End of Summer

"DCFutures -- Batman"

reviewed by Bruce Bachand

DC Comics have been around for over sixty-years now. With each new decade a fresh generation of youth become diehard DC fans and readers. Older fans either assume a different routine and discontinue reading their favorite titles or else they prioritize comic reading to some degree and do their best to keep posted on new and standard series. The DC Universe has also negotiated some major changes with each successive decade. The foundation of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman remain strong, though, fundamentally different than their original conceptions would have envisioned. The past two decades has seen far more heroes killed than the four decades prior that. The gloomy and brooding milieu of post-modern society attempts to rub-off on our comic book heroes. We have seen them get drinking problems, have violent outbursts, struggle with the consequences of gross betrayal, disintegrate mentally, plan the death of former colleagues, and suffer the agony and paralysis of self-imprisonment. The anti-hero was an attempt to tap into this stream of conscious public thought. In this genre, the hero/heroine was dark, flawed, strictly independently-minded, reluctant to serve as a hero, and even corrupt or questionable in regards to the methods that they have used.

In one sense that isn’t anything new. Superman, the good ol’ boy who everyone could like, has always been contrasted with the Batman, so-called “urban myth” whose methods and actions are far more blunt and open to accusation of foul play.

Those of us able to read and enjoy the pleasure associated with reading comic books have it great in the late 1990’s. The mass commercial success of the personal computer (the PC) and the equally, if not bigger impact, of the Internet has really changed all of the rules. Comic book readers now have more opportunities accessible than ever thought possible. They are chatting, arguing, sharing ideas and making some sort of verbal contact with people from literally around the world. Even more amazing are the opportunities for writers and editors who want to hone their abilities and gain some well-needed experience (like myself!).

One website is making excellent use of the technology, tools, and talent that is available for DC comic fans. They call themselves DC FUTURES and are definitely worth checking out!

Slowly, but steadily, that are working hard to establish an Internet site that specializes in fan fiction based on DC characters. The interesting thing that sets them apart is that the stories all take place in the future. The year 2112 to be specific. Most of the names may seem familiar but that is not the case. These stories and regular series have original characters who simply exist in the DC Universe future. Aside from the odd guest appearance of one or two (or ten!) 20th century heroes, the characters and persons in these stories are freshly-served from the minds of the writers at DC Futures (DCF) who create them. There is a Superman here. And a Batman. A Flash. And even a Nightwing. But these are not the heroes that you know from the regular trip to the comic specialty shop when you buy your DC comics!

That is what is riveting about DCF. Unrecognized writers are making use of the means available to them to share the fruit of their writing talents with other readers. THEY ARE NOT PAID A SINGLE PENNY FOR THEIR EFFORTS! The thing that motivates many of them to write are: one, an appreciation of the DC Universe; two, a desire to write original stories from a variety of perspectives; three, a willingness to work, sweat, plan, design, and rub shoulders with each other in creating this small pocket in a possible DC continuum of the future. All accomplished simply by using a computer, a server, and their minds. Decent and noble goals, wouldn’t you say!

It was a sheer fluke that I chanced upon the DCF website. Ed Dillon, who has established the DC-HQ website and the DCU Digest, forwarded an e-mail to me that noted the location of the DC FUTURES website. I checked it out and was immediately drawn into the work being written and posted. The first story that I checked out was issue #1 of Erik Burnham’s Batman series. I wasn’t expecting much (I have read some very crappy fan fiction on the ‘net!) so I ended up being delightfully surprised at what I had downloaded.

Erik has definite ability and the creative passion crucial for writing. It breathes forth from the pages of his stories. Whatever else he may do in life, it is safe to say that he will always write in some capacity. He needs to. It drives him. Literally impels him at times, more than likely. And we, the readers willing to check out his stuff, are ones who are rewarded. I wish him all the best as he prepares for the release of DCF Batman issue #14.

Batman DCF tells the tale of one Tim Drake, grandson of the Timothy Drake most of us know, and his assumption of the mantle of the Bat. Burnham’s first issue sets the tone for the transition. The grandson takes the steps from being a very successful businessman to beginning his life journey as hero and protector of the citizens of Gotham city. The first issue also establishes the introduction of other key players for the Batman of 2112. The name we are most likely to know is that of Mark Grayson, Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department and son of Richard (Dick) Grayson. In 2112, it is Commissioner Grayson who is the brooding and somber personality. Tim Drake, as Batman, has a sense of humor that is much needed in the relatively dark future of DCF. Over the course of the first twelve issues of the series he is also becoming more “Bat-ish” in his overall disposition. This is a change that time will tell is either positive or destructive.

