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Thread: Meeting #17: Grim-N-Gritty Superheroes

  1. JohnLees Guest

    Meeting #17: Grim-N-Gritty Superheroes

    Welcome back, clubbers! It’s been a tumultuous two weeks for Project Fanboy since we last met. Steven Forbes has departed from the boards, and so the jewel in Project Fanboy’s column crown, Bolts & Nuts, is now on indefinite hiatus. This is a big loss to our little community, but Seb, Jay, Calvin (taking over The Proving Grounds) and I can only hope to fill the void as best we can. That said, we move onto today’s topic, continuing our extended analysis of the superhero genre and the limitations it has had to overcome. As I have done over the past several meetings, I’m going to use some comments by Alan Moore (as stated in “Alan Moore Reflects on Marvelman” on as a starting point. Here, he talks about the negative effect that he believes his work within the superhero genre with books such as Watchmen and Marvelman has had on comic books as a whole:

    But, as I said, it was meant to be something that would liberate comics. Instead, it became this massive stumbling block that comics can’t even really seem to get around to this day. They’ve lost a lot of their original innocence, and they can’t get that back. And, they’re stuck, it seems, in this kind of depressive ghetto of grimness and psychosis. I’m not too proud of being the author of that regrettable trend.

    Indeed, over the past couple of decades, we have seen comics become darker and more violent, leading to the term “grim-n-gritty” being coined. It is a trend that has altered the way superhero comics are written, with even some of the most iconic, enduring superheroes now often portrayed as flawed, psychologically-damaged, and prone to grievous lapses in judgement. It is almost inarguable that Moore is right about innocence being lost within the mainstream Marvel and DC Universes, and with how far the superheroes of the mainstream have gone down this path, returning to the cheery tales of the Silver Age would indeed be all but impossible. But the question I intend to explore through the study of this meeting’s recommended reading is whether or not this is necessarily a bad thing.

    But before the rest of Moore’s statement is addressed, the first point that some might find issue with is on Moore signaling himself as the author of this trend. Of course, Watchmen played a big part, but there was also the rise of Vertigo Comics, and the work of another writer at the same time – Frank Miller. When Moore talks about once fun, playful, light-hearted superhero stories being turned into worlds with a “depressing atmosphere” populated by protagonists who have become “grim, brooding psychopaths”, Batman is likely the first hero that springs to mind. It is also probably who Moore is referring to, considering he soon goes on to talk about The Killing Joke and how damaging it was to how the character was perceived. But while The Killing Joke was certainly significant, surely Frank Miller must be credited as the chief architect behind the reinvention of Batman and his world. The impact of The Dark Knight Returns was discussed back in Meeting #3, but that book was an out-of-continuity, with a heavy sci-fi fantasy vibe. No, the real landmark book that not only altered the interpretation of Batman and Gotham City in the DCU but went on to heavily influence the growth of “grim-n-gritty” in the superhero genre, and the Miller Batman graphic novel I’ll be focusing on today, is Batman: Year One.

    When talking about Batman: Year One, the clichéd point I always tend to start with is that this is not really a Batman story. It’s a Jim Gordon story. Batman is certainly a major presence, and there are sequences in the story where he gets to be narrator. But the story’s primary narrator, the key point-of-view character the reader connects with, is Gordon. He’s the focus at the story’s start and end, with his opening narration as he arrives in Gotham City bringing up an interesting point:

    Barbara’s flying in. I don’t care how much it costs. Train’s no way to come to Gotham… in an airplane, from above, all you’d see are the streets and buildings. Fool you into thinking it’s civilized.

    When Bruce Wayne first appears, in his case returning to Gotham City, he also begins by talking about the city. This prompted me to look at the very start of the book, at “The Crime Blotter”, a faux newspaper article placed on the very first page of the graphic novel package. It’s a whole series of anecdotes, relating the different kinds of corruption to be found in every level of Gotham society, ending with the line, “What a town.” And this prompted me to look at Year One in a different light. Gordon may be the book’s main character, but perhaps this is not even a Jim Gordon story. Perhaps the best way to describe Year One is as a story about Gotham City.

