Note how reassuring Wonder Woman is trying to be here. Unfortunately, as a royal demigoddess, she always trouble staying this side of patronising, and her apparently innocuous choice of words betrays the concern she’s trying so hard not to burden the room with. All the ‘Black Alert… End of Time… Resourceful Batman’ stuff is common enough for Monday night around the Justice League dinner table, but certain words give you an indication as to the social subtext of this meeting. Everything from her serious eyebrows to her deliberate use of reassuring, gently authoritative keywords (‘Officially… Naturally We Don’t Want To Alarm Anyone… But We All Know… We’ll Have To Assume…’) says one thing: Don’t let the children think they’re in charge.

Because honestly, these days Tim ‘Henman*’ Drake is the kind of guy it’s impossible not to patronise.

Though to be fair to Tim, which isn’t something I plan to do much in this post, if ever a room full of people needed to be condescended to, it’s this bunch. Sticking with the pirate theme of the issue, ‘twould indeed be fair to describe yon Justice League as a motleyer barrel of basterds what never has been seen on all the seven seas, yaar.

Apparently this is the James Robinson Justice League of Laughable Losers. Can you imagine, Eclipso or someone is destroying your town, someone calls 1-800-5878423-4357** expecting salvation to arrive from the skies, an anecdote you can tell forever about how the sky was full of magnificent colourful ubermenschen ripped on Justice and Righteous Violence… and then this pack of hopeless wankers shows up to ‘save the day’? No Superman, no Batman, no Manhunter, no Aquaman, no fucking Plastic Man for fucksake – even the Flash is the shit one (spoilers there for an upcoming post of mine).

No wonder Dick & Damian have decided to risk permanent nerve damage, cancer and impotence to check out the Bludhaven toxic exclusion zone themselves rather than leave the Bruce hunt to these idiots.

Before we look at this panel in detail, let’s stick with our Amazon Queen and see what she makes of the scene. I love Wonder Woman, you love Wonder Woman, we all love Wonder Woman, but we all know that she can be a bit haughty and impatient, don’t we? To be fair to her gorgeousness, she knows that too, and continues to do her best with her little intro speech to suppress her subsurface exasperation at this whole situation. Mixed with that mythical self-control is a genuine sympathy for Tim. Even given the company she regularly keeps, she can see that Tim looks patently ridiculous in his special ‘intermediate’ costume, and she knows he’s still hurting from the recent loss of two (count ‘em) father figures n his life. For those of you out there who are coming at this whole situation relatively unburdened by a life ill-spent reading comics and or comic blogs, Tim’s real dad was killed an indistinct while back by Captain Boomerang, a remarkably unthreatening Australian Flash ‘Rogue’ (Flash villains are called Rogues instead of villains for unknown and doubtless uninteresting reasons, and they live together in a Gallery) who has spent around forty years conspicuously not killing anyone or causing much real harm at all, until he met Tim’s dad, who, whisper it, was probably grateful for the release. (Please bear n mind, I’m only mocking the sad loss of Tim’s parents because he’s not real – it is understood that here on Earth–Actual, dead parents are entirely unsuitable subjects for mockery.)

Snippets from Wonder Woman’d dialogue in this panel, in-keeping with the schoolmarm tone that she subconsciously feels is appropriate when pretending that having Tim in the room is a genuinely good idea. She knows that all this makes her look magnanimous so its a good idea for her social standing, but as this shows she’s failing to pull off the required natural and relaxed tone that would put the room at ease: ‘Our Job… If We Really Have To… Who Better Than… Former Partner… To Help Prepare… Red Robin, Over To You.’ Ouch.

Red Robin? Wow really, a Red one? How impressive. Not sure why it has taken me so long to start to find it so funny that superheroes often have colours in their names. I guess it was originally intended to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that their comics were in fact in dazzling Fade-O-Color, instead of the B&W tones they would have been used to pre-WWI or whenever. It just seems so silly, such an inappropriate signifier, so easy to mis- or over-interpret. Red Robin? Oh I see, Communist eh? Blue Beetle? Aw, cheer up mate. Booster Gold? Whatever dickhead, that’s clearly just bright yellow.

