Screen Time: Batwoman (Season One)

BWLogo
Season One

Air Date: October 2019 to May 2020
UK Network: E4
Original Network: The CW
Stars: Ruby Rose, Rachel Skarsten, Meagan Tandy, Nicole Kang, Camrus Johnson, and Dougray Scott

The Plot:
Three years after Bruce Wayne (Warren Christie) disappeared from Gotham City, taking his vigilante persona Batman with him, Kate Kane (Rose), Wayne’s cousin, returns to Gotham to confront her childhood demons and ends up becoming Gotham’s newest vigilante protector, Batwoman.

The Background:
Ever since the “Arrowverse” began with the first episode of Arrow (2012 to 2020), we have seen hints and references towards Gotham City and its resident bat-themed vigilante. Nowhere was this more explicit than in Arrow, where Oliver Queen/The Hood/The Arrow/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) mostly occupied himself not with being a left-wing protector of the socially handicapped and more with being a pseudo-Batman, adopting not only many of the Dark Knight’s more grim and stoic mannerisms but also the majority of his rogue’s gallery. By the time the Arrowverse eventually swelled to the point where they were actually able to pull off a pretty decent adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986), things had changed quite considerably. Not only had an unconnected show, Gotham (2014 to 2019) delved into the origins of almost every one of Batman’s popular villains, Batman (Alain Moussi and Maxim Savarias) and Bruce Wayne (Iain Glen) had appeared and featured quite prominently in Titans (2018 to present) and, prior to the Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” (2019 to 2020) crossover, Kate Kane/Batwoman had been introduced in the CW’s previous crossover, “Elseworlds” (2018).

BWShadow
The Arrowverse has long been under the shadow of the Bat.

Unfortunately, like many other DC television projects, the Arrowverse is slightly handicapped by not currently being able to include Bruce Wayne or Batman in any direct capacity. I honestly feel like, were The CW allowed to use Batman, we would have gotten nine years of the Caped Crusader rather than the Emerald Archer but, despite this block (which, to be honest, makes no sense because of Titans and Gotham), the Arrowverse had been able to make sly nods to familiar elements of the Batman mythos. Kevin Conroy even appeared as an aged, disillusioned alternative version of Batman in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” but it’s safe to say that the shadow of the Bat loomed heavily over not just the Arrowverse but, somewhat obviously, over Batwoman especially.

The Review:
It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of Batman and, yet, I’ve struggled a bit with the way he’s represented in live-action. I got into Arrow quite late into its run but really came to resent how it transposed Batman’s characteristics and rogues onto Green Arrow, even though it worked in the context of the Arrowverse where Oliver’s more stoic and serious approach to crimefighting juxtaposed with the more optimistic approach of Barry Allen/The Flash (Grant Gustin). While I am also somewhat familiar with Batwoman from the comics, I can’t say I’m a massive expert on her beyond the basics and basically went into Batwoman hoping more for an interesting female-led superhero show. I couldn’t really get into Supergirl (2016 to present), despite how good Melissa Benoist looks and is as the titular Supergirl/Kara Danvers or the inspired decision to cast Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor in its later seasons; honestly, the show seemed to be filled with way too much sexual tension between Supergirl, her female co-stars, and basically between every female character in the show…which is weird as I never got that vibe from the male-led Arrowverse shows.

BWArrowRuby
Ruby Rose is great as a tough-as-nails Batwoman.

Batwoman, however, has the distinction of already being a lesbian character; not only that, she’s quite a guarded, tough character, meaning that the show is less about her desperately trying to repair failed relationships with her friends to the point where you suspect she is in love with them and more about her standing up, loud and proud, as being an equal to the men in her life. As such, Ruby Rose is a great choice for Kate Kane/Batwoman; she looks fantastic in the suit (when its shot in minimal lightning and kept in shadow), and has a tough-as-nails demeanour about her made all the more apparent by her signature snark, scowl, and abundance of tattoos. Unfortunately, like Supergirl, Batwoman faces many comparisons to Batman throughout the show; episodes are frequently intercut (and, in my view, ruined) by voiceovers from media gossip Vesper Fairchild (Rachel Maddow), who comments on Batwoman’s hair, wardrobe, and effectiveness compared to Batman and Kate is constantly asking Luke Fox (Johnson) for input on how Batman would handle certain situations (she even had to have her Batarangs “recalibrated” to account her for having shorter, weaker arms).

BWArrowAlice
Batwoman‘s main plot is adapted from the “Elegy” story.

Despite this, Kate is very much her own character; she never sought to become Batwoman and, instead, utilised a modified version of Bruce’s suit and technology to assist in her investigation into Alice (Skarsten), a mentally unstable maniac who themes her crimes after her namesake from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll, 1865). You might think having the show’s main villain being a knock-off of D-list Batman villain the Mad Hatter is a mistake but, it turns out, that the link between Batwoman and Alice was a big part of the “Elegy” (Rucka, et al, 2009 to 2010) storyline during Batwoman’s time in Detective Comics (1937 to present).

BWBatman
The less said about this flashback the better…

As a result, the main plot of Batwoman focuses on Kate’s discovery that Alice is actually her long-lost, long-presumed-dead twin sister, Beth. Like Arrow, the story of Kate and Beth’s childhoods and pasts is told through flashbacks, through which we see how Batman (in broad daylight, the first of many issues this show has) failed to properly secure the car young Kate (Gracyn Shinyei) and Beth (Ava Sleeth) were in, resulting in the death of their mother and Beth ending up a prisoner of the sadistic August Cartwright/Dr. Ethan Campbell (John Emmet Tracy and Sebastian Roché) and forced to befriend his disfigured son, Jonathan Cartwright/Mouse (Sam Littlefield). Unfortunately, after only a few episodes, I kind of lost interest in Alice as a character and a villain; she’s just crazy for the sake of being crazy and is more annoying than anything, especially as she often flip-flops between being a full-on murderous sadist and being a scared girl desperate for help. As a villain, she’s just not that compelling and it gets very annoying how she is constantly captured, only to escape, or seems to be on the road to rehabilitation only to immediately do a 180 and Kate falls for her act every. single. time.

BWDougray
Dougray Scott is a welcome addition to the cast.

Left mentally unbalanced by her time in captivity, Alice leads the Wonderland Gang in targeting her estranged father, Commander Jacob Kane (Scott); quite how Batwoman managed to snag Dougray Scott is beyond me but he’s a great addition to the show, lending a gravitas and feeling of professionalism that is sorely missing due to Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner James Gordon all being absent. Jacob heads up a private security agency known as the “Crows”; for all intents and purposes, they are Gotham’s police department as, while they work with the Gotham police, they’ve basically transplanted them in Batman’s absence. Scott has great chemistry with Rose; the two have a frosty relationship with many wrinkles and a lot of friction as Kate believes her father gave up on Beth and turned his attention to blaming, and hating, Batman instead. She also strives to be seen as an equal and beneficial to his cause, though repeatedly turns down his offers to join the Crows as she comes to accept her role as Batwoman. Eventually, their relationship improves but his views and opinions on Batwoman begin to sour, with the season ending with Kane declaring all-out war on Batwoman and any who aid and abet her.

BWSophie
Kate and Sophie’s sexual tension is a major part of Batwoman.

Rounding out the cast, and the drama, is Kate’s ex Sophie Moore (Mandy), who denied all knowledge of their same-sex affair in order to graduate from military academy and join the Crows. Kate is heartbroken when she returns to Gotham and finds Sophie married to fellow Crows agent Tyler (Greyston Holt) and much of the show’s wonky relationship drama hinges on their “will-they, won’t-they” back and forth as Kate attempts to move on to other relationships and finds a decent distraction in her vigilante activities. This becomes more complicated when Sophie’s relationship breaks down after her past with Kate is revealed to Tyler and when Sophie inexplicably becomes attracted to Batwoman (who publically outs herself as a lesbian, thus becoming instantly attractive to all lesbians).

BatwomanJulia
Julia is pretty and bad-ass but ends up being a bit of a stereotype.

The seeds for this were planted a few episodes in with the inclusion of Alfred’s little-know-of daughter, Julia Pennyworth (Christina Wolfe), a semi-cockney, bad-ass spy who Kate has a past sexual relationship with, because if it’s one thing that is true across not only the Arrowverse but all fictional television, all gay people are immediately and uncontrollably attracted to each other. This is exemplified further when Julie starts making semi-regular appearances; circumstances see her working alongside Sophie and growing closer to her and, of course, a sexual relationship builds between them.

BatwomanTVMary
Alice drives a wedge between Kate and her step-sister, Mary.