    I’m not saying Year One was the first story to depict police corruption in Gotham, or to suggest it’s not a nice place to live, but what it did do was take these ideas to a whole new level, with Miller turning Gotham into an entity that almost feels alive and writhing with tangible decay and despair. After all, here in Batman’s origin story the villains aren’t any of Batman’s iconic rogues (though Joker is mentioned at the end), but instead are largely Gotham’s own systemically corrupt police force, working in tandem with Carmine Falcone’s gangsters. Miller’s interpretation of Gotham, the ideas about it he raises here, have been re-explored by many other writers in the subsequent decades. Furthermore, the environment depicted here would be a major influence on Nolan’s grounded reinterpretation of the Batman mythos in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, which may have at last banished the vision of the campy 1960s Adam West TV show and brought the grim-n-gritty portrayal of Batman beyond the comics and into the dominant perception of the mainstream.

    Of course, Miller can’t take full credit for breathing new life into Gotham City. A substantial part of the impact Year One has is due to the atmospheric art of David Mazzucchelli. His sparse, stylized characters (yet, as seen in images like the last page of “Chapter 3: Black Dawn”, capable of great nuance and expression) contrast with intricately-detailed settings, making both stand out starkly. As important as Miller’s story obviously is, it’s Mazzucchelli’s iconic visuals that have proven to be the most enduring elements of Year One. The aforementioned image of Gordon sat on the edge of his bed, cradling his gun. Gordon and Batman clashing in the shadows. And, of course, most iconic of all, an aerial shot looking down on young Bruce Wayne as he kneels between the bodies of his murdered parents:

    These are images that, as comic readers, are burned into our subconscious. Even for those of us who haven’t read Year One, odds are the above image still defines the character in our head. So integral was Mazzucchelli’s art in shaping the response to Batman: Year One (and later, in Daredevil: Born Again) that the style replicated by later artists when seeking to create a noir aesthetic in the superhero realm. From Michael Lark on Daredevil and Gotham Central to Steve Epting on Captain America, we’ve seen artists employ a Mazzucchelli-tinged style when grounding superheroes in a darker, grittier world. However, it’s interesting to see what Mazzucchelli has to say about how the superhero has changed in his afterword in the Year One graphic novel:

    So with Year One, we sought to craft a credible Batman, grounded in a world we recognize. But, did we go too far? Once a depiction veers toward realism, each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre. The more “realistic” superheroes become, the less believable they are.

    Did Mazzucchelli and Miller go too far? The portrayal of Gotham here in Year One, further progressed in comics like The Long Halloween, Gotham Central and Joker, and cemented in the Nolan films, takes Batman out of the realm of superhero fantasy, making his story more like a gritty urban crime drama that happens to be spiced up by some characters in garish costumes. It has come to be the definitive interpretation of the character. But when talking about Nolan’s films, though I’ve noticed among many fans it seems to have become the buzz word, I tend to avoid using the word “realistic”. Grounded, gritty, sure. But a billionaire who dresses up as a bat and fights crime is still an inherently unrealistic idea, no matter how you present it. And I think that’s what Mazzucchelli’s getting at here. When you then look at the universe where he’s supposed to exist, brushing shoulders with the likes of Superman, The Flash and Green Lantern, any aspiration towards realism with Batman seems all the more awkward. Taking this into consideration, is this darker, grittier portrayal of Batman as seen in Year One somehow less authentic than the campy fun of the 50s and 60s? Alan Moore seems to think so:

    If, as I said, god forbid, I was ever writing a character like Batman again, I’d probably be setting it squarely in the kind of “smiley uncle” period where Dick Sprang was drawing it, and where you had Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite, and the zebra Batman—when it was sillier. Because then, it was brimming with imagination and playful ideas. I don’t think that the world needs that many brooding psychopathic avengers. I don’t know that we need any.

