February 24th, 2006

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More On My Mancrush Of A Fictional Character

Okay, so Batman.

Batman is not without flaws, of course. Yeah, he's the smartest person in the world when it comes to planning and tactics and taking down the bad guys. And he's got freaky intuition when it comes to "What the other guy is thinking," but he's been through some of the worst "what the other guy is thinking" to get to that point. Spoiled little rich kid lost his mommy and daddy in front of his face, and has been searching for their killer ever since. Even in the continuities where he finds the guy, like the old comics where Joe Chill's just a low level shmuck who worked his way to middle management mafia shmuck, or Batman Begins, where he was a low level shmuck who got killed for his willingness to talk too much about the mob.

That doesn't matter: Bruce Wayne will always need to solve that case. Because he is that case. He has to know who dunnit, so he can know why he's doin' it. And he dresses up in a ludicrous outfit to scare criminals and crooks and corrupt bureaucrats and mobsters and gangsters.

Batman has a level of intensity that cannot be matched.

Oh, sure, Superman and Martian Manhunter and Captain Atom and Guy Gardner and everyone, really--they can be intense. But only with provocation, usually pretty severe provocation. Superman almost never uses his eye beams unless he's pissed off, same with Mr. J'onn J'onzz. It's probably an artistic reflection of their anger: not only are they seeing red they're shooting red death beams of flame and hurty at you with their EYES, MAN!!!

Batman, though . . . Batman would always be shooting red death beams of flame and hurty at you with his eyes, man. If he had that superpower. Because Batman is angry. He doesn't let it get to him often--Batman, mad? Letting out his demons? Is like a class 80 hurricane of anger. On the scale of one to kingdom come, it's already the hereafter.

Batman knows that his anger could be a problem, because he himself has a problem with killing. He lives in the abyss, that Jungian theme, but never allows himself to wallow in it. He knows he crosses a few lines other supes don't. Beating info out of guys? Coercing confessions? He does this as easy as blinking. Easier, even, because when he's mad, when he gets pissed, he doesn't blink. He's staring down the worst part of himself, while also letting it play.

But Batman's anger is usually a righteous fury: he does not get angry just 'cause. He gets angry because every failure is another night where someone else is living out Bruce Wayne's worst day, in their own personal way. Maybe not your parents killed in front of you while your still a child and your parents are your gods. Losing your business, maybe, a business you've been spending years to build; or the loss of family in another way, you lose your kids, or your wife or husband, or your life partner; or just another punctuation mark on the unfairness and unjustness of life. Batman started out concerned with Justice remember. Like, if he believed in karma, he'd be Karma's bitch, but he doesn't believe in karma, because . . . what did he do to deserve watching his parents' murders? There's almost nothing an 8-year-old can do to deserve that. But Batman knows there's the potential of fairness in the world, and he's dedicated his life to realizing that potential. He's done this by circumventing the existing system, of course, because he's got a problem with intensity, too.

Have you ever had a conversation with a war veteran, about their experiences in war? They're often very reluctant to talk about it, because, seriously, often it's the worst days of their lives, and yeah, would you like to continue dwelling on it? The human mind needs distractions, or it goes bad crazy. Like Vietnam War vets who can't get over what they saw there. Or any veteran who can't get over it, the Vietnam War wasn't the first war where returning soldiers had a hard time reinserting themselves into society. But when you manage to get them to open up, there's this . . . light they get in their eyes, only it's almost a dark light. There's this feverish intensity, usually less feverish as in nervous energy, more like feverish as in . . . can't stop the noises, the sights and the smells, from returning, long-buried, as vivid as the day it occurred, even more sometimes, too vivid. Sickly alive. Some people, probably most, can put the proper perspective on it and not get hung up by it, but not everyone can. Some people do get hung up on it, but are capable of distancing themselves from it, almost like it occurred to someone else, even though they know they lived through it. Maybe they can't deal with what they had to do to survive, or maybe they just were pushed in a direction they normally can't apply to themselves. Whatever the case, there's this unspoken understanding: sometimes, life gets too much like living. But you've never seen that, and you can't know for sure, what living is like. Not the "I'm alive! I'm free" vitality that's usually meant by alive. Go read about how beautiful nature is and maybe you'll see my point.

