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Special Edition: Property of the Bat-Fans
by THE OLD MAID

Before "Girl, interrupted" was a film it was a book. The author, Susanna Kaysen, coined a phrase of interest to Batfans : the "designated crazy." The author believed that sometimes whole families require treatment. Society, however, discourages that treatment. If a whole family is institutionalized, how can they attend school? How can they pay the mortgage? Therefore one person is selected as scapegoat. Remove that one person from the environment and the victim gets better. Return him and he worsens again. Yet even if the first scapegoat never returns, the family may select another. The role must be filled. The only alternative would be to address the real problem.

The "Batman Beyond" series demonstrated this same dynamic. Its target characters (scapegoats) are selected by the audience for a variety of reasons. Some, like Mary and Matt McGinnis, fail to engage the emotions of the viewers. The characters were one-dimensional. Fans soon proposed killing them, just to see if Terry McGinnis would even notice. That wouldn't solve the real problem.

Other characters, namely Terry and Dana, suffer from multiple personalities. Their original incarnations were intelligent and strong-willed. They kept each other on their toes. Their kid-friendly revised versions ranged from pathetic to bland to obnoxious. Fans don't root for Terminator Dana, and Doormat Dana puts viewers to sleep. The doormat Terry "forgets" skills he already knows. He takes a worse beating from high school foes than he took from the Rogues' Gallery (with the exception of Inque). It's hard for fans to support such inconsistent characters. As a result some of them quit trying. How can fans defend Terry or Dana if no one knows which of their personas will report to work that morning?

Obviously the most prominent scapegoat was Max Gibson. It's true she didn't appeal to all fans. The character was about 25 percent useful, 25 percent teen scene (malls, phones, fun), and 50 percent fantasy. Some fantasy elements, like Max hacking the Defense Department's computers in less than a minute ("Once burned"), strained the faith of even her most loyal fans. (In LOTDK #125 it took the real Oracle more than three HOURS to do the same thing.) Even so, Max was the second most consistent regular on the series. The problems started when viewers thought she overshadowed the Batmen who had dedicated their lives to this job.

The most consistent character of all has been the ex-vigilante Bruce Wayne. Fans can trust him to never betray them. That's why it is such a surprise to hear viewers propose killing HIM. Kill Bruce? WHY?

First, let's make clear what we mean by "Batman" and "kill off a character." In Season One it seemed both men were Batman. Most fans accepted this arrangement. Bruce was the master, Terry the apprentice and field agent. Yet Terry is physically alone out there. He must learn or die. He has become skilled at using his enemies' weapons against them. Terry made real progress, both as a detective and as a Name in the underworld. As the series wilted under network coercion, though, the protagonists were separated.

So far no one has proposed killing Terry McGinnis for the perceived flaws in "Batman Beyond." While many viewers believe his high-school incarnation compromised the series, no one has ever proposed that Terry should pay for it with his life. Why then should Bruce Wayne pay with his?

There seem to be three aspects of this problem. Fans claim ownership of Bruce but not of Terry. Many fans actually want to honor Bruce. Finally, the fans lost faith in the writers, if only during this series.

Batman fans are loyal. Feed them well and they'll follow you anywhere. Their first loyalty, though, is to the character. Batman and his fans exist in a symbiotic relationship in which writers are privileged to enter. Fans claim intellectual ownership of the character. This is not the industrial/legal sense of the word. Rather, the fans believe they decide what becomes canon in this mythos. Allow me an example.

Those of you with heart conditions may want to stop now.

Ready? Very well.

The 1997 film "Batman and Robin" has become a byword in Bat mythology. It was so unique in its vision that it won multiple Golden Raspberry Awards and was nominated for several more. To spread rumors that its creative team hoped to film a sequel is dangerous -- it could send the fans into apoplectic fits. Fans reject "B&R" because they can. They can't be reasoned with. They can't be bargained with. These fans are claiming ownership of Bruce Wayne's Batman. They avenge all insults to his honor, real or imagined. They protect him.

Fans have been less successful claiming ownership of Terry's Batman. Terry is a recent creation. More than that, he was created by some of the best writers in the Bat business. The balance of power has shifted. Now the writers and the suits think THEY decide what becomes canon for Terry's Batman. Fans -- their tastes, their wishes -- seem to be an afterthought.

