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Are you Beginning Again?

Did I ever mention that I hate origin stories?

I must have–in a blog post long ago and far away–but, after seeing Batman Begins (along with the atrocious trailer for The Fantastic Four) last night, I am rarin’ to reiterate this point. It’s not enough that we’ve gotten nothing but endless corporate “reboots” from Marvel and DC for the past decade or two–now there’s a second Hollywood Batfranchise to deal with (it’s like a cinematic “Crisis on Infinite Earths”… too much backstory? get rid of it! the psychopath’s mantra… although, to be fair, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s respective works weren’t nearly as dear to me as Krypto and Earth-Two had been before they were sacrificed upon the altar of Millerian “seriousness” in the mid-1980’s)

Then again, the reason that Batman is my least favourite superhero is that he is, basically, all origin. I’ve written enough about “dynamic stasis” to bore even my own narratologically-fixated self, and I’ll try to avoid that pitfall today, but the crux of the matter has always been that I am most interested in the existential “middle passage” traversed by superheroes like Spider-Man, Animal Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange, etc… Of course, each of these guys were assigned “origins” (although, interestingly enough, Lee and Ditko tried to get away without laying bare the good doctor’s roots–if only J. Michael Straczynski had shown similar restraint!), but none of those tales (not even good ol’ “with great power comes great responsibility”) can be described as the “last word” on the character. The Batman story is too airtight (and there’s nothing I hate more than a tidy story)–the unreasoning fear of bats + the murder of the Waynes always adds up to the same thing–and once Bruce dons that costume, all he lacks are the foes/confederates (and they’re not hard to find) that will enable him to reenact his origin story until the end of time. Spider-man’s origin, on the other hand, provides a crucial break with the character’s past that serves as a foundation (rather than a narratological morass) for the story proper. “Dynamic stasis” cannot be consubstantial with the origin–it sets in later, emerging out of the conflict generated by the encounter between (always-)already empowered characters and the world. Otherwise, what you get is a “person” that is incapable of recognizing the world at all (i.e. “stasis, hold the dynamism”)…

So, yeah, I think Batman Begins gets the character exactly right–and all it manages to prove is that this character sucks (sort of helps to explain why everyone that works with him winds up turning, in desperation, to Robin–the only person that Bats could ever get close to would have to be a mirror-image of himself)

I did find the film’s valorization of welfare-capitalism interesting–i.e. Neeson’s Marxist assumptions about a truly “free market” are not questioned, which kind of implies, if you think about it, that the “good people”, like daddy Wayne (not to mention Bruce himself), are really only saving themselves and their ancestral holdings.

For a different take on all of this, see Mark K-Punk and John Pistelli’s reconsidered entry. I do like Mark’s decisionist/excess-of-good interpretation, and I would recommend that he give the Squadron Supreme a try sometime! (now that would make a great film–and no origins necessary!)

As for the FF–well, I’m actually considering not going to see it… Why the hell didn’t they do the Silver Surfer/Galactus story?

Cerebus? I’ve decided to read the whole thing before I make any more posts… I am now at issue #194, and I have to say:

1) Mothers and Daughters is even crazier than I expected it to be, and

2) I am more sold than ever on my own Cerebus/Pierre, or the Ambiguities analogy… this is the incredible record of one frightened and unbelievably prideful man’s attempt to stand in the eye of a storm of romantic, social, political, and aesthetic pressures that no human being could (or should want to!) withstand… “the baker and the bread”….wow!!!!!

more on this later–obviously!

good evening friends!

Dave

8 comments

  1. Silver Surfer and Galactus? Are you MAD, sir?

    Anyway, this is funny. I’ve been telling all my friends that this Batman film will not be a smash success (yes, it’s made its money– I mean in terms of public reception) because it’s too good.

    It’s a very smart Hollywood film– and while that may be damning with faint praise, it’s worth more than a poke in the eye.

    More importantly, I think you’re wrong about the character. You have to be careful when comparing Marvel and DC characters like this, because the Marvel characters have really only been done once. The DC characters have had twice as long to be revisited dozens of times. The original Batman character had none of this tidiness you speak of. No fear of bats. No sociopathic tendencies. No surplus of portentious symbology (if the last 20-odd years of Batman stories had been written by one man, it would be a nice portrait of a schizoid personality, I think). He was a guy with a job to do who figured out a truly weird way to get it done.

    Possibly the most interesting aspect of the movie, I found, was that by the end Bruce Wayne was actively interested in bringing someone into his life– and she turned him down. It’s always been the reverse, and I think people would have picked up on that if the character (or the actress) had been more developed.

