The band of which I’m a member, Nerd Bait, has been working on its latest big-banding, Scottish-rapping, disco-jiving long-form concept single. For ease of use, let’s refer to it by the codename I’ve just made up, Aquaman – The Musical.
Actually, Aquaman only came to mind in this relation a few minutes ago. But Nerd Bait’s Prof Paul also sent along some comic-related material as we were discussing the new material. Quite unrelated to the stuff we were writing, you understand. But he had identified a certain apoplectic flavour. Probably partly because of the level of apoplexy evident in Batman is a Corny Dingus. And maybe also because comics are one of the many areas of popular culture in which I regularly display the butterfly-worthy shallowness of my interests on the blog.
I think this is the sixth blog post under the category, Comics. And even though John Constantine is my favourite comic book character, it’s usually Batman who features most prominently. I’ve always preferred him to Superman. I could never quite get how Superman could be interesting when he’s so… super. Well, blow me if Albert Burneko’s piece at The Concourse didn’t make me sit down and re-evaluate things. For a start, even in the wake of Miller’s subsequent The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Sin City, and All-Star Batman and Robin, The Dark Knight Returns remains a comics touchstone for me. A prime example of how the text exists as something hanging between the writer and the reader, pregnant with possibility.
For me, regardless and unaware of the author’s apparent intentions, The Dark Knight Returns wasn’t a glorification of a fascistic Bruce Wayne raining his wrath down on Gotham City and washing all the scum off the streets, but a satire on the missteps of 1980s America as seen from under the still steel grey skies of a post-industrial Britain in which the best hope for a comic-book hero was a merciless evocation of a sixteenth-century terrorist, fighting against a fictional fascist English state that was solidly grounded in the land of dark Satanic mines. <And… breathe.>
In contrast, a Kansas farm boy swathed in primary colours, projecting might across the globe, was still a target for distrust in a country not so far removed from its own over-arching – and by that time crumbled – international ambitions. Even if now, after living in the States for many years and now viewing it again from afar, I have a more nuanced view of the country.
In any event, my preferences were set. In a fight between Batman and Superman, I would root for the Goth, clearly. Not the country boy. And for Batman to beat Superman in The Dark Knight Returns through cunning and planning over brawn and speed appealed to a young boy in a country where the heroes tended to be of a more cerebral bent.
Now, fast forward almost thirty years from the debut of TDKR….
Burneko makes a lot of points that would point the younger Edinburgher – after receiving the benefit of decades of experience – towards a rooting interest in the lad from Krypton. To take just a few:
- Batman “sinks his fortune into paramilitary hardware in support of his one-man campaign to punch a major city into peace.”
- “He’s eroding the civic justice system” – and what kind of an ex-lawyer could support that?
- “Masked men who do bad things on purpose to people weaker than them are villains.”
- Batman is really ineffective at improving Gotham, and really dumb.
But, this describes just one Batman. He’s been fighting crime for over 75 years. And yeah, that is pretty ineffective. But like long-lived hero of the blog, The Doctor, he’s therefore gone through a number of incarnations, even just in his Bruce Wayne form.
We don’t always get the Batman we need. Sometimes we get the Batman we deserve. And Bruce Wayne’s penchant for cool toys does contribute to that longevity. Kids love Batmobiles and Batsignals. Heck, forty-year-old stroke survivors love Batmobiles and Batsignals.
I was lucky, though. The first Batman I spent time with was the one in the comics I got from my cousin when he was moving on from such things. In The Demon of Gothos Mansion, Batman was written by Denny O’Neil and pencilled by Neal Adams.
I’ve written about Denny’s conception of The Batman (Yeah, I’m that guy) before – he emphasises Batman’s detective skills. This Bruce Wayne does work experience with the FBI, uses his money to travel and gain experience (including study at a monastry) before buying toys, and meets and learns from every great detective in the world.
Almost two years ago, I considered this version of the Batman story in Stroke Bloke – Year One. At this point post-stroke, I was still figuring out who I was. Things have moved on apace since then. In fact, 2015 looks like it might be a year in which there are the most changes and developments since The Event. Beth and I are well-settled in Edinburgh. If all goes to plan, I’ll graduate in December with the opening third of a novel polished and pointing towards its conclusion. Nerd Bait are playing as part of Illicit Ink’s Jura Unbound night at the Book Festival next month. (Yeah, we’re that kind of band.)
But my story is also pointing forward – in a more settled direction. I still hope Batman kicks Superman’s ass. Yes, his assets are inherited, but so are Superman’s. Kal-El is an adopted immigrant alien, but he got that cool laser-firing eyeballs thing by chance just as much as Bats fell into his vast wealth. At least Batman’s behaviour cleaves to concepts of localism.
And I still like my my superheroes best in powerful female form, whether it’s Mark Andreyko’s Manhunter, or the version of Wonder Woman that exists in my head, all Greek goddess and Amazon warrior and wise-cracking humour. And since scenes featuring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince have already been filmed for the great Batman v Superman punch-off, it’s time to don my armour of post-stroke positivity and hope that a WW movie does emerge.
And isn’t rubbish.