Let me just start by saying Tom King is one of my favorite writers in comics. I bought all the single issues plus also hardcover copies of both The Vision and Sheriff of Babylon, and I’d do the same for Omega Men if a hardcover was available. I’ve loved this Batman run overall (Kite Man!), and King’s Mister Miracle maxi-series has gotten a ton of ink (or whatever the digital equivalent is) on this very site. I love Tom King’s work, which is part of why I feel obligated to apply a critical lens to his latest arc in Batman, “The Gift,” which centered on Booster Gold.
In The Gift, Booster and his flying Palm Pilot/best friend Skeet go back in time to prevent the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, trying to create evidence of how awful the world would be without Batman in order to present it to Bruce as a gift for his wedding. I’ve got plenty of nit-picks with this concept—was Booster just going to film it and give Bats a video clip? did he plan on later going back to ensure the murder happened? what about Selina? wedding gifts are supposed to be for both the bride AND groom—but this is comics, and we could nitpick everything all day and still not run out of nits to pick, etc.
My central issue with The Gift is the characterization of Booster Gold. In The Gift, Booster is reckless and—to be blunt—kind of dumb. Even when the world has gone to ash around him and he’s got multiple deaths on his conscience, he’s wisecracking about how he should have just gone with a cheese tray, written closer to Deadpool or Harley Quinn than the character we’ve seen in the past. It’s a far cry from the bleak but tragicomic genius we’ve seen in books like The Vision or Mister Miracle.
To me, Booster Gold has always been a tragic hero, though, one who is undone more by cutting corners, hubris, and bad luck than his own wanton stupidity. Born in the future as Michael Jon Carter, he was a star quarterback who got caught betting on his own games (at the behest of his lousy and I think also alcoholic father). So, he stole a bunch of super advanced tech and fled to the past, where he re-branded himself as a superhero and used his knowledge of other heroes there to his advantage. Also, he wanted to regain his lost fame, riches and fortune.
None of that is all that stupid. Narcissistic and selfish, perhaps, but also clever and calculating. As a result Booster is often depicted with a mix of daddy issues and imposter syndrome, which making him highly relate-able. A hallmark of his character over the years has also become his respect for the delicacy of the timeline, something that was even depicted well in the last 18 months or so in an Action Comics arc written by Dan Jurgens (the greatest Superman writer of our generation), in which Booster essentially stands up to Superman, who’s trying to save his own parents. It just isn't consistent that a Booster who recently went through that would then turn around and initiate the same idea as a wedding gift for Batman, even if he did intend to undo it.
My first inclination was to chalk this up to rushed writing, to King trying to spin the wheels on Batman for a few issues and bridge the way to No. 50. The more I contemplate this, however, the less I think that was the case. The end of The Gift leaves Booster a broken man, one vigorously cleaning a nigh-invisible splotch of blood left on his golden visor, which is hardly an ending at all. King, however, has shown himself to be expertly adept at ending arcs and story threads with the best in the business, and here there's almost no closure. King leaves us disturbed and a little perplexed, an odd note for a writer who has consistently tugged on reader emotions with subtle and savvy bits of narrative genius.
What I think is far more likely is that this is the start of a King story rather than the end of one. Now, this idea that The Gift is a seed for a larger Booster Gold arc rather than a simple guest spot in Batman isn’t all that original, not at this point. Outlets from Bleeding Cool to CBR have posited much the same, presenting more than enough evidence from King’s Twitter feed to back up their hypothesis. The standard line of thinking has quickly become that Booster Gold will be headed for King’s next concept, a PTSD clinic for superheros dubbed Sanctuary, and I’m on board with that. I certainly trust King—a man who has been to actual war—to tell that story and to tell it well.
What I would caution as a reader, however, is that there is a danger in making nuanced characters a blank slate defined by recent pain and suffering. As we saw in The Gift, it leaves entire plot points open to feeling contrived and insincere. One of the things that worked so well within DC's Rebirth was a strong emphasis on the core concepts of characters. To throw that away—even for an idea as strong as Sanctuary—seems like folly. And really, for an in-continuity, shared universe story like this one, it’s probably on the editor to enforce character growth and consistency from Action Comics to Batman to whatever comes next, etc.
But hey, enough with the negativity! King's scripts have a high bottom line for quality, and the artwork by Tony S. Daniel and Sandu Florea was great. Overall, King’s batting average is still really high on Batman, a book for which he must produce two scripts a month, no easy task for any writer, and I for one firmly believe that this wedding is going to be fantastic. I recently re-read Batman Annual No. 2, and it's still one of the best Batman stories in years, as well as one of the best Bat-Cat stories period. The Batman/Elmer Fudd Special is also a modern pop art classic, wonderfully-bizarre in conception and pitch perfect in execution, just downright great comic book-ing. Basically, for every Booster Gold fumble, there is an equal or greater Kite Man. King is also pretty busy right now—planning a wedding is never easy.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.