Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Responding to: "And Now What?"

Found here.

I've only read one issue of Deathstroke and I didn't like Lazarus Contract. That said I don't think that it's right that Christopher Priest got so much hate over it. I don't agree whenever any writer get treated horribly. Should writers be criticized? Of course but for their writing not as people.

Said criticism should be constructive. I understand the need to vent, many of my reviews are done as I'm reading them to capture my gut feelings in the moment. But I also understand that there's more at work than simply one writer especially in a crossover.


Editorial mandates are a pain and there are other writers involved. Those writers might have their own demands and usually things are lost in translation between series. I get that. I thought it'd only be fair to give my own thoughts on the event. My responses aren't just on what Priest himself wrote in this event but things Percy (Teen Titans) and Abnett (Titans.)

So, I’m reading all of this hoopla online about the Titans crossover event and how terribly I handled Damian and OG Wally and why didn’t I know this thing happened on page 6 of Obscure Comics #12 back in 2004. Okay, I heard you.

I don't expect obscure things to appear in a crossover especially after a semi-reboot where we're not sure what is currently canon. Things connected to other Rebirth titles sure but not something from years ago that only die hard fans would know. Maybe some fans are referring to something Flash related? I'm not sure what's obscure.

And now what? So, Damian is (apparently) no longer a little shit. He is thoughtful and more mature and less impulsive, less self-centered. Great. I got it wrong. And now what? What do we do with a character after we’ve smoothed out all of the rough edges and rounded off all the corners?

I think some readers might be oversimplifying things. While Damian has matured and isn't the same kid he was when he was first introduced he's still "a little shit." Robin War had him acting overpowered and horrible to Jason and Tim. As usual no one in the crossover cared and he got away with his behavior just like he did when he attacked them in Batman & Robin. I don't like the Robin War crossover and Damian wasn't the only one I felt was handled badly there. I think it was the worst event I've read in a few years but yeah Damian wasn't "less impulsive" there. More recently he's met Jon Kent (Superboy) by kidnapping him. Jon, who's been shown to be a pretty level-headed kid reached his limit with Damian.

Super Sons is played more lighthearted but Damian still does very questionable things and has unhealthy behavior. He stalked Jon at his school dressing as his bus driver and a substitute teacher. Later on he peer pressures Jon into going on a mission with him. Damian himself had been benched for the night by Bruce since he was falling behind on his school work. Over in Teen Titans we got a sympathetic portrayal of Damian since Bruce chose to work with the League over celebrating Damian's birthday with him. His grandfather threatens him and Damian kidnaps a team for help.

The kid has no idea how to be social and ignores the logic of asking them. Starfire , Raven and Beast Boy for example have previously worked with Dick, Jason or Tim. I don't think any of them would have said no if he asked yet his first instinct was to kidnap them. My problem in general is that few if any characters try to correct him and he usually gets away with his actions which keeps regressing him as a character. I have no problem with Damian being different from Dick but he can't remain the same person indefinitely. A character that never develops is boring. There's no reason to get invested and it becomes more and more unbelievable that anyone will put up with him.

In regards to the Lazarus Contract crossover he shows no real affection for anyone. Damian only calmed Raven down after Aqualad repeatedly demanded he do something. This was at a time most of his team and the other Titans including Dick could have died. Damian himself admits as much to Aqualad. Yet he still drags his feet on helping Raven. The person Damian feels closest to is Dick Grayson but he shows no real concern for him. In fact he easily believes Dick of being a traitor and puts that ahead of finding the missing Wallys. He puts pettiness that has nothing to do with the matter at hand over two lives.

Damian seems to always take two steps back after every emotional development but in Lazarus Contract? He shows no softer side. Sticking out not because he's interesting but because he's the one causing trouble. Whether it's publicly demeaning Nu Wally despite Dick repeatedly trying to keep him focused or recklessly endangering the timeline.

