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Friday, 20 February 2009

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Rich Puchalsky

Not into film, not into Batman -- but given that he's so ubiquitous that you must be familiar with him even if the kind of comics you like are Vertigo, I should mention that Batman Begins is really the only time you can film Batman as a monster in this way. His origin myth stresses that when he starts out, he's depending on his costume to scare those superstitious criminals. And indeed the early ones freak out obligingly. But that's the only time it can work, because he quickly becomes well-known, and then the criminals know exactly what's going bump in the night -- it's Batman, of course. They may well still be scared, but they are scared for a rational reason.

One of the reasons Batman's origin story is retold so exceedingly many times is so that he can go through the predictable stages, none of which can easily be repeated once he's progressed to a new one: the (self) trainee. The monster in the night. The misunderstood vigilante, hunted by the city. The unofficial addition to the Gotham police force. The guy that everyone recognizes "owns" Gotham. The guy wired in with Superman etc. into the space-station-housed overlordship of superheroes.

Ahistoricality

Maybe it's the only time you can film it that way, but the comic book versions for the last twenty years have played with the horror convention. Batman is often an absence as much as a presence, his vagueness as a public figure leads to doppleganger errors and misidentifications, and his vigilantism is prima facie evidence of his mental break from reality, which sometimes gets worse, (especially under the Joker's influence) leading to questions about whether he is deluded about the positive aspects of his presence.

It's a fine line -- or rather, a huge gray area -- between the vigilante and the sociopath. Maybe you can't play with that in big-budget movies, but that doesn't mean that it's unfilmable.

Rich Puchalsky

I disagree, Ahistoricality. Being a crazed vigilante is not the same thing as being a monster. And the "mental break from reality, especially under the Joker's influence" bit typically comes up at the "he owns Gotham" stage, as a side effect of his megalomaniac self-identification as the city's protector, which everyone else sort of agrees with. There's a negative version of Batman at each of the stages -- for instance, sometimes at the last stage, writers will play with Batman as surveilling everyone through a panopticon. And the positive versions of Batman generally are the inversions of negative ones. For instance, in the last stage again, there generally has to be some story about how Superman or someone is getting out of control and surveilling everyone and Batman has to take him down.

Jake

Batman is often an absence as much as a presence, his vagueness as a public figure leads to doppleganger errors and misidentifications, and his vigilantism is prima facie evidence of his mental break from reality, which sometimes gets worse, (especially under the Joker's influence) leading to questions about whether he is deluded about the positive aspects of his presence.

Is this observation based off The Dark Knight? Because I'd say his role as Gotham's protector is more pronounced with the presence of the Joker. He never once breaches his ethical code, although he does come close. Whenever he does something that somebody else finds unethical he eventually redeems himself in their eyes. This is just what I see from the movies, not the comics. I haven't read them. I believe Burton's Batman is a lot darker and crazier than Nolan's. Wasn't he responsible for some heavy casualties in the chemical plant in the 1989 Batman movie? He also liked to sleep upside down... like a bat.

Has there ever been an instance in the comics where the villains discover that the Bat signal leads them right to Batman himself? This strikes me as such a gaping plot hole. If anybody wanted to ambush Batman they would know where he was since the signal is right there in the sky!

Rich Puchalsky

Batman doesn't send the Bat-signal -- it's a floodlight on the rooftop of the police headquarters that Commissioner Gordon puts a bat-cutout over and lights up in order to tell Batman that he needs to talk to him about something. So it would only lead villains to police headquarters. Of course, it tells everyone else that the conversation is occurring, once people have figured out what it's for, but maybe that's intended.

Again, this is a device that can only be used at certain stages of the story. Eventually, Gordon figures out who Batman is, or at any rate Batman just gives him a dedicated encrypted phone or something. Not to mention later baroque stages post-Killing Joke, such as Gordon's daughter (who used to be Batgirl) getting paralyzed from the waist down, becoming Oracle, a sort of super-hacker who coordinates superheroes, and generally obviating the need for any kind of primitive smoke-signal-like communication.

Needless to say, the whole thing is rather silly. DC now thinks of Oracle as some kind of outreach to people with disabilities, and therefore she can't use any of the multitude of methods that other people in that universe use for greater mobility than a wheelchair / curing nerve damage. I do have a soft spot for:

"In a world increasingly centered on technology and information, she possesses a genius-level intellect; photographic memory; deep knowledge of computers and electronics; expert skills as a hacker; and graduate training in library sciences."

