Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Potions Spreading Wide My Mind. (Batman R.I.P.)

There are many things that can die besides the body—old habits, lifestyles, dead-end jobs, a lifeless relationship that may already feel dead. Maybe something has to die for a person to come back to life. The Tarot carries an inbuilt optimism, and the death of something in our lives does not have to leave us as a corpse. A powerful angel follows the Death card; Temperance can symbolize what is liberated when we allow what is old and worn to end. Angels, in fact, surround Death.
-Rachel Pollack, The New Tarot Handbook

TW: Discussion of Suicide.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
Really? We’re doing this again? Ok, but I’m not doing the whole “1,000 word short story that goes nowhere” thing the last one did (talk about Postmodernism can get wrapped up in form over function). I might as well, seeing as I did claim this was a remake and all. So I guess instead of a short story, I should do something different with this one? Originally, I was going to do an essay within this essay that would lead to an obvious punchline at the end of the post, with each section acting as a transition between non-italic paragraphs. But then I realized that wouldn’t let the thing flow well at all, so instead I figure “why not have each italics react to the non-italics section in some way,” Mini essays and what not. Which really sucks for this one, since the non-italics bit comes after a one-sentence section, hence this being the exposition one.
See, there was this superhero. He’s been around the block of long underwear folks for many years. He’s fought villains and heroes alike, for causes that were mostly good. Right now though, he’s thinking about death. Though he won’t admit it, it is a particular death that scuttles around the mind like a spider as it finishes laying its eggs in the unsuspecting ear of an eleven year old. Love has entered the hero’s life. Love that the hero believes he doesn’t deserve.
Seizing upon this contemplation, a villain, aristocratic and desiring solely to conquer and surpass the hero, attacks him with hallucinogenic drugs that drive the hero made, making him witness long dead men he cared for walk the earth and creatures of unknown origins. In the middle of all this, a madman stalks the streets. He is neither the villain nor the hero, but like them there is a monstrous side to him. He acts purely out of instinct and mild self-preservation. He hisses his words to those who benign themselves to talk to this creature. The hero wants to see the creature healed. The villain wishes to use the creature to torment the hero even further, believing the creature to be something within his control. The creature has plans of his own… Eventually, the villain sees to it that the hero is killed and buried on his estate. Believing he’s bested the hero, the villain gloats silently. He even puts on a costume in the vein of our fallen hero. Not the one most know the hero to wear, but a darker more sinister variant.
But the villain misunderstood what the hero was and why he does what he does. He believed that the heroics were symptom of a madness the hero suffered from, but the truth was far more complicated. And the hero, weakened and drugged, miraculously forces himself out of the grave he was buried in. He fights the villain, and the villain’s hubris gets him in the end.
I was listening to this podcast on Star Trek, Anime, the Titanic, and other anarchistic themes. The guest of the show mentioned this video essay on Vimeo that compared the movie Species, a 1995 film about an alien/human hybrid exploring Los Angeles looking to understand herself and her own dreams while also trying to have consensual sex, with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, a 2001 film about a woman dreaming about exploring Los Angeles with her amnesiac love interest who is trying to discover her own identity. The video argues, via comparing various plot, thematic, and character elements that the films rhyme in similar manner to one another.
Of note, both of the amnesiac characters trying to find their true selves initially plan to go to the Saharan Motor Hotel, but decide not to out of fear of entrapment by the forces chasing them (as with much of the works of Lynch, this interpretation of Mulholland Drive is based partially out of inference within the text given a lone police car drives past the character before she leaves. Species being a B-Movie is less subtle about this). They both try to discover who they are through the dreams they have, but find little to no success. Furthermore, both films feature detectives named Dan recalling horrific nightmares to their partners that relate to the crux of the film.
There are other examples (even some inversions like the blonde lead of Species disguising herself as a brunette while the brunette lead of Mulholland Drive disguises herself as a blonde), but they rhyme just enough to note a connection. Of course, it could be extremely coincidental (many a film is set in Los Angeles and sometimes people reuse the same locations). Quite simply, one would have to ask why would David Lynch care about some B-Movie about space people. It’s not unreasonable to see Lynch having an interest in the film, a large part of his aesthetic is extremely flawed B-Movies in the vein of Ed Wood (see the bird in Blue Velvet).
