Comic Book Fandom vs Reality, The TOM KING Edition

"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Harvey Dent - Batman: The Dark Knight.

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Few fans are harder to keep happy than comics fans. I know because I’m one of them. When fans are displeased with a writer, they make their opinions known.

Over the past few years, as I’ve engaged with fandom on the Twitterverse and various Facebook fan pages, it’s been hard not to miss the vitriol that has been spewed at DC Comics’ writer Tom King. King has written several high-profile stories that have put him front and center of DC fan discourse. Despite celebrated runs on Grayson (with Tim Seeley), Mr. Miracle, and Sheriff of Babylon, some of King’s storytelling choices have raised the specter of fan criticism, including my own. However, I think a lot of this criticism has been misplaced, and King’s role in some of his writing choices has been misunderstood.

While King stuck out as one of the star writers of DC Rebirth back in 2016, after Batman and Catwoman failed to get married in Batman #50, King’s crown seemed to lose some of its shine.

What was initially lauded as one of Batman’s best runs soon gave way to rancor; however, not all of this was King’s fault.

Batman #50 was never going to result in a marriage. That’s a happy ending that would’ve arrived too early. However, I long suspected this would be one of those “darkest before the dawn” type of stories that would circle back to a happily ever after, which sort of happened in City of Bane, but that was because of a decision by DC to shuffle the real ending of King’s Bat/Cat story into its own maxi-series.

It’s also worth noting that one of the reasons fans were so pissed off by Batman #50 was that it was marketed (strongly!) as the wedding of the century for DC Comics. I’m not going to harp on this point too much, but others have pointed out that while the marketing for the issue was deceptive, Tom King is not in charge of the marketing and wrote the exact story he wanted to tell. What DC chose to do with that is on them. Not King.

Every writer is bound to make a few decisions that fans aren’t pleased with, but King has received some unnecessary flack for several things he shouldn’t have. Some of the comments I’ve read take the form of almost conspiratorial thinking: “Tom King hates this character which is why he did THIS,” or, “Tom King disagreed with this or that editor which is why he did THIS,” or, “Tom King just likes messing up continuity which is why he did THIS.”

I think it’s time we give King some exoneration here.

Let’s start with a biggie–the treatment of Wally West in Heroes in Crisis!

I love Wally West and was super excited about his return in DC Rebirth #1. I’m a fan of the character and everything he represents about DC history, continuity, and legacy.

But do you know who also loves Wally West? Tom King!

While King admits that he liked the story he wrote about Wally in Heroes in Crisis, the choice of characters and the roles they played in the story were editorially mandated by DC. With a few exceptions, the most vehement complaints (historically) about King’s writing have this one thing in common–an editorial mandate!

Another editorial mandate that got pushed on King was the death of Alfred Pennyworth in his Batman run. A lot of fans (like myself) who were hoping that DC’s timeline might yet “catch up” to the events of Doomsday Clock, as was originally promised, had those dreams dashed with Alfred’s death, given that the character appeared alive in that story.

That King seemed to drop the emphasis on the Rebirth narrative, despite Saturn Girl appearing in one of his first issues and “The Button” having been a major storyline during his run, was dissatisfying to me, and I’m sure, many others. Reading various Twitter threads gave me the impression that some fans thought Tom King and other writers at DC were intentionally undermining the Rebirth/Doomsday Clock storyline and giving the middle finger to fans who were concerned about continuity.

But Tom King is a fan of comics. I imagine that a lot of things that get you and I fired up as fans are probably the same things that get him fired up as a fan. King actually pitched a story to DC that would’ve connected Dr. Manhattan to the return of Superman’s father Jor-El and the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne in order to show that their returns were more than a coincidence. The Jor-El/Manhattan connection was certainly addressed a time or two, but the return of Thomas Wayne definitely seems like a missed opportunity to tie into the larger Rebirth story involving Manhattan. It’s nice to know that King and I were on the same page there (and again, it was DC editorial that kept King’s pitch from coming to fruition).

If you’re not a fan of King thematically linking his work to ideas about war and trauma, that’s fine. We all have writers and artists in comics we connect to more than others.

But it’s time we stop giving King unnecessary flack for editorial decisions that were out of his hands and appreciate his unique voice as a writer.

Matthew Brakehttps://www.popularcultureandtheology.com
Matthew Brake is the series editor for the book series Theology and Pop Culture from Lexington Books. He is also the co-editor of the forthcoming Religion and Comics series from Claremont Press. He holds degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies and Philosophy from George Mason University. He also writes for Sequart and the Blackwell Popular Culture and Philosophy blog.

1 COMMENT

  1. Wholeheartedly agree. I’d love to read King work more in the Image compartment of DC wherein editorial direction is less prevalent. The guy understands pacing well and understands the emotional beats for narrative propulsion.

    Honestly, anyone walking into the Batman scenario thinking the marriage was going to happen should probably refer back to The Death of Superman prior to the new millennium.

    These properties are mostly in stasis.

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