In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
Usually, when one of us writes a “Retcon This!” column, it’s a statement against something happening within comics, whether in the story or something from editorial. Regular readers will know that the entire PoP! staff is over the moon for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman. There’s nothing not to like in those pages. So when I say we need to retcon Batman, I don’t for a second think we need to retcon Batman.
The bottom line is that of all the shakeups to come down from the New 52 over a year ago, no character got quite as unintentionally muddled as Batman. At face value, Batman changed the least, but that’s part of the problem. With everything else that’s gone on around him, Batman’s past simply can’t be the way we remember it. There are some serious questions lingering about Batman’s timeline, even after all the #0 issues across his various titles.
Batman needs a retcon to make it all make sense. There’s a lot of backstory that comes along with Batman and his adventures that’s fairly easy to reconcile and compact in this new shorter timeline, but there are some valid sticking points. Year One still works as the origin story (mostly). The Killing Joke has been referenced enough that we know how that went down (but the Gordon family as seen in those stories seems to have been retconned into something a little less convoluted). We know Death in the Family happened pretty much as we remember it thanks to Damien’s awesome trap for Jason in the pages of Batman and Robin.
Speaking of Damien, the one thing that continues to stick out is how this vigilante who supposedly went on his journey to find his inner badass 10 years ago has a 10 year-old son as his fourth Robin (Sorry Stephanie Brown. You didn’t make the cut.). Sure, he could have easily knocked Talia up a decade ago, but why would he? Did they meet in some bar coincidentally and hook up, the consequences only mattering years later after her father went to war with the Detective? That’d be weird, right? Their union was predicated on their history together, a history that frankly no longer exists. But Damien is still Talia’s son. From a storytelling standpoint, that really doesn’t make a lot of sense. What reason would Talia have had to be interested in the broken wandering Bruce Wayne? Batman and Robin #0 shows Damien coming to term in an artificial womb, but not at any kind of accelerated rate. Once he hatched, he aged like a regular kid. As far as Grant Morrison and Batman, Inc. are concerned, there has been no change. Pre-New 52 Damien is exactly the same as New 52 Damien in those pages. That doesn’t make sense.
Damien isn’t the only Robin with a questionable past. Despite repeated references in the New 52 to Tim Drake’s time as Robin, we’re now told Tim was never Robin, after all, and we’ll see that story play out in Teen Titans #0. Somewhere midstream, editorial decided that Tim was the weird out of place Robin more than the love child that should probably be in kindergarten if the new timeline is to be believed. Tim’s already rewritten history is literally being rewritten. Tim refers to his time as Robin in Teen Titans #1, but not in the trade. That line was rewritten and references to previous Teen Titans teams were removed for the collected edition. Batman’s bio at the end of Batman #0 only refers to him as “Red Robin” now, too, despite a clear reference to his time as Robin in Batman #1. Yes, there’s an extraneous Robin in the mix, but it sure as sh-t isn’t Tim Drake.
What about the original Robin? Was Dick Grayson ever Batman? Did he take over when Bane broke Batman or after Bruce died and came back on his groovy trip through time? Since Batman #0 featured all three of the Robins in the same flashback, it doesn’t seem like he was Robin for long. So did he jump right into the Teen Titans? Were there ever any Titans at all before now? Apparently Red Robin wasn’t on that team anymore, so was Dick? If not, where the hell did Starfire come from?
It’s easy to nitpick at this new continuity, but this isn’t nitpicking. This isn’t “Did that one Madhatter story happen?” These are major story beats for Batman and his supporting cast that are still up in the air a year into their stories. The same can be said for a lot of New 52 titles, but it really hits home for Batman because we’ve been told time and time again that Batman has remained mostly unchanged. Given the new compressed timeline, that doesn’t make any sense, especially since he still has a 10 year-old son. For the record, I think Damien is a really interesting character. It’s not that I wish he’d been wiped out in the relaunch. I just hate to see him so blatantly out of place. These kinds of problems are all over DC’s line right now thanks to the soft reboot of the New 52. They’re telling some really good stories. The Bat Family books are among the strongest in the line. On their own, they’re very easy to enjoy, but this is comics and there’s a shared universe involved. It’s ironic that an effort to clean up continuity and make it accessible to new readers has made the continuity muddier than it was before and frustrating to old readers. Not even the Dark Knight is immune to the effects of this “just the tip” storytelling. Retcon Batman, DC. We’ll wait for you to get his story straight.