    Is this interpretation of Batman really more appropriate and authentic than the grim-n-gritty version of Year One? I don’t think so. For one, Moore is neglecting to consider that the brooding avenger came before the smiley uncle. The early Batman stories of the 1940s could be pretty dark, often with high body-counts. It wasn’t until the arrival of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s that we saw Batman forced into an era of increased campiness and docile hijinks. Year One wasn’t radically changing the character so much as returning him to his pulp-noir roots.

    It should also be taken into account that Year One was most definitely not some kneejerk response to the success of Watchmen: rather, it was the culmination of a long path towards a darker, grittier, more mature Dark Knight that had started with Denny O’Neill’s run in the 1970s. As destructive and inappropriate Moore feels the brooding avenger take on Batman is, it wasn’t some contrived stumbling block tossed in Batman’s path, but a natural progression. It’s what the readers wanted, what the character merited. The ability to change with the times is why Batman has remained so popular and relevant.

    Finally, I’m going to have to disagree with Moore’s assessment that Batman is a psychopath. Yes, in more extreme cases (including other stories written by Miller), Batman does come across as psychotic. But far from being an amoral nutjob, Batman’s heroism is clearly on display throughout Year One, and when speaking to Amazing Heroes in 1986, Miller made it clear that he didn’t view Batman as a psychopath:

    He’s clearly a man with a mission, but it’s not one of vengeance. Bruce is not after personal revenge… He’s much bigger than that; he’s much more noble than that. He wants the world to be a better place, where a young Bruce Wayne would not be a victim.

    And I think this optimism lies at the core of Batman in Year One and beyond, when he’s handled right. Far from what Moore calls “a slightly depressing atmosphere” detracting from Batman’s inherent heroism and reducing him to a “grim, ruthless psychopath”, I believe that the grittiness of Gotham City and the darkness of his world only serves to make Batman’s heroism in the face of adversity shine all the brighter.

    Of course, it’s easy to take Batman: Year One – one of the definitive comics of the 80s, and one of the most significant, beloved graphic novels of all time – and use it to oppose Moore’s stance that the superhero genre’s move towards grim-n-gritty post-Watchmen has been all style and no substance, and that it has come at the cost of moral bankruptcy for the heroes. As I hope I demonstrated with Year One, when at it’s best, this needn’t be the case. But that’s the key phrase here – when at it’s best. One thing that I do agree with Moore with – though unlike him, I don’t view it as his work VS everyone else’s – is that though the innovators of the 80s like Watchmen, Marvelman, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again might have used grim-n-gritty to enhance the superhero genre without compromising what a superhero is supposed to be, they did inspire a slew of cheap imitators who took the darkness and the violence and the moral ambiguity of these books but left behind tricky things like subtext, characterization and heroism.

    The 90s is when this trend really hit critical mass, when grim-n-gritty was taken to the extreme. The formation of Image Comics played a big part in the influx of murderous, gloomy, armed-to-the-teeth “heroes” into the comic book realm. I don’t intend to insult any artists when I say this, but this could be what happens when a bunch of artists get together and decide they’re going to do the writer’s job too: everything becomes about the visuals, what looks cool, to the point where you have characters that are all surface, with nothing underneath. You have characters in the likes of WildC.A.T.s or Youngblood whose defining trait is how many blades they’re wielding or how big their gun is. It was the rise of the badass, and it wasn’t limited to independent comics. In Marvel, the morally dubious likes of The Punisher and Venom: Lethal Protector were in high demand. In DC, perennial nice guy hero Green Lantern was deemed too old and boring for the grim-n-gritty era, and was first turned into a drunken screw-up in Emerald Dawn before being transformed into a crazed mass-murderer in Emerald Twilight, to then be replaced by a younger, hipper, edgier model. And this is what I feel Alan Moore was talking about: by the 90s, grim-n-gritty was everywhere, and it had lost a lot of the power it had the previous decade.