One could see Lynch going to see a film like Species (probably flipping channels during a break while making Lost Highway), and could even read Species as the lost Lynch Sci-Fi film we should have gotten instead of Dune. The film does share a base plot line with many a Lynch film from that era: a lost and confused outsider from an isolated area finds themselves in a seedy and strange city that seeks to corrupt and destroy them, but the lead keeps their nice demeanor, even as they have to partake in rather nasty activities like sex and murder. That’s not to say Species is a good film (for starters, it decides to jettison that plot midway through act two in favor of being a rather rote Sci-Fi film about exterminating the outsider because they’re trying to invade and destroy us and the third act throws everything else away in favor of a drawn out chase in a dark sewer with a big explosion that kills the baddie), but it still lends itself to interesting implications and connections.
Then again, what I should have used as the alternative to my analogy was Under the Skin, a 2013 film about an alien exploring a strange city in order to get consensual sex. Of course, I haven’t seen that film so I can’t judge if they rhyme or if such a reading would be reaching. Regardless, I ended up watching Species shortly after the podcast was finished and found it to be a bit of fun, if a bit crap. Then again, a lot of things I like are just a bit crap.
I am of course talking about the Batman storyline: R.I.P. by Scottish author Grant Morrison and American artist Tony Daniel. Like many a Morrison story, it’s about rebirth: characters going through a traumatic experience that shakes the very essence of who they claim to be in order to allow their true selves to shine through.  This is pretty basic narrative fair, all characters in good stories end up changed in some fashion, but where Morrison differs is that he ties this narrative experience to the mystical tradition.
As with many a ritual, this requires copious amounts of drugs, something Morrison goes in more depth with in his “Magical Theory” trilogy (Flex, Invisibles, Filth). But within R.I.P., the drugs that are forced upon Batman (as noted magician Alan Moore points out, mystical experiences are not necessarily consensual) transform him into a more primal version of himself: a vicious brute whose sole solution to all of his problems is to beat up those around him until they obey his will.
A grim notion of what Batman’s true self is perhaps? No, Morrison hasn’t had his heart broken quite yet by Batman, and still believes he can be saved from his self-destructive tendencies (Jed Blue goes into more depth on those tendencies on his blog, which is much better than this one). In truth, this is only an aspect of the Batman persona, with a key aspect of the character removed: the Bat sans the Man, if you will.
We of course see examples of the Man in the text in the form of an act of kindness upon one of God’s poor, wherein Batman gives a couple hundred dollars to a homeless man with only one eye. The homeless man, Honor Jackson, decides to return the favor by helping Batman find his new self. Problem is… Honor Jackson’s dead. He’s died using the money Batman gave him to do a lot of smack, and went out on his own terms (someone who has read it would probably quote Avital Ronel’s Crack Wars at this point).
I didn’t really grow up with superhero comics as a kid. For the most part characters like Spider-Man and Batman and Superman were relegated to reruns on my Nonna’s cable (I didn’t get cable at home until well into high school) in between Fairly Odd Parents and Courage the Cowardly Dog, the occasional summer movie, and New York Times giveaways of Ditko era comics (did you know one of Spider-Man’s first baddies was literal, actual aliens?). Sometimes I'd catch an episode or two of Static Shock, but it didn't leave that much of an impact (I have fondness for it, but not enough to revisit it). Comics were mostly the Sunday strips and Simpsons trade paperbacks I checked out from the library. I was fond of Spider-Man and considered him my favorite, but I didn’t need to read everything about him.
It wasn’t until the superhero phase really started kicking with the Nolan Batman movies (since someone’s bound to ask: the Sam Rami Spider-Man films are very much films I [mostly] understand why people like, but I couldn’t get into them beyond that one Sandman sequence) that I got into comics more regularly. I started out by just checking stuff out of the library: the hardcover of the Venom arc from Ultimate Spider-Man, this Batman comic set in the 1930’s where his dad is secretly a klansman out to destroy the union, that Marvel comic set in 1602, this weird comic by some guy named Frank Miller with weirdly drawn tits (I didn’t so much read it as gawk at the tits).
I heard there was this movie coming out called Watchman by that guy who did that Zombie film I really liked, and it was based on a comic book (I read a lot of things because they were going to adapt it into another medium [that’s how I read the Divine Comedy in eighth grade]). I rather liked it, though for a long time I associated the author with middle school aesthetics. I read up on other things people in comics liked quite a bit like Transmetropolian (which I feel I should read again) and Sandman (solely due to the comic having a depiction of Death in it, which was always instant pull for me as I’ve always had an interest in the character).
