Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Playing Favorites excerpts, pt 13, just gushin' 'bout Batman

Every Tuesday, I post excerpts from my best-selling at not-selling super blog, Playing Favorites
But why is Batman one of my favorites? He doesn't have an arc that he develops through. Certainly, he learns things, but really, Batman versus the Joker will do as well today as Batman against the White Martians did years ago (so cool!). He doesn't have a villain that he constantly strives against to beat that he'll eventually beat; he'll learn vital lessons that let him beat whatever scheme is in front of him and continue doing that for just about every adventure ever. Case in point: he just beat Darkseid—the God of Evil—with minimal advance preparation to settle their best two out of three grudge match. It's cool that he goes toe-to-toe with the dude that pounds on Superman when he's getting his rage on; it's amazing that he lost a round to The Ruler of Apocalypse and constant threat to New Genesis, planet of cosmic-scale gods and survived to fight round three. Standing back, the dude's resume is top notch. 

When you get closer, his wins are largely done with style: classic last-minute reversals that are well crafted from a well-established character and story that are enjoyable to read. That said, that cool, collected detective who picked up a radion bullet from a crime scene is the same one that managed to pull Booster Gold and Blue Beetle's asses out of the fire in Bialya. Sure, the character changes a lot over the years, but just like with Dickbats, the perspective is so far away for most of us that we can't appreciate the growth within each arc or characterize the changes over time as some sort of unified narrative development of the character. While each Batman is a different character, The Batman idea itself doesn't develop much beyond a chimeric adaptation to the zeitgeist. The different Batmen, however are what make him a successful meme. He is simultaneously one idea presented with different details; the details that find purchase in the mass consciousness are the aspects of him which proliferate and which in turn produce variations based on those differences which can find purchase as the culture in which it exists changes. Batman's character development (and it could be argued that of any long-standing character) isn't a unified narrative arc, but a reflection of the expectations and desires of those who perpetuate the underlying idea he represents. Again, Batman's scale prevents macro-analysis of his character growth, and a micro-analysis doesn't turn up much at all either because he is essentially flawless.

Yes, flawless. Batman is human in the technical sense (depending on just what the hell “Superman/Batman” is doing this month. You think I'm kidding. Seriously, they had Thomas Wayne meet Jor-El there. And they talked about the kids they might one day have. I hate incestuousness in my comics and movies [Star Wars], but this was practically a family reunion/orgy. Not everyone in the history of everyone everywhere has to have met everyone else [Star Trek crossover novels]. I wish I was kidding here about how bad it is in this book, I really do. I have found shooting stars and wished upon them to the effect that this comic was some kind of joke to no avail. I like to imagine in those moments that in some reality there was something inconceivably worse and I wished for it not to exist and it didn't. I like to think that this has happened many times and each time one of those terrible things gets erased, a hovering 'canceled' stamp passes over “Superman/Batman” instead. I figure that Bruce Wayne's only a few years away from being ret-conned as Superman's half-brother or some shit.), he is not so human in the artistic sense. Yes, the makes little mess-ups, but when The Black Hand destroys him with a subconscious suggestion, then fills him up with drugs, erases his memory, and puts him on the street, his second back-up personality kicks in, lets him become Batman again, and stumble into a deathtrap...that he actually gets out of and while you were reading the words “on the street” and “stumble into a deathtrap,” he rewired a dime-store radio to trap all of his opponents in a building so he could punch them all when he did escape.

It was awesome to read and Batman is pure righteous violence. He is comic books with- No, Batman is comics. There isn't a damned thing about him that is “comics, but-”. His character has depth (the style of depth varies from writer to writer), history, righteous vengeance, good ideas, a mask, a good moral compass, but not very many flaws. Perhaps there's some sort of flawless/relatability/wish fulfillment balance that these heroes have and Batman has just broken the system(or used relatability as his dump stat).

He doesn't compromise his principles. He has a long view mixed with typically short-sighted morals, and those really are his closest flaws, which—being Batman—are also his greatest assets. His long-view makes him so endearing because it puts him head and shoulders above other superheroes. In fact, he's one of the few who regularly beats out the rule that superheroes are more capable in their own comics. In Booster Gold, Booster screws up the timeline and makes it so that cyber-virus OMACs led by Max Lord destroy most of the members of The Justice League in their homes. In the series of panels that this information is exposited, you see an OMAC-ed Alfred catch Batman unawares in The Batcave. Liking Batman as I do, I was irked, but I recognized it was a Booster Gold comic, and it was on him to save the day, etc., etc.. Fast forward to the thrilling climax, and Batman shows up having already infiltrated Max's satellite headquarters weeks ago and was preparing to destroy it from the inside. When the time line was finally restored, Batman, remembering nothing of the OMAC-friendly timeline, reveals that he knows Booster Gold has been up to something and gives him grudging respect and offers a friendly ear. That's Batman; he isn't the guy that you beat up to show how awesome your character is. He's the guy that acknowledges your character has finally earned a measure of real worth. It isn't his ability to punch his way out of trouble that people like about him (though make no mistake he does do that and we do like that about him), it's that he is clever and his solutions have to be clever because simply shooting rays at something isn't the answer. The same way Captain Picard couldn't just point Worf at his problems to solve them; Batman can't use brute force to solve problems. 

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1 comment:

Rude said...

I love this.