    Anyway, most of these bastards are boring until you do something with them. You can do something with Batman. Now, Jack of Hearts…?

    –james

  2. no question about the Marvel/Dc thing, but you know, Superman’s been around even longer than Bats, and I don’t have any problems with him… his origin and his “middle passage” are easily separable, and that makes all of the difference… and sure, it’s true that the fear of Bats/outright exploration of the character’s pathology owes more to Miller than to Kane, but even the early Batman was just a guy that got scared by the world and decided to spend the rest of his life honing his “brave face”… no matter what period we’re talking about, Batman is a self-made superhero (or “legend”), and his story cannot ever really be anything but the record of that ongoing project… spider-man (and superman too) on the other hand, is thrust into a situation by forces that are beyond his control… Batman gets pushed around by fate too, but the Batman costume is meant to insulate Bruce Wayne against that knowledge, and that fear… what it comes down to, I suppose, is that I’m just not interested in stories about people that will themselves to become “something more than human” (more is less)… unless they tackle it like the Shadow and focus upon the inhuman thing’s operatives (which can be very interesting)

    about Holmes’ rejection of the hero–sure, I guess there’s a difference, but what is it? that he’s doing a worse job of disguising the fact that he’s not dating material? the rejection still feels inevitable, and it’s a big part of the reason that this character does not appeal to me…

    but come on! don’t you wish that filmmakers would–for once!–actually adapt a real superhero storyline? if we can’t have the Gwen Stacy Clone saga, why not FF #48-50? it’s tailor-made for the blockbuster movie crowd!

    Dave

  3. Dave, it’s possible that you’ll find Singer’s upcoming Superman film to be more interesting; he’s using the first two Superman films as a jumping-off point, apparently, which means that the origin has already been dealt with. I can’t promise that there won’t be a flashback of any kind, of course, but at least you shouldn’t have to worry about the entire film being simply the Creation Of Superman.

    Charles W.

  4. yup–that sounds a lot better to me… of course, it’s not as exciting as the David Lynch version of Smallville that I sometimes contemplate, but it would definitely be an improvement over another monotonous tracking shot of the journey from Krypton to Metropolis… Tim “superheroes are nothing but iconography” O’Neil would undoubtedly disagree, but, for me, the strongest superhero stories (like the “continuity-obsessed” seventies Marvels–and the later work of Morrison, Gruenwald and Stern) are always those which take their origins for granted and revel in the storytelling possibilites that a nice back-catalogue makes possible…

    Dave

  5. Dave, I’ve given up on wishing for anything out of Hollywood other than that the dialogue be audible.

    That’s cool that Batman doesn’t interest you. He doesn’t interest me much anymore either, but I put that down to no one writing any good stories that feature him– rather than some inherent problem with the character.

    Yeah, okay, you eventually come down to– Bruce Wayne’s not marriage material. But Superman was the same way for years, too (I actually think the consumation of his relationship with Lois cancels out any need for a secret identity, so now that character’s just as poorly realized these days as Batman). What’s most important about that scene at the end of the movie is that it means Bruce Wayne recognizes he’s a human being, and in need of other human beings. He admits it to himself, and to her. He’s grown up. He’s healed. He never did that when I was reading the books.

    The fact that he’s still not marriage material– though he wants to be– is an interesting way to present a hero, I find.

    –james

  6. I should add that I too am sick of origin stories. But I only went to see the movie because it was my friend’s birthday weekend. I have no one to blame but myself.

    –james

  7. “Yeah, okay, you eventually come down to– Bruce Wayne’s not marriage material. But Superman was the same way for years, too (I actually think the consumation of his relationship with Lois cancels out any need for a secret identity, so now that character’s just as poorly realized these days as Batman). What’s most important about that scene at the end of the movie is that it means Bruce Wayne recognizes he’s a human being, and in need of other human beings. He admits it to himself, and to her. He’s grown up. He’s healed. He never did that when I was reading the books.”

    You’re right on that score–and it would be great if they allowed him to move forward from that realization in the second installment… I didn’t hate BB and I’ll be there for the next one (superhero II’s are always better than I’s…makes me sad that Supergirl never got another chance…)

    Re: Superman & marriage/socialization–it’s true, although things like the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” imaginary stories (+ the breadth and appeal of superman’s supporting cast) always kept this development in play within the reader’s mind…

    Dave

  8. Just as you can’t hear the term pulp fiction without thinking of the film, once you’ve read #186…

    Bar none the weirdest departure in all of artland.

    (proximoception)

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