Batman. He’s everywhere in pop culture. His cape surrounds us and we are all living under the Shadow of the Bat. So… because I think way too much about Batman, here is a list of 21 hot takes about the Darknight Detective:
1) Bring back the yellow oval! Seriously. The yellow oval on Batman’s chest is cool. It pops and makes the rest of his costume look tough. And if the purpose of the chest emblem is to trick people into shooting at his heavily armored chest rather than his unprotected face, then the yellow oval offers a way better “target.”
2) Knightfall/Knightsend is the perfect example of a great ending to a meh story. Seriously, the early 1990s storyline where Batman gets taken down by Bane, the wrestler guy, is mostly pretty bad. Bane figures out Batman’s secret identity way too easily and beard-stubble robs Batman of all his strategic thinking. Batman’s shattered spine gets healed by a character whose only purpose is to sacrifice herself. The replacement “bad” Batman, AzBats, is not compelling. But the ending? The ending is perfect. I think about that ending all the time. (Spoilers: Batman tricks his replacement into emerging into the light of day while wearing night-vision lenses. It works as a metaphor for Batman’s need to come into the light sometimes, and because AzBats relies too much on technology.)
3) The Joker shouldn’t be a failed up stand-up comic. Seriously, it makes no sense. Clowns and stand-up comics have almost nothing in common except a very general “make people laugh” mandate. The Joker makes way more sense as a homicidal clown who went off the rails. Was he ever a failed stand-up comedian before The Killing Joke?
4) Batman should fight Superman all the time. Really! I wish the new Batman movie had a running gag where Superman shows up every half hour or so and fights Batman, for no particular reason. Like, it’s not part of the plot or anything. It’s just, Batman is minding his own business, rotating the tires on the Batmobile or investigating crimes, and Superman swoops down and tries to wail on Bats for a couple minutes. Then Batman fights Supes off, and Supes is like, “Ahhhh, I’ll get you next time!!!!” And Batman is like, “in your DREAMS. I am the NIGHT.” And then Superman flies away again until he shows up for their next surprise battle, half an hour later. I actually kind of feel like that’s the kind of friendship Superman and Batman would have. Superman just likes to keep Batman on his bat-toes.
5) Batman really should care more about bat conservation. There should be a story set in the near future, when Batman realizes that nobody knows what a bat is anymore, because bats are almost extinct. He has to drop everything and travel around the world using his immense wealth to protect bat habitats and also fund research into white nose syndrome and other diseases that are decimating bat populations. Because without bats… there can be no Batman.
6) Batman is great when he gets his ass kicked. I loved Batman comics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leading up to Knightfall. Bruce was constantly having broken ribs. He lost fights a lot. Frank Miller turned him into a tough guy who could take a lot of damage, and it was more interesting to watch him keep fighting when he was on the ropes. The quarter bins at comic stores used to be full of these issues.
7) The Cult should be an animated, or maybe live-action, movie. Along similar lines, the late 1980s storyline The Cult should be adapted somehow. Batman gets captured and brainwashed by a sewer-dwelling cult, and it’s utterly brutal. It gets to the heart of Batman’s greatest weakness: his fanaticism can be turned against him.
8) Technology works unrealistically well for Batman. Especially since he’s using prototypes. This is part of a larger rant — movies, TV and comics are full of prototypes, that people want to steal or use or whatever. And prototypes always work perfectly. Batman’s biggest weakness is that he beta-tests all his gear himself.
9) Batman should be replaceable. We’re always told that “anyone can be Batman.” But… pretty much every story about someone else taking over as Batman seems to reinforce that only Bruce Wayne can really be a good Batman. Jean-Paul Valley, Dick Grayson, Jim Gordon… they all struggle and ultimately fall short. Only Terry McGinnis gets to succeed, in Batman Beyond, because Bruce is no longer a viable alternative. Am I missing another storyline where someone replaces Bruce successfully?
10) Batman Beyond proves that failure is the heart of Bat-lore. Batman fails. A lot. At this point, he’s gotten most of his sidekicks killed or maimed at one point or another. Batman Beyond is the perfect end to Bruce Wayne’s story: he finally loses so much that he’s kind of crushed, and he has to bond with this kid who shows up. It’s the perfect Batman story because it’s about Batman’s limitations.
11) Batman has definitely killed people. One thing we’ve been learning lately is that “non-lethal weapons” is kind of an oxymoron. People die all the time from being tased, for example. And Batman throws around razor-sharp bat-shaped projectiles, constantly. I know he’s an incredible martial artist, but he’s also overly invested in the idea that you can use weapons without inflicting actual death. His “no killing” rule would be more convincing if he never used weapons.
12) Batman is better when he’s at odds with the police. That was the funnest thing about The Batman trailer. Batman is a vigilante, who cracks skulls and probably messes up ongoing investigations. Gotham PD is messed up and corrupt. They shouldn’t get along at all. Apart from anything else, Batman shouldn’t think it’s okay for the cops to go around shooting innocent people for no reason, given how he feels about guns.
13) Gotham by Gaslight should have been about Alfred pranking Bruce. I think I tweeted this one a while ago. The famous Elseworlds miniseries Gotham by Gaslight was about Victorian England or something. But it should have been about Alfred moving the Batsuit or rolling the giant penny, and then saying, “Master Bruce, I have no idea what you are speaking about. That cowl was always hanging upside down from the Batcave. Perhaps you should take a rest.”
14) Batman should eat. A lot. A big trope in Batman stories is that Alfred is always bringing Bruce Wayne food, and he never eats it. But you don’t stay as muscley and bulky as Batman without basically eating ten meals a day. Batman should be very appreciative of Alfred bringing him food. He should clean his damn plate.
