Indecision: A Column in 4 Parts

If I were a hipper man, I’d almost call this a freestyle jam, but I’m not hip, so here’s a bunch of random stuff, because I couldn’t concentrate on just one.

Part One: In which I examine the effectiveness of Bruce Wayne’s strategy

I hit the megaplex this past holiday weekend to catch an IMAX showing of The Dark Knight while I’m still able. And yes, a month later, it was still sold out. But that’s not why I’m here. Chris Nolan hit on a theme in the movie that people don’t tend to bring up in the comics. The Joker said it, and the movie was about it.

Batman can’t fix anything.

If anything, he’s making Gotham worse. Harvey Dent was supposed to be the hero of the movie, which was almost the entire point. Batman was, at best, a stopgap.

When you look at the world of Gotham City in the comic books, Batman hasn’t really been that effective. Let’s say he’s been fighting the good fight for 8-10 years. While it’s absolutely true that he’s prevented bad things from happening, he hasn’t been successful in his ultimate goal of being a deterrent to threats to Gotham in the first place. His whole dog and pony show of being a scary symbol has done nothing to scare criminals from doing their dastardly deeds. In fact, it could be said that his presence has exacerbated the problem of psychotic costumed villains. The Joker, for example really only exists as a foil to Batman, so that begs the question of whether or not The Joker would be as dangerous were there no Batman. What if, instead of playing dress up, and doing it all himself, Bruce Wayne applied his considerable wealth and resources to employing a private security force consisting of the best trained troops, with great salaries, and fantastic equipment. Sure, it’s not as flashing or rewarding to the ego, but how can Wayne do the most good? When you think about it, is that what he’s doing?

Yes, I realize that it’s fiction, and this line of thinking would sort of change the status quo in Batman books in a way that is not desirable to most of the readership, but the more I think about it, this was the same conclusion Frank Miller came to at the end of The Dark Knight Returns, in a way, utilizing Batman as a tactician and leader of a highly competent force, rather than a front line fighter.


Part Two: In which I finally understand the genius of older comics

For most of my life, I heard that the comics of the ’60s and previous eras are works of genius, and while they may be, I never really saw it. As I got more and more involved in comic books as this site has grown, my understanding and appreciation for what makes a good comic book have grown quite a bit. As you know, I recently read Tales to Astonish, a book about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and even by the text alone, with no pictures to accompany it, I finally came to understand Kirby, as I had the information and context to get it. Very shortly after reading that book, I ran out and bought Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, and got my eyes on that artwork, and finally, I saw it. I never doubted that Kirby was the genius they said he was, but now, I saw it. A couple months ago, I bought the The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, and I haven’t really had time to get into it. Part of me also worried that I wouldn’t appreciate it and even a few months ago, I might not have. But today, I read the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 (if you can’t recite that issue in your sleep, you’re not a comics fan, by the way), and the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, in which he is repeatedly referred to as Peter Palmer in the second story. But, I’ve heard many times that Steve Ditko is also a genius, and it turns out that he is. In 15 pages, he and Stan Lee covered so much story in the set up of Peter Parker’s origin that I was stunned.

The other thing to keep in mind was that in those days (I hate using phrases like that), the artists had the flimsiest of plots to go on. At Marvel, they’d have lunch or a meeting with Stan, and Stan would say go over the major beats, but how the characters got to certain places, and what happened or why things happened was up to the artists. So really, there wasn’t a script or guideline to go with like there is today. At a certain point, Jack was plotting and drawing several books a month, and Steve Ditko was doing Spider-Man all on his own. He made up the bulk of those villains, and Stan just came in and added dialog after the fact. This isn’t to take away from Stan, Stan was absolutely important to what happened, but the artists still deserve more credit.

Even by issue #2 of The Amazing Spider-Man, Ditko’s style had gotten better. The earliest Spider-Man looked like what it was, a throwaway little story no one put much effort into, but before too long, the pages started looking nicer, and the figures were more stylized, and you can see the genius right there, because, on those pages, were the blueprints for almost all superhero comics to come. Jack Kirby built worlds and kingdoms, and he did it with a style that has never been matched. Can you imagine if Jack Kirby in his prime got to work with Alan Moore in his prime? Such a thing might be too much to behold.

But now I get it, and I’m so glad I do.

