Tag Archives: the Dark Knight Rises

Beware The Red Robin!

Hello hello again! It’s been quite a bit since my last post but moving countries and tearing back into my university degree will do that. Regarding my last post about the quasi-fascist Bat-event that was The Dark Knight Rises I think that though many of my predictions were right my analysis wasn’t entirely so! It turns out that it wasn’t the gritty dire-fest I was expecting but a lively, enjoyable romp with a satisfying conclusion. The class politics was so muddled and confused itself that it lost its ability to offend (mostly).

Dick Grayson is inseparable in the public mind from the character of Robin, even though he hasn’t gone by that name in nearly 30 years! Grayson first appeared Detective Comics #38  in 1940 and served as Batman’s side-kick and best chum right up until 1984 so it’s no coincidence that he’s earned the title as the people’s Robin, appearing in pretty much every adaptation of the character within popular media. Grayson eventually grew too old for the green pixie-boots (I think comic characters age in reverse dog-years or something), and became Nightwing. I consider Nightwing to be his teenage rebellion phase as every version of the character kinda looks like he’s trying too hard, whether it’s hang-glider collars or gaudy pony-tails.

Disco, Ponytail Mullets, Emo-fringes. Nightwing seems to be a by-word for what comic creators think kids are into.

Disco, Ponytail Mullets, Emo-fringes. Nightwing seems to be a by-word for what comic creators think kids are into.

As Robin he was shortly replaced by the much disliked Jason Todd, who readers paid money with their phone-in votes to have murdered by the Joker. This left the role to Tim Drake, cunning and able, if a little boring, as Robin.

However relatively recently Batman, that is to say, Bruce Wayne died. In the vacuum of power left in his considerable absence there was a battle for the cowl, aptly titled Battle for the Cowlto determine who would take over the Dark Knight’s mantle but it was never in doubt that it would land to his first and finest disciple. Dick Grayson’s spell as the Batman was an absolute joy to read and in the rejuvenated Batman and Robin series writer Grant Morrison gave a whole new spin to the dynamic of the duo, with Batman as the wise-cracking adventurer and the grim and morose Damien Wayne as his side-kick. Morrison challenges the notion that Batman, the character and the entire cultural phenomenon, is about Bruce Wayne and his dead parents.

Grayson’s Batman has a lightness about him, a sense of fun but the comics also have a palpable sense of danger too.  With Bruce Wayne in the suit, no matter how bad things get you always know there’s a way out, he’s like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. Whenever he swings into the action you’re 100% safer than you were and he’ll have at least five different plans (and five more back-up plans) to save the day. Like the time where his enemies drove him insane so Bruce unleashed a back-up personality, the psychotic Batman of Zur-En-Arrh from the 5th Dimension (the 5th Dimension is the imagination!) as a psychological defense mechanism in case anyone ever attacked his fragile psyche. He has a plan for everything, you guise.

Dick and Damian, Robin and Robin

Dick and Damian, Robin and Robin

Grayson doesn’t. His adventures in Gotham have real peril as he’s not as infallible and all-knowing as his master, or as fast and strong. When Grayson and Damian unravel a mystery there’s a sense of accomplishment and it’s more rewarding for the reader since the stakes are so much higher. Robin also starts to become more useful as Bruce, arguably never really needs assistance but Dick’s Batman is relieved to have Damian around when shit hits proverbial fan. As the book progresses Damian’s hard-edge softens like leather in a boot and the circus orphan and his ward, the heir of the Wayne legacy form an unlikely and certainly more dynamic duo than has been seen in years.

Then Papa Wayne came back, as was inevitable in comic-land, and the universe got another reboot because the Flash ran too hard and all-those precious issues of character development were erased. Kinda. After giving Dick the cowl and showing his progression as a superhero, allowing him to earn the title of Batman within the confines of the book and to the reader, building his relationship with Damian, earning his respect, friendship and even adoration they couldn’t just throw it all away and have him regress into-

But this time...he's red! Even his eyes are red. That's cool, right kids? Coooool.

But this time…he’s red! Even his eyes are red. That’s cool, right kids? Coooool. Is that…is that stubble?

…Oh.

