Besides being my personal favourite surf guitar classic, this sums up one of the things I think is making comics at the moment not so good.
Couple of weeks ago, ‘Detective’ #821, the first issue scripted by Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Paul Dini, hit the stands. And he did something I haven’t seen in a LONG time. He told a kickass Batman story.
There’s a series of crimes, and the cops are puzzled. Batman enters the scene and discovers it’s an all-new costumed foe. He investigates, traces the criminal to his lair, where’s there’s some punch-ups and a bit of detective work and the baddie gets carted off to jail.
In amongst all this, we get a bit of an insight into the new Bruce/Tim dynamic and there’s a neat self-realization scene with Bruce at a party, allowing the reader to draw comparisons between the baddie and our hero if he or she so chooses, but it’s not overplayed, and the introduction of an all-new costumed baddie into the Batman Rogue’s Gallery.
So what makes this so special? Well for one, the fact that all this took place in a single issue. We got a complete story, featuring excitement, advenure, some fights, a bit of character development… Batman, Robin, Alfred, Gordon, a mystery, some detective work and a new character all in 22 pages.
How does Dini do it? Well for one, because he’s a great writer. He writes economically, but with impact. But the main thing I see here is that Paul Dini is chiefly interested in telling a kickarse Batman story.
Not trying to redefine the character, or explore new avenues, to deconstruct, reconstruct, examine, re-examine, brief, debrief, fold, spindle or mutilate the character. Just, you know, tell a good story.
Look, we all know that ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ was brilliant, as was ‘Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Watchmen’, but the simple fact is that we can’t and really shouldn’t expect that every time.
A good example of that is ‘Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds’. Basically, Alan Moore used Adam Strange in an issue of ‘Swamp Thing’, so DC decides they’ll do a follow-up miniseries. Of course, this is pre-Vertigo, so they decide to do it in ‘Alan Moore’-style (whatever THAT means!) .
As a result, rather than two-fisted jetpack shenanigans, we get a turgid and downbeat tale of familial disintegration, global extinction, self-loathing and despair… he even loses the jetpack after only two pages of use!
In trying to create genius, the creators have managed to summon forth a literary turd, when we would have been much happier with a tale of fin-headed jetpack shenanigans and mystery in space.
Now, I’m not saying everything should be done-in-one adventures. I don’t think ANYTHING should everything. Sometimes, you HAVE to write a deep cultural exploration of the dark psychological landscape of a clay statue of a princess in a star-spangled miniskirt, a living compost heap or (gods help us) a twelve year old who turns into a magical grownup when he says the name of his wizard friend.
But don’t you think it’d be nice sometime if, instead of trying to build the next ‘War and Peace’ on a foundation of radioactive spiderbites or shield-slinging octogenarians in blue chainmail, we could just settle with ‘Tarzan of the Apes’, ‘Biggles’ or ‘Captain Blood’. Because while ‘great’ is … well, ‘great’, I guess.
…there’s nothing wrong with ‘good’.