Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Robin: A Requiem? Updated!


I was contacted by Newsarama.com via Twitter recently and they alerted me to an article they did with Peter Tomasi.   The article allays some of my fears that the Batman family of books will quickly abandon the grieving period for Batman.  Instead, DC and Tomasi plan to pursue his bereavement is a series of re-titled Batman & Robin books.  I'm glad to hear this as this is a period in Batman's life that should go fully explored.  You can read Newsarama's article with Peter Tomasi and the link.

It seems that DC comics is sincere in it's sympathy for the now departed Damien Wayne Robin.  With each passing issues of the Batman comics we get a full page spread of the "Requiem" homage to Robin signifying its importance to the Batman family comics.  (As seen above.)

What troubles me is the recent announcement of the new story arc "Batman: Zero Year" that is to commence this coming June.

Are we done grieving Damien yet?

Is Batman done?

Zero Year promises a new look at the Batman origin story and my first impulse was to emit a low groan.  "Not again" I thought to myself.  I suppose these things are inevitable.  With each passing generation of writers we get an even faster rate of readers that pass from one epoch to another.  It is beyond temptation for the Comics industry to remain static and the urge to attract new readership is of economic importance and urgency.  Plus, the combined artists get to flex their collective (Bat) wings and tinker with the well worn tales.

Still, with the death of  Robin there is much unexplored depth here.  As the DC announcement states, the issue of Batman #21 starts the "Zero Year" arc so that means we get at least three precious issue in which to plumb the depths of Batman's grief.

How long has Batman been grieving the loss of his parents?  The answer would be his entire life.  In fact it his life's work.  Are we to see the grief over the loss of his son in a mere three issues before it disappears into the rewriting of history?  I have yet to see a solicitation for Batman and Robin #21 for this coming June.  So perhaps they have something special in store for us.  Either that or it has been suspended pending the outcome of the Zero Year events.  That would be a tragedy.

DC would be missing a golden opportunity if it dismisses the death of Robin in one short season.  I'd really like them to examine Batman's anguish throughout the Spring and Summer and perhaps into the Fall.  That way we'd get at least 9 or 10 issues in which explore the breadth of Batman's sorrow.

We could see how his relationship with Alfred is affected.  Perhaps the duties and leadership that Batman brings to the Justice League would be drastically altered.  Who's arms would he fall into for solace?  Would he seek out Selina Kyle or push her away only to embrace some disposable new love and then toss it away.  What of the former Robins?  Should one of them return to the Manse to fill the void and provide a steadying influence?  Or, would Batman push them aside also and work through his grief in utter isolation.

There should be some awfully large shoes to fill in the wake of Damien's passing but as readers of Batman #18 already know the tryouts have literally begun.

I implore DC Comics and the writers of Batman to exercise some patience.  Let the readers share their grief alongside the Caped Crusader.  What's the rush?  Don't be so dismissive of this fertile and sacrosanct ground.  No doubt Damien will be in the heart of Batman for a long time to come much as his parents are.  I would just like to see it played out for a greater time.

Next up, Batman and Robin #18 and the Five Stages of Grief

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Batman and Robin #17: The PTSD Issue. Updated!

Issue number 17 of Batman and Robin, written by Peter J. Tomasi, gives us a unique insight into the psyche of the Caped Crusader his sidekick Robin and his trusty man servant Alfred.  The issue is entitled "Nightmare City" and it is not just a look at the immediate aftermath of a night's work for the dynamic duo but an examination of the trauma caused by that night's work and more importantly the toll taken by Batman's victory over the Joker from the "Death of the Family" series.

The events of this issue happen just before the events of Batman Incorporated #8 where the Damien Wayne Robin dies.  My look at the ramifications and import of this issue comes a little out of order with the death of Robin but this particular issue sheds significant light on the mindset of Batman and his team just before the entire Batman universe is turned upside down by Damien's death.

As I said before, Tomasi entitles this issue, "Nightmare City" he could really called it the "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" issue as that is what it specifically deals with.  This issue not only comes at time of deep turmoil within the Batman family but it holds up a mirror to our society in general as the men and women of our armed forces are returning home from war.

Here's how the U.S. National Library of Medicine defines PTSD, "PTSD is a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience such as an interpersonal event like physical or sexual assault, exposure to disaster or accidents, combat or witnessing a traumatic event. There are three main clusters of symptoms: firstly, those related to re‐experiencing the event; secondly, those related to avoidance and arousal; and thirdly, the distress and impairment caused by the first two symptom clusters."

Tomasi and his artists, Gleason, Gray and Kalisz, give the Batman readership a valuable lesson in what our fighting men and women are coping with as they return home not to mention the thousand of ordinary citizens that are inflicted with this painful disorder.

