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Sunday, 4 November 2012

This week DC published a digital comic called Batman: Li’l Gotham, by Dustin Nguyen and co-writer Derek Fridolfs. It’s a Halloween tale about Batman introducing Damian Wayne as Robin to the custom of trick-or-treating.

This Dynamic Duo is never out of costume, so the pages don’t clarify whether Batman is Bruce Wayne in DC Comics’s current continuity or Dick Grayson during the last year of the last one. I felt the story really belonged in that earlier universe. Damian seems like a very new arrival to America. This Batman’s appreciation of holidays seems more like Dick. Of course, the Li’l Gotham universe doesn’t have to exactly match the standard continuity. (Would any other version of Damian be so excited about candy?)

I suspect that Nguyen created this story in early 2011 or before. He’d been experimenting with this watercolor chibi style for a few years, and DC published a couple of stories written with Fridolfs in 2009. Some of the art promoting the series still shows Nightwing in blue, Cassandra Cain, and other sights not included in DC’s new continuity.

As more evidence of the story’s age, look at the three figures in the left of the detail above. Batman fans would quickly recognize trick-or-treaters dressed as Cass Cain after she stopped being Batgirl, a Batgirl, and Klarion the Witch Boy in blue. Which Batgirl? The big smile and purple stripe down her leg suggest Stephanie Brown, and indeed Nguyen painted Stephanie meeting Klarion in Batgirl, #18, published for Halloween 2010. Contrarily, the red hair suggests Barbara Gordon, once and present Batgirl, who had appeared in Nguyen’s original Li’l Gotham poster. But it’s easy to change a spot of yellow into a spot of orange with Photoshop.

In fact, the Bleeding Cool comics gossip website showed just how easy. The image above comes from DC’s preview of the story, issued early on 31 October. Later that day Bleeding Cool labeled that Batgirl as Stephanie.

The image at left comes from the version I downloaded late on the afternoon of 31 October from ComiXology. Note how its Batgirl has dark hair and a purple stripe.

On 1 November Bleeding Cool shared another image, on the right, showing a further change: even the purple stripe is gone. Someone at DC had digitally recolored Nguyen’s watercolors to remove all visual allusions to Stephanie Brown.

Some observers interpreted these late changes as an attempt to catch up on an editorial mandate to wipe out all traces of that character. I suspect the motivation was to make that Batgirl look more like Barbara Gordon and thus match the current continuity.

But was that at all necessary? Once superhero fans might have been bothered by discrepancies, but today’s fandom seems to accept different versions of the same mythos. Just this week, for instance, DC Collectors highlighted paper dolls from Funko that include a definitely un-round Robin with a look not seen in DC’s main comics since Ronald Reagan’s first term and wiped out of existence in the current continuity. McDonald’s is offering Young Justice toys based on a TV cartoon set in a world all to itself. DC’s parent company is preparing to release a movie based on Lego Batman. It just made a bundle on Christopher Nolan’s “realistic” take on the mythos. Why put so much effort into making the Li’l Gotham world reflect the late-2011 continuity instead of the early-2011 one?

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