Monday, December 18, 2006

The Absorbascon Answers the Big Questions

Is Batman crazy?

No. Modern comic readers are trained (by Marvel comics) to think of characters in terms of the on-going psychological damage of traumatic events. This makes them incapable of perceiving someone like Batman as anything other than "damaged goods".

Writers who continually show Batman denying himself normal pleasure or as shut off from normal human interactions foster this narrow perception of the character. As an antidote, read some Golden Age Batman. The Golden Age Batman didn't deny himself a full life in order to be Batman; becoming Batman is how he enjoyed life to its fullest.

Sadly, the concept that people might seek fulfillment in devoting themselves to the safety or betterment of society rather than personal pleasure is lost on many readers today, which is why they don't understand Batman. Batman is merely a dramatic extension of people like policeman, fireman, paramedics, etc. If Batman is 'crazy', then so are they.


Is Superman too powerful to be interesting?

No. Readers who think of comics mostly as a slugfest between opposing characters, a hero and a villain (or, if you read Marvel, two heroes) think of Superman as boring because "no one can beat Superman". Even on those limited terms, Superman is not "boring", because there are many characters who have beaten him, and many ways to do so. Just recently, Superman was hopelessly outclassed by the Collector and was only able to "defeat" him through a combination of guts and guile.

But the real trick to Superman is putting him in situations where his powers aren't overwhelmingly useful. Again, in the Golden Age, they knew how to do this. Clark Kent often came up against stories -- corruption among government contractors, poor working conditions, domestic abuse -- based on socioeconomic problems rather than crazed supervillains. Such problems are not so easily punched away.

In the Silver Age, they took a different tack. There, Superman's challenge was often about how to use his enormous powers subtly and without detection, so as to protect his secret identity. That's why his supporting cast plays a disproportionate role in his mythos.

Try this experiment. Pretend, for the next day or so, that you have all of Superman's powers. Now, acting as a hero, what exactly can you do? Solve world hunger? Stop all crime in your city? End poverty and injustice? All while living your regular life?

If you think about that for a while, you'll see there are a great many challenges even for a hero as powerful as Superman.


Is Wonder Woman a lesbian?

No. It's fairly safe to assume the bulk of women in her home of Themyscira are lesbian (at least, situationally so, as they have been living there without men for thousands of years). But growing up with gay people doesn't mean one is going to be gay, any more than growing up with straight people means one is going to be straight.

Wonder Woman's romantic/sexual interest in men is pretty plain, even in the Golden Age, with the ridiculous focus on woman-on-woman bondage and submission (which was clearly more about the sexual interests of her creator than the character herself). Her motivation for leaving Paradise Island is that she is smitten with Steve Trevor, and she wastes much of her personal time trying to gain his interest. Since then, she has repeatedly been portrayed as interested in whether men find her attractive, and has had an intimate, physical on-going relationship with at least one male character; the same cannot be said of her and female characters.

While Wonder Woman would probably be open to lesbian relations, she has consistently portrayed as being sexually interested primarily in the opposite sex.


Is Green Lantern really an idiot?

Yes.

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Comments:
Can't post...laughing too...hard! Oh Hal, you still manage to show off your magnificent hindquarters while being felled by that treacherous ceiling tile. THAT'S dedication. Or something.
 
"Sadly, the concept that people might seek fulfillment in devoting themselves to the safety or betterment of society rather than personal pleasure is lost on many readers today..."

Ouch. Yes, very much agreed. The cynicism prevalent in superhero writing is a reflection of this. In the current mindset, of both the writers and apparently the overwhelming majority of readers, no one could possibly believe that - gasp - people have any inherent selflessness or goodness about them. Heroes only SEEM to be good people, but scratch the surface and there is either utter bastardy, psychologically imbalance, or both. As if the desire to do good in the world can never trusted, and that it is the ultimate in self delusion. In this mindset, the heroes always come across worse than the villians – at least the villans don't live an either deliberate or subconcious lie and are to their ownselves true.

