Read This Book: Is Dragonflyman The Batman We Need Right Now?

A couple weeks back the last issue of the Ahoy Comics miniseries Dragonfly & Dragonflyman hit the shelves. This series was the follow-up prequel to their flagship title The Wrong Earth. Both series dealt with the characters of The Dragonfly and Dragonflyman, heroes on parallel Earths who, through mystical hijinks that are never fully explained (and quite frankly don’t need to be) wind up on each other’s Earth. Dragonflyman is horrified at the dark and gritty world that his opposite has allowed to exist, with murderous villains, corrupt cops, and a mysteriously missing sidekick. Meanwhile, The Dragonfly is appalled by how useless the police are on his counterpart’s world, unable to take care of even the most minor of criminals. The Dragonfly also views his counterpart as little more than a tool used by the wealthy, corporate elite to maintain order and stability.

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As is abundantly clear, this series is a riff on two well-known versions of Batman. The Dragonfly is a dark and gritty vigilante that would fit well into the Frank Miller Batman universe, while Dragonflyman is clearly an Adam West analog, complete with an impossible intelligence, over the top preparedness and a collection of goofy but effective weapons.

It would have been very easy to screw up this concept, to use both versions to trash on Batman and all the over the top ridiculousness from his 80+ years of stories, but writer Tom Peyer instead manages to tell a tale that not only critically deconstructs the flaws possessed by a character like Batman, in all his various incarnations but also honours what is best about that same kind of character. Both minis are great, but due to limited print runs and little word of mouth they didn’t really get the attention they deserved upon their release. That’s why this week I’m encouraging you to hunt them down and give them a chance.

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I’m going to pause here with a confession. Growing up, my favourite Batman was Adam West, and he still is today. My first memories of Batman were of watching the Batman 66 live-action show that used to pop up on reruns all the time. It was the 80’s and that early exposure shaped my option of who Batman was; he was a noble hero that got into exciting adventures, fought colourful and goofy rogues, and partnered with a clever and energetic teen sidekick. Batman stories were bright and fun, and they made me want to be Batman more than anything.

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And then, in 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman film came out and shook me to my core. Gone was my Bright Knight, replaced with a murderous psycho who blew up factories and threw people off of buildings. His colourful rogues were replaced by insane, leather-clad killers who burned people to death with joy buzzers and kidnapped children. My Batman was gone, and this new Grim Knight was his replacement.

Now, I can’t place all the blame on Burton’s Batman, since his was hardly the first version to lean heavily on darkness. Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Killing Joke, not to mention a host of other Batman stories from this time and before all worked to push back on the idea of Batman as a fun and light character, and instead replace him with what they felt was a more traditional and darker version of Batman, one more in line with his earlier stories.

As I got older I understood and respected those interpretations of Batman more, and I even came to enjoy and appreciate them (Except for Burton’s Batman. I still really dislike that movie). I get why an older audience would want a more realistic and mature version of the hero they loved as kids, and I wasn’t surprised when Zack Snyder chided audiences for what he felt was their naive belief that Batman could fight crime the way that he does without murdering criminals along the way, but still, I missed my Bright Knight, and I wanted to see his return. Batman was supposed to be about fun adventures, at least to me, but for a long time, and with few exceptions (such as the criminally underrated Batman: The Brave and the Bold), that version of Batman was out, and grim and gritty was in.

In recent years, however, there has been more and more love shown for the classic Batman I grew up with. DC Comics released a series of tie-in comics to Batman 66, which both celebrated and poked gentle fun at the show. Two animated films starting members of the original cast returning to their iconic roles were released, and animated series like Justice League Action and Lego Batman, clearly focused on a younger audience but still, found that there was a lot of joy to be had with the Caped Crusader.

The Wrong Earth is part of this new examination. As I said, Peyer uses the contrast between his heroes to deconstruct and reexamine the character of Batman, showing both sides of the character’s history by literally dropping the two most stereotypical versions of this character into each other’s world and lets the story unfold from there. The result is an amazing contrast that highlights the unique aspects of the character without passing judgement on which traits are superior. Dragonflyman is definitely prone to pompous sounding speeches and self-righteous actions, but he’s also brilliant and noble and genuinely wants to help people. He’s incredibly competent, immediately understanding the dangers of the new world he is placed in and like Adam West’s Batman, Dragonflyman is a brilliant detective who would rather foil crimes with his brains than his fists. People tend to forget that while every episode of Batman 66 had its requisite fight scenes, the majority of the time was spent solving riddles, connecting clues, and making deductions, something lacking from most cinematic versions of the Caped Crusader.

That’s not to say that this version of our Bright Knight is without fault. His simplistic, black and white view of the world causes a number of issues and leads him to make several poor choices, including locking up police officers in his own jail cell in order to keep them from revealing his secret identity or trusting people he really shouldn’t. He also, despite his best efforts, seems incapable of dealing with the problems facing his doppelganger’s world, which doesn’t seem to stop him from trying to anyways.

Meanwhile, the grimdark Dragonfly is given the same level of respect in the series. Yes, he’s clearly mentally unhinged and murderous in his approach to dealing with crime, at one point gunning down a clearly D list level rouge on his counterpart’s Earth because he was annoyed with having to stop him, but his character is later shown to have more nuance than this. The Dragonfly has been through the wringer in a way that Dragonflyman cannot understand. Instead of being welcomed as a protector of his world, he was feared and shunned. The corrupt police and officials saw him as being just as bad as the villains he hunted, and this led him to turn more and more inward. This caused a strain in his relationship with  Stinger, the end result of which is hinted at but never shown directly.

It’s a rare story that can deconstruct two versions of a hero so well, but this story’s strength comes from that comparison, as well as the fact that it is deconstructing a hero without having to worry about the consequences of that deconstruction. Peyer has the freedom to really delve into the characters without having to worry about the consequences on continuity moving forward like a Batman author would, and this allows him to really dig under the surface in a way that hasn’t really been done before. The first mini is only 5 issues and barely feels like it scratches the surface of the potential of this concept.

The follow-up prequel, Dragonfly & Dragonflyman, set before the events of The Wrong Earth, tells parallel stories of Dragonflyman/ The Dragonfly and their sidekick Stinger. Both stories revolve around the villain Devilman infecting the titular heroes with a substance that brings out their dark sides, putting tremendous strains on both heroes’ relationships with their teen sidekick, and reveal unfortunate truths about both men.

The Dragonfly’s Stinger was missing in the first series, so it’s nice to get a feeling for who he was and what his relationship was like with Dragonfly. Fans of the DC Universe Titans series will definitely see the influence of that show in this book, as well as fans of Jason Todd and the Red Hood. Classic fans of the Adam West and Burt Ward dynamic duo will see much in Dragonflyman’s relationship with his Stinger as well.

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Again, as with the first series, Peyer could have stuck to tropes and stereotypes, but instead, he fleshes out the characters to make them real people, even though they inhabit a fantastical world. He also plays nicely with audience expectations, as people who have read the first series will definitely have a few moments where they feel the tension ratchet up because they know what is supposed to have happened. I won’t give anything away, but the story does a nice job of subverting your expectations and has more than a few surprises along the way.

The Wrong Earth just came out in trade a little while back, and those people with ComiXology unlimited can read the individual issues for free. Dragonfly & Dragonflyman just wrapped up and probably won’t be out in trade for a while, but you can and should call your LCS and see if they have any issues you can buy to support them. This story still has a lot of potential left, and Ahoy Comics has really made a name for itself with this series. If you can pick these issues up, I highly recommend them.

Stay safe people!

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