Thursday, 24 November 2016

Better Ways to Reboot the Earth-2 Dick Grayson Without Erasing Helena Wayne's Story

Earth-2: Society has been a very controversial book ever since it got launched with the writer who gave us Earth-2: World's End, Daniel H. Wilson. Though DC had since replaced Wilson with another writer who is better oriented to Earth-2 lore and the Justice Society characters--Dan Abnett--the book remained controversial. Not because Abnett hadn't been telling more thoughtful stories with these characters since taking over the title, nor because he hadn't been handling the characters with the care and respect they deserve. He had actually been excelling on both of these fronts. Rather, the book remained controversial because the narrative kept centring on a new "Batman" DC kept trying to sell to Earth-2 and Justice Society readers as "Dick Grayson."

Right off the bat (pun intended), if DC managed to come up with a version Dick Grayson whose presence in a comic book upsets Earth-2 and Justice Society fans, they did something wrong. A fan favourite character like Dick Grayson should never arouse controversy the way this new character has, nor should any Earth-2 or Justice Society fan feel annoyed at the idea of him sharing the Batman legacy with Bruce's own daughter, Helena Wayne. After all, these two people were raised by the same man and came to think of each other as siblings in the pre-Crisis continuity. But that's exactly the problem that many fans have: the new character who is occupying the "Dick Grayson" name in Earth-2: Society has nothing in common with the man the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne thought of as her "big brother."

There are three main parts to this complaint: (1) Dick's new history doesn't make him a legitimate Batman successor. (2) He takes the spotlight away from the other Earth-2 characters fans are invested in, including Helena Wayne despite being Batman's daughter. (3) He is very much just a marketing tool for DC, which creates the additional problem of not being an authentic representation of a disabled person, in this case, a paraplegic.

With the first complaint, many people feel that Dick Grayson's link to Batman is Bruce Wayne and the relationship that he has with Bruce's family. They are a fundamental core of his character. This is true even for the Earth-2 incarnation of him who originally existed as the Golden Age Robin. Within the context of the Earth-2 continuity, without Dick's history with Bruce and Helena Wayne left intact, his membership into the Wayne family is erased, his place as Batman legacy hero is annulled, and the fundamental core of the character's identity is taken out. Under these circumstances, the character is reduced to being nothing more than a random white guy in a bat suit taking over an identity and family legacy that don't belong to him, which feels completely out of place.

Dick's usurpation of the Wayne family legacy is especially egregious when it is resulting in the complete erasure of Batman's own daughter from her own story. This is the second part of the complaint many fans have about this new character: many people correctly feel that it should be Helena Wayne continuing her father's legacy, not a random usurper who happens to share a name with an adopted son of Bruce Wayne. For DC to prioritise an usurper as the holder of Helena's family legacy instead of Helena herself is especially in poor taste as it communicates to the reader that women have no place in Bruce's legacy, which many readers correctly identify as sexism.

The other part of this second complaint is that many people feel that without any authentic character development, this new character is occupying space in a comic that he hasn't actually earned. He is especially taking the spotlight away from Earth-2's more established characters that are actually diverse. Diverse characters like Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L who are the female successors of Batman and Superman. Val-Zod who is a POC addition to that latter legacy. Alan Scott who is gay in the current continuity. Kendra Muñoz-Saunders and Khalid Ben-Hassin who are also POC, and Jay Garrick who used to be one of the older DC heroes and an original founding member of the Justice Society.

It can be argued that the current Dick Grayson still counts as a diverse character because he is technically disabled in the current continuity. But that is kind of the problem. His disability is a technicality because DC has done absolutely nothing with that development since they first established it in Convergence. They even conveniently hid his paraplegia almost immediately when he decided to take on a superhero identity by the start of Earth-2: Society. DC skipped the journey and artificially restored his mobility via his bat suit so that he could function like an able-bodied superhero, effectively treating his paraplegia as an inconvenience, which is ableism. It is therefore hard to make a strong case for this argument because we never see how paraplegia changed Dick's life beyond Dick acknowledging that he is "crippled" in the negative sense, again reinforcing ableism.

