Friday, April 01, 2005

BATMAN #638

Most of this issue was relatively enjoyable in the same way Winick's start to his Batman tenure has been -- reminiscent of the best parts of his Green Lantern run and blissfully removed from either Outsiders or Green Arrow. In fact, I would wager to say that I would have been perfectly satisfied with this issue if there wasn't a certain plot point being introduced. Sadly, as with Countdown to Infinite Crisis, it's that niggling plot point that is the true message of the issue.

Continuing the theme of comic book character death from the Countdown review, let's now address the flip side of killing someone off -- the general inability of funnybook folk to stay dead once that state is achieved and the engine of their inevitable return.

It used to be that character deaths meant something because they were permanent -- Jean Grey (the first time) being arguably the best example. Killing off a big character required an elaborate set-up and the funnybook version of an Irish wake to follow. Hal Jordan's sudden departure from sanity and heroism in Emerald Twilight was disappointing because while it was grandiose, it wasn't handled with sufficient respect; he got a better send-off in Final Night, but by that point, the damage was done.

However, now we no longer expect characters to stay dead and it is usually the ones with the most dramatic deaths who are the ones coming back. Death is no longer permanent -- it is a hiatus, the new limbo until a writer comes along who really wants to use the character and must first stage the resurrection to do so. Sometimes the re-animating premise works and sometimes it doesn't and there usually tends to be aliens and sketchy theology involved. Sometimes both.

There are some deaths, though, that should never be undone. Sometimes a character's death means more to the larger story than their life ever did. No matter how gratuitous or meaningless they were at the time, there are character deaths that have been turned from sour grapes to the best cognac and should not be reverted back to grape juice.

Barry Allen was killed off in the (original) Crisis because he was deemed bland and boring and inessential to a universe that already had Wally West and would soon have Jay Garrick as well. In the twenty years since, his death has become the ultimate symbol of heroic sacrifice -- in no small part because he hasn't come back. Barry has had plenty of Post-Crisis appearances, but they've all been negotiated around the fact that he is still dead. Barry is far more useful and interesting now than he ever was when he was alive.

Jason Todd is another character whose importance grew in death, eclipsing his significance in life. Jason was the ersatz Robin, the one whose main descriptive was "not Dick Grayson". He was surly and troubled and possibly murderous and the circumstance in which he died fit because it was a consequence of all of his unpleasant character traits plus fan dislike. He was miserable as a plot device in life, but he was magnificent in that role in death. Bruce's reaction -- his falling apart (necessitating the arrival of the far more well-received Tim Drake), his bestowing the title of 'martyr' on Jason instead of seeing him as a troubled and disobedient child, and the way his guilt over Jason's death has informed his decisions and reactions in the time since have all been much more satisfying than any story where Batman & Robin meant Bruce & Jason. Jason Todd's ghost has haunted both Bruce Wayne and Batman and that was more use than he would have ever been as a live boy.

I can see more of a case to bring back Jason than Barry; the damage done to Bruce by Jason's death isn't going to become completely undone now that Jason is alive and well. But I don't know that I can support the decision to destroy what he has come to represent for the sake of a short-term plot arc. A living Jason stops being the 'Good Soldier' and ceases to be one of Bruce's driving forces -- at this stage of the game, Jason is as much impetus to the Batmission as Thomas and Martha Wayne -- and I have serious reservations about whether what he becomes instead will be worth the exchange. That the writer handling it is Judd Winick, whose inconsistencies and quirks have long been a frustration... doesn't help. Even if he seems to have a good grip on the microcosm in this issue, I have been burned too many times by Winick to trust him for the macrocosm.

Finally, considering the gravity of what goes on within, the cover takes the completely wrong tone. You don't bring back Jason Todd with corny Silver Age cover art.

1 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

Wow. A perfect summation of what Jason Todd meant to Batman, and why it's so stupid to bring him back. Excellent.

Sun Apr 03, 07:17:00 PM EDT  

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