The Secret Origin Story of Kite Man: Hell Yeah
Everyone has a legacy. This is mine.
Last week HBO Max and DC Comics revealed they would be launching a spin off of their Harley Quinn animated show based around Kite Man, who was created By Bill Finger and Dick Sprang in 1960. They announced the new series with a now familiar phrase:
So there it is and there it thrives. “Kite Man. Hell Yeah.” Dialogue I put in Batman a few years back that I proudly see everywhere now. (My kid wears an official DC Comics tee-shirt that says “Kite Man Hell Yeah!” on it to bed. It’s not entirely appropriate, but he and I love it so.)
But, the question is: how did these ridiculous words come into this ridiculous man’s mouth? Now that it’s here and there and everywhere, where did it all start? What is the secret origin of this, the silliest of catchphrases?
Well, as with most things in comics, it was pretty much an accident.
The phrase first appears in Batman 6 with art by the great Ivan Reis. We had just finished my first arc on Batman with David Finch, “ I am Gotham.” Ivan was coming on for a one shot before we got to the second arc with Mike Janin, “I am Suicide.” Essentially this was a fill in issue to let us get a bit ahead (we were double shipping, which is very tough on artists.)
I decided to focus the issue on Gotham Girl’s grief following the loss of her brother in issue 5. I realize this is a shocker that I, of all people, would turn a one shot into a meditation on trauma, but there you have it. So the plan of the issue was Gotham Girl denying her pain until Batman revealed his own loss, and the two of them bonding and healing through their shared experiences.
This though invoked the basic and ongoing dilemma of every super hero comic writer: ”Hey, where’s the punching?” This is Batman, there has to be punching, it’s in the contract. But in an issue all about loss, what could I do to make this visually and violently interesting?
The solution was to have Gotham Girl’s denial take place while she used her incredible power to fight three Batman villains, a sort of echo of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. Because you need to ask permission to use big villains, I decided to use very small ones and literally googled, “most obscure Batman villains” or some such. I came up with three for the issue, our three ghosts: Colonel Blimp, Captain Stingaree, and…Kite Man.
Now in writing the issue, I only had twenty pages and I found that after I had done the Stingaree and Blimp parts, the room left for Kite Man was fairly limited. As such, he would get one page to show off his stuff, so it better be interesting. I decided to go with a camera-follow where we see Kite Man making a daring robbery, flying into one side of a high rise, grabbing a treasure, and flying out the other.
As you don’t talk much during a robbery, there wasn’t much dialogue to write here. But I needed to identify the man, as he hadn’t been seen in a while. So I had him very sillily shout his own name at his moment of triumph.
Here’s the page from my script:
You’ll notice: No “Hell Yeah” anywhere in sight.
And so now we come to that collaborative part of comics that actually makes comics comics, actually makes comics good.
(Before I go on, I should note, I haven’t talked to Ivan…ever. Not for any reason, we just haven’t run across each other, only worked together once. So this is all my view, not his.)
Ivan, brilliantly, took the above 5 panel page, which I had imagined as 5 equally spaced panels, and turned it into a seven panel page, where the first six panels are a sort of set up for a final big Kite Man semi-splash: Kite Man content with himself, flying away having stolen the necklace…right before he runs into Gotham Girl, who punches him, which is why he’s in the story in the first place.
Here is what I saw in the lettering pass:
Where in the script it read as one continuous action, it was now a set up (the first six panels) and a joke (the seventh). Only problem…I hadn’t written a punchline. The last panel was marked No dialogue. I had a big image of Kite Man enjoying his victory silently. And it didn’t work.
It was a big lead up to a big nothing.
So…I needed to add something to that last splash. Something pithy and important and…something worthy of Kite Man! I stared at it for some time, enough time, too much time…and nothing was coming to me. What should it be: “yay, I did it!” “Good job me!” “That’s a nice necklace I got there!” Oy.
Also, I’m generally against people talking to themselves in comics. I know this has long been a staple of our medium, but it strikes me as false, and I try to stay away from it. Adding another layer of complication.
I distinctly remember time running out, giving up, and realizing I just had to get something in. I could fix it later when the editors hated it. So I just slapped in a place holder.
Back then I had a running joke on Twitter where I’d respond to stuff I liked by saying, “hell yeah.” It was just some performative ironic awkwardness, which is what twitter used to be in the golden days.
So, with no other ideas, I wrote:
KITE MAN: Kite Man.
KITE MAN: Hell yeah.
Like he likes his name and legacy so much, he responds to himself. I’m Kite Man and that’s super! Fully aware that this was too absurd to publish, I submitted it while I tried to think of something else.
Then I forgot about it because I was on double ship Batman and there were so many deadlines.
Months later, I got my comps and…
I was like, oh crap. I meant to change that. Oh well, I guess it’s in. It’s just a random page of a random villain in an issue that is about something else entirely. I’m sure it’ll be ignored before it is forgotten…
But it didn’t work out that way at all.
Instead it hit some wonderful nerve. And people started to send the page to me and quote the page and joke about the page and…it was really kind of awesome. That doesn’t happen too often, and I never appreciate it enough when it does.
After that, he and his now famous catch phrase came back to the book a dozen more times. I had always loved what Frank Miller had done with Stilt Man in Daredevil. With Kite Man having this small bit of pop, I brought him back again and again as a tribute to Frank.
Kite Man’s Charlie Brown fate became a leitmotif of the comic…a sort of twisted mirror to The Batman who was against all odds growing as a person: Kite Man who never grows, who always fails, but always has hope; he never kicks the football, but damnit when Lucy puts it on the ground, he convinces himself it can happen.
And here we are many years later, and there he is many years later. In cartoons, on tee shirts, and soaring ever higher by the day.
JFC. It could have been Captain Stingaree.
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