As regular readers will know I’ve been a little out of touch with comics for the last couple of years. This regrettable state of affairs has been entirely unintentional, and now circumstances have improved I’m trying to get back in the loop, just as I’m trying to get this column back on a proper, regular footing. It is a matter of some regret, therefore, that I didn’t manage to get to the annual Thought Bubble event in Leeds.
FoolCentral, the top secret lair from which I continue to plot world domination is less than a thirty minute drive from the Thought Bubble venue, and so I had expected to be there. Sadly family commitments took me to another part of the country, and so I missed it. I am told that this is a pity, because by all accounts it was an awesome event.
As ever though, the awesomness or otherwise of the event itself is a secondary consideration. Whether the event is good or bad there is always the opportunity for a bit of socialising with old friends and aquaintences from the wonderful world of comics creativity. In particular I was hoping to hook up with Terry Wiley, the creative force between indie publisher IDCM*. This is partly because Terry is a very nice bloke, but mostly because he had copies of the second instalment of his latest opus Verity Fair.
You may remember that I picked up the first issue of Verity at Bristol back in May, and that I utterly loved both it and her. Since then I’ve been desperate to get ahold of the next instalment. The first issue ended, as you may remember with our jobbing actress** waking from a nightmare and heading across town to meet a mysterious man and fall asleep. What was the nightmare? Who was the man? Why didn’t he seem surprised to have a naked woman arrive at his door in the middle of the night?
Well, issue #2 answers some of these questions, but poses many more. Whist we do discover the identity of Verity’s mystery man, and even learn how they first met, the nature of their relationship remains opaque. Then there’s our heroine’s apparently blossoming professional life – is all that too good to be true?
I don’t know. But I hope not, because as previously noted in this column, I’ve fallen more than a little in love with Verity Bourneville (aka Tracy Perkins) and I genuinely wish her well. The fact that I’m talking about her as though she were a real person only serves to underline the quality of Willey’s characterisation. I said when I reviewed issue #1 that this was probably the best thing that he’s ever done. After reading #2, I’m removing the equivocation. This is not just the best thing Willey has ever been involved with, it’s one of the best comics I’ve read in quite some time.
Seriously. Go get it. Your comics retailer will know how. Make them do it!
And that’s me done being positive for now, because I have to talk about Batman.
What can I say?
The whole “return of Bruce Wayne” thing is obvious bollocks and I’m hating every minute of it. Some of the stories are well written, and entertaining in and of themselves, which is good, but that doesn’t alter the fact that watching them do this to the Bat is like being forced to watch somebody vandalise a favourite piece of art. It hurts.
I’ll refrain from commenting in detail on the whole story arc for now – partly because I’m prepared to see how it all pans out before I stick my twopenn’orth in but mostly because anything I were to say about it right now would be quite simply unprintable. Instead I want to ponder again on the issue of ownership.
Clearly, in a purely legal sense**** Batman and everything connected to him is owned by DC Comics. This means that they can do whatever they like with him and raddled old fanboys like myself simply do not***** figure in their considerations.
In a moral sense****** though?
In my whole comics reading life, more than two decades, I have not made one red cent out of Batman. I have, however, invested what must now be thousands of pounds******* and hours on hours of my time. I have paid DC comics huge amounts of hard cash. Without we raddled old fanboys the comics companies make nothing. In a very real sense, they work for us. We pay them, and as any comics publisher will tell you, anything created on a “work for hire” basis belongs to the people who pay. At the end of the day, my foolish friends, that would be us.
Possibly. It certainly wouldn’t carry any weight in court, but that really isn’t my point. Batman, like Superman, Spiderman and – just so you don’t get the idea that I’m picking on the “big two” comics producers – Mickey Mouse are more than mere characters. They are icons. They are Archetypes. They belong to all of us. They are a part of our cultural heritage and as such are not to be trifled with. I’ve said it before – You. Do. Not. Mess.
Strangely, Disney, that corporate monster that turns over more cash than many countries, seems to understand this. Mickey may have evolved his look over the years, but they’ve never been so crass as to change his costume, or have him die, get replaced by another, slightly more violent mouse in a similar costume and then get better and come back as though nothing had happened. They have more respect for their fanbase than that.
Does it strike anybody else as odd that a company like DC – who once touted themselves as “the largest indy publisher” and made a big thing about being in touch with the readership – rides roughshod over everything the fans value******** about the character so often? Seriously between Knightfalls and Cataclysms and Contaigions and being dead, or lost in time, or eaten by fluffy alligators********* he’s spent very little time over the last twenty years doing what he does best. Detecting. Preferably on his own.
Mut maybe, just maybe I’m getting cross too soon.
Maybe the whole Batman Incorporated thing will in the end turn out to be the answer I’ve been looking for. Get the Bat family spread out a bit so that Bruce has Gotham to himself. Again I confess I’m not sure I’m following the narrative logic here, which seems to be “I was lost in time, but got back, and when I got back the motley crew I left behind has done quite a good job, so I’ll just spread the shadow of the bat********** across the whole world”. That doesn’t seem like the Bruce of old, but then maybe crossing the millennia and creating a legend in the process changes your outlook on life.
We are certainly standing at a crossroads with the Bat. If we’re lucky the people who are entrusted with our characters will stride bravely into new and exciting horizons, and we’ll regret the passing of the current incarnation no more than we lament the loss of the “shark repellent bat spray” era of sixties high camp.***********
I love the Bat. I want this new direction to be positive. It’s just that I’ve been burned so many times I’m going to take a lot of convincing.
*Which, as noted in a previous column stands for “I do comics, me.” This is perhaps the finest company name I have ever heard of.
**Or, should you prefer, Actor***.
***Which is just grammatically wong. The “or” suffix is latin, and denotes male. Having said that, the feminine version of that ought to be “Actrix” not “Actress”, so I guess all bets are off…
****Which in the end is the only sense that actually matters…
*****and indeed should not.
******Which is to say, “in the sense that nobody actually has to give a bugger about, however much they should.
*******I’m thinking at least four books a month, at an average of about £1.50 each, for twenty two years. That’s £1584.00 – and that has to be a very conservative estimate. I can’t remember the last time I only bought four Batbooks in a month – and the £1.50 average is sort of just plucked out of the air too – it is almost certainly much more.
********OK, for the sake of balance and clarity, “rides roughshod over everything I believe the fans value about the character”. I’m right though…
*********I might’ve made one of those up…
**********which would make quite a good title for a monthly comic, don’t you think…
***********Don’t imagine for a second that I’m against all change. When a change has been bad, a change back to what was good, such as happened when Denny O’Neil got back to basics after all the sixties buffoonery, is always to be welcomed.