Much like the OG Wally stuff this could simply be a byproduct of the direction the writer(s) for the other series want for their characters. I don't know. Damian is a horrible leader, he really doesn't have any redeeming moments in this. He never considers his actions and when time travel is involved it's truly unbelievable. For all he knew stopping OG Wally's heart/giving him a pacemaker could have erased billions he saved including the other Titans.

If Damian being a bad leader actually develops into him being kicked out or demoted I could get behind that. He has to learn and keep that development though. I could see leadership feeding his ego making it a real need for him to grow by having it taken away. If not then I don't think the way he's been written in this crossover or in general as of late will be worth it.

Wally *doesn’t* have a heart problem. Gotcha. And now what? How do we make OG Wally relevant or even interesting? I’m not trying to pick a fight or insult anybody, I’m really asking: and now what? What do the fans actually want? They seem to want their heroes to be perfect and problem-free.

I'm not a die hard Flash fan but I still don't get the reasoning for it. I suspect this was something Abnett wanted I just don't know why. OG Wally West already has his life taken away from him so why take away more before he can build himself up? His life already isn't perfect or problem-free. The potential for drama is already there. Some people remember him and some don't. I assume that happened since he knew Joey and Joey doesn't know him. Although I don't know how he found Joey on a roof. Or why Joey was there. Anyway there's a lot of places to take a story, I don't think OG Wally's options are so limited that a pacemaker is the only solution. This also has shades of an old story of Wally quitting due to health reasons.

I didn't like that OG Wally fled from Deathstroke out of fear and it seemed to just pop up out of no where. If it was because of the torture I don't feel it was built up enough. OG Wally didn't previously seem all that affected by it and it wasn't shown to be any worse than what normal superheroes suffer. Why torture him if he was given a form of truth serum? Why would Slade torture him and need to convince both Wallys to help him when it seems like he just took the power he needed? Slade claims he doesn't want to hurt OG Wally but if he tortured him then he already needlessly hurt him.

They also seem to want the writers, or at least me, to have read a decade worth of comics before putting their favorite characters into a story. I don’t have time to read 100 comics. I don’t know any working writer who does. I can read, maybe, ten. And I will portray the character the way he or she is being portrayed now, today, currently, not what was done years or even months before.

While this is understandable I admit it's also disappointing. As readers we love to see attention given to detail classic stories (not so much when nods are given to awful characterizations of the past.) It shows a high level of professionalism, devotion to the source material and just love for the characters in general. I thought comic companies had resources that summed up things like this but maybe it's just one particular company? Or maybe I'm thinking of Mark Waid in particular being a wealth of comic knowledge. Since Abnett and Percy are part of this crossover I would think this would fall on them too. The only other person to really write Damian now is Tomasi. (I know Seeley and others wrote him but I mean ongoing writer.)

Personally I think only recent comics depicting Damian are needed for a crossover. OG Wally probably needs more research just for how the Speed Force works. I honestly don't know what in particular Flash fans felt was lacking canon-wise. Maybe the similarity to OG Wally being sick and quitting before? I haven't gotten to that story line yet I just know about it in passing so it's really a guess. I only read a few comments on what Wally fans didn't like and it seemed to be fleeing and the pacemaker.

It’s entirely possible that I’m missing the point fans are trying to make. I *am* listening, but this is a mystery to me. The impression I am forming is fans want their characters to evolve into flat, lifeless droids who, I guess, have adventures wherein their decisions are always spot-on, they are always portrayed in a heroic light, and nobody ever gets damaged. I don’t intend that to be mean-spirited. That literally is my takeaway from all the crosstalk I am seeing.

It's always reassuring that a writer is willing to listen. It's even better when a civil conversation for both parties can happen as I know that sadly doesn't always occur. I have no problem with characters evolving if it's a natural progression that doesn't go against the core of their character. I'm just not sure if this is natural for OG Wally or Damian. OG Wally in particular seems to just have this happen to him when there seems to be no need. The problem with Damian is that he doesn't seem to be evolving but rather regressing. He hindered the story and created problems. Bringing up the deal that has nothing to do with his missing teammate. Then messing with time when he has no idea what he's doing. (I was confused in general with the time travel in this story.)