We’ve also got Kate’s younger stepsister, Mary Hamilton (Kang), who operates perhaps the most well-known illegal clinic where she treats castaways from Gotham’s hospitals and basically functions as Batwoman’s medical support as the show goes on. Once Alice is revealed to be Beth, Mary and Kate’s relationship begins to suffer and comes to a breaking point after Alice fatally poisons Mary’s mother (and Kate’s stepmother), Katherine Hamilton-Kane (Elizabeth Anweis), and she dies in Mary’s arms. Kate is then torn between her desire to both reach Beth, bring Alice to justice, repairing her relationship with Mary, and the fact that Alice has ensured that Jacob is framed for the crime, which shakes the city’s faith in the Crows and has them clamouring for Batwoman instead. Eventually, however, Mary figures out Kate’s dual identity and feels slighted for some time at her step-sister keeping her in the dark about her actions; this relaxes somewhat after she is officially let in on the secret and then desperately tries to become part of Kate’s Bat-Team. Honestly, far too many people find out Kate’s identity over the course of the season, which really compromises her integrity as Batwoman for me.

BatwomanTVMedia
Batwoman becomes a media sensation thanks, in part, to her brief association with “Slam” Bradley.

As a result, Batwoman becomes a far more public figure than I am honestly comfortable with for a Bat-branded vigilante. It is very heavily implied that Batman was just as publically celebrated and the subject of news reports but Batwoman straight-up ends up plastered all over social media and even explicitly outs herself as gay when the city begins to “ship” her with Samuel “Slam” Bradley (Kurt Szarka), an attractive hero cop who makes a brief appearance. Other characters from the Arrowverse also appear in the series’ tie-in to the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover which, honestly was the only reason I actually watched this show week to week.

BWBatSignal
Batwoman‘s Bat-Signal is pretty pathetic.

Moving on from the casting, I have to talk about the show’s aesthetic; first, while the Bat-Signal is present, it has to be the lamest iteration I’ve ever seen. Normally, it’s this massive floodlight but, in Batwoman, it’s this piddling little thing that looks like it’s struggle to light a hallway much less cast the iconic Bat embalm into the night sky. Second, like Arrow, much of Batwoman takes place in cityscapes. This means there’s a lot of offices, conveniently abandoned warehouses, and scenes that take place on the city streets. Despite the fact that Gotham has been without Batman for three years, the city has, arguably, never looked cleaner and more well-kept; similar to how Gotham appeared flawless during the daytime scenes of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), Batwoman’s Gotham seems like a relatively safe place to life for the most part. This is implied to be because of the presence of the Crows and the convenient absence of Gotham’s more colourful super criminals but, still, I kind of expect my Gotham to be just as dark and dirty as Star City was in Arrow, which was rarely ever shown in the daytime.

BWBatCave
Batwoman‘s Batcave is like an updated version of the 1960’s ‘cave.

Speaking of Arrow, like all of her fellow Arrowverse cohorts, Batwoman has a secret base of operations where she can suit up and monitor events in the city. You might have heard of it; it’s called the Batcave. Batwoman’s Batcave, though, is perhaps the cleanest and most simplified version of the ‘cave I’ve ever seen. Even the Arrow’s Arrowcave, with all its obnoxious high-tech furnishings, looked more like a Batcave than Batwoman’s, which seems to be a cross between the Bat-bunker from The Dark Knight and the iconic Batcave from the 1960’s Batman television series (1966 to 1968) with its sixties-style flashing lights and terminals (it even has a little toy Tyrannosaurs rex which, to be honest, is a nice little allusion to the impractically gigantic T-Rex Bruce likes to keep in he Batcave).

BWSuit
Luke adapts the Batsuit to fit Kate’s…specifications…

Luke Fox practically lives in the ‘cave, functioning as Batwoman’s tech support and “guy in the chair”; you’d think this would be a great way to introduce the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon/Oracle and inject some sexual tension between her and Kate but, instead, we have a hybrid of Lucius Fox and Alfred. In the comics, Luke became the Bat-themed vigilante Batwing and I wouldn’t be surprised if Luke doesn’t take up this codename at some point in the show’s run; hell, if Jimmy (sorry, “James”) Olson (Mehcad Brooks) can suit up as the vigilante Guardian over on Supergirl than anything is possible. While Fox is initially relegated to Batwoman’s tech support (developing her gadgets and suit, monitoring and communicating with her when she’s out in the field, and so forth), he gets a bit more focus as more and more people join their team and, especially, when he feels compelled to confront the man who killed his father (yeah, Lucius Fox is also dead in this series…) right when Kate is struggling with having taken a life. Fox is apparently some kind of genius as Batwoman’s suit is apparently so sophisticated that it’s full of technology that monitors her heartbeat, oxygen levels, and all kinds of stuff that I find difficult to believe is weaved into a far more form-fitting outfit than anything Batman is known to wear. Initially, Kate wears a modified version of the standard Batsuit as she takes to the streets and is thought to be Batman but, after she sees all the good she’s doing and the hope she’s bringing, she has Fox alter it further to include a wig and her signature red colouring and is officially announced as Batwoman.

BWHero
The Bats are publicly celebrated as heroes and saviours rather than myths.

This is one of the things I actually have an issue with in the show; when Batwoman was introduced in “Elseworlds”, Batman was a myth so powerful that even Oliver Queen didn’t believe that he was real. Jump over to Batwoman, though, and not only is Batman openly the subject of media gossip and coverage, he’s a widely known and celebrated hero of Gotham City. The Crows, especially Jacob, despise Batman for his anonymity and for abandoning the city and even Kate was distrustful of the Caped Crusader until she found out who he was; once she did, she was inspired by his legacy and began continuing Bruce’s journals to chronicle her own journey. My issue here is the idea of Batman as a “hero”; as I prefer Batman to be an urban legend, feared by criminals, distrusted by the police, and a figure of mystery to the general public, something about gossip columnists openly discussing his methods and the entire city acknowledging his presence and celebrating him as they would the Flash rubs me the wrong way. Even Arrow handled this aspect of its titular vigilante better, with Oliver’s hooded alter ego not really being publically acknowledged or celebrated for some years so it’s a bit weird for me to see Gotham’s citizens “crying out” for their hero’s return.

BWGun
Bruce designed a gun to stop his own Batsuit...

And then there’s Batwoman’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne; through dialogue with Fox, Kate learns more about Bruce’s motivations, how he handled the burden of his duel identity, and the reasons behind him walking away from Batman and Gotham. To begin with, Bruce/Batman is almost this mythic figure, some lofty ideal that Kate can only dream to live up to, much less match. But then some cracks begin to form, the first being when Fox reveals that Bruce commissioned the creation of a gun that could penetrate the Batsuit, with the implication being that, were his technology to fall into the wrong hands, Bruce would be happy to kill the perpetrator. The second, and most egregious, is the revelation later in the series that Bruce quit being Batman after he killed the Joker (here also referred to as Jack Napier).

BatwomanChoke
Kate ends up choking a maniac to death.

Let that sink in for a second: Batman was not only willing to kill to stop someone who stole his Batsuit, he also killed the Joker, and felt he had to quit being Batman because of it. While I don’t actually mind Batman killing, it’s unsettling when so much emphasis is put on Bruce’s uncompromising moral standing only to throw it all away by him creating a gun and killing his greatest enemy. Worse still is that Fox only reveals this to Kate after she has strangled August Cartwright to death for what he did to her sister and mother. Now, again, I don’t mind Batman killing under the right circumstances; I grew up with Michael Keaton’s fantastically haunting portrayal of the character so I’m used to a Batman who is willing to cross the line now and then and fully believe that, in his line of work, casualties and fatalities are bound to happen. It’s also worth noting that Batwoman is a former soldier and, especially in the comics, is not adverse to killing when it’s absolutely necessary. Over the space of three episodes or so, though, Kate struggles with her actions in a way that, again, Oliver Queen never really did; when he first returned to Star City, Oliver killed specific targets and his enemies without a second’s thought. Later on, he tried to “do better” by not killing but easily went back to shooting arrows through people’s hearts not long after and he’s no less a hero for it, so why would Batwoman (or Batman, for that matter) be?

BWKill
Batwoman wasn’t too shaken when she killed the alternate Bruce Wayne…

Still, Batman’s code against killing is an important aspect of the character and going against that is always going to ruffle a few feathers; it also seems like a really lame, super easy excuse to write Bruce/Batman out of the show. It’s also worth noting that it was taking a life that led to the aged Bruce becoming a remorseless killer in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and that Kate killed him (whether by accident or design) during a fight and showed very little remorse over this.

BWVillains
Batwoman featured a few of Batman’s D-list rogues.

Moving on, though, the show features a small selection of Batman’s D-list rogues; though she has no ties to the Mad Hatter, Alice’s mere presence alludes to his existence; the Joker, as mentioned, is disappointingly dead; and a version of the Executioner (Jim Pirri) also appears. Being that this is a female-led show, and a lot of the show’s plot is focused on female empowerment, there are a few female villains in Batwoman (the oft-forgotten Magpie (Rachel Matthews) and Nocturna (Kayla Ewell), for example) but most episodes revolve around Alice in some way, shape, or form, and her efforts to get revenge on Kate and her father and temptation towards redemption.

