25 November 2012

Never Work with Children or Animals

The second installment of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolf’s Li’l Gotham digital comics appeared this month, pegged to Thanksgiving. It established that Bruce Wayne is the Batman in this version of the mythos. (I thought the first installment was ambiguous on that question.)

This story also shows Nightwing’s chest stripe as blue, Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair, and Cassandra Cain in existence. In other words, Li’l Gotham definitely takes off of the DC Universe that was the publisher’s main “continuity” until last year.

But this is also a universe in which the entire “Bat family” (except, of course, for Stephanie Brown) gathers for an uninterrupted Thanksgiving dinner. Damian has his little friend Colin over, though in the comics Damian was keeping that comradeship a secret. Even Wayne family black sheep Jason Todd is there, though no one has saved him a seat.

Li’l Gotham thus takes place in a world akin to a lot of Bat-family fanfiction, in which reconciliation, togetherness, and cuteness are more important than that usual staple of superhero comics, kicking other people in the face. In both this episode and last month’s Halloween tale, all the action happens early, followed by many more pages of what we’d normally consider comic relief and a festive dinner at the climax.

Both stories also revolve around Damian Wayne, but not the troubled Damian of the main comics. In the current DC Universe, he deliberately killed one of the bat-cave’s bats and had trouble warming up to the Great Dane that his father bought him. In contrast, many fans had decided, based on one Grant Morrison story showing a possible future Damian with a cat he’d named Alfred, that Damian loves kittens. He really, really loves kittens. And the Li’l Gotham Damian gets to lead a parade of turkeys and bring one home with him and name it Jerry and keep it for his very own.

Those fan-created stories and illustrations aren’t necessarily any worse than the traditional type, including some officially published. But resolving foundational conflicts doesn’t leave much space for the next story, as serial publishers desire. And making everyone happy can wash out the distinctiveness of characters. Once Jason is back at Wayne Manor, what’s distinct about him? Once Damian actually has a pal his own age to invite over and trade baseball cards with, is he Damian anymore?

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