“It’s happened before. It’ll happen again.”


“It’s happening again.”

Not only is that one of the creepiest, most chill-inducing scenes in all of Twin Peaks – who can tell me the scene? – but it’s also pretty much the mantra for the Marvel and DC Universes.

Just about everything that can happen has happened before and will again. It’s the nature of the beast. When you have corporately owned characters whose life spans will dwarf all of ours it’s a good thing to keep in mind when reading the funny books every week.

Let’s step into the way back machine. Let’s turn the dial back to 1993. Bane has just broken Batman’s back and a young, psychopathic upstart named Jean-Paul Valley has taken over the mantle of The Dark Knight.

And a 15 year old Conor was devastated!

How could they do this, he would wail! Don’t they see, this Jean-Paul punk is a killer?! WHY ARE THEY RUINING BATMAN?

I was inconsolable. Only once in my life have I ever been motivated to write a letter to the editor and this was the occasion. I sent Wizard Magazine a long screed about DC buckling to the pressure to make Batman “hipper” and “cooler” in that distinctive 90s fashion (i.e. have him don armor and wield razor claws and kill people). Strangely, they didn’t print it.

I literally thought that this was going to be the way that Batman would be from then on. I didn’t understand that DC was doing this on purpose, having the readers endure Jean-Paul Valley in order to appreciate Bruce Wayne even more upon his inevitable return. But I didn’t understand this in 1993. I was 15 and full of raging hormone-fueled angst and emotions.

And it went on for two years. Bruce Wayne was gone for two years!

Well, not technically for two full years. After 21 months he came back, whipped Jean-Paul’s punk ass and then promptly disappeared again for another three months, but not before handing the cape and cowl over to Dick Grayson.

(I think he had to finish up his novel. I’m not sure, I don’t remember, it was a long time ago.)

Back then I didn’t have enough comic book reading experience to understand that taking the main character away for a while and then bringing him back was the story. I got all caught up in act one thinking that it was going to be act one forever. In 1993, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Now, after having taken that long two year journey through the forest I can see it just fine.

(Yes, I beat that metaphor to death and then set its lifeless corpse on fire, but you understand what I’m saying.)

Now, almost 16 years later I am a bit more zen about these things.

These memories of an impetuous 15 year old me have been flooding back during this last year of “Batman R.I.P.” I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked — in person, over e-mail, via Twitter, through Facebook – about how much I was going to freak out if they got rid of Bruce Wayne. My answer has always been the same, “It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. If he really does go away, he’ll be back.” I’ll never again freak out over something like I did between 1993 and 1995. I’ve got the experience now to understand how these things work.

The second most asked question has been “Can Dick Grayson be Batman?” Can he? Sure… it’s already happened.

Sometimes comic book fanatics can get too far inside our own heads with the stories we read and love (or hate; or love to hate). Every once in a while it’s good for the ol’ sanity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and realize that almost all of these stories have happened before in some modified form or another. And they will all happen again. The difference will be in the details and in the quality of the execution.

Hackery! Well, no. It’s the reality of having characters exist in weekly adventures for upwards of seven decades. There are only so many stories to tell. Hate what’s happened to your favorite character? Wait a while, it’ll change. Of course, the inverse is also true. Love what they’ve done with your favorite book?  Wait a while, it’ll change.

Some people remarked at my relative level of calm during “Batman R.I.P.” and amid all the rampant speculation about the fate of Bruce Wayne. To those people I could only shrug. I don’t recount these stories to give myself a public pat on the back, rather to impart the wisdom learned from a grizzled veteran. One who, 15 years ago, did indeed lose his shit and lived in comic book misery for two years when they took his favorite character away.

So, yeah, I’ll miss Bruce Wayne for however long he’s gone. And I still miss Steve Rogers. I miss J’onn J’onzz. Hell, I really miss Arthur Curry.

But they’ll all be back, eventually. It’s all happened before and now it’s happening again.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but a good one.