Eventually, I got around to just pulling stuff based on characters I rather liked like a trade where Spidey fights the Green Goblin or one where Superman and Batman travel to different universes to something something Mxyzptlk. My aunt would sometimes get me comics for Christmas (mostly Simpsons, but one year it was a set of superhero comics), and somehow decided to get this rather odd comic about Old Man Spidey that I didn't think too much about until some people I read and listened to praised the comic (David something or other and some youtuber named duke?).
Another one of those people, something Eric, had a YouTube where he reviewed various films and comics that I would come to enjoy including The Stand, Brick, and Batman R.I.P. On his first go through with the comic, he wasn’t all that impressed. But when he read it for a second time, he found that the work made a lot more sense. Details that were initially obscured suddenly made more sense. He felt a kinship with the comic (especially since on his second read through, he was slightly medicated and passed out eerily at the same moment Batman passed out) and recommended it to me. So, I sought it out at my local library and it didn’t really do it for me. I liked it, but I felt there was something missing from it.
Googling the comic, I saw that it was the third volume in a run by a guy named Grant Morrison. My library had a few things by him: We3, All Star Superman, The Invisibles, but only one other part of Morrison’s Batman run: the Club of Heroes. I figured might as well put that on hold and hey, this Animal Man thing has an interesting subtitle: Deus Ex Machina. That got me hooked on Morrison. From there, I looked up article after article on the fellow, even tried to read the Invisibles at one point (still haven’t succeeded at that but once I finish this blog project and Kirby’s Fourth World…). Through this, I found out about these weirdo comic scholars called the Mindless Ones whose works would shape me for the rest of my academic days, especially the works of Andrew Hickey and the guy who wrote about The Filth. (Oddly enough, even though I should have found out about him through this connection, I didn’t discover my most blatant influence until much later in my blogging career. It took going on AV Club to do that.)
This is not Honor Jackson. This is the last remains of The Man as his psyche is being taken over by his incomplete self: The Bat. Unlike the full self, the Bat is, as we’ve mentioned, a vicious brute. This can be difficult to parse within the context of typical superhero fare because many a costumed hero solves their problems with punching people in the face. However, typically there’s an additional element to their fighting that counteracts their more Mike Hammer tendencies: A sense of justice; a belief that they can save those they fight; self-deprecation disguising depression.
Not so with the Bat, who just simply wails on his foes because that’s what he does. A nonstop barrage of punching and punching and punching, only alleviated by occasional interjections by his imaginary friend from the Fifth Dimension telling the Bat that he’s the last vestige of the Bat’s sanity.
This new persona isn’t because the mystical ritual to change Batman and reveal his true self is complete, far from it. Rather, Batman has inserted this purer version of himself to counteract any attempts at going through such a ritual. He’s infected himself with a fiction to simulate a mystical experience (in Multiversity, the first part of his “Fuck Off Grant Morrison” trilogy, Morrison would later claim that the act of creating fiction is akin to the requirements for a mystical experience).
Unlike with most instances, intentional or otherwise, where someone tries to trick their way out of a mystical experience (wherein it ends with them deciding that white nationalism is the best methodology for growing face tentacles [as Morrison put it, the key to a mystical experience isn’t going mad, but coming back from madness]), the Bat ends up on top for the majority of the time. But, as with any period of a rabid dog being the top dog, eventually someone’s going to come around, grab you by the balls, and put you down. Which brings us, perhaps fittingly, to the Joker.
Earlier this year, I took a course in Science Fiction and Feminism. It was a good course, especially since it was the teacher’s first time teaching the class (though I wish I was taking it next year so I could talk to other people about the wonder that is Bitch Planet. Also, I’m both surprised and unsurprised that the class didn’t care for Left Hand of Darkness). It was a very enlightening course that helped hone in my views on feminism and introduced me to some works that I wasn’t aware were absolutely my thing. (As an aside: Hi Abbey, hope the semester’s going well and next semester’s class likes Kindred as much as ours did. Also, have you watched Dirty Pair yet?).