There are only so many ways in which you tell a story. The obvious criteria for determining if a story is well-written include: are the characters believable and fascinating to read about; do I care about what happens; is there a good mix of characterization and situation description; is the style of language used meaty and relevant to the kind of story being told; and, finally, are the transitions throughout the story (and series, as a whole) solid.

Burnham, as an amateur fiction writer, is on good footing. Tim Drake is vibrant and curious. He pokes and prods in search of the tools needed to become the “new” Batman. It is a challenge and an invitation that he rises to meet. Like Bruce Wayne, he is somewhat of a natural loner. Unlike Bruce, though, he has not had his parents murdered at an early age. He is a man who has had the mentorship, care, affection, and presence of his father up until very recently. No doubt this has provided some of the security and more mature social skills that Bruce has lacked. Tim is his own man. He is that kind of man who has taken up the mantle, by choice, that his father chose to let pass by. Perhaps, because he knew that the next bearer of the Bat’s legacy would need to be someone who had a mother and father who would ground him in love, and not rage, vengeance, and abandonment. Tim is becoming, in Burnham’s hands, the Batman Bruce could never be. Mind you that will work both ways. Tim has his own foibles.

The supporting cast is crucial to the book’s success. Alfred, the wise-crackin’ sentient house-droid at Wayne Manor, is funny, caring, learned, and a direct link to the original Batman. He is priceless. In him, the past and the future have met. Tim would do best not to shut up old Alfred too much if he pondered the roots of this most incredible character.

Mark Grayson is a completely different ball-of-wax amongst the Gotham cast. He is shrewd, intelligent, not quick to trust, and yet more “open” than he might think. Burnham has established that for years Grayson loathed the image of the Bat; it had been responsible for killing his father. No, it was he, the Batman, who had “killed” him. Only after having his life saved by this “new” Batman did Mark begin to entertain thoughts to the contrary. The tension that Burnham creates here is deftly handled.

I do want to offer some criticisms of the title (after all, this is a critique!) to date. Issue #13 came out about a week ago so my comments will be limited to DCF Batman issues #1-#13.

One of the things that has glaringly been missing from the series has been the inclusion of any regular woman characters. This is disappointing considering the details that have been fleshed out in other important regards. Men have virtually dominated the series. I hope that Burnham will correct this situation in the very near future. It would attract more female readers and strenghthen the overall characterization.

It appears that everyone in the future is graced with a side-splittin’ sense of humor. This seems stretched a little too far from my perspective. There is too much sarcastic humor, for my tastes, from too many off the characters. The cast end up looking too much alike because of the dominant one-style of delivering funny lines. The Gotham detectives do it, Alfred does it, Tim does it, Grayson does it… you get the point. It is worth pondering, Erik.

It is to the book’s credit that Burnham has a solid and varied vocabulary. He constantly comes out with these well-crafted lines and scene descriptions. The following is from issue #12:

“Holmes caught himself twisting the ring he always wore, the blazing emerald winking at him from the security of his finger. Immediately Holmes stopped, disgusted with himself. Playing with the ring was a clue of preoccupation; a moment off guard; proof that he was not focused on his surroundings. In short, a habit he could not allow himself to continue.”

The scene plays out well. Tension is painted with delicate, short strokes of the keyboard.

I now come to come to one of my bigger contentions. It involves the revealing of the mystery guest of issue #12. I must admit that the choice of guest was superb. Yet it is flawed, too. Without completely giving away who it is, I have got to say that it has created more potential problems than Erik probably considered. Tim completely fell out of the picture in issue #13, for all practical purposes. It was about the guest’s encounter. I knew this would happen. Erik can’t bring back someone of that stature and then not anticipate that the character he created will not be outstaged! Issue #13 was NOT an issue of Batman! We both know who it was an issue about.

Now I have got to be fair and say that I thought the story was still enjoyable and entertaining to read. Erik is capable of cut-and-pasting humor into the right spots very well; he just shouldn’t overdo it (that is my take on things). I wanted to learn more about Tim not Cl… oh, uh, you know who. If he is going to stick around at Wayne Manor this can’t but significantly shift the tone and feel of the whole book.

Some final thoughts. You are all doing yourself a favor if you check out the DC Futures website. There has to be something for almost everyone there. Action, mystery, adventure, humor, quality characterization… that, and much more. These guys need to be commended for the undertaking that have taken upon themselves. I hope that DC Comics doesn’t get anal and attempt to shut them down. If anything, these guys are providing an opportunity for future writers to practice their “trades”.

You are producing really inspiring work for the comic book genre at DC Futures, Erik. Keep working hard and setting a standard of excellence. My criticisms aside, I am hopeful that you will have a book out that I can read one day. Thanks for giving us your stories.

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