Part Three: In which we see how Scott McCloud parlayed his particular talent into what is likely a very sweet deal

Yesterday saw the introduction of Google Chrome, their innovative, new, open source browser. While the browser isn’t available for my Mac yet, its entry is accomplished via the comic book work of Scott McCloud, whom you may know from Understanding Comics, and other such books. I read that Scott did something for the project, but when I clicked on it, I didn’t expect to find a 38 page comic book adaptation of all that is supposedly wonderful about this new browser. I must say, they did pick the right man for the job, because he very skillfully distilled their technical jargon into a form most of us can understand. It really shows the power comics can have, and it makes things as technical as the insides of browsers much more inviting than large chunks of text, to be sure. That being said, I was surprised that the pages were more or less traditional in shape, and I would think they would have done something more innovative, so I didn’t have to scroll down on my browser for example. Yet, McCloud is a master of this very unique form of comic book work, and I’m glad the folks over at Google recognized how this could be useful. I will say, it made me want to check out the browser.

Part Four: In which I attempt to improvise some writing with outside input

While conceiving what I would write about, I thought I would put some of my lesser known skills to use, and ask for a suggestion from the audience. I went to Twitter, and asked for a suggestion from the audience, as I have done when taking improv classes and performances. In certain forms of improv, one of the performers will ask for a suggestion, or theme from the audience at the top of the show, consisting of a random word or phrase, from which the performers will take their cue and run with it. It’s often not as literal as it seems, and very often, what you end up with will have very little to do with the original words.

The suggestion I’ll be using is “electric knives” from MasonHavens

Have you noticed a dearth of supervillains being created lately? It’s almost like they hit a wall at some point, and thought, “We’ve got enough.  We’re good.” There was a time when the creation of new villains pretty much was how new stories got started in comics, and I’m not wanting to go back to that, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s all they’ve got? Is it only going to be despots and female retreads from now on? Where’s the next Mandarin, or Moleman, or Keyser Söze? Where are the great weapons themed villains who aren’t meant to be ironic and silly jokes? Where’s the guy who’s wielding an electric knife, and is actually menacing. It seems like we either get Hitler or Stiltman. There is no middle ground. I’m sure it’s hard to actually top The Joker and Lex Luthor, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Maybe it’s that, in our world now, we’re not so scared of guns and knives, because we’re all used to the idea that they’re out there, and we’ve adjusted our fears accordingly, but the things we’re scared of aren’t really things that superheroes would be able to sort out anymore. They’re things like ideology and pure, unabashed hatred, and I don’t know what good Superman or The Sentry is against those, and if this is escapist fiction, maybe we don’t want threats that real or scary, because it’s too close to home, and there’s very little a writer could do to make the elimination of those threats believable, short of having aliens (once again) descend on us with benevolent intentions and bestow utopia on us. Did we get too sophisticated, that the idea of a real guy named Len Snart walking up to us in the middle of the day, clad in a blue parka would make us laugh, regardless of the very real freeze gun he may or may not possess? Has the time of the supervillain passed, or did the definition just change. Is there a solution to this? Who was the last interesting new villain you remember showing up? Is it Libra, who looks like he’s cobbled together from other villain pieces, much like Taskmaster? Was it The Hood? Or is the scariest guy the guy in the suit, with more power than I’m comfortable with? Is Obadiah Stane scarier behind the desk than in the Iron Monger suit? Are we more sophisticated readers, or are these just the times we live in?



  1. Good stuff, man.  I hope this becomes a regular feature.  There are so many interesting stories out there that don’t quite make a full 800 to 1000 words but still deserve to be talked about.  

    I agree with the McCloud thing.  I saw the guy talk at my university, and much of his lecture was dedicated to non-traditional forms for comics.  Horizontal strips that extend on to infinity.  And with a situation like this, I thought that would come into play.  I guess it’s just a balance of innovation and simplicity.  Jimski mentioned yesterday that the page count felt really daunting for a tutorial comic, and I have to agree.  Who is this comic for?  I could almost see there being tow different versions.  One 5 page traditional comic and one, sprawling neo-comic that goes into the depth that this one does.  

    Again, I hope to see more of these segmented columns.  It’s not just a remedy for indecision though, because it’s a great format.  Therefore, I nominate the term "Joshables."  Quick and informative bursts of Josh.  

    "Joshables."  Pass it on.   

  2. I loved this Joshable, more Joshables soon please!

    I completely agree about Wayne’s strategy, in that without him going to his extremes things in Gotham would be nowhere near as bad (probably), but I love that he trapped himself in his own Catch 22. Now he’s started and effectively made things worse, there’s very little choice left to him but to continue… Damn, Nolan’s film is even more brilliant the more you think about it.

  3. Matt Wagner’s last two Batman projects kind of addressed the never-ending nature of Bruce Wayne’s quest. It expounded on those first few Batman stories, with Wayne looking forward to the day he would settle down and not have to dress as a bat anymore.

    As far as new villians, check out the first few months of the Brand New Day Spider-Man books. Whether or not they’ll stick around, only time will tell, but the Spidey braintrust is throwing stuff against the wall to see what’ll stick (pun intended).