We additionally rarely see the challenges that come with assisted mobility because Dick is never seen out of costume except for the one time that he had to repair the suit in Earth-2: Society Annual #1. Dick's suit also allows him to move magically like an able-bodied person, and the suit doesn't come with any special features that assist with that mobility like a remote to tell his suit to run, walk, kick, etc like real life exosuits for paraplegics do. The suit is also rarely damaged in a fight, which means that--for the most part--fans wouldn't know he is paraplegic unless they're told. We also don't know of any surgeries Dick may have undergone to implant any electrodes in his body that would help bypass the site of injury and guide the suit into reading his brain signals to induce function and movement in his lower body. It is so far implied that he has not undergone any such surgery.

The technicality of paraplegia is not representation if it only exists to fulfil the "diversity quota" but no story about a paraplegic person is actually being told. This actually leads to the third part of the complaint many Earth-2 fans have about this new version of the character: DC is not at all interested in developing the character of Dick Grayson or his relationship with Helena for that matter. They are, instead, much more interested in having a new Batman that they can market to the Batman crowd (DC's largest consumer base), as opposed to marketing the characters that actually sell Earth-2 to the book's actual audience: the Justice Society. When it comes to the Batman legacy on Earth-2 specifically, it is Helena Wayne as the Huntress who is the main selling point of that narrative for many fans, not a character stand-in for Dick Grayson.

Having addressed all the problems that exist with the current incarnation of the Earth-2 Dick Grayson, how should DC go about fixing them? What is the best way to create a more authentic Dick Grayson that will actually please Earth-2 fans now that Dan Abnett did a wholesale reboot of Earth-2? Well, I stand by what I've said before: reboot the characters entirely and start over from scratch. In the same way that the new Earth-2 is replacing the last two Earth-2s that we've had, we should start with brand new versions of these characters as well to completely divorce them from the baggage of the last two damaging runs. It only makes sense if we're now getting an Earth-2 that will resemble the pre-Crisis original to some degree in concept. So how should the new Dick Grayson get rebooted without erasing Helena Wayne's story? I have a few ideas.

1. REINSTATE THE ORIGINAL PRE-CRISIS HISTORY

This is, in my opinion, the best case scenario. The pre-Crisis Earth-2 Dick Grayson is the version of the character Earth-2 and Justice Society fans remember more fondly. He's the version of the character that started off as the Golden Age Robin and he was actively raised and mentored by Bruce Wayne ever since he was eight years old. Bruce therefore became a second father to him because he was there for every major event in his life. Dick was even around to see his mentor marry his only wife, Selina Kyle (Catwoman), and was even there for the birth of his only biological child, Helena Wayne, who later became the Huntress.

Given the strong bond Dick had with Bruce in the pre-Crisis continuity, Dick was very much a member of the Wayne family, even though he wasn't legally adopted due to Dick still having living relatives. Since this is the version of Dick's Earth-2 history many people like, it only makes sense that DC should reinstate some version of his original narrative for the new run.

Within the context of Abnett's new Earth-2 continuity, one thing that can be done differently this time around is closing the age gap between Dick and Helena so that they're not two decades apart in age. One thing we didn't see happen pre-Crisis was see Bruce raise Dick and Helena together. They were raised at separate times with Dick already living as a young adult in his 20s by the time Bruce married Selina and had his daughter. At the time that Bruce was raising Helena, Dick was already living on his own and was probably not seen around the house much.

One thing I feel would excite fans (including the Batman crowd) would be to see Bruce raise Dick and Helena together with them closer to each other in age. Maybe instead of Bruce meeting Dick as a single man, maybe this time he takes his wife and young daughter to Haley's Circus while they're in town. Maybe during that family outing they meet the 8-year-old Dick Grayson and watch him perform "The Flying Graysons" act with his family when Boss Zucco kills them as a way of blackmailing the circus. Maybe in seeing Dick's pain, it triggers Bruce's own memories of how his parents were murdered and talks to Selina about adopting him. Maybe Bruce and Selina do adopt him in the current continuity and Helena acquires a brother.

When it comes to Dick and Helena developing their superhero identities, maybe they didn't become costumed superheroes right away because Bruce and Selina didn't want their children risking their lives participating in their dangerous lifestyle. Maybe Dick and Helena developed their Robin and Huntress identities while they were still kids and used those identities in the games they played as children. Maybe they used the skills they had acquired as children (athletics and martial arts) coupled with their education and intelligence to find ways to defeat the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, or any other Gotham rogue in their games.

