New 52 Year One Retrospective Part 2: Bats in the Belfry – The Heroes
The New 52 is a complete re-launch of DC's comic books with the ultimate goal being to get more readers, and more money. After one year, how has the New 52 measured up? Is it nothing more than a cheap stunt to boost profits? Was it truly necessary? Find out in this year one retrospective of the New 52.
Now, I'm not made of money (no matter how much I wish I was). I have not read every issue of the New 52 at the time of this retrospective, but have read and heard enough to warrant what at least I believe the series has accomplished and failed to do.
This is not going to be an in-depth review of any series. Me and the rest of the writers on Player Affinity have already covered a lot of them, which you can find by clicking on the links below. Instead, I'm going to talk about the creative teams decisions during the New 52 and how they affect the comic book world at large in multiple segments that each have a theme.
The theme for this second part of the New 52 Retrospective may not be as... provocative as the first part of this retrospective, Sex and Clown Cars. But after writing about sex and it's portrayal in the New 52, can I top that? Probably not – unless I talk about the goddamn Batman!*
Originally, this feature was going to be a complete look at anything Batman-related. But after realizing that my analysis of Mr. Freeze took almost 500 words to complete, I realized that Batman is so convoluted I needed to divide this segment into two parts. So, we'll be looking at the heroes in the "Batman" universe in this part of Bats in the Belfry. For the lowdown on the New 52's Batman villains, see my feature New 52 Year One Retrospective Part 2: Bats in the Belfry – The Villains.
Bats in the Belfry – The Heroes
The villains may make Batman titles more interesting and up the level of insanity tenfold, but you couldn't have Batman without... well, Batman. I'll also be talking about his fellow caped crusaders of Gotham, including the likes of Batgirl, Robin, Catwoman's attempt at heroism, several other decades-old heroes and some new and colorful faces.
A familiar face back in a cowl, Barbara Gordon has resumed her role as Batgirl after being confined to a wheelchair for several years because of the Joker's bullet. My stance on the decision to change Batgirl from Stephanie Browne to Barbara Gordon has not changed, so rather than plagiarize myself (and since you're here to learn about the New 52's changes and not my tangent on why Stephanie Brown made an awesome Batgirl), click here to read Con: Why Barbara Gordon Should NOT Be Batgirl. I have refused to read the series, but have heard Gail Simone, a pioneer writer of great super-heroine comics, has made Batgirl into a great series. I don't doubt the content is good, but the idea of having Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is not one I'm behind.
Even more distressing, after a year the New 52 has completely neglected former Batgirl Stephanie Brown. She has no part in the New 52's universe. I might be less bitter if she at least assumed a new superhero identity. I would buy that book up in a second just to see her in action again. Another kick to the face is seeing that in the chess set they are making of some of the popular Batman heroes and villains, they are including two Batgirls – Barbara Gordon and Cassandra Cain – but not Steph! The New 52 clearly has some kind of allergy to blond batgirls...
The Birds of Prey also featured Batgirl, which is not the reason I have not been reading it. However, I have read the first two issues. The New 52 drastically changed the Birds of Prey roster. Previously, the Birds of Prey consisted of Barbara Gordon (as Oracle), Black Canary, Lady Blackhawk, Huntress, Hawk and Dove. This was a long-awaited reunion of Gail Simone's Bird's of Prey cast (with an added Hawk and Dove), and it's a shame that reunion had to be so short. The former Birds of Prey series ended only fifteen issues in when the New 52 came barreling in. There was no real reason to change the roster, other than adding Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. The series was still young.
The New 52's roster started out much smaller with only two returning members: Black Canary and Batgirl. The rest of the roster includes Katana, Starling, Poison Ivy and Batgirl. So, at first glance, which of these names doesn't belong?
Poison Ivy. Former Arkham Inmate, Poison Ivy has turned to the ways of "good" – though the recent covers of Birds of Prey #12 seems to suggest she may be returning to her villainous roots. Ivy is not an ideal choice for a hero. She is too in love with plants and is the equivalent of a sociopath, hating all people with the exception of Harley Quinn.
But the New 52's Birds of Prey is a good opportunity to get new fans interested in Batgirl, and would be an even greater opportunity to get fans of Stephanie Browne like myself into the character. Her appearance from issue 4 the series and onward should be enough to wet both types of fans whistles...
