Saturday, September 22, 2018

Script Doctor: Batman #55

This is the first article in what I hope is a continuing series, where we take a look at an issue and discuss what we would change and why we would do it.  It comes off the joke we make on the podcast about being script doctors and I want to thank Simon for coming up with the awesome idea.  Again, this is Simon's opinion as a huge fan of DC Comics and it's just what he would do to change Batman #55 if he had the chance.  It doesn't mean he is right or wrong, just what he would do if he could.  Read it as an Elseworlds were Simon is the editor of the Batman book and enjoy! If you think the issue is perfect as is, or have some other changes in mind, let us know in the comment section below.  In case you are wondering, I agree with every single thing he says here!  - Jim

Batman #55 is an interesting issue, it plays with a lot of strong and really interesting ideas but falls short on the execution, here at Weird Science we like to accentuate the positives so let's take a look at what Batman 55 attempted to do and what it could have done differently to really stick the landing.

Two Worlds

The biggest thing this issue attempts to do is run two tonally different Batman worlds side by side, before having them smash into each other at the end. The string of joke villains Batman has dealt with recently now have a point., the gimmicks and gaudy costumes play as a contrasting backdrop for the unassuming KGBeast. He doesn't have an army of the dead or a quilt of colors he arrives quietly into Gotham with nothing more than a cover story and a contact. Before delivering a potentially devastating blow to Batman's psyche.

Let Batman Have Fun

Roller Coasters are fun because they go up as well as down. Bruce has been through the wringer lately, he’s been left at the altar and wracked with self-doubt, putting the reputation of both his personas at risk by bribing his way onto a jury to sow enough doubt about Batman's credibility that he can undo his own mistakes. Dick has stuck around to try and cheer Bruce up, we went through the cucumber sandwich metaphor the last issue to show that Dick would be persistent in his attempts to get through to Bruce to bring him out of his downward spiral. So why not start this issue with a win for Dick. A good old fashioned heart to heart where Bruce thanks him for his efforts, puts on a smile and suggests they go out for one more patrol before Dick heads back to Bludhaven.

This has two upsides firstly it puts Batman back on an upward trajectory before the climax of the issue sends him spiraling back down again. And secondly, we can tone down some of Dicks awful dialogue. Nightwing comes across as trying far too hard to get a smile out of Bruce for most of this issue and honestly as a life-long Nightwing fan I was kinda glad he got a bullet in the head by the end of it. If you give Dick the win at the start of the issue you can spend the rest of their time together with some feel-good father-son bonding rather than excessive and irritating puns.

Get a Second Artist

The biggest thing the issue attempts to do is strike contrast between the two parallel story threads, the Batman/Nightwing scenes and the KGBeast scenes it does this mostly through the art and tone. All the KGBeast scenes are stuck to a very rigid nine-panel grid format. This is the “grown-ups” format, this is how “serious” comic books are drawn. Meanwhile, the Batman/Nightwing scenes are full of big splash pages, loose free-flowing panel layouts that exude a sense of fun and adventure.

Tony S. Daniels is a fantastic artist but his strengths lie in those big bombastic splash pages, he's not an artist who works in confined spaces and so the KGBeast pages never quite work. The nine-panel grid is one of the most complex layouts to execute correctly, it’s a format that can quickly become stagnant and repetitive if misused. Tony S Daniels work in these pages is generally pretty poor, what he chooses to show us is always tightly cropped and usually focusing on unnecessary detail, the mood of these pages is controlled almost entirely through the dialogue and the rigid layout rather than anything that resides within the panels.

So bring in a second artist, multiple artists working together on a book work best when they are given distinct jobs to do, usually when the second artist is given extensive flashbacks. But the same trick could be used here, a second artist with a second colorist could bring a much more distinct line between the two worlds that Tom King is attempting to rub up against each other. You then have a choice of either bringing someone in who has a better understanding of working within a more rigid panel format (Jon Davis-Hunt), someone who can lend a darker, grittier style to the whole thing (Francesco Francavilla) or maybe even someone who can do both (Lee Weeks).

This also gives you the opportunity to do something special with the big splash page of Nightwing being shot. This is your big worlds collide moment, where everything falls apart the carefree attitude of Batman and Nightwing's night on the town is shattered brought down by the grim reality of the very real and vicious killers that Batman has to deal with, and with two art teams you have the opportunity to really highlight this, split the splash page in two half drawn by each team or just have the KGBeast colour palette imposed over Tony S Daniels pencils, it would come across as jarring and dissonant but it’s supposed to be.

Less is More

Hand in hand with creating a contrast between the two stories visually is to create a difference through the writing. The KGBeast sections are far too busy, filled with distracting background conversations that add nothing to either the story or atmosphere. If the intention is to draw a stark contrast between these two worlds then let the KGBeast side run mostly silent. At the minute these scenes are filled with endless background noise that provides nothing of value to the reader. Let the art do the talking and if you really want you can add an explosion of sound after Nightwing gets struck, fill that final page of KGBeast escape with police radios and confused noises for the surrounding flats.

Going Forward

We all know what’s happening next, DCs marketing team have spoiled the cliffhanger of this book already but if you’ve managed to avoid spoilers you might want to skip this section.

So the headshot Nightwing receives winds up giving him amnesia, the corniest daytime soap opera trope ever, and apparently, in the DC Universe, it's contagious because Aquaman's going to catch a case of the old amnesias’ soon as well. This is an awful idea, amnesia as a plot device has been ridiculed for decades and no one particularly wants to pay $3.99 an issue to watch heroes not remember how to be heroes. And so the whole cliffhanger to this book comes pre-tainted. I’m not going to stand here and advocate that DC should bury Nightwing or that he should come out of this without any consequences, after all, if the point of the story Tom King is trying to tell at the minute is to break down every bit of Batman's self-confidence one of the best ways to do that is to put those he cares about in danger. Ultimately putting a bullet into Dick Grayson skull is a good idea from that perspective. Just as Bruce starts to believe in himself again along comes KGBeast (probably under Banes orders) to put the one person Bruce cares most about into a critical condition. Bruce starts to blame himself for being sloppy and starts pushing other sidekicks away because he doesn't feel like he can protect them et voilà, you have a lonely isolated Batman wracked with doubt again. The impact of this heightened by the glimmer of hope we should have been fed earlier in the issue as he and Dick spent the night palling around on the rooftops looking forward to a better tomorrow.

The key part to all of this is the long-term effects on Dick don’t have to be cheesy, severe head injuries have long-term effects that can be explored without the need to resort to such lazy writing crutches as amnesia. Take for example the story of Peter Cech after sustaining a skull fracture in a game of soccer that almost cost him his life, 12 years later, long after the physical injuries have healed he continues to play wearing special headgear as much for psychological reasons as anything. A new costume with a full helmet, a paranoia about overexposing himself and a distanced relationship with his mentor would be more than enough ammunition for his solo book to run with for quite some time.

In Conclusion

At its core there is a really good concept in Batman 55 at its heart a simultaneous meta-commentary on the vast and conflicting nature of Batman's universe that aimed to set up a new status quo for much of the Bat-family books going forward, unfortunately without fully committing to its ideas what could have been an issue for the ages becomes just another issue in a series that continues to divide opinion.

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