Maybe when the two got old enough to go to college, they actually became crime-fighters in the town they moved to for college. Since both went to law school and became lawyers in the pre-Crisis continuity, maybe this time they can go to the same university. We know that Helena went to Harvard pre-Crisis, so maybe this time they both go to Harvard and actively fight crime together in Cambridge, Massachussetts as part of "gaining experience" for their eventual profession. Maybe when Dick and Helena establish their law firm of Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne in Gotham, Huntress and Robin become the new dynamic duo in place of Batman and Catwoman with the latter two retiring due to old age.

If DC doesn't want to use paraplegia as a gimmick for progress cookies, maybe this time they can make Dick a paraplegic hero in a far more meaningful way than the way they originally established in Convergence. Maybe this time--instead of a missing-the-point, half-assed attempt at replicating Barbara Gordon's paralysis in The Killing Joke--he acquires his spinal injury doing something heroic. Like saving people from a dangerous situation and making sure everyone is safe and sound before letting himself out. Maybe this time have him properly react to the reality that his life will never be the same following a spinal cord injury.

Maybe this time have him go through the grief process of both having lost his mobility and function in the lower region. Maybe this time explore how his injury changed his life, his employment, his access to facilities he once used with ease, and his relationships with other people. Maybe this time explore how the Wayne family helps him recover emotionally. Maybe even explore how his interacting with other people with spinal cord injuries inspires him to be a hero for them. Maybe this time explore Dick taking an interest in spinal injury research and explore all the different ways science and robotics can help improve both his life and the lives of many other SCI patients.

Actually explore going from using a wheel chair to using an exoskeleton that artificially restores his mobility. Explore the pros and cons of this technology and explore the ways to improve it. Actually explore how this technology gets incorporated into his new Robin suit to allow him to work side-by-side with Helena again. Maybe even explore how he worked as a partner to Helena when he was in a wheelchair, much in the same way that Barbara Gordon worked with Dinah Lance when she was Oracle. Explore the surgeries he has go through to install electrodes into his body that help bypass the site of injury to restore functioning in his lower body like digestion.

Here's the key: take the character and reader on a journey. Actually explore the process of recovering from a spinal cord injury in a way that doesn't erase the disability and in a way that actually empowers people with spinal cord injuries. Explore the research on spinal cord injury recovery in a way that inspires hope for people with SCI, and not in ways that validate or normalise ableism.

In keeping Dick's original history with the Wayne family intact, and in developing him as Helena's partner who equally shares the Batman legacy, Dick as a paraplegic hero would feel much more significant and meaningful. If he does eventually decide to become Batman following Bruce's death, at least it won't be done in a way that erases Helena's place in her own family legacy. At least this time we would actually see that conversation between Dick and Helena take place. Maybe this time, Helena allows Dick to take up the mantle once he tells her how much it's meant to him to be a part of her family and how he would like to honour Bruce's memory by keeping the legend of Batman alive, even if Helena herself decides to continue operating as the Huntress.

The point here is don't skip the journey. Actually develop the characters in ways that feel authentic and treat them both with respect, and not in ways that normalise ableism and sexism.

2. REINSTATE SOME PART OF THE ORIGINAL PRE-CRISIS HISTORY

If doing a clean reboot is out of the question, then maybe a partial reboot is in order. Maybe the new Earth-2 history still happened the way it originally did in the New 52, but with a very different outcome. Maybe Helena Wayne was still raised as the only child of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, and maybe she still started out as the Robin to their Batman and Catwoman growing up. Maybe both of her parents still died as war heroes, only this time Batman, Catwoman, Superman, and Wonder Woman ended the war with Apokolips for good with the New Gods never to be seen or heard from ever again. Maybe this time, Kara and Helena didn't end up on Prime Earth like before. Maybe both Kara and Helena set out to figure out what to make of their lives leading them to abandon their Supergirl and Robin identities and develop their new identities as Power Girl and the Huntress.

Maybe Helena Wayne and Kara Zor-L rebuild their lives in Gotham this time (like in the pre-Crisis Earth-2 continuity) and operate as Huntress and Power Girl there. Maybe in their civilian lives, Helena takes over as the CEO of Wayne Industries and gives funds to Kara to help her develop her own corporation as Starr Industries. Maybe along the way, they start meeting some of the more important people from their pre-Crisis pasts like Andrew Vinson in Kara's case and Harry Sims in Helena's case. Maybe along the way, Val-Zod's space ship lands on Earth, only this time he gets found by Kara instead of Terry Sloane and she takes Val under her wing. Maybe this time Kara functions as a mentor for Val as he adjusts to life on Earth from Krypton, and as he figures out his place and identity on this new world. Maybe along the way a mysterious new hero arrives in Gotham known as Robin who acts an awful lot like Batman at the same time that Dick Grayson appears to apply for a job at Wayne Industries.