Even without the meaningless number of potential meanings the word ‘red’ has, even without the golden-ager fanboy alliteration, ‘Red Robin’ is such a poor choice of superhero name. At least try to pretend you’re not still sore about being made redundant by the boss-daddy’s long-lost psycho kid. At least try to stand on your own two little bird-feet.

I guess ‘Rubbish Robin’ was already taken.

Back in the room: They say in the kingdom of the dicks the one-eyed cock is king, which explains why they’ve let Tim in here in the first place: These guys really need to shore up their self-esteem, and in the absence of any proper baddies to fight or any decent comics to appear in, they’ve obviously brought in Tim to have someone to look down on. It’s backfiring on them though – some of them are starting to feel guilty about using him like this, and the atmosphere in the room isn’t conducive to the schoolyard, social-knockabout fun they had hoped for.

Let’s examine them one by one. Yanick Paquette does a brilliant job with an absolute minimum of fuss in selling the body language and expressions in this panel. Each one of the people (and Other) around the table is perfectly realised as a thinking, sitting individual, their postures and facial details describing with acute economy the thoughts in their papery, fictional minds.

Immediately to Tim’s right is The Huntress. (That’s a great costume for her, by the way, far poppier than the psycho-nun purple battle-smock thing she used to knock about the Watchtower in back in my day.) Unlike a lot of the people she’s sharing that stale, recycled moon-air with, Helen Huntress is the real deal, a natural Justice League. She’s known Tim a long time, they’re both Gotham people, and although she doesn’t despise him exactly, she knows better than anyone how far out of his depth he is here, and being quite a harsh taskmistress at the best of times, she is having trouble keeping her true feelings off her face. She is wearing a mask, and has made the mistake of assuming that this will hide her emotions from the keen eyed reader as well (not very well) as it hides her identity from the crackheads and religious extremists she’s regularly crossbowing in the knees. Look at her face and the way she is sitting in that chair – passive-aggressive or what? Her bent and pointed right knee atonce says both ‘I am uncomfortable with this situation’, and ‘Don’t look at me’. Her left hand placed flat on the table with thumb and fingers extended outwardly says ‘I am prepared to give you a fair hearing’, but inwardly ‘You are so beneath me’. If tall that wasn’t as clear as it is confused, look at the slight forward tilt of her head, and her sulky pouting mouth, almost sneering. Could she be any more disdainful, more hostile?

Behind and beside Helen stands…um… I think that’s Donna Troy, and I think she’s Wonder Woman’s niece or sidekick or something? She’s one of those characters who holds no interest for me at all – I’ve read millions of DC crossovers in my time, but I honestly can’t remember a single thing she’s ever said or done. Judging by her costume she has some kind of cosmic/nightclub-based power set. Anyway, I’m not interested in being mean to her, I’m interested in how mean she’s being to Tim: actually not that bad. She’s obviously intensely uncomfortable with the situation, which hopefully indicates she has some empathy for Tim making such an idiot of himself. Look at how square and rigid she is holding her shoulders, the clenched fist, the knee bent with the tow of her snazzy dancing boots pointed towards the floor. She’s a very tense young woman right now.

Next to Donna is- oh for god’s sake… What’s he doing here? We all know that everyone’s favourite space-fascist is supposed to be stuck at the end of time with Superman. There’s roughly one art mistake in every single issue of Morrison’s batbooks at the moment, which given how well they sell for DC is kind of an unprofessional level of oversight. The DC Eds have my sympathy – I bet since the Bat-franchise cracked the previously impervious games market last year the comics guys have slipped even further down the WB foodchain, and are now spending three-quarters of their working week in group meetings with smug programmers telling them what colour Killer Croc’s trousers should be. Still, someone should have spotted this mistake – I bet the Editor is shouting at the colourist as you read this – ‘You’re supposed to be the last line of defence man!’ I wonder how they will deal with this error in the collected edition – a bit more green around the eyes and arms and he could be Kyle Rayner. Alternatively, they could just completely Stalinise him, erasing him from the picture forever, as if he was never even there, an unhero. I warmly endorse this latter option.