    It was into this environment that artist Alex Ross brought his follow-up to Marvels, working with writer Mark Waid to produce Kingdom Come, a story that reads very much like a response to all that was going on in the industry at the time. The graphic novel’s central conceit is simple but compelling, as explained by Mark Waid in an interview on the IFC Canada TV show Ink! Alter Egos Exposed:

    Superman had retired. The hard part about that story was trying to figure out what would take Superman off the playing field. The only thing you could do with Superman was to have the people of Metropolis say to him, “We don’t want you anymore. We approve of these new killers, this new breed of vigilante who takes the law into their own hand. We don’t want you anymore.”

    It would certainly be an idea that held some resonance with readers at the time. In the 90s, there was nothing lamer amongst comic fans than liking Superman – Wolverine was where it was at! And even now, the dark, moody Batman seems to have captured the public imagination more than the bright, optimistic Superman. Kingdom Come is set 20 years in the future, looking at what the comics world may have become if the 90s fascination with extreme grim-n-gritty had continued. Scores of violent, gun-wielding “heroes” endlessly do battle on the streets, as described by everyman narrator Norman McCay on page 22 of the graphic novel:

    The world Wesley left is filled not with his heroes… but with their children and grandchildren. They number in the faceless thousands… progeny of the past, inspired by the legends of those who came before… if not the morals. They no longer fight for the right. They fight simply to fight, their only foes each other.

    Now, my assumption going into Kingdom Come, based on what I’d heard about it, was that it would be a story about Superman and the other classic heroes swooping in and reclaiming the world from these gritty vigilante wannabes, with their traditional morals and old-fashioned goodness winning the day and setting a tone of triumphant optimism. But that’s not the case. It seems like it might be at the end of "Chapter One: Strange Visitor", when Superman and many of his old teammates return from retirement to public adulation. But soon we see how even these paragons of virtue have become morally compromised. Superman has lost touch with his humanity, and finds himself imprisoning the heroes who refuse to follow him in superhuman concentration camps. Batman has turned Gotham into a kind of fascist dictatorship in order to stamp out crime, and temporarily allies himself with Lex Luthor. Wonder Woman feels compelled to use lethal force in fighting her enemies. When I had finished reading Kingdom Come for the first time, I was left with the impression that it was very muddled in how it portrayed its message. After all, how can a rebuttal against the dominance of grim-n-gritty be so…well, grim and gritty?

    But on further consideration, maybe the problem isn’t the message being muddled, but me getting muddled about what the message actually is. I don’t think that Mark Waid is acting out against all grim-n-gritty in the superhero genre, nor that he feels that superheroes should return to the simple idealism of the Silver Age. I don’t really agree with that preconception, that Waid is some Silver Age traditionalist. Instead, I think Waid is demonstrating in Kingdom Come that times do change, that comics must progress, but there is still a place for the old heroes in this new world. The way to handle grim-n-gritty within the superhero genre isn’t to open the floodgates with a bunch of one-note badasses lacking the substance to have staying power, but is instead to find new and exciting things to say about the real heroes, keeping them relevant within this new, darker environment.

    We’ve looked at the beginnings of grim-n-gritty, and what it grew into in the 90s, but where has the trend taken us this decade? In order to answer this, I’m going to take a look at what I feel to be one of the decade’s most important, influential crossover events: Identity Crisis, by writer Brad Meltzer and artist Rags Morales. In his introduction at the start of the graphic novel, Joss Whedon talks about the long-ranging implications of the event on the DC Universe as a whole:

    But what makes this book great (this is a great book, in case I wasn’t being clear) is that the tragedy is rooted in the past, in the existing structure of the DC Universe. In the terrible actions of great heroes. Actions they not only might have taken, but inevitably would have, must have. That fact was sitting there, secret and silent, until in that blinding moment of epiphany, it was revealed.

