16 posts tagged Batman
Fed up of superhero films? Hiding your copy of Watchmen behind The Economist on the train? Comics are a serious literary form as well as being fun, says the author of a new book on Batman
If I had to identify myself with a political ideology, it would be Christian anarchism. This is the only -ism that, in my view, reconciles politics with Christian theology, with the Sermon on the Mount as its “manifesto”.
Now what I am wondering is the pejorative understanding of anarchy in popular discourse: anarchy is the antithesis to justice — anarchy is bad, justice is good. What is the historical context of this dichotomy? I will touch this issue in the final chapter of my forthcoming book, but would like to explore this question further.
These panels are from The Shadow of the Bat #32, where one of Batman’s nemeses, Harvey Dent aka Two-Face lets a flip of his coin decide which one the two goals — justice or anarchy — he pursues.
Some examples of the classic ‘Batman looking over Gotham City’ shot, by three artists who each left their mark the character; Jim Aparo (from Untold Legend of the Batman #3, 1980), Norm Breyfogle (from Detective Comics #614, 1990) and Mike Parobeck (Superman/Batman Magazine #1, 1993).
Batman is a theist. If there is no God, nothing is sacred. Tell me I am wrong.
Finished Alan Moore’s From Hell — finally! — and back reading a round of Batman. In Knightquest: The Search-arc Bruce Wayne, still in crippled condition after his clash with Bane and looking for Shondra Kinsolving to cure his ills, travels to England posing as Sir Hemingford Gray, an English gentleman. All kinds of twists and turns in this plot.
Anyway: on-the-target analysis of the broken-ness of English society, between Bruce and Alfred, driving through the English countryside. There is something about modern England that makes you itch in all the conservative places.
(Almost forgot: the frames are from The Shadow of the Bat #22.)
Batman’s Knightquest: The Crusade can be read as an allegory of the fall of man. I know: with this claim I may be pointing out the obvious. Genesis 3 tells how Adam, against God’s explicit command, came to eat fruit taken from the tree of knowledge. This is figurative language, which may be interpreted as a human pretension to tell the absolute good from the absolute evil. It is turning your back on God’s law, a claim to His crown.
This is the story of Jean-Paul Valley aka Azrael in The Crusade. He is given the cape and all its duties and responsibilities since Bruce Wayne was “broken” by Bane in Knightfall. But the longer he wears the cape, the further Valley drifts away from the moral order embodied by Wayne. Him being out of the picture, Commissioner Gordon and Robin witness Azrael’s gradual fall from grace, culminating in the de facto murder of Arnold Etchinson aka Abattoir — something the “real” Batman would never have done. After this incident Azrael becomes increasingly confident that he can can tell right from wrong and rule the night of Gotham City better than Bruce ever could: becoming the “ultimate” Batman, a law unto himself.
These frames are from The Shadow of the Bat #28.
Evil is philistine, kitsch-ridden, and banal. It has the ludicrous pomposity of a clown seeking to pass himself off as an emperor. It defends itself against the complexities of human experience with a reach-me-down dogma or a cheap slogan. (p. 124.)
But you can learn just about as much on the nature of evil and its antithesis — that is: good — by reading Batman. The series embodies these metaphysical categories in clearly recognisable characters we can relate to: the “opposites” of Joker and Batman.
These frames are from the Knightquest: The Crusade-arc, Detective Comics #673.
Lonnie Machin aka Anarky is an odd bird in the DC-universe. He drops by in different contexts and had a short-lived series of his own in the late 1990s. What he brings along with him are themes from radical philosophy — anti-statism and -capitalism — and raises questions of social justice in general. He does not possess superpowers beyond his mental abilities to improve and invent things towards his political ends. In Batman he has an enemy, simply because ultimate authority is a source of oppression and strife: a top-dog attracts enemies and increases human suffering. Or something. From what I gather from my limited evidence he vacates a category of his own between superheroes and -villains.
According to the Encyclopedia:
After killing several corporate heads, Anarky was captured by Batman, but returned to the streets determined to haunt the dreams of corrupt businessmen before ending their crimes permanently. (p. 14.)
These frames are from The Shadow of the Bat #17.
Knightfall has taught me a lot about Batman and his world, Gotham City. One of the things I have learned concerns Gotham as a social order — or “nomos”, as the sociologist Peter Berger might call it (see his Sacred Canopy). Berger defines nomos as “an area of meaning carved out of a vast mass of meaninglessness, a small clearing of lucidity in a formless, dark, always ominous jungle”. Fits Gotham like a glove.
Let’s have a look at the hierarchy Gotham’s nomos from the ground up. At the bottom lie the “normal” people, gothamites minding their own business and getting by, each to their own. A step above them is police and other officials, like Commissioner Gordon, who enforce the legal order of Gotham City. They do their best, I suppose, but as we know they often fail in their duty to maintain order in the dark alleys and smoke-filled bars of Gotham.
A step above the legal order is a limited number of people who take upon themselves the task of defining and enforcing moral order in the city of Gotham. These are the people who wear masks and have nicknames, and often abilities that give them an advantage over the normal people. These are the “superheroes” and the “supervillains”, who act the leading roles in Batman-comics — just as they do in other books of the genre.
Anyway: the “supers” are (or think they are) in a position to impose their values and their interests over Gotham. Among these Batman is the top dog — “The King of Hell” — and others challengers to the crown. For a brief while Bane, having “broken” Batman played by Bruce Wayne, rose to authority, but the nomos was soon restored by another Batman, Jean-Paul Valley. In this nomos Batman embodies the “daylight” principles of Christian ethics, and his enemies embody the anomy of the “night” — though most of the order-ing of daylight principles takes place in the darkness of the Gotham night. All the supervillains have a story to tell, most of them have a reason why they came to be and why they do what they do. Bane represents the political urge to beat the top-dog and become the king of hell himself — he cannot tolerate Batman having it all, being Gotham. Joker embodies the antithesis of the rational conscience of (Bat)man: evil without reason, for the sheer purpose of anti-creation, for mere aesthetics of always doing that what should never be done.
There is a line between the work done by the police and other offices of law on the one hand, and Batman on the other. Where the duties and responsibilities of the first are limited to the effects of evil, and Batman is needed to fight their cause, whoever it may be. The bat-signal, shining above the Gotham skyline, marks the line between these orders — it takes a superhuman to fight another, like he says above.