Tag Archives: featured

The Lowest, Most Despicable, and Most Harmful Form of Trash: Batman’s Secret Identity in the Silver Age

The secret identity has been an indelible part of the superhero mythos since Superman first landed in 1938. Little more than children themselves, and writing for a primarily young audience, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster saw the inclusion of mild-mannered Clark Kent as part of the power fantasy of the Superman character. To the world at large, you might seem meek or mild, or bullied, but inside is an unlimited potential–a Superman waiting to break free. For most of the history of the superhero, the secret identity was an essential component of the concept with any masked hero having a hidden life outside of the capes and spandex. 

But as the comics have kept up with modern times and been adapted to the screen where the beautiful faces of the actors are a selling point, the masks and secret identities became less essential and creators began to see the story potential in either removing the component from their characters or putting less focus on it. Often the secret identity becomes a punch line. Indeed, many heroes have grown past the need for a secret identity and make more sense without it. Why should Steve Rogers hide he is Captain America? Or why would Tony Stark, with his massive ego, pretend not to be Iron Man? Even Superman, in the comics, recently revealed his identity to the public at large, no longer able to reconcile the truth and justice he stands for with living a lie.

Only a few superheroes still maintain a secret identity as an important element, and it is primarily because of their public perception as outsiders and vigilantes. Spider-Man went to the ends of the Earth–both on-page and on-screen–to recover his secret after it went public. Daredevil’s brand of justice puts his practice as a lawyer in jeopardy. And Batman, while no doubt a hero, works outside the law and is at odds with the police of his city. Unlike Superman, who often works alongside the authorities even as he criticizes them, Batman is fundamentally opposed to the authority of the state and his mission would be jeopardized if he could be held legally accountable for his actions.

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Batman Month at Urbane Turtle

Welcome to Batman Month here at Urbane Turtle dot com!

During my hiatus period toward the end of last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to write about and how I want to approach it. What is speaking to me, or that I think I have some insight into? What’s most important to me—churning out content on a regular schedule? Making regular columns that talk about the “industry” broadly? Focusing on regular comics reviews?

None of that really appealed to me. I like what I am doing here, taking a step back to look at books and media from any period as the mood strikes me. It isn’t good for building an audience or SEO but I have at least one other outlet for quick reviews and initial impressions on series. What I most enjoy is digging into books and media and figuring outwhat makes them tick, or what speaks to me, and to celebrate how those stories are told.

Taking comics seriously. Taking genre stories seriously.

What I found myself struggling with as I began getting into the thick of things was deciding what to engage with and wrestling with what I think makes my perspective or voice unique. This kind of idea paralysis continues to be my biggest mental block. As I began to consider what I wanted to write about, I looked at big milestones over the next few months, and one thing stood out to me, and that is the release of the new Matt Reeves directed, Robert Pattinson starring, The Batman.

I got excited about tying my writing thematically to Batman as a character and a franchise, both as an opportunity to produce somewhat timely content but also because it struck me that I have never written seriously about Batman or Batman comics. I engaged with the character a bit over the course of my DCAU Rewatch many years ago, and first approached serious themes with the character in my short-lived retrospective on Grant Morrison’s work with the character. But both of these things are quite old, the work of a younger person with less skill and perspective.

Truth be told, I have been quite burned out on the character for several years now, confusing my frustration with the Zack Snyder era of DC films with a general disillusionment with the Batman. Preparing for this series sparked something in me I had forgotten about…an abiding love for Gotham and its world. Batman is what brought me to comics, the bridge to my passion for the art form.

So, I invite you to join me as I celebrate what makes Batman enduring, what he inspires us to be, the challenges he empowers us to overcome, and the fears he helps us grapple with. The essays I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks range from the more analytical and academic you might be more familiar with if you have been a reader, to the more reflective and personal. I am trying to push myself over these weeks, to bring myself to the stories and you, the reader, and to share what Batman and superhero comics, mean to me, and how I think he speaks to something deep inside all of us who hunger for justice and hope in the dark corners of the night.

