There’s this idea that comics are somehow a lesser art form, something meant for children. Some writers in the medium even believe that, letting that sense of disdain fill their works and turn them into petty indulgences that do nothing but celebrate encroaching nihilism. We’re told that in this cynical and meaningless world, where we all believe in commercial materialistic hedonism, that there are no such things as heroes and that we should worship emptiness as an ideal and drug away what feeling and passion we have.
Everything becomes corrupt. Our ideals, our dreams, everything tainted by this strange editorial mandate that we’ve let into our lives that says that we don’t matter, that our actions mean nothing, that there are no consequences. Morality is a sham, we’re told, a lie that covers the fear of getting caught. And the stories we’re growing up with now reflect this idea, this ongoing degradation of what was once the human soul.
Pretty grim stuff. How does this tie to comics? We’re getting there. Bear with me.
I remember trying to share the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire with my family almost twenty years ago. I was scoffed at back then, told to get my heads out of the clouds, that no one cared about stupid fantasy stories. I was told that the books I was reading had no worth or value by a lot of the elders I was supposed to be learning from and respecting. Now, of course, the book has become a television series called Game of Thrones and those same people call me, asking for details on something they once told me had no value. It is endlessly, endlessly frustrating.
Works of quality are qualitative due to their substance, not their style. Style helps, certainly, but what makes a story meaningful is the impact it has on the people who take it to heart. I made a lot of friends through comics and role-playing games and other things I was told were a waste of time. I took comfort – not escape, but comfort – in being able to connect with other people that understood those stories the same way I did. Communities were formed, relationships made and honed.
Some comics have moved out of the “kid-zone” mentality that cripples the perception of so many people. Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, Road to Perdition, Sandman, Cairo, these and their ilk are comics that it’s somehow okay for adults to like. Call them graphic novels, not comics, like that somehow magically makes them something other than a comic book.
And they’re not, right? Comics are the venue of the cape-and-spandex set. You know, them. The superheroes that we look down on and scoff for their simplistic moralities and endless futile struggles until they become big movies and then it’s somehow okay to like them. Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Batman. Them.
Let me explain how childish.
The smart ones liked Spider-Man. He represented the shunted genius bullied for the crime of being smart, a man gifted by accident who lost sight of the responsibilities his that came with that gift just once and could never live with himself because of it. Genius comes with a price, Spider-Man taught us, and failing because of the casual cruelty of others made us worse than those others, because we have the power to make a difference, to make this world a better place.
The different ones liked the X-Men. Hated for being different in ways that really weren’t all that strange comparatively, but made all the difference in the world for those who had learned to hate. The X-Men taught us to stand up for ourselves, to find a family of one another, to understand that just because other people had given into a fashionable hatred didn’t mean that we had to. We could fight for the right to be ourselves, and we had every right to explore the people we wanted to be. We could create a place for ourselves in this world, and make the world better thereby.
The broken ones liked Batman. He was traumatized, like us, and he was terrified, like us, but the core of him wasn’t vengeance or hate or anything so base. No, the core of Batman was a simple shattered boy who could not stand the idea of anyone suffering what he had suffered, a child who would not stand for the evil that the adults around him allowed to exist. Batman confronted the terrors of the world by becoming the most terrible thing in it, but he stood for protection, for reason, for an intelligent and measured response to the madness that defines so much of his and our world.
The heroes helped those of us that were helpless, not by being in our world but by showing us the people we could be. There wasn’t anyone in our world to look up to, the endless parade of fake celebrities and drug addled sports stars and corrupt politicians. We looked at them and we swore to ourselves that we would be better, not because it was possible but because we couldn’t stand to be any less. These stories shaped our childhoods, our teenage dreams, and followed us into adulthood.
DC Comics was a big part of that. Yes, I only listed one of their properties above. I’ve done that consciously – their recent narrative decisions and business practices are not ones we care to endorse. We tried to ignore them, to praise them for the the things they were doing right, and of those things Batwoman was the greatest.
