Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My comic nerd past returns.

Comics...well yes I own my share. My collection over time and has been culled and now fits nicely into 4 standard comic boxes. I had an almost 10 a month habit at one point in the late 90's. X-men. X-force, X-statix, X-man, Generation X, Sock Monkey, Batman, JLA, JLE, Azrael and some that will elude me until I go to the garage and check. But there is one comic that I collected for almost 14 years and own possibly every issue of - Nightwing.

Right now I am hearing a pin drop or sound of some shrugging. What is a Nightwing? Well for one he is a fictional DC (Detective Comics) character who has been around for 60 years or so. To put it in the simplest terms possible; Nightwing is Richard Grayson, the first Ward of Bruce Wayne. 

And now you begin to get it. 

Bruce Wayne / Batman was joined by a partner early in the history of the comic - Robin, the Boy Wonder. And what a niave and exciting world these characters populated back in the golden age of comics; where macho single men could adopt teenagers so they had some one to go and dress up in some kind of skin tight, themed and often brightly coloured costume (so you are more visable and easier to shoot at?) to fight creepy evil guys and mobsters and say stuff like 'gee whiz!'. The younger crime fighter may be refereed to as 'lad'. Why? Because that is what they did. But why did they do it and what does a Robin have to do with a Nightwing? Getting to that.

The motivation to take on an alter ego is often, in the world of comics linked to vengeance or some kind of preposterous, unfortunate and catalysing event. Bruce Wayne saw his parents gunned down in front of him in a dark alley, which is in the territory of Unlikely but plausible. Dick Grayson's mythology is a tad more fanciful, beginning as a boy who grew up in a circus - one third of an acrobatic act (with his parents) called 'The Flying Grayons'. 

The same night that an erstwhile but secretly brooding Bruce Wayne decides to take in a show at Halley's Circus, the main act falls victim to a terrible and not so accidental accident. Richard is orphaned and Bruce sees his own tragic catalyst moment relived and reaches out to a lonely boy who has had every thing taken from him. Richard lives at the mansion and life seems pretty glum until he finds out that his custodian has some issues that may overshadow his own. Like the big bat themed cave and accessories underneath Wayne Manor. 

Training, training, training. Then making some rules then breaking them. A reluctant Batman concedes he needs partner. A bright red, yellow and green costume with tiny pants. And hey, Robin is born. From his preteens well into his late teens Richard forms one half of one of the most famous duos ever - Batman an Robin. Then splitting time between his own hero team ('The Teen Titans') and being one half of the now famous 'dynamic duo' becomes to much. Guys in costumes point fingers at each other. Some yelling and 'my rules or not at all!' and then Robin Leaves the nest...well cave.

After some soul searching and frankly annoying teen angst Richard decides to assume a new mantle - Nightwing. The initial costume was one of the worst I have ever seen in any comic. Really, look to your right. It was an amalgam of  Evil Kanevil / an acrobat / Elvis impersonator. The white boots? If his goal was to cripple his enemies with laughter, then this costume helps him win without throwing a punch. Without getting too specific the initial costume was created in the 1980's. It is with the benefit of hindsight and the evolution of super hero fashion in comics over the past three decades, that makes this ensemble so amusing.

Then we have the Mullet years. The character of Nightwing evolves further and has some whacky adventures with the Titans and even steps into Batman's shoes literally as he recovers from a broken back (long story). Handing back the cowl and cape, Nightwing continues about his business. It is also during this time that DC writers decided that Richard Grayson should live in the shadow of the Bat...while also having sex with lots of human and super human women. Although the comic code would only infer this, there where enough pictures of Richard lying in a bed with his arms behind his head for the reader to get the idea. His boots were still white. Also during this time two more robins have taken on the mantle, one of which died and then came back to life years later (a stupid and long story) and the third one who is now the 'Red Robin' (actually a good move, but complicated).

Now here is where I come into the picture. It is the mid 1990's and I have just moved out of home. There was a comic book shop near my first student digs. And while figuring out what to collect, I spy a Nightwing miniseries. His mullet has become a ponytail. But the series dispenses wit the white boots and gets me hooked. The miniseries is a prelude to an ongoing series. Setting the character of Nightwing up in his own city south of Gotham (Bludhaven, yeah I know) to solve a mystery on a mission form the Batman himself. 