15) I can’t wait for the Super Deluxe Edition of Prince’s Batman soundtrack. We’re slowly getting these massively expanded editions of Prince’s 1980s albums, which means eventually it’ll be Batman’s turn. I really want a deep aural dive into how Prince pieced together his own vision of Batman—like I know that earlier versions of this soundtrack were “darker,” and Prince shelved some songs for being too scary and gothic. Prince was struggling, like so many creators, with just how dark to make Batman before it stops being fun. Also, “Batdance” is a collage of three or four different songs and it would be interesting to see more of that.
16) Batman v Superman should have started with them already at war. In a movie called Batman v Superman, the audience is not going to be wondering “hey, is Batman going to fight Superman?” (Nor will anyone wonder who’s going to win. Obviously, Batman — he always beats Superman. Always.) The big mystery is, “why the hell are they fighting?” So I would have gone with a structure where they’re fighting from the very first moment, setting traps and snares for each other and doing a war of attrition. And you slowly find out what made them want to fight—and why they were maybe both justified. (And their motivations could have involved more serious stakes somehow. See Wonder Woman: the Hiketeia for an example of how to create a meaningful conflict between Batman and another hero.)
17) Peter Milligan’s Batman comics are among the best Bat-stories ever. Around the same time he was doing the trippy, gorgeous Shade the Changing Man, Milligan was creating an atmospheric, weird Gotham City, in which a resourceful Batman faces nightmarish villains. There was a collected edition in 2015, but it’s sadly out of print now. In particular, “Dark Knight, Dark City,” in which Batman gets tricked into taking part in a series of occult rituals, was freaking brilliant because it shows that Batman will do anything to save a child from suffering the way he did.
18) Catwoman should have a love triangle involving Batman. It has been canon for years that Catwoman is bisexual. So we deserve a storyline where Catwoman is in love with both Bruce Wayne, and some female character. (Harley Quinn? Harley Quinn!!) Batman should be the Edward Cullen to Harley’s Jacob Black. Or Catwoman could be dating both Batman and Batwoman. Please please please.
19) Shondra Kinsolving is the most shameful part of the Bat-mythos. Remember above, when I said there was a character who healed Batman’s broken spine and then got kind of thrown aside? Her name was Shondra Kinsolving, and she was a Black woman who really deserved better. She was a love interest for Bruce Wayne, who got introduced conveniently right before he was injured. And then the act of healing Bruce caused her to regress to a childlike state, so Bruce had to put her in a facility somewhere, and apparently never think about her again.
20) Batman has an addictive personality. He’s driven, he’s compulsive, he’s got a thirst for justice. I loved the “Venom” storyline, where he gets hooked on the same performance-enhancing drug that Bane (the guy who broke his spine) used. I kind of feel like Bruce has an issue with becoming dependent. On chemical assistance, on technology, on a particular routine. It’s the flipside of his “control freak” persona.
21) Batman comics have helped popularize the Trumpian idea that cities are crime-infested hellholes. And Batman has only occasionally had stories dealing with gentrification. I do like the move toward Court of Owls stories, where the real threat is a secretive, unstoppable wealthy elite.
Music has been a huge part of saving my sanity this past year, but one album in particular has been on SUPER heavy rotation: Temple by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. I have been a fan of Thao Nguyen since I did a reading at a show where she was performing, a couple years ago, but this new album is just incredible and so necessary. Lots of bouncy synth hooks, especially on the title track and a few others, but a rhythm that goes from dancey to slow and introspective, and it’s all just amazing. Thao Nguyen’s vocals convey a fierce urgency in the face of despair and destruction. I keep quoting lyrics like “barely served me then, only hurts me now” as I make it through my day. Every song on this album has become really important to me, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Most of the links to buy it seem to be for physical media, but I got my copy on Apple music.
We really need a catchy phrase (or word) for “You are making a lot of totally valid points on the way to a hideously wrong conclusion.”
Also! There should be a movie about a married couple who are both famous pop stars—in disguise. And neither of them knows the other one is a rock god. It would be like Hannah Montana meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Somebody give me a million dollars to write this.
On Tues, Oct. 20, I’m taking part in Short Story Club. We’re going to be discussing my story “The Bookstore at the End of America.” This is a fundraiser for Dog Eared Books Castro, which is a totally essential queer bookstore in San Francisco’s gay neighborhood, that really needs your support right now. Come hang with me!
I just did a panel at New York Comic-Con for Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, and it was a super conversation including Rebecca Roanhorse, Diana Gabaldon, John Joseph Adams and Deji Bryce Olukotun. You can watch it right here!
Also, my latest writing advice essay for Tor.com is all about cultural appropriation, and when and how to write about cultures and experiences that are very different than your own. For me, it boils down to including a cast of characters who reflect the diversity of the real world, but not trying to tell a story that’s all about someone else’s heritage or marginalization.
The latest episode of Our Opinions are Correct, the podcast I do with Annalee Newitz, is all about climate change and how to write about it in speculative fiction.
And finally, please please please pre-order my upcoming young adult novel Victories Greater than Death! It would make a great gift for you, your loved ones, or especially the teens in your life. It’s my homage to Star Trek and She-Ra and Star Wars and Steven Universe, full of adventure and friendship and chosen family and weird alien food. I was going to travel to every town in America and perform a three-hour stage musical to promote this book, but I’m kind of dependent on the internet to get the word out now. So please help if you feel able. Thank you!!!
Also, sorry this newsletter got so long. Most of them will be way shorter.