Sunday Morning: Deconstructing Batman

The whole concept of “Elseworlds” is one heck of a brilliant workaround.

Part of the problem with comics is the problem of stasis. People like reading stories about the hero. So you can’t kill the hero. People like reading stories about where the hero fights the antagonist. So you can’t kill the antagonist. People like reading stories where the hero is still in high school. So you can’t have the hero graduate high school.

Sometimes the comics do some *MAJOR* shake-up. Like, Peter Parker and Mary Jane got married! That was *HUGE*. This allowed them to tell stories about being married and where Mary Jane knew that he was Spider-Man. Like, for another example, Spider-Man unmasked himself as part of the Civil War storyline back in the mid-oughts. Like, that was *HUGE*. Spider-Man! Unmasked! There was a really good issue where J. Jonah Jameson gives his opinion on that (dude felt stabbed in the back, he treated Parker like a son, etc.) and then there were some really good issues where they dealt with the fallout of Spider-Man’s secret identity being common knowledge… but they wrote themselves into a corner pretty hard.

So they had a storyline where Aunt May got shot and Peter Parker made a deal with Mephisto where Aunt May would live in exchange for Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage to have never happened. Instead of Deus Ex Machina, Infernus Ex Machina, I guess.

And so we returned to the original baseline. Stasis.

Well, Elseworlds allows for interesting spaces to be explored. Want Jor-El and Lara to say “hey, there’s enough room on this ship for us to go to Earth too!”? Done. Want the Green Lantern ring to pick Bruce Wayne instead of Hal Jordan? Here you go. Want the baby Kal-El to be found by Bruce and Martha Wayne instead of Jonathan and Martha Kent? Dude. That sounds awesome.

Anyway, this allows you to write an awesome story that would leave you written into a corner after a year or so but then say “hey, Elseworlds.” The main continuity can be the main continuity, the Elseworld can be the Elseworld. Stasis in one bucket, change in the other. (Though there is kind of the problem where there is an assumed essentialism for these characters. Kal-El somehow always manages to evolve into the person we know as Clark Kent… even when he’s raised by Thomas and Martha Wayne. So there’s stasis even in change.)

Well, in that vein, there was an *AWESOME* Batman story that came out this year and it’s finally been collected into TPB form. Batman: White Knight.

Here’s the basic conceit: Batman is the Bad Guy. Joker is the Good Guy. I mean, let’s face it, Batman goes around, destroying property, beating people without benefit of a trial, acting like a total outlaw… and he’s celebrated? We see a guy in a suit dressed up like a flying mouse and we see him beat people senseless and we feel *GOOD* about this? That guy oughta be locked up!

And so they explore what happens when Joker gets the help that he needs, gets cured, and finally is able to explain his side of the story to Gotham.

If you like the Elseworlds exploration, you need to get your hands on this book. (Though, technically, it’s not “Elseworlds” but “Black Label”. It amounts to the same thing. Stories that didn’t happen. But, dang, are you glad they got told.)

So… what are you reading and/or watching?

(Featured Image is “Joker” by Bart Everson. Used under a Creative Commons License.)


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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6 thoughts on “Sunday Morning: Deconstructing Batman

  1. Perhaps OT, but have you been following the DC shows on the CW? They just had a crossover “event” between Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl in the service of introducing a new character and series, Batwoman. Apparently they can’t actually do Batman for licensing/IP reasons but they can refer to him and the new series is set in Gotham. Anyway, the event was called Elseworlds so I don’t know how that fits into all this. Frankly, I enjoy the comic book shows but I find all the multiple universes and backstories confusing.

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  2. Marvel had their own version of Else-Worlds with their What If comic book. They never managed to utilize it as fully or effectively as DC did. DC writers were willing to get really weird with Elseworlds and do things like what if baby Superman landed in the Ukraine rather than Kansas. Marvel never really wanted to go all the way with their alternative histories and do what if Soviet scientists invented the super soldier serum and we got Vladimir Ivanovich, Comrade Russia, rather than Steve Rogers, Captain America. Or what if Peter Parker remained a glory hound rather than becoming the self-depreciating Spider Man we all love and know.

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    • The problem with classic What If? (WHICH I LOVE!) is that it was a monthly.

      There are a lot of really good What If? stories to tell. I’m not sure they benefit from being put on a timeline. You end up with “What if Conan fought Captain America?” or the like.

      They switched to one-shots back in 2005 and, personally, I think they benefitted from it.

      (And I think that we see arguments from other writers on the committee where they get to tell the story they wanted to tell instead of the story that editorial directed them to tell… which gives them a more interesting focus. In addition to telling the story of “what if Flash Thompson got bit by the radioactive spider?” (a classic Elseworlds kinda tale), they can also tell the story of “instead of making *THIS* decision in this big storyline, what if the protagonist made *THAT* decision?” Which Elseworlds doesn’t really do.)

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  3. Looking forward to reading the above comic, now that I won’t be worried whether I’m interrupting you in the middle of it…

    Hm, what have I been watching/reading/listening to?

    The biggest thing is probably that I spent all yesterday binging 11-ish hours of video of smart people talking about censorship and information control in connection with changes in information technology. While I would most recommend starting at the beginning like I did, I know most people aren’t going to find that sort of time available, so there are two alternate routes I would also recommend: a) check back in a month or so when all the highlight reels are up and the whole thing takes less than an hour, b) for this audience in particular, skip directly to the fifth video, Data about Data Suppression.

    I’ve also been reading a ton, mostly pretty books about animals that didn’t require a whole lot of thought, of which my favorite is no doubt Parisian Cats by Olivia Snaije. Highly recommend for any fellow cat lovers who are feeling wistful about Paris (as I frequently do this time of year).

    Continue to be locked in my epic struggle between how much I love Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee and how much I don’t want to be out of books in this series to read, and thus procrastinate reading more of it…. expect closure soon as it is break and my ability to avoid finishing things is weakened the closer I get to the end of them.

    Still feeling holidayish so still watching predictable and sweet holiday movies. The Holiday Calendar and The Santa Chronicles, both streaming on Netflix, managed to be utter fluff without making me feel TOO stupid for enjoying them. I watched a Santa documentary by Morgan Spurlock that was just as fluffy but had a bit more bite to it – maybe fries with vinegar instead of cotton candy – forget the name but it’s streaming on Amazon and features Mick Foley as one of its players. (Unlike the other two movies, this one is NOT suitable to watch around little kids, at least not for most kids – besides breaking k-fabe about Santa, one of the Santas featured is also a long-running Mr. Bear Texas, another is a swinger, and while the images skirt the line of my personal NSFW standard rather than racing gleefully over it, and nothing about the conversations is particularly titillating … the film still seems likely to generate conversations about Santa I wouldn’t want to have with kiddos. )

    Listening wise, I’ve been on a hodgepodge of catching up on random old podcast episodes from my email inbox and deciding whether I want to add to my already ridiculous list of podcast subscriptions… I am not sure why I think this is better than just listening to all the fabulous podcasts I already subscribe to but don’t find enough time to listen to – but if you are similarly curious about acquiring new subscriptions you may want to check out Earbuds Podcast Collective, which emails out curated lists of 5 episodes every week, curated by different people every week. Some of the collections are really great, some are a bit more dubious; sometimes they are right up my alley; but sometimes I find myself listening to people being really smart about stuff I will probably never be much interested again, which is also nifty.

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