Banned Books Blog Party!

I’m a little late with this, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get a post out in time to join the party myself. If you’re planning to write a banned books post before the end of the week, you should check this out and think about participating. 🙂

Hannah Reads Books

Banned Books Week is a yearly event celebrating the freedom to read and protesting censorship or attempts to ban books. I love holidays. The simple fact that they’re holidays are good enough for me, but I also love celebrating them. In honor of this esteemed and book-related holiday, and with some good feedback from y’all, I’ve decided to host a Banned Books Week Blog Party!

The “rules” are simple:

  • Choose a book from the ALA lists of banned books, or one that’s been banned/challenged in your area.
  • Share a little about the book and why it’s important to you at your online space.
  • Tag/ping/message other people to do posts of their own.
  • Link back to this post, and leave your link in the comments, so we can all read each others’ responses!

Do this for as many books as you want! Banned Books Week runs September 21-27. I’ll be…

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ISO: Lost Batman Comic (and don’t forget about Free Comic Book Day)!

batsignal2

by Jeremy DeFatta

Happy new book day, everyone! Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the Senate hearings that eventually led to the stifling of comics as a medium, so I’d like to ascode_seal_mar1955k for a little help in finding a lost comic book. In its own weird way, I hope this stands as a tribute to all of our losses in terms of what comics could have been for the past few decades. If we find the book I’m seeking, I hope that can stand as a symbol that what is lost in comics can be regained.

Back in the early 90s, my dad bought me my very first issue of a comic featuring Batman. Due to time and typical childhood stupidity, that book is now lost to me, when it should have an honored place in my collection today. I don’t remember a lot about the comic aside from a few art details. Batman had very long ears, as he tended to in early 90s stories.

In the comic, Batman and the Joker are both exposed to something that was likely Bane’s venom chemical or something like it. They both Hulked out and started punching each other around the city. One striking image from the comic is Batman hitting the Joker so hard he actually embeds him in the metal wall of a rooftop water tower. The only other detail I recall is the cover; it showed the Joker’s maniacally grinning face with his hands on either side of it as he tries to press his face through a rough opening in a wall.

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How Dick Grayson Almost Killed Comics

Detective_Comics_38

by Jeremy DeFatta

Happy new book day, everyone! Stemming from last week’s piece touching on Batman R.I.P., I would like to shift focus for two or three posts to Bruce Wayne’s original and longest-serving heir apparent, Dick Grayson, the original Robin.

For a few years after Bruce’s apparent death, Dick served as Batman with only a few people who had been in close proximity to the original for extended periods of time (such as Commissioner Gordon and the Joker) able to tell the difference. We will return to this period in the near future, but this post  will focus on Dick Grayson’s early history, and the reasons for his creation and persistence in early Batman stories.

Dick Grayson has been around nearly as long as Batman himself; he first appeared as Robin in Detective Comics #38 in April 1940, making the character 74 years old this month. Much like his legal guardian and adopted father, Bruce Wayne, Dick’s childhood was defined by personal tragedy. At a young age, Dick saw his parents murdered by a crime lord named Tony Zucco, an event that forged a nearly unbreakable connection between Dick and Bruce. Dick would go on to become Bruce’s ward and partner is his war on crime in Gotham City.

Grayson was originally created for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was believed that Batman as a title and as a character was becoming too dark and violent and needed an innocent/light side forced into his character development. As such, he ended up with Robin, one of the first sidekicks in comics, many of whom were created specifically for this sort of purpose. Further, the introduction of Robin into the Batman story was a shrewd marketing ploy. It was believed that children would be more likely to spend their hoarded dimes on comics that featured child characters.

Regardless, many writers over the years have left their stamp on Dick/Robin and what he means within the Batman mythos. Some have seen Robin as a sort of second chance for Bruce. Although he could not save Dick’s parents, Bruce tries to give him a good, privileged life with strong parental figures in it, with Bruce and Alfred acting as father and grandfather or in some capacities as dual fathers. Dick also represents Bruce’s lost innocence and that such innocence can be preserved in others, being as Dick remains fairly lighthearted even after his own tragedy.

And then there was Fredric Wertham, the Satan of comic books.

Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954) craze very nearly killed off comics as a medium. He either honestly believed or desired the publicity enough to espouse the belief that comic books were filled with all sorts of subversive messages aimed at corrupting the youth of America. One of his prime targets was the relationship between Batman and Robin, one he viewed as laced with homoerotic and pedophiliac undertones.

Even today, a simple Internet search will turn up all sorts of websites aimed at proving whether or not Batman is gay, as though it matters. On this note (if not many others), I side with Frank Miller in his assertion that Batman is far too busy and absorbed in his war on crime to even have that much of a sex life. But, as Miller says, perhaps the great gay Batman story will emerge from a future generation comfortable enough with it to not simply shoehorn it into stories otherwise devoid of sexual content.

Returning to Wertham, it really is unsettling how close the world of popular culture came to losing an entire medium, or at least seeing it stripped down to almost nothing. Imagine if the only movies coming out were all family-friendly Disney/Pixar animated musicals. To some people, that might sound all right, even preferable, but would it still feel that way after a few years?

The comics industry effectively neutered itself by establishing the Comics Code Authority, which was a brand of self-censorship aimed at getting Wertham’s witch hunt off its collective back. As such, true freedom of expression and narrative evolution in comics were held back for decades. Where once comics held something for everyone—romance, fantasy, science fiction, detective/crime stories, superheroes, war tales, westerns, even horror—they were reduced to only stories appropriate enough for young children to enjoy, a stigma still believed in by many today. And so much of this stemmed from a young boy named Dick Grayson.

I hope you have all enjoyed this mixture of history, character analysis, and opinion. Whether you did or not, please let me know your thoughts below. Next week, I will focus on Dick growing up, entering his rebellious phase, and striking out on his own to become Nightwing.

Don’t forget to support your local comic shops; I guarantee they carry lots of old and new stories about Dick Grayson. Tweet me @quaintjeremy.

My comic picks for this week:

Batman Eternal #1

Daredevil #1.50

Nightcrawler #1

All-New X-Men #25

East of West #11

image: Detective Comics #38 Cover, Art by Bob Kane (pencils) and Jerry Robinson (inks), Apr. 1940. Via Wikimedia.

Why do we love Bruce Wayne?

"Makin' it Wayne" by m7781/Deviant Art

“Makin’ it Wayne” by m7781/Deviant Art

by Jeremy DeFatta

Good day, everyone! After a couple of weeks of somewhat tangential diversions, I want to return to the original Batman himself, Bruce Wayne. There have been as many iterations of Bruce Wayne as there have been writers tackling the character and actors portraying him, but what is the real core of the character? Why does he endure and maintain such outrageous popularity?

As I pointed out initially, Batman is a product of the 1930s, one of the very first superheroes—the Dark Knight to Superman’s Sun God. He was created during the Great Depression. I don’t think it is any great leap in logic, and other writers may have commented on this before, to see Bruce Wayne as a thought experiment into what a good and useful rich man should be at a time of not only national, but global crisis.

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