The best Batman cosplayer at San Diego Comic Con has a sight build, glasses, sandy hair, and a Nerdist hoodie; he spent an hour this morning sharing the story of his tragic origin, and how he rebuilt himself, trained himself, became somebody who would use that newfound strength to protect others. He suffered an unimaginably — if you’re lucky, all too imaginably if you’re not — trauma for no reason other than the conscious moral choice of another, and spent decades thinking it tainted him, doomed him to perpetuate the same horror on others, making him into a monster in waiting.
Screw that. Dean Trippe didn’t just have his life saved by Batman, he has become Batman, but not the one most people think of. Trippe is not Vengeance, he is not The Night, he is the Batman that finds others in the depths of tragedy and makes of them a confraternity to prevent harm from befalling others. He wants us all to be part of his Bat Family, and judging from the tension and body language of the attendees in his panel on Something Terrible a distressing number of the attendees have had their own origin stories and are the people that Trippe now sees it as his job to help. I knew I had to do it once I was on the other side of it he says, both about the comic and the role he’s taken on as sounding board for those touched by abuse. You feel like you’re a werewolf with all these misconceptions out there. I dedicated myself to being the best father I could be and breaking the chain [of absenteeism and irresponsibility] that my father and his father had set.
That driving mission in his life is maybe best expressed in a scene left out of the book (sometimes, the beats that a story has to take don’t allow for all the content you’d like): little Dean, rescued on what would have been the worst day of his life asks adult Dean in the TARDIS What do we do now? and Batman says Now we go save everybody else. Trippe says, the comic really is me trying to do that. I did the book for everybody else, but I also did it to help me. I had this one thing eating up all the space I had for secrets and now that it’s not there, I’m kind of bulletproof.
Trippe’s conversation ranged far and wide, of course — favorite writers (Grant Morrison), the effects of coming into comics in the ’90s (right before the Death of Superman and Batman getting replaced — it was a weird time), the importance of Bill Finger (at the end of the panel, Athena Finger, Bill’s granddaughter and tireless crusader for her grandfather to receive acknowledgment invited Trippe to table with her). I can only include specific vignettes here.
- On You’ll Be Safe Here, the splash image at the end of Something Terrible: There are 116 characters, who have had redesigned costumes to make them timeless. There’s also an Easter egg, inside the central column of the TARDIS, V from V for Vendetta is there, and The Iron Giant holds Grant Morrison in his hand because he’s basically a fictional character.
- His son, “Field”, knows about the story, but not the details (he’s been told that Trippe was threatend with a gun). Having gotten past the fears that he would perpetuate a cycle of abuse, Trippe remarked, Have kids, man; you spend your whole life looking for someone to relate to, just make one. The next book from Trippe will be one that he’s been writing with “Field” since the latter was three; [A]bout a character called SuperBeast, from the sun, and he has all the animal powers. We made up about seven members for his superteam, and my old character Butterfly is on it.
- On comics fans not wanting change: A lot of fans get knocked for wanting things to stay the same, but I think we want things to be good and move forward and get annoyed when they go backward, like Batgirl reverting or Spider-Man’s marriage getting erased.
- Asked what the reaction to Something Terrible outside of geek circles has been, Trippe responded, What’s outside of geek circles? The president grew up drawing Batman and Superman for his friends. I get messages from dads in their 50s, and they tell me “I just put my invisible gun down.” The opportunity to help people, it’s really touching.
- Asked what message he would have for the person that abused him: It’s tough, because Arkham Asylum isn’t real. I didn’t know my attacker’s name, I didn’t know all the details. I told my mom I was working on this book, and she’s been very supportive, and some of the biggest response I’ve gotten from people whose parents didn’t believe them. I told mom I was done, wanted to see if I got the details right. My mom gave me his name.
I Googled him. He did horrible things to six kids when he was a teenager, I wasn’t going to judge him, maybe he got his shit together in prison and fixed what was wrong with him. He didn’t. But I am not vengeance. Batman is not vengeance. He doesn’t do what he does for revenge, he does it to protect other people. There are people who have made mistakes, one thing I admire about Batman is he uses violence (my son and I have a rule about hitting, who’s allowed to hit? Just Batman), but he doesn’t kill. What he does is he takes Joker, Two-Face, he takes them to get help. I still think if you need help, you should get help. I don’t want you die; maybe you want you die, but that’s not me.
- On hearing stories of what others have experienced and how he processes them: It’s really hard, I had a hard time after hearing a story at Heroes Con. I usually have to go and sit quietly a bit and rebuild my determination, but I want to be somebody people can come to and talk about. The first time I talked about it with my mother after the court case when I was six years old was last year. They hoped my sister had forgotten about it.
At Heroes I met a girl who came up to me, only 13 years old, so cute, and she asked “Was Something Terrible about you?” And I said it was, and she started bawling and saying it happened to her. I mostly hear from adults and we have time to build ourselves and become somebody who takes care of others — you have a superhero origin story — but meeting somebody who’s in the middle of it, that threw me for a loop.
These kids that I meet that are going through it now, it’s tough. But I’m glad it’s my job, and it seems crazy that the worst thing that ever happened to me has become something Kinda Wonderful.
And that’s where I came to the realization that when I think of Dean Trippe, when I think of what he’s taken on as his job, the image I get isn’t actually of Batman, although it was written by Grant Morrison. It’s the scene from All-Star Superman with the girl about to jump from the ledge of a building, and Superman tells her It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re stronger than you think. And if you think it is that bad, that you’re not strong enough, Dean Trippe is waiting to tell you different.
Also, and this is purely a personal observation, the Eisner Awards dropped the ball in a larger fashion than I can ever recall in not recognizing Something Terrible. It got 2,000,000 views, which I’m pretty sure swamped the reach of any nominated single issue of the last year.