So anyway, whether he should be or not, prickfuck Hal killin’ millions Jordan is in this picture, stinking up the place as usual. Look at his face. Being the archetypal jock-asshole, Hal isn’t even going to pretend not to hold nerdy Tim Drake in contempt, he’s just straight up smirking while Tim tries have his big moment. Something in the way his head and body is aligned also makes it look as if he is sharing a giggle and a wink with his old pals Baz and Raz across the table. The three of them (OK, maybe not Palmer, he does strike me as being kind of open-minded, but he’s definitely easily led by these larger personalities) are old-school Republican motherfuckers who are very pleased to be not dead and to have recently supplanted their younger, too-ethnic replacements. They are having a whale of a time being undead and back in the Watchtower together, and can barely keep themselves from going ’Woo! Alright! Awesome! Oo-rah!’ and hi-fiving all the time, like their awful sort always do.

Behind Hateful Hal… Look, Jovus knows I don’t want to come across as some sort of awful anti-simite, but is anyone else a bit unhappy with Congorilla’s presence in the room? There’s something inappropriate about his presence that I just can’t put my finger on… Wait a minute, that was a poor choice of words: I think I just realised why he’s freaking me out. I’m no speciesist, but I am a prude: is everyone seriously OK with the fact that this big ape is naked, literally unclothed, just hanging there easy as you like with all these sensibly dressed human beings in the room, his hairy arsed modesty on display there for everyone to see? No wonder they make him stay at the back of the room. You’re a superhero now kid, put some bloody knickers on, or a cape at least! (Be quiet, ‘all superheroes are naked’ brigade.)

As a strange man once said, this is crimefighting, not the goddam circus.

Ill accustomed as he is to everyday human hypocrisies, nevertheless Congorilla is like everyone else in the room sharply embarrassed for poor Tim’s humiliating condition, and in order not to giggle at him is having to try really hard to maintain an even expression. He’s overdoing it, the big ape, staring so intently at the nowhere middle-ground of the centre of the meeting table that he might break it. He should vary the direction of his gaze a bit, because anyone, never mind a Holmesian master of the ars deducticon like Dim Trake, is going to notice when someone can’t meet their eye.

Back on the table, over from Hal, there’s Cyborg. A paragon of dignity – for someone who has spent forty years being a Teen Titan – Cyborg is doing his robotic best to accord this situation the gravity it deserves. Because he’s spent so long being an also-ran, quietly desperate to get out of that ridiculous T-shaped tower block and into a proper clubhouse in space, he can feel Tim’s pain. He knows how hard it is to get taken seriously as an adult superhero, how tough it is to make the leap up. He has his fist clenched on the table, because he has been doing this for years and knows that when everyone gets together for an emergency it is of utmost importance to be seen to be clenching your fist. Manfully (very manfully, for someone who is 50% BBC Acorn Electron) ignoring the immaturity of his elders either side, he is keeping a fair, steady gaze, very convincingly pretending to listen to Tim’s every… sorry what was that again? I drifted off there for a second.