 

Comments

  1. Cynical: One of the reasons The Batman Adventures in all it’s incarnations was so enjoyable through the ’90’s. I may even enjoy this new Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic. I enjoy the done-in-one stories; especially over in the Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. I’ve picked up a couple of the MA: The Avengers digests and they are a hoot. Right now, Green Lantern and Ultimate Spider-Man are compelling. I’m saving up for the Starman Omnibus. That may be a while, but I have every issue and a few of the trades…so, so far I’m good for a while…

  2. I actually got a bit excited to by the rumors of Jean-Paul’s return. I would love for the "Battle for the Cowl" to be a long drawn out thing among all of Wayne’s proteges; Grayson, Drake, Todd, Valley, Gordon, Cain, Bertinelli, Cain and his son, Damian.

    And of course, for Bruce to return (in due time) and show ’em all how its done.

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    By the same token, does the cyclical quality of the stories dampen your enjoyment of the great moments?  "This is a lot of fun, but it’s not going to last."  That sort of thing.  I wonder if there are patterns, if it can be broken down into a science of how long a good run will last before it devolves into something less than.  

    Great piece, man.   

  4. "I was inconsolable.  Only once in my life have I ever been motivated to write a letter to the editor and this was the occasion.  I sent Wizard Magazine a long screed about DC buckling to the pressure to make Batman “hipper” and “cooler” in that distinctive 90s fashion (i.e. have him don armor and wield razor claws and kill people)."

    looooool – Perfect. You were much more patient and level-headed then I around 15; I wrote the exact same letter to Marvel’s Editorial over Spider-man’s Identity Crisis crossover, and that event lasted all of two (or three, if you count when Spidey got the different costumes) months. Gosh, brings me back. Good article, Conor.

  5. "Batman and Robin will NEVER die!" 😉

  6. I gotta admit, I actually anticipated Jean Paul Valley taking over the mantle back when I was 12 years old.  Not that I liked Jean Paul Valley whatsoever, but that new suit kicked ass!!  Keep in mind that I was only 12 years old and had only been reading comics since I was 10 and a half.  I was pretty certain that Legends of the Dark Knight would still contain Bruce Wayne stories (and I actually liked Legends better back then anyhow) even if Jean Paul Valley permanently took over in Batman and Detective.  Plus I had The Batman Adventures to fall back on.

    R.I.P. is kind of like  Knightfall.  Well they both suck.  Now I forgot whatever point I was trying to make.  Well at least Knightfall made some sense. I read the whole R.I.P. event (including tie ins) and I still do not have any idea what is going on, or what order I’m supposed to read these things in.

  7. i really enjoyed Dick’s turn as Batman back then, although it wasn’t always the best written, i liked the idea. I liked getting in the head of someone who was wearing the cowl in the way Dick was (and will be?), the burden, the self awareness…it was an interesting angle.

     i was actually dissapointed that Bruce came back so soon, i would have liked to have seen him stay away for a good while longer, as he may well do this time. I mean, we all know Bruce IS Batman, end of, but it would be a pretty dull 70 + years if they didnt shake it up occasionally.

    I fancy Bruce may return initially as a villain in some form, before regaining his memory. Please…just not as Hush…

  8. Come on Conor…you loved the claws Jean Paul had.  Admit it, you loved him because he was EXTREME!!

  9. I read this and totally agree yet in my head, all I can think is…don’t kill Dick Grayson DC. Please!

  10. The scene with the Giant in Twin Peaks?

    Re: Knightfall — yeah, this is something I’ve been thinking about since the whole RIP thing started. I get that this is the story, but I also remember when it happened before. I think I had a little more understanding of it. I remember reading somewhere that Denny O’Neill really planned this to show you what would happen if they gave us the "extreme" Batman we thought we wanted (whether or not this was true, this is how they tell it). I know that I always figured that Bruce would be back, and I did enjoy the ride (except for some bad writing on the main books during that stint). So it was an interesting storytelling experiment. Not something that I’d invest so much money in again, though.

    That’s why, when it comes to RIP, I have to wonder — what’s the point? What’s the story that Morrison plans to tell here? It could be fantastic. But I hope it’s MORE than what they already did with Knightfall. O’Neill and his team already showed us why Bruce makes the best Batman, etc. etc. To have Jason Todd take over would be very similar, IMHO, to Jean Paul Valley. To have Nightwing take over would… just be the same as when he did before. It would feel temporary. So what IS the story? What is the plan? For Bruce? For the cowl? 