When you read and stick with a character though out the years you get to know what constitutes that fictional entity, what makes it great to read and when you just take the hits and wait for things to get better. For about the first year and a bit it was pretty great. Well drawn, exciting with some nice cameos and a real commitment to delving into a character that after more than a few decades was waiting to be explored. Each writer added to the series, and not always for the best. But that is instantly forgiven when you get an awesome story arc, great villain, new base or head quarters etc. Yes, I know how it sounds. But If I was talking about Sense and Sensibility and the changes Elizabeth went through that culminated in the stories end, it would be considered more intellectual. Although the word count is lower and the story less cerebral, Comics have one thing over established literature. It has twelve plus issues a year and the character changes with the writer and artist, year in and year out. That and Elizabeth had some really crap action sequences.

By the time it got round to the 12 and a half year mark it seemed likely there was another costume change on the way. Possibly the most inevitable and fitting. In a bizarre and somewhat moving story Bruce Wayne is believed dead (a very long story) and Gotham is left without a hero. Nightwing drives the Bat mobile around trying hide and fight crime from the car while trying to deal with the newest Robin, Bruce Waynes son Damian Wayne (don't ask, really complicated). Richard decides to take on the Mantle of the Bat, but on his terms. And it was with the first issue of the new Batman that I stopped collecting. I just didn't really feel like buying Batman comics. it just didn't seem right. So I closed that chapter of stopped collecting single issue comics. If I had learned anything collecting Nightwing for more than 140 something issues, I had learned commitment. And I had learned that a collection needs a begining and an end.

Or so I thought.

And so it is 2011 and Bruce Wayne returns from being MIA and starts franchising Batmen around the world. Richard remains as Gothams protector while Bruce goes on set up Starbucks...I mean Batman Incorporated (franchising the mantle of the bat in different countries and recruiting vigilantes). I go to my local comic book vendor two weeks ago, who tells me of the great DC reboot. Basically DC is rebooting their comic universe. 'Youngifying' everyone, updating costumes and even re-birthing old characters and introducing a few new ones. This offers new readers a great chance to 'jump on' but leaves old readers up in the air. Swamp Thing and Animal Man are getting their own titles, so really who knows what the people at DC are thinking. Apparently certain things will carry across prior to the reboot, but what? And it is in this craziness in a fictional world full of things of things that hold no bearing on real issues - that this happens:

Richard Grayson, who is currently Gothams Batman will be Nightwing. Again. At this point all I know is this; Bruce Wayne will return to Gotham, taking the mantle of the city's protector once more. Consequently Richard retakes the role of Nightwing and their is a plot and story arc that justifies this fairly inevitable and predicable action. But that is the logistics of something that made me really care about comics again. The comic nerd in me returned when I saw this picture. Different colour, a touch of the bat on the gloves and other tweaks to make this character look like the acrobatic ninja bad ass that he is. The action adventure that I followed for more than a decade has in inexplicably begun again. The fictional affects the factual of my life, consequently making me happy.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Down by the Bay

Another in a what will soon be a series of brief Blogs about1980's pics brings us to...'THE BAY' apparently. Which begs the question, what kind of bay? Obviously not many mean streets, or even mildly offensive ones in the vicinity of 'The Bay'. Maybe there are no roads at all near this fabled 'Bay', just canals filled with gleaming yachts with people making important calls on on brick phones and talking about the crystal clear sound emanating from their on board and exclusively new CD player. Perhaps they are looking for a boat or admiring one of several that they own with the money they made as bonds traders on Wall St. But I would like to  believe that Chad Smythe-racecar (red jacket) and Whitfield 'Whit' StPrigg (white outfit) both of whose names I just made up, are having the following conversation;

Chad: I say, when is that yacht coming past to bring us our Rick Astley tickets and take us by Yacht to the concert?

Whit: I dunno. But man, when they do, that is gonna be one smooth show (does awkward movement / gesture, pictured)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The preening pony

I have not posted on this my most sorely neglected blog for some time. So I am going to pay it some token attention by writing stuff about a whole bunch of 1980's images. And there are none quiet so ripe for mockery as this.

Where do I start? The floofy mullet? the quasi-ruby-tinted-aviators? The shirt? his lack of humility of modesty re: putting the guns on show front and centre. Most disturbing is the fact there is a baby in the far left of the shot,. A baby on the very far left as not to impinge on the lime light directed at Mr Stalone. As to guessing the vintage of the picture I am guessing between Rocky III and Rocky IV.

So why didn't anyone Sylvester Stalone seriously as an actor and director for so long?