Category Archives: Archetypes

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY: An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction PART#1 WRITER’s Q and A

legend-of-korra-batfan-on-batman-blog-batfan-007

The Heroines Journey – An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction

Over the last year I’ve been looking into the topic of The Heroine’s Journey through books, articles, youtube videos and of course perspectives from other writers of both fiction and non-fiction. This Q&A is several questions with some expert writers I admire and respect with differing contrasting points of view including Nicole Franklin, Kate Forsyth, Alice Li, Nav. K and Mike Madrid.

There will be an accompanying article up soon on this blog where I comment on some of the Theories and Ideas that are part of the modern version of The Heroines’ Journey, and ideas discussed in this Q&A as specific or unique from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. So you can consider this PART#1 of #2 on The Heroine’s Journey and I will link the other article to this one once it is completed and posted.

So lets get into it, I hope you enjoy reading the insightful answers from these super-smart individuals as much as I did. It took several months to come together as people live in different time zones, in different parts of the world and are usually quite busy. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed!

NICOLE FRANKLIN

Nicole Franklin

Nicole Franklin is an award-winning filmmaker. Through her 25 years in the industry Nicole has been a television director, editor, educator, and contributing writer to such publications as The Good Men Project, Toronto-based ByBlacks.com and NBCBLK. For seventeen years, her company EPIPHANY Inc. has been producing independent films for numerous cable networks including Showtime, BET, IFC, Nickelodeon, Sundance Channel, FUBU TV and kweliTV.

In addition to the narrative feature on same-race discrimination in the workplace, TITLE VII, Nicole’s other credits include The Double Dutch Divas!, Journeys In Black: the Jamie Foxx Biography, Kids Around the World, Black Enterprise Business Report, Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown and the 10-chapter series Little Brother.   Nicole’s affiliations include DGA, PGA East, NABJ, The Black Documentary Collective (BDC) and NYWIFT. NicoleFranklin.com/cine.

nicole-franklin-heroine

Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

I think the Heroine’s Journey is needed because as a Black feminist I could not pinpoint why a number of female leads in films I grew up watching were not satisfying role models for me.  Why didn’t I root for women who could change the world—women who were on their own, not handing over the reigns to their male rescuers?  And, why didn’t I root for them on a consistent basis?

Plots and storylines are much better in recent years, but it wasn’t until I heard Alice Meichi Li articulating the characteristics of a Heroine’s Journey vs. a Hero’s Journey while she was speaking on a NY Comic Con panel that I realized most female leading roles have been under siege. Manipulation and lackluster results from a journey that thrives on a woman’s insecurities and borderline insanity seem to have been acceptable practice for years. Li made me rethink The Wizard of Oz after seeing it hundreds of times. Once certain characteristics of female-driven stories seep into our subconscious as media consumers we’re doomed!

Q.How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories? (Nicole: I’m combining questions 2 and 3 here)

First writers have to realize there is a distinction between successfully writing a heroine into movie history or into oblivion. As illustrator Alice Meichi Li has noted, there is a fascination with the goddess/supernatural character Joseph Campbell often describes now being a hindrance, and not at all helpful as she would be to a man on a mission. Is it more of a standard to see backstabbing and deception between women when one’s happiness is within arm’s reach? You bet.

Second, more female writers and directors need to be hired as showrunners and creatives behind the scripts and behind the camera on an equal employment basis. Putting these two very simple suggestions into practice would be a terrific start.

Next, films, books and art are part of commercial business. Audiences must support heroines who rock with their dollars. Li mapped out a guide for what writers should avoid in their storylines starring female leads when I interviewed her for The Good Men Project here: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/heros-journey-vs-heroines-journey-rewriting-privilege/

Q.What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? (Nicole: See Question above)

nicole franklin heroines journey batfan blog.jpg

Q.What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

I would refer creators to my article The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege featuring illustrator Alice Meichi Li. Talking to her was so eye-opening for me as an artist, executive producer and feminist.

Q.What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics etc of tomorrow?

