Batstravaganza! – Batman Canon in the New 52

Kicking off our week-long Batstravaganza! is Trey Gwinn, a geek who lives in Nashville, the coolest town in the South, and is wrapping up his Masters in History from the University of Louisville.  He’s one of the founders of Fully Integrated Geeks and it’s flagship podcast, The FIGcast.  Head over to FullyIntegratedGeeks.com to check out the show, see what he thinks about the week’s new comics, and all sorts of other crazy geekiness.

In September 2011, DC Comics rebooted their entire line of comics, starting every book they publish over with at #1.  Dubbed “The New 52” by the company, the goal was to make the arcane world of superhero comics more palatable for readers with little to no experience with sequential art.  From day one of the New 52 longtime observers knew that there would be at least two warring factions within DC Comics: those that would hold onto the new, simplified continuity and those that would immediately begin to clamor for the status quo.

Despite all of the talk of streamlined continuity and iconic versions of characters, the company tried desperately to walk the thin line between a complete reboot and a nuanced revision.  Less than a year into the enterprise, the Batman books remain the chief battlegrounds for the tension between newly constructed continuity and the desire for the continuance of the pre-New 52 canon.  The absurdity of this balancing act can be seen in the laundry list of events that are still considered canonical in Bruce Wayne’s life.  In just five years of operation as the Caped Crusader, Batman has already had four different Robins, had his back broken by Bane, and was even dead for a period of time.

12 Angry (Bat)Men

With twelve different writers working on as many as a dozen different series with Batman connections, the tension of the New 52 canon versus the status quo is likely to continue indefinitely. Whatever the legacy of DC’s relaunch gamble, there can be little doubt that Batman’s treatment will play a large role in the outcome. For better or for worse, the Batman books will remain the front-lines of the New 52’s continuity tensions for the foreseeable future.

Going into the New 52, only the Batman and Green Lantern books were spared drastic overhauls.  The logic behind this is fairly self-evident.  Green Lantern, controlled by DC’s chief creative officer Geoff Johns, had never been more popular. The company had spent nearly half a decade riding the rebirth of the Green Lanterns and saw no reason to mess with that recent success. It would be easy to make a similar argument for treating Batman with a light hand.

After all, Bruce Wayne and the Bat-family have driven the company for years.

Thanks to successful insertion into popular culture via movies and television, Batman is one of the most marketable characters in comic books.  In 2012 alone, Bruce Wayne will feature prominently in four solo comic books, one major original graphic novel, multiple video games, and a highly anticipated Hollywood blockbuster.

On top of that, the publishers at DC also realize that too many of their most iconic stories starred Batman.  The Killing Joke, Death in the Family, Knight Fall, and R.I.P.,were all too essential to wipe out entirely.

However, Batman’s canon would take quite a bit of manipulation to fit within the brand new time constraints.  The sheer volume of Batman’s history makes the enterprise problematic. As early as issue #1 of Batman, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, The Dark Knight, and other Bat-related books, the five year time-line was beginning to look overloaded.

There are many places where the Bat-time-line becomes troubling, but the most blatant takes the form of Damien Wayne.  Along with the issue of the aforementioned four Robins in five years, Damien (the current Robin) poses his own unique set of problems.  Created by Grant Morrison (with an assist from Mike Barr), Damien is the child of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul, and supposed to be near the age of ten.  Multiple times in the New 52, it has been implied that none of these things have actually changed.  Of course, this would mean that Bruce and Talia did the horizontal Bat-tusi five years before he became Batman.  While that’s certainly not impossible from a narrative standpoint, it has yet to be addressed.

The various other Bat-family books and characters might have slight inconsistencies, but the majority of the most troubling clashes between previous and new continuity come from Batman’s time-line.

And Then…

With the recent debut of Batman Inc., comic book auteur Grant Morrison has reentered the already absurd Bat-history, leaving narrative destruction in his wake.  By employing the same “everything that has ever happened in the comics still happened to Batman in some way” technique that he used during his first Batman run from 2006 to 2011, Morrison has used old continuity to bring this run into the New 52. In just two issues, Morrison has shifted the front lines of the canon struggle to Batman Inc.

In issue two, Morrison recounts formerly in-canon details of Wayne and Talia’s love/hate relationship, bringing them into the New 52’s continuity. Perhaps the most difficult to reconcile inclusion was a scene that implied Damien was conceived after Batman had begun his career as a crimefighter.  This, of course, contradicts the currently canonical five year time-line.  If the pattern established during Morrison’s pre-New 52 run holds true, readers are in for even more of the same.

You may wonder why any of this matters at all. Confusion and consternation are always a danger with any comic book canon.

Even before the relaunch, it was hard to believe one man could fit everything Batman had done into a lifetime, much less a decade.  Also, these are just stories—modern day myths—why does it matter if they can fit into the time constraints imposed by editorial bigwigs? Had DC not placed much of the New 52’s emphasis on continuity, it would not matter.

Those in charge at DC claimed that the main idea behind re-launching their entire line of comics was to simplify the DC Universe for new readers.  Whether a streamlined continuity is actually important to new readers is debatable, but by making it an important plank in their platform, they placed a spotlight directly on the issue.

While Morrison may be more adept at this mixing of old continuity and new, the reality is that decades of back-story will be too enticing for other writers to ignore.   As more and more is re-established from Batman’s past, the new continuity will almost certainly return to a state that could be considered over-saturated.   It will be interesting to watch the Bat-books, specifically Batman Inc, as the New 52 endeavor continues.

Will writers like Morrison continue to mine the past for content or will editorial find a way to keep Batman slightly more streamlined? Only time will tell.

The reality is that as Batman goes, so goes the DC Universe.  Ever the barometer for the company’s current mood, the way the company treats Bruce Wayne will, without a doubt, be reflected in their overall policy.  As tension is placed on the newly created continuity constraints, the pressure will remain squarely on the streets of Gotham.

What do you think about the New 52 and Batman? Sound off in the comments! And don’t forget to check out Trey Gwinn at www.FullyIntegratedGeeks.com for more geektastic goodness.

Comments

  1. I’ve only kept up with the new 52 Justice League line (I’m waiting for the paperback trades for Batman), so I had no idea that the solo Batman line had so many issues (pun intended).

    He’s nicely represented in Justice League, though. Bats likes his alone time and gets pretty ticked when Green Lantern comes to help. Still, he reluctantly joins in with the rest of the group for the greater good.

    But now I’m definitely interested in picking up the Batman line!

    • I tend to only do ebooks for comics these days, or full trades. I expect to pick up the Nightwing, JLA, and Batman New 52 trades eventually–probably when they go on sale.

      Of course, I’ve said the same thing about the Ultimate Spider-man comics since I stopped buying those monthly. And I haven’t read anything since Carnage was introduced there. What was that…6 years ago? 😛

  2. I think they’ve have really fudged things up. I used to read DC all the time but now I have no clue what’s going on in regards to the timeline. How this is going to make it easier for kids to jump into reading their comics I don’t know. That court of owls story was fantastic though.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Getting a Batman figure in the Action League line isn’t anything new. But instead of just packing the same one over and over again, Mattel provides a new paint job that is comic accurate! With the New 52 debuting almost exactly a year ago, Batman is wearing his Jim Lee redesign. […]