    I’m curious, but i want some kind of acknowledgement that they’re not just re-treading old stories. If the point of the story is just to show us why Bruce makes the best Batman… well, I kinda don’t really need to read that again, ya know?

    I’m hoping the next little bit will give us some clue as to Morrison’s design. Not plot points — I don’t care about that. I mean… some thematic idea as to why this story will be different from Knightfall, Knightquest, etc.

  11. @ paul

    I think it works in the opposite manner for the truly great moments, actually. I think that knowing that things won’t be this great forever makes you treasure the heart-warming and the vindicating moments even more.

  12. @daccampo – Dave wins!

  13. An even bigger travesty than Azbats was Grayson’s mullet.

    To be honest, I dug Azrael’s costume except for the gloves.  Quesada designed a cool looking character.  He also designed the new Ray costume for DC, which is also great.

  14. @ultimatehoratio  i liked it too except for the gold shoulders, i wanted more black and blue and grey and less gold. loved the full fase mask

  15. @Roi.. Are you referring to the Azrael costume or the Azbats costume.  I’m referring to the original Jean-Paul Azrael costume designed by Quesada.  I’m not sure if he designed the Azbats costume or not.

  16. I just don’t understand some of this RIP hate.

    Morrison gave us the most kick-ass Batman that we’ve seen since Brubaker and Rucka left the book. 

  17. Even as a kid, I thought that costume was the most impractical thing ever.  The claws might work wonders in a fight but if you have to use your hands for anything else (saving people out of burning buildings, holding things, etc), it won’t be pretty.  Plus, those weird shoulder things cut down your periphreal vision and also ensure any villain can just escape by climbing into a manhole. Still, 90’s designs seem like about "make it make sense" and more "make Shredder on steroids.  With pouches.  Lot of tiny pouches,"

    Does anybody ever remember if a character ever pulled anything out of their 90’s pouches?  In particular, did a character ever have anything in that one pouch near the back of the inner thigh?  Because I’d can’t imagine that thing would be easy to get at in a fight. I’d imagine that leg strap doesn’t slip on too easily so it’s got to be used for something, right?

  18. @Six

    I agree, although after the first two parts I felt like many others did with the hate.  Sometimes Morrison can be deliberately obtuse when it’s not really necessary.  His dialogue is a little wonky and unnatural too, particularly his more recent stuff.

  19. "less about", not "like about"

  20. Conor mentioned exactly what I said months ago, "I just have to wait it out and then I can have my Batman again."  The only reason all of this annoys me is that I have to wait 😛  I do know that everything will be back to normal eventually.  Sometimes though it’s almost annoying in the fact that we can sit back and say, "give it time."  I know that some day Steve Rogers will be back and the thing that now annoys me with that is how I was finally getting over calling him Buck and actually calling him Captain America.  Maybe Dick will be around just long enough for that to happen.

  21. – this discussion always makes me wonder if being a life-long reader of the same book’s even feasible. If it is, it definitely requires some patience, which there’s certainly no lack of here. 😉

  22. "Love what they’ve done with your favorite book?  Wait a while, it’ll change."

    Not if put Geoff Johns on the book. Then it’ll just stay good.

    Nice little article Conor, I’d be the first to admit comic fans, myself including, can overreact from time to time. But I laugh whenever I see that something will "change the status quo" of a book. How often does that really ever happen?

    And if Morrison doesnt return to this book, they should just put Johns on it. It would definitely get me to read it.

  23. Personally as much as like bruce wayne, i LOVE dick grayson even more. I personally always wanted him to become batman one day and in prodigal he did ok but not great. i believe this is his chance to really become BATMAN once bruce is done with it. I dont buy that Tim Drake should be batman in the future of any of that. Yes Tim has better attributes mentally to be batman then Dick but no one deserves the passing of the mantle more then Dick. Im not sad that bruce is gone because i get to see Dick become THE MAN in the DC universe.

    BTW "he came back, whipped Jean-Paul’s punk ass" funniest line EVER!

