Published in the Summer 2005 issue • Features
An interview with Devin Grayson
A Shameless web exclusive
Continued from page 2
You’re fairly tough on old Batman. Dick, in your estimation, is a much stronger person for having lived with Bruce and come out of it not only mentally stable, but a bright decent person. How much of your ideas about Batman’s emotional unavailability (and stunted personality) is DC gospel, and how much is of your own conclusion?
It’s hard to say. Certainly he’s been portrayed as being very dark and emotionally unavailable in the past, especially when I started reading (Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns — a story often credited with ushering in the “grim and gritty” era of Batman — was one of the first Batman stories I encountered). Most of my ideas about him are formed from stories that are now considered cannon. What I believe — and I couldn’t say whether or not this is a wholly original idea — is that to be as spectacular and amazing as Batman is, to develop those areas so thoroughly, you would have to be missing something else. You can’t be more than human without in some ways having also let yourself become less than human.
My mother is a family therapist and my dad’s a sociologist and I tend to approach characters from those angles — it’s not that Batman is incapable of human intimacy on any organic level, it’s just that he hasn’t worked on that in any sustained way because his attention and energy has been elsewhere. Now, Ralph down the street hasn’t worked on intimacy either, and is equally incapable of it, and what he’s really good at is drinking beer and yelling at his dog. Most of us are underdeveloped in some pretty key ways and often don’t have much to show for it. That’s not what I’m saying about Batman. His internal makeup is a choice he made. I don’t mean to point out his deficiencies as marks against him, but rather as humanizing factors of sacrifice. He has given up so much to be able to do what he does, and in many ways there’s nothing more noble or laudable than that kind of self-sacrifice. I adore Batman, he’s my personal hero, he is 100 percent who I would want in my corner when things got bad. But I feel for him, too. And I feel for Dick, who is a very different kind of man who grew up in very different circumstances and now has his own burden to carry.
I suppose I’m not the first to say that Batman is not going to win any Mr. Congeniality awards anytime soon, but what I’m trying to say about that is that his limitations, as much as his competencies, are what makes him a hero on the deepest, most personal level. He is not a hero because of some great fortune he decided he’d share with others. His heroism was born from his darkest tragedy. He took the worst thing that ever happened to him and turned that into motivation to protect and fight for good. That is so much more interesting to me, and so much braver, than the hero legends we usually share. It’s someone doing Tonglen, to use a Buddhist meditation term, in a room full of people doing loving-kindness meditations. Tonglen is when you breathe in the darkness and pain and anger and despair of the world and breathe out the peace and love and compassion, both to prove to yourself that you can survive the negativity, and also as a way of gifting the world with the positive energy it needs. It’s warrior breathing. Everything else is about breathing the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. That is our basic inclination and survival strategy. You have to be so courageous to do it the other way around.
You mentioned once that Dick’s chattiness was a nice method to get inside his head, to give the readers a thoughtful narration, as well as a fun one. Do you prefer to work with that device, or are you more inclined to letting the plot do the talking, not the interior monologue?
It totally depends on the character and the story. I think when I made the comment you’re referencing, I was probably actually thinking about one of the past writers on Batman who used to do the same kind of narration with Bruce, which just drove me crazy. Batman is NOT chatty.
My absolute favorite kind of writing is first-person prose, which is all about voices, so I do greatly enjoy using a narrative device like that. But I think these days in comics I’m happiest when the art is leading you through the story rather than an internal monolog. It just sort of feels like a better use of the medium. Most of the time. But not always. That’s one of the things that’s so cool about comics, we’re still playing with things and learning what works best and how far the medium can be pushed. And if you pick up five random, great comics, they’ll probably all handle narration differently. The medium is really up for anything you want to do with it. It’s very inclusive and flexible.