John Ridley’s Black Batman Will Hopefully Be Good

By: Frank Hyden

John Ridley is a screenwriter, director, novelist, and showrunner who is going to be writing a 4 part Batman comic book. Here’s a quote from him regarding the book.

“I think it’s a pretty safe bet that, if I’m writing Batman, it’s probably a little better than a 47 percent chance he’s going to be a person of color,”

He also mentioned that the book will focus more on Lucius Fox and his family. It’s not surprising that the book will focus primarily on black characters, that’s what Ridley does. Pretty much everything he’s done professionally has focused on black characters. There’s no problem with that. And I assume during the story that Luke Fox will don the Batman cowl for some reason, to save Bruce Wayne or perhaps his dad or other family members or something?

I do think, as a general rule, that companies are better off making new black characters as opposed to race-swapping existing characters. I think it’s just lazy because it always comes off as if the race-swapping is supposed to be some mindblowing or innovative thing. It’s like you’re going for shock value, all sizzle with no substance. Putting that front and center tells me that you’re not confident in whatever story you’re trying to tell, because if you were confident that the story you’re telling was that good, that would be what you were talking about.

I don’t think that’s the case here, as Ridley never mentioned making Bruce Wayne black. Which by the way, that’s what he meant when he said “person of color”. That’s what person of color means, it means a black person. At least, the vast majority of the time. I would be stunned if Ridley made whoever was wearing the Batman costume a Latino, or Native American, or Asian.

Anyway, making Bruce Wayne black would be dumb and lazy. Making Batman black could be interesting. Of course, there’s still the potential for it to be dumb and lazy and only done for shock value but I’ll keep an open mind until proven otherwise. It could be really cool. Maybe there’s a superfan who becomes obsessed with Batman and makes his own costume? Or maybe kidnaps the real Batman and tries to take his place? You could come up with a bunch of these ideas, some more schlocky than others, but it’s all in how you do it.

Finding a new, innovative, and unique take on an existing character is extremely hard these days. With Batman and how long the character has been around and the thousands of stories already told with the character, it’s pretty much impossible. It’s all in how you do it.

You could have the most generic and basic story ever, but if the dialogue is good, the art’s good, etc., the book is good. Just as you could have the most innovative take ever but if the dialogue is shoddy, the plot points are bad, the art sucks, etc., it’s a bad book. You can substitute in movies, TV shows, etc. and it’s the same. Doing a generic, well-worn take on a character, but doing it well, is way more effective than a never-before-seen take that’s done poorly.

This is especially true with shock value changes. Suddenly, characters that were friends can’t stand each other. Or this character is gay, this character is black, he’s trans, she’s evil now, and so on.

One of the ways this manifests itself (usually on long-running TV shows but it can be anything) is the time-skip. A show jumps ahead a year, or two or three years or so, and suddenly things are vastly different. This couple has broken up, these characters hate each other, this character is gay now. Then the show works backwards to show you how it happened.

This is usually done to try to juice the ratings or give viewers the sense that this is somehow new and exciting. Movies also do this a lot with the “So, this is how I got here” type of openings where they show the climax, or near climax, and then show you how they got there. I don’t think time-skips automatically suck but I prefer when they’re not done. Exceptions being if a character is going to be training for a long time or learning something new, then skip ahead.

Anyway, it seems as though this book could be good. As long as it doesn’t devolve into the usual grievances type of story where Luke gets pulled over for driving while black or anything like that, I think it has potential. The differences between people are cultural, not based on skin color. A black man from Colorado has more in common with a white man from Colorado than he does with a black man from New York. You can insert other states in there but the point is the same. We as people have way more in common with each other than differences. And the differences we do have are largely cultural. It’s not too hard to tell a story that’s universal. Sure, you can add specifics that are cultural but if you make your entire story about that, you’re severely limiting your potential audience. Most people don’t care what color your skin is, what gender you are, your religion, sexuality, etc. They care about who you are as a person, that’s universal.

I’m keeping an open mind and hoping that this Batman book from John Ridley is good. I might be wrong about that, though I hope not, but I try to keep a positive outlook on things. It makes life easier.

Comments and suggestions can be emailed to me at hydenfrank@gmail.com and you can follow me on Twitter at @hydenfrank

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