in which Devin Grayson earns my respect forever

Hey Devin, tell us how you feel about Batman’s social skills:

I think we all love the idea of Batman as a loner, but for reasons that are honestly primarily based in commerce (the more characters in the Bat-universe, the more marketing opportunities), he has been increasingly surrounded with a seemingly ever-expanding cast of co-stars, and these have become well-developed, exciting characters in their own rights. There was no book at that time dedicated to exploring those relationships… I think in some ways we were sort of avoiding the issue, and I really wanted to walk right up to it: “look, they’re here to stay, we have to really integrate them into Batman’s existence and mission in a meaningful way.” … We wanted to be really honest about the weirdness of it – you’ve got this shadowy, mysterious vigilante who is essentially the personification of self-determination and autonomy, and yet he’s basically running a training program for teenage vigilantes. I told Denny I thought Batman probably was uncomfortable with it, but that was precisely what made it such great material for serialized exploration: why does he let all those people be there? Could he get rid of them at this point if he wanted to? How do they feel about him? What do they need from him? Can he give it? What does it mean to love someone like a father who’s convinced that familial love is a death warrant? We know what happens when he puts on the Bat-armor and goes out to fight. He’s Batman, he’s gonna win. But what happens when the armor’s off and there are these kids looking to him for approval and guidance? How does that add to – or even detract from – his mission? There’s a lot of material there.

What I believe – and I couldn’t say whether or not this is a wholly original idea – is that to be as spectacular and amazing as Batman is, to develop those areas so thoroughly, you would have to be missing something else. You can’t be more than human without in some ways having also let yourself become less than human.

My mother is a family therapist and my dad’s a sociologist and I tend to approach characters from those angles – it’s not that Batman is incapable of human intimacy on any organic level, it’s just that he hasn’t worked on that in any sustained way because his attention and energy has been elsewhere. Now, Ralph down the street hasn’t worked on intimacy either, and is equally incapable of it, and what he’s really good at is drinking beer and yelling at his dog. Most of us are underdeveloped in some pretty key ways and often don’t have much to show for it. That’s not what I’m saying about Batman. His internal makeup is a choice he made. I don’t mean to point out his deficiencies as marks against him, but rather as humanizing factors of sacrifice. He has given up so much to be able to do what he does, and in many ways there’s nothing more noble or laudable than that kind of self-sacrifice. I adore Batman, he’s my personal hero, he is 100 percent who I would want in my corner when things got bad. But I feel for him, too. And I feel for Dick, who is a very different kind of man who grew up in very different circumstances and now has his own burden to carry.

I suppose I’m not the first to say that Batman is not going to win any Mr. Congeniality awards anytime soon, but what I’m trying to say about that is that his limitations, as much as his competencies, are what makes him a hero on the deepest, most personal level. He is not a hero because of some great fortune he decided he’d share with others. His heroism was born from his darkest tragedy. He took the worst thing that ever happened to him and turned that into motivation to protect and fight for good. That is so much more interesting to me, and so much braver, than the hero legends we usually share. It’s someone doing Tonglen, to use a Buddhist meditation term, in a room full of people doing loving-kindness meditations. Tonglen is when you breathe in the darkness and pain and anger and despair of the world and breathe out the peace and love and compassion, both to prove to yourself that you can survive the negativity, and also as a way of gifting the world with the positive energy it needs. It’s warrior breathing. Everything else is about breathing the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. That is our basic inclination and survival strategy. You have to be so courageous to do it the other way around.

It’s kind of sad that it’s such a special occasion when a mainstream comics writer is able to talk intelligently about characterization. But, well, it is. Celebration is in order.

I read her run on Gotham Knights and enjoyed it, but I think I’m gonna have to go back through it. :)

Edited to add: Holy shit is that an incredible interview. Read the whole thing, all of you, now.

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Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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