Colin Wilkes, alias Abuse, has appeared in a grand total of eight issues in the DC canon. While very little of his character has been explored, he has nonetheless been received enthusiastically by comic fans.
At the same time, fandom has been vastly unfair to Colin. There’s so much uncharted territory, ways to think through his backstory, his growth, and his personality—and all we do is box him into the moe category, with no function other than to be cute.
As a caveat, I’m no connoisseur of Colin fanworks. I don’t track his tag on tumblr; I don’t search his name very often on fanwork archives. So maybe I’ve gotten an unbalanced impression. But in nearly everything that I have seen, he’s presented as an innocent golden child who exists solely to counterbalance Damian’s darkness. This makes for very adorable fanworks, sure, but for Colin as a character—it really sucks.
Most people are interested in him because of his unique peer relationship with Damian. I get that. In Streets of Gotham, he proved to be an excellent foil. But when balancing out Damian is his raison d’etre, it’s taking him short-shrift. It turns him from a character into a plot device, a mere accessory.
Moreover, this instinct to further kawaii-ify him tends to neglect the fact that this kid is pretty scarred himself. As I mentioned above, we know very few things about Colin, and yet people who claim to be his fans seem to forget many of those basic facts.
To be clear, I’m not saying he isn’t cute. This kid is cute. Cute as fuck. But he’s also paranoid, violent when scared, and tangled in neuroses (chiroptophobia, claustrophobia, and abandonment issues, among others).
Consider how fandom handles his introduction in Detective Comics #847. People easily remember how he clings to his teddy bear, Rory—one of the more “aww”-worthy aspects of those panels. But how many people remember why he’s at the Gotham Children’s Hospital in the first place? (Answer: attending psychiatric therapy sessions)
And remember SoG #7? How Damian completely flips out at the sight of all the dead children? Meanwhile Colin is relatively calm—even though he knew some of the victims personally.
This boy is hard. He’s definitely sweeter than Damian in certain ways, but he’s no pushover.
And yet fandom always makes him out to be this mythical creature made of marshmallow fluff.
That is what upsets me the most. Because what’s fascinating about Colin, isn’t just that he’s adorable. And it’s definitely not that he’s naive, because he’s not. At least not to the extent that fanon makes him out to be. This kid’s been cycling through foster homes since he was three, and the US foster care system is not one which lets you keep your innocence without a fight. He’s had as tough a life as Damian, if not tougher.
What I like about Colin is that, despite his troubles, and also because of them, he has a keen resilience in his heart. I like that he can keep composed when he sees a dead child, that he can have psychological and behavioral issues that make foster family after foster family dump him back at the orphanage—and yet, still be very good at being a child. He still has the audacity to be optimistic, to dream about his heroes, to wear band-aids when he doesn’t need them because he thinks they look cool.
This is a boy who felt unwanted by the world for his entire life, until one night when he was saved by his hero (Detective Comics #848). This is a boy who is like so many “problem children” in the real world. Kids who are considered lost causes. Who have been abused and ignored and made to feel worthless.
And it’s like fandom has done the same to him. Except, because he’s fictional, he can be cut apart. The “bad” bits thrown away and forgotten. Only the likable parts retained.
It shouldn’t be impossible to recognize that Colin—and more importantly, children in real life—can be adorable and severely troubled. It’s the same courtesy DC fandom now gives to Damian, albeit after years of initially hating him.
Now obviously, being selective is what fandom is about, right? We’re not here to bow down to every sliver of canon. We can be critical and demanding and pushy with our source material. We can accept some things and reject others; embellish at some times, downplay at others.
So if you want to cut out Colin’s backstory, go right ahead. But if you’re going to do so, at least do it consciously. Do it deliberately. Do it because you want to—not because you forget.
TL;DR: Colin’s a cutie-pie, but he’s not innocent nor naive. If you want to focus on his cuteness, that’s great! But it would be nice if you’d give some consideration to his complex backstory, even if it’s not central to your interpretation. Being an adorable human being and having severe psychological/behavioral issues are not mutually exclusive!
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