We have a long way to go when it comes to a female protagonist whom audiences can cheer and demand sequels of beyond the small screen and printed pages of comics. Digital distribution outlets are now the widened doors independent artists have needed for years in order to reach a global audience. This is actually an exciting time to be a creator. And if recent box office numbers of Hollywood films starring talented, three-dimensional female leads are any indication, then this successful model has no choice but to continue and prosper. Bravo!

Where can people find you online, what websites do you contribute to, recommend etc?

Thanks for asking Jonny! I love connecting with people through my website, NicoleFranklin.com. Also, all of my social media profiles are there. I also am the founder of the tech education initiative Hack4Hope.org and the Executive Producer of LittleBrotherFilm.com, a 10-chapter film series with producer J. Tiggett on young Black males and their thoughts on Love.  As a writer I contribute to The Good Men Project, NBCBLK and Toronto’s ByBlacks.com.

You can also find Nicole on Youtube at  https://www.youtube.com/user/Nicoleedits/about?&ab_channel=NicoleFranklin

KATE FORSYTH

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel when she was only 7, and is now the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 25 books, including The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starkin Crown, and Grumpy Grandpa for children. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. You can read more about Kate at www.kateforsyth.com.au

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

To be honest, I see the hero in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as being a non-gender specific term. A girl can be a hero just as much as a boy. However, both Campbell’s language in describing the mono-mythic Hero’s Journey and subsequent usages of the format are highly male-focused, so perhaps talking about a ‘Heroine’s Journey’ can open up new ways of thinking and describing a woman’s journey of self-discovery and change.

kate-forsyth-website-author-batfan-blog

Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s]

For me, the journey of all my female protagonists follow the mono-mythic pattern of moving through darkness towards light, and through a process of transformation that changes them from the beginning of the story to the end. The trials that they face, the ordeals and obstacles that they overcome, are very different according to the kind of story I am telling … and the type of person my heroine is.

The Hero’s Journey is often just a way of thinking about story structure … and in that sense, it does not matter whether the hero is male or female, or even human at all. I think the secret is not to be too rigid in following the Hero’s Journey – to think of ways to make it fresh and new and surprising. And recasting this quest in the shape of a Heroine’s Journey is one way to do so.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I always try and think – what does my hero/heroine want? What stands in their way? What is the cost of failure? What do they need to learn before they can get what they want? And then I plan their journey, placing more emphasis on the key psychological turning points in the narrative structure.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?

I’d love to see more movies made with strong, complex and interesting female characters. Often movie and TV makers (as well as novelists) think the way to make a heroine strong and heroic is to make her more masculine – I don’t think this is necessary at all.

kate-forsyth-author-books

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Make your characters flawed, with real-life fears and problems, and then show them as they grow and change on their journey. Dynamic characters are always more interesting than ones that do not change.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I’d love to see more films and books and games being female-centric, with strong protagonists and an interesting character arc.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

My main website is Kate Forsyth at http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/

You can also find me on Facebook, Pinterest and my Amazon Author Page at the below links:

ALICE MEICHI LI

Alice Meichi Li

Alice Meichi Li  is a New York based visual artist and illustrator for comic books, magazines, and album covers. She is the creator of the independent comic book Sherbert Lock. Alice has received numerous awards and nominations from organisations such as the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Alice also contributed words and pictures to Nicole’s article “The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege” that inspired this BATFAN Q&A you are reading right now.

Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

In a society like ours where women have historically struggled for equality, it’s hard enough to get to a level playing field — let alone set upon a journey for self-actualization. The Hero’s Journey is exactly that: a coming-of-age story where a boy can become a fully-actualized man and surpass his own masters through trials and tribulations.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy, multiple needs must be met before a person can achieve self-actualization, including the physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem. If a story takes place in a society like ours where many women can’t even feel safe walking around in our own gender, how can we ever achieve true self-actualization?

alice_20meichi_20li_chun_20li_original

I keep stipulating “in a society like ours” because there are plenty of heroines that take the Hero’s Journey in fictional worlds where they fortunately aren’t bound to a system of patriarchy. (see: Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra) So my definition of a Heroine’s Journey is that where a lesser-privileged protagonist, most likely a woman, sets upon a path to achieve normality or equality to that where a Hero might just be starting off.