So he’s back to being a moody teenager, basically, and has virtually nothing to do with Damian. It’s funny the book took such a moody image too, since Dick’s Batman was always commented on as smiling and wise-cracking all the time. Batman (Bruce) and Robin are now a father-and-son duo and I just don’t think the two have any chemistry and it’s a bit weird this obsessive, moody vigilante taking his 11 year old kid out on missions for some reason. Dick worked like a cool older brother or uncle and was able to steer the grim and malicious youth to the side of good and their friction was the source of good dialogue and drama. A grim Batman and grim Robin is a bit less fun.

But where else for Dick? There can’t really be two Batmen (they tried it, didn’t really take off) so what to do with this matured vigilante? In a book called Kingdom Come (1996) Mark Waid and Alex Ross gave readers a glimpse of a possible future for DC’s heroes and our Dickie ended up, in one brief panel, as the Red Robin:

286px-Red_Robin_(Kingdom_Come)

Sporting a cape and cowl reminiscent of his mentor but also fellow pulp heroes like the Phantom or Dr.Midnite  and a chest-piece that pays homage to his original Robin attire, Red Robin is the natural end-point of Dick’s progression. Gone is the teenage rejection and daddy-issues, embracing his heritage as Batman’s partner but also his original title and pseudonym that hasn’t fit anyone else so well. Even the name has a pulpy air to it like The Gray Ghost or the Green Hornet  and would establish him as a vigilante in the mould of those 30s/40s costumed crime-fighters.

There is a problem however. DC decided to introduce Red Robin into the main continuity but already two different people have held the title including ex-Robins Jason Todd and Tim Drake, the two characters DC has no idea what to do with. Drake is currently soiling the identity by wearing wings, goggles and more unnecessary pouches and straps than a Rob Liefeld X-Man.  Both these versions have tarnished the possibilities Red Robin opened up for Grayson.  But there’s always hope. If DC keeps reinventing its continuity every five minutes then maybe we’ll see Grayson take back his title one day.

Just...less...Tim

Just…less…Tim

I propose a Robin comic series focussing on Dick and Damian as Red Robin and Robin, Dick can be called just Red in the field (or Simply Red). Using the Gotham Tower and its underground bunker as their HQ and their flying Batmobile as their getaway they would be a completely unique Gotham book (for there are too many) and they should focus on the more “out-there” colourful story arcs, following the tone set by Morrison’s original run Batman and Robin. This would free up Batman for more introverted solo missions which is where he shines. If Bruce is surrounded by a gaggle of Bat-suited nit-wits he becomes less special and slightly redundant. As a young Dick Grayson laments in an issue of Batman Inc. :“Even the dog’s wearing a mask! It makes it all dumb instead of special!”

And what to do with Tim Drake, O loose end of mine. Well, I think it’s taken as red that Tim is the superior detective of all the Robins thus far, and the most likely inheritor of the Batman title so they should start the process. After his apparent death Bruce realises that Gotham will need a Batman to replace him and knows that Dick’s interests lie elsewhere, and so begins the Batman Beyond Project. Tim should be trained to become another Batman, one with ability-enhancing armour to make up the difference between he and Bruce and he should be sent on away missions with the Teen Titans or Justice League to deal with threats that an ordinary dude in a cape could not. This, again, would free up Bruce for solo Gotham adventures and keep him from appearing in every bloody JLA  title going (such as the embarrassing soap-opera Justice League International).  It’s also the only way we’ll ever see the awesome Batman Beyond in-continuity and Drake and McGinnis are arguably, very similar characters.

Perfect line-up would include Bat-Woman, Damian, Bruce, Dick and Tim...Batgirl is unnecessary and she was so much better as Oracle. But that's another rant.

Perfect line-up would include Bat-Woman, Damian, Bruce, Dick and Tim…Batgirl is unnecessary and she was so much better as Oracle. But that’s another rant.

So there we are, folks, my two cents on our much misused Dick Grayson and his natural sidekick Damian. What do you think? Am I wrong? Should I be studying?

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#Occupy Christopher Nolan

Yeah, I woulda gone with #Occupy Gotham but I’d be super late for the party on that one.