BatwomanHush
Hush eventually makes an appearance.

Thomas Elliot (Gabriel Mann) also shows up early in the season as a friend and rival of Bruce’s but is quickly revealed to have deduced Bruce’s identity as Batman and to be as crazy as a bag of cats so he ends up in Arkham Asylum. Thankfully, though, Batwoman is full of face transplants and glorified plastic surgeons and, through the influence of Alice and Mouse, Elliot breaks out of Arkham, gets his face sliced off, and ends up wrapped up in bandages and taking on the persona of Hush. Unfortunately, though, Elliot is both just another crazy guy and another rich guy in a suit, so he’s far from the physical or intellectual threat as the comic book Hush, though the season does end with a massive cliff-hanger as Elliot applied a patchwork skin to his face to assume Bruce Wayne’s identity.

BWAction
Batwoman‘s fights are decent enough, when they actually happen.

Something Batwoman likes to employ, for whatever reason, is the implementation of licensed songs to punctuate its more dramatic (read: soap opera) moments. Songs like these may have fit into teen dramas like Smallville (2001 to 2011) but they seem massively out of place in a Bat-centric show. Luckily, Batwoman takes its lead more from Arrow for its action sequences and fight scenes; generally, episodes will open with some kind of chase, kill, or action sequence. Kate (and/or Jacob) will then investigate something, or have some kind of confrontation, and then she’ll hit the streets as Batwoman, maybe take out some goons, before working towards a finale against whomever is the main threat of the episode. Fight scenes are far more hands on and up close and personal than in Arrow, though, as Batwoman favours hand-to-hand combat over a bow and arrow. Like Green Arrow, Kate masks her voice with a voice synthesiser, which I always prefer over the idea of the Bat-characters putting on a voice (despite how good these voices have been), but this doesn’t stop multiple characters guessing or knowing her identity within only six episodes.

BWConclusion

The Summary:
Ultimately, the season started off quite well and had a lot of promise but fell off a cliff very quickly; after a few episodes, Batwoman becomes very formulaic, makes some questionable decisions regarding Batman’s legacy and the inclusion (or exclusion) of famous Bat­-characters, and ended on a massive cliff-hanger that, by the looks of it, we either won’t get resolved in a second season or it will be significantly different because of the behind the scenes shenanigans. After flip-flopping about a hundred times, Alice decides she hates Kate and Batwoman as they betrayed her and got her locked up in Arkham Asylum. Thankfully, she makes fast friends with Thomas Elliot, who has snapped and basically believes Bruce Wayne to be his best friend, and she and Mouse concoct a bizarre plan to cut off Elliot’s face (and have him disguise himself ((because face transplants are super easy and impossibly convincing in Batwoman)) so they can get out of there. The remainder of the season focuses on Alice trying to acquire, and then decode, Lucius’ journal so she find out how to penetrate the Bat-Suit and kill Batwoman…despite the fact that she had a means to do this earlier in the season.

BatwomanFinale
Batwoman ends on quite a cliffhanger that will probably have a poor resolution in Season Two.

In a contrivance that makes my head spin, it turns out the Kate’s suit is so incredibly bullet proof that the only thing in the world that can penetrate it (beyond the special bullet introduced earlier in the season that the writers forget about) is…Kryptonite. This presents a problem as Supergirl (whom Batwoman has a very rushed but quite charming, friendship with) entrusted Kate with a shard of Kryptonite to use against her if she ever went rogue. Although Luke compresses the only other shard into powder, Alice is heartbroken when she is forced to kill Mouse as he threatens to leave without her and swears to kill Kate once and for all. This coincides with Elliot assuming the role of Bruce Wayne and Jacob’s vow to end the Bat infestation in Gotham City to keep vigilantes from supplanting his organisation and leaves Batwoman on a massive cliff-hanger but most likely will get swept under the carpet when the series returns to television. I was interested in Batwoman for a couple of reasons: first, I wanted to see the second part of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and the legendary Kevin Conroy as a live-action Bruce Wayne and, second, I was interested to finally see a Bat-themed show as part of the Arrowverse. Unfortunately, despite some decent casting, action sequences, and costume design, Batwoman started to lose me around the third episode (basically the moment it was revealed that Bruce had developed that Batsuit-ending gun).

BWSupergirl
Seriously, these two need to just get a room!

It wasn’t as annoying as Supergirl or as pointless as DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 to 2020) but it’s still not on the same level as The Flash (2014 to present) or even Arrow; I pretty much only dip in and out of Legend of Tomorrow because they made the smart decision to put John Constantine (Matt Ryan) on the team and completely gave up on Supergirl after the show devoted all of its runtime to Kara desperately trying to repair her relationship with Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), which descended to the point of parody when it seemed like they were desperately in love with each other but in vehement denial over it. Yet, I feel the same thing is going to happen with Batwoman; it wasn’t as explicit with its comparisons of Batwoman to Batman or at pushing its pro-female agenda, so it’s much easier to watch than Supergirl, but a lot of its narrative decisions were questionable. Not having Bruce Wayne/Batman in the show really hurts it, in my opinion; this would have been a great opportunity to combine the Arrowverse series with Titans and have Iain Glen reprise his role in an older, mentor role after being incapacitated. Instead, Bruce is just…gone and, while his retirement kind of worked for Nolan’s films, it never sits well with me when Batman just gives up his life-long crusade. And what about Dick Grayson? Jason Todd? Tim Drake? All the rest of Batman’s cast of characters, both friend and enemy? Where are all of them in this world? The questions Batwoman raise far overshadow any of its positives and I can’t say that Batwoman really impressed me in its first season and, considering that Ruby Rose has decided to walk away from the show and the role will be completely recast and supplanted, I doubt that it’ll be a suitable replacement for Arrow, no matter how many seasons it runs for.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

What did you think of season one of Batwoman? Are you interested in seeing subsequent seasons and appearances by Ruby Rose in the Arrowverse or would you rather the CW pulled the plug on this show? What are your thoughts on the way Batwoman handled the portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Gotham City? Whatever you think about Batwoman and the Arrowverse, feel free to leave a comment below.

Back Issues: Ranking Robins

BackIssues

Call me crazy, but I have a real fondness for the character of Robin. It really irks me when people (especially movie directors) rag on Batman’s colourful sidekick; debuting in 1940, about a year after Batman’s momentous first appearance, Robin has been an essential staple of Batman’s world for over eighty years so to suggest that he’s somehow “unsuitable” is, in my opinion, laughable. Over the years, numerous individuals have taken up the red tunic and green tights, some with more success than others. Yet, the iconic imagery evoked by the term “Batman and Robin” cannot be denied and, when talking about Robin, one of the first questions anyone will ask is: Who was the best Robin? So, with that in mind, I figured I’d do my own ranking and shine a bit of spotlight on this under-rated and criminally under-represented (in movies, at least) character.

RobinsElseworlds
8 Elseworlds Robins

Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of Batman’s kid sidekick in DC’s Elseworlds titles and in out of continuity stories that have since been rendered non-canon. Perhaps two of the most famous are the Dick Grayson of Earth-Two, who never grew out of the role and instead continued to fight crime in a garish Robin outfit into adulthood, and the “Toy Wonder”, a little robotic Robin who assisted the mysterious Batman of the DC One Million (Morrison, et al, 1998) crossover. Yet, we’ve also seen Batman’s faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, take on the Robin codename in Batman: Dark Allegiances (Chaykin, et al, 1996), Bruce Wayne’s son assume the role in the Superman & Batman: Generations (Byrne, et al, 1989 to 2004) series, an ape equivalent in Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty (Barr, et al, 1997), and even a story in 1955 that had a young Bruce Wayne take on the mantle during his early days of trying to learn the skills that he would eventually hone as Batman. I’m obviously lumping all of these kinds of interpretations together as, while DC may revisit and bungle the Multiverse concept more often than they have hot dinners, none of these versions of Robin have ever managed to get a footing in true DC canon and are generally regarded as being outside of mainstream continuity.

RobinsCarrie
7 Carrie Kelley

While you could make an argument that Carrie doesn’t deserve her own entry considering her introduction and most famous appearances have been in Frank Miller’s (thankfully) out of continuity Dark Knight (1986 to 2017) stories, I’d say she deserves to get her own entry on any Robin ranking simply for being the first, full-time female iteration of the character. Yet, I can’t rank Carrie much higher than this because of a few reasons: one is my obvious dislike for Miller’s Dark Knight works but, that aside, Carrie’s tenure as Robin is extremely brief. After being saved by Batman, Carrie is inspired to buy a Robin costume and fight petty thugs with a slingshot and firecrackers. Yet, despite earning Batman’s seal of approval and joining him in the resurrection of his never-ending war on crime, Carrie progressed to Catgirl and, eventually, Batwoman. She might have been a trend-setter by being the first true female Robin but it didn’t take her long to switch to a different identity and was easily one of the least prepared to assume the long-standing mantle of Batman’s partner.

