"To The Powers at DC"
Author: Gregg Bray
January 16, 2009

Dear Powers at DC Comics,

As a long time reader, I would like to thank you for the excellent work youíve put into your characters, in particular -- Batman.

Iíve been a Batman reader since the early 1980s, or as it has come to be known, the ďPre-CrisisĒ era. There are several elements that attract me to the character -- heís human, he has a unique world of story, populated by excellent citizens and villains, and heís a detective. I grew up appreciating Sherlock Holmes and Batman on equal footing -- both have to use their brains toÖwell, DETECT crimes by analyzing scenes, eliminating possibilities, and seeking out the guilty party. True, both have their Moriaritys (or Jokers), but they also have to deal with very human limitations. Batman, like Sherlock, has no super-powers. But not anybody could be Batman -- it takes someone with an amount of dedication to ideals, and to mental and physical trials, to do it. What are his limits? How far can he be pushed? How does his character evolve over time when faced with the same list of enemies again and again, as they go through the Arkham Asylum revolving door?

This is what keeps me as a reader. This is what could attract new readers, especially after THE DARK KNIGHTís Monumental Success.

But as I look back over the past decades, I see a troublesome trend, designed, it seems, to attract new readers or keep us oldies still interested. It begins withÖ

Crisis on Infinite Earths, then Death in the Family, Invasion, Knighfall, Knight Quest, Knightís End, Zero Hour, Prodigy, Contagion, Legacy, Cataclysm, No Manís Land, Bruce Wayne: Murderer?, Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, Infinite Crisis, Identity Crisis, 52, and other stories such as the death and resurrection of Raís al Ghul.

Iím sure Iím missing a few events in there, but thatís not the point. The point is in looking at the past 20 plus years of comics, weíve had event after event after event. And while some, such as No ManĎs Land, have been successful pieces of storytelling, others have been a series of ret-cons and rationalizations in an attempt to correct continuity errors, or to engage the reader in larger than life scenarios, involving large portions of the DC mythos.

To be frank, enough is enough.

In television, when the writing resorts to a series of stunts (either in guest stars, or in on-screen antics), itís known as Ďjumping the shark (ala Happy Days, when The Fonz jumped the shark). Gimmicks and stunts replacing the investigation of character. When this happens, it leads to a decline in the writing, which can lead to the decline in readership. Which brings me to the newest skin for the stunt ceremonyÖ

Temporarily (even over the course of the next few years) replacing Bruce Wayne as The Batman.

Sounds familiar, doesnít it?

Count me as part of the readership decline. Look, itís not that I donít want you to shake things up -- I think itís important to have the occasional, maybe once-a-decade cross-over or event to remind us of the DCU world of story. Itís that this has become THE approach. Itís to the point that Batman -- acting as a solo operative over the course of an issue, or two issues, solving a simple crime in a well-told story -- is now the event.

If every issue is an event, then there are no events -- just stunts.

It seems that new readers need a Bachelor of Arts in the DCU before they enter into the event ret-con entanglement that is the current Batman story. And older readers will immediately feel that this idea (temporarily replacing Bruce Wayne) is derivative. Knightfall is still out there as a collection, as is Prodigy.

So, where did you go right? Well, for a while Paul Dini was writing a series of one-offs, or short arcs that got back to the basics of the character. We have a mystery. We have the hero. We have the villain(s). We have the story arc. This is what readers -- such as Gregg Bray -- want and this is what new readers (after seeing THE DARK KNIGHT) will be looking for.

Letís get back to the story, and to the rich characterization. Letís get back to The Dark Knight DETECTIVE, and have him analyze crime scenes, and fight characters that, in someway, may remind him of some precinct of him.

Do that, and the Gregg Brays of the world will return.

Also, remember that ďEVENTSĒ in a storyís timeline are just that -- events. They are not, in of themselves, THE story. If they become THE story -- well, letís just say I can hear The Fonz revving up his bike in the distance.

Thanks, again, for your work -- but letís not forget the elements that make Batman/BRUCE WAYNE such a marvelous character.

A Bat-fan first and foremost,
Gregg Bray

Gregory Bray is a Deputy Chair in the Department of Communication and Media at
SUNY New Paltz, and an award-winning documentary maker.
He is also a contributor to BOF and long time BOF'er.

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