While we read comic books for the punching as well as the relationships, rarely do the two mesh well together. November 25th through December 10th is Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s okay if you didn’t know — I’m going to assume that if you love superheroes you also subscribe to the basic morality of not physically, emotionally, or mentally abusing women. So to celebrate (that’s probably the wrong word) this awareness event, Reid Vanier, my favorite comic book academic and his website Modern Mythologies, is spearheading this campaign as it relates to comic books — the form of literature you and I are quite fond of And I don’t have to tell you that both DC and Marvel have a long history of being wildly unfair/cruel to their fictional women, right? I’ll leave it to smarter people than me to break down the more famous infractions (and once again, I urge you to visit Modern Mythologies), but there is one DC story that I think readers tend to gloss over.
I present to you, in promotion of Amnesty International, the unfair/cruel treatment of Aquaman’s wife Mera after their child died. I use the following issues in order:
Adventure Comics #451-452, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Jim Aparo
Aquaman #57-63, volume one, written by Michelinie & Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Aparo, Don Netwon, John Celardo, Bob McLeod, & Dave Hunt
Aquaman Special #1, written by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming and drawn by Curt Swan
Aquaman #1-5, volume three, written by Giffen & Fleming and drawn by Swan
We jump back to the late ’70s, deep in the Bronze Age of comics, which is like the Silver Age just with a slight shift in more “adult”/socially-aware plots. Not porn, but more like the writers and artists dipping their toes in the pool of dark grittiness before submerging and consequently drowning themselves in that pool during the late ’80 and early ’90s. And we start with the perfect example of the socially-relevant Bronze Age — Black Manta, Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, reveals his face for the first time in comics:
Yes, Black Manta wants the oceans to belong to African-Americans because of the mistreatment of them on the surface. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s quickly abandoned and his motivations are re-tooled in later issues. Most importantly, Black Manta has kidnapped Aquaman and Mera’s child Aquababy (not his official name). Like all fantastic villains, the only way Black Manta’ll release the child is if Aquaman and Aqualad needlessly and complicatedly battle to the death in an ocean gladiator arena.
Remember, Gwen Stacy’s death in 1973 broke everything comics held dear about the rules of death. Also, that’s another example of comic injustice to a woman that shouldn’t be forgotten, but that event’s already been covered to death (sorry, another bad choice of words). During the late 1970s, Aquaman got Daredevil’d before Daredevil ever did. His son dies, he’s dethroned by a supervillain, he’s forced into exile, and soon he has to fight his crazy distraught wife. But first things first: Black Manta killed his son, so Black Manta has to die. An eye for an eye. Oh, and want to see the most Aquaman-esque page you’ll ever see? Here he is fighting a giant squid:
You know what comes up next: that pivotal (clichéd) moment every superhero must face as their morality’s tested by their vengeance. And you also know how Aquaman’s going to respond. It hurts book sales to have the king of the ocean punch a hole in Black Manta’s face, or at least angers the readers’ mothers.
We end here today. I know Mera didn’t even show up, but she’s front and center for the next two parts. Spoiler alert: everything from this point on will be frustrating and sad. Sorry.
Instead my normal lengthy introduction, let’s start with some pages:
That’s right — in the comic book universe, good deeds always end up with a mob of supervillains ganging up on you. Deadshot learns this the hard way. So in Deadshot #5, volume two, written by Christos Gage and drawn by Steven Cummings, Deadshot gets to end his miniseries in a bang — and a fight against a dozen superpowered supervillains. I know you’re not really sure who to cheer for — sure Deadshot’s the protagonist, but it’s not like you’d want the Joker or Lex Luthor or Gorilla Grodd to win if they received their own five issues. Bad guys can’t win, because then the world would suck. But Deadshot got into this mess by wanting his illegitimate daughter and her former prostitute mother to live in a neighborhood free from crime and violence. And that’s worth cheering for, right?
