Saturday, 9 February 2013

Batman


Batman is an interesting case.

I start from the position that he is the only super hero who looks that much like a villain. In the grammar of Greek Myth he is Hades, lord of the underworld. In the Norse myth cycles he might be Loki, the cave dweller, but this myth system takes the unique stance of dividing Loki in two. The cave dweller, with his ambiguous seismic personality is retained, but the trickster component becomes the pranksters that Batman fights, chiefly the Joker and the Riddler.

These two are not alone in wearing the fool's motley. Indeed, most of Batman's most iconic foes appear far more like heroes than the protagonist. The bright greens and purples of their outfits make them instantly recognizable, wheras Wayne's tormented shadow self is the Ur Monster of the Jungian subconscious. He refuses to be an icon with an instantly identifiable colour scheme and set of quirks (no kryptonite here!) And certainly he is no Thor, at least on first glance. The Norse cycles present a clear masculine sentimentality of physicality that Wagner found indispensible, and which offsets Loki's relative weediness. Batman, on the other hand, is chiefly a force of cunning rather than strength.

Why, then, does the case of Batman persist when his most notable antecedents in anti-heroism, such as the Shadow, are stubbornly refused readmittance into the teenage canon? Here I think a unique innovation has taken place. With the loss of the father, Wayne is denied a childhood. As such the full weight of responsibility, embodied in the insanely heavy 'Wayne Manor', literally weighs down on him from within the Batcave - discovered in childhood and become the ruins of play that orphans are fated to inherit.

The refusal to turn from responsibility towards levity is the key to Batman's appeal. The Joker constantly offers the option of giving up on the adult world and retreating into the absurdities of life act as game, but Wayne takes on the image of 20th century masculinity, wrapped in the same cloak his father wore to leave the theatre. It is an operatic scenario, in that little needs to happen, all that is necessary to engage with this is to put one's mind in it and feel fully the reality of manhood.

One further innovation improved the chances of the idea 'taking', the highly controversial trope of 'Robin'. This adolescent nihilist adopts the void of a man that is the true social suicide of Wayne as his father. As such he becomes the cipher for the reader within the story. His kidnap by the Joker, who calls him a 'professional hostage', is the device par excellence of the stories. They show that our childhood is held hostage by our irresponsibility, and can only be liberated by seriousness.

Perhaps, then, the earlier comparison with the Norse cycles is justified. Wheras for the Vikings masculinity was a clear product of physical strength, for us it is a question of abstinence from play. The reason therefore I choose to begin this blog with this analysis is because in part it will be a defence of the process of play. It might, therefore, be retitled 'Against The Bat', although such dualism is of course unhelpful. Rather I proceed as do so many young men and boys, in the Shadow of my Games.

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