One of the assignments for the class was to write two memos (500-700 word essays) based on three entries from the anthology book Octavia’s Brood. The book featured works by various authors from LeVar Burton to David Walker to Bao Phi. For one of the memos, I looked at an essay by Tananarive Due called The Only Lasting Truth. To be honest, I chose it because I figured I could write something about the revolutionary spirit of the book without actually reading the essay (the other two I picked were Bao Phi’s Revolution Shuffle and the outro of the book by adrienne maree brown, as I figured it would be a concluding thesis for the text). When I finally read the essay, which was on the works of the titular Octavia Butler, I came across the quote that titles the essay, and everything changed forever:
All that you touch,
You Change

All that you Change,
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God is Change.
I had never come across that quote prior to reading that story. I only knew of Octavia Butler because we read Kindred earlier in the semester. I didn’t know at the time of Earthseed or Olamina or any of the other related topics. Maybe I read an article that claimed similarities between now and the books Butler wrote, but those articles tended to also claim that 1984 is about PC Culture, so I paid them no mind. But this essay, which featured this quote, finally contextualized the ideas that swam in my brain without an ocean to thrive in.
This is what I believe in. I believe in necessity and inevitability of change. Maybe it’s because of all these weirdos that I follow that I believe this. Maybe I read one too many essay on Darkseid and Entropy, that it warped my mind to accept that change is an inherent good, if a painful one. Maybe it was the unending cycles my family would go through year after year that pushed me to want to find an escape from them. Or maybe I wanted something that wasn’t the singular vision of the gamer gating alt-right. Regardless, I had to read that book.
When I got home from college, I checked out the book the quote came from, Parable of the Sower, out of my local library. I rather liked the work and was surprised how bleak the text was. It was an honest tale about the collapse of society and how we can hold on to one another. It currently sits in between The Lathe of Heaven and The Ocean at the End of the Lane as my second favorite book of all time. As for its sequel, while I liked it from a mechanical angle, I felt its aim at deconstructing Olamina, the lead of both novels, were flawed especially within the climate of 2017. The only one that stuck was the rigidity of Olamina’s vision of Earthseed, the belief system that has “God is Change” at its center.
Unlike Batman, who simply corrupted the mystical experience and barely managed to stay on top, the Joker out right rejects the very notion of going through a mystical experience. Or rather, the experience never ends, for the Joker rejects the very concept of a true self. Morrison brought this concept up way back in his mildly-overrated Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, wherein it’s theorized that The Joker has no true self, and just goes through phases of identity (we could, at this point, compare him to David Bowie in this regard especially given his current persona calls himself the Thin White Duke… OF DEATH! [Twang]).
Obviously this ties into The Killing Joke’s more interesting idea for what the Joker’s origin is: multiple choice. Each version of the clown prince of crime would act as a starting point for the others: the sad clown becomes a psychotic serial killer; the camp sadist goes serious after his lover shot him in the face and starts cutting himself; etc. However, unlike within The Killing Joke [where it’s a clever idea that doesn’t go anywhere (like the interpretation that the book ends with Batman killing the Joker]), Morrison’s read ties this into the Joker’s neuroatypical experience.
Unlike with many villain motivations that essentially boil down to “he’s crazy,” Morrison doesn’t look at the Joker’s mental issues with contempt. Rather, he frames thusly: “Maybe he is a nu human mutation, bred of slimy industrial waters, spawned in a world of bright carcinogens and acid rains. Maybe he is the model for 21st-century big-time multiplex man, shuffling selves like a croupier deals cards, to buffer the shocks and work some alchemy that might just turn the lead of tragedy and horror into the fierce, chaotic gold of the laughter of the damned. Maybe he is special, and not just a gruesomely scarred, mentally-ill man addicted to an endless cycle of self-annihilating violence. Stranger things have happened.” In many regards, he is akin to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal Lecter: a monstrous force of nature not bound by human morality (“Ethics become aesthetics”) that the text can’t help but be enamored by.
Exactly two years before I started writing this post (so August 15, 2015), I started watching the show Hannibal. I had heard about the show prior to that time, but I ignored it due to the premise of “procedural drama adapting a popular movie” wasn’t that interesting to me. I was only vaguely aware of Bryan Fuller through Pushing Daises and a Scrubs fan fic that crossed that series over with Dead Like Me. And while at the time I liked both of those works, I never felt the need to revisit them in 2015.