    Yes, this is a book that rocks the established DC Universe to its foundation. But rather than doing this through a massive, cosmic-scale epic where the very fabric of the universe is rewritten, as tends to be assumed when DC puts the label “Crisis” on an event, this is a very intimate, personal story, where it’s the characters themselves whose foundations are rocked, casting their entire history in an unsettling new light.

    The two key inciting actions of Identity Crisis are the brutal rape of Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, by Dr. Light in the past, and her violent murder in the present. The story proved highly controversial, with many of its detractors feeling that a rape has no place in a superhero story. The inherent wrongness of the idea, of something as sordid and unpleasant as rape finding its way into what were once adventure stories for children, is addressed within the pages. Look at page 12 of “Chapter Two: House of Lies”. While Ralph Dibny comforts a sobbing Sue, her leggings bearing a suspicious white stain, look at the way Rags Morales poses the likes of The Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow in the background. They’re awkward, uncomfortable. They aren’t equipped to deal with something as raw and real as this.

    But the real controversy comes not with this brutality, but in the heroes’ response to it. In the aftermath of Sue’s rape, seven members of the Justice League at the time – The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna, The Atom and Hawkman – came to the decision to not only erase Dr. Light’s memory of the event, but also to attempt to alter his personality, inadvertently causing him severe brain damage. The scope of the moral compromise involved in such a decision is best displayed on page 23 of Chapter 2, when The Flash casts the deciding vote to go ahead with this destructive process. Now, this was the Barry Allen Flash, a character who at this point was very much dead, his heroism elevated into a kind of flawless sainthood. So seeing the shame in his eyes, following Ollie’s present-day reminder that this happened shortly after the murder of Barry’s own wife, Iris, has a big impact.

    From here, a staggering series of further revelations come to light as the story progresses, exposing a moral slippery slope these heroes found themselves sliding down. We discover in “Chapter Three: Serial Killer” that this group of seven were in the habit of regularly wiping the memories of villains who learned too much about their secret identities. Then in “Chapter Six: Husbands & Wives”, we discover that Batman stumbled upon Dr. Light’s mind-wipe while it was happening, and the 7 Justice Leaguers were forced to subdue him and erase his memories too. All this prompts Wally West, Barry’s successor as The Flash at the time, to say this to Green Arrow on page 21 of “Chapter Seven: The Hero’s Life”:

    But you ruined it. Don’t you understand? You ruined it…

    This is where the cover image of the old Justice League of America photo lying in a shattered frame sums up the story perfectly. The idea Meltzer lays out here is that though the League and the heroes might endure beyond this, something important has been lost, something has forever changed, and their world is all the darker for it. I called this arguably DC’s most important crossover event of this decade earlier, and I said that because it’s impact is still being felt. It directly led into DC’s next big event, Infinite Crisis, which was about old heroes from alternate earths acting out against the grim misery the DC Universe had fallen into in the wake of the events in Identity Crisis. Even now, in Blackest Night, we see the themes picked up in Identity Crisis about the tragic price of loss superheroes must face being carried through to a dramatic conclusion. And you could argue that its effect extends beyond DC and into Marvel. It could be said that the idea Identity Crisis had of the external threat being overshadowed by the enemy within, by superheroes at odds with each other as their morals are challenged and sometimes compromised, was a major influence on Civil War, and the direction Marvel’s events have taken ever since.

    So is this where the path of grim-n-gritty has ultimately led us? Making our superheroes so flawed and tortured that they’ve lost the ability to be heroic? If that is the case, Alan Moore might have a point. Returning to the start once more, superhero comics have indeed lost their innocence, and these iconic heroes can’t return to that time of simple innocence any more than an adult can return to being a child again. When an adult tries to do that, it’s called regression. And that’s what I feel it would be if comics tried to undo all the changes brought by the grim-n-gritty movement: regression. These iconic superheroes might have lost some of that flawless, inspirational idealism, but in their place they have gained depth, nuance and, as Joss Whedon states in that Identity Crisis introduction, “Humanity.”