The fact Nu Wally was missing was secondary to him even though he knew OG Wally was missing too. Since Damian never seems to learn any lessons I have doubts that anything will come of this. Mainly because any changes he gets are backtracked on.

The extreme distortions– calling my and my colleagues’ work “garbage” –doesn’t help. Arguably, some fans reacted strongly to the stresses we put their favorite characters through. But to suggest that no part, not one scene or one page of the Titans crossover was any good– is just silly. This is the sad byproduct of our zero-sum society, wherein everybody has to be polarized to the extreme of everyone else. Disagreeing with how I portray Potato Man does not, in fact, make me an actual Nazi.

Everyone gets frustrated and since he asked I'll try to explain this from a fan POV. Although I can't defend the more extreme behavior. Fans get emotionally attached to characters we grew up with, relate to or just plain like. It ticks us off when all the developments we've invested in through the years aren't present. Sometimes characters are reduced to acting like someone else as only a stereotypical portrayal is used in their place. That's not the same character(s) we grew to love.

Take Geoff Johns for example when he wrote Wonder Woman years ago. He had her tossing Conner Kent (the previous Superboy) away from Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl 2) when they were kissing. She suddenly became controlling of Cassie, was aggressive and seemed to think she was perfect. Needless to say fans weren't happy.

Diana would know Conner wasn't a bad person and never try to control Cassie. She's a warrior that always tries to solve things peacefully first and never thinks of herself as better than anyone else. Fans were vocal and Johns' writing later improved. (I think he said fans helped but I can't find a link to that.) Seriously the difference between the Wonder Woman he wrote in Teen Titans and his later work is noticeable. Diana fights along side Captain Cold talking to him much like she has other villains, like he's a person. She asks about his sister and seems to enjoy the banter.

As for saying there wasn't any good part of the Lazarus Contract I disagree. I enjoyed seeing Grant Wilson as an actual character. To see his frustration with his parents, to see him with Joey and to see what a fanboy he was. Having Grant ask Deathstroke to autograph his mask was seriously the most adorable and sad moment in the whole crossover. Once he knows it's his dad any hero worship dies because he can't stand Slade. The man was and remains a terrible father. Humanizing Grant makes it all the more tragic when he dies. I liked what little we got of Joey who's spot on and despite not liking Slade himself I always like Wintergreen. While I thought Nu Wally was a little too eager to get back into a car with another stranger that knew his name I did think their talk was well done. It gave a better scope to why Nu Wally was tricked.

I laughed when Slade told Nu Wally to grow a pair since I was thinking he was getting a little too mopey in front of Deathstroke. While I didn't like that basically everyone but Nu Wally was okay with leaving Slade in the Speed Force I liked that Nu Wally wanted to save him. The all too brief moment of connection between Garth and Jackson was also appreciated.

If this crossover had less characters or just issues that only dealt with a few characters at a time this might of improved the event some. I've had more time to think about it since I read the comics but I still don't like most of the final product. I understand the mandates and restricts though.

So, somebody help me out. I’m sure many fans gripe about DC or Marvel not listening to them. Well, I’m listening. It’s important to me, to my job, to figure out what fans want and do my best to provide that while not boring them to death by actually giving them exactly what they want.

But is no-drama Wally really what they want? If so, then what? Is well-balanced, non-tempestuous Damian what they want? If so, then what? What do we do? What stories do we write about these characters once they’ve shed the very characteristics that made us love them in the first place?

It's always good to know since there are actually some writers that have been rather...harsh. I haven't spoken to them but I've read the stories. Anyway the first most important thing for me is the characters themselves. I hate the stereotypical roles a lot of writers put characters into that ignore their nuance and depth. For example I've noticed a trend where writers put the Robins into extremely simple labels. 