What finally convinced me to watch the series were three things. First, numerous tumblrs I followed at the time (and still follow) were heaping praise for the series, pitching it as this fantastical show about the devil (or a demon) corrupting the world by possessing the baddie from Casino Royale. Secondly, I had learned that the series was being canceled at the end of its third season, and I prefer to get into a thing at either its beginnings or its endings. And thirdly, and in retrospect most importantly, I had just completed my third and final course of summer courses that I took over the course of June and July.
The courses consisted of two business classes required for a minor I was told I needed to take in order to survive in the “real world” and an English course detailing the various eras of science fiction wherein I learned to utterly despise Hard Sci-Fi and its incessantly dull charts. I needed something to cleanse the pallet so I could be ready for my junior year of college (perhaps the worst year of college I’ve had thus far, and that’s including the year I literally had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t stop crying). And so, I decided to watch Hannibal.
I breezed through the first season over the course of a single day, and I found the show to be quite good, but still not quite to the level of greatness that I was lead to believe the series had (that would come at the La Gazza Ladra sequence in Contorno, though I noticed the smaller pleasures when I rewatched the show back in May). It was when I reached the second season that things got… interesting.
It wasn’t so much that the series was any better or any more interesting (I’m still within the “I’m liking it, but I’m not loving it” stage at this point, though it felt padded at points during the back half [we didn’t need to revisit the guy who cared for the animals whose meant to represent Will, for example]). But something happened when I got to this point. I’m not exactly sure which episode I was on when it happened. I know I was on season 2 because I was watching it on DVD instead of NBC’s on demand service. There was a Verger scene, so it had to be in the back half. From what I recall of the episode, I think it was either the one with the skeleton man or the one where Freddie Lounds dies, though don’t quote me on that.
Regardless, I felt rather hot while watching it. Not so much because of the summer heat or the sexual aroma at the lead characters, but my body felt like it was on fire much like how a computer feels when you never turn it off. My brother, who was in the next room at the time, recommended that I go take a shower to cool myself down. For some reason, maybe because I didn’t want to wake anyone up, I took it in the basement shower.
When I turned on the shower, for some bizarre reason it felt too cold. It wasn’t set to a cold setting and it didn’t feel especially cold just not warm enough. So I increased it, at an incremental pace, until it got to the point where it should be burning my skin off my flesh like I was being cleansed in lava. It just stung a bit. Then, it started to hurt even more. It was at that point, that I needed to get out of the shower. But it was a glass cage whose door was extremely easy to open, just one swift push. Instead, I just kept banging and banging and banging on the glass screaming, “HELP!” over and over again.
And then, the world started to cut itself. Not as if it was a teenager trapped in an abusive household, but as if it were a movie. It kept on cutting to a black screen, as if a clip of darkness had replaced every other frame. I had no idea what was going on, I just kept howling, “help” to the void. Eventually it turned into a mewling before the darkness overtook me, and there was nothing left to see.
I awoke on the carpet outside where I was taking a shower. As he would later tell me, I had escaped from my glass prison and went to the doorway where my brother was hard at work, watching videos on the Internet. I didn’t do anything per say, I just stood there in a fugue state waiting for him to notice. When he finally did, I tumbled my way back into consciousness, and he caught me before I fell onto something that would do serious damage. My brother left me to lie on the carpet alone with my thoughts. He had to tell mom about what happened.
Not that I could move anyways, I was pinned to the carpet. My flesh was piping red, but it didn’t hurt. In spite of losing all control of myself, I felt the calmer than I have ever felt in a long time. It was as if I was a new man, ready to explore the world and all of its complexities. For now, I was just bored, wanting to talk to someone about anything. Instead, when my mom and brother came to get me, I was whisked away to bed. I wonder what I would have said.
Which, rather unfortunately, brings us to the main villains of this piece: Dr. Hurt and the Black Glove. Now, it’s not that they’re bad villains per say (a group of rich sadists who go around betting on the fight between good and evil solely because they’re bored is rather inventive, if obvious given that Hostel II came out a year earlier [the whole “maybe I’m Bruce’s father or maybe I’m Satan” thing Hurt has going for him doesn’t really become interesting until more interesting ideas consume him {more of a Red Dragon to Joker’s Chesapeake Ripper}]). Rather, within the context of a mystical ritual to change the very essence of Batman, they’re a rote instigator for sparking the change.