  24. @FACE — I think someone’s written about that before… about how comics originally weren’t meant to maintain life-long readers. They were seen as kid’s stuff, and no one expected someone to read, say, Batman, for 30 years. So we’re running into a whole new problem — life-long serialization. How do you keep a character fresh for a reader who has been buying Batman… maybe even *weekly* for 20-30-40 years? Not many mediums have faced this. Classic serialized characters most often just get rebooted/re-invented or moved to another medium. Soap operas are probably the closest, but they actually have actors aging and retiring, so their ensemble nature gives them a different kind of longevity.

  25. Conor, did you cover the envelope to Wizard with your interpretation of whatever Image book was hottest that week? ‘Cause, nothing got you printed more surely than dressing a business-size manilia with a fifteen year-old’s lovingly rendered Grifter(tm) vs. Ripclaw(tm). 

  26. "I recount these stories to impart the wisdom learned from a grizzled veteran. One who, 15 years ago, did indeed lose his shit and lived in comic book misery for two years."

    "Lose his shit." Hilarious!

  27. Comics are like soap operas. Things change, but they always change back eventually. Very rarely does a change happen in comics that is permanent. They killed off Barry Allen and Supergirl in the 80s, and now they are both back as well. It took quite a while in the case of Barry Allen, granted.

    Just like soap operas, people die and come back all the time in comics.

  28. I agree that Steve Rogers will be back – Marvel has a movie coming out in the next few years, so the financial pressures alone will force his reappearance.

    I am not as confident that J’onn J’onzz will reappear. Marvel has not brought back the real Captain Marvel, and it seems that Martian Manhunter is more like Captain Marvel (beloved team character) than Steve Rogers or Bruce Wayne (huge personalities that dominate individual and team books). I admire Marvel’s decision to keep Mar-Vell dead; I hope DC does the same for J’onn.

  29. @coltrane68 – Don’t forget that Steve is technically back now with the Avengers/Invaders crossover… if it’s still going because I can’t be troubled to remember the schedule of books I don’t read 😛

  30. Pre-cisely, Conor.  The point is whether the story tells us something about the character, the world, and ourselves.  It’ll allbe undone again in a few years, so, don’t lose sleep over it.

  31. @D-Camp – then it would seem, if one based their judgement on Morrison’s current opus with Batman, that the best solution for perpetual-serialization is placing your character into a state of entropy that keeps readers in the dark for months at a time. Is that fresh? I don’t know. What I do know is: comics used to seem more simple.

    So does maintaining readership over the years demand increasingly complex storylines? Should we expect more confusion as aging comic aficionados?

    Seems that way as an increasing number of fans are favoring Morrison’s style, what I might call "plot bombardment".

     

      

  32. @FACE — well, while I wasn’t really a fan of the execution of RIP, the basic concept of, say, Batman building a back-up personality is a pretty novel idea. Ultimately, it’s not different than Batman building a… say… Bat-Tank, but it certainly feels like something I haven’t already seen. That said, we are — as Conor notes — about to enter into a "World without Batman" which is something we HAVE seen before.

    I’m really just musing here. I don’t have the answers. I guess the larger question is: are some characters infinitely malleable? Can Batman stories be told forever, or do we inevitably need to reboot or re-tread or just move on?

    The Simpsons are not as funny as they once were. Is that because the current crop of writers are not as funny, or is it because the current team is hamstrung by what’s already been done. The Simpsons, due to their satirical nature, have one thing going for them: they can keep going back to the well of current events. 

    Note: I’m not proclaiming there are no good new Batman stories. I’m just musing here. Is there a point where you should simply stop trying to appease the life-long reader?

    I totally enjoy Ultimate Spider-man, but don’t read any of the main line. Is that because of Bendis, or because the re-boot allows for fresher material? I’m not sure. I think it’s a little of both.

  33. the real question is WHO IS batman

  34. JPV reoarnging/blueing his armor in preperation!

  35. I don’t follow Batman books all that much — I learned more about Jean-Paul Valley from this post than I ever knew — but this is a great sentiment overall.  I have a feeling it’s one some Marvel fans will need to take note of once we’ve all read Secret Invasion.  Thanks!

  36. The original Azrael mini drawn by Quesada is a pretty good book.  I’d recommend people pick it up if only for the art.

