Batman
 

Quarterbin Follies #27: Robin and “Nature’s Bride”

  (Authors's note: I have been trying to get this thing done for the last two weeks. It is not my magnum opus, but it is starting to feel like it.)

If you were here last time, you might have noticed that I mentioned I was intending to review Will Eisner's The Spirit. Well, that guy, the me from the past, was just wrong. He was an idiot. This is largely due to the fact that he mislaid the Spirit comic.

I swear it is around here, someplace.

Image1Anywhere, I have chosen to discuss Robin: Nature's Bride. This 80 page giant by Chuck Dixon and Diego Barreto runs directly into the midst of Dixon's monthly Robin epic. But more than that, it stands to itself as a delightful jewel. But before I get ahead of myself, I should spend some time talking about two the protagonists, and why they are the best.

Unless you have been living under a rock, or at least a different rock than me, you probably know Tim Drake, the third Robin. Tim was introduced in 1989's "Batman Year 3", the Batman opus by DC stalwart Marv Wolfman. That story was mostly intended to shed new, post-Crisis light onto Dick Grayson's past and future; and Tim was instantly and blatantly positioned to be the next Robin, and Dick's spiritual successor, after Jason Todd's untimely death.

Tim came into his own a few months later in the pages of thematic sequel "A Lonely Place of Dying." For my money, "A Lonely Place of Dying" maybe one of the best comic book stories ever written. It has action and mystery and intense human relationships are all going on together. And it was the perfect re-introduction for a now teenaged Tim Drake. From the onset, and for the next year and a half (real world time) as Tim was rigorously trained for the role of Robin, Tim stood out as distinct from every other youth to wear the red and green. Tim was the kid who figured out Batman's secret Identity. Tim was the kid who risked his life to save Batman. Tim was remarkable. He was serious, brilliant, and sober minded. He was of course, a hero; but also a giant nerd. Tim was the kid I wanted to be.

Stephanie Brown, created by Chuck Dixon, was something different altogether. Coming from the broken home of a third-rate-supervillain father (the Cluemaster) and a drugged-out mother, Stephanie Brown came into Tim's life as The Spoiler, a vigilante identity purposed to ruin her father's nefarious schemes. Steph was brash, headstrong, impulsive and sincere, all things that lead Batman to insist she not pursue a crime-fighters life. Nevertheless, Tim saw something in her, something that compelled him to invest in her, to train her. They were a dynamite couple, one somber, Image4one brash—one devoted to a cause, one seeking meaning. These two stood as discordant, but still complementary souls.

And that is about where our story starts, well sorta. It actually begins 50 years ago as the Justice Society faces off with the witchy Raveena in far Eastern Rheelasia. Raveena boasts that her magic amulet guarantees her victory as Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Wildcat and the original Black Canary battle Raveena's Animal-Kingdom Army. However her gloating is premature, as Raveena falls victim to volcanic activity by falling into a suddenly open crevasse. The Canary jumps to save Raveena, but the latter swears vengeance. After muttering an arcane incantation, she plunges herself bodily into the crevasse taking her amulet with her into the depths. And all of this is witnessed by a strangely attentive turtle.

Flash- forward 50 years, and Jack Drake, the father of a certain Tim, is playing archaeologist in the very same Rheelasia. And what should he dig up there, but a certain amulet--the perfect gift for his soon-to-be wife. That's right kids, in case you hadn't noticed, Tim used to possess a rare trait unique amongst Robins--Tim had parents. Originally, Tim was the boarding-school son of a globe-trotting power couple, until Tim's Mom was murdered and his father immobilized in coma during 1991s “Rite of Passage" story. Well, in the pages of Robin, Jack made a recovery and began dating socialite Dana Winters, a relationship that was about to present Tim with another challenge as the Boy Wonder must again contend with two concerned parents and a secret identity.

Meanwhile, back in Gotham City, Robin is out crime-fighting with the Spoiler. But they get quickly into a row when Stephanie displays her in-born impulsivness (that has kept Stephanie out of Batman's good graces); and almost puts an undercover Black Canary (the second one!) to in danger. Canary dispatches the threat with her typical martial aplomb, and as the three heroes part company, Tim pleads with Steph to be more cautious while Steph makes no bones that she thinks Robin is holding her back.

Through out the story so far we have seen several interludes--a turtle spied Jack at excavation, and took to the sea. There, he locked eyes with a gull who flew from sea to shore. Now, finding a stray dog, the bird passes the "baton" again as the dog is on a search.

Later and elsewhere, Tim catches up with his family as wedding plans are discussed, and Jack presents his intended the recovered medallion he pulled out of a hole in Asia. Dana wears it proudly, and a dog looks in from the street before heading to the Zoo.