So, my lovely Gurlfrenn just booked us tickets to the pant-shittingly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and at the BFI IMAX no less. But why is it then, as a life-long Batman fan, that after the four year wait and year-long, ever intensifying marketing campaign I am overcome with what can only be described as blockbuster ennui? I am rarely a victim of hype but I do fall for the occasional, clever hysteria machine (which recently left me twice shy after getting a nasty bite from Ridley Scott) but not so this time. Frankly, the marketing for Christopher Nolan’s latest Bat-sequel has been inconsistent at best – each trailer giving off a different tone and each poster drive featuring wildly divergent styles, one’s left a bit confused and, after Joss Whedon’s delightful four-colour fun-fest Avengers it all looks very…grey.

Batman getting a new high-score in Angry Birds. The closest the gritty Nolanverse will get to depicting Robin.

But, what worries me the most about the whole affair are the Occupy overtones and the series’ ultimately conservative leanings. This isn’t news and neither is it very subtle. Here at the Slate they pretty much outline all the relevant Occupy-esque scenes from the film’s first trailer. Catwoman’s (Anne Hathaway) dialogue is the most damning evidence, as she denounces Bruce’s world of excessive wealth:

There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.

The rest of us, presumably the 99%. Now, I’m not disparaging that a blockbuster is using contemporary issues as a backdrop or even as an arena of discourse but what’s troubling is associating Occupiers with terrorists, revolutionaries with evil and the police state with order, heroism and honour. Also necessity.

2005’s Batman Begins is by far the superior of the two Nolanverse pictures to date. It combined (and invented) the Gritty reboot, with an air of the gothic – Eerie old institutions, secret Ninja Tibetan hide-outs and weaponized Bats! The more bizarre aspects would be entirely eschewed in a sequel that is over-plotted, clunkily edited and devoid of humour. The closest Begins gets to politics is Wayne’s problematic choice to Leave R’as al Ghoul in the run-away train. As the car speeds towards imminent doom Wayne leaves his old master saying “I’m won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”  which serves to solidify the vague Libertarian notions that had been bandied around the film thus far. It stuck out as odd, because the Batman I knew (from the Animated Series!) would have undoubtedly tried to save his nemesis with his trusty grappling hook. Batman has an almost Hippocratic oath – he would have had to save him. Even my mum tutted audibly at this scene lamenting the  murky morals at work.

So Batman may be a libertarian who believes the state  is complicit in the corruption and chaos that ravages his city and must work outside the law to enact change. I can buy this, I guess. If Batman were real he would be terrifying and anti-state.

Uncanny

But then there’s The Dark Knight. For the most part, The Dark Knight draws from the U.S’s demented War on Terror, casting the Batman as  George Bush – who goes to perilously dangerous lengths to capture the madman and terrorist, the Joker. Not only does Christian Bale look eerily like him but his Bruce Wayne mimics Dubya in his policy of violence, kidnapping and phone-tapping up to and including extraordinary rendition. Again, I actually embrace using contemporary issues as source material and I love that the Batman doesn’t have to be our hero in every sense – that he can make morally disturbing choices and doesn’t have to be the audience surrogate that heroes usually are. But the film squanders this in its final moments; instead of merely reflecting recent history it decides to come down on one side. Even though Batman has lost his love and has conducted an immoral campaign of spying and surveillance against the people he has sworn to protect he has beaten the Joker and virtually shut down organised crime. To maintain order and peace in Gotham and keep the baddies behind bars (objectively good things) he must lie and say he was responsible for Dent’s murderous rampage. He utters the most tripe, Iraq invasion apologist bullshit line I have ever heard.

Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more.”

WTF IS THIS SHIT?!

You don’t even need an arts degree to decode this here, boys and girls. There were no WMDs in Iraq. BUT the ends justified the means. Things are better because of a lie and thus, it was worth it. The above line is probably repeated ad nauseum by the entire Bush administration and Blair every night before they hop into their plush King-size beds. And then from the mouth of babes, Jim Gordon’s blonde, innocent son – “But he didn’t do anything wrong!” in context it’s beyond parody. He had to make the difficult choices and he will be hated for it – nay hunt him for it. Because he can take it. Because he’s not the hero-….bla bla bla bla bla bla.

So Batman’s a neo-liberal, willing to lie, cheat and steal and fuelled (like Dubya) with a zealot like fervour. He compromises his own moral codes in order to “bring peace” because he is “outside” the law – No UN resolutions for him! He’s also responsible for the crime of having a really silly voice.

