Thursday, June 21, 2007

Brushing Up On The Classics: The Ol' Alter Ego Blues!

Robin was damn good this week, and also followed one of my favorite superhero book plot devices. I call this classic story template the 'ol Alter-Ego Blues!

Here's how to sing those blues:

  1. Our noble hero, while in his mild-mannered persona, is meeting a loved one for a special get-together.
  2. On his way there, crime strikes!
  3. Hero dons costume to FIGHT CRIME.
  4. But hero misses his personal appointment.
  5. Hero's loved-one is sad at being stood up for no apparent reason, and says something like, "If only (insert hero's real name name here) weren't so selfish!"
  6. IRONY.

Sound familiar? A few examples in action after the jump.

CASE 1: Amazing Spider-Man: Swing Shift

This was one of Marvel's 2007 Free Comic Book Day offerings, and it follows the formula to the letter!

Aunt May's Birthday! He got her a cake and everything!

That would be Overdrive, a crook engaged in a little reckless driving. Spidey takes him out by crashing him into a cop car. Nice! What's a few civilian causalities when you're a lawless vigilante?

Pete misses the party, and Aunt May muses aloud to the omnipresent ghost of Uncle Ben, "I just wish we could have taught him how to be more...responsible." The irony, it burns!

CASE 2: Batgirl Adventures #1

Christmas Eve with her dad. Comish is waiting at the station, Barbara is supposed to meet him there.

That most distracting of villains, Harley Quinn! Only steps from the station, Barbs has to go all Batgirl to find out what HQ's up to. She actually ends up helping Harl to save Poison Ivy from some other bad guys, and it's all a lot of silly fun and you forget about her poor dad, still waiting on the steps of the station.

The issue ends with some visual irony as Batgirl rounds a corner, off to fight more crime, on the very street her dad is waiting for her on. Sad. But the real textbook dramatic irony moment is the panel above- in case you can't read it, James Gordon is watching Batgirl jump off a ledge, while pondering, "I wonder if her parents know how she spends her nights?" Now That's What I Call Irony, Volume I!

Which brings us to the latest issue of Robin, which features a slightly different riff on this old standard.

CASE 3: Robin #163

A very special Father's Day. Tim was adopted by Bruce Wayne after all that unpleasantness in Infinite Crisis, and has bought the man who has everything (except parents) a lovely engraved watch. Watch in hand, he hurries home to make Bruce dinner. (*already tearing up*)

What starts out as a routine purse-snatching turns into a confrontation with THE JURY, nine crazies who dole out justice a la The Punisher, but without the grace and restraint. Tim makes short work of them, of course.

As expected, Tim misses dinner, and his watched gets smashed. Cue scary and disappointed BatDad...or not! Because while the previous examples deal with loved-ones who aren't in on the whole caped crusader secret, Bruce knows that shit happens, and that crime-fighting trumps pretty much everything else. In a truly tear jerking display of understanding, Bruce says that even if he can't wear the watch, it'll look great in a trophy case. (*now actually crying*)

Really, Batman practically invented the ironic misreading by intentionally cultivating his Bruce Wayne persona to be irresponsible and somewhat dim. So here's one last example, notable for the fact that in this case, Batman doesn't actually care if people think Bruce is a jerk.

Case #4: Batman: 80 Page Giant - "Maintaining Appearances"

Nothing too special, Bruce is just coming in late for a day at Wayne industries. One of his executives is trying to get him to do some work, but he just glides by into his office. "Ooh, that man!"

The crime-fighting is actually done in flashback in this case - we see that Bats had spent the night before doin' it up detective style, and capped off the night at around 4am with a backhand to the Riddler's jaw.


The exec finally works up the nerve to disturb Bruce in his office, only to find him fast asleep. On her way out, she exclaims, "Laziest man I've ever seen, just wasting his life purpose to it all!"

I believe Alanis Morrisette would have something to say about that, lady.

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