Don’t you think the way the Atom sits on the Flash’s shoulder is just a bit odd? It’s like, Palmer’s power is all about becoming less conspicuous, so to make up for it he has to sit on the guy with the loudest costume in the room. He’s like some pointless celebrity who thrives on the glare of the flash (woah!)-bulbs while simultaneously complaining about the intrusive nature of the paparazzi. Why doesn’t he just attend the meetings normal-size? Does the Flash really not mind being used as a piece of furniture. Literally used? Old Bazza probably doesn’t even realise this is what’s happening, being far from the brightest guy, interpersonally speaking. To give him some credit for a second, at least the Flash is used to talking to young people, unlike his bezzie mate assHal, so has some kind of awareness of Tim’s difficult predicament. He’s baldly wearing that chinny half-grin on his face so that if put on the spot he can get away with pretending that he’s actually giving Tim some friendly reassurance, while secretly agreeing with Hal that this kid is a total loser, but also just about refraining from outright snorting in Tim’s face, as Hal is clearly on the verge of doing.

We’ve sort of covered Wonder Woman already, so we can skip over her and go straight on to… to… No. Sorry, drawing a real blank on her. If I had to guess I would say she is called something like Nightstar, and is a second- or maybe even third-generation (ye gods) Teen Titan. Her powers might be something like super-empathy, definitely something ‘a bit girly’ in an ipso-Seventies aren’t-we-enlightened-no-you-are-not way. If I’m right, that she basically does have the power of detecting other people’s emotions, which shouldn’t really count as a superpower because that’s something all we not-psychopaths can do, then she must be in absolute agony in this scene. She certainly looks like it – her body language is one big defensive cringe, pulling her arms in tight against her chest, almost literally trying to protect her vital organs from the excruciating social distress. Oh hang on, is she the angsty one, Alan Scott’s slightly disappointing daughter? I think she is. You know the one, whatsisname’s brother, so sort of shadow-goo powers, not empathy at all.

Still can’t remember her name though.

Next to her is The Guardian.I don’t know much about him beyond what I read in that Len Wein thing this week, assuming it’s the same guy under the helmet. My Guardian, the good one, is Jake Jordan, but he’s not allowed in the JLA these days because he’s a bit …y’know…, and they’ve already got their quota covered by Cyborg. This Guardian, whoever he is, is a nice, solid, dependable, boring type. Although he’s basically much of a sort with Hal and Barry, he’s a) not as much of an utter cock as either of them; b) way below them in the intricately balanced superhero pecking order; and c) an absolute moron, who not only doesn’t even realise that his helmet is way too hot for the room (which has the central heating turned up to a level comfortable for a massive gorilla, remember), but is so socially inept that he hasn’t even worked out that Tim has brought such a massive undercurrent of awkwardness into the meeting in the first pace. He’s just sitting there like a good old boy, elbows on the table, jaw set in readiness, happy to do his bit helping save the world from a situation light years beyond his feeble grasp. In his helmet.

That guy standing behind in the tight t-shirt with the blue skin is Mikal, the elegantly wasted groovy disco-Starman from Starman. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a great guy, but you’d have to be mad to think he’d make a good Justice Leaguer. I’ve not seen him since he unveiled this new gym-diva look, and I’m afraid it’s a solid Fail from me Mik – that nasty, lank shoulder-length hair really doesn’t work on guys with that kind of physique. He’s really flexing his chest, and has refused a chair, because he is proud of the hours he has spent on the rowing machine and freeweights and wants everyone to see him strut. Looking like that, his superhero name should be ‘Blue Fabio’.

Ironically for a bloke who wasn’t even born here, and despite the obvious fashion faux pas, Mikal is probably the earthiest and most worldly person in the room, equally at home in the sweatpit raves of downtown Opal or among the sober, decorative minimalism of the Watchtower meeting room. He’s seen a lot basically, especially back in his party-addict days. All of which explains the clear implication of his expression, which says nothing so much as: ‘That kid looks like a bloody pervert in that plether cape-mask thing’.

