When The Old DC Dies, Robin Might Smile

Posted: July 1, 2011 in comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , , , ,

So apparently there are enough people upset about the upcoming DC relaunch that they are actually going to stage a protest at this year’s San Diego Comic Con.

Now, sure, this can be viewed as stupid.

For one thing, they’re boycotting something they still don’t really know anything about, on the grounds that it’s throwing out everything they loved about the “old” DC Comics, even though since the initial (somewhat jarring announcements), it sounds a lot more like it’s simply dressing up and streamlining existing properties, with a few continuity tweaks here and there.

In other words, this is Zero Hour, not Crisis on Infinite Earths.

For another, the protest is ostensibly to get DC to see the fans’ passion, realize its folly and abandon its broad, sweeping publishing paradigm that’s been in the works for about a year at least, and, umm. A protest is a bold gesture, sure, but a boycott – the “voting with your wallet” notion that all the big publishers insist is what they really listen to (and the buying public has shown, time and time again, that they will buy these event books they so often decry) – is really the way to go here.

But at the heart of this protest is the central idea, “We were happy with how things were, and we don’t want you to change it.”

And…this is really the part that I can’t quite grasp. Because despite our periodic needling about the relaunch (mostly on aesthetic grounds), I think I’m actually on board with changing things up. The reason for this is one name long:

Robin. 

Well, actually, it’s two: Tim Drake.

You guys have to understand: I am a BIG fan of Tim Drake. He became Robin around the same time I was really getting into superhero comics, and was close to my age when he put on the costume.

And because Tim was the first Robin who wasn’t a laughing, leaping, bright-red target, but rather a Boy Detective, it was the first time I felt like the character’s original intention (“It’s like you, young reader, get to hang out with Batman!”) made sense. As a kid sidekick, Robin’s an outdated, dumb idea. But as Batman’s Apprentice…well, what pre-teen wouldn’t like to be in Tim Drake’s shoes?

(Especially since Batman had by this point become so grim and moody that it would be hard for any young reader to imagine being him.)

Through the years, the idea of Tim as a detective and strategist first, and a fighter second, remained. On his own (and later as Teen Titans field captain), Tim always planned his moves ahead of time to ideally avoid a direct confrontation, and both his more protective costume and weapon of choice – a bo-staff – set this Robin apart from bounding, bare-legged acrobat Dick Grayson or impulsive fighter Jason Todd.

And then, starting with Identity Crisis (not that the plagues, earthquakes, and lawless wastelands of the Batman books of the time were any picnic, but this was the clear turning point), the DC Universe became astonishingly bleak – and as a tossed-off consequence, crippled Tim Drake.

In Identity Crisis, Tim Drake’s dad was murdered by, for no good reason, Captain Fricking Boomerang, as part of a (ludicrously convoluted) plot by the Atom’s ex-wife to get superheroes worried about their loved ones.

So there’s the first blow: Tim Drake is orphaned outside of his own book, the result of characters and plots that have nothing to do with him.

Skip ahead to Infinite Crisis, where the demented alternate-universe Superboy Prime seeks to destroy/recreate reality because he thinks it’s gotten too grim (oh, Geoff Johns version of irony…). In the fracas, the current Superboy – Robin’s best friend – dies. Again, Robin had nothing to do with this book. But he loses his best friend all the same.

Oh, and then Bart Allen – up until recently, Kid Flash, Robin’s OTHER best friend – momentarily loses his powers and is kicked to death (seriously, KICKED TO DEATH) by Flash’s Rogues Gallery.

Fast-forward a little bit to Final Crisis, where Batman – who had recently adopted Tim as his own son – is seemingly killed. In the aftermath, Dick Grayson takes up the mantle, and appoints, the recently introduced psychotic bastard son of Bruce Wayne (long story) as his new Robin.

Now on his own as Red Robin, Tim goes around the world, looking for clues that Bruce Wayne is still alive.

I am not criticizing this part – in fact, Red Robin is a pretty cool book, and Tim is still recognizably Tim, albeit one in a serious funk, and coping with the death of FOUR of the people closest to him.

But in one issue, there’s this moment, and I think it encapsulates for me why I’d like the DC Universe as a whole to recreate itself a little:

Tim Drake heard the Anti-Life Equation, and it more or less matched what he’d already been thinking.

THE ANTI-LIFE EQUATION. THE THING THAT MAKES YOU A HOLLOW SHELL OF A HUMAN AND A SLAVE TO DARKSEID. Which Grant Morrison explained as:

“loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side”

This equation, apparently, is an accurate representation of the Boy Wonder’s mood for the last couple of years.

(And by the way, this is a card-carrying super-hero who’s currently walking around the DC Universe with this attitude. I would imagine a lot of psychologically-unequipped civilians heard the equation, too, begging the question: Just how high is the suicide rate in the DC Universe?)

Full disclosure, since reading this collection, everyone but Tim’s dad has returned from the dead, so presumably Tim’s in a better mood now.