We can go back to the fight. While Deadshot doesn’t have any cool superpowers like the snake lady and dude-with-a-mace-for-a-hand supervillains above, he does have plenty of other useful tools like, say, bullets. But are his skills alone be enough for him to take out a dozen supervillains in the suicide mission for his future and happiness? See? I’m getting better at building tension.
Unfortunately, the status quo must be restored, and that includes Deadshot returning to his life of apathetic crime. Comic book bad guys can’t get happy endings (well, I guess neither can the good guys). At least in his battle royale, a horde of embarrassing supervillains get taken off the map. Green Arrow’ll need to send Deadshot flowers after this, just for saving him a good three or four bank robberies of baddies to clean up later.
Skaboom indeed. Look, I’m not happy about this either. We’re suckers for tales of redemption, but artistically, the stories always turn out better when the hero has to tragically give up his dreams for the safety of those he loves. So in retaliation to me having to wipe away my own tears (and to be fair to me, this was five issues of build up leading to this moment), I’m not going to show you the ending of the miniseries. I mean, I pretty much gave it away, but I’m denying you the satisfaction of reading it yourself. You need to buy this book — it’s that good.
Next time, some Aquaman stuff!
Simple premise: let’s take DC’s two best marksman and have them shoot each other. Boom, easy money. I love it. And poor Green Arrow, using a children’s toy reserved for summer camps having to go up against another children’s toy reserved for summer camps (in some of the more southern parts of the country). We as a society stopped using bows and arrows once we could make buffalo explode with a single click. Have you heard of bow hunters? It’s a real sport for people who think hunting deer with rifles is too easy, but it doesn’t compare to my new sport: you hunt deer naked and can only kill them with your bare hands. Look, it’s late and my sleep medicine just kicked in hard, so let’s do this.
In a miniseries you should absolutely get because it’s amazing, we’re reading parts of Deadshot #1-5, volume two, written by Christos Gage and drawn by Steven Cummings. If you need a recap of first miniseries, allow Firebug to do it for you:
But y’see, he has an illegitimate child with an escort from way back he didn’t know about until the beginning of this miniseries. And they live in a really awful part of town. While Deadshot (real name Floyd Lawton) may not have emotions like love or happiness, like hell is his child going to grow up in a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood. So he cleans it up. Violently. Because he’s in Star City and he’s murdering truckloads of gang members, the local city’s superhero is bound to notice sooner or later.
Green Arrow’s at a fairly large disadvantage here. Bullets tend to be much faster than arrows and Green Arrow isn’t even wearing sleeves. But you know how the superhero business works — even the non-powered superheroes have talents far beyond what a normal person would ever be capable of. Disagree? Tell that to Batman’s dozens of martial arts and doctorate degrees.
I’d like to ask a question that seems to be popping up about comics recently: why can’t we just enjoy them? Reddit links constantly to my Deathstroke fights the entire JLA article, and while I’m eternally grateful for the bump in hits (as those are directly tied to my self-esteem), every comment on their website writes paragraphs calling “bull” on the fight. My response? Who cares? These are fictional characters in colorful clothing with skills and ability dictated entirely by the writer, so can we just bask in a cool fight scene without the unnecessary outrage? Look, Green Arrow probably can’t dodge a hailstorm of Deadshot’s bullets in real life, but he also wears a mask despite having a full Van Dyke beard. In summary, I get that Transformers may contain some incredulous moments during their fight scenes, but it doesn’t make me enjoy robots punching other robots any less.
Ironically, Deadshot became the Robin Hood of this neighborhood instead of Green Arrow. Like all great supervillains, Deadshot’s far more complicated than at first glance. Because while he’s cleaning up the neighborhood entirely for selfish reasons, he’s totally improving the lives of the hundreds that live there. I mean, it doesn’t make up for the hundreds he’s assassinated, but you get the idea. Comic book superheroes love those whose moral code involves rehabilitation and second chances, but comic book civilians always tend to favor those who opt for a more permanent solution to evil. Like murdering gang members.
A feel good ending! And to make sure that your warm fuzzy feeling bursts into the bloody sadness pile it’ll always end up at when you read comics, let’s continue with another scene from this miniseries on Friday. It’s really hard to find this book in stores, even online, and I don’t think the creative team would mind. Also on an unrelated note, the more Green Arrow I read, the more I adore him.
