Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Incarnation or ideal? Which do I love?

A passing comment in the recent round table about geek stuff got me thinking about why I keep reading Batman, even though the stories in the New 52 suck.

I’ve read almost all of Scott Snyder’s run even though a large chunk of it is horrible. I have the same view of Tom King’s current tenure on the book (though I admit his Bat/Cat relationship is good) — my god, who the heck looks at the Riddler and thinks what he needs is to become a Joker-class psycho? But I keep reading them (library copies) because I love Batman. Not King’s version or Snyder’s, but the platonic ideal of the Darknight Detective that I carry around in my head. Reading even a bad Batman story conjures that up. The same for Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc.

The comment that got me thinking about this (not for the first time) was Greg’s observation that he never got into Transformers or G.I. Joe back in the 1980s. I did, but it’s a very different relationship from Batman. I never had any urge to catch up on subsequent cartoon versions and I’ve only seen the first Transformers live-action film. It was that specific incarnation of those characters that I enjoyed and have nostalgia for, not the characters more generally.

There’s a sliding scale between the two extremes. I certainly love my internalized ideal versions of Marvel’s heroes, but nowhere near as much as DC; if it’s a writer I really hate is working on Avengers or Captain America, I’ll usually give it a pass, even if the TPB is free at the library.

With team books it depends whether I can recognize them as “the” team that I like. When Gunfire met the JLA, the membership lineup had so little to do with any version I knew, it didn’t feel like the JLA at all.  Neither do most of the current Avengers teams when I pick up one of the recent TPBs (this is a separate question from whether the story is any good). I’ve had no interest in any of the post-Mike Barr versions of The Outsiders.

Writing this post made me realize that loving the ideal is almost entirely a comic-book thing for me, not any other medium. If I catch a remake of a movie I like, it’s because I think the remake will be a good incarnation in its own right, not because of my attachment to the original. If a writer I like dies, I’m not interested in whoever their estate assigns to continue the character. About the only non-comics series I care to pursue in multiple incarnations are Sherlock Holmes and Oz. Which may reflect that the continuations and adaptations of both series began long before I was born (most Oz fans count all 40 of the original Oz books from Baum’s publisher as canon).

Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes Atomic Junk ShopNone of this has much effect on my conscious choice of entertainment material; it’s more like a background algorithm shaping my decisions. But it’s definitely there.

#SFWApro. Cover by Mikel Jannin.


  1. This is a very interesting post, and I’ve had some of the same thoughts. I think there is definitely a platonic ideal that we as fans have, and particularly when fanboys (like Geoff Johns, for instance) become writers, they seem to take the characters they’re writing back to that ideal. Our pal T pointed out at the old place, I think, that Wally West was basically transformed into Barry Allen (up until they decided to just bring Barry back), and a lot of that would have been Johns, although Waid’s run laid the groundwork, to use one example.

    I too read the Rebirth stuff from the library. I hope to actually write about it soon!

  2. Yes, I find myself constantly comparing depictions of my favorite characters to the platonic ideal I carry around in my head. Many modern versions of them I find wanting in either the writing or the art, so I find myself buying a lot of reprints these days.

    1. Me too, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post.
      I think most of my ideals are not based on specific periods as much as accumulated bits from several of them. For instance, while I’m not a big fan of Denny O’Neil’s Bronze Age Bat-writing, my ideal Batman is physically the guy Neal Adams describes: six-foot plus but moving with the speed and lightness of a Bruce Lee.

    2. Le Messor

      I’m similar, though I also find several of my favourites wanting in the ‘actually being published right now’ department.

      My ideals tend to align towards the Bronze Age, though (unlike Fraser, above).

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