I feel like I’m in a bad relationship with DC Comics. The kind my mother always warned me about avoiding. First it’s all wine and roses, whispered words of sweet nothings that, once you think back on them, really make no sense. Then, it’s the little things you start to notice. The lies to cover up the bigger issues, the promises of greater and better things that inevitably let you down, and the accusations turned around on you to make you look like the bad guy for ever questioning them. But, despite all that, you keep coming back, keep making excuses for them and hoping it’ll all turn out better in the end.
So, obviously, I have my hangups with DC’s New 52 (sexism and mysogyny, the disappearance of beloved characters, total disregard for the fanbase, etc.), but what really bothered me, what always ate away at the comic book portion of my brain, was the truncated timeline. Superheroes in the New 52 have only been around for five years. Okay, that’s reasonable if you want to youth-inize your characters for the purposes of grabbing new readers. But then why is Dick Grayson still Nightwing? Why is Damian around? When did Jason die and return? How could Batman have gone through four Robins in the span of five years and still maintain a fatherly/mentorish relationship with all of them? DC seemed to be on the ball regarding these questions. Dan DiDio stated that, though superheroes had been in the public eye for five years, Batman had been operating as an urban legend for at least five years prior, giving him roughly a decade to have gone from Dick to Damian. This seemed to be confirmed even in Justice League #1 when Green Lantern, upon meeting Bats for the first time, muses out loud, that he just thought Batman was an urban legend.
But even then, the timeline wouldn’t hold up entirely. Damian Wayne, the current Robin, is ten years old, so his conception would have had to take place in the same year Bruce became Batman. This doesn’t account for the time it would have taken for Bruce to build up enough of a reputation to attract the attention of Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia, Damian’s mother. You could probably play with this a little by going the Christopher Nolan route with Ra’s being one of Bruce’s many trainers whose daughter became infatuated with Bruce resulting in an affair – or something along those lines. And with Damian being ten and Dick Grayson confirmed to be about 21 that means Dick was 11 when Bruce became Batman. Giving Bruce about a year to get his feet wet in the suit puts Dick at 12 when he first becomes Robin, which is acceptable. Then again, when does he become Nightwing? When’s an acceptable age for Dick to stop being the Boy Wonder when he never transitions via leading the Teen Titans? At the least, he’d have to be 15 or 16, anything less would be negligible on Bruce’s part, but even then that’s pushing it since Dick is still a minor.
Okay, so Dick was Robin for three or four years before becoming Nightwing. Is he still operating out of the cave at this point or does he become an emancipated minor? Nevermind, moving on. We’ve now reached the five-year mark before Superman goes public as a superhero. Assuming Batman doesn’t announce himself (unless he’s written by Geoff Johns), we’ve still got five years to go and this is where Jason Todd shows up. Hmmm, it could work. Maybe Jason was only Robin for a year before he died. And then in the year of grief Bruce had to feel after losing Jason, Tim Drake comes into the picture, which means Tim was only Robin for two years, tops, before Damian showed up.
It’s definitely a condensed timeline, but one that DC could have worked with and justified had they, ya know, gone through with it. Even then, it’s stretching credibility to think that Bruce could have gone through so many Robins and still built a family with his surrogate sons and his biological one. And so, we have the #0 issues, supposedly the answers we’ve all been seeking for the origins of our updated heroes and the settling of all matters concerning the timeline, specifically the Batman timeline.
Thus, I opened Batman #0 and proceeded to get my answer opening with:
Six Years Ago…
Wait, what? Six years ago? Six? Bruce wasn’t Batman until six years ago? Apparently the people at DC forget that the readers pay attention to things like this because I can sure as hell tell you that if it was already a stretch to put Bruce becoming Batman ten years ago, it sure as shit makes less sense to reduce the timeline even more!
And for the record: Damn you, DC, you’re making me do math! I hate math!