The arrival of a new Robin in Gotham would certainly draw the attention of Helena Wayne since Robin was her childhood identity. Maybe in confronting this new Robin she learns that he already possesses many of the same skills she already possesses and decides to learn more about him. In learning more about this new Robin, she may discover along the way that there may be more to her former childhood identity than her parents told her. Maybe she wasn't the only Robin or even the first. Maybe when she realises that this new Robin's arrival coincides with Dick Grayson's arrival to Gotham, she pieces together that the new Robin and Dick Grayson are one and the same and that he did know her mother and father prior to her birth. What she can't figure out is why he suddenly left the picture or why her parents never spoke of him, prompting him to fill in the gaps.

Maybe in this newer Earth-2 continuity, the 8-year-old Dick Grayson still performed with Haley's Circus with his family. Maybe his family still died while performing their "Flying Graysons" act and he was the sole survivor. Maybe Bruce and his pregnant wife, Selina, were at the show when the murder of the Grayson family by Boss Zucco happened. Maybe Bruce recognised the feelings of fear, confusion, and anger in the young Dick Grayson, prompting Bruce to tell Selina he wants to do something about that. Maybe Bruce recognised Dick's desire for revenge and decided to help him seek justice for the murder of his family with his supervision and Selina's help. Maybe Bruce later approached Dick as Batman with the offer to help him seek justice for his family but that he would need a mask, prompting Dick to come up with the Robin identity.

Maybe Bruce did help Dick capture Boss Zucco like he originally did in Detective Comics #38 from 1940, only this time Selina was around to help (though in an Oracle-like role if I already established she is pregnant with Helena during this time). If Dick was aware that Batman and Catwoman always worked together, he might ask why Catwoman didn't join them in helping them capture Boss Zucco, and why she had to function as "Oracle" to help them. I would say this would be the thing to tip off Dick on Bruce and Selina being Batman and Catwoman, especially since they were both present at his family's circus performance the day that his parents died. If Selina is pregnant, it would make sense in his mind that she wouldn't be able to join them in a physical fight to capture Zucco. Perhaps in Dick dropping this truth bomb on both Bruce and Selina, they realise they can't leave him alone with this information and decide to be his legal guardians.

Maybe in this partially rebooted continuity, Dick got to live with the Waynes for a whole year and was around for Helena's birth. Maybe he (along with Alfred) helped to take care of her while Bruce and Selina fought crime as Batman and Catwoman. Maybe after a year, Bruce and Selina decided to formally adopt Dick into the family but were prevented from doing so when his living relatives (in this case Dick's uncle George Grayson and wife Clara) came to take him with them like what originally happened in the 1943 issue of Batman #20. Only this time George didn't turn out to be a crook and he and Clara genuinely wanted to raise Dick in his brother's memory.

Maybe as part of getting Dick to move on from the Waynes, George and Clara decide to move with him to Chicago and discourage Dick from getting in contact with them. Maybe Dick complies to not hurt his uncle and aunt, but once he was old enough to move out, he wanted to rekindle his relationship with the Wayne family. Maybe after college graduation, Dick attempted to pursue employment in Gotham but learned that Bruce and Selina had died saving the world from the Apokolips War, effectively leaving Helena as the sole surviving member of her family. Maybe he spent the next five years re-establishing his Robin identity from the time Bruce and Selina helped him seek justice for his family and decided to help Helena in her fight against crime in Bruce and Selina's memory.

Maybe his seeking employment at Wayne Industries was his way of rebuilding his relationship with Helena in an honest way, and hopefully get to a point where she would consider him her friend and ally. Maybe he wanted to get to a point where she would trust him enough to let him work alongside her as her partner. Maybe he recognised Helena's relationship problems with Harry Sims (like in the pre-Crisis continuity) and wanted to let her know that there are other people like himself who do value the work that she does as the Huntress and value having her in their lives. Maybe in knowing she has Dick's support, she decides to leave her toxic relationship with Harry, choosing instead to invest in the relationships she does have with Dick, Kara, and the Justice Society.

