26 January 2014

Robins of the Future, Glimpses of the Past

Detective Comics, #27, in DC’s new numbering is a collection of out-of-continuity Batman stories inspired by how that character debuted in the first volume of Detective Comics, #27.

I wasn’t thrilled. The most Robin-heavy story shows four of Batman’s companions from the 1986-2011 continuity returning to the bat-cave to celebrate Bruce Wayne’s birthday. Peter J. Tomasi’s tale aims too hard to please fans by avoiding all sign of loss. Damian is a trenchcoated crusader as in Batman, #666, but, unlike what that story told us about that future, Dick Grayson is still alive. Dick even has both eyes, unlike in the current Batman Beyond series, and blue fingerstripes. Tim Drake is still active too, also unlike the Batman Beyond continuity. Barbara Gordon is walking again. Even Alfred is alive, and Bruce can still kick butt. It’s a story nominally about aging with no actual change or physical deterioration.

Another story set in another future introduced a new Robin for a version of the 23rd century.
This is the only glimpse of the character. His name and history are blanks.

I’m not the only comics history fan who saw this image and found myself thinking of Dwayne McDuffie’s December 1989 memo to colleagues at Marvel about the lack of diversity in the publisher’s pantheon. McDuffie wrote:
In the past year, 25% of all African-American super-heroes appearing in the Marvel Universe possessed skateboard-based super powers. In an attempt to remain on the cutting edge of comics, I hereby propose a new series that will fully exploit this exciting new trend…

Teenage Mutant Negro

When a group of teen-aged negroes from cosmic-powered skateboards, their lives are forever changed! A team of distinct characters join together, swearing an oath to use their powers for good.

ROCKET RACER: A black guy on a skateboard.

NIGHT THRASHER: A black guy on a skateboard.

DARK WHEELIE: A black guy on a skateboard.

And their leader, a mysterious black guy on a skateboard known only as “that mysterious black guy on a skateboard.”
Rocket Racer and Night Thrasher were in fact two new heroes in the Marvel Universe. I think Dark Wheelie was just a joke.

Less than four years later, McDuffie cofounded Milestone Media with three other African-American comics writers and artists—Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. They aimed to fill a market and cultural gap with comics about an array of superheroes of color living in the Midwest city of Dakota.

Of the Milestone heroes, the most successful proved to be Static, created by McDuffie, Robert L. Washington III, and John Paul Leon. Static was a teenager. He had a superpower, controlling electricity. He was black. But he didn’t have a flying skateboard!

No, he had an electromagnetically levitating disk, at first a garbage can lid and later a manhole cover, that he stood on as it flew through the air. Very much like a, well, flying skateboard.

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