Week 1: Batman: Knightfall and the Light Beyond the Darkness

Week 2: The Mud Pack, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Batman

Week 3: Batman: Cold Days – The God in the Cape

Week 4: The Lowest, Most Despicable, and Most Harmful Form of Trash: Batman’s Secret Identity in the Silver Age

The Final Night and the Forgotten Legacy of the DC Universe

One thing my recent Nightwing project accomplished was reigniting my love for DC Comics–particularly the stories and universe of the 90s, which, ironically, I have ready very little of. While I initially planned to cancel my DCU Infinite subscription once I finished that Nightwing read, I instead decided to dive into the stories I was always intrigued by but never had the opportunity to read.

As a kid I spent countless hours online following the stories of DC characters I had never heard of before, written by fans who chronicled the various adventures in compelling narratives. The DC Universe was boundless; there were always new characters and new stories to discover. In particular the fall of Hal Jordan seemed especially captivating. Reading about his sacrifice in The Final Night was such a moving memory even in the form of synopsis that when I found the story on DC Infinite those heady days of research came flooding back. Imagine my surprise to find that an event series from the mid 90s, an era that has a reputation for excess and convoluted plots, was in fact one of the most compelling, reserved, and moving superhero stories I’ve ever read.

The Final Night was a 4-issue, weekly event series written by Karl Kesel with art by Stuart Immonen, inks by Jose Marzan Jr. and colors by Patricia Mulvihill. It begins with the death of a world, as a mysterious power extinguishes the planet Tamaran’s sun. The alien Dusk, a messenger from another world, races from the dying Tamaran to warn the next planet of the coming of the Sun Eater, as she has done countless times before. The Sun Eater is coming to Earth, and there is no hope. Her goal is not that the next planet will defeat the Sun Eater but that they somehow save a few from certain death.

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Who is Dick Grayson? A Critical Retrospective of Nightwing

I read every issue of Nightwing, every Dick Grayson solo series (including his time as Batman and a super spy) and 100+ issues of Titans and Justice League over the last two months, in search of the answer to one question.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: City at War

It begins amid endings.

City at War, published between August 1992 and 1993  is remembered fondly among fans of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics as the longest extended story of the Mirage era and its epic finale.

At its core it is a rich and heartbreaking story of fractured relationships, the painful reality of aging, and the burdens of responsibility.

Notably, City at War is the final collaboration between creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Amidst its bombast and excitement, it is a deeply personal reflection of the souring and fragmenting of their personal and professional relationship. 

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Strange Adventures: Artifice, Narrative and the Nature of Truth

Art by Evan Shaner

Reading Strange Adventures, the latest Tom King maxiseries with collaborators Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, along with letterer Clayton Cowles, is an act of engaging with an artifice. The very structure of the work directs the reader to recognize its fabrication and question the truths it presents.

According to King, the series “is trying to speak to the nature of truth and how our assumptions about that nature can tear us apart.” 1 The story is set amid the backdrop of war, but it is not about the trauma of a single event on a broken man trying to put the pieces back together. It is an exploration of the American moment under Trumpism, where “Truth” as an abstract concept seems increasingly meaningless.

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Exploring Steve Ditko’s Nine-Panel Mastery in Amazing Spider-Man #32

Recently, I was inspired to dive into Amazing Spider-Man from the start.

In doing so, it becomes hard to make much of a case against the original Steve Ditko run with Stan Lee as a practically perfect execution of superhero comics. In many ways, Ditko’s contribution to the medium are less heralded as others in the field, including his contemporaries like Lee and Jack Kirby. But far beyond simply creating interesting characters and being an “ideas man,” Ditko was a master of visual storytelling.

Over the decades, the Nine Panel Grid has become something of a tool of nostalgia, or a throwback to a different era in storytelling. But even those who rail against the boundaries of the nine panel owe a debt to the formulators of the medium, who cemented this layout as the building blocks of coherent narrative.

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The House of Xavier…And The Way We Treat Our Children

This piece was originally written and posted on my tumblr writing blog, timlikescomics.tumblr.com

House of X 4 is a visceral, action packed issue that ends in tragedy as the full strike force of mutants discharged to stop the oncoming artificial intelligence apocalypse are murdered by a group of human zealots intent on wiping out all mutants.

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A Story About A Bridge

“They tore it down a year ago.”

