Monday, August 20, 2007

Storytelling Engines: The Brave and the Bold

(or "The BATMAN Team-Ups?!")

When a modern comics fan looks at the era of 'The Brave and the Bold' collected in DC's "Showcase Presents" series, it's pretty likely that they see a storytelling engine similar to that in
Marvel Team-Up. Sure, Batman replaces Spider-Man as the "notoriously anti-social, lone wolf superhero", but apart from that, they're pretty much identical.

Except that modern comics fans are familiar with a different Batman, and to some extent a different DC universe than the one presented in 'Brave and the Bold'. A pre-Crisis, pre-Frank Miller Batman wasn't a "notoriously anti-social" superhero; in fact, it's only in relatively recent DC history that the notion of an anti-social hero gained currency at all.

What we're talking about here is, again, the notion of a macroscopic storytelling engine. Over the years, DC made a decision--not necessarily a conscious decision, but a decision nonetheless--to have their super-heroes be fundamentally group-friendly. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, et cetera et cetera--when they met up, their basic reaction was to assume the best of this other super-hero and work together. 'The Brave and the Bold' represents one way this can work to help generate stories; Batman seems fundamentally more comfortable teaming up with other super-heroes than Spider-Man ever did, despite the fact that we're now used to thinking of him as a scowling loner who builds giant killer satellites to "take out" rogue capes.

Part of the reason that modern Batman is so different from his pre-Frank Miller counterpart is that Marvel, when they began their Silver Age dominance, took a different approach on the macroscopic level. They decided--again, not necessarily consciously--that their super-heroes would default to suspicion. After all, who's to say that the mysterious caped and masked stranger with a warrant out for their arrest is really a nice person at heart? This, in turn, provided its own set of storytelling opportunities. It meant that many times, the meeting of two super-heroes was in and of itself a story (such as early issues of 'Fantastic Four' and 'Avengers', where the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk were sometimes antagonists there and protagonists elsewhere.)

The Marvel approach struck a major chord with comics fans, and over the years DC has tried to play "catch-up" by introducing their own anti-heroes, and by trying to create friction between its existing heroes. But even today, you can see the difference between the two universes in structure and approach. In DC, Oracle unites the heroes with communication and assistance, making sure that not even Batman is really alone. On the Marvel end, well...'Civil War' really does sort of say it all, doesn't it? Both totally different ways at looking at super-heroes as a group dynamic, but each one opening and closing different doors of storytelling opportunities.

And fittingly, this has involved a returning 'Brave and the Bold' title, complete with the same rotating cast of super-heroes. Although the less social modern Batman plays a less prominent part, he's still joining in. Some things never change.


Puma said...

It's not too difficult for "the-only-person-Superman-is-afraid-of" Batman to be involved in team-ups: Batman finds someone to be annoyingly flashy and distract the bad guys while the Bat cripples the evil plot.

Anonymous said...

Even the allegedly anti-social version of The Batman has been the founder of one group, The Outsiders, as well as mentored more sidekicks (mostly the various Robins) and quasi-sidekicks (Batgirl, The Huntress, Cassandra Cain, The Spoiler, and Azrael) than has any other single superhero.

I've never liked the conceit that The Batman and Superman could not be friends: Miller seemed to derive that notion not from their characters but from his foisting the eccentricities of some of his politics onto the characters.

It makes far more sense to have The Batman bonding with Superman and Wonder Woman because they alone are powerful enough for him to risk showing his less dark side. It also makes his anti-social persona now appear tragic rather than psychotic.