warped speed…

Batman has been criticized for not doing enough and/or not doing the right things to truly help Gotham City. As the real world economy has grown since the character’s inception (May 1939) the character’s wealth has had to expand to maintain a sense of plausibility if not verisimilitude.

Forbes estimates the Wayne family fortune at $6.9 billion. And, while that’s not Bill Gates-rich, it would make Bruce Wayne roughly the 231st wealthiest person in the (real) world – just after David Geffen. A cost analysis indicates it would cost $200 million to start a career as the Dark Knight, just a little more than it takes to produce a film about him.

Batman’s enemies have from time to time suggested that he’s just as crazy as they are. Some of his detractors in the real world have voiced the opinion that Mr. Wayne is deliberately keeping Gotham poor. In his ScrewAttack! video, “Does Batman Need a New Origin??”, Bob Chipman (a.k.a. MovieBob) makes the case that the Wayne Foundation could do quite a bit more to alleviate poverty and other cause of crime than nightly patrols and subsequent kicking of ass seems to.

batwarp

But that’s not the point —

The overarching Gotham mythos has become largely based on the concept that the human psyche is fragile enough that one bad day is all it might take to cause it to snap. While the comic went nearly three years before giving Batman much backstory. when it came the story hinged on trauma. In reaction to the death of his parents Master Wayne vowed to “avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” № 33 (Nov. 1939).

The Joker – undisputed king of the One Bad Day origin – did not appear until the following year and went on to make the trope the overt premise of “The Killing Joke” (1988). Anyone, the Clown Prince postulated, will go mad given enough provocation and that can be accomplished in a remarkably short period of time. In a sense, Bruce having been traumatized as a formative event gradually set a tone that nearly all of his opponents now follow.

Dragon Con. Sept. 3, 2016. 7:03ᴘᴍ —

I was wandering and exploring the event when I happened by a panel already in progress: Representing Disability and Trauma (in Comics). Daniel Amrhein (Journey into Awesome) was the moderator. Courtney Bliss (Bowling Green State University) and Kari Storla (USC Annenberg) were his guests.

There are a number of reasons that I chose to sit quietly in the back of the room. I was late, for one. Comics – not just Batman – have been an interest since at least the mid-70s. As an epileptic, it is sometimes easy for me to forget that I have a disability so I’ll take the opportunities of reminders in writing about them more properly when they appear. There have been a few events in my life that might technically count as trauma but I don’t often view them as such. I’ve had bad days. Who hasn’t? They didn’t make me snap.

There may be a manner in which the topics presented in the panel may be discussed without trigger warnings. We haven’t reached that stage of discourse as a society. One person did leave during the talk. A fairly wide range of life events were discussed as was the stigma that victims of traumatic experience face and, similarly, those who have disabilities. Life can be difficult enough but one of the very strong points made was that trauma or condition notwithstanding each human psyche moves on.

Toward the end of the panel, Ms. Storla made the point that mental illness, when presented in fiction, is far more often than not an oversimplified ‘sane + trauma = condition’ sort of formula. An insane character is defined by their condition without any other aspect of a personality being presented well – if at all. What the audience needs to know, authors presume, is the character in question is just crazy. Only crazy.

I’ve known at least one person who could be called “crazy”. That’s part of the personal trauma about which I’m being vague. No, I don’t mean myself. During lucid moments such people can be very aware that something is wrong – that their own behaviors are not preferable. They themselves may find certain of their words and deeds beyond both their control and comprehension. These are facets of their existence as human beings not the whole.

Mr. Amrhein observed that, “being hit on the head doesn’t make people leave riddles for Batman. Being shocked or dumped in chemicals doesn’t make someone ‘crazy’. Being burned with acid doesn’t result in dissociative identity disorder.”

I then asked the panelists that, if they were writing for ‘insane’ comic book characters, how would their approach be different. The moderator replied that rather than the reliance on outdated tropes he would like to introduce modern research and the views of experts. In his opinion – and he’s not wrong – many creators of comic books draw from preexisting canon and recycle it. This perpetuates the outmoded concepts and contributes toward perpetuating misunderstanding. Ms. Storla said she would want to bring in feminist trauma theory (which I’ll be reading up on).

Until this panel (and MovieBob’s video), I had viewed Batman’s adversaries as each presenting a facet of human obsession but that all of them represent an unfair and outdated model of a disordered psyche. Each is an exaggeration of the strengths and virtues of the Dark Knight – twisted in antisocial ways. All of this was – in the moment and lasting since – rich food for thought and a valued reminder to remain mindful with regard to characters who are out of their minds. We are stronger. We adapt. It’s part of human nature. It should be part of the characters we create.

Two for flinching…

zombie smearIf I’m honest, I don’t particularly care for the zombie story; I’ve never been able to become a fan.

It strikes me that I should, however, because I did quite like Aftermath: Population Zero (2008, National Geographic Channel) and Life After People (2009, History Channel). These semi-documentary series are not favorites because I’ve a misanthropic wish to be the last man on Earth. I like a little science in my sci fi.

Zombies seem to appeal to our collective sense that – due to responsibilities and commitments – we each have too little time to be ourselves. The wage slave metaphorically trudges from task to task to task in Sisyphean servitude. Ironically, if too late for the zombies, the apocalyptic pandemic triggers the utter collapse of obligations. This may explain the allure of the zombie story. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for walkers to usher us to a Utopian vista. Although freed of duty, the zombie is reduced to mere appetite. Time enough at last but what difference does it make?

Survivors should be completely free to be themselves, their true selves, 100% of the time. To preserve zombies as a threat, however, any would-be exemplars of ideal idealization are reduced to an equally Sisyphean sleep-fight-run existence. There’s never a definitive explanation of the onset nor is there any ever a real chance for a cure. It’s a no win situation. A Möbius stripping of potential.

Popular zombie fiction, in my view, has no moral. It could (and maybe should) be a fine environment in which to outline an eidolon; ultimately, we’re left with heroes that – though they may survive – gradually become indistinguishable from the monsters they fight. And when the characters give up, I follow suit. The closer to Hell a situation becomes, contrast should show how much closer to Paradise the characters might be, no?

All that said, I must admit I was following both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. When the first debuted, it hadn’t been very long since the pseudo-documentaries on collapse mentioned above. I may have started watching AMC‘s initial show out of curiosity and in hope there might be a similar exploration but with the overlay of fiction. The teasers of the prequel actually included the line, “When civilization goes, it goes fast.” But that’s not actually the theme of either show. Both have become a seemingly endless series of almost literal standees (as stand-ins for true plot) while the living use them as an excuse to be terrible to each other.

Zombie stories don’t have to be about small bands of survivalists wandering between one lord of the flies and the next – ever further from any semblance of civilization, restored or reinvented. If you’ve guessed that I prefer an uplifting end to even the most grim of stories, you’re not wrong. These stories ultimately fail, in my opinion, because they never reach a conclusion. They’re designed not to have one. The fiction itself is undead and mindlessly immortal so long as ratings and reviews permit.

Every crisis passes. We’re not supposed to merely muddle through a chain of largely indistinguishable days. That is not a mission. In essence, it could be said that solving problems – including crises – is our mission… our responsibility.

I’m not particularly satisfied by stories in which a smart hero can’t anticipate and try to avoid dystopia or, failing that, a diligent hero being unable to solve the problem. You might get some red on you but there should be an epilogue showing how life has changed and that life persists. What does it look like 28 years later?
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