Here is an example. The fans declared back in TNBA days that they don't like giant animal stories. What do we get in "Beyond?" Giant animal stories. We even had splicing so as to squeeze in more of them. True, the tribute to Man-Bat was clever. Also, the transformation of Fingers ("Speak no evil") is probably the most realistic and poignant use of splicing ever. But the others? Animals and manimals were usually just there, a way of saying "we couldn't think of another ending for this episode." Writer's block is understandable. When the fans feel, whether true or not, that their voices are not heard, that's a bigger problem.

Why did fans dislike "B&R?" Time does not permit a complete list. But when a vigilante is reduced to the feature attraction at the party-of- the-year ("TFDAR"), it's a little bizarre to criticize "Batman and Robin" for doing the exact same thing. Same chickfight. Same gaping plot holes you could drive a Batmobile through. Same cruise-control Batdude. One criticism of "B&R" is that viewers could tell who Batman was even with his mask in place. The Terry of "TFDAR" was also the same throughout, regardless of what clothes he wore.

Terry McGinnis faces a handicap Bruce Wayne does not. Because Terry's writers are also his creators, his character is more easily entangled in weak episodes or ideas. No fan looks at "Batman and Robin" and says, "This is what Bruce Wayne is really like." But viewers can and do conclude that "Sentries" or "TFDAR" is what Terry is really like. This locks in, legitimizes, an episode's flaws as TERRY'S flaws.

And so we arrive at an impasse. Fans trusted these writers because there is ample proof they are capable of better work. But should fans trust a script that differs from their vision? Do they have the right to define new characters?

"ROTJ" only drew more attention to this question. On the one hand it went a long way toward soothing hurt feelings. The writers did respect the fans! They respected Terry! They weren't just amusing themselves with him. However that just provoked the fans to ask, where was all this heart and character development when the EPISODES were being written? And that was before the editing fiasco.

How did fans cope with their feelings of betrayal? They targeted Bruce Wayne, the one character who has remained faithful to them. Ironically very few of the fans calling for Wayne's death dislike him. Actually they tend to be his most vocal supporters. They are simply exercising their feelings of ownership. It's just directed at the wrong target.

So far there have been six different proposals. Some are harmless speculation, others blurted out in anger, and still others were surprisingly thoughtful. The death of Wayne has been suggested by :

1. Neutral viewers who think the Bruce/Max feud is his fault. 2. Maxfoes who suggest Max should kill Wayne (?!) 3. Terry fans who believe Wayne hinders his development. 4. Wayne fans who don't want Wayne's name attached to the BB series. 5. Fans of one or both Batmen who believe the death would force Terry to the next level. 6. Wayne fans who say he's earned the right to rest in peace.

Group One : Viewers who dislike the way Wayne treats Max. There's no doubt Max and Wayne compete for scenes. ("Anything you can do, I can do better ; I can do anything better than you.") They also compete for custody of Terry's loyalties. There may indeed be only one of them in the end. Is Bruce Wayne harsh to Max? Yes. Did Terry have something to do with it? Maybe. Let's suppose Terry had confronted the problem directly, instead of sneaking around behind Wayne's back. Would that have helped? Maybe not. Changing Terry won't necessarily change Wayne :

Queen (aka Bruce) : Melanie (Terry), men (sidekicks) come and go. Most of them cause nothing but trouble. Some of them are worth it. But not one is worth the sacrifice you're about to make."

Melanie (Terry) : "You don't know this one."

Queen (Bruce) : "You didn't see fit to introduce him (her) to us. That's because you knew he (she) wouldn't fit in. Someday the right one will come along ... but only if you stick with this family (me)."

As long as Bruce Wayne and Max remain the same individuals, they will never truly get along. It's not true to say that Maxfans want Wayne gone. Many of them like him. The real reason viewers propose Wayne should die first is because it would take dynamite to get Max to leave.

Group Two : Maxfoes who propose that Max kill Wayne. To this, a Bruce fan can only shake her head in wonder. Thank goodness the proponents went on to explain their reasoning, because this one went right over my head. Here's their plan. They loathe Max and think she serves no purpose. Therefore they think Max will kill (or at least hurt) Bruce Wayne so that "the time wasted on her would be justified."