  4. It has to be noted that an obvious reason why Bruce Wayne’s strategy hasn’t been effective is that DC needs to sell comics, and fans like to see Batman fight crime, so therefore Batman will always have crime to fight–the more the better, usually–and therefore villains will always have the opportunity to call Batman out on his supposed ineffectiveness. (In much the same way, Charles Xavier’s dream will always remain just that, a dream. Too bad that we couldn’t at least get a good long glimpse of an alternative future where Xavier succeeded, though. The parameters of the game would change, but I’m sure there would still be intrigue. Perhaps then we could even see some unforeseen dark aspects of Xavier’s dream, sort of like how Moore and Gaiman showed the drawbacks of a superhero-controlled world in the later Miracleman issues.)

    And it should also be noted that Grant Morrison in his current Batman run IS playing with these themes. It’s kind of impossible to take it seriously with 12 other Bat-books out every month, but the premise of Morrison’s run is that Batman’s been REALLY effective since the 49-day isolation experiment in 52–almost suspiciously effective, in fact. It’s been referred to several times in Morrison’s run that Batman’s cleaned up Gotham and everyone’s accounted for except Two-Face and the Joker (see Batman #655). Jezebel Jet has also been hinting to Bruce that he put his toys away and devote (even) more money to charities.

  5. On the Batman thing.  Isn’t that kind of what he did in Kingdom Come?  Granted those elite team of troops were giant robots but its close right?  Oh and they didn’t so much protect but kept anyone from doing anything at all… so yeah.. it’s kind of the same?

    I read the Google Crome comic and I knew it looked and felt a lot like Scotts books but I didn’t know he did it.  Well that makes a lot of since.  Good to know.

  6. Great article Josh!  "I’d almost call this a freestyle jam, but I’m not hop"  Is that what the kids are saying these days?

  7. it seemed like Bats had a costumed Blackwater-esque team in Gotham for a while leading into No Man’s Land: he was basically funding Nightwing, Robin, Oracle, Batgirl, Azrael, and Huntress.  Maybe not Huntress actually but he was certianly using her.  That would be an awesome elseworlds tale with Bruce as the Erik Prince of Gotham.  

  8. The "i" is right next to the "o"!

  9. About Batman attracting the crazies to Gotham- That’s pretty much a conceit in comic books.  Superheroes show up and not long after supervillians start wrecking havoc and it’s up to our hero to save the day.  There was no Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Scorpion, Vulture or Hobgoblin running around New York until Peter Parker decided with great power comes great responsibility.

  10. I read the Google Chrome comic right before I read Josh’s article! A GREAT use of comics. It takes a complicated subject at breaks it down so normal people can understand it. Are there awards for this?

  11. @Dan

     yeah you beat me to it, BND has a bunch of new guys, and aside from Freak i pretty much like all of the new villains

  12. I think in Dark Victory, Gordon talked to Batman on how it was a odd that all of these supervillians came once he arrived, then Batman just shrugged it off. Yeah it definitely seems to me that overall, Gotham is about the same since Batman was introduced. Sure mob crime could be down; but you got supervillians, mad scientists, sometimes space beings, and hell even if the mob is down they still sorta work in the city.

    So what good is Bats really doing when all he is letting the crazies come right in? Hell probably more people have died before he turned into a superhero…That’s kinda sad in a way…

  13. I guess, with Batman, what would happen to him if Gotham ever did get fixed?  There’d be, uh, no more Batman.  I think the only reason the crazy psychos are at he forefront is because Batman only scares the low level thugs.  Psychos aren’t afraid of psychos.

  14. Since we all know Batman is crazy, it could be justified that while he truly wants to end crime, he has an overwhelming desire to hit other crazies in the face and therefore dresses up, rather than forming an army. Batman’s Pinkerton Agents could be a fun premise, though.

  15. I gotta say that The Hood is an awesome new villain.  If you haven’t read the miniseries by Brian K. Vaughan I definitely suggest giving it a go.

  16. About Part One — I remember Batman saying once in a comic, that even if you can’t win the war doesn’t mean you should stop fighting. I think in his mind, if Batman saves one child from going through what he went through, he is effective. And I don’t think you can blame Batman alone for attracting all the costumed crazies to Gotham, he is partly to blame for sure, but not solely. Remember he isn’t Gotham’s first superhero, before him, Alan Scott held the fort & there would always be dudes willing to dress up in wacky costumes & be criminals — in the world of comics, thats a valid career path, lol.

    In the overall picture, he would have saved thousands of lives (billions if you count JLA stuff) so even if he’s attracted some bad guys to Gotham to compete with him, in the long run, he has done A LOT more good than he’s done harm. In my eyes, that’s effective.