Living isn't easy or nice and anything. Survival is what is necessary not what is fun or diverting.

And Batman, being a hero, and not some mundane person, is able to channel his intensity and survival instinct to do "what is necessary" while still remaining pure and good and hopeful and wanting to climb out of that abyss. As a hero, he can do it. A normal person might not be able to make it all the way. A normal person could falter.

. . .

IMO, Batman goes through three "heroic character arcs" in his life. The first one begins when his parents die: before that, he's just a kid. The murder of his parents is the call to adventure, but Bruce never gets the chance to refuse or accept before he is knocked loose of the mundane world. He's suddenly thrust into the world of illusions, of mystery. He has no choice. He's got to grow up fast and be forever isolated from the normal world. Yet, eventually, he rejects that. He doesn't have to be forever isolated. What happened to him was monstrous, cruel, unfair, unjust so he swears to bring justice, bring meaning to his parents' murders. He thus, in one fell swoop, accepts his heroic purpose, returns to the world of mortals (because that's the only place the murders are senseless, and the only place they can be given meaning, as Bruce means it--he may not realize what he's doing, he's just an 8-year-old at this time), and alienates himself from the world of mortals as all heroes of classic literature and legend and myth do: he's rebelling against the system, because the system has holes, and he's gonna plug them. He's still a kid, though, he's not finished with his life, but he's completed his first heroic arc. He's ready to assume the mantle of archetype or ectype. An archetype, when discussing heroic characters, are those who meet the ideals of whatever culture heroizes them, and who finishes the full circuit, someone we can point to and say "He did it. This is who you're talking about. This is what you mean," even if you're talking about something else. An ectype is one who seeks to meet the ideals, but falls short for whatever reason. Pride, incompetence, lack of luck, whatever.

Batman's second arc is his many years of training. He now immerses himself in the world of illusions, literally traveling through the underworld learning skills and pieces of information that will be useful when he finally begins his war. This arc is much less immediate than the first, because Bruce Wayne is learning, learning sophistication and subtlety, and you don't learn things overnight. Even if you're a genius, or willing yourself to become a genius, as it's possible Bruce Wayne does. He's probably a bright kid, but compare his intuitive leaps as an 8-year old to them as an 18-year old, and it's not ten years of difference, it's a whole other planet where time runs faster and slower all at once. Bruce Wayne is, over the next decade to decade-and-a-half or so (I believe it went like this: in the golden age, it was 16 years, 10 to 26; in the silver age, it was still 16, but 8 to 24; in Frank Miller's pinnacle of Batman literature, Year One it's 18 years, 8 to 26). if I were writing Batman, I'd go even more nutty, like 6 to 24(but that's because I've got weird notions of Batman's age versus Superman, and stuff). This arc ends when he returns to Gotham with all his skills, and learns that he can't fully return to the world of normals, and has to use the lessons of the world of illusions to force a . . . maybe I don't have the proper vocabulary to describe it, he has to create a figment, to harness to world of illusions in the mundane world, something that is sort of against the natural order--normally, only villains attempt this sort of thing, which is why heroes go after them. The mundane world and the world of illusions co-exist in the same place, but to mix them is a big no-no, myth and legend would tell us, while at the same time hoping that we do so in a way that doesn't muck up the status quo. But Batman is all about mucking up the status quo, and when he does it with the help of the world of illusions, what have you got? Compelling, interesting characterization. Classic archetypal hero. Magic. My favorite hero, in fact.

Eric Burns, he's a critical analyzer of fictions, and runs his own personal review thingy site called Websnark, which mainly deals with online comics, but he's a 30-something male, and he likes him some comic books, too, and he likes him some JLU, too, and he did an interesting essay about Batman the archetype, as pertains to DCAnimatedU and various ectypes of said program. He's done another such essay, this one about what made superheroes so cool and why Bruce Timm, et al., got that and maybe the people who were at the time in charge didn't, and his opinions on the matters are pretty much my own, like if I were articulate and had a college education I'd probably make the same points he makes, but why should I when he already did, and so well that I'd run the risk of looking like a boob. At any rate, what's interesting about Mr. Burns' critical think-piece is that Batman is, in the Animated DCU, considered to have already gone through his heroic journey (different from an arc) by the time of Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited.