RobinsWeAre
6 We Are Robin

After Batman was believed to be dead at the conclusion of the “Endgame” (Snyder, et al, 2014 to 2015) storyline, a whole bunch of Gotham City’s youthful decided to take on the mantle of Robin to keep the streets safe in the Dark Knight’s absence. I actually really like the concept of teenagers of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities taking to the streets as a vigilante force and feel this concept could have real legs in a live-action interpretation of Robin. Yet, this group is most notable for introducing Duke Thomas to the DC Universe, a character who would go on to break away from the Robin moniker and become the Signal. Unfortunately, neither Duke nor his gang of Robins can rank much higher as DC seems to have forgotten about them all in recent years; Duke eventually developed metahuman abilities and seems to have fallen out of prominence as Batman’s partner and his fellow Robins have fallen by the wayside as DC prefers to focus on the Bat Family of characters rather than this sub-team.

RobinsSteph
5 Stephanie Brown

Daughter of a Z-list villain and Riddler knock-off, the Cluemaster, Stephanie Brown originally fought crime as the Spoiler to foil her father’s plots. Eventually, she became associated with the Bat Family when she started dating Tim Drake, though Batman (famous for opposing vigilantes not approved by him) openly disproved of her vigilante career. Yet, Batman turned to Steph and offered her the mantle of Robin after Tim was forced to retire from the role by his father. Lacking the experience and ability of previous Robins, Steph struggled in the role and, eventually, unwittingly initiated a gang war in an attempt to earn Batman’s respect, an action that led to her being tortured by Black Mask and eventually dying from her wounds.

RobinsStephBatgirl
Steph is fine as Spoiler but she was a great Batgirl.

It later transpired that her death was faked and Steph returned to active duty as Batgirl, for a time, a role that reflected her growth and maturity as a character…until DC made the inexplicable decision to reset continuity, force Barbara Gordon back into the Bat tights, and relegate Steph back to being Spoiler. Steph’s time as Robin may have been brief but, man, did she look good in the suit and her exuberance and enthusiasm could have made for a return to the 1960’s depiction of Robin as this hyperactive, fast-talking bundle of energy. Unfortunately, Steph became Robin during one of the darkest, grittiest, and grimmest times in DC Comics and, for the longest time, her death tainted many a Bat character.

RobinsJason
4 Jason Todd

Initially portrayed as a near-identical copy of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd was eventually retconned as being a wise-talking kid from the streets who stole the tyres off the Batmobile and was a disobedient, arrogant, angry little kid who was constantly at odds with Batman during his tenure as Robin. This isn’t necessarily the case but it is the story DC likes to tell these days; flashbacks will generally always show Jason being disobedient, violent, and moody rather than being as accomplished a Robin as Dick was. Nevertheless, Jason can’t take a top three spot as he’s most famous for being beaten with a crowbar and then blown up by the Joker.

RobinsRedHood
Red Hood eventually became a full-fledged Bat buddy.

Indeed, Jason was far more popular in death, a memorial in the Batcave, and a reminder of Bruce’s greatest failure in his career as Batman, and after his return to life under the guise of the gun-toting vigilante, Red Hood. Red Hood has been everything from a sadistic antagonist to a begrudging anti-hero but is, generally, now regarded as the black sheep of the Bat Family but one who is nevertheless an essential ally of Batman’s; he even wears the Bat logo on his chest these days though, if you ask me, he should have been Hush all along.

RobinsGrayson
3 Dick Grayson

For many, Dick is the quintessential Robin; he was the first to take on the mantle, after all, and whenever you talk about Robin or see him in other media (cartoon, television shows, movies, and the like), Robin is pretty much always shown as being the alias of Dick Grayson. Yet, while Dick pioneered the role and excelled in it in every way, unlike other characters who have taken on the Robin identity, Dick successfully managed to grow out of the role and assume the identity of Nightwing. As Nightwing, Dick led the Teen Titans and defended the nearby city of Blüdhaven and, while he’s dabbled with other roles since then (including Agent 37 of Spyral and becoming Batman for an all-too-brief period), he’s far more associated with the role of Nightwing than Robin these days.

RobinsNightwing2
Nightwing forms the basis of Grayson’s growth as a character.

Even Dick himself has gone on to praise subsequent Robins for being more suitable to the role than he is and, having been Nightwing pretty consistently for over thirty years now, Dick has largely separated himself from being Batman’s “sidekick”. The fantastic Titans (2018 to present) show went in-depth into Dick Grayson’s (Brenton Thwaites) journey from Robin to Nightwing and even the diabolical Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997), has Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O’Donnell) don an outfit that is visually very similar to Nightwing’s as part of his desire to establish his crimefighting career out of Batman’s (George Clooney) shadow.

RobinsDamian
2 Damian Wayne

The illegitimate son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, daughter of the functionally immortal Ra’s al Ghul, Damian Wayne was initially considered to be a character that existed outside of mainstream DC continuity until he was officially made a part of DC canon in Batman and Son (Morrison, et al, 2006).

RobinsDamian2
Damian was a massive jerk for quite a while.

Trained from birth by the League of Assassins, Damian was initially portrayed as a bratty, violent young boy who was arrogant, rude, disrespectful, and had no compunction about killing his opponents. He believed that, as Batman’s true son, the role of Robin was rightfully his and nearly killed Tim Drake just to prove it. Eventually, though, Damian softened and earned his place in the Bat Family; after Bruce Wayne appeared to die in the awful Batman R.I.P. (ibid, 2008), Dick Grayson briefly operated as Batman and took Damian as his Robin. While this initially created an interesting reversal of the Batman and Robin dynamic (with Dick being a more light-hearted Batman and Damian as a grim and stoic Robin), Damian has since excelled in the role, having joined the Teen Titans, returned from the dead, and forged friendships with both John Kent/Superboy and others in the Bat Family.

RobinsTim
1 Tim Drake

Damian may very well be on the path to being the most accomplished of all the Robins but he’s still relatively new to the role. His fighting proficiency and augmented knowledge and intelligence make him a formidable opponent but it seems as though Damian’s destiny is to one day break away from Batman’s shadow and either become Batman himself or forge a new identity. Therefore, while he has since gone on to assume the role of Red Robin and…Drake…Tim Drake is still the definitive Robin for me. Introduced some time after Jason’s death, when Batman was in a violent downward spiral, Tim wanted nothing more than to reunite Dick and Bruce as Batman and Robin and wound up assuming the mantle for himself. A keen detective and computer whiz, Tim brought something new to the role; for one thing, he was the first to ditch the short-shorts and pixie boots and wear a functional, respectable Robin costume and, for another, he was far more grounded and relatable than other Robins.

RobinsRedRobin
Tim had a lengthy career as Red Robin.

Although he never aspired to be anything other than Robin, Tim did briefly assume the mantle of Batman after Batman R.I.P. and has been shown, on multiple occasions, to eventually become a violent Batman in the future. However, Tim is probably most well-known for having taken up the identity of Red Robin; while I find the “Red” portion of this identity redundant and wish he had, like Dick, forged an entirely separate code-name, it showed that Tim still very much considered himself Robin first and foremost (except for that weird period when he inexplicably took the identity of “Drake”). Tim was also the first Robin to get his own ongoing comic book series and that he is, for all intents and purposes, probably the most successful of the full-time Robins at really making the identity his own as Batman’s sidekick, a solo hero, or as part of the Teen Titans and Young Justice.

RobinsBanner

What are your thoughts on Robin? Do you feel he’s too bright and cheerful for the normally grim and gritty Batman or is he an essential part of the Batman mythos? Who was your favourite Robin? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

10 FTW: Super-Suits

10FTW

With over eighty years of continuous publication behind him, it’s no surprise that, over the many years and through numerous alternate realities and reality-shattering Crises, Superman has gone through more than a few wardrobe changes. Initially debuting in what amounted to a traditional strongman costume, Superman soon adopted the iconic “S” shield to uphold his values of “truth, justice, and the American way” but has, over time, mixed up his colour scheme about as often as he’s developed strange new powers. Today, I’m going to go through ten of my favourite looks for Superman; a lot of these featured solely in out-of-continuity tales or were worn by Supermen from parallel Earths but some were, however briefly, an actual part of Superman’s canon.