Which brings us finally to Black Canary. Weirdly for a superhero with the word ‘black’ in their name, she isn’t black. Although I bet the writers of Birds of Prey (remember that? Is that still going?) were a bit nervous the other week. Black Canary. Original Justice League. If you were to decapitate her and stuff her in a fridge, you would be surprised to find the words ‘Justice League of America’ written in the flesh of the neck stump, like a human stick of rock. Black Canary, a no-nonsense honest to god superhero if ever there was one, and boy does it show. Because you see, you may not have notice this but there’s a lot of scantily clad women in the room. A lot of heaving cleavage, and a lot of clothing designed to accentuate the hips. This can’t be easy for Tim to handle, because first and foremost, before he is a Detective, before he is a Superhero, before he is a Sidekick, Tim Drake is a Virgin. All the other women in the room are aware of this, have tried to ignore his furtive glances, and tried not to stick their tits in his face too blatantly. Black Canary is having none of it. She is so full of disdain for this hopeless case in front of her that she is only too happy to use her sexuality to intimidate him, and is leaning forward in her chair in such a way, with such a look of sullen, undisguised disapproval on her face, that it’s a wonder he hasn’t run out of the room, screaming and wanking as he goes.

Tough. Crowd. But to give him credit for a second , Tim is pretty good under pressure. The fact that he’s still standing there is testament to that. He may be in the World’s Worst Room To Give A Power Point in, but here he is nonetheless. So what’s he gonna do? Come on Tim, this is your moment man, rise to it!

**If you can work out what the Justice League’s emergency phone number spells in words I will send you a comic.


`Blah blah Siberia, blah blah Europe blah blah gardens blah blah relic.’

Jesus Tim, what the shit was that? You’re supposed to be saving the world here, not telling everyone about your gap year. That was really, really badly handled man. And you know this grand quest of yours, this big adventure, this perilous far-flung journey, was this the same one that led Dick & Damian, not you, all the way to the relic… that was right underneath your house the whole time?

Come on man. I was really trying to be on your side there, but that was woeful. Oh, and you know what else? You look like a bloody pervert in that plether cape-mask thing.

(Best bit of this panel is the tiny ellipsis before ‘and Robin’. He can barely bring himself to say his name!)

God, look at that costume, that’s really rubbish. Tim feels so emasculated by Damian’s arrival, Bruce’s death and everything else that he looks as if he’s been desperately juicing the steroids in an effort to look like a tough guy, focusing far too much on his shoulders, neck and upper body. He used to look good in his costume, all slim and athletic, and now look at what he’s wearing. As if the hood thing and the crappy logo weren’t bad enough, he’s even started strapping himself up with bandoliers of cartridges for a shotgun that everyone in the room knows he has sworn a vow never to use.

It’s all over for Tim now. He’s all over the place. He’s lost this epic struggle, and he knows it. He tries to cover for it in the classical geeky manner: dazzle them with clever-sounding words. Make them up if you have to: ‘Blah blah Nomex, blah blah Kevlar, blah blah electronics.’ If I wasn’t so ashamed of him I would feel really sorry for him right now.

It’s pretty clear by now that Return of Bruce Wayne, both in itself and as an aspect of the wider Morrison Bat-run, is largely about the notion of legacies, of mentorship, even fatherhood. It’s about how and why you build a generation or, if you’re very lucky, several generations of successors – how you nurture them, and how they in turn nurture you while struggling to fit the role you want for each other, when ultimately it is for each unique person who has to find a role for themselves. This works in the meta sense, in so far as all these daft superheroes are ultimately only here because they exist in a space that only exists because and is to this day dependant for survival upon the popularity of the Batman (and, to a lesser extent, Superman) meme.

It also works in-story, and harks back to the Xorn theme of Morrison’s New X-Men run – sometimes, the best thing the teacher can do is get out of the way. With a personality as large as Bruce Wayne before them, Dick, Jason, Tim and Damian were never going to have the space to establish themselves as individuals in their own right. Although of course it has been hard – in certain respects more than others – this absence of Bruce Wayne from the various ecologies that depend on him has been a necessary, unavoidable, long overdue move for the DCU to take.

When he comes back, if the world survives, I hope it’s hugs all round. Tim could sure use one.

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