Meanwhile, Spoiler returns to The Canary's apartment to beg her for training. She drops by in the midst of a sparring match between the Canary and Wildcat, mistaking Wildcat for an attacker! Black Canary is less than down with Steph's request, but the conversation is ended abruptly when Wildcat spots a press photo of Jack and Dana with the amulet about her neck. The old boxer recognizes the medallion immediately, and calls for action!

Across town, the Drakes and Winters are at the zoo setting up for the wedding rehearsal, but the whole works is interrupted when animals attacImage6k! Tim drags his soon to be step-mother to the safety of his car, but they are pinned down by a panther. The panther stares at the amulet before locking eyes with Dana. Like a snap, Dana is overcome by the spirit of Raveena, who, attacking Tim, sends the car veering into the woods. After crashing, Tim sneaks away to change into his Robin get up. The Black Canary, Wildcat, and the Spoiler arrive as Robin emerges from the brush fully costumed; and the four heroes make a plan to engage the processed bride.

It's crazy man-versus-beast action as the seasoned heroes face Raveena's zoo-army of elephants, big cats, snakes, et al.; but they make no headway until the day is saved by the ingenuity and physical prowess of Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. How? Well, you wouldn't want me to spoil it, would you? Suffice it to say, Tim gets to attend his parents wedding the next day knowing he owes it all to Steph.

I had never heard of this story with first came out, but I'm very glad to have found it now. It was very enjoyable to read Dixon's take on golden age characters, and he had already proven is skill with Black Canary in the pages of Birds of Prey. It was especially neat to see Stephanie as the final linchpin in their victory. Nature's Bride is also one of the better examples of Tim's worlds colliding. Tim is both a dutiful son and Batman's sidekick, and a part of both worlds and yet beyond them both he is Stephanie's boyfriend. We see Dixon set the foundations of something really great in both this book and in the greater Robin mythos. All in all, it was just a great story--a ton of classic comic book fun.

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R.I.P. Yvonne Craig (1937 – 2015)