    So what’s next for grim-n-gritty? It may very well have run its course. That might not seem to be the case at first glance – dark has been the buzzword of the year in the superhero genre, between Dark Reign in Marvel and Blackest Night in DC – but there are signs of another change coming in the decade ahead. Look at the massively positive reaction to recent stories from DC like All Star Superman and New Frontier, which have an inspirational, hopeful message. And after around a decade, we’re seeing Marvel’s Big Three finally reunite as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor team up once more in next year’s event, Siege, reportedly to be followed by an event called The Heroic Age. I believe that, tiresome excesses aside, grim-n-gritty did a lot of good for the superhero genre. But now it would seem like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Meeting #18
    We bring our extended study of the superhero genre to a close by taking a look at the attempts by various writers in recent years to introduce brand new superheroes. What can a new superhero do that old ones can’t? What do these new heroes owe to their iconic predecessors? What is the future of the superhero genre?


    Invincible: Family Matters
    Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker

    Irredeemable, Volume 1
    Mark Waid and Peter Krause

    Tom Strong, Book 1
    Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse

    Meeting #19
    Promethea, Volume 1
    Saga of the Swamp Thing
    V For Vendetta

  2. JohnLees Guest

    Do you guys mind if I take out From Hell and put V For Vendetta on Meeting #19? Nothing against From Hell, but at about 574 pages long it might be too much to ask people to read within 2 weeks.

  3. jamesfairlie Guest

    I'd prefer V for vendetta because I have it already :-p

    I don't really feel qualified to comment on this weeks column, having done none of the reading :-S

  4. LukeHalsall Guest

    Thats fine. ive read both so im happy either way.

    still searching for a copy of kingdom come. ill post my comments on year one if i cant get the other two by the end of the week

  5. LukeHalsall Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnLees View Post
    So what’s next for grim-n-gritty? It may very well have run its course. That might not seem to be the case at first glance – dark has been the buzzword of the year in the superhero genre, between Dark Reign in Marvel and Blackest Night in DC – but there are signs of another change coming in the decade ahead. Look at the massively positive reaction to recent stories from DC like All Star Superman and New Frontier, which have an inspirational, hopeful message. And after around a decade, we’re seeing Marvel’s Big Three finally reunite as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor team up once more in next year’s event, Siege, reportedly to be followed by an event called The Heroic Age. I believe that, tiresome excesses aside, grim-n-gritty did a lot of good for the superhero genre. But now it would seem like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.


    First of all Im going to quote The Smiths 'There is a light at the end of the dark'. Lol. ok, first of all, i want to say ive got Identity Crisis but not read it yet so ill post my points on that later.

    For Alan Moore, I do sometimes think he likes to say negative things just to be different. i agree with what John said that trying to turn Green Lantern and characters like that 'gritty' does not work because there core is not 'gritty' However, what is more, characters were not what the Tom Strong work looked like pre grit in my opinion. Ive not read it yet so i am prejudging and i know i shouldnt do that but in my opinion it just does not look like a 60s book to me: its what Moore wants to remember. anyway Ill talk about that next meeting. What i am saying is that as John said, in my opinion some characters are born gritty. Batman is grit, Daredevil is grit etc. and so ill move straight on to Year One.

    Year One is one of my favourite books of all time and to me this is what Batman should be. i think that Batman is possibly the most realistic superhero around and for that reason it makes sense for the character to be drenched in realism. Remember, Batman is meant to be like a detective. i see him often as a character that is similar to Raymond Chandler's Marlowe apart from he wears a cowl and this is what Year One does brilliantly. in my opinion, again making the cops corrupt makes Batman a stronger character. He, as Nolan portrayed perfectly at the end of The Dark knight, is the conscience of Gotham.

    What is more, i think that there is no way you can criticize this book when it produced such amazing work as the long Halloween. I, personally think that Miller has never released a really bad bat book, especially in the 80s early 90s.