  37. I think it’ll be interesting to see how this shakes up the Bat books, but I think it will be for the best.  And as Conor mentioned, if it sucks ass, they’ll just change it again.  Personally, RIP was a great read for me, and I’m interested to see where its going from here.

  38. Great article, thanks!  It actually brings forward a comparison that’s been in the back of my mind, between the current Captain America series and Morrison’s Batman run.  Brubaker’s entire story in Cap so far (since issue #1) has been about the death and replacement of Captain America, just as Morrison’s entire Batman run has been building to this moment.  The difference is that when we got to the point of Cap’s death (and he actually did die, issue #25) it was fairly clear to the reader where the story would go, even though it still held several mysteries and a ton of dramatic tension.  Now that Morrison has finally reached his critical moment it’s entirely unclear what his narrative "point" is/was; what’s the major theme of this overarching story?  I’ve enjoyed Morrison’s story arcs, and feel that RIP was an enjoyable stand alone read, but it lacked the proper plot hooks and themes to make me feel engaged with his longer-running arc.  I’d say that Brubaker did it better.  A lot better.  And even if Morrison finally gets around to sharing his overall point with us, the paying audience, his inability to bring it out clearly up front (or at least early on) will remain a lingering dissapointment.

  39. Great view!! Made me think over the last, well long, long time a perfect example for me is Legion of Super-Heroes.  I loved em back in the early eighties, all the continuity the huge team, just loved it.  This went on forever, through my run on X-Men, X-Factor, hell even X-Force for a minute then they rebooted the Legion.  I still liked it but it wasnt the same.  Then they rebooted it again and it was new all over again and I loved it.  Then they rebooted it again and I thought what about all the stories I loved!!!  Then they rebooted it again and I love it again.  Always changing but always coming back to be the same in the end.  We can critique each "Character Defining" run by whomever, but in the end it’s the same (look at X-Force crap in the 90’s…crap again today!!).

  40. @ultimatehoratio — yeah, the original mini — Sword of Azrael was pretty good. And there was a POST-knightfall series where Valley resumed the Azrael mantle that was not bad, either. It had Barry Kitson on art. Not the best thing in the world, but worth it if you find it in a quarter bin. Lots of Denny O’Neill "questions of identity" type stories.

    Also, from your earlier post: Quesada also *did* design the AzBats armor (in addition to the original Azrael costume).

     

  41. I think I may have revealed that I know TOO much arcane comic book info.

  42. @daccampo  No. such. thing.

    I heard a word balloon interview with O’Neill where he talked about that Azrael series, and obviously had some affection for it.  I heard that early enough in my comic fandom that I had no idea who Azrael was (I may have initially thought they were talking about Gargamel’s cat).  

  43. @ohcaroline — If you like, say, O’Neill’s The Question series, then Azrael was the closest thing he’s done since then. Not nearly as good, I have to admit, but in a similar vein. Been awhile, though. I do remember meeting O’Neill at a Comicon way back (early 90’s?), and mentioning to him that it was my favorite thing since The Question. And he responded saying there were lots of similarities, that he hadn’t realized until someone pointed them out.

  44. you make a decent point, because yeah, the changes won’t last forever.

     

    but it still really sucks to lose something you love for years.

  45. Thing is though, sometimes as a fan you just need to get something off your chest. Talk about your disappointment. I know that when something is awesome I like to talk about it. Conversely, when something sucks I like to talk about it.

  46. @daccampo  Oh, thanks for the tip.  I’m a *little* bit of a ‘Question’ fan, you know?  And O’Neill’s probably the one guy in comics I haven’t met yet that I really want to, so I’m jealous.

  47. You are wise in the ways of comics.

  48. amen, I was thinking the same thing

  49. @Paul M  I think it tempers your reaction to the great moments.  There is that cynical voice in the back of your head that either knows or doubts that this earth shattering moment represents anything permanent.  I guess it depends on whether you like the earth shattering moment in the first place. 

    Great article Conor.  If you’ve been reading comics from the big two long enough you develop that cynical little voice.  You almost have to buy indie books to get that shocked feeling again.

  50. The classic leg pouches wrap lol