Craig2Yvonne Craig died this week, and that makes me sad. For most of us, Craig was known as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl on the ultra-campy 1960s Batman TV show. Along with Adam West and Burt WardCraig fought famous Batman villains, like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and Egghead in the show's final season from 1967 to 1968. It was, of course, in reruns that this role continued to make her famous, and continues to make her well-known throughout much of the comic industry. Even if you're not a fan, you've most likely seen an episode or two of the Batman series, and you've most likely seen a bit of Craig's most excellent portrayal of Batgirl. I don't want to spend too long talking about Craig's life. There are plenty of obits all over the Internet that are doing exactly that. A simple Google search will net you plenty of information about where she was born, when she started acting, her roles outside of Batman, and how she died. I don't want to spend too much time worrying about all of that. Now, I'm not avoiding that because it's not important. It is. I just want to spend the limited time I have here, as I write this on my lunch break, to celebrate the importance of Craig's role as Batgirl on a campy 1960s superhero TV show. No one is going to argue that Batman is a masterpiece of TV storytelling, or even a masterpiece of superhero narratives. The show is campy as heck. Fun, but campy as heck. The puns are groan-worthy, the villainous plots are simplistic, the fights are silly, and the storylines are all formulaic. Despite that, though, the show -- for better or worse -- shoved Batman into the general consciousness, pushing him near the top of the recognizability list of comic book characters. The show basically made Batman a household name, turning him into a pop-culture icon, a status he maintains today. Whether you enjoy the show or not is irrelevant. This show IS important to the Batman mythos, campiness and all. And for all of this status, the show really only has one concept to thank: its characters. As mentioned before, nothing else in the show is all that well-done, but the characters themselves are memorable. From West's Batman to Caesar Romero's Joker to Burgess Meridith's Penguin to any of the other bright and colorful characters that graced TV screens every week, these representations remain first and foremost in the minds of people that watched this show growing up. Mind you, the numerous portrayals of these characters in media since may overshadow them a little; however, when you mention some of these characters to the average Joe on the street, chances are the portrayals from this TV show will immediately spring to mind. And in the midst of this stood Yvonne Craig with her purple outfit, red wig, and sweet motorcycle. Introduced in the comics only two years earlier, the appearance of Barbara Gordon in this show was important for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the first portrayals of a female superhero in television and film. Ten years before Lynda Carter spun into her Wonder Woman costume, Craig donned her cowl to punch the Joker with a Ka-Pow! She stood on the same ground as Batman and Robin, often saving them from whatever dastardly deathtrap the villain of the week had caught them in. And, in doing so, she inspired girls young and old the world over. I talk a lot about how representation is important, and Craig is case in point. Right now, you can do a single Google search to find countless stories of young girls for whom this show was a gateway drug into the world of comic books, and Craig's Batgirl is at the top of the list of the reasons it resonated so much with them. Representation in media is important, because we all want to imagine we're comic book characters fighting crime, and that's made much easier when we can identify with them, much easier when the characters look like us. Now, as a white male, it's easy for me. I have a million comic book characters I can pretend to be. I can pretend to be obscure characters from the 1930s, or I can pretend to be the latest big-name superhero to grace the silver screen. They're, for the most part, white and male. But, you go outside of my group, and you find the pickings slim. People who don't look like me? They don't have a ton of options. But for the past 50 years, from broadcast to reruns, Yvonne Craig has helped to fill that role, and she did it well. Craig1And because of this, I think it's important to note that her portrayal is also a counter to one of the traditional arguments people trot out regarding diversity in comics: Companies only do it as a quick cash-grab. In Batman, Batgirl was exactly that. Ratings were lagging, so they thought if they introduced a female character, they could keep things going for a little while. It didn't work, of course -- the show only lasted one more season. But, that doesn't change the fact that the producers only introduced her to try and make a little more money. To that, I say this: Who cares? She was only on the show for a season, but look at what she inspired. The motivation for including her is irrelevant, but the result of including her is important. And the result of her inclusion in the show is a ton of little girls watching a superhero show and wanting to become Batgirl. And that is awesome. The other reason that Yvonne Craig is so important is that the show did much of the same for Batgirl as it did for Batman. Batgirl had only appeared in the comics for a couple of years before she was introduced to the TV show. Without the show, who knows if she would have continued. And then, without her, we wouldn't have Oracle or Cassandra Cain or any number of other female heroes inspired by her. And I think that so much of that public awareness is due to Craig's portrayal. As previously mentioned, she stood up with Batman, completing her own stunts and proving Batgirl as a viable member of the bat-mythos. I don't know if you can say that we definitely wouldn't have our idea of Batgirl without Craig, but there is definitely a strong chance of that. The Batman comics were already faltering during the 1960s, and DC was considering cancellation entirely. What saved the comics were editor Julius Schwartz and Batman, the TV show. So, I don't think it's a far cry to state that Craig is to thank for the popularity of Batgirl, a popularity which allowed her to continue as a character for the past fifty years. Craig lost a fight with breast cancer this week, a fight she had been taking on for nearly two years. My condolences go out to her friends and family in this time definitely, but also, my condolences go out to anyone who Craig inspired with her costumed escapades. I can understand what she meant to you on a theoretical level, but I can't truly understand how important her portrayal was. I'm not equipped to do so, and my experience in this world is different from yours. With that said, I do praise Craig for doing what she did, and I hope I've honored her memory with this post.
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Quarterbin Follies #21: Batman in a Kilt (Happy Tartan Day)

Image1 You might have noticed this by now, but I am something of am enthusiast for all things "Celtic," be it art, music, story or history. Truth be told, what started as an interest in my own family history has grown into something akin to fanaticism. Well, guess what, faithful: today, April sixth, is Tartan Day, a celebration of all things Scottish in America (or wherever you happen to live). Unlike St Paddy's or St David's days to the Irish and Welsh, respectively, which both began as religious observances and grew to become cultural celebrations; Tartan Day is a purely secular affair. (Tartan, in case you are not "in-the-know," is the distinct weaving pattern of Scotland, and the fabric woven after that method.) Now, hang on, folks, I know that lengthy discussions of weaving technologies and history are thrilling reading, but I have something better in mind today. On this day The-Powers-That-Be have declared it fitting to toss a "thumbs-up" to Scotland, and we here at Ideal Comics are more than ready to comply. (Well, I am, anyway.) Continue reading
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Quarterbin Follies #20: Would a Batgirl by Any Other Name…

1bI am not one to put too much stock in what is new and popular -- give it a decade and see how it wears. This is probably obvious, since I write a column entitled "Quarterbin Follies." I mean, when was the last time you bought a comic for a quarter, fer Pete's sake? Nevertheless, I could not help but notice that Batgirl has been "in the buzz" recently. From Newsarama to Comic Book Resources, the "New 52" Batgirl series is making headlines, and frankly that breaks my heart a little. Now, I don't want to sit here and go on some sort of diatribe about what's wrong with America's comics. I don't want to lean back, prop my feet up start up a sonorous song of "back my day, blah blah blah." But I do think just maybe people are missing the point. Continue reading

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