How plausible is this scenario? Max has a history of controversial behavior. She is, to be frank, a cyberstalker and an opportunist. Now it's been said that Max should be excused for stalking Batman or the Jokerz because their existence provoked her. They should have expected it ; they "asked for it." That's not an excuse. It's not the perpetrator's place to decide what rights the victim has to lose. Max ended up framing Terry for Terminal's crimes (four counts of attempted murder, in that episode alone). Terry is an ex-offender with a history of violence. Whose word is worth more? Even so, some viewers will overlook Max's choices in the series as youthful indiscretions, no big deal. Certainly Terry does. And he is the man on the spot, is he not?

Max is one of those rare characters who is both jinxed and charmed. Jinxed because bad things keep happening to her. Charmed because she rarely, rarely suffers the full consequences of those bad things, even when she causes them. She gets the sliver, Terry gets hit with the board. The theme is always the same : "I didn't know that would happen." No, Max would never kill Wayne on purpose, but she's good at making things blow up in Batman's face. Thus Terry would learn a painful lesson about trading birthrights for bowls of stew. It would also make everyone else hate Max as much as these viewers do, which seems to be the ultimate goal of this campaign.

Ironically Max is a charismatic, well-rounded character who could have anchored her own series instead of creating conflicts on this one. The writers were quoted in Comic Book Continuum (sometime in August 1999) as saying that they were "getting a lot of pressure" to bring in a new Batgirl. Max arrived shortly thereafter. She's exactly the type of character beloved by the network (witness the number of Max clones on other WB cartoons). When fans began choosing sides, it was partly over the issue of whether the suits can tell Batfans what to do and whom to watch. And so some viewers embarked on a scorched- earth policy. If they can't decide Wayne's fate, then no one else will. There's a problem with this idea. For the suits, Bruce has always been a thorn in their side. Even though he is not a living person he has as strong a voice as one. He causes as much trouble as one. "Sending a message" to the suits wouldn't help if they WANTED him gone.

Personally it doesn't bother me that Maxfans like Max.  I do have ethical problems with the character. Batman is a morality play ; the Max character would do better on a show that is not one. But using Max to kill Bruce Wayne? Why must he pay? Just give Max her own show and everyone's happy.

Group three : Terry fans who believe Wayne is holding him back. To this I say only one thing : SEASON TWO. Wayne was already neutered and it didn't improve the series. Terry simply latched on to another boss. No, Wayne isn't holding Terry back. If anything, Wayne's temper tantrum in "Revenant" is proof that he wants Terry to leave the kiddie fare behind.

Group Four : Wayne fans who don't want his name attached to the series. From this point on, we come to fans who really want the character to live -- but not like this!

These fans are simply trying to protect Bruce from the alleged insult to his legacy. They see Terry (and the suits) as playing on an old man's desperation. They love him too much to see him get hurt again. Never fear, these fans will watch Justice League, the Year One film, and even a Batman Beyond film if the stories honor Batman "properly."

Group Five : Fans of Wayne, Terry, or both, who believe the death would force Terry to the next level.

If I agreed with any kill-Wayne theory, it would be this one. I don't remember who it was who proposed it. Only one fan, maybe. The heart of this one is that Terry has taken Wayne and put him in place of his own dead father. (True.) That is the real reason Terry continues as Batman even after avenging Warren's death. (True again.) Therefore his pain seems to have abated. In reality he has merely patched old wounds with a new and temporary dressing. To be Batman, said this long-ago poster, Terry will need new nightmares to drive him -- and those nightmares will spring to life when Bruce Wayne dies.

Terry would torment himself with questions like, "Why didn't I listen when he was alive? What if I'm not good enough? Was his trust in me justified?" This grief would indeed make Terry as disturbed as the original Batman. So this would be a good time to explain why I still don't believe Bruce Wayne should die to see it.