Now for Barbara Gordon's former beau, and the first Robin, Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Nightwing. Now, the New 52 may seem like a step back for the character in terms of notoriety. Dick Grayson, before the New 52, had taken up the mantle of Batman when Bruce went time traveling for two years and was presumed dead. But the New 52 puts Grayson back into the Nightwing suit, with a little alteration that makes the suit look like a dead ringer to the future Batman in Batman Beyond – with the exception of the pointy ears. I actually like this nudge to the future, especially since Grayson, a former Batman, the one wearing that nudge.
So, is changing Grayson back to Nightwing really a step-back for the character? In the two years he was Batman, Grayson undoubtedly got more readers, but I'm sure most of them didn't even know he was under the cowl vs. Bruce Wayne. So while his role as Batman might have given him more readers, most of them didn't even know he was who they were reading, making it hard for him to get any fans based on himself. Yes, there were some good stories with Grayson clearly being under the cowl, and he more than earned his place, but his character did not want to get mixed up with Batman again considering how he left things when he left his Robin cape behind him. So, I think going forward as Nightwing is better for old fans and for new fans who will actually know who they're looking at.
But another huge change for Nightwing and a big twist: Dick Grayson, according to the New 52, was supposed to become an Owl taking orders from the Court of Owls. He could have become a hunter for the court if his family hadn't died and he wasn't taken in by the eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne. While this addition was a nice "oooo" moment for readers, it didn't really change anything for the character. It just shows a path that could've been traveled, and I wouldn't mind seeing that explored in an alternate timeline. Come on, what Dick Grayson fan wouldn't want to see an alternate reality mini-series with Grayson as a hunter for the Court? I would be interested, and I'm not even a Dick Grayson fan (fanboys please keep your hating on me PG).
Red Hood is another former Robin that I have not been reading. But, he has clearly changed from a villain to... well, in Red Hood and the Outlaws, an unlikable anti-hero and one of three reasons (the other two being Starfire and Red Arrow) why I dropped Red Hood and the Outlaws after one issue. It is nice to see him fighting alongside the other Robins in the pages of Batman, however. It's a reunion I enjoy, though it's definitely not as volatile as I would have thought considering the Hood was a criminal for many years. Batman's rather forgiving in the New 52...
And now's the part where I humbly admit that, again, I have not been reading the Titans and with the exception of some Batman titles and Superboy have barely seen the likes of my boy Tim Drake, a former Robin who then took up the mantle of Red Robin when Batman Bruce Wayne went missing years ago. Now, after apparently a break form crime-fighting, he is working with the Titans once again, a reunion I'm sure many people are happy about. But I missed the days he starred in his own book, Red Robin. He could clearly carry his own title, and the reboot of the Titans (and, by extension, Superboy) is definitely not something I wanted the New 52 to do. I'm also not a huge fan of Drake's new costume, but will admit it has a lot of great functions. The wings on his back are more than just a fashion statement, after all.
Now for my favorite New 52 decision: Batwing. Giving him his own series, that is. Batwing showed up before the New 52 in Batman, Inc, but got his first amazing title series in the New 52. The first story arc has my favorite artwork of any New 52, a great story... but we're not here to talk about how good the series is, but the character of Batwing. He was "news" before the New 52 considering he is the first member of the bat family who is black. His origin story told through the pages of Batwing is great and dramatically realistic which makes his origin all the more grim. As a child, a group of soldiers killed everyone in his village except him and his friend and then raised them to be killers. As young teenagers, David Zimbabwe gunned down villagers without batting an eye before becoming the hero Batwing. The New 52 made David so interesting it encouraged me to pick up all of his other appearances before it, and when the New 52 can make me want to go back and buy more of DC's older product, they are definitely doing something right. Their only misstep was in Batwing #10, where they made Batwing's personality mirror Batman's before turning him back into his own character. This made me heave a huge sigh of relief since David better be his own person after such an amazing set-up. It also allowed the New 52 to explore more of his fictional homeland, which I think is a great setting that David needs to get back to. It's there, and I will be happy if the creators of Batwing decide to exploit and use the setting as much as they like. It gets tiresome seeing Gotham city so much, after all. I'm not the only one who thinks David is such a success, however. Batwing's title has been praised relentlessly next to Swamp Thing and Animal Man. I even loved to see that in the chess set they are making of Batman's greatest allies and foes, Batwing is being put in there among the likes of such well-known heroes as Nightwing and Batgirl. Batwing is one of the few things I can say with a hundred percent certainty that I love from the New 52.