    Now as i said, ill read identity crisis and put my thoughts across later.

    But, as i said to begin, some characters dont work dark and to me personally, dark reign has definitely outlived its welcome. i was against Cap dying and especially against him coming back but i think cap reborn is one of the best books around at the mo. and not just that, for me, cap is one of the most entertaining characters marvel has at the mo. the reason: because he has not strayed from his core persona. That is the key! the gritty revolution was fantastic for the gritty characters for the wolverines for the daredevils for the batmans but for the green lanterns, the spidermans and the caps, dark is not the way. So, grit is awesome on gritty characters but that is where it should stay. it does not mean that a dark character should become fuzzy or that there should be none. what is more, it does not mean that a character cannot become dark but it has to be done right and link back to their core.

    that is babbling at its best. anyway there you i think it makes sense

  6. LukeHalsall Guest

    I also meant to say that i agree totally with John about the artwork for Year One. It is dramatic, iconic and if art can be broody. Everything that a good comic book should have and everything a good Bat title needs. It is a perfect marriage of words and art. A true example of how a comic book should be created, lovingly crafted by two geniuses.

  7. wiegeabo Guest

    Funny thing about all three of these stories, they were not what I was expecting at all.

    I thought Kingdom Come was going to be about a future where all the heroes were older or retired, and had to work with a new generation to stop catastrophe.

    I thought Batman Year One was going to be a standard origin story. The definitive origin story if all I had heard about it was true.

    And I thought Identity Crisis was going to be a self-contained story much like many other arcs.

    Well, I never would have thought that the catastrophe of Kingdom Come was essentially brought on by the heroes actually retiring and giving the future to a whole host of heroes without giving them the guidance they desperately needed.

    I didn't expect Year One to be a Batman story that doesn't focus on Batman.

    And I didn't know just how important, or shocking, or wide-reaching Identity Crisis would become.

    Something these stories, and one of Magnus' comments, made me realize is that, in the DC Universe, gritty works best in small doses. Either confined to a specific book or location (Batman, Green Arrow), or to events (Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis). But as a whole, the DC universe is filled with a type of...cleanliness, for lack of a better term. Yeah there are bad guys and battles to fight, but on the whole, the world is pretty good, as long as you live outside of Gotham and Star City. In the world's of Batman and Green Arrow (mostly Batman), grittiness reigns, and it's almost the opposite of the rest of the DCU.

    But Marvel comes off as just the opposite. There are a few characters/books which are clean. Spidey (before OMD) and Captain America for example. But the Marvel universe as a whole is dark and gritty. And while that wouldn't work in the DCU, it works fine for Marvel. Although I get the impression that, after the last few years, Marvel could stand to lose some of the darkness.

    So, while the the DCU is not about darkness and grit (can you imagine Superman being dark and living in a gothic-like Metropolis?), it does have it's place. And these three books show that. Batman is all about the dark. And you almost can't take the character and his little corner of the world too far down into the depths. And Year One does a fantastic job of not only showing us how Batman came into being, but painting the world in which he's lived for the last few decades.

    Kingdom Come, being from a possible future, and now from another Earth, is free from the restrictions of the DCU. In that way, it gets to be as dark as it wants. It almost becomes a morality tale for the DCU heroes, a warning of what will come if they allow the world to get too dark, and become dark themselves when trying to fight it.

    Identity Crisis technically breaks the rules. It isn't confined to a gritty world like Gotham. Nor is it an alternate timeline/Earth/Elseworlds story. It's part of main DCU continuity. And it involved characters that have always been above reproach: Flash, Green Lantern, Zatanna, the Dibny's...the whole Justice League of the time and beyond. It deals with treachery and violations of different types by both sides. It blurs the lines of hero, villain, and victim. It pretty much turns the DCU upside down. And works brilliantly. Because, somehow, not only is it unlike most DC stories, it still, at least for me, somehow remains DC. Many of the complaints I've heard about Identity Crisis, and even Kingdom Come, is how it portrays all these iconic heroes so poorly (read darkly).