3. ESTABLISH DICK AS HELENA'S HIGH SCHOOL BOYFRIEND

This is admittedly my least favourite idea of the three since I strongly feel the first two ideas are the best (and frankly strongest) ways to reinstate Dick's place into the Wayne family legacy as they better preserve the core of his character. But if DC insists on not "rebooting" anything as the premise for Rebirth suggests, then the only other logical way I can think of Helena allowing the current Dick Grayson to be a part of her family legacy in any capacity is that if she herself has history with him.

I still don't feel Dick knowing Helena's grandfather for a few hours counts as meaningful history, nor do I feel that Dick deciding to become Batman just because his doppelgängers in the multiverse have history with Batman are adequate justification for him just outright usurp Helena's story. So if DC is changing nothing, then the least they can do is establish that Helena did know Dick in her civilian life prior to the events of the Apokolips War. That relationship also has to be meaningful to her in order for her to even consider letting someone who isn't a member of her family use her father's identity.

We already know Dick's side of the story from Earth-2: Society Annual #1. He felt that following the loss of his family, he lacked purpose in life and decided to become a superhero to fill that void in his life. He additionally decided that a new Batman was needed following the deaths of both Bruce and Thomas Wayne, and decided to take over that identity instead of just simply coming up with his own superhero identity.

For Dick to just decide that the world needs a new Batman instead of becoming a hero of his own standing, that legacy has to mean something more to him than just him feeling that the world needs a new man in a bat suit. The truth is the world doesn't need a new Batman in the presence of heroes like the Huntress, Power Girl, Green Lantern, and the Flash. So what does the Batman legacy actually mean to him? That was the question that was never adequately answered in the annual story, so more history needs to be established here.

If Prime Earth is already looking to blame the loss of history and relationships amongst heroes on Dr. Manhattan, why not go the extra mile and establish that Dr. Manhattan also meddled with the lives of the Earth-2 heroes? What if there is still history between Dick and Helena that isn't being accounted for in the current continuity? What if the answer to Dick feeling that the world needs a new Batman and Helena simply feeling like she can trust Dick with that legacy is that they did actually know each other prior to the events of Earth-2 #1? What if Dr. Manhattan played a hand in creating the new Earth-2 they're on now and not just Fury just opening Pandora's Box? That in itself can be a whole storyline.

The point of view we still don't have in the current Batman narrative is Helena's. We still don't know why she felt like she could just trust Dick with her family legacy and why she went out of her way to teach him her craft when technically she only knew him for a year. What if some part of her does remember him, but can't bring herself to remember from where? What if some memory of him endured, even when she had her memories erased or altered to exclude him? If DC wants to maintain the position that this new Dick Grayson is an everyman turned superhero, what if this new Dick Grayson started out as her classmate in high school, later became her friend, then later her boyfriend?

An aspect of the current Helena Wayne that was never explored in the current continuity was her love life. What if this new Dick Grayson fills in that gap? What if a whole story arc gets devoted to exploring Helena's feelings about Dick and why she felt she could trust him with her family legacy? What if she starts remembering two different versions of her life and tries to make sense of those two different sets of memories? What if she, together with Dick, reach the natural conclusion that they did know each other in high school and that some omnipotent force has been altering their memories? How would they both relay this message to the other Earth-2 heroes? How would this lead into that big event that DC is planning the heroes eventual encounter with Dr. Manhattan?

Though not perfect, at least in establishing that Dick and Helena were high school sweethearts in the current continuity but had their memories altered by Dr. Manhattan would be a far less problematic way of reinstating Dick into her life without erasing her story. And that's kind of what all of this boils down to. We know that in the pre-Crisis continuity, Dick and Helena were Bruce's successors who kept the Batman legacy alive on Earth-2. The problem is the current continuity no longer has a Dick Grayson who has an authentic history with the Wayne family and his relationship with Helena Wayne isn't well established to help readers understand why she just handed her family legacy over to this random stranger.

In at least establishing that Dick was an important person in Helena's life in some capacity--even if he was previously just Helena's romantic partner--it would resolve three problems: (1) the lack of authentic history with the Wayne family, (2) it would especially resolve the problem of institutional sexism surrounding his character, and (3) it would make his presence on Earth-2 much more meaningful than him just being a marketing tool for DC. If DC additionally allowed him to have a life out of costume, he could provide more meaningful representation of a paraplegic individual instead of just existing with the technicality of paraplegia.

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