Now onto the dynamic duo themselves, starting with Robin.
The strongest characterization of Robin during the New 52 has been his deeds in Batman and Robin, where, for the first story arc, he struggles to not kill anyone. After all, being raised by assassins one second and the vigilante driven by morality Batman the next, it can be a bit of a struggle. Even better is the relationship between Batman Bruce Wayne and his son, Damian Wayne a.k.a. the current Robin. This is the one instance where I love Batman the most because he is not the almost god-like vigilante he has become in the eyes of his readers; he's a father, and not the best one at that.
Now, Damian's struggle and his conflicted feelings with his father are not new to the New 52, but his acting on them is. Robin's killing dilemma makes for some intense moments during the first arc of the New 52 Batman and Robin series, but then the result comes: Damian fails his struggle and does kill. This is of course very dramatic and makes for a great conflict in Damian and Batman's relationship that was already rocky to begin with. What kills me is the inevitable aftermath of killing someone: pretty much nothing. Instead of dealing with the fact that his son is a murderer, writers of the Batman and Robin story moved on to another villain and almost completely forget about the fact that Robin is now homicidal and Batman should probably do something. Well, at least Batman moves on. Even after killing someone, Damian's character is still attempting to grow into a better person. He gets a dog reminiscent of Ace from Batman Beyond who he seems to really connect with, which is a nice reminder to readers that despite being raised by assassins, Damian is still a kid. A kid playing with his dog – which I know inevitably had some readers quoting the Omen by saying "Put the dog down Damian!" Another interesting step in the New 52 with Robin's characterization is when Damian, after killing, decides to fight every person who has ever been Robin and, if he wins his fight, will take a personal possession of theirs. He goes on to beat the Red Hood and Red Robin. But, when Damian gets to Nightwing, Nightwing does something that is one of those great moments that have me enjoying the New 52:
In that moment, Dick brilliantly tells Damian he doesn't have to prove himself to anyone: he is Robin. Again, all of this would be awesome if he hadn't already killed somebody at this point and hasn't as of yet owned up to it or even cried about it. But still, I've enjoyed reading the pretty badass moments Damian has been given in Batman and Robin. He's more than half the reason why I enjoy reading that series.
And now for the second half of the dynamic duo: Batman.
I'm not even going to bother with a picture or words for his character, he's always remained the same, but I will say something else.
Is it sad that after all this time reading bat books I've only recently come to realize I don't like Batman much anymore? I love seeing the cornucopia of villains he faces with their myriad of mental disorders, but Batman has become so over saturated in the market today. We had a feature on Player Affinity called Are There Too Many Batman Books?
(there are) for crying out loud! That's how frequently Batman has appeared in comics of the New 52, and I have to admit that's sad to see. Like Green Lantern
books, because there are so many of these variations on the same theme. These extra Bat books could be eliminated to make room for other books of lesser known heroes (like Stephanie Brown!), giving them a chance to shine!
It really has gotten to the point where I can not remember which Batman stories go with which Bat book. Along with girlfriends, a different one of which Batman has in each series. Bruce Wayne really is a player, and it can get tiresome to read about the same type of girl with Bruce going through the same motions as usual: I really like her, but saving the city is more important. Let's just use her for sex appeal. I know Batman is popular because of his hit movies, games and comics, but because of that he has become the Chuck Norris of comics. He is elevated to the level of God-hood, making us forget the reason we all liked him in the first place: he's a human-being with no superpowers. Now the New 52 has oversaturated the market with Batman, and while some of the heroes associated with the Dark Knight give us a taste of something new, we could do to lose a couple of Batman books.
Also, a shout-out to Batgirl's father Commissioner James Gordon, who hasn't changed a bit – with the exception of having a few years taken off him. Good for him.
And on my final annoying fangirl note, put Stephanie Brown into the New 52 universe!
*This is a joke relating to the weirdness that was All-Star Batman. For those offended, go yell at the writers of that.