Monday, March 21, 2016

Dini, Deconstructed.

When you're a fan of a popular writer, you look for patterns, links, themes - elements that identify either why this writer's work strikes a chord or what distinguishes his/her work from efforts made by other authors.

When Paul Dini's new graphic novel, Dark Knight: A True Batman Story arrives in June, I'd like to be free to devote the eventual review to the book itself. This post is devoted to me having fun with the idea that the events described in the book may have changed Paul's approach to writing Batman as a character. So, yes, this is a companion to my previous post "Dini's Dark Night". awkward as it is to post a long essay revolving around a book that has yet to see the light of day and that I have yet to read...well, welcome to the internet.

With my copy of the classic coffeetable book, Batman: Animated, I did some unscientific research:

Paul Dini is credited with writing 30 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. The show lasted five seasons, give or take breaks in production, title changes, network changes, even changes in the character designs. Here's a rough breakdown -

# of episodes of Batman: The Animated Series: 14

# of episodes credited solo: 12
# of episodes with co-writer/story credit: 2

# of episodes of The New Adventures of Batman and Robin: 9

# of episodes credited solo: 3
# of episodes with co-writer/story credit: 6

# of episodes of Batman: Gotham Knights/The Batman/Superman Adventures: 7

# of episodes credited solo: 3
# of episodes with co-writer/story credit: 4

Total: 18 episodes (solo), 12 episodes (co-writer/story credit)

At a glance, Paul's output was highest in the series early years, but one must take into account that he had also become a story editor during the GK/BSA era, while also working on Superman: The Animated Series AND the first season of Batman Beyond, as well as beginning to make his mark writing comic books after the success of Mad Love.

Getting back to the time period of Dark Night, I'm going to suppose the episodes produced under the New Adventures of Batman and Robin and the episodes of Batman: The Animated Series were made in the aftermath. Prior to this, all of Paul's early scripts focused on the villains: Heart of Ice, Mad As A Hatter, Almost Got 'Im, The Mad Who Killed Batman are some examples, with Batman appearing on the periphery. This wasn't unusual, since there were a lot of episodes of the series that were Batman-centric by other writers. Ironically, or unironically (is that a real world), these episodes rank among the most-acclaimed of the show's run.

Other episodes were romps - Joker's Wild, Harley & Ivy - or noir stories like Pretty Poison (which he submitted story ideas for) The Laughing Fish ( a re-imagining of two fan-favorite 70's Batman comic book stories into a single plot) and Joker's Favor, with the debut of Harley Quin, who is quickly rivaling Joker for the position of most-popular Batman foe, possibly beating Catwoman as most-popular female Bat-villain.

The only exception to this theme was Zatanna. Paul introduced the superpowered magician Zatanna to the series as an old flame from Batman's past - a romance that had not existed in the comics; barring a single issue of The Brave and The Bold from the early-80's by Mike W. Barr in which they teamed up for an adventure, there was relatively little/no known interaction of note between those two characters, not even when they both appeared in Justice League of America. From here on, this ret-con is slowly incorporated into the comic books and becomes canon when Dini became regular writer on Detective Comics and Zatanna's short-lived solo comic book  series. In animation, this clever pairing is only revisited on two occasions, both in scripts Dini wrote for different series: "This Little Piggy" in Justice League Unlimited and "Chill of The Night" in Batman: The Brave and The Bold.

The airdate for Zatanna was February 2, 1993, one month after the events described in Dark Night. The next episode of B:TAS to air was "The Worry Men", followed by "House and Garden", "Trial" and "Harlequinade", the last of Paul's episodes to appear under the B:TAS title (although reruns of the later episodes would revive it, since the Superman episodes aired separately in reruns). "Trial" is especially relevant to this discussion, since it's the first of Paul's scripts to comment directly on Batman's effectiveness as a vigilante/superhero and his dealings with his rogues gallery. In fact, in this last group of B:TAS episodes, and all of Paul's episodes afterward, Batman has more to say, or is more inclined to make time to comment directly on what's happening. This is when Paul starts offering memorable exchanges between our hero and his supporting cast/villains, like the "I can remember what it's like to have had a bad day" moment in "Harley's Holiday".  In interviews from the past and present, Dini describes Batman's presence as an idea or force of nature, but it appears he can also exist as a human being capable of empathy. In Paul's words, he became more "..circumspect". In that regard, I believe this readjustment made his work with the character, impressive as it was, even stronger, because now we're getting a more fully-realized Batman, rather than a force that other characters reacted to. And while it's macabre to postulate that a traumatic incident became an inspiration - and I don't want to give that a lot of credit - but maybe it underpinned/informed/unleashed some element that was always there, a finishing stroke that hadn't been brought to the surface.

It's like the Fatman (Kevin Smith) said: if there was a Mount Rushmore devoted the top 4 guys that truly defined Batman for the masses, the guys that identified a Batman that's loved by all...Paul's face would be up there.

And he also gave us Bat-Duck in Tiny Toon Adventures. I'm not being snarky; honestly and sincerely, Bat-Duck should've had his own show; that was gold. :)

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