Dick is the leader and "the best." Jason's character is usually wrong outside his own title (the growth there is amazing) with him being the stereotypical bad boy, the weak one, the dumb one and cramming into any other random role the writers need. Tim is simply the smart one. Damian is the blood son that somehow does things no one else is allowed to and gets increasingly more violent. There's more to them and I feel less inclined to read titles that keep using them when they are reduced to these roles.

I think I put all I can for Wally since I'm not the biggest Flash fan in general. I'm not sure how much control Priest can have over Damian but sure I'll explain what I want from the character. I want for other characters to call him out for his behavior more often. For others to have enough of how he acts and lose faith in him after he gets a little too arrogant. I want him to be forced to consider his actions.

For Bruce to actually be a father and punish him. To show that Damian isn't Bruce's only son and have him not put up with how Damian treats the other Robins. To have Damian realize his treatment of Tim, Jason, Jon and his teammates isn't right. To have Damian attempt to be a better person. He doesn't have to always succeed, it can take awhile to get him to that point with Damian denying it. Much like Bruce he can struggle to say the words and try to communicate through actions. Have him stumble over what to say, not able to make eye contact with those he wrong, just show he does care.

Damian can still be an ass to most people with him only being kinder to those he knows well. Or having close enough bonds that he can make certain digs at them and they can return the favor with him. Too much of certain characteristics isn't a good thing. People get tired of the same old traits after awhile. If Damian never changes then why should anyone become invested in him? 

Booster Gold went through amazing changes since he was introduced. Having several layers to add great depth to him. He grew up poor, was a college football star, lost it all over a gambling scandal and stole his equipment to become a hero. From there Booster became a great business mind (seriously it was in his first series), a "sell out" hero, a Justice League member, part of a comedy duo, a mourning friend and a Time Master that will never get any credit for his deeds. Booster Gold the glory hound sacrifices his image to be the hero. He still has his humor but there's also a seriousness to him. Vulnerability and longing. It's not impossible to change a character without changing who they are.

With all possible respect to my friend Tim Seely, my former mentor Marv Wolfman, Devin Grayson, Geoff Johns and others, I find Dick Grayson to be the most boring Wonder Bread boilerplate character ever to pull on spandex. That’s just me. Tens of thousands of fans are *rabid* Dick Grayson fans. For the life of me, I couldn’t explain why. Grayson, in his various iterations, seems, to me, the ultimate expression of what I’m being harangued about around the web: the flattened-out character whose dealt with all of his shortcomings and character flaws. I see Grayson and I wonder, “And now what?”

Is that what fans want– Damian to be indistinguishable from Grayson? Wally to have no challenges to overcome? And, if so, then what?

I’m not trying to be sarcastic or even defensive. I’m trying to understand because, obviously, I’m missing something.

Fair enough. I can see where he's coming from. For me it's always been how Dick was written by certain writers. I think too many writers and editors are afraid of truly evolving Dick which has held him back a lot. I didn't think the Grayson series was a good fit for his character either and it always felt like a temporary change to me. He can't get married, he can't have kids or the like because then people can't apparently relate to him. I don't buy it but he needs a change like that since he doesn't have the same internal struggles as other Robins.

A possible plot could be how Dick reacts the fact his little brother ruined his best friend's life and the timeline. Dick has always been far too lenient on Damian and friction would be an excellent plot.

I don't think Damian would be indistinguishable from Dick if he got some development. He'll always have issues with his family. He'll always be following in the shadow of great men. The struggle of the League of Assassins and the bat family will always be there in his blood. There's more to his character than being "a little shit" to everyone. As I said earlier I don't see why Wally needs more challenges when he already has a lot of things to overcome. Does he currently belong anywhere outside the Titans and maybe with Barry? That seems like a huge challenge.

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