Monday, April 18, 2016

The one passage in Luke Skywalker Can't Read that I did not care for at all

Becky Cloonan makes history in 2012's Batman #12, by being the first woman to draw an issue of Batman. The character was around 73 years at that point. 
I've been reading author Ryan Britt's Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geek Truths (Plume; 2015), a fun, funny collection of essays addressing modern geekdom's greatest touchstones–Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of The Rings, Doctor Who, etc–from various, sometimes rather quirky angles. Like how he learned the birds and the bees from Barbarella and dinosaurs, how discovering the modern Doctor Who helped him overcome depression and whether or not anyone in the Star Wars universe is functionally literate or not (The title answers that question, actually).

I've been greatly enjoying the book, and I assume it must be a pretty good, for the simple reason that many of his subjects are ones I know very little about (Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter) or have zero first-hand experience with (Star Trek, Doctor Who), and I've still found the pieces all engaging and interesting.

The penultimate essay involves superheroes, something I do know quite a bit about and have quite a bit of first-hand experience with, however. It's entitled "Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes: Rise of the Relevant Superheroes," and it is a discussion of the current boom in comic book superhero films and various complaints about them, from fans and critics.

It's a fine essay, but I was actively irritated by this passage:
The idea that the movie isn't as good as the source material because it contradicts the author's vision is another criticism of comic book movies. We might claim Batman was "created" by Bob Kane, but most people will tell you he was co-created by Bill Finger. So, are we seeing a vision of Batman that is true to Kane's or Finger's original conception of him when we go see the latest Batman movie? Absolutely not. From Alan Moore to Frank Miller to Jeph Loeb to Gail Simone to Marguerite Bennet to artists like Neal Adams, Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Lee Bermejo, Becky Cloonan, and countless more, the image and words of Batman aren't the purview of any one sacred person. And this is true for every single other superhero, too.
The point he makes there is correct (even if there are examples that can be found to make the last sentence incorrect; I would have suggested he changed it to "for almost every other superhero"), but it's the specificity of the character and the creators that bugged me.

Because if you've seen "the latest Batman movie"–which, at the time of his writing, was The Dark Knight Rises and not Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice–and are familiar with Batman comics, than you know that list of creators is complete bullshit.

But before we pick it apart, I should note that this is just a portion of a single paragraph in an essay, and not even the focus of the essay. So maybe I should also quote what follows, so as to at least contextualize the passage.

Britt goes on:
Comics have always had several different narrative voices behind the scenes, which means that by the time the stories get translated into big, watchable movies, all of those narrative voices are condensed down into a single composite story. Because there's probably a lot of good stuff left over, who wouldn't want to make another movie?
Now let's look at that list of Batman creators, shall we?

First, the writers. Frank Miller's Batman output is far from the greatest in terms of volume (The Dark Knight Returns, "Batman: Year One," Spawn/Batman, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder), but he remains probably the single most influential Batman writer (and that just for "Year One" and The Dark Knight Returns). Fair enough. Jeph Loeb has also written a lot of very popular Batman comics (Three Legends of The Dark Knight Halloween specials, Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, "Hush").

Alan Moore's a little tricky, as he really only wrote a single Batman comic of any note, although, because he's Alan Moore, it is a perennial-seller and a touchstone for a lot of readers: Batman: The Killing Joke (That it set the stage for the transformation from Batgirl Barbara Gordon into Oracle, and that it was one of the ultimate Joker stories, certainly helped keep it relevant for a long time, too).

The other two on the list, Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennet are both spectacularly poor choices, and I'm baffled as to why they were included at all. I know Simone has written the character Batman in the pages of her long run on Birds of Prey and in at least one Justice League comic, and it's certainly possible he popped up in the pages of her relatively short run on the current volume of Batgirl, but I honestly don't remember her ever writing a Batman story for any of the many Batman titles, or doing a miniseries or original graphic novel. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Bennett is a relative newcomer to comics, and while she has written Batman–co-writing 2013's Batman Annual #2 with Scott Snyder–he's not someone I would even think of including as an influential Batman writer. she's there instead of Denny O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Grant Morrison and Snyder, for example. And remember that Dark Knight Rises was a 2012 film; she didn't write any Batman until well after the release of the last Batman movie.