For my part, yes, it is unbearably tempting to give in to that mindset, particularly in the world we live in now. However, it's sometimes made for comics that are increasingly grating and downright painful to read. For me, it's like living in New York and watching Woody Allen films. I can't watch them anymore: it's ceased to be funny because it's become too much like my own life. It's funny when you're removed from it, but if you live it, it becomes a very unflattering mirror.

For example, I read the Ultimates or anything else by Mark Millar and wow, does it look and read great. Yet afterwards I feel awful and cheap. Heroes, heroes everywhere, yet not a decent human being to meet.

Gail Simone has a great balance in her writing I think, and is probably my favorite right writer now. She is influenced by the dark times we live in, but doesn't allow it to overwhelm her writing with nihilism. You never lose a sense of hope, or a sense that yes, people can be heroes and make a difference in the world.
 
We do live in dark times these days, but are they necessarily darker than the days of the Great Depression or a world war?

It seems that back in the day, people were more willing to believe the good in others than now.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I prefer the concept of a Batman who sacrificed what should be a cushy existence so that others would never be victimized by crime as he was.

Not as hip as being unhinged, but definitely more heroic.
 
...Although actually have you read Millar's Superman Adventures? He does write Supeman as a genuinely good guy. Some of my favorite stuff by him, really...
 
I'll second the kudos for Millar's take on Superman. Even in Red Son, aside from the mind-control and dictatorial rule, Superman was portrayed as a genuinely good person. That's why, to me, at least, he sounds and acts differently than most of Millar's other characters.

As to what Scipio said, I pretty much agree with all three points. I guess with Batman, you could portray him as slightly unhinged, but you could just as easily portray him as a mentally healthy human being without betraying the character.
 
....although on the other hand, Bruce Wayne dresses up in a giant bat costume with pointy ears and a cape. Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
 
On Batman: The Animated Series, Batman was very much portrayed as interested in the real world, albeit socially awkward at times (and often for comic effect). Batman Beyond had a very different portrayal.

I've been listening to a lot of Superman radio serials. One common thread was that someone's in trouble, but how can they notify Superman in time to save them? This theme showed up a lot in the television show and in the Fleischer toons, as well.

It's a shame that modern comics are often so mean-spirited.
 
Scipio, from which comic is that panel with Superman? I love its tone.

PS I really couldn't agree more with your article.
 
Thanks, Julian.

It's from Action 1. Originals are hard to find on Ebay, but the story has been reprinted.
 
I think one of the problems with Batman is that people took one of his tools for intimidating criminals -- *pretending* to be crazy -- and thought that he really *was* crazy.

Sure, Batman acts crazy sometimes. But it's an act. Because the criminals are going to be a lot more scared if they don't know what you're capable of...
 
I think "crazy Batman" can be a perfectly legitimate take on the character. Is it the one I'd want to see all the time? Certainly not -- like most people, I prefer "hero Batman" to "goddamned Batman".

But the raw material is definitely there to depict him as crazy and not betray the character. It shouldn't be the in-continuity version, I don't think, but I've got no problem with Frank Miller or Michael Keaton or anybody else doing Crazy Batman off in other continuities.
 
It seems that back in the day, people were more willing to believe the good in others than now.

There's been a definite shift in the way people deal with the harsh realities of life.

Look at the various other-worlds in DC Comics: Thanagar, Rann, pre-explosion Krypton, 30th Century Earth. In the Silver Age these were bright, shiny utopian societies; by the 90s, they were all dark, scary places. I believe this reflects a change in the way people choose to escape from the realities of life; before, by imagining a better world, and later, by figuring that things could be a lot worse.
 
"becoming Batman is how he enjoyed life to its fullest."

There's a great scene in Mask of the Phantasm where Bruce Wayne has just stopped some criminals for the first time and is in reveling in the excitement of it.

It amazes me just how right the DCAU writers got Batman. Also, I wonder to what extent this is due to their writing for an all-ages audience.

-alex
 
Great article, and I agree with all your points...especially about Green Lantern being a bit of an idiot sometimes.

Why anyone with a magic ring would allow themselves to get close enough to anyone that they might be in physical danger is beyond me.
 