10 The Black Recovery Suit

Superman’s black suit first appeared right at the conclusion of the “Reign of the Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1993) storyline, the conclusion to the infamous “Death of Superman” (ibid, 1992 to 1993) storyline. After the Man of Steel was beaten to death by Doomsday, his body was placed into a Kryptonian regeneration chamber, which restored his cells to life and, when he emerged, he was forced to wear this suit while his powers recovered. Honestly, this was just an excuse to get Superman’s mullet on the list but I also dig the simplicity of this suit (and I always love a black variant); it’s just plain black with a silver symbol. It also lacks a cape, giving Superman a far more streamlined and serious look that, considering all of Superman’s replacements bore dramatically different suits of their own, cast more doubt on the identity of this new Superman. The suit made a brief return in Countdown to Final Crisis (Dini, et al, 2007 to 2008), when it was worn by Superman-Prime, and was donned by the pre-Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) when he showed up (rocking a beard!) to replace the crappy New 52-Superman (whose suit will, spoilers, not be making this list), and was also set to appear in Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) before Warner Bros. re-edited the film.

SuperSuitsSpeedingBullets
9 Speeding Bullets

Bit of a cheat here as this suit was worn a violent and brutal version of Kal-El who was raised by Thomas and Martha Kent and, thus, is actually a composite of Superman and Batman who leans far more into Batman’s characterisation than Superman’s. Still, this is a great combination of the Bat- and Super-Suits, featuring a cowl that covers Kal’s entire head and a amalgamated version of both character’s iconic emblems. If you’re a bit annoyed by me basically using a Batman suit on a Superman list, there was a more traditional Super-Suit featured in this story right at the end, when Kal is convinced to turn away from the darkness and be a symbol of hope. But, as this is a dreadful looking costume that looks way too much like the awful Injustice suit (NetherRealm Studios, 2013; 2017).

SuperSuitsLantern
8 Lantern Superman

Let’s face it: any time Superman gets a power ring, we are treated to an awesome variation of his suit. Whether it’s in an alternate reality where Superman operates as Green Lantern (and sports a lovely white cape and an amalgamated “G”/Green Lantern symbol), or the original, super-powerful, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986) Superman, Kal-L being reanimated as a zombified Black Lantern in Blackest Night (Johns, et al, 2009 to 2010), or Superman-Prime joining the Sinestro Corps, there’s something about mixing Superman’s suit with the Lantern’s attire that always results in gold. Superman’s also been decked out as a dazzling beacon of triumph as a White Lantern and we’ve even seen a glimpse of what his suit could look like spewing blood from his mouth during Supergirl’s brief stint as a Red Lantern. Hands down, my favourite is the Black Lantern Superman though; there’s just something about a zombified Superman in a black suit with a tattered cape that is really striking to me, like all of his values and morals have been cast aside in favour of ripping hearts from chests.

SuperSuitsOverRed
7 Overman / Red Son

I’m lumping these two together as I honestly cannot pick between the two; both suits were worn by alternative versions of Superman who were raised and indoctrinated with anti-American principles, making for a complete reversal of Superman’s traditionally patriotic views. Overman, a Nazi version of Superman, appeared during the God-awful Final Crisis (Morrison, et al, 2008 to 2009) event, while the communist version most famously appeared in Superman: Red Son (Millar, et al, 2003). Both wear a fascist symbol in place of the traditional “S” and favoured big buckles on their belts and a darker, subdued colour scheme, with Overman’s costume fittingly being reminiscent of the Schutzstaffel  uniform.

6 The Dark Side

Continuing the theme of alternative versions of Superman raised by tyrannical dictators, Superman: The Dark Side (Moore, et al, 1998) presented a version of Superman raised by Darkseid to be a ruthless soldier in the New Gods’ war against the peaceful New Genesis. Once again sporting a corrupted version of the “S” symbol (which was almost exactly the same as the Schutzstaffel symbol, something that, ironically, even Overman was missing…), Dark Side’s Superman had a haircut you could set your watch to, and a fittingly grim and stoic personality that was more akin to Darkseid’s actual son, Orion. He was also decked out in sweet jet-black armour forged from the fire pits of Apokolips, carried a sword and had no compunction about slaughtering his enemies without mercy in the name of his dark overlord.

SuperSuitsPrime
5 Superman Prime (DC One Million)

The Superman Prime (not to be confused with his genocidal counterpart of the same name) that appears in DC One Million (Morrison, et al, 1998) has lived for so long thanks to his Kryptonian physiology that he’s seen all his friends and family die. Despondent, he left Earth in the care of his heir, travelled the universe for a few centauries, and eventually went into self-imposed exile in the centre of the sun. Unlike the previous Super-Suits, this Superman is a glowing, golden beacon of hope and serenity; his powers amplified to almost God-like levels, this Superman is decked out entirely in gold to match his new divine stature.

4 Brutaal (Earth-2)

This version of Superman is a Bizarro-like clone engineered by Darkseid to mirror his Earth-2 counterpart, Val-Zod (another contender for this list) in very way…except for being absolutely ruthless and lacking in mercy. Very much like by his Dark Side incarnation, Brutaal stands out by wearing a suit that closely resembles versions of the Eradicator or Cyborg-Superman, favouring a largely black-and-red colour scheme (that just works for alternative, evil takes on Superman) and some wicked chains to hold his cape in place.

3 Electric Superman

Probably the most controversial choice for this list, in the late-nineties, DC Comics apparently decided that Superman needed a complete shake-up (despite the fact that he’d already returned from the dead!) and had him transform into a purely energy-based lifeform. He could now travel at the speed of light, emit energy blasts, and become incorporeal but also (for some inexplicable reason) would become completely human when he transformed back into Clark Kent! As if this wasn’t mental enough, he was then split into two beings, a red variant and a blue one, each with different personalities! None of this changes the fact, though, that the suit he wore during this time was awesome! Lacking a cape and featuring a streamlined design comprised of blue (…or red) and white and a new, more radical logo. Honestly, I feel like the suit’s design and Superman’s new powers were pretty great…just maybe not suitable for Superman. This suit actually cropped up again in the early-2000s when it was worn by Strange Visitor (Sharon Vance) but I would love to see it recycled for the likes of the Eradicator, who’s always been more energy-based in his powers anyway.

2 Rebirth / Man of Steel

After subjecting us to a God-awful characterisation of Superman throughout the five years or so of the “New 52” reboot, DC Comics finally saw sense and killed off that jerk and ditched his dreadful quasi-armoured costume in favour of not only the definitive version of Superman (pre-Flashpoint, of course) but also a far more traditional version of the Super-Suit. This suit, largely reminiscent of the equally-fantastic costume worn by Henry Cavill in the DC Extended Universe movies (Various, 2013 to present) took all the dramatic changes made by the New 52 suit and merged them with Superman’s more traditional styling. This meant that Kal again ditched the red trunks and yellow belt but also dropped the overly busy and unnecessarily detailed nature of the New 52 suit. Eventually, the trunks and the red boots would make a return but, either way, for a modern take on the classic Super-Suit, they don’t get much better than this.

1 Kingdom Come

For me, the definitive alternative version of the Super-Suit is the one designed by Alex Ross in the gorgeous and seminal Kingdom Come (Waid, et al, 1996). Taking place on Earth-22, where Superman has largely separated himself from humanity, which has begun to favour more aggressive superheroes, this Superman sports not only a streak of white hair but also a sleek, traditional Super-Suit with one noticeable different: a diagonal line against a black background in place of the traditional red-and-yellow “S” shield. It’s a small change but one that speaks volumes of this Superman’s current mindset; he’s lost faith in humanity and is in mourning. This costume has endured over the years, inspiring numerous revisions of Superman’s costume (generally whenever depicting an elderly or despondent version of Kal) but, most notably, the Earth-22 Superman later paid a visit to the mainstream DC universe to team with the Justice Society, Superman adopted a very similar version of this shield after the “Our Worlds at War” (Loeb, et al, 2001) storyline, and even prominently featured in the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Various, 2019 to 2020) crossover event that saw Brandon Routh reprise his role from Superman Returns (Singer, 2006) wearing an incredibly faithful rendition of this iconic outfit for his portrayal of a similarly-beleaguered version of Superman.

SuperSuitsAlter

Which Super-Suit is your favourite? Did it make the list or was there one I missed? What do you look for in a Super-Suit? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts on what makes the quintessential Super-Suit.

Back Issues: Whatever Happened to Kyle Rayner!?