It's possible–all right, probable–that Britt includes the pair because they are both female writers (Something that seems like a pretty good possibility, seeing as he includes the only woman to ever draw Batman when listing artists, even though she drew just a handful of pages, which were likewise published after the last Batman film).

I think that's too bad. Firstly because it gives a mistaken impression to his readers that the Batman comics aren't as inexplicably dominated by male writers and artists as they actually are. And, secondly, there are better choices, or at least a better choice: Devin K. Grayson, who wrote parts of "No Man's Land" before eventually earning her own Batman title, the 2000-launched Batman: Gotham Knights , which she wrote for 32 issues. She also had substantial runs on Batman-adjacent titles Nightwing and Catwoman.

If the idea were to mention writers who influenced the The Dark Knight Rises, and/or the entire Christopher Nolan cycle of films, then that list looks even more questionable. If that were the point of the list, then you'd keep Miller, of course, as not only did his late-80s Batman comics influence just about everything to follow (and, along with Moore's writing, the entire direction of the superhero comics industry), but director Christopher Nolan and company drew plenty of inspiration from Miller's "Year One." Hell, maybe Loeb is an okay fit, too, as he did so much work within Miller's "Year One" milieu in his Long Halloween and Dark Victory comics.

But what about Chuck Dixon, who co-created Bane and wrote swathes of the "No Man's Land" arc that dominated the second half of Rises? Or Dixon's peers on the "No Man's Land" era of Bat-books, like Greg Rucka and the aforementioned Grayson? What about Denny O'Neil, who created Batman Begins heavy Ra's al Ghul and Rises player Talia? Or Len Wein, creator of Lucius Fox?

As for the artists he mentions, Neal Adams is largely credited with making Batman darker and more reaslitic, in addition to creating the first villain in the Nolan cycle–Ra's al Ghul. Alex Ross is kind of an outlier in that he's only really ever drawn a single Batman comic of any length, his 1999 collaboration with writer Paul Dini, Batman: War On Crime, but through his work on Kingdom Come and his paintings of Batman on covers, posters and merchandise, it's certainly easy to see how many could consdier him an influential Batman artist/

No questioning the inclusion of Sale, either, who drew all of the above-mentioned, Loeb-written comics save "Hush," and whose design for Two-Face in Long Halloween was taken almost directly for usage in 2008's The Dark Knight.

Jim Lee seems an odd choice, despite the continued popularity of "Hush" and the fact that the New 52 era of DC Comics was so beholden to his style.

Bermejo just boggles my mind, as his main Batman credits are Batman/Deathblow, the not-very-good 2008 original graphic novel The Joker and the almost-as-bad Batman-ized version of A Christmas Carol, 2012's Batman: Noel; the former featured a character that resembled The Dark Knight's Joker visually, but Bermejo was inspired by the film, not the other way around.

Cloonan has the dubious distinction of being the only woman to ever draw Batman, a fact that sounds shocking at first, and becomes depressing when one starts trying to find a single example to prove it wrong and comes up blank. Listing her there is like listing Dan DeCarlo or Steve Mannion; yeah, they technically drew a few pages of Batman comics, but so what?

Better inclusions would have been David Mazzucchelli (Miller's collaborator on "Year One"), Jerry Robinson (long-time Batman artist and creator of Dark Knight villain The Joker, as well as Alfred) and pretty much anyone who drew Batman for a reasonable length of time: Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino, Marshall Rogers, Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Greg Capullo and so on.

Aside from the names on those two lists, however, the rest of Britt's book is just fine.

1 comment: said...

I honestly was surprised that Cloonan was the first woman to draw Batman, especially after the better part of a century. I'd be very interested to know when the first female artist illustrated other A-listers, like Green Lantern, Captain America, etc.