12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN: Boxing Day Postscript

And that was 12 Days of the Batman. Thank you for helping me put some Batman back into this holiday season!

As with Mighty Marvel May, I would like to thank the creators of these characters I’ve been celebrating. Without Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Bob Brown, Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Bruce Timm,Grant Morrison, and SO many more, they wouldn’t exist.

They created a Gotham City we can all play in. Let’s keep fighting for justice for all.

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12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 10: TALIA

Batman’s war on crime leaves him little room for romance. Mutual attraction to Catwoman aside, Batman seems to have forsworn love for justice. Of all the women in Bruce Wayne and Batman’s life, I believe Talia, daughter of his enemy Ra’s al Ghul,  is the one he truly loves, and the only one who’s ever tempted him away from the dark.

Created in 1971’s DETECTIVE COMICS #411 by Denny O’Neil and Bob Brown, and later refined by Neal Adams, Talia was later revealed to be the daughter of the demon, Ra’s al Ghul, criminal mastermind. Talia and Batman fell in love almost immediately, but out of loyalty to her father would not leave him side. Over the years, Ra’s and Talia both considered Batman a worthy suitor for Talia, but of course Batman wouldn’t join them. Not until Batman and Ra’s joined forces and, by the laws of Ra’s (ill-defined) forebears, Batman and Talia were instantly wed and soon conceived a child. But to keep Batman fighting their common foe, she faked a miscarriage and the marriage was annulled. This story was later ruled out-of-continuity, a Bat-Son considered too big a loose end.

Until writer Grant Morrison revisited the idea with Damian, Talia and Bruce’s son, whom she raised in secret and trained as an assassin. Renouncing his evil heritage, Damian becomes the latest and most aggressive Robin.

Morrison also refashioned Talia to be a darker character, a subtle manipulator and head of the worldwide terrorist organization Leviathan. Now a full-fledged villain in her own right, she and Batman fight over the soul of their child across the globe.

While these changes have given Talia a lot more agency as a character- she was often merely a pawn for her father’s schemes- I think it’s robbed her of what made her most interesting before: her unconditional and contradictory love for two irreconcilable forces. She couldn’t choose either, because to choose one was to betray the other. Her resolve to remain true to both was as unwavering as Batman’s own resolve to honor his parents’ memory. Maybe more so.

I tried to give Talia fuller features and a straighter nose, suggesting Ra’s North African heritage. Hair by Bruce Timm, always.

Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve and time for the next million-dollar installment of 12 Days of the Batman.

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 7: RA’S AL GHUL

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In 1971’s BATMAN #232, writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams- the team that had brought Batman back to his noirish roots after his campy, TV series era- introduced Batman’s most formidible foe to date, Ra’s al Ghul (literally “The Demon’s Head”). Ra’s immediately deduced Batman’s secret identity of Bruce Wayne, but found it irrelevant. He saw in Batman a potential heir to his vast criminal enterprise, one with the seemingly noble goal of halting ecological catastrophe, but at the price of human civilization. He was as wealthy as Bruce Wayne, as smart and dangerous as Batman, and he was seemingly immortal.

There were obvious allusions to Fu Manchu and James Bond villains in his world-dominating archetype (Ra’s trying to marry his daughter Talia off to Batman seems lifted directly from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). But it gave Batman an adversary who could match him in every way, and took him out of Gotham City for jet-setting adventures around the world.

Neal Adams designed Ra’s with no specific ethnicity in mind, made him of indeterminate, perpetual middle-age, and without eyebrows (a detail other artists frequently ignore). I sculpted him with a typical “Who Dares?” imperious kind of expression.

Hope you’ll return when tomorrow’s installment of 12 Days of the Batman comes creeping up!

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 5: ROBIN

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Raised on the high-wire, the boy who never looks down!