While that's true, I do, however, think that the Animated Universe makes one of its few missteps in this regard. They further compound this misstep by the backstory of Batman: Beyond, where Batman, aged and not as vital or intense as he once was, threatens a crook with a gun, and thus decides that he can't be Batman full-time. Now, there's nothing wrong with Bruce deciding not to goth out full time, but I take issue with that reason. Some writers have Batman fetishizing guns as a symbol of evil, and for children's programming, I don't have a problem with that, but the mainstream comics do it by pretending it adds some kind of depth or maturity to Batman. Yeah, simplifying everything is deep. It's mature. I'm being sarcastic because it's stupid not deep, immature not mature. It's practically demented, and that's a short definition of too many mainstream Batman stories since 1986. Things seem to be looking up for Batman later this year, but really, the only way it could get worse is if Bats suddenly starts killing people and eating their brains.

You see, Batman's last heroic arc is later in life. He manages to succeed on a certain level, he's managed somehow to build a better world. No, this isn't Frank Miller's second best Batman literature attempt, The Dark Knight Returns, where he must figuratively die, and then attempt to build a society where he can exist. That was as much a political statement as a Batman story, maybe even more a political statement. No, Batman actually manages to clean up Gotham, and his main crazy villains are healed, or on the road to health, and he's less needed. Perhaps barely needed at all. This is where he is faced with an important choice. Does he continue to be Batman, even in a lesser role, or does he finally hang up the cape and cowl, attempting to become a fully self-actualized member of society?

If he does the former, the status quo is unaltered, and he continues being Batman forever, and the cycle never ends. If he chooses the latter, he makes the only bit of character growth Batman can truly make, after he becomes Batman: he gives up the world of illusions. He'll never fully be a mundane person again, he can't, the action that knocked him out of it was too traumatic. It's like the hobbits from the Lord of the Rings, the books, not the movies. Even though the hobbits saved the world, and then saved their world, the Shire, and get married and have families, all but Frodo, they're still occasionally stared at for being queer in the strange sense, not the modern gay sense. And Batman, even with his safety net of the Bruce Wayne secret identity, will always be apart, not a part. Even if it's just in his head, even then.

But this is a story that, if DC were to ever publish, would have to exist "outside of continuity" or as an Elseworlds title, or whatever. Batman will forever be a vital, active hero, perpetually unable to make that final choice, in fact, never will he be allowed to. Because they've got business concerns, and want to make money selling Batman comics forever, so they can't ever officially end Batman. So it would get the DKR treatment, oh well. So did Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow, by Alan Moore. Who cares if it's in or out of continuity? A good story is a good story, regardless.

And just as the final battle in Beowulf, where he dies, is arguably the coolest part of that story, this, where Batman the construct, the gateway to the world of illusions, dies, could be the coolest, too.

Even DKR's ending, where Batman dies and is reborn, was pretty cool. Legends need to end, or they stop having the resonance they need to remain legendary. A Batman who never comes to terms with his own alienation with society isn't a legendary hero, he's a pulp character. There's nothing wrong with pulp characters, and Batman draws on many as inspiration, but dammit, Batman deserved to be considered as more than the campy joke he became because of the live action TV show, and Superfriends, and Joel Schumacher's destructions. He deserves to be the legend DC wants him to be. The Catch-22, though is that the only way to do it, is to kill him . . .

Of course, they did, technically, already do this. Once, there were parallel Earths in the DCMultiverse, and on the Earth where the golden age Batman lived, he'd essentially retired, and even become the new Police Commissioner after Gordon.

So, they've done it once.

Can they do it again?

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque
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Synchronicity And The Modern Webcomic

Just last week, one of my top five favorite webcomics, College Roomies From Hell!!! (the three !s stand for quality), started a story in which multiple cast members lose their clothing.

Just this week, another one of my top five favorite webcomics Shortpacked!, started a story in which one cast member lost her clothing, and the possibility exists that others will, too.

I hope this becomes a new meme!

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque
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