Where there are trials that will help the Hero along his way, there are traps and tricks that await the Heroine as she tries to obtain equilibrium in a world that has seemingly gone mad. Where there are Masters to guide the Hero along, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing to manipulate the Heroine along.

Great examples of the Heroine’s Journey would be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. At the end, neither Dorothy nor Alice become lauded as great heroes. They just return to the normal lives in their normal homes that they were striving for all along.

alice-meichi-li-illustrator-michonne-from-walking-dead

Heroine’s Journeys reflect the struggles of women in a patriarchal society where being a woman basically means that the body you were born in impedes you from getting ahead the same way a man can. It can feel awfully like a world gone mad when a woman is constantly told by society that her life isn’t worth as much as that of a fetus.

That the work she does is worth around 77% as much as a man’s work, that she ought to keep at the “Drink Me” bottle to shrink small enough to fit society’s standards, or that she needs to destroy other women (Wicked Witches) to achieve her goals when in reality it’s actually a man behind the curtain who has the true power over her.


Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories?A common piece of advice I see is “Just write a female character like a man”. Well, yes and no. If the story takes place in a patriarchy, but the woman faces zero consequences to acting like a man, then this is completely unrealistic. While I don’t agree with strictly adhering to a gender binary, I recognize that society does.People who fall outside of that gender binary inevitably face challenges from the people around them, and these challenges shape who they are.I had a great conversation with Phil Jimenez (writer/artist for Wonder Woman) once about how Superman couldn’t be written exactly the same if he were a woman, because people would treat him like a woman.
Scarlett-Johansson Black Widow.jpg
Would the Daily Planet run the same exact articles on Superman if he were a woman? Wouldn’t there be the inevitable criticisms of her appearance or choice of costume?

Look at how the press treats male actors versus female actors in interviews. (For example — the types of questions Scarlett Johannson received from the press for her role in Avengers versus the types of questions her male co-stars received.

Spoiler alert: They tended to center around her body, costume and weight-loss, whereas her male co-stars were given more difficult questions about actual acting) There’s always going to be a slant. How a female Superman would react to *that* reaction would then shape her character differently than a male Superman.

tumblr_n35ggt8ebf1qdmqlao1_1280

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?To actually develop a Heroine’s Journey into a Hero’s Journey, we’d need to achieve true equality as a basis for all prospective Heroines to launch their journeys. Calling back to my response to the first question, it’s hard to focus on mastering any goal to a heroic extent if one’s basic needs aren’t even being met.

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

First, read stories about real women and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome themselves. When encountering people who express the hardships they’ve experienced, listen or read with an open mind and open heart. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or question your pre-existing assumptions.

Second, don’t use rape or sexual assault as a character development tool unless you *really* know what you’re doing. And most people — men and women who haven’t been sexually assaulted — don’t. Even on Mad Mad: Fury Road, George Miller brought Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues) on board as a consultant to make sure they portrayed a wide range of rape victims realistically and sympathetically.

pawn_to_queen_by_alicemeichi-da4hafm

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Ultimately, I hope that exposing the struggles that Heroines have to deal with to achieve true equality will help others to be able to put themselves in a Heroine’s shoes and develop empathy for those who are less privileged than they are. But also, it’s just about time we had more stories focused on marginalized protagonists within their societies. In a way, the Hero’s Journey is easier to do than a Heroine’s Journey where a protagonist is just not the “right type” of person to succeed in that world.


Q. Where can people find you online? 

Here are the places you can follow my work…

http://alicemeichi.com
http://alicemeichi.tumblr.com
http://facebook.com/alicemeichili
http://twitter.com/alicemeichi

 sherbet_trade_paperback_by_alicemeichi-d7vw7ct
I’m also doing covers for my husband’s comic, Sherbet, which is a dark comedy/sci-fi story that focuses on a lesbian detective who solves paranormal mysteries in a steampunk-inspired vaguely British future. (It’s okay because he’s British, too)  Sherbet would be another example of a woman who’s not adhering to a patriarchal society’s Heroine’s Journey.
NAV K

Nav K

Nav K is a writer and Blogger in Australia, a big Superman and DC fan who writes in depth insightful articles covering the DCU in Comics, Television and Film. You can find her brilliant Girl-On-Comic-Book-World blog at https://girloncomicbookworld.com/

