Batman University, Anti-Theism, Moby Dick and Trite Nostalgia: Batman on the Couch (Prelude)


This is a bit of an oddity.  Back in December of 2011 I was asked to expound upon some general questions I had previously answered for a genial fellow working on a collegiate assignment. The answers I provided were to be worked into some sort of thesis and I was told that the final paper would be passed on to me, so that I could see how my input was put to use. I’ve never seen that paper.

Regardless, I think some of the topics broached here are mildly interesting and I plan to further extrapolate on a few of the answers I provided in the near future; Specifically the notion that the character of Batman stands as an undeniably (and perhaps singular) anti-theistic superhero. I also find it somewhat funny that I make mention of a hypothetical sequel to Moby Dick not being able to ruin the original work, since recently, Alan Moore used the same analogy a bit differently.

In any event, here are some words I wrote about Batman back in December:

       1. Tell the story of how you became a fan of Batman.

I was a casual fan from as far back as I can recall; I remember seeing re-runs of the 60’s Adam West television show when I was very young, along with the old 1940’s black and white serials. In that sense the image (the avatar) of “the Batman” was already lodged into my subconscious. The sight of the dark, masked figure with a cape and grotesquely pointed ears, almost looking like some sort of nightmarish, demonic gargoyle (here I’m specifically referring to the way the character looked in the b&w serials) left quite an impression, especially to a young boy, that would no doubt be pointless to try to explain to anyone with a modicum of understanding in regards to basic analytical psychology.  Suffice it to say, I was always aware of Batman, in one form or another.

Years later, my father, who was a “lapsed” comic book fan from his youth, took the opportunity of having a young son to vicariously revive his nostalgic yearnings. To this end he started taking me to comic book stores – and because the image of the Batman cowl was familiar to me, one of the very first comic books I ever wanted was a Batman comic.

I was then “into” comic books as much as most young kids are; I bought them and tried to draw my favorite characters, make up new stories, etc. It was all in all a very shallow (albeit, at the time, completely fulfilling) and a non-serious hobby. Then I read Batman #404. This is the first issue in the famous “Year One” storyline, written by Frank Miller (full disclosure: I think Frank Miller is an asshole although I still greatly enjoy his early Batman work). This is the comic book that changed me from a casual fan who read comics in a very disposable and superficial light, to someone who suddenly found that comic books, as a medium, could be just as deep as a traditional work of literature. For some reason this thought had never even occurred to me before, but the way this “Year One” story was told quite literally changed my perception of the entire medium from thereon.  Thus, I became a fan of comic books for the writing, not just the art.

       2. Explain the biggest appeal to you about Batman comics.

Well, my favorite fictional character before I got into Batman was Sherlock Holmes, a character with many obvious parallels. I think the top three reasons I like Batman can be easily (lazily) summed up with a simple numbered list:

  1. He is a regular human being with no super-powers and he takes it upon himself to fight injustice in the world due to the way he chose to process his own deep, emotional pain. He does this through sheer will alone.
  2. He not only trained himself to the peak of physical human potential, but also mental human potential. People tend to overlook the fact that the character is supposedly “The World’s Greatest Detective”, quite often. The character is also described as a polymath and this is something very appealing to me about the character. He balances the use of brain and brawn perfectly (in his best told stories, at least), not touting one as more important than the other – this represents the quest for a harmony and a balance in his life… which of course is a huge appeal to people, subconsciously or not, because they are afforded the opportunity to project their own desires for ‘perfection’ (admittedly, an inherently flawed perfection, no less) or ‘balance’ upon the character, who is of course, a proxy for themselves.
  3. He eschews the traditional ideal of morality for one of ethics. This is a character born out of indifferent human suffering, who has then become the modern day “Overman”. Batman has a strict sense of value which he assigns to human life, yet, again, he ascribes it only in accordance to his own will; he has immutable laws which he will not violate regardless of the situation and he does this not out of fear of punishment, or out of desire for reward, but rather because he has decided that these “rules” would violate the ethical structure he hopes to inspire the world to subscribe to. He cares not for gods, governments or mores – he is the true anti-theistic hero in this regard.

      3. What has been your favorite experience as a Batman fan?

I’m not sure… I guess the moment where The Batman became my personal catalyst for a deeper understanding and respect for comic books as an art form.

