Saturday, May 10, 2008

Inner Conflict

One of the things I like in comics is when the characters aren't simply characters, but are also symbols of some sort. In enriches their stories, because their actions and interactions become not just plot but an exploration of ideas and concepts.

I hold that part of the appeal of many characters, particularly in the Gotham City stable, is that they represent natural desires or human defense mechanisms "gone wild". The Joker can be viewed as the very useful, very human "sense of humor" gone very, very bad. The Catwoman can be seen as personifying self-interest taken to the point of amorality, the Riddler as intellectual curiosity fallen into obsession, and the Penguin as ambition rotting into ruthlessness. To some degree, this applies even to Batman, who can be seen as the natural desire for justice taken to the extreme (assuming you consider dressing as a bat and hurling boomerangs at people's heads "extreme"; tastes vary).

That's why Two-Face (who's featured in the forthcoming Batman Dark Knight film) has always been one of my favorite characters. He's certainly not the first figure in literature to reflect man's inherent duality; Two-Face was very consciously adapted from R.L. Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (in fact, it's the book he's reading on the splash page of his first appearance). But he's certainly one of the best, because instead of just representing the "angel and the devil on our shoulders", he also shows the often-difficult process of making a decision based on conflicting impulses. And, you may be interested to know, science backs him up... .

Yesterday, I read "The Conflicted Brain" (by ingenious evolutionary theorist Jon Wilkins, Sante Fe Institute Bulletin, Spring 2008). The article examines the question of how one person -- their brain, really -- can be at odds with itself, and shows that the brain is physically "designed" to be in self-conflict as the result of evolution.
"Brain-imaging studies suggest that different brain regions come into conflict with each other over certain decisions. At the same time, many genes that are expressed in the brain show evidence of having been in a long-term evolutionary conflict with each other. It is possible that when we feel as if we are of two minds, it is precisely because different sets of our own genes have effective control over different regions of our brains, and these different brain regions are exerting antagonistic influences on the decision-making processes. ... In fact, it may turn out to be misleading to talk about the notion of individuals having a single 'self' at all. "
You can read the article for more details, but it demonstrates how adaptively useful such an internal split can be. For example, having different areas of the brain competing to control every decision leads to "an escalatory 'arms race' between different brain regions. ... Eventually, we might expect this to produce an increase in overall brain size. In fact, this may have happened; over the past hundred million years, the size of the mammalian brain has increase disproportionately relative to body size."

The downside, however, is that it leaves us more susceptible to "human behavorial dysfunctions, including schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, and bipolar disorder."

As I've said before, it always disappoints me when Two-Face is represented as a strict 'split-personality'. It robs him of most of his power, which comes from his ability to reflect the human attempt to maintain a unified self despite internal conflict. It's not 'Harvey Dent versus Two-Face'; that's too facile, unsophisticated, and doesn't respect the original concept of the character. Harvey Dent, as an identity, wasn't able to reconcile his inner conflicts; he is replaced by Two-Face precisely because Two-Face CAN resolve those conflicts, simply, effectively, and as quickly as you can flip a coin. As I've stated, the reason Two-Face is so hard to cure is because he's not Harvey Dent's problem; he's his solution.

That's what makes him scary; he represents a malfunction of one of our own human defense mechanisms. Like many Batman villains, he's a cautionary figure, his physical deformities symbolic of the personality deformities he represents. Two-Face isn't a Jason Voorhees, an external monster come to attack us; he's the monster we fear lurking within us all...
"As humans, we routinely engage in a wide variety of self-destructive behaviors. We cheat on our diets. We don't exercise. We smoke and gamble and get addicted to a wide range of substances. It is perhaps time to stop thinking of the human brain as evolution's crowning achievement and the physical embodiment of the 'self'. Rather, our brains are casualties of million of years of internal conflict. Every decision we make is argued out by at least two distinct evolutionary 'selves'. We may eventually discover that multiple personality disorder is simply the most extreme manifestation of a dynamic that governs even the most mundane behaviors in each of us."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Theory That May Not Hold Water

So, it's really nice that Final Crisis comprises major elements focused on each of the original members of the JLA.

  • Batman has "Batman R.I.P."
  • Superman has "the Legion of Three Worlds".
  • Wonder Woman has this new "Manazons" thing going on.
  • Green Lantern gets the "Darkest Night".
  • The Flash gets to come back from the dead (and with Revenge of the Rogues, maybe Flash-- Wally West, that is-- gets to die, as well).
  • Martian Manhunter gets to go out in a blaze of glory courtesy of "The Human Flame".
  • And Aquaman...

oh, yeah.

Which leads me to my crazy zany theory....

Aquaman will return at the end of Final Crisis.

I don't know how. But my theory hinges on the fact that so very much attention is being so very consciously drawn to each and every other member of the original JLA, that misdirection might be part of it. After all, so much is already known about Final Crisis, that bringing back Aquaman is the only surprise they could still surprise us with.

All I have to say is, if it does happen, you read it here first.... .