But my point remains: If I had to nail down just why I think this protest is a bad idea, I think it’s that the DC Comics of the last decade crushed Robin’s spirit to the point that Anti-Life didn’t seem all that bad.

Who the hell would want DC Comics to continue along that path?

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Comments
  1. Reading Red Robin just makes me hungry.

  2. Erin says:

    “In other words, this is Zero Hour, not Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

    Uh…

    JSA: Out (presumably)
    Storm Watch: In
    Superman: World’s first superhero, unmarried.
    Wonder Woman: Dating Superman.
    Martian Manhunter: Not a founding member of the JLA (he’s on Storm Watch).
    Grifter: Shooting aliens.
    Barbara Gordon: Healed.
    John Constantine: A superhero. On a team of superheroes.

    And so, and so forth.

    I’m actually interested in where this goes, and (aside from a few baffling choices) I’m optimistic. But, come one: the changes here are at least as big as Crisis. Maybe bigger.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    Folding the Wildstorm stuff in is not a big deal – to my mind it’s a lot more like how they brought in the Milestone characters, the Red Circle guys. Also, Grifter has always been shooting at aliens.

    The Constantine reintroduction – that’s a lot more like how Marvel realized you can have a Punisher and a PunisherMAX and nobody will get confused. Again, not a major shift, just DC realizing, “Oh yeah, we can still use this guy.”

    The rest, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.

    My point is that this doesn’t seem like an entirely new continuity to handle with the attendant Hawkman-type headaches (Crisis), but rather a soft reboot that keeps MOST of the stuff while tweaking/rebranding some other stuff (Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, whenever a writer feels like rewriting what the last guy did, etc.).

    But if it makes you feel better, fine, call it like Crisis, it really doesn’t affect what I was saying.

  4. braak says:

    I think Grifter technically was always shooting aliens. The whole premise of Wild C.A.T.s was shooting aliens.

  5. Alex says:

    I could care less about the reinvention of the characters, as that happens all the time and lasts for a couple years and then they reinvent again. How many Legion of Super-Heroes variations have we seen in the last 5 years?

    (One exception: I am livid over the apparent plan to revert Oracle back to being Batgirl. Disabled action groups have missed the boat on that one.)

    No, what I’m upset about – and would be joining that protest in S.D. if I could – is the decision to end Action Comics and Detective Comics, turning their backs on history. It’s more than just having the ability to eventually own issue #1000 of Action and #900 of Detective. They’re symbolic of the longevity of comic books – and the survival of print, period. The new Action #1 and Detective #1 are being introduced in a stupidly short-sighted manner (someone on a DC forum claimed it was so everyone could say they have #1 of those titles, never mind that renders them worthless and no one cares about #2 or #3.

    Put another way: the versions of Action and Detective ending in August are like M*A*S*H. The pale imitations following up from September are like After-M*A*S*H and will probably last about as long.

    By pulling this stunt, DC has offended me. And I’m the one with the money. A lot of money to spend. Up till now I’ve spent a fair chunk on DC (indeed, almost exclusively except for a couple of rogue titles elsewhere). Starting in September I spend my money elsewhere. I’m not going to cry and fly into rage and lose sleep. I’ll raise a glass to Action and Detective Comics, enjoy fond memories of DC, and move on. The thing is, if there are too many out there like me – and I have every indication that I am far from alone on this, if not because of the renumbering, but because of the elimination of “insert name of favorite character or title here?” – DC’s gonna take a hit.

    I once made a prediction that DC as a going concern in comics will disappear within 2 years if Action or Detective Comics ever end. They are de facto ending next month. So let’s see if I’m right.

  6. braak says:

    I don’t know, man. I think there’s a lot of good reasons to not read a comic book, but I’m not sure I’d say that’s one of them.

  7. Jeff Holland says:

    @Alex Out of curiosity, how will you be spending your money?

    To be clear, Not mocking here. I’m just interested if you’ll be redirecting to Marvel, or digging into some indies, or funding some webcomics, or…what’s the plan, man?

    Y’knoooo know, If you give us money, we’ll make some comics for you. Good, fun, sexy comics. WE HAVE IDEAS.

    (We just don’t have artists.)

  8. […] If Seamus expresses interest in Robin, I’d start him off on Chuck Dixon’s Robin Year One, before having him deal with Death in the Family and Lonely Place of Dying (not that I wouldn’t pass these along, because Seamus needs to understand that Tim Drake is awesome). […]

  9. […] hoping to bring back in with this. It’s been years since I’ve picked up a DC book, for reasons I’ve outlined, but if at the end of this month there’s even a few books that make me think, “Yeah, […]

  10. […] DC at this point had become so mired in death and grimness that around this time last year, I was actually (cautiously) looking forward to the upcoming reboot/New 52 rebranding, in hopes that maybe I could get back onboard with a few titles here and […]

  11. […] If Seamus expresses interest in Robin, I’d start him off on Chuck Dixon’s Robin Year One, before having him deal withDeath in the Family and Lonely Place of Dying (not that I wouldn’t pass these along, because Seamus needs to understand that Tim Drake is awesome). […]

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