin, a pet of Thomas Blake, aka Catman, that has escaped from his estate. Catman was, in 1990, a rather obscure Batman villain that Grant apparently took a liking to. This is the first of at least three Catman stories Grant wrote (including "The Misfits" in Shadow of The Bat and "The Secret of the Universe" in a three-part Shadow of The Bat/Catwoman crossover). Breyfogle gave the character a striking costume design that I liked and like a whole lot; it's my favorite of all his costumes, although it would be greatly altered when writer Gail Simone started using the character as a regular in her Secret Six comics, at which point the character reached probably his highest Q-rating in the DC Universe.

Anyway, there's a tiger loose in Gotham City, Catman is looking for it, Catwoman is being accused of the mauling by a sensationalistic media, a pair of kids are driving around town in a van marked "Shrodinger Delivery" capturing alley cats in butterfly nets to sell to a lab for ten bucks a cat (while exchanging cat trivia in the course of their conversation) and Rasputin's next victim is, of course, a cat burglar. The attack takes place–where else?–but the Hottin Roofing Company.

Batman arrives on the scene as the cat is dragging the burglar's unconscious body away, and he interrupts it by swinging into its midsection (that's the panel at the top of the post, in which Breyfogle draws the force of the kick shattering the panel; not that, despite how powerful Batman and his kick look in that panel, the tiger looks merely irritated, and is only moved a few inches by the blow).

Upon discovering that the crook is already dead, Batman dodges the tiger using his rope, planning to avoid its claws while working up enough momentum to try kicking it again, when Rasputin's master Catman arrives, slicing the Bat-rope with a Catarang and knocking Batman out cold.

When he awakes, he finds himself forced into a fight against Rasputin.

Good thing this fight was taking place in 1990, instead of today; otherwise, Batman wouldn't have a TV aerial to use as leverage and/or a weapon!

While Batman and Rasputin are fighting, Catwoman arrives on the scene, and notices Catwoman. "I might have known if there was trouble, that chump would be involved," she thinks, and then takes Catman out of the fight without saying a word to anyone.

Batman realizes he can't fend off a tiger for much longer, as he's torn up, dripping blood and ready to drop while the cat is unfazed, so he decides on daring, drastic, awesome action:

He doesn't simply try to break it the way a cowboy might a mustang, though; instead, he uses the Bat-rope to try and choke it into unconsciousness:
I don't suppose it will surprise you to learn that Batman manages to successfully do so, and does not, in fact, end up being killed and eaten by a tiger in 'TEC # 612. The tiger, likewise, survives, and is left tied-up for the police. Catman landed atop the van collecting alley cats, Catwoman managed to clear her name in the media and they all lived happily ever after.

Of the two Gotham City tiger fights that I can think of at the moment, the one in 'TEC is by far my favorite, and the more realistic of the two, at least in terms of depicting how hard it is for people to fight tigers (Batman riding a tiger, even if only for a panel or two, probably doesn't seem all that "realistic" to many readers though, huh?).

Which isn't to say that issue of Batgirl was a bad one, or to impugn the abilities of Tarr (one of my favorite artists currently drawing for DC Comics at the moment), or writers Fletcher and Stewart. It's just one poorer-than-it-should-have-been (I would have just had Batgirl shoulder or kick the pouncing tiger down, and then skip ahead to the luring/flipping/trapping sequence). And holding almost any Batman artist to Breyfogle's standard when it comes to drawing action scenes almost seems unfair. He's one of, if not the, best artists to ever draw Batman in action, as the panels above should make fairly clear (even if the pages they're printed on are now yellowed).


SallyP said...

I can believe Batman versus a tiger a whole lot more than Batgirl.

Justin Metzger said...

Your explanation of Bat-girl's judo shift seems accurate and less hokey than Bats sleeper garroting of a tiger. I mean if you want to not believe something disbelieve that Bats can ride a tiger for 6 to 8 panels (I'm counting the Catwoman headshot in the 8). Judo being well known to allow smaller opponents the ability to throw larger opponents around I find the modern tiger fight more realistic. Also Breyfogle's Bat feet are awfully slender and pointy and the ankles are pretty slim. I guess it's the 90's and those things were in fashion.