Interestingly, Rorschach is offered the same choice at the end of Watchmen. But Rorschach is a proper, nut-job libertarian – he’s honest:  “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”

And…uh…that ended well

 I don’t think the Batman of the comic would allow Superman to craft a new Utopia if it meant Supes would have to fry a few skulls with his heat vision to do it. But Nolan’s Bush-man obviously has a different set of ethics.

And now we come to The Dark Knight Rises. The trailer has the “war-hero” cop Gordon being set-up for retirement as it’s now “peace-time”. If we thought the allegory in the previous film was circumstantial then BAM it’s just been confirmed. The follows a slew of images of scruffy-looking peeps ransacking Wayne Manor and mass scruffy uprisings around Gotham. The latest trailer even shows a gang or rising, scruffy Untermensch descending upon an up-market hotel. The lines are clearly drawn – the only question is which side is Batman on.

One is a screencap from Dorkly’s hilarious Batman is the 1% sketch and one is a poster for the upcoming blockbuster. But which is which? Eagle eyed viewers win a free picture of my balls.

And to make matters more interesting the film even wanted to shoot at Wall St. while the Occupy movement was there, the trailers feature “terrorists” shooting up the Gotham stock exchange and now we get these, rather intriguing comments by Chris Nolan on the film’s scale and vision:

“It’s all about historical epics in conception. It’s a war film. It’s a revolutionary epic. It’s looking back to the grand-scale epics of the past, really, and for me that goes as far back as silent films. I’ve been watching a lot of silent films with my kids on Blu-Ray. We’ve shot over a third of the movie on the IMAX format, and that naturally puts you more in the mode of staging very large events for the camera. It’s my attempt to get as close to making a Fritz Lang film as I could. It’s also more in the mould of ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ or ‘A Tale Of Two Cities,’ which is a historical epic with all kinds of great storytelling taking place during the French Revolution.

There’s an attempt to visualise certain things in this film on this large scale that are troubling and genuinely to the idea of an American city. Or, to put it another way: revolutions and the destabilising of society have happened everywhere in the world, so why not here?”

This seems to be a direct allusion to things like the Arab Spring, most recently and his talk of a “revolutionary epic” brings to mind films like The Battle of Algiers, Strike! or I am Cuba. Giving my pinky, lefty, faggy, Communist background I would probably welcome a film depicting a people’s uprising in America to battle their subordination by the wealthy elites and their corporate sponsored congressmen. But given where the story’s come from and the apologist tone of the previous film will Batman be defending a corrupt, totalitarian state from a popular uprising? Is the Batman going to be defending “order” and “stability”…thus defending the likes of Mubarak or Gaddafi ?

The trailers depict armed, violent militias and freed prisoners attempting to “destabilise” society, orchestrated by a shady, esoteric Eastern terrorist group we can assume is  The League Shadows from the first picture. If this is meant to reflect either Occupy or the Arab Spring it is insulting to both as both championed the use of non-violent demonstration and strikes. Any descent into violence occurred at the hands of the violent reaction by the police and armed forces. Also, having an Occupy uprising secretly organised by a shady, Eastern terrorist cell reads something like a Tea-party wet dream. The reason the police and the Tea-party never clash is that the tea-party are so well-armed at their rallies. Surely they would be more likely to attempt an armed coup on their black Socialist president.

Hmmm….from Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One”. Sounds like that Occupy nonsense.

Batman and Fascist propaganda are no strange bedfellows. Frank Miller, creator of the famed and yes overrated Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, gave the character new-life as a quasi-fascist, anti-state loon and also wrote and drew an anti-muslim propaganda rag entitled Holy Terrorthough DC Comics were wise enough to allow him to actually feature Batman in the book. The writer recently sunk to new lows in an online rant about the Occupy movement which is so uninformed an demented it reads like a Rorschach journal entry. Given that TDK Returns revolves around the Batman coming out of a stretch of retirement, just as the latest film will, it merits mentioning.

Will The Dark Knight Rises really go the whole hog and confuse Occupiers with armed terrorists, terrorists with ninjas, revolutionaries with terrorists, order with peace? Or will Wayne turn around and realise he could have enacted more significant change had he paid more taxes and instead of buying mini-tanks just gave some of his loose change to upgrading the city’s infrastructure like his good ol’ Da did.

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