BackIssues

Ah, the nineties! What a time to be alive for comic book fans! We saw Clark Kent/Superman die and be replaced by four imposters before returning…with a mullet! We saw Bruce Wayne/Batman get his back broken and be replaced with a Frank Castle/Punisher-like nutjob. We saw Arthur Curry/Aquaman get his hand bitten off by piranhas and replaced…with a harpoon! And we saw Hal Jordan, the premier Green Lantern, go mental, kill a bunch of his fellows, and take on an antagonistic role as Parallax. Yet, the legacy of Green Lantern lived on in a new, young, sexy replacement who was to take the title in a bold new direction; a character who, though he exists today, is a shadow of his former self, prompting me to ask…

GreenLanternLogo

DC Comics like to paint Hal Jordan as the greatest Green Lantern that ever lived; literally almost every time the character appears, text boxes, character dialogue, or story events are geared towards this agenda. This was especially obvious in 1992 when, after being replaced buy Guy Gardner, Jordan decided that he had had enough of bitching, moaning, and moping about and forced Guy to relinquish the Green Lantern power ring and reclaim his mantle.

Hal, the Green Lantern golden boy, was devastated by Coast City’s destruction.

This was sold to us as a miraculous return; characters, including Guy’s Justice League teammates, openly gushed at Hal reclaiming the mantle and trashed Guy; I mean, sure, Guy was no saint and was a massive pain in the ass, but for everyone to talk so much shit about him was jarring. Things went from bad to worse, however, when Mongul and Hank Henshaw/Cyborg-Superman obliterated Hal’s home town, Coast City, during the ‘Reign of the Supermen’ arc that saw Superman return to life. Hal, unable to cope with the loss of his friends and family, tried to recreate the city and was admonished by the Guardians of the Universe. Incensed at what he saw was a betrayal after years of loyal service, ‘Emerald Twilight’ saw Hal fly to Oa, relieving multiple Green Lanterns of their rings, killed Kilowog and Thaal Sinestro (later revealed to be an illusion), and absorbed the entire power of the Central Power Battery. This immediately depowered every Green Lantern in the universe (it is implied that the majority of them died, though this was also later retconned) and transformed Hal into Parallax.

Kyle was severely tested at the start of his career.

While Parallax went out into the cosmos to acquire yet more power and would eventually attempt to rewrite all of time itself in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (Jurgens, et al, 1994), the last remaining Guardian, Ganthet, travelled to Earth and, seemingly at random, presented the last power ring to the first person he saw: Kyle Rayner. Kyle, a young freelance artist, was initially characterised as being cocky and irresponsible; a rookie who received no training or instruction, he struggled to get to grips with his newfound power and responsibility. Attacked by enemies of Jordan’s who mistook him for the former Green Lantern, Kyle endured a trial by fire made all the more testing when Clifford Zmeck/Major Force infamously killed his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, and stuffed her into a refrigerator! For a long time, this was a constant source of guilt and angst for Kyle; it seemed that he would openly mention it to anybody at the drop of a hat, even amidst battling Parallax, saving the universe, and joining perhaps the strongest incarnation of the Justice League ever. In time, though, Kyle was able to master his emotions and his power; unlike other Green Lanterns, Kyle’s ring did not carry a weakness to yellow (later revealed to be because the weakness was a result of Parallax being imprisoned within the Central Power Battery), did not need to be recharged, and could only be used by him, which effectively made him the most powerful Green Lantern ever seen at that point.

Despite making a name for himself, Kyle was constantly overshadowed by Hal.

As part of the Justice League, Kyle struck up friendships with Wally West/The Flash and Connor Hawke/Green Arrow, just as Jordan had been friends with Barry Allen and Oliver Queen in the past, and voted to keep BruceWayne/Batman (one of his strongest supporters) in the Justice League following the ‘Tower of Babel’ storyline in 2000. As his career progressed entered into a romantic relationship with Alan Scott’s daughter, Jade, and evolved into a leader when he fought off the Circle of Fire. After Parallax sacrificed himself to reignite the Sun in the ‘Final Night’ storyline, Kyle received a massive power boost and was rechristened Ion. Wielding God-like powers, he eventually restored Oa, the Central Power Battery, the Guardians of the Universe, and the Green Lantern Corps in order to relieve himself of the burden of his newfound powers. Restored to a regular Green Lantern, but still unrestricted by the yellow impurity or the need to recharge, went from being the last of the Green Lanterns, and a God, to be one of many Green Lanterns. His status was further damaged when writer Geoff Johns took over the Green Lantern title and orchestrated Hal Jordan’s return in the ‘Rebirth’ storyline; Jordan, who had since become the Spectre, was absolved of all his previous crimes by the revelation that Parallax is actually a parasitic fear entity that latched onto his soul and drove him to evil. Thanks to the efforts of Kyle, Guy (who also had his recent years of messy writing undone), and John Stewart, Jordan returned to life as a Green Lantern once more and promptly took over the Green Lantern title.

Kyle has assumed a number of different forms and identities over the years.

Despite transforming back into Ion during Infinite Crisis (Johns, et al, 2006) following Jade’s death, Kyle was possessed by Parallax during the ‘Sinestro Corps War’ storyline and continued to operate as just one of four (five, if you count Alan Scott) Earth-based Green Lanterns, even after being promoted to ‘Honour Guard’ status. He even found his very existence branded as an anomaly during ‘Countdown’ and ‘Countdown to Final Crisis’ and spent most of 2007 bouncing around the Multiverse with little rhyme or reason. He found himself on the frontlines during Blackest Night (ibid, 2010), which saw Jade restored to life, and sacrificed himself to destroy a bunch of Black Lanterns. He, too, was restored to life and, during War of the Green Lanterns (ibid, 2011) assumed the role of a Blue Lantern after Parallax infected the Green Lantern rings. Unfortunately for him, Blue Lanterns are pretty useless; they only real do anything when Green Lanterns are around, making him the weakest of the rag-tag group (obviously led by Jordan) that stood against the renegade Guardian, Krona. As much as I hate to praise it, The New 52 actually returned some semblance of importance to Kyle; while Sinestro and Jordan dominated the main Green Lantern titles like it was the late-eighties, Kyle was the focus of the New Guardians title. When power rings from all the different corps are drawn to him, Kyle goes on a universe-spanning pilgrimage to master the entire emotional spectrum and once again reaches the levels of God-hood he enjoyed as Ion by becoming a White Lantern. Oddly, The New 52 also put Kyle in a romantic relationship with Jordan’s long-term love interest, the Star Sapphire Carol Ferris, which only further bogged his character down with unnecessary ties to Jordan’s legacy. It wasn’t to last, though, it soon became apparent that the powers of the White Lantern were too much for any one person to wield and, as of Rebirth, Kyle has returned to being a lowly Green Lantern.

GreenLanternAnimated
What the hell is this nonsense!?

It gets worse for Kyle outside of the comics; although his name and profession were used, he looked exactly like Hal Jordan when he appeared in Superman: The Animated Series, and even had Hal’s origin! With John Stewart acting as Green Lantern in Justice League, Kyle was relegated to brief cameos and bit-parts in Justice League: Unlimited. While Stewart is generally included as an alternative costume for Hal in various DC videogames, this luxury is rarely afforded to Kyle; he appears as a skin in Justice League Heroes (Snowblind Studios/Warner Bros. Games, 2006) and is featured in DC Universe Online (Daybreak Game Company/WB Games, 2011) and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (Traveller’s Tales, 2014) but barely gets a mention in the Injustice (NetherRealm Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2013; 2017) videogames due to being unceremoniously killed off in the prequel/tie-in comic books. I remember, many moons ago, reading an article in Wizard around the same time that the ‘Emerald Twilight’ storyline happened; whomever was being interviewed at DC said something along the lines of “DC reserve the right to not give their characters happy endings” and basically said “Hal is evil; Kyle is Green Lantern – deal with it!” as I mentioned, DC was all about major character changes in the nineties; Wally West had become the Flash following Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985), Dick Grayson became Nightwing in the ‘Judas Contract’ storyline, and Tim Drake succeeded him as Robin, in addition to the aforementioned Connor Hawke and even Roy Harper progressing to Arsenal.

GreenLanternLegacy
A generation of heroes doomed to obscurity and irrelevance.

Kyle was supposed to be the next in line of these young new legacy heroes; his costume was bold and striking, a far cry from the regimental style favoured by most Green Lanterns, and his constructs were often infused with manga and anime imagery. As a young, untested hero, Kyle made reading Green Lantern was perfect for newcomers at the time who got to learn about the Green Lantern mythos through fresh eyes. However, once DC’s editors and writing staff switched hands and decided that they wanted to bring back Silver Age characters like Barry Allen and Wally West, the writing was on the wall for characters like Kyle. Once the sole Green Lantern and the figurehead for the Corps, Kyle was relegated to being just another face in a sea of green once Hal came back; even his costume and haircut changed and became far less interesting.

GreenLanternKyleDead
You’ll always be my Green Lantern, Kyle!