The sentence washed over me and rested around my ankles like a pair of cement shoes. When you’re young, the places you see every day are simple facts you never give a second thought. Life isn’t a changing and growing organism; it’s a static and structured thing. It is a building. A place. A definitive monument, untampered by time.

I walked over the torn-up soil where there was once an old wooden bridge over a small creek. “I don’t think ‘tore it down’ is quite the phrase you wanted to use,” I joked, pretending that the loss of the bridge wasn’t a big deal. “There was a creek here. They fill that up?”

“Yeah, before the bridge went, even. Honestly, I’m surprised it took them so long to tear it down.” 

Amy had been one of my closest friends through grade school into senior high. She was one of those rare friends that didn’t abandon you in the awkward pubescent years. We waited until after graduation to drift apart. She got attractive in eighth grade, which put me in a weird position because I always looked young for my age. It wasn’t until late in high school that I sprouted up. She could have left me for any boy she wanted or the sudden interest of a cooler group, but she never did. We watched Star Wars on Friday nights and saw Attack of the Clones opening day. In retrospect, it was a waste of money. I never thought of her as a girl, which is why I never understood why guys hated me after they asked her out and then saw us at McDonald’s. She was just Amy.

My family moved just before I started college. I guess they figured I’d be going away to school anyway, so what was the harm? At first I visited Amy and traveled home during breaks. But after a while it got harder. I didn’t have the time and I only ever spoke to Amy occasionally online and said, “Man, I haven’t seen you in so long!” That led to “We have to see each other this Christmas break,” but never to seeing each other in fact. 

Amy came up to my school last semester because I guess we finally got tired of the circular conversations. It was fun. We spent the night watching Star Wars and drinking every time they said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” or when Darth Vader choked someone. But it was different, like the time we spent apart was separating us the whole night. It manifest in gaps in conversation, in the awkward reference to embarrassing things we had done together then forgotten about. It was as if we were eulogizing the friendship instead of reinvigorating it. I decided then that I needed to visit home again. 

And that’s why we came here. When we needed to get away from parents or high school drama, we’d come to the bridge, sit on the edge and throw rocks into the creek.

“I remember more trees,” I said. If my memory served me, I was standing at the center of the bridge. If I closed my eyes I could see the old view. Lush and green trees older than the world we knew. They blocked out the late afternoon sun. Today, I had to shield my eyes. When we were here, time stopped for just a little while. It didn’t matter if it was day or night; there was always the same hazy glow from between the leaves. The trees were our sanctuary.

“Oh, those have been gone for years, James,” Amy responded, as if it wasn’t a tragedy.

“Shit. It’s been a long time.” 

“They’re supposed to turn this whole place into a new development for the over-50 community,” Amy laughed. “Can you believe that? And we came here to get away from grown-ups.”

I laughed and tried to forget for a moment that I was 23 now and part of the world I wanted to escape from back then. “This was our place.”

“I guess things change,” she offered with a half-smile, placing her elbow on my shoulder, despite having to reach up to do so. She used to do it all the time when she was taller than me for most of our lives. It was a habit she hadn’t broken despite the shift in size. “Besides, it hasn’t been our place in four years. Not since you moved.” I shrugged, using one shoulder.

“What do you think would have happened if I stayed? Would we be here right now?” Amy moved her arm and her feet brushed the fallen leaves beneath her feet. 

“The bridge would still be gone,” she answered. I turned around to face her, and she was doing that familiar ballet twirl she always did when she was thinking about something. “We grew up, you know? It just happens.”

“Yeah, I know, but I missed you. I missed this place and this town. Maybe we would’ve gotten to say goodbye to the bridge before they tore it down.”

“Don’t be such a girl,” Amy teased and pressed her finger into my chest. That was familiar, too. “When was the last time we even came here? Before the day you moved, anyway. We never came here after graduation. One day, something is there and the next it’s just not. We can’t live in the past forever.”

I looked again at the patch of soil that used to be our bridge and took in a deep breath. “How about us? Think we would still be friends if I hadn’t moved?”

Amy laughed at that. “What, we’re not friends anymore? We’re here now, aren’t we? That’s enough for me.” 

And I guess with those four words, it was enough for me, too.

first published in Woodcrest Magazine 2012 edition. Photo by Alyson Winkler