She also writes about the Marvel theatrical films and Netflix TV shows such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. She was last seen flying somewhere over the city of Metropolis.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

Considering Campbell’s Hero Journey structure was created a few decades ago, looking back at it you can see that it is very specific for a male hero. The structure draws upon stories that have come from the past, meaning it draws upon many stories where women were viewed more so as objects, to accompany a man, have children, be a prize etc therefore the structure isn’t completely relevant to a heroine’s journey. Because of critical social change over the past few decades it’s important to re-contextualize the hero’s journey to better fit a female protagonist.

superman henry cavill and supergirl melissa benoist.jpg

Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s] 

Universal elements from Campbell’s model that should be used in a heroine’s journey include the character being drawn into the adventure, facing psychological and/or physical threats and finishing the journey in a changed manner. However the heroine’s journey should take in aspects that are specifically related to females. The hero’s journey is often presented as a solo journey, however as women are typically communal the solo quest may not work as well. Also it’s important to incorporate the conflicting roles many women have in the life such as the family/work balance, maternal instincts etc.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

Writers shouldn’t limit themselves to a strict structure for a heroine’s journey. Really what’s most important is to understand that you are writing a female’s journey, not a man’s journey, so don’t ignore feminine attributes. Not all female characters have to have some inherent maternal instinct, or longing for a community, however a heroine’s journey shouldn’t be afraid of incorporating female attributes.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

I think once this stigma is removed that no one cares about female leads, we will get a much better start on developing the idea of the heroine’s journey. Creators still choose to stick to the traditional male hero archetype as it’s a safer bet than focusing on a female lead. Once creators get an idea of greater acceptance in society for female leads, they will start creating better female characters. Just looking at the superhero sphere, there has been a lot of controversy at Marvel for their failure to recognise their female heroes as equals.

Black Widow doesn’t get toys and solo movies, and it won’t be until 2018 that we see a solo female superhero movie from Marvel. This is happening because Marvel don’t believe that a female hero can sell right now. So they will wait until Wonder Woman makes her debut and gauge the audience reaction to her so that they can commit more.

But considering there has been this controversy in the first place, from both female and male audience, recognises that there is an acceptance and want for more heroine leads. Furthermore understanding that the emotional side of a heroine isn’t a weakness can help propel the idea of the heroine’s journey, removing the idea that only the emotionless yet aggressive male heroes are the only heroic lead that works.

girl on comic book world nav k superhero blog australia.jpg

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Don’t be afraid to embrace the femininity of the character. You often see creators trying to develop “strong female characters” by stripping away the very aspects that make them female, and emphasizing their masculinity.

Writers shouldn’t be afraid to show emotional vulnerability, maternal instincts, communal values etc from female characters because they may be afraid of creating a weak female character. Just looking at one of the most talked about strong female characters in film this year, Furiosa from Mad Max perfectly captured her femininity, maternal instincts and strength.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Its clear creators are having a stronger focus on female characters. You can watch an action movie now where the female isn’t just always the damsel in distress character anymore, we have stories like Mad Max, Hunger Games etc. Especially within the superhero sphere you can see the huge impact the heroine’s journey is having.

Wonder Woman who has for the longest time been viewed as this feminist icon is finally getting her debut on film decades after her creation. And we can see in these female superheroes that they aren’t being stripped of their femininity to create a “strong female character”, these characters are embracing it.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

You can find me at girloncomicbookworld.wordpress.com which is basically a place with discussion and opinion on everything comic book related from movies to TV to actual comic books!

Follow Nav on Twitter @Nav_Kay

Nav K articles:

Comic Book Movie Articles

Comic Book TV Shows

Comic Book Character Analyses

MIKE MADRID

 Mike MadridMike Madrid is a native San Franciscan and a life long fan of comic books and popular culture. The former advertising executive is the creative director at Exterminating Angel Press. He is featured in the documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.” He also has a fantastic TV news anchor worthy mustache.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey? How does it differ? How is it the same?

Traditionally in Hero’s Journey stories, the male protagonist starts out being hindered either by youth, inexperience, or both. But he