Why anyone with a magic ring would allow themselves to get close enough to anyone that they might be in physical danger is beyond me.

Because otherwise all of his stories would take about two panels, which is perhaps a caution to comic writers against making their characters too powerful.
 
"Sadly, the concept that people might seek fulfillment in devoting themselves to the safety or betterment of society rather than personal pleasure is lost on many readers today, which is why they don't understand Batman."

I don't think this is quite it- I think the reason that so many people think of Batman as crazy is, in part, because of how extreme many of the stories seem to take him. Batman is most interesting (to me) when he's got a balance between the Bruce Wayne and Batman. I like the idea that you can't tell which one is the "real" man, and which one is the "secret identity." Stories like "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive" are the kinds of stories that tend to make Batman look crazy. Or a jerk. With so much emphasis on showing how little Batman trusts anyone but himself, and by making him completely disregard the Bruce Wayne identity, it's easy to see him as being slightly crazy- a guy who's obsessive and paranoid, and who lives in a cave and beats up criminals. I think that there's a lot more depth there, and that the most interesting stories are the ones that show him as driven man, who wants to prevent other people from going through what he went through, and who realizes that he has the power to help people in a way that many other people can't.
 
Why anyone with a magic ring would allow themselves to get close enough to anyone that they might be in physical danger is beyond me.

Because they are fearless! They don't shy away from blows to the head: they REVEL in them!
 
I agree with everything you said.

Except the part about Batman not being a lesbian.
 
From Totaltoyz:

"Because otherwise all of his stories would take about two panels, which is perhaps a caution to comic writers against making their characters too powerful."

From Scipio's original post:

"Is Superman too powerful to be interesting? No."

Well. I'm getting conflicting signals here.
 
I think to say Batman's activities are merely a dramatic extension of policemen, firemen, etc glosses over whole secret identity, acting outside the law, fighting crime in relative isolation and dressing as a bat bit. Any insanity I thought that was involved in Batman wasn't expressed in his desire to do good, but in his frankly eccentric choice of means towards that end. However, I very much agree that he should enjoy being Batman. It's what he really wants to do. I'd love to see a Batman with a ferocious , compassionate joy in defending the innocent.
 
Re: "I think to say Batman's activities are merely a dramatic extension of policemen, firemen, etc glosses over whole secret identity, acting outside the law, fighting crime in relative isolation and dressing as a bat bit."

And pointing to those things as signs of insanity glosses over the the whole DC universe- Batman lives in a world where men dress up as far stranger things than bats (I mean, come on- there are men dressed as snakes and time pieces for Chrissakes). Keep in mind that Batman lives in a world of magic rings, men who can shoot lasers from their eyes, women with bullet-proof bracers, and martians who can change shape and read your mind. Further, while Batman can clearly be a jerk, it's kind of ridiculous to claim that he works in isolation at all- the guy gathers people around him more than almost any other comic-book character I know. He pretends to be a loner- but how many Robins has he had? How many Batgirls? How many times has he been a part of the league?
Batman does what he does because he recognizes that it's the way he's best equiped to deal with the trauma he experienced, and the most effective way of helping others. Not only does he do a lot for charity to help those in need, but he's become the Batman for the same reason.
 
Re "Batman does what he does because he recognizes that it's the way he's best equiped to deal with the trauma he experienced, and the most effective way of helping others."
Two things here: Firstly, I wouldn't say Batman's career is some kind of self-conscious therapy and secondly, being a vigilante is only the most effective way of helping others in comics. I like comics which are magical, light and optimistic, but I can see if you're trying to write Batman with some reach towards realism you have to ask why he does things the way he does, not simply rely on these things being the conventions of the genre. I still think if Bruce Wayne was going to use the most effective way of helping others he'd be Commissioner or President Wayne. I'd rather read Batman, though.
 
Dear Scipio,

Warlock Mag loves you.

Merry Christmas, thank you for the 8 million smiles you have given us in 2006.

yr fans,
Warlock Mag
 
Thank you, Warlock Mag! Happy Holidays!
 
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