Killing Bruce Wayne COULD make Terry a more haunted Batman, but it WON'T make him one all by itself. Wayne is not the one who made Terry loiter at the mall or in school with his little friends. Killing Bruce won't change that. Killing Terry's loved ones (his family, his girlfriend) wouldn't make a difference. Mad Stan could sneak into Hill High and Blow It All Up so that they could never write another teen-angst episode again. (No one left to write about.) None of these things would make a difference. If the powers-that-be like peripheral charcters more than the Batmen, then they'll always find a new one to promote. If they don't feel like giving us good stories about Bruce or Terry or both, well then they just ain't gonna.

Fans object to Wayne's death for so many reasons. No writer could do justice to such a story. More than that, these writers in particular may have forfeited any right to write his death. They may regain the fans' trust in time, but the death of Wayne will always be off-limits.

Besides it lets a writer off the hook. It is a common mistake among beginning writers to paint a character into a corner, kill him and call that a plot. Remember the tale of the raider. Once upon a time, a raider attacked another ship. It seemed so much stronger and faster than it seemed invincible. Then the ship exploded. It proved to be no special thing at all. That ship was sent on a suicide mission. Since it never intended to return home, it could expend all its energy on the raid and none on keeping its crew alive. Readers feel similarly cheated when writers do this to characters. If the writers do their best to trap a character in some horrible mess, fans root for him to find his way out again. Killing him off is just toying with the audience for the practice.

Killing Bruce Wayne is a beginner's strategy. It means the writers only have to write one good Bruce story, instead of making ALL of his stories good.

Does this mean Terry can never gaze into the abyss? No. "Batman Beyond" has a villain capable of providing this emotional crisis. It is, of course, Spellbinder. Yes, fans will say this is reminiscent of "Over the edge," but there's nothing wrong with the concept. What undermined "OTE" is not that the gimmick has been used before. It was that the crisis shown in that episode, the questions it raised, had no long-term effect on the character who experienced it. Barbara Gordon needed reassurance from her father that the nightmare she predicted would never happen. She got it. Therefore she had no reason to dwell on the visions any longer.

Terry will not have that comfort. Wayne will indeed die someday. The nightmare Terry's mind predicts WILL happen. And if Terry does care about Wayne as a father, that would alter his behavior. Perhaps he becomes a better apprentice. Perhaps he drives himself too hard and Wayne must say, Enough, get some rest. Or perhaps Terry becomes a bigger jerk, hoping that if he stops caring, it won't hurt. My choice? That Terry would start treating Wayne like a father now, while they still have time. If anything, Terry would become a little too solicitous, too protective. That would set up the perfect line for their relationship :

"I appreciate what you're trying to do here. But stopping me from living won't stop me from dying."

Group Six : Wayne fans who say he's earned the right to rest in peace. Again, I appreciate the impulse to protect the character. But no one can protect him this way. Bruce Wayne has become part of world consciousness. He's too big to die. No deathbed scene would be worthy of the man. Moreover, no kind of death would allow him to rest in peace. If the Batman died in his sleep, it would be cheap exploitation, a cop-out. However if he went out in "a blaze of glory," that would only bring him more grief, more pain. Batman never wanted glory. So achieving it won't comfort him. There would also be the fact that he needs to put an end to all crime. That need is impossible to fulfill. But should that need be crushed by our reality, just because we can? If he died in battle with an opponent he would, in effect, die in failure. This would be true whether or not he took his opponent out with him, for if the foe dies then Batman has violated his oath to protect all life, no matter how degraded. Think also of the bragging rights it would give the foe if he survived. In the end there IS no way to kill Bruce Wayne's Batman that wouldn't cheapen the Bat's legacy or break the old man's heart.

Bruce Wayne is closer to finding peace by living to watch Terry grow (or, in the comics, Catgirl) that he ever could be by dying. The bitter ex-con and the bitter ex-vigilante look to each other to heal, to have their lives fixed. After all he has given us, Bruce Wayne asks so little in return. Let him have that.

CONCLUSION.

It's understandable that the fans want to control Batman's fate now, just as they did in the past. I'm angry myself at the way Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis were treated. They deserved better. However killing either Batman won't solve the other's problems -- and we fans should be more careful not to put such ideas into the suits' heads.

I am no writer of fiction. My fanfics are dull and I will not torment other human beings with them. Yet it seems that if even a plain plodder of the nonfiction set can see potential in Old Man Wayne, there's plenty of life left in the Batman yet.

 

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