This is, in part, due to their lack of understanding of the situation they’re setting up. They see Batman and the Joker as people who are merely damaged without any consideration for the possibility that they might fight back against being tortured. The Black Glove assumes that because they’re rich and powerful and predominantly white, they can do whatever they want to people they see as beneath them without any consequences. They plan for every single eventuality from which henchmen will be punched in the face, how to get Bruce to fall in love with them (yeah, it’s revealed in the penultimate issue that Bruce’s love interest is a baddie, which we should have seen coming since she’s rather unfortunately named “Jezebel Jet”), and they set up the Joker being shot in the face by a guy dressed in a Batman costume (did I bring up the relationship between magic and artifice prior to this? Short answer: a fictional representative of an idea is the same thing as the idea itself [most writers just call it symbolism]) so he doesn’t team up with Batman against these “upstart newcomers”. But they never consider that the neurodivergent target they’re going after might be able to withstand any and all attempts at destroying them (partially because people like us tend to be used to torment but mostly because he’s the main character). Which leads us to a rather unfortunate problem with the mystical ritual that Batman is going through:
Prior to me even outlining this project, I wanted to do an essay in twine. The base conceit was to look at the event comic Avengers VS X-Men and propose an alternative path than the one the comics took (what if the Avengers were possessed by the Phoenix instead). It would have been more of a creative writing piece than a straight forward essay, but I would still have to analyze the entire history of Peter Parker in order to find out the answer to one simple question: Why would he want to destroy the world?
Of course, I wouldn’t want to tip my hand of this intent quite as soon as the introduction, so instead I took some liberties with the narrative form. Obviously, there was the twine aspect of the essay. I didn’t want to railroad my readers into a single path, as I tended to hate that when I read choose your own adventure books as a kid. So I decided to create a few diverging paths away from my initial essay idea that would further the creative writing aspect of this essay.
The narrative would begin with Peter looking into the sun as Wolverine screams bloody vengeance at him as he tries to dig his way out of the sun and fling himself at the earth. With a gun in hand, Peter contemplates one of three questions: When did this all become inevitable, How did this happen, and Why don’t I just get on with it already? I started out with the last of these questions, as it was the one that required the least amount of research (I never got any ideas for the first one beyond “Clip Show analysis”). The problem with it was simple: I had to create a convincing reason why someone would want to commit suicide.
To say this was detrimental to my mental wellbeing would be an understatement to say the least. It wasn’t just that he was convincing himself to commit suicide (he literally murdered all of his friends); it was that he was trying and failing to convince himself not to do it. In essence, what I was doing with the segment was deconstruct all the arguments I had spent the past couple of years creating so that I wouldn’t listen to the voice in the back of my head that tells me to just jump in front of a subway train or something (It got to the point where the only way I could actually get some sleep was to just express these emotions to someone who’d listen). I ended up having to get away from the project until a later point and work on something else (i.e. the blog project you’re reading now). I did eventually come to a realization one night for what I should do with that section, but I might revisit the series at a later point, so I don’t want to spoil it.
What I will spoil is an idea I had in regards to the second section: How did this happen? This would be where I would create a scenario where the Avengers got the Phoenix powers and the various divergences based on the multiple possibilities provided by Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), and Spider-Man (Peter Parker) getting the powers of a god. A bit of paranoia inspired me to not refer to them directly by name, but rather invoke them via cards in a Tarot Deck.
I’ve been trying to get into Tarot for a few years now (I think my relationship with the form of mysticism started with an episode of Yu Gi Oh). I have two decks (Rider and Crowley), but I haven’t gotten the chance to use them to predict the future or anything like that. But I’ve always wondered about the possibility of a Marvel themed Tarot deck. I’ve seen one based on the DC Universe that places Superman as the 0 card (I think they renamed it), but the Marvel one seemed a bit lacking, like it was out of obligation rather than inspiration.
A few ideas from this desire came to mind: Sue would be in the Fool’s place within the deck (Rachel Pollack argues one way the deck can be read as the story of the Fool, so who else’s story would the Marvel Universe, for lack of a better word, center itself around, but a woman who wanted to buck the law and status quo in favor of the strangeness of the universe), Steve Rogers as either The Devil or Justice (though typically reversed and partially due to Richard Jones’ influence), and of course Peter Parker as Death.