For my money, DC massively dropped the ball by not keeping Kyle bonded with Ion and carrying that codename; at least then Kyle would have been set apart from Hal Jordan and the other Green Lanterns. In these modern times, where we have a Corps for every colour of the emotional spectrum, there really is no excuse for Kyle, Hal, Guy, John, and newcomers like Simon Baz to all be Green Lanterns. I would have kept Kyle as the White Lantern, Guy as a Red Lantern, and John as an Indigo Lantern if only to mix things up and keep everyone different and relevant. Instead, with Hal still at the forefront of the Green Lantern titles and constantly being branded by DC writers, editors, and characters as the greatest Green Lantern of all time, there doesn’t seem to be any room for Kyle these days. Once upon a time, DC vowed that characters like Kyle and Wally were the new standard but, now, they’re pale imitations living in the shadow of the apparently far superior Silver Age counterparts and that’s just sad for people like me, who grew up in the nineties reading about Kyle’s adventures and growing attached to his character, rather than that of Hal Jordan.

Back Issues: DC’s Crisis Conundrum

BackIssues

Ever since the 1938 introduction of Clark Kent/Superman, DC Comics has been known for its vast array of costumed crimefighters and interconnected, densely populated fictional narratives. For decades, continuity was played fast and loose; Superman evolved from being a moderately powerful superhuman who could leap over tall buildings into a God-like figure who could turn back time, possessed a super-human intellect, and could tow entire worlds through space with ease. Similarly, Bruce Wayne/Batman was depicted as being as youthful as ever despite having been active since 1939 and having taken part in World War Two. Some of these issues were resolved when, in the 123rd issue of The Flash, DC Comics introduced the concept of the multiverse. The issue postulated that there were an infinite number of parallel worlds co-existing in the same space and time but slightly out of synch with our own world due to being on a different vibrational frequency. The fallout from “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al) was the revelation that DC’s Golden Age superheroes, such as the Justice Society of America and older versions of Superman and Batman, existed on the parallel world known as Earth-Two while their Silver Age contemporaries (Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and the like) in the Justice League of America existed on Earth-One.

CrisisStupidlySuperman
Superman was originally more God than man.

This concept allowed DC Comics to portray multiple iterations of their most popular characters as existing side-by-side, as well as numerous alternative worlds; Earth-Three, for example, was home to the Crime Syndicate, made up of villainous versions of the Justice League, while Earth-S was home to Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel and other characters DC acquired from their purchase of Fawcett Comics. Unfortunately, decades of over-reliance of the multiverse concept meant that, by the 1980s, DC continuity was extremely difficult to keep track of and DC Comics were virtually inaccessible to new readers who had no idea what the multiverse was, much less how it worked. As a result, DC embarked on their most ambitious inter-company crossover yet; Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985) saw the entirety of the DC multiverse under threat from the malevolent Anti-Monitor. Seeking to rule in the desolation of nothingness, the Anti-Monitor begins destroying entire parallel worlds with an anti-matter wave, reducing their number from infinite to a mere five and causing the deaths of Barry Allen/The Flash and Kara Zor-El/Supergirl. In the end, Kal-L/Superman of Earth-Two, Alexander Luthor of Earth-Three, and Superboy of Earth-Prime end the Anti-Monitor’s threat and retreat to a “pocket dimension”, alongside the Lois Lane of Earth-Two, where they are protected from the merging of the remaining worlds.

Crises were commonplace in the Silver Age before DC tried to streamline their complex continuity.

It seemed like DC had come up with the perfect way to consolidate their continuity; the concept of parallel worlds was done away with and one singular reality was established. Stories like Superman: The Man of Steel (Byrne, et al, 1986) and Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987) re-established the origins of DC’s flagship characters and, over the next few years, DC established that, while the events prior to the Crisis had occurred, very few of the characters who survived remembered much beyond vagaries (Wally West, for example, was now the Flash and knew, like everyone else, that Barry had died saving the world but not the exact specifics of how and why). Additionally, DC Comics began emphasising the idea of legacy superheroes; the Justice Society of America was established as having been active during World War Two and, while some of their members were active in present day continuity, they were noticeable aged and took on more of a mentorship role. Unfortunately, DC dropped the ball with Crisis. Rather than simply end every existing comic they published and reboot with brand new issue one’s and origin stories, some characters (such as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman) were not reintroduced into the new canon until much later. Others, like the Legion of Superheroes, had their entire origins altered forever by the removal of Superboy from the new canon (something that could have easily been remedied had DC simply rebooted the Legion and had them be inspired by Superman; instead, writers hastily incorporated an alternative Superboy from a pocket dimension or substituted him with Mon-El).

Zero Hour tried to fix DC’s post-Crisis lore but actually did more harm than good.

In an effort to address some of these lingering issues, and further incorporate some of the popular Pre-Crisis characters and ideas into modern continuity, DC capitalised on Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s recent descent into madness, genocide, and villainy with another massive inter-company event. Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (Jurgens, et al, 1994) saw Jordan, as Parallax, absorbing vast amounts of cosmic and chronal energy with which he planned to remake reality and undo all the wrongs that had happened since the death of Superman. Due to Parallax messing about with time, many continuity changes were forced into DC canon; Superman was explicitly described as having debuted “ten years ago”, the Legion of Superheroes were (finally) completely rebooted, Batman’s killer became anonymous and at large, and all conflicting versions of Carter Hall/Hawkman were consolidated into one singular character since DC never really bothered to reboot his origin story following the original Crisis. With the bulk of Zero Hour’s five-issue run being made up primarily of exposition from Richard Rider/Waverider or Parallax, many of the consequences of Parallax’s actions were told in DC’s individual comics. In the end, despite the insanity of time literally being ripped apart around them, the heroes were able to thwart Parallax’s efforts and allow time and reality to unfold naturally, albeit with many changes. Zero Hour resulted in many changes to popular DC characters; Guy Gardner suddenly became a shape-changing Vuldarian, many of the Justice Society were rapidly aged or killed off, Connor Hawke was introduced as the new Green Arrow, and Arthur Curry/Aquaman now sported an unkempt look and a harpoon for a hand.

Infinite Crisis returned the multiverse to the DC universe.

However, Zero Hour actually created more problems than it solved; Hawkman’s origins were no more clearer now than they had been before. Eventually, The Return of Hawkman (Goyer, et al, 2002) returned the character to mainstream continuity, explaining that the character was locked in a constant cycle of death and rebirth. Additionally, DC sought to address their ongoing continuity issues (and tell out of continuity stories) through the concept of Hypertime, which, much like the previous infinite Earths concept, allowed for alternative versions of events to be played out. Eventually, and with the twentieth anniversary of the original Crisis looming, DC decided to commission their biggest inter-company crossover yet. Consisting of multiple ongoing stories all building up to its central narrative, Infinite Crisis (John, et al, 2006) aimed to not only re-establish the multiverse concept and finally tie-up all of the lingering continuity issues left in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour, but also move the company away from the dark stories that had dominated during the mid-nineties. After numerous event-scale storylines, the DC trinity (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) were divided and the DC universe was in turmoil. Frustrated with how bad Earth heroes have let things get and perceiving that they have squandered their new world, Kal-L, Alexander Luthor, and Superboy-Prime break free from their pocket dimension and set about cannibalising the Anti-Monitor’s corpse to re-establish the multiverse and return peace and order to the universe. However, it turns out that seeing his world destroyed and having his youth ripped away from him, coupled with living in isolation and the machinations of Alexander Luthor, have driven Superboy-Prime mad. While Alexander straps various heroes and villains to an inter-dimensional tuning fork, Superboy-Prime goes on an accidental murder spree before Bart Allen/Kid Flash forces him into the Speed Force itself, at the cost of Wally West and his family.

CrisisEarths
Infinite Crisis smashed together parallel worlds created 52 alternate Earths.

However, Superboy-Prime escapes, sporting a modified version of the Anti-Monitor’s armour and driven completely insane. With no regard for himself or others, he goes on a rampage; although Conner Kent/Kon-El/Superboy destroys Alexander’s inter-dimensional tower, it costs him his life and, finally convinced that Alexander’s plan would mean the genocide of countless lives, Kal-L joins forces with Superman to end Superboy-Prime’s threat. Infinite Crisis ends with the multiverse restored; though instead of there being an infinite number of parallel worlds, there were now a much more easy to wield fifty-two alternate Earths. In the aftermath, DC’s titles all jumped forward one year later, while the weekly 52 series explored the fallout of the events from the main crossover. This New Earth restored Superboy to Superman’s origin, depicted multiple non-canon stories as existing on the alternative Earths, introduced a new all-powerful villain in the form of Superboy-Prime, and resulted in Batman becoming far more trusting and open with his allies and family. For me, this was a great time to be reading DC comics. Unlike previous Crisis-level events, Infinite Crisis felt like a soft reboot that would be accessible to new readers; the multiverse existed but rarely impacted mainstream DC continuity and it felt like DC had finally closed the door of the events of the original Crisis and had finally moved on.

And then Grant Morrison happened.