Before we get into our the modern day Deadshot, we really need to touch upon his long-forgotten character development of the late 1980s. You want to know why the man’s callousness and apathy pervades so strongly in all his stories? Well, it deals with his first miniseries Deadshot #1-4, written by John Ostrander & Kim Yale and drawn by Luke McDonnell. Also, Deadshot’s an evil supervillain, so let’s not get all sympathetic here, but it’s worth a note. The master marksman comes across his miniseries’ problem:
Surprise! Despite being a terrible father, Deadshot has a son (though it is in the title of the article). You know how bad guys outnumber good guys like 10-to-1 in the comic book world? If they just united, they could easily take down all the do-gooders and destroy/rule the world to their liking. But the problem with being evil is that instead of teamwork, bad guys’ll do bad things to each other. Because they’re bad. That’s how it works. Most importantly, the stakes go much higher than a simple kidnapping — this is gritty post-1986 we’re talking about. Meet the pedophile:
Look, comic books sometimes handle wildly uncomfortable topics. Molestation, rape, etc. And honestly, I get that comics deal with issues like that and some comics should, but honestly? I don’t really like that stuff in my DC and Marvel. I know it’s hypocritical if just because of the crazy mass murder committed that I don’t bat an eye about, but if the main character wears spandex and has a cape, can we just stick to the non-creepy crimes? I mean, the idea of Superman solving an incest case or something? The thought of that alone makes me want to chug something strong. But today, we’re getting pedohpilia — I can handle it, unlike say, Deadshot.
How do these people possibly think Deadshot is going to react? He’s in Batman’s rogue gallery, for goodness sake, the meanest, pettiest, most irrational group of supervillains in the DC universe. Seriously, what is the homicide rate in Gotham City? Half? Though you can’t hate Deadshot’s detective skills — he just holds them at gunpoint until they give him what he wants. Has Batman tried that? It’s way easier than research and lab work. Also, here’s what happens when a group of henchmen kidnap the son of the most accurate marksman on the planet.
You can probably guess where this is going. Pedophiles don’t usually do anything chivalrous when no one’s keeping watch on them. Chris Hansen isn’t going to step out and ask this pervert to take a seat. I understand your uneasiness right now, but at least you’ll get to witness every single one of these henchmen — who let the kid run off with a pedophile — get very much what they deserve. By that I mean a bullet in the head.
Yeah, so daddy’s angry. Even with my hyper-liberal leanings, I’m all for capital punishment on molesters. No therapy will kill that attraction. Regardless of this being a fictional universe where none of these characters actually exist, the next few pages fill that broken part of my soul that the previous page shattered. And now you can probably understand why Deadshot keeps anyone who could get emotionally close far, far, far away from him. Watch this monster get what he deserves:
Deadshot’s mom orchestrated the kidnapping of his son. This man never stood a chance of not being evil. For what this 20 year-old job is the bad guys wanted him to do, what’s the secret involving Deadshot’s family, and the confrontation between mother and son, you’ll have to buy the book. I’m sorry. Next time, we jump to his even-harder-to-find second mini-series for his fight against Green Arrow!
Batman’s had a bunch of girlfriends over the years (some for plot points, others to prove that he likes the lades), but few can match the true love and almost certain soulmate in Bruce Wayne’s chaotic and destructive life: Catwoman. Only because they’re both emotionally ruined messes who deserve each other to complete that gaping fractured hole where their feelings were once whole. But Batman’s dated normal girls too, including his delightful romp from the ’70s, Silver St. Cloud.
Today, we’re taking a look at their whirlwind romance using Detective Comics #470-479, written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, & Dick Giordano as well as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #132-136, written by Archie Goodwin & James Robinson and drawn by Rogers.
Silver St. Cloud is a socialite living in Gotham City. There, you’re all caught up.
