Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent

Legacy 2020: Secrets of the Bat!

(Cross-posted from legacy2020)

The Batman Timeline is probably going to be the longest and most involved entry in the legacy2020 blog, because it is, for now, a Gotham-centric game.

When I originally started kicking around the Legacy timelines a couple of years ago, I expected Byrne's Generations would have a lot more influence than it ultimately did. Once I actually decided to run this game, however, and my sole player picked "Robin 2020" as his PC, I indulged in a good deal of Bat-research, aided by the Graphic Novel section of my public library. After reading thick volumes of Bat-stories from the Golden, Silver and Modern Ages -- bless the Showcase editions! -- and drawing on my own memories of the Silver and Bronze, I realized that my tentative divisions of the three primary Caped Crusaders neatly matched up with three major phases in the character's evolution -- phases so distinct that it makes sense to treat them as different characters.

The Golden Age Batman is Bruce Wayne, Sr. He starts his career focused and vengeful, grimly approving when criminals fall to their deaths into vats of acid -- but two years into his career, a "laughing young daredevil" comes into his life, and his focus shifts from Punishing the Guilty to Protecting the Innocent. Eventually, he catches up with Joe Chill, the killer of his parents, and realizes that it stopped being about vengeance a long time ago. Even with their murders avenged, there's still a need for The Batman, and he continues his mission with his motivation renewed.

It's worth noting that in my timeline, unlike most revisions, revisitations and retcons, the Golden Age Batman is remarkably successful. If you look at the original stories, by the '50s, Gotham is a pretty decent place to live, and has a lot of civic pride, because of Batman and Robin. It's hardly crime-free -- there are corrupt businessmen, crooks in cheap suits, and, of course, the high-profile costumed loonies who seem more interested in matching wits with The Batman than in actual criminal activity -- but it's safe to walk the streets at night. Random acts of violence have plummeted by the time Bruce marries Selina, and Mr. and Mrs. Batman start spending more time dealing with aliens and time-travelers than muggers and robbers.

The Bronze Age Batman is the Sensational Character Find of 1940, that Laughing Young Daredevil, Dick Grayson. Yes, he's the "Silver Age" Batman, taking over in '64 -- but it's not until '69 or '70, after Bruce "Robin" Junior heads off to college, that he really comes into his own.

He draws back from the public eye. He renews his emphasis on detective work and analysis. He maintains close ties to the rest of the superhero community, often consulting with them when a case demands specialized knowledge with more depth than his Renaissance Man polymathy can offer. As Dick Grayson, he heads the Wayne Foundation; as The Batman, he protects the innocent in Gotham and around the world. In either identity, he's a deeply charismatic humanitarian.

A confession here: The Bronze Age Batman is my Batman. I was the target audience for the Adam West series, and loved it -- when I was 5. When I was the hoary age of 6, O'Neill and Adams transformed good ol' Batman into The Batman, the Darknight Detective, who struck fear into the hearts of criminals.... and Your Obedient Serpent discovered, without yet having a word for it, the meaning of cool. He didn't try to do everything himself: in The Brave and the Bold, he'd regularly consult with other heroes ("I'm no physicist! I need to call Ray Palmer -- The Atom!"). He wasn't obsessive: he was dedicated. The "real" persona wasn't the Millionaire Playboy or the Masked Psychotic: the iconic image of Bronze Age Batman was him sitting in front of the Bat-Computer, in full costume, but with the cowl thrown back. Both at once, in balance.

Thinking of Dick Grayson, the Laughing Young Daredevil, growing up to be that controlled, balanced, and very adult Batman makes me happy.

The Iron Age Batman, Bruce "BJ" Wayne, Jr. ... well, he's all about Punishing the Guilty. He is Vengeance. He is the Night. He is... Kevin Conroy!

Yes, the Legacy game's protagonist is a Robin, but, despite our mutual fondness for Batman Beyond neither gatewalker nor I wanted to have Old Bruce looking over her shoulder. Robin 2020 is restoring a Lost Legacy.

And yet... I do love Kevin Conroy's performance as Old Bruce, old and bitter and disillusioned, sitting in his Stately Manor, watching his city go to a neon hell of its own making.

So... I'm making him the Big Bad of the campaign, the Secret Final Boss. And you know what? The grim and gritty Batman of the modern age works really well in that role.

Much as I agree that the DCAU Batman is perhaps the definitive version of the character, I have to side with the people who describe the Post-Crisis, post-Frank Miller Bat as "Asshole Batman".

Post-Crisis Batman stories have recurring themes: his barely-repressed anger. The way the Mission has consumed his life. His need to gather a family around him, to replace the one he's lost -- and the way he alienates them by acting like a military commander. His obsession with "contingency plans" that invariably blow up in his face.

Rereading Green Lantern: Rebirth brought it all together for me, when John Stewart gets in Bruce's face, insisting that Batman's always had a thing against Hal because Hal didn't respond to his primary weapon: fear. He can't intimidate Hal... and so he is, in turn, afraid of him. It comes through all of his dialogue in Rebirth: Bruce seriously believes that Hal Jordan -- who has something of a reputation for being thick-skulled -- is subtle and clever enough to manipulate the Incarnate Wrath of God into furthering some kind of elaborate scheme.

He didn't see his parents gunned down in front of him -- but his father told him about his grandparents, and took him to their grave regularly. All through his childhood, knowing what his parents did, he lived in fear that they'd be taken away from him by violence, like his grandparents were taken from his father. He learned to hate and fear criminals, and the sci-fi madness that so often turns his parents into monstrosities.

As an adult, in his twenties and thirties, all his childhood nightmares come true. One by one, he loses his mother, his father, his foster brother and mentor... and not long after donning the Mantle of the Bat, he loses Jason. All to The Mission. All to Crime.

He pulls into himself, pulls back to Gotham, a Gotham that's grown darker, full of addicts and punks, wild, out-of-control kids nothing like the cheap-suited crooks of his father's day. He gets pulled into Zero Hour, watches reality itself on the verge of shattering, and refuses to admit that he's over his head. Inside, though, he's terrified, realizing that the mutants and aliens that so plagued his childhood were now "protecting" the whole world.

What kind of person comes up with ways to take down his friends and colleagues "just in case"?

Fear is the only kind of relationship he understands. If you aren't inspiring it, you're its victim. He's afraid of being alone... and afraid of getting too close to people he may lose.

He's the perfect host for Parallax.
Tags: comics, fanfic, legacy, rpg

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