    But I don't think Identity Crisis and Kingdom Come are about the heroes being dark. They're about heroes faced with choices and situations they've never considered before. And how easy it is for even the best to find themselves on a slippery slope. And how those heroes try and cope as the world falls apart around them, and they are completely unprepared for it.

    Year One just kicks ass.
    Last edited by wiegeabo; Friday, November 20, 2009 at 07:41 AM.

  8. tiggerpete Guest

    I fell a little behind on this, but I feel I should contribute my thoughts, since I have all three of the trades discussed, and they are all among my favorites.

    Year One, probably the last good Batman story Frank Miller wrote, and yes that means his writing of Batman peaked in the late eighties, and I find little that disputes that (his independent stuff was/is still pretty good, but he should be slapped if he tries to write another Batman story, aside from All Star, I just want it to end, what is it, quarterly, or annual?)

    Kingdom Come is IMO one of the best stories written in the nineties, and is what I hand to friends who think that there is no place in the modern world for Superman (which pisses me off to no end, Superman, the more I read of him, is probably one of my favorite characters, and probably for the same reason my friends hate him, because he is good, and is the shining example of what we could be if we aim high enough, the way I put it is he is the superhero equivalent of Jesus, and I stand by that statement)

    Identity Crisis is what got me into comics as an adult, I saw it on a shelf in Barnes and Noble, and decided after flipping a few pages of it that it seemed good, and I picked it up on a whim, it blew me away, it was a masterpiece, and brilliant. I knew at that point I wanted to read more, so I started picking up JLA in trades (Grant Morrison's run) and there was no turning back. I loved how there was a psychological breakdown of why Superheroes need to protect their identities, not for their own sake, but for the sake of their loved ones. the sequence where Jack Drake and Captain Boomerang are slowly inexorably approaching their mutual destinies really hit me hard, that got me choked up at the end of the sequence when Batman is just holding Tim wrapped in his cape, a powerful image, and speaks volumes about Batman as a character, and his motivations, Batman, for all of his faults of being closed and distant, was there for Tim as history repeated tragically, and there was nobody who understood what was going on better than Batman. I could keep going on about moments from ID Crisis, but I don't want to still be typing this time tomorrow.

  9. tiggerpete Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by wiegeabo View Post
    Something these stories, and one of Magnus' comments, made me realize is that, in the DC Universe, gritty works best in small doses. Either confined to a specific book or location (Batman, Green Arrow), or to events (Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis). But as a whole, the DC universe is filled with a type of...cleanliness, for lack of a better term. Yeah there are bad guys and battles to fight, but on the whole, the world is pretty good, as long as you live outside of Gotham and Star City. In the world's of Batman and Green Arrow (mostly Batman), grittiness reigns, and it's almost the opposite of the rest of the DCU.
    I believe that Green Arrow, while he has been dark, works best when he is more gray than black. Star City, I think has just as many problems as any other city in the DCU, the darkness that existed with the wall and everything following one year later, I believe is not the norm, but the exception, Star City I think is the mid point between Gotham and Metropolis, and if Gotham is dark, Metropolis is light, than Star City is gray. GA is likewise the mid point between Batman and Superman, and he tends to be more like Batman the less he is with Black Canary, and when there is good times between Ollie and Dinah, GA is a lighter shade of gray, is Ollie as bright as Superman? no, nobody is, Is Ollie as dark as Batman? Of course not, the last time I checked, Ollie didn't see his parents murdered before his eyes as a child. All that said, GA has been very dark in the past with Longbow Hunters and Grell's run on GA, but the current GA following Kevin Smith's run is definitely a lighter more human character with some anger issues, but mostly trying to make things work between his extended family (superhero family, not necessarily relatives) and keep a loving relationship between himself and Dinah. (I am a GA fan if you can tell)

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