     4. How do you relate what you see, read, observe, and interpret in Batman comics to your everyday life?

Well, I don’t do any of the above in any sort of substantial sense. On an intellectual level it of course affords me the opportunity to enjoy it as a work of fiction, and therein enjoy all the wonderful things that consuming and processing art does in its myriad of forms.  In other words, it no more affects my life in any sort of tangible way than reading the Marquis de Sade does. It is a work of fiction and should be used accordingly, otherwise you risk slipping into the realm of irrationality; taking fiction too seriously can be dangerous indeed!

     5. How would you define a serious fan?  A casual one?

I think a “serious” fan as opposed to a “casual” fan could be described by one’s level of intimate knowledge in regards the character’s fictional and real-world history and the inner-working of the fictional world(s) within which the character resides.

     6. Are there members of the Batman fan community who claim to be bigger or more serious fans than others? How do they justify their status? Is it important to you to be a bigger or more serious fan than others?

Ha! I’m sure this does pose a problem in some circles. But it is utterly ridiculous. It simply amounts to so much misplaced ego and compulsion. If someone actually cares about things like this, or puts forth too much concerted effort trying to define things as insignificant as this, then they have much deeper problems than who may or may not be a bigger fan of their imaginary friends.

     7. Describe how you express your fandom.

I write about Batman fairly often. I run a small comic book blog ( I collect Batman comic books and enjoy discussing the character and the fictional world he inhabits.

    8. What types of fan behavior do you consider acceptable? Are there any behaviors that you think take it too far?

Anything is acceptable that does not impose upon or affect anyone else in a negative way. If watching Batman movies in your bat-undies while you basturbate is what you feel is acceptable, then have at it! Taking it too far would involve the same things that taking anything too far include; a zealous fanaticism to the point of dangerous, irrational and/or violent behavior being the culmination of such possibilities, of course.

    9. What do you think society’s general attitude towards comic fans is? Why?

In general I think there is a negative stigma attached to being a comic fan. We’re seen as helplessly nerdy and emotionally/intellectually stunted. This is due in part to people’s unfamiliarity with the actual content of the “good” works in the medium and their passing familiarity with “bad” works in the medium. Everyone knows the tropes and the clichés of the medium and some books still regularly rely upon and trot such camp out. But the ratio between good work and bad work is no more pronounced than in any current art-form. 90% of music is absolute, soulless crap. The same can be said for cinema, literature and visual art of any form. Comic books fare no worse than anything else, really. People are, on the whole, unimaginative and boring (sorry, my misanthropy is showing!) and as such, banal work is produced and consumed in large numbers – and will continue to be created, unabated, until the end of existence, I would imagine. But I am a firm believer that no matter what the medium, there is always that 10% of work produced within it that truly has the right to be considered significant and honest; artistic and carefully created with real thought, emotion and gravitas behind it.

    10. How public are you about your fandom? What factors into your level of outward display of your fandom?

I’m a rather private person in general so it isn’t as if I walk up to strangers to discuss anything regarding my life with them, let alone Batman. But I’m in no sense ashamed of it or try to marginalize it in my outward life. If it comes up I’m open about being a big geek about it… I’ve also been known to sport a Batman t-shirt or two…

    11. What role does your fandom play in shaping your identity?

Hmmm, I’m not exactly sure. I’m certain it has altered my personality over the years in near imperceptible and more overt ways, but if you want to really know the answer to this you’ll have to spring for the shrink bills.

    12. How has your fandom changed over time?  Can you pinpoint any specific causes to such changes?

Yes. See my answer to question #1.

    13. What about Batman comics has made you want to remain a fan?

There is a long, rich and storied history to the character, both on and off the page that is endlessly surprising. For as much as I think I’ve read there is always more out there, new stories and new takes on the character to enjoy.

    14. Have you ever considered NOT being a fan of Batman? Why or why not? What would it take for you to abandon your fandom?

No. I’ve never considered not being a Batman fan. Even if they started writing consistently awful stories it wouldn’t change the way I feel about the rich past of the character and the stories already told. I can go back and read and appreciate a Batman story written sixty years ago, I see no reason why that would change. More to the point, I don’t think anyone could do anything to the character to make me stop being a fan – I may stop buying and reading currently produced work, but I’ll always love the character in a broad sense; that cannot be broken. For example, someone could write a follow-up to Moby Dick, in which Ahab is brought back from the dead as a pedophilic zombie – and it would not dampen my enjoyment of the original Melville novel one iota.

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