The extended Batman family is the most important and diverse mythology that DC Comics has developed. In it, though, all things and characters are subservient to and serve Batman. Even Batwoman, in her original form, was initially brought about to be nothing more than a love interest, a forgettable character that was largely forgotten until Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III revisited her a half decade ago.
What they crafted was mindblowing. An equal to Batman, someone that took him as an inspiration to become the person she needed to be. Kate Kane was brilliant, and the stories that grew around her were perfect. The art that accompanied those stories was tremendous, among the greatest to ever grace the pages of any comic book in the history of the medium. It was the best of what DC had to offer, a shining example of what they could be if they chose to be.
Batwoman was there for the smart ones, the different ones, and the broken ones. She was about choice, about owning destiny and finding her own place in the world, about crafting her own family. She fought monsters out of urban legend, the sorts of things that prey on or invert love itself, and she did so without stopping. Even when she was blackmailed into working for people she couldn’t stand, she stayed true to herself and her beliefs and her world was a better place for it. It was awe-inspiring.
Changes were happening at DC Comics, but while we were promised something great all we ended up with was the nu52, a publicity stunt that has resulted in bad stories and little else of note. Rucka was driven out, but Williams III and Haden Blackman fought for Batwoman and managed to make her a part of what was to come – the best part of what was to come. No less than the New York Times called Batwoman “the most satisfying read of the new DC 52.”
And it was. Make no mistake, this comic deserved every bit of praise it was given. This was a work of genius, expanding on the themes of the mini-series and then some, giving depth and life to a world that was beautifully rendered. Batwoman was easily one of the best comics that DC had ever produced in the entirety of their eighty plus years of publishing comics, the sort of thing that anyone would have been proud to be a part of.
Naturally, DC decided to honor the integrity of the creators attached to it.
Wait. No. They did the opposite of that. The DC editorial board, who like to take time from insulting their fans to insult their writers, decided to make Batwoman better by adding their unique slant to this story, a creeping taint that had driven away many of their best creative minds from other titles already. The people running DC right now seem to hate comics, to hate their characters and their staff and their fans.
They’re pushing the same materialistic nihilism that we once used their characters to fight. There’s been a couple of holdouts, but by-and-large DC Comics have become unreadable. There’s actually an edict from one of their higher-ups that states that none of their heroes are allowed to have personal happy lives, that no one is allowed to even be okay. All their heroes have to be miserable, as if heroism and misery are somehow tied together.
DC Comics once published a world where heroism was lauded and celebrated. Several of their heroes were public figures, well known private individuals with histories that stretched back and informed their world. There were museums dedicated to particular heroes, holidays and public parks. This was a world that lived its heroes.
The reboot changed that. The heroes were now reviled, and their world hated and distrusted them, and in many cases they earned that hatred and distrust. By making them and their world miserable, the DC editorial staff made a mockery of everything that their characters were supposed to be about. Their comics and their mythos are a barely comprehensible mess, and someone at some point is going to have to fix it if they’re going to have any properties worthy of the name.
In spite of this, Batwoman was the single greatest achievement anyone at DC had accomplished in years, maybe decades.
The editorial staff responded to this work of beautiful genius by driving the people that gave us this gift away. They got rid of Rucka, drove away Williams III and Haden Blackman. They spoke of compromise, of having their creatives meet them in the middle of what they wanted, but anytime those creatives tried to do so the editorial staff moved further and further back, trying to pull what was excellent into the mire of mediocrity that they had made of everything else.
We don’t know what the future of Batwoman is now. It’s a safe assumption that the comic will fade into the grimdark nightmare of banality that has defined the rest of the nu52.
It’s important to mark this passing. Batwoman was everything that DC Comics should be and won’t be any more. We think it’s important to thank Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman for giving us something that we really loved and cared about, something that was utterly fantastic.
You guys are great, and we’re so sorry for your loss.
We say this because Batwoman was the sort of character that could inspire those that needed her in our world. She was larger than life, an icon, a totem, and the DC Comics editorial staff will reduce her to something just as crippled as all the rest of their caricatures.
The fictional world and the real one are both worse off for her passing.
Rest in peace, soldier.