Alfred’s worries are wildly unfounded — this is the third conversation the two have ever had. But you know how melodrama works — comics are a form of soap opera after all, which brings us to the “moment” Silver St. Cloud is most known for, the first woman to be shown “bedding” the Dark Knight. Except it’s barely implied, much less shown. I guess you have to read it for cultural significance or whatever? The moment the world found out Batman does more than jerk off in the Batcave to solved cold cases and supervillain mugshots?
Also, you can read last article for all the St. Cloud suspicions, but I included the picture again where she deduces Batman’s secret identity.
You ready for some awkwardness? It’s like reading an episode of The Office if the characters punched bad guys for a living. Look, St. Cloud knows Batman is Bruce Wayne. Batman knows St. Cloud knows he is Bruce Wayne. Yet, they act like schoolchildren with crushes because Batman doesn’t have the emotional capability to be things like vulnerable. Because you know what happened the last time Bruce Wayne was vulnerable? That’s right. His parents died. In summary, Batman has severe PTSD that he should really see a doctor about.
I know Batman may have some weird fetishes, but he just wants her period? That’s gross, Batman.
And this is what happens when Batman dates a “normal” girl. A woman who’s emotionally healthy and capable of making the decisions that won’t drive her insane or slowly swallow up her self-esteem until her only purpose is to cry stoic tears in front of the Caped Crusader. Because comic plots advance frequently on coincidences, St. Cloud witnesses Batman fighting the Joker (who may also be a candidate for Batman’s soulmate).
As you can expect, Batman takes this news badly, including sharing intimate details about his personal life with whatever thugs cross his path that night. Look, I love Batman, but he solves his problems with violence and that includes emotional problems. How many times out of anger or frustration has he hit Dick Grayson or Superman or Green Lantern? And those are people he likes.
Of course he doesn’t quit being Batman. He needs to be Batman as badly as we need him to be Batman. With that though, Silver St. Cloud disappears for twenty-two years. In 2000, she makes her triumphant return in the delightfully awkward way we know and expect from these two:
Because she’s a supporting character in a comic book, there’s a 50% chance of her dying or getting injured. Last time she escaped unscathed, but she gets her due in these issues. It’s too bad, really, but Gotham’s crime rate mixed with personally knowing Batman makes the chance of story-progressing bloodshed pretty much certain.
Batman is good at many things. Throwing sharp stuff. Kung fu. Mysteries. But being a boyfriend? It’s just not in his blood — which nowadays is mostly filled with fear toxin and Joker gas residue. Think of your significant other giving you an ultimatum: you can be with her/him and all the joy that entails, or you can keep your dog. How many times does that end well for the girlfriend/boyfriend? Silver St. Cloud won’t be with Batman because he’s Batman, but Bruce Wayne has long since become a mask for his “true” identity as the Dark Knight. We know how this must end, and it hurts every single time.
Our girl returns in Kevin Smith’s Batman: The Widening Gyre back in 2009. I don’t believe it’s canon and even if it is, it ends on a cliff hanger that hasn’t been resolved. Anyway, next time we return to Deadshot!
Well, the return from his first appearance in 1950. No more fancy gentleman attire. We’ll get that normal firetruck-android outfit he normally puts on. Though as we explore Deadshot’s second comic book appearance in Detective Comics #474, written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Marshall Rogers, the main focus should be on Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, Silver St. Cloud.
She has a great comic book name. Also, she has the honor of being the first woman to ever be shown “bedding” Bruce Wayne. I looked up the scene in question and it’s both of them fully clothed in a hospital while Dick Grayson makes a pervy sound effect closing the door. That’s it. It’s no Catwoman #1. But this issue we’re reading today has more than just melodrama mixed with supervillainy — at the end of the issue we get a revelation that changes Wayne and St. Cloud’s relationship forever. See? I’m getting better at building up suspense.