Robin the Boy Wonder, Batman’s most faithful sidekick, was “the character find of 1940!” when he debuted in DETECTIVE COMICS #38 in a story by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. He was added to give the solitary Batman someone to talk to, a Watson to his Holmes, and was a child so readers- then assumed to be entirely young boys- would have a character with whom they could identify. A circus boy orphaned by crime, he became Batman’s ward, and a chance for Batman to restore to someone the childhood he himself never had.

I like Robin because he’s the son who can never grow up to be his father, but eventually learns what his own unique strengths are. He is light in the darkness. He makes Batman smile.

This is Dick Grayson, the original, my favorite, in Tim (Robin III) Drake’s Neal Adams-designed costume, a la BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (much as I love Robin, that short pants look is just… No).

Tomorrow a killer (for real this time!) installment of 12 Days of the Batman!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #19: MAGNETO

Hero, villain, freedom fighter, terrorist… The mutant master of magnetism: Magneto.

Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as an antagonist for the X-Men the first issue of their comic, Magneto spent his early years as a standard archvillain, going so far as to call his organization The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. At first we knew little about Magneto’s past or motivations, and Jack Kirby’s helmet design for him even disguised his age.

Many years later writer Chris Claremont revealed aspects of Magneto’s history that underlined why he used his powers against normal humans who would oppress mutants: Magneto’s family had been killed by Nazis and he barely escaped with his own life. When his powers emerged and he was once again part of a persecuted minority, this time he had the power to fight back.

Once a friend to fellow mutant and X-Men founder Charles Xavier, Magneto rejected Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence with humans. Magneto felt there could only be peace if mutants ruled, and for that to happen rivers of blood had to flow.

Magneto reformed for a time, tempered by Xavier’s influence, he even assumed  a position as headmaster of Xavier’s school in his absence. But eventually his anger and frustration got the better of him, and he realized that without the extremes he represented, the more moderate Xavier would never be heard.

Although he often wars with humanity, Magneto’s motivations are easily understood by anyone who’s felt powerless in the face of injustice an wished they could reverse the polarities of power. Although a villain, Magneto’s relatable anger make him all too human.

I hope you’ll be back for tomorrow’s extra-special installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #9: WARLOCK

Artist Bill Sienkiewicz had only recently shaken off his early Neal Adams style and took new inspiration from Gustav Klimt and Ralph Steadman when he began drawing  the good-but-conventional X-MEN spinoff comic NEW MUTANTS. Compared to cartoonists who’d absorbed the DNA of Jack Kirby, Sienkiewicz’s work seemed sloppy at first, like he’d spilled ink across a page and then tried to connect the splatters and blobs into a coherent story. But when the shock wore off, when one got over how unlike a standard superhero comic it looked, you would notice how fully he commanded anatomy, perspective, light and shade… He’d add uncalled-for by the script details creating intriguing visual asides. He could experiment because he was just that good.

I couldn’t stand it. I was a dumb kid.

But a couple of issues in, Sienkiewicz did a Disney pastiche, and then it penetrated even my child-brain: “oh my god, this guy can draw anything.”

His work was not safe. It was challenging. It was dark. And if you could decipher it, it was beautiful. It was suddenly perfect for a book about confused teenage mutants (because weren’t we all confused teenage mutants?).

Warlock was introduced in issue #18 in 1984. Visually, he was the embodiment Sienkiewicz’s art: a vaguely humanoid inkblob, amorphous with angry, jutting spikes and gnashing teeth. But as written by Chris Claremont, then master of all things mutant at Marvel, Warlock became a gentle, childlike creature with a signature Claremontian patois. An alien “techno-organic” metamorph on the run from his genocidal father, Warlock was  a mutant even among mutants. He could be anything, look like anything, and found a home among misfits.

Others drew Warlock over the years. Arthur Adams masterfully drew a recognizable Warlock who was at once cartoonier and more fully-realized as a 3-dimensional figure. But no one but Sienkiewicz could have created a lovable adolescent out of such a unique, lively mess.

I hope you’re hungry for more and will return for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!