CrisisFinal
somethingsomethingsomething Darkseid somethingsomething…

Morrison spearheaded an inter-company crossover that would change the DC universe forever. Unfortunately, DC decided to spend an entire year building up to this event with the weekly Countdown (later Countdown to Final Crisis) series, in addition to numerous tie-in and spin-off titles. As Countdown was of far less writing and artistic quality compared to 52, and due to the fact that many of its events contradicted what was happening in the associated titles, the build up towards Final Crisis (Morrison, et al, 2009) was lacklustre and confusing, to say the least. The basic premise, as far as I can understand it (Morrison’s writing is confusing and disjointed at the best of times) is that the New Gods have all died and been reincarnated on New Earth, causing a tear in space, time, and reality. Reborn, Darkseid finally solves the Anti-Life Equation and enslaves the planet; however, using a radion bullet, Batman mortally wounds Darkseid, before being erased from existence. As his essence dies, Darkseid attempts to obliterate all of reality until he is finally thwarted by Superman; Superman, and an army of his counterparts from across the multiverse then restore Earth and reality before it can be destroyed by Darkseid and Mandrakk, the Dark Monitor. Once you got past the mess of Morrison’s writing and the mess of a build-up to the main event, the fallout from Final Crisis made for very accessible stories. DC also focused on using the Green Lantern titles to expand their universe through sprawling, inter-connected stories.

Dick Grayson took over as Batman before Flashpoint gave us an angst-ridden jerk version of Superman.

However, rather than fully capitalise on this (by, say, returning Bruce Wayne to life as an aged man, killing off Alfred, and having an elderly Wayne take his place as mentor to the new Batman and Robin), DC instead decided to undo all of their recent efforts a mere two years after the end of Final Crisis. The best thing about Final Crisis was the fallout; Batman, thought dead, actually embarked on a trip through time and space that threatened all reality until he was safely returned home by the Justice League. However, in the meantime, his duties were performed by Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as an all-new, fresh take on the Batman and Robin duo. Additionally, both Kon-El and Bart Allen were resurrected and, for fans of the Silver Age, Barry Allen finally returned to the land of the living to become the Flash once more (though, personally, I am more of a fan of Wally West). In Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011), Barry Allen’s grief apparently got the better of him, causing him to go back in time and save his mother’s life. This results in a vastly altered timeline, which threatens to solidify itself as the true reality unless Barry can set things right. Teaming up with Thomas Wayne, here a violent version of Batman, and amidst an ongoing war between Atlantis and the Amazons, the Reverse-Flash reveals the key to restoring reality to Barry, allowing him to undo his actions. However, instead, we got what DC marketed as the “New 52” reality for the better part of five years. In this radically altered version of events, the DC universe has only existed for five years (meaning that Batman burned through one Robin every year-and-a-half or so), Barbara Gordon controversially recovered from the Joker’s attack and continued to fight crime as Batgirl, and many characters got entirely new origin stories (Superboy, Supergirl, and, in particular, Superman was changed so drastically that I swear he was a completely different character).

CrisisConvergence
Convergence slightly altered the original Crisis.

Additionally, Wildstorm and Vertigo publications were officially absorbed into the DC universe, while many recent events, particularly in Batman and Green Lantern titles, continued with very little alteration, truly begging the question as to why DC even bothered to reboot their continuity so severely just as their titles had become engaging and accessible for new and long-term readers. The biggest problem with the New 52, however, was that while DC still incorporated a version of the multiverse (complete with slightly different versions of Earth-Two and Earth-Three), it took DC almost a year to properly establish their new continuity; many characters went without detailed revised origins until this time, causing a great deal of confusion as to what events and characters were still canon, and largely alienating me in the process. Eventually, though, DC decided to bring the New 52 to a close and restart everything…again…using the Convergence (King, et al, 2015) storyline to kick-start their Rebirth titles. In Convergence, Brainiac has collected numerous cities and their inhabitants from across the multiverse (even some from prior to the original Crisis) and deposited them on Telos, a sentient planet that forces them to fight each other to see which is superior. Amidst the chaos and the fighting, the sorcerer Deimos usurps Telos and declares himself ruler and protector of this imprisoned on there. Eventually, Deimos is defeated by Parallax (drawn straight out of Zero Hour), which causes a chain reaction that threatens to annihilate the entire multiverse (…again). Brainiac, seeking to atone for his misdeeds, intervenes and sends pre-Flashpoint Superman and Zero Hour-Parallax back to the original Crisis to change its outcome and save the multiverse from collapsing.

Rebirth returned pre-Flashpoint characters and brought the Watchmen to the DC Universe.

Convergence concluded with the return of the multiverse proper, with a potentially infinite number of worlds once again present in DC comics, while absorbing yet more commonly displaced titles into DC continuity; an ongoing theme throughout the resultant Rebirth-branded comics has been the introduction of characters from Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1987) into the larger DC universe for the first time. Perhaps the best thing to come out of Convergence and the resultant Rebirth titles was not only the death of the New 52-Superman but the return of the pre-Flashpoint Superman and the true Wally West. The pre-Flashpoint Superman is revealed to have been living a quiet family life with his version of Lois Lane and their young son and, despite starting as a separate character, has recently been amalgamated with and replaced the new 52-Superman entirely. Additionally, Wally now exists alongside his biracial counterpart, retconned as being his cousin, and even explains that Flashpoint was actually caused by Doctor Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan rather than Barry Allen. So, once again, DC Comics have been softly rebooted to attract new readers while reintroducing numerous popular concepts and characters into mainstream continuity. The return of the pre-Flashpoint Superman, a confidant married man with a superpowered child, is enough to bring me back to DC after the debacle of the New 52 yet their ongoing titles (particularly, again, Batman and Green Lantern, and even The Flash) continue the stories from the New 52 and with little consequence from the events of Convergence save for Batman and the Flash’s investigation of the Comedian’s button.

While Crises can be fun, they often cause more problems than they solve.

One of the things I love about DC Comics is that they’ll cook up a massive story whenever they want to make major continuity changes (as opposed to Marvel, who usually just quietly retcon stuff away, ignore it completely, or constantly update their sliding timescale to keep everything within an approximate five year timeline). While this means that everything can be canon at any one time, DC have notoriously dropped the ball with every Crisis-level event they produce. After Crisis, every title should have reset to zero and all continuity should have been rewritten and reset to accommodate the major changes they had made; to only have a few titles do this is ludicrous and created a knock-on effect that led to the disastrous Zero Hour event. It wasn’t until Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis that DC finally resolved the fallout from the original Crisis, and then they went and threw it all away with Flashpoint in an obvious attempt to bring in new readers unfamiliar with the events that had already transpired. Ironically, as a long-time comics fan, even I sometimes struggle with these massive Crisis events because they require a lot of background reading. As I mentioned, the New 52 publications alienated me completely and it’s only recently, now that DC has moved on to the Rebirth branding, that I have bothered to collect some key New 52 graphic novels. The worst part is that DC and Warner Bros. apparently would rather reference and incorporate elements from the multiverse concept in their movies and television shows. For example, the Flash seen in The Flash television show is not the Flash we see in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016). This goes even further though as the Superman seen in Supergirl is not the Henry Cavill version of the character and Supergirl is not only separate the DC movies but also from The Flash, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow television shows (The Flash even goes to great lengths to introduce and explore the concept of the multiverse, again represented as 52 parallel worlds).

The DCEU is quite divided, to say the least.

This basically means that we will never see Stephen Amell appear as Green Arrow alongside Ben Affleck’s Batman and has resulted in two versions of the Flash, two wildly different versions of Batman’s origin between Batman v Superman and Gotham, two iterations of the Suicide Squad, and many more all existing simultaneously on television and in movies. DC and Warner Bros. then compound things even further by constantly talking about the multiverse and hinting that their movies are not all connected all with the intention of presenting themselves as doing things differently from Marvel Studios. However, the multiverse concept is incredibly complex and something only die-hard fanboys really understand. The general audience might not quite be ready for it and, besides that, it seems really stupid to want to have three different versions of Superman on screen at any one time, especially as DC have previously placed an embargo on Batman crossing over into other television properties. The multiverse has worked in comics because it has existed for so long and been explored to death; The Flash has done a great job of introducing the concept but that had three entire seasons to explore and discuss it at length. For a movie to do it would surely be far more trouble than it’s worth beyond simplifying it to a great degree, perhaps by introducing the Crime Syndicate or stating that a villain such as Darkseid has devoured parallel worlds or something.

Hopefully, however, DC has learned to better manage their Crisis-level events from now on, and also to limit them to one every ten or fifteen years or so; having massive inter-connected plots where the fate of the multiverse is at stake (and sticking guys like Batman at the centre of them!) occur every two to five years is just overkill, in my opinion, especially if DC screw the pooch as badly as the did with the New 52.