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • What Meltzer mind-wipeth, Dini forgiveth away.
  • Nightwing reads Talia's beads.
  • The Great Mother? Certainly didn't expect to see HER!
  • Skrull Dr. Octopus? Excellent.
  • Lex, upstaged by a Kryptonian. It'd be funny, if it weren't so-- no, actually it's just funny.
  • Panda's not only not dead... he's improbably hot.
  • The origin of Scarface.
  • Nightwing, on the plastic surgeon's association.
  • Mary Marvel's hair. Fabulous, really.
  • A skeleton in a female Chronos costume.
  • "I am Truth. I am Knowledge. I am lost."
  • Kryptonese covers. Not enough of those in comics, I say.
  • Red Tornado wondering out loud why he's a total idiot who's always the first JLAer to get taken out of commission.
  • Jonah Hex is a perfect hero; smart enough to deduce what no one else could, but dumb enough to fall for the oldest trick in the book.
  • Ron Troupe? Really? Ron Troupe? Okay, if you say so... .
  • Alexander Gradet's first comic book was a really good one. He writes Flash and Mary Marvel better than anyone else has been lately!
  • Rann versus Thanagar, baby. I'm totally there, waiting for the steadfast Thannies to kick the patooties of those spineless Rannies. Again.
  • Nightwing rides the subway. Briefly.
  • Captain Comet briefs the Justice League on why Earth is safe.
  • Bizarro versus Non. Rrr!
  • Spider-Man telling Spider-Man how annoying he is.
  • Batman without half his intelligence.
  • God, could Sardath be any more contemptible...?!
  • The Story of the Human Flame in full, glorious color. Somehow, color just makes it that much gayer.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Haikuesday with Barry Allen

Here's another STRONG reason to replace Wally with Barry: have you ever seen Wally speak in heroic haiku? Huh, not that I recall!

Barry, on the other hand, spits 'em out even at the most startling times, and doesn't even bother to say them out loud... that's how good he is!

Can it be--is it
possible-- that WALLY now
has the speed of Flash?

Yeah, I'd be worried, too, Barry; this kid ain't no Robin!

What haiku can YOU compose to celebrate the return of Barry Allen?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

10 Reasons Barry Allen Needs to Be the Flash Now

Green Lantern sells twice as many copies as Flash.
You can credit good writing and blah blah; but all that hinges on Hal having returned. Besides, Wally's spent half of his stories fussing about living up to Barry's legacy, anyway.

Barry's much smarter than Wally.
Do you really need me to prove this one?

Barry stands at the same level as the other Justice Leaguers.
This is not a dig at Wally's abilities as the Flash; he's of the "Titans" generation and is needed there. The Flash is missing its Dynastic Centerpiece and has been for 20 years.

Barry's a unique character.
Honestly, I've been reading Wally as the Flash for 20 years and he still seems generic at best and inconsistent at worst. Barry may be a little old-fashioned but he's a pretty clearly defined character.

Iris is cooler than Linda.
Except for her very earliest appearances, Linda has never been much more than a prop (now she's a local reporter! now she's a famous broadcaster! now she's a med student! now she's the world-expert on superspeed physiology!). While writers have continued to shove their Legendary Love down our throats, we almost never get any sense of why these people even like each other, let alone have A Love That Transcends Time.

Barry Allen's profession.
With a quarter of the shows on TV being forensic police shows, it's time for Barry Allen, police scientist to return.

The Allen Name.
Bart's dead. Yet the Allen name is supposed to be part of the Flash legacy of the future. Without Barry, that ain't happening.

The JLA Needs Him
Wally's saddled with two children with medical issues, and, as pointed out in the most recent JLA, can barely meet his responsibilities to the wider crime-fighting community.

The Incredibles
Speaking of Wally's kids, are we going to enter permanent childhood territory with them or are they headed toward Their Tragic End? In entire case, the story is now theirs, not Wally's. It's never good with the Supporting Cast take over a title. Just ask Alan Scott about his dog some time.

Central City
The second Barry came back, Central City magically looked liked itself again. Personally, I need that.

Q Ratings

On Free Comic Book Day, my store gave away 1000 comics to lots of new comics readers, which is a good thing.

But it made me think about the relative popularities of various characters (the Big Icons, of course). So I compared them this way.

Batman = Batman + Detective
Superman = Superman + Action
Wonder Woman = Wonder Woman
Green Lantern = Green Lantern + Green Lantern Corps
Flash = Flash
Aquaman + Martian Manhunter = 0

Setting the highest seller as a benchmark at 100 (sound familiar?), here's their relative popularity at my store.

The perpetually confused
Green Lantern 100

The ever-popular
Batman 94

who continually overshadows his super-friend...
Superman 74

as well as Little Miss Happy to Be Alive herself...
Wonder Woman 54

and bringing up the rear...

Flash 21

In fact, even Supergirl and Booster Gold are more popular than the Flash. Oh, and if you don't count Green Lantern Corps, Hal Jordan's just a touch above Wonder Woman.

The lesson? There are many; Wonder Women deserves another book; heroes don't have to be smart to be popular; a fun Martian Manhunter book would easily not be last on the list. I welcome your interpretation.

But the main message I get from these numbers is ...

yup; it's time to bring back Barry Allen.