Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Appearing weekly is a column by newly appointed Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). This column is called “Hank McCoy (Before the Fur),” so be sure to keep your eyes open for his unique insights into comics. There isn’t enough time or money to read all of the comics you like to.

There just isn’t. People with more resources than you and lucrative-stay-at-home jobs have tried. But inevitably, there will be a huge slough of characters, storylines, and collections that you will regret not having the time to read. In theory, this is a very good thing- I mean there’s no shortage of interesting characters and books to choose from.

In practice, lots of smart, well-written, interesting comic book stories get “lost” in the shuffle every year. Even in the pop-culture “cult” movement of collecting comics there are…”cult” stories and series. Ones that some hard-core fanbase supports and most people only get around to reading and really appreciating years after it was published.

Daredevil, comes to mind. I mean, in the 1980s there were no Daredevil action figures, movie rumors, or cartoon shows (at least, not to my knowledge). I think there was one really bizarre made for TV movie in the 1990s. Believe it or not, this shlocky film included Bruce Banner, the incredible hulk. It was really weird. Of course, the fact that I watched it at 3 o’clock in the morning on USA network may have contributed to the surrealness of it. But I digress.

But anyway, Daredevil wasn’t a character that people, just, people, were in to. Most people walking down the street could tell you who Spider-man was. But not Daredevil. Save for the occasional cameos, even people who read comics didn’t know that much about him. But people who were really really REALLY into comics on the other hand- they knew who Daredevil was and loved him. Frank Miller’s run on this book is widely hailed as one of the greatest comic book series of all time.

But few people knew that much about it. More people read Punisher than they read Daredevil, and even Punisher was one of those “underground” cult-ey heroes. But years later, everybody knows the story: The Kingpin of crime, Bullseye, Elektra, Foggy Nelson, etc.

In the last two years, a story has come and gone that, frankly, I think deserved more attention than it received. The actual execution of the plot was your typical comic-book faire, nothing remarkable. But just the idea warranted more notice than people gave it. I’m talking about the now collected Batman and Son by Grant Morrison (who, apparently, writes for every comic book in the entire world. Ever.).

Batman and Son is a follow up to an old, even pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths (I think) story entitled Batman: Son of the Demon. I actually have a copy of it. It was printed in those old, weird, BIG BOOK formats that they did in the 80s. Like it was intended for children to hold and read or something, not that they ever should because the content might scar them for life at such a tender age. The story was not particularly memorable and the writing was relatively poor. On horrific and completely out of character scene sticks out in my mind to this day- a criminal screamed something to the effect of “The Devil will get you” or something like that and ran at him, firing an automatic weapon. Batman just stepped out of the way, allowing the weapon to rupture some vat of noxious chemicals, which spray across the room and melt the man’s face! Batman says something to the effect of “Looks like he got you FIRST.”

I'm not making this bit up. Seriously.

How this got published, I don’t know. I mean, you don’t have to have read a great deal of Batman comics to realize that this is something that even the monosyllabic, grizzled, and sometimes brutal Dark Knight would NOT DO. Batman is a lot of things, but the thought of him taunting a human being who he is semi-responsible for maiming just doesn’t seem in character to me.

Regardless, one important plot point came out of this story. The whole arc revolves around Bruce Wayne assisting Ra’s al Ghul deal with a war criminal, a man both men can agree is dangerous and needs to be stopped (that’s the short version- trust me). During Wayne’s stay at on of al Ghul’s bases of operation, he gets cozy with Ra’s visually-pleasing-when-drawn-by-the-right-artist daughter Talia. Part way through the comic, Talia tells Wayne that she is in fact pregnant with his child.

In classic tragic Batman fashion, Talia later tells Wayne that she had a miscarriage and that she wants to be alone. Wayne walks out of the room she’s crying in. This moment, at least, was painful and memorable. I mean, after all- although I’ve always been a big fan of the Selina Kyle/ Bruce Wayne romance (they’re both orphans- think about it for a minute), you could make a strong argument that Talia really is the only woman who could ever be the Batman’s equal, his partner. She’s strong, brilliant, and badass. But the comic teases you with the possibility that the two of them might have had a life together that was…well, happy. I mean, WHAT IF Bruce Wayne just gave up on humanity and HELPED Ra’s al Ghul wipe them off the face of the planet? He’d get to be with an amazing woman and could start building a society bereft of corruption where he, she, and their children wouldn’t get hurt (according to Ra’s, at least). Batman never lends any credit to Ra’s plans per se…but you wonder, if he had stayed with Talia, if things might have gone that way eventually. But instead, he walks away. Bear in mind, Batman has an affinity with protecting children, even unborn ones.

At the end of the comic, Talia is seen delivering a newborn baby into the arms of a couple who is willing to adopt “her child”.

And then that story was never heard from again. In fact, I wondered if contemporary writers even remembered it. Years passed. And then, Grant Morrison picked up the ball.

Of course, his take on the events of “Son of the Demon” is this weird kind of revamp of the story I just told you (warranted by the many continuity-changing events DC has had over the years). In this case, Batman’s son was “born” in an artificial womb and genetically related to Bruce Wayne (Morrison’s bizarre fascination with stories involving irregular prenatal development never ceases). Talia raised the kid.

And he is a scary little S.O.B., just like his daddy.

You ever see that movie The Good Son with Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood? Where Culkin pretends like he’s just a nice kid, but Elijah Wood knows he’s really this murderous psychopath? (I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t- this was likely another one of those late night TV gems I ingested during college). Think kind of like that. Now give Culkin the frightening demeanor, inhuman willpower, and drive to win that Batman has.

Oh, and drop any pretense of “good kid” stuff.

You know what? Don’t think of The Good Son. Just read the comic. But “Damien” (I love that his name is a creepy reference to his “grandfather,” “The Demon” or Ra’s al Ghul) is a fascinating new addition to this comics canon. In a lot of ways, he could very well be what Ra’s al Ghul had always hoped the Batman WOULD be- he’s vengeful, righteous, brutal, and indoctrinated in the League of Assassins beliefs and methods.

This series preys on all sorts of weird, creepy “the son will one day replace the father” anxieties that are buried deep down in your subconscious. I was particularly disturbed both when Damien attacked Tim Drake, with the intention of replacing his “father’s” “son” once and for all, with a more fitting sidekick- himself. And when he dressed up in the now deceased Jason Todd’s old costume (only strapping a bit more weaponry and a shawl to help hug the shadows, as trained) I was totally freaked out. But Damien does all of these things with the intention of making his “father” happy with him. In many ways, Damien’s conception of the Batman, the model to which he aspires to, is not based on the man himself but all of the things that Bruce Wayne actually fears that he is or may become. Yet, Damien never gives up this sort of steadfast devotion to doing what he thinks will make his father happy, not what does.

Really creepy. The art in this series is excellent- I remember Andy Kubert from his work on X-men in the 90’s. The pictures really “move” well and the use of shadows and dark color is memorable, especially given the content. Again, I tip my hat to Mr. Morrison for innovative work as well as for picking up the ball on a concept that had been forgotten for too long. I highly recommend getting a copy of the series. Please do so. And don’t watch The Good Son.