Batman: Turning Points

August 15, 2009

Halfway through this volume, I started wondering why Batman had better stories than Superman. And I felt that it wasn’t what all those action-figures-hugging geeks would say, that Bats was a more interesting character than Supes. The answer is rather obvious: the Caped Crusader has more key moments in his crime-fighting career. What are the truly major episodes in Superman’s life, really? After landing in Kansas and a stretch of Messianic “missing years”, he started work as a nerdy newspaper reporter. Then he got married, got killed, came back to life, became an energy creature for a while. It’s just not good enough, ye DC gods! Marriage, for example, may be big in real life, but it’s excruciatingly boring in fiction. This isn’t Jane Austen, and even Austen sticks her marriages at the end like they are exit doors.

Turning Points makes the case for why Batman settings are superior for me. The stories here fill in the gaps for those rudely disruptive moments that changed the tone of the Dark Knight’s urban universe. Written by 3 different writers – Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, and Chuck Dixon – and drawn by artists as incompatible as Steve Lieber and Paul Pope, this 5-parter traces 5 distinct testing-points in the friendship between Batman and James Gordon. It could so easily go painfully dull, but the amazing news is, it doesn’t. We begin soon after Frank Miller’s Year One, set on the day Gordon’s first wife left him, and watch both men push all the wrong buttons in each other. The second chapter then takes us to the reported appearances of a Boy Wonder, leading to Gordon’s sceptical first meeting with Robin, and his realisation of a softer paternal side to That Scary Guy. The men then bond rather movingly on the level of fatherhood, actual or in denial.

The third chapter comes just after Death in the Family and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and both characters are now struggling to believe in the rightness of their choices. We actually feel the darkness closing in on their souls, a moment when friendship becomes just that one guiding light and source of meaning to live on. It has an excellent “These are my monsters” scene – which Batman voices in response to the seeming unstoppable rise of supervillians – that should not be missed. It deconstructs the future world of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns with no less than the logic made famous by Moore: “We have to show them that our way works.” The fourth follows Knightfall, with Batman stand-in Azrael unleashing his form of violent justice Punisher-like on Gotham and Gordon feeling that he no longer understands his “friend”. Don’t miss the classic look of Robin that speaks volumes in this one. It all then closes with the aftermath of No Man’s Land: Gordon’s second wife is dead, but there is promise in a few good men and a woman in GCPD, with Crispus Allen.and Renee Montoya.

The stories don’t let you forget what their singular theme is: each one layers over the last, and they do actually fall together at the end. So the writing is rougher than usual as the writers are visibly struggling hard not to go weak-kneed while aiming to hit the right note. And it is the human resonance that gets you in a raw way here as this book is about all the things that make friendship meaningful: private pain and weaknesses, misunderstanding, shared values, and shared joys. And this is what I learnt: everyone needs a friend, and friends trust and support each other for the decisions they make and respect the secrets they cannot share. Friends hold on to friendship when another has changed beyond recognition and seek to advise without judging. Friends push each other to do the right thing in the wish that each other’s dream of a better world inches that much closer. It’s a whole lot of insights that grow richer when you know the back stories that build up the mythos. Just you try doing the same with Superman and Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal.

Gweek decides that 8 points should go to Turning Points!

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