Graduate training in library sciences! Now there's an example of superhero outreach that really works.

Ahistoricality

Is this observation based off The Dark Knight?

No, haven't seen it yet. It's based on Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, and a few others. I'm talking about the difference between the movies which are basically morally unambiguous, and the comics which allow the distance to remain between Batman's sense of justice and the world's sense of law and morality.

the Bat signal leads them right to Batman himself?

First, they'd have to know that Batman comes to the bat signal itself: there's no reason why he has to go there as opposed to meeting at some other prearranged spot. Second, they'd have to assume that Batman comes to the bat signal without checking the area to see what's going on around it.

Being a crazed vigilante is not the same thing as being a monster.

True, from an objective standpoint, perhaps. But what this scene in particular is playing with -- and it's drawing heavily from the comics in this regard -- is that Batman is a horrific monster to his enemies because of his preternatural abilities. What the comics do -- and I've always like the way Spiderman foregrounds this, though Jamison is a blowhard character -- is highlight the way in which the vigilante can be unnerving, even monstrous to civilians.

Rich Puchalsky

"Batman is a horrific monster to his enemies because of his preternatural abilities"

Well, yes -- but the villains in comics read comics, sort of. There really isn't any way to have Batman around for years and not have everyone figure out that he's basically a guy in a cape. That doesn't mean that the bad guys aren't afraid of him, but it does mean that he's no longer preternatural. Instead, you start to see a sort of criminal stoicism, in which the risk of running into Batman is sort of like the risk of getting hit in a car accident; distressing to think about and impossible to fully avoid, but you don't stop driving your car because of it. He shows up, they go "Oh no, it's Batman -- see you later, Lenny, I guess we're going to wake up in jail" and then put up the usual doomed struggle that the criminal honor code evidently requires. (Why not? They're going to wake up in jail no matter what. There's no risk of getting killed by Batman.) You really just can't sustain him as a monster with that going on, or at least it would take a better set of writers.

And yes, the supervillains don't think this way, they a la Joker actively get off on challenging Batman's rep -- he's the fastest gunslinger in town, effectively, etc., and they can only gain in reputation by going up against him even if they lose. Again, not very monstrous.

To remake the later-stage superhero as a monster, people typically go in the direction of Miracleman or The Authority or something, in which they are monstrous because they are gods. But Batman can never quite pull that off.

Rich Puchalsky

"graduate training in library sciences"

I might as well add to my own tangent here: I wonder how many superheroes have as part of their origin stories that they were once grad students? Advanced degrees are usually a supervillain thing. And when superheroes get training, they like to get it from mystic Tibetan monks or masters of the psionic arts or something like that.

Or maybe, how many never really progressed past grad school. I mean, Reed Richards got Ph.Ds in both physics and electrical engineering from Harvard by the age of 22 (with additional work at MIT) but he's unquestionably rather professorial now, and grad school was only a larval stage.

Fritz
It's a fine line -- or rather, a huge gray area -- between the vigilante and the sociopath. Maybe you can't play with that in big-budget movies, but that doesn't mean that it's unfilmable.

It would be interesting to contrast Batman with The Reaper from Batman: Year Two or the Vigilante.

CharleyCarp

The missing line from the Dark Knight is relevant here. When the Joker is taunting Batman about having jumped out the window to save the girl, he opts for the junior high 'now I know who you like' instead of the grown-up 'you left me alone, armed, with all the richest people of Gotham.' But then we'd all have to face that he did so. And that the filmmaker left the Joker alone with all these people, and nothing happened.

SEK

I thought long and hard about that, Charley, and came up with this: in the end, the Joker's single-mindedness is the explanation here. Once he learns The Ultimate Button to push, he leaves because he realizes that he's found his "in." Granted, it doesn't make sense realistically, but it is true to the neuroses of this particular character. (I present this as an example to any students who may be reading this: this is what I mean by an "arguable" argument. It's not necessarily correct, but non-insane people will consider it has merit.)

NBarnes

That's always what I assumed happened in that scene. Joker got Batman to jump out a window like that, the richest people in Gotham are now boring. It fits his perspective. What's he going to do to them? Shoot them? Boring. Scare them? Briefly entertaining, but ultimately boring. Rob them? Money is necessary, but fundamentally boring. Going home to brood on the fact that Batman jumped out a window like that? Interesting.

ana

wow

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