A single word bubble summarizes the entirety of last time’s article. Also, Commissioner Gordon’s no longer that suave ginger police dreamboat he used to be. And while Batman’s talents sculpt him as the most useful person in the world, his excuses fold quickly under an educated, smart woman. Let that be a lesson to all vigilantes — Batman could never win if Catwoman fought him with logic instead of claws. If you forgot the previous word bubble describing what happened in Batman #59 from a six panels before, you’re reminded again here:
This Deadshot’s a bit wordier and more emotional than the current Deadshot. His beef with Batman has long since faded and replaced with extreme self-loathing and a sort of narcissistic apathy for the events happening around him. But not here. This Deadshot spent 27 real years (and maybe a decade of DC universe time?) behind bars waiting for his moment to dress like a sexy clock and shoot the Caped Crusader. And he misses. Luckily, the fight continues with more silly proclamations and a fight upon a giant typewriter.
Silver St. Cloud deduced Batman’s true identity through jawline alone! Before we jump to a few modern Deadshot stories, we’re going to continue this St. Cloud girlfriend stuff. Batman gave up emotions like love and happiness a long time ago, but next time we’ll watch St. Cloud scour through the remains of Wayne’s feelings to rip them apart in front of him. It’s great. Batman almost cries.
Heads up, it’s goofy. How, you ask? This is the cover of the issue he premiered in:
But you’ll have to get yourself a time machine and go back to 1950 if you want to read that story. Today, we’re covering Deadshot’s first issue, a supervillain who’s gained an impressive following in the past few years with the Secret Six and Suicide Squad series. But we need to venture back to the early Batman stories, when Batman used silly gadgets and Robin hadn’t hit puberty yet. Let’s take a look at the very first Deadshot story in the first few pages of Batman #59, written by David Vern and drawn by Bob Kane & Lew Sayre Schwartz. Get your mystery pants on, because we’re about to jump into a dozen pages of spectacular detective insanity.
Deadshot’s original costume looked like Zorro dressed up for a cocktail party. Thankfully his mustache never goes away. I like Batman and Robin taking a vacation in the first panel — within a few decades, Batman’s warped and all-consuming justice would never allow him to relax and take a break when criminals still roam the night robbing abandoned dock warehouses and stealing sewer orphans and whatnot. Luckily, 1950s Batman could still do stuff like not break into cold sweats because his fist wasn’t connecting at that moment with a bad guy’s jaw. Also, and while I am no expert of firearms, could Deadshot actually stamp out a cigarette with a bullet? Wouldn’t that be like putting out a campfire with a bowling ball?
This is the Golden Age of comics when everything had to be explained in dialogue that would never naturally come out of people’s mouths. And while I’m also not a cop, I imagine any man trigger-happily shooting bullets around town would be frowned upon by the police. Still, it looks like Deadshot may not be such a beloved vigilante after all, especially because he’s been a supervillain for sixty years of DC history. Most importantly, how young does Commissioner Gordon look compared to his normal grizzled, always-one-horrible-crime-from-retirement face he normally has?
I’m not saying comics have become more subtle in the modern age (more violent definitely), but very rarely do supervillain’s butlers straight-up announce evil plans for the whole world to secretly listen to. At least nowadays he would wait until the final page of the issue.
But notice the skull Deadshot shoots into the wall? I counted, and there’s over a hundred bullet holes. Seriously, count it yourself. And his gun looks like a six-shooter. So that means while shooting a skull into the wall to show Batman and Robin his evilness, he had to reload a good sixteen or seventeen times while Batman and Robin waited patiently for him to finish his graffiti. Let’s do some math. If we take the fastest shooter on YouTube, which I believe is one second to shoot all the bullets and two seconds to reload, and say Deadshot can equal this man’s speed, then that still makes Batman and Robin standing in silence for a good minute or so while Deadshoot finishes his masterpiece. Dynamic duo indeed.
Oh, and enjoy mopey Batman and smug Batman only five panels apart.
Except that while Batman got Deadshot to confess, Batman’s breaking-and-entering is also a crime. A crime he admits in police headquarters to the police commissioner. Oh well. Also, before we end today (next time will be Deadshot’s re-emergence in the 1970s), take a moment and appreciate Batman’s incredible sense of humor. Dudshot. Get it? Right? Okay, never mind.