The explanation for this placement would have been the crux of my argument for that essay: Spider-Man is about change. Consider: what is Peter Parker’s status quo? What does he always go back to in the sense that Iron Man is a billionaire playboy philanthropist, Captain America is a soldier out of time, and Thor is the God of Thunder? The most common answers to that would be “high school teenager trying to juggle superheroics and regular life” or “photographer at the Daily Bugle,” but he graduated high school in the middle of the Ditko era and hasn’t worked for the Bugle since the 90’s.
Since then, Spidey’s been a scientist, a CEO, a school teacher, married, divorced, simultaneously two superheroes and two supervillains at once, and more. Furthermore, unlike characters like Batman or Captain America, Spider-Man doesn’t have to be defined by the status quo set up by Peter Parker’s white passing Jewish alter ego (in terms of "We need a huge movement to radically alter how we view race within pop culture, we can just plop in a non cis het white Spider-Man" [I added this parentheses shortly after watching Mikey Newman's amazing video on The Batman Question, which made me think about the implications of the original sentence and I didn't like them. For the record, Yujiro Ishihara, Mads Mikkelsen, or Andre Braugher {though, I really want him to be J. Jonah Jameson}]). He can be half Latinix/half Black like Miles Morralis or female/trans/gender fluid like Mattie Franklin (she was introduced wearing a binder for crying out loud). And that’s not even getting into “non-canonical” ones like Takuya Yamashiro or alternative readings of the new movie Spider-Man as being transgender. In essence, anyone could be Spider-Man without the need to add a descriptive title in front of the name.
It seems that where Superman is defined by wanting humanity to surpass him (thank you again Richard Jones), Spider-Man is defined by his ability to evolve with the times and be a better and better idea (Indeed noted writers Tom King and Tim Seeley point out this aspect of the character in their series Grayson: “The Flying Grayson. Nightwing. Robin. They were about more than fight moves. They were about Inspiration. Comfort. Trust. Family. I gave that up to become a spy. A Spider Man. A Tsuchigumo. I have changed.” [underline added]). Yes, change is painful and Spider-Man reflects that with the (misused and overrated) concept of the Parker Luck: a flawed acknowledgement that being something else doesn’t always net positive results and sometimes things are lost in the shuffle (the overrated part is that this state of pain and suffering lasts forever and always, a neoliberal story if I’d ever seen one).
A Spider-Man story can be about anything, so long as it keeps one foot in the material and the other in the strange. In other words, Spider-Man is America’s response to Doctor Who. A shame the writers seem unwilling to write about anything but Base Under Siege stories, but that’s America for yah.
Batman doesn’t change.
For all that the story dances with being a mystical ritual to alter the very fabric of what Batman is, for all the acknowledgements that Batman’s way of life isn’t healthy (as made by the villains, but it’s at a point in the narrative where we’re not supposed to think Jezebel is a baddie, despite knowing she’s called Jezebel), for all that his attempts to circumvent his change fail utterly (because of course a partial self is going to lose to the true self), Batman still doesn’t change.
Is this because Batman is Bruce’s true self? No. Batman is a performance played by Bruce to cope with the trauma of being the last survivor of his family (the goal is to commit suicide. Failing that, as he must, he wants to help other people around him with their problems so the world wouldn’t make another Batman. He will fail at this). A true self, as I’ve come to find, isn’t just the artifice you present to the world. Nor is it the thing you keep hidden from those who know you intimately. It’s the union of those opposites. The synthesis of a binary choice, as Morrison is fond of doing.
But Batman wants to keep the realms of Man and Bat separate from one another, a singular vision of protection, which dances within the dreams of an orphaned eight year old. It would take something much larger to even put a dent into that singular vision than a mere cult of bored, rich assholes led by an actor playing Satan playing Thomas Wayne. Even then, the Bat would realign the self away from that synthesis back to the status quo.
For in the same way the concept of Superman is about surpassing the impossible (be it the social constraints of an era or singing God, eldest of things, to death) and Wonder Woman is about liberating people from their chains (be it the chains of patriarchy or the bondage of ropes and leather), Batman is about holding things together. Of things never changing. Sure there are positives to that approach (he is Superman’s heroic antithesis after all), like how families that we make can hold us together through a rough patch or a community can be strong in the face of cruelty, but it still remains that no matter what that change might be, to be a Bat is to reject it entirely.
And that’s why Spider-Man is better than Batman.

End Act I.

(Next Time: Why Is the World in Love Again?)

[Photos: Kill Bill Vol. 2 Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino]

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