Again, let’s work this out. In Batman #0, Bruce is still working the kinks out in his plan to become Batman. He doesn’t even have the suit yet, just some standard ninja outfits and a lot of gadgets and equipment. He even screws up an undercover mission infiltrating the Red Hood Gang because he didn’t pay enough attention to the guy he was impersonating. All well and good. Even the World’s Greatest Detective has to have a learning curve. Cut to a year later and Commissioner Gordon turns on the bat signal for the first time to be observed by three out of four of the future Robins and one future Batgirl. Wow, it only took him a year to get the city to fork over the cash for a signal? Well done, Batman. Well done, indeed. Okay, Batman has only really been in operation for five years, which means Dick Grayson is 16 when he first sees the signal. Given his origin as the first Robin in Nightwing #0, Dick can’t have been Robin for more than a year, which would put him at about 18 when he decides to become Nightwing. While that mostly works for Dick’s story, it makes Jason’s and Tim’s even less plausible. Jason had to be Robin for less than a year to account for his death and resurrection with Tim getting maybe two years before Damian shows up.
Which brings us to the most egregious error in the Batman zero issues. Damian’s origin is so out of synch with the rest of the books it makes me wonder if the editors and the writers are even talking to each other anymore. I imagine they’re all surly teenagers asking each other questions about the next issue through third-party mediators or issuing passive aggressive notes to each other just to get the books out on time. This would probably explain most of the “drama” occurring in their storylines as well. In Batman and Robin #0 we’re presented with Damian’s drive to discover the identity of his father as he’s trained by his mother and The League of Assassins. The issue begins with the opening, “A Year and a Half Ago…,” which puts Damian at about nine-ish. In a series of panels, we see Damian celebrate five birthdays trying to best his mother in combat to learn the identity of his father, putting Damian at about five years old when he first inquires about Bruce. What’s so infuriating about this whole thing occurs in the midst of a rather adorable scene. Five year old Damian wanders into his mother’s room and finds Bruce’s cape and cowl in a trunk. He dons the oversized attire and proclaims himself a bat to Talia. But if we’re to follow the timeline, as presented by DC, Bruce has only just become Batman, so how the hell did she get a hold of that costume? When did this happen? Explain, DC! Explain!
And while you’re compiling your half-assed answer, let’s talk about the “Red Robin” issue brought up in Teen Titans #0. Really, DC? Really? Not only are you disregarding and retconning an already established fact that Tim was a former Robin (see Batman #1) within a year of rebooting your whole universe, but you have the audacity to make Tim Drake into the most precious little snowflake on top of being an outright jerk! He calls himself Red Robin out of “respect” for Jason? Why? Did he know Jason personally? Remember that whole “Batman needs a Robin” line that basically defined Tim when he was first introduced? Calling himself Red Robin doesn’t respect the mantle of Robin, it just makes Tim look like an arrogant little prick trying to “forge his own destiny.” You’re not fooling anyone, DC. This is just lazy writing to get around Batman having four Robins, which in and of itself doesn’t make any sense when Tim still has “Robin” in his name. Damian doesn’t seem to have a problem with using the title. He sees it as his birthright, as a title that deserves respect. Way to go, DC, you managed to make Damian morally superior to Tim.
You might get the impression that I didn’t like any of these books based on the amount of ranting and math (MAAAATH!!!) I’ve had to do to justify my complaints. On the contrary, story wise the writing and the art on all of the Bat books were solid. I particularly loved Nightwing #0 purely based on my love for Dick Grayson but also because his origin fit the most. Had DC bothered to actually reboot Batman, this would have been a fantastic retelling of Dick’s story. The reasoning behind using Robin as a name is fine and the little nod to Nightwing’s former blue color scheme made me smile. If you’re going to return your characters to their “iconic” state, then this is the way to go. Even Jason’s story works. It’s streamlined by establishing his resurrection via Lazarus Pit instead of reality punching and the emotional core of Jason’s actions make him a far more sympathetic character. I don’t know if I buy the “created by the Joker” angle in the final pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws #0, but we’ll see how that plays into the upcoming ”Death of the Family” arc.
After Jason, it just doesn’t work for me. As much as I love Damian and used to love Tim, their presence doesn’t work within the truncated timeline. It’s excessive and confusing despite the brilliant storytelling and art. Believe me, I loved ”Court of Owls” and was especially entertained by “The War of the Robins.” I understand not wanting to get rid of fan favorites like Damian and Tim but DC was okay with getting rid of other fan favorites without shedding a tear, so why not put the younger Robins on the back-burner as well?
Like I said, it’s not a healthy relationship between me and DC. I wish I could tell you that it’ll work out in the end. I wish that the next time Dan DiDio assures us they have “plans” for other characters that those plans actually made sense or followed through on the promise. But I’ve been burned a lot by DC, more times than I care to admit. Maybe it’s time for us to take a little break.