Saturday, December 10, 2011

You Don’t Know Dick

ID: Your first adopted son is Batman. I’m not the first person to say this. It’s been making the rounds for a few weeks, now, primarily from a Lex News report. But when we talked about him previously this news wasn’t out in the open, so you had to be taciturn. Because you had to wall off an entire clump of who he was and is to you. I tacitly agreed to that, by not asking the obvious questions. So we’re going to take a spade to that unplumbed depth. When did you decide to take Dick Grayson on as an understudy?

B: Well, it was an evolution. At first, I didn’t think he’d even want a part of my, mission, I guess. It had always been such a specific, personal thing to me up until that point, so it didn’t really even occur to me that Dick would want it.

But he was a gymnast, and I had a lot of gymnastic and acrobatic equipment and facilities in the cave. So at first, he’d just train with me. And then he’d see me doing my katas, or doing strength training, and he’d join me in those things. Honestly, at the time, I thought we were just exercising together, in a way that was helping him to get past what had happened to his parents.

And then one day he showed up in the cave when it was time for me to go out for my patrols, and he’s in costume, and wants to go along. At first I told him no, in no uncertain terms. And he threw a little bit of a fit, and stormed up to his room. Of course, Alfred overhead the whole thing, and said, “Would you have listened?” And we both knew the answer to that; it was a long series of me not listenings that led me to being Batman.

So I had Alfred design him a costume, with maximum armor without limiting mobility. And it was dark, blacks and crimsons.

ID: That’s always bugged me. Your costume’s black and gray, fairly camouflagey. Your sidekick, his costume looks like the 1980s threw up on someone.

B: You’re going to wish you hadn’t said that. See, the costume he was wearing that night was basically a slightly altered version of the one he and his parents performed in. He wanted to wear it to keep their memory alive.

ID: I’ve always wondered what my foot tasted like; fishy, but with earthy overtones.

B: That might be something that warrants a doctor’s visit. But we fought about it. Like crazy. I forbid him from going out, because I thought, like you’ve said, that his costume made him a flashing light for gunfire, and even just attention can be deadly, you know, when you’re swinging from rooftops, because somebody hurls a brick, or just makes a loud noise, anything that screws with your concentration can be a problem.

But he was able to break into the Batcave without even really trying. There wasn’t anything we could do, at least nothing that wouldn’t count as child endangerment, to keep him locked up. And we tried. About the only true success we had was duct tape, Alfred used about five rolls to really make sure he wouldn’t get out of it. And he still did. Took him hours of wriggling, and later I figured out he’d pulled a Houdini, made sure to keep his muscles tensed up while Alfred was taping him, so that he had a little room to maneuver. He got out and tracked me down for about the last hour of my patrol.

And we’d all but given up when he stopped. He was asleep in his room when I left for my patrols, and still asleep when I’d get back. He shadowed me for almost a week before I realized he was still following me on my patrols. So I trained him to stay in the shadows, keep his distance. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have someone watching from above, who could tell me if, say, a car full of armed thugs was emptying at the end of an alley while I was preoccupied fighting.

And I was fooling myself the whole time. Dick wasn’t going to stay out of the fight any more than I would have. Any time I got into trouble, he was there to bail me out. But what I really quickly realized, is in doing so, he usually put himself in even more danger, having to act quickly and recklessly. So I grounded him. For two months. And told him that if he followed my every instruction, to the letter, to the detail, for that time period, I would let him patrol with me for real.

I put him through Hell. ‘Bruce Wayne’ took a ski vacation through Europe- a body double I’ve used before- and I spent eighteen hours a day preparing him. I kind of thought he’d lose interest after a week or two. But on top of that, Alfred and I were pretty inventive with stupid requests; he scrubbed every single toilet in Wayne Manor with a toothbrush, and didn’t complain. Okay, he complained a couple of times when I wasn’t in the room, but I can’t fault him for not finding the recording devices then; it was still pretty early in his training.

ID: You had recording devices in your young ward’s room?

B: Just audio. And, you know, we didn’t listen if he was doing any of those things young boys do that their parents don’t want to think about.

ID: Like voting Democrat?

B: Among others.

But he didn’t give up. We assigned him some crazy tasks, absolutely designed to break him. The best example was the last thing we did, his final test.

Dick’s family were part of a traveling circus; they didn’t even own a car, so he knew nothing about cars. Alfred and I placed an ‘explosive’ device inside my car, and told him he’d have to find it and disarm it while I dealt with a threat outside the cave.

I told him that to get at the device without setting it off he’d have to pull the car apart- entirely apart. And of course, since it was a bomb, and we didn’t know how long we had before it went off, he couldn’t rest in the meantime.

This was really before the internet was big. The computer in the cave had a lot of references filed, so there were diagrams and guides. But you know if the Chilton’s guide didn’t do it for you, you were out of luck.

Needless to say, there was a lot of trial and error, there, a couple of times where, as a parent, I was terrified he was going to drop the engine on himself or something. He was up for forty some hours, and Alfred and I took turns watching on the monitors to make sure he didn’t cheat- or worse, do something that would have been unsafe if there actually had been a bomb in the car.

I gave him strict instructions about how to handle the bomb once he found it. I had a bomb disposal robot, one of the early prototypes, and he used that to remotely take the bomb into a vault that we had, and locked it in. I told him I’d help him with it when I got back. He followed my instructions entirely. I told him to signal me when he got that far, so I could come and help him, and in the meantime to start putting the car back together.

Reassembly never takes as long, but it was still hours he was working on that car. And there was one time he sat down, and we thought he might quit and take a nap, so I’d radio in to tell him that something came up, but I really needed the car ready when I got back. So he went back to work, and the moment he got it started I ran around to the front of the house where I had my bike and drove back around to the cave.

I made a big show of talking him into the proper bomb disposal gear, then walking him through safely entering the vault, and cautiously approaching the bomb. Then I told him all it would take to disarm it was twisting it at the hinge. Inside, rather than an explosive, he found a key.

And I told him at the back of the vault there was a case, that the key would fit into. And inside it he found the costume that Alfred had designed for him, but redone in his family’s costume colors. He hugged me and cried. I’m sure some of that was the sleep deprivation.

ID: Then what’s your excuse?

B: I don’t get a lot of chances to reminisce about being a dad. And I guess it’s easy, going from one life crisis to another, to overlook how special the little moments were. But now my son’s Batman. How much prouder could a father get?

[NOTE: this interview ran overlong, so I’ll be running it over two weeks instead of one]

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