16 September 2013

Tim Drake’s “happy personal life”?

As part of a sometimes heated internet discussion on DC Comics’s decision not to approve a storyline about Batwoman getting married, Gavin Jasper quoted the company’s co-publisher this way:
As it turns out, this is what Dan Didio had to say at Baltimore Comic-Con the other day. “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. That’s very important and something we reinforced. People in the Bat family, their personal lives basically suck. . . . It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.”
In response, Jasper wrote that “Tim Drake was able to make ‘having a family’ work for fifteen years.” And I suspect that Jasper became a fan during that period, perhaps while he was twelve. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we do tend to like the superhero stories we grew up with.

J. Caleb Mozzocco picked up on the same point:
…it is interesting to look back to the character’s creation and realize that various editors and writers decided not to make him an orphan right off the bat (sorry; that really was unintentional), but used the ways his life and background varied from Bruce Wayne’s (and Robins I and II) not only to differentiate the character from those others, but as a source of drama (Trying to be a 15-year-old crime-fighting vigilante while keeping it secret from your dad and step-mom, for example).
To be exact, writer Chuck Dixon has said that he argued long and hard against the company’s initial plan and kept Tim’s father alive through the 1990s. He took as his model the Amazing Spider-Man of the 1960s, with Peter Parker as a teenager hiding his arachnid activities from Aunt May.

Dixon’s approach worked and, as Jasper and Mozzocco note, made Tim Drake different from the other characters around him. But it’s also important to note that Tim didn’t have a happy personal life as a result. He had a reasonably happy family that caused him no end of low-level trouble—especially from his clueless, distant, yet often overbearing dad. Tim also had girl trouble, friend trouble, school trouble, and so on.
That provided the right level of drama for the stories Dixon wrote about Tim because it matched the audience, or at least the sensibility, those stories were aimed at. They symbolically explored American adolescence, with Tim feeling capable of acting like an adult and yet held back by his father—just as many teens feel. After years of stasis in that situation, DC moved Tim to a higher level of independence, which involved killing his father and breaking ties with his stepmother.

Batwoman offers a different story. Its hero, Kate Kane, was drummed out of the US military for being gay and took up costumed vigilanteism as a way to make use of her skills. The book is suffused with an apocalyptic Gothic vibe, playing to its artists’ strengths. That means the stakes of its stories have to be higher than Tim’s 1990s worries about his high-school friends.

What would happen if Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer got married? There would be a big wedding issue. And then there would be trouble. As DiDio said (and Leo Tolstoy hinted before him), there’s not a lot of drama in a happy household. Most likely, Maggie would be put in danger and/or killed so Kate would have a big reason to react—and of course the internet would have a big reason to react, too. That’s the way modern superhero stories work.

TOMORROW: And who bears responsibility for that approach?

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