Before I get into the real life issues that PTSD represent let's take a look at Tomasi's version as depicted in the of a Batman comic.

Batman and Robin return to the Batcave after a long night of patrol.  Their routine takes them through their normal "winding down" period where they are greeted by Alfred, fed and strip themselves of the crime fighting persona's in the form of their costumes.

 Our three principles head off to a night's sleep employing a simple strategy to calm the nerves of the day.  Batman by looking at a bedside picture to remind him of his life's motivation (no doubt a picture of his family), Alfred with a cup of tea and Damien some music as a boy of his age is want to do. 

Damien's dream state immediately takes him to place where he is seemingly safe aboard a submarine while the turmoil of the forbidding ocean roils just outside replete with images of those both loved and hated.  He meets with a mirror image of his self wherein he struggles to work out the duality of his life and it often threatens to tear him apart.

His subconscious reverie is rudely interrupted when the image of a drowning Alfred swirls before him.  Why Alfred and not his Father? Alfred represents a rock of stability to Damien.  Someone to come home to and provide him with the nurture and safety his young mind sorely needs.  To see this endangered beyond Robin's reach is the trauma his conscious mind can't hope to deal with.  His father on the other hand represents everything that is wrong with Damien's world as we'll see in the next panel.

Damien's mind releases him from the shock seeing Alfred in danger but sends him to the other pole of his broken psyche where his father's influence dwells.  Here Damien is faced with the brutal image of his father being fed off of the inspiration that had led him on the path of darkness and revenge.  A giant horrific bat embodies this trauma, the very thing that led Batman down the path of crime fighting also threatens to suck all that is good out of him and with him Damien also.  Again, another duality that threatens to divide Damien into pieces.

As for Alfred, his nightmare includes him looking from a helpless distance as the Joker destroys the family he has charged himself with protecting from their own worst fears as he provides them with a sounding board to release their inner demons, provide them with sustenance and balm the wounds both internal and external.  To be apart from this family is Alfred's worst fear.

Unlike Damien, Alfred's subconscious provides him with an outlet that resolves his internal conflict with the neat and tidy solution of blowing the Joker's head off.

Despite the obvious pain this act causes Alfred, enough to wake him up and reflect on his subconscious actions, this resolution actually calms Alfred's tattered psyche and he is at peace with his mind's solution as evidenced by the slight smile as he drifts off to a now peaceful sleep.

Batman's internal struggles takes him to familiar territory.  That of the loss of his parents as a young boy.  His dead parents still speak to him and his life is represented by the fragility of a paper boat.

It's not long before that fragility is tested and Batman finds the two things that tethered him to his innocent past are pulled away from him and he is helpless to see them disappear into his life's work personified by the Bat symbol.

The only thing that tethers Batman to his sanity is the thought of his son, his biological son, reaching out to him and tangibly representing the family that he now knows, loves and embraces.

While Batman has set his life work on avenging the loss of his parents and dedicating his future to the salvation of others, his true salvation comes in the form of Damien.   Now Batman takes the role of parent helping him heal the psychological trauma of losing his own parents and being there for Damien.  Bruce can come to terms with his internal struggle by balancing his work with that of fatherhood.  While this doesn't exactly solve Damiens problems, it does help Bruce by giving him someone to share his problems with and while Batman/Bruce is aware he's putting Damien in harms way it is better than going it alone and falling into the abyss that is comfortless isolation.

Our story ends in a dream.  Bruce and Damien, Batman and Robin, sit atop their Gothic mansion together in their shared state of anxiety.  Even though it isn't real this subconscious realm provides safe harbor for father and son because is something that they pursue together in the real world.  Despite the obvious dangers of their vocation they are not alone as long as they have each other to lean on.  This doesn't solve their inner turmoil but at least it keeps them going to face the dawn of another day.

This is made all the more distressing by the events of Batman Incorporated 8 and the loss of Damien.

To turn the page from fiction to reality we get the stark reality of Chris Kyle and his shocking death.  Kyle, the so called, "Devil of Ramadi" was a veteran of the Iraq war and dedicated his life to helping those that returned from armed conflict.  Sadly and ironically he died at the hands of a fellow veteran he had sought to help through what the thought was the healing force of handling a gun and the power of wielding one peacefully.  Unfortunately, this didn't extend to his last subject as his weapon was turned against Kyle ending his life.  Please read this excellent story by Time magazine into this tragic tale.

We can all help our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers as they return from war such as giving to efforts as PTSD Survivors of America and Pets for Vets

Here are two more charitable groups that deserve our support the first of which is Team Rubicon that does so much to rebuild area hit so hard by natural disasters.  The second is Team Red, White and Blue where group therapy provides the boost our returning veterans need.

As fans of Batman we owe a debt of gratitude to DC Comics and the creative team of Peter Tomasi and company for exposing the dangers of PTSD.  If you know of someone that needs help reach out to them immediately and start them on the road to recovery.

Be a real life hero.  It's what Batman would do.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Death of Robin

As many of you Bat fans know there was a seismic event in the pages of the Batman comics this past week.  That event was the death of the Damien Wayne Robin.  I had planned to write a few blog posts before this but with the reverberations of this tumultuous event still being felt everywhere across the Dark Knight universe so I thought I must comment on this event right away.

Many of the readers of Batman comics are also aware of the resolution of the "Death of the Family" story arc.  Perhaps "resolution" isn't the right word as The Joker remains at large and although Batman defeated the nefarious plans of the Joker the wounds suffered by the Batman family still are very raw and remain unreconciled.  These events stand far more important now.

The character of Damien Wayne had many detractors.  Some just couldn't bear to watch his puerile behavior and others thought him a drag on the main character of Batman.  After a fashion it became a sport to moan and groan about Damien and laugh off his contributions to the Batman universe.

I'd like to think that Damien revealed a different side to the Batman character.  Batman is infamous for relying on no one but him self.  Batman has a very dark side that is integral to his make up and how he is portrayed as a character.  Adding a real life biological son instead of a ward or partner, such as the Dick Grayson Robin, plumbed the depths of Batman's lone wolf psyche.

That psyche,already damaged from the death of Batman's parents, will be torn further asunder now that Damien has passed.

So let's take a closer look at the final moments of Damien's life.  If we take a look at the panel above taken from Batman Incorporated #8 we see Damien being run through with a sword by his "brother" The Heretic.  You'll note there was no detail given to Damien's face as he drew his final breath.  I'm not sure if the artist responsible for this panel was Chris Burnham or Jason Masters although I believe it was Masters.  But I think the lack of detail was to spare the readers the anguish of seeing a ten year old murdered.  Damien was many things, many them difficult, but he was still just a boy and seeing one die is never an easy thing.

Maybe Masters wanted to present a "masque of death" to us to accentuate the finality of this barbaric act.  Two eyes as golden embers before the light was extinguished from them.  The black visage as something cold and distant without the personality you either loved or hated.  I know as a reader I found Damien's final moments very difficult to bear witness to.

If the final moment of Damiens life was difficult enough to watch, the single page collection of panels that preceded it was even more painful.  Here we find Damien as everything we knew about him.  His feisty combativeness.  His arrogance and his stubborn courage and, yes, his tender age as he pleaded with his mother for all of this to end.

Seeing Damien throw a kick and yell, "Ha!" was of typical of him.   Spitting in the face of certain defeat was also commonplace.  Watching him yell, "Ow" as he was pierced by arrows was challenging to say the least and when he yelped, "NNAOW!" as bullets rained down upon him it was sobering and shocking.

Still, Damien called out his foes as "cowards" with his last gasp, staying true to the warrior we knew him as.  Hearing him command his mother in a whisper for the assault to stop was barely manageable by this reader.  It was sad and poignant.  For all the problems Damien had with his father, he eventually grew closer to him rather than his mother and the League of Assassins that were his forebears.

So what does this mean for Batman?

As the lifeless body of Damien Wayne lays cradled in his father's arms (see the illustration at the top) just below that heartbreaking tableau are a series of boxes that depict the anguished face of Batman as they descend into darkness from right to left.  I don't think this "descent" is just a clever device.  Not only does it represent the last thing Damien sees, it is revelatory of things to come.  Can Batman get any darker?  Will rage force Batman to cross that thin line of morality he set up for him self after his parents died?  Or will Batman fall to a place we haven't seen before and be consumed by the despondency of losing his own child.  Is Batman's spirit strong enough to overcome this tragedy?  If he retreats into sorrow will the already damaged members of his family from the "Death of a Family" storyline be able to tow the line or will they be consumed as well?

 Many readers of the Batman comics may be happy to see Damien go.  That is, if he is truly dead, in the comics anything is possible.  But I will mourn his passing as a character.  He certainly knew how to stir up trouble with his fellow and former Robins, constantly testing their patience and skills.  He also tested Batman and added a facet to his personality we don't often get to see.  I'll let the last page of panels taken from Batman #17 speak for themselves.

 My next blog post may seem a little out of order considering the events of Batman Inc. #8 but I believe the events that took place in Batman #17 are nearly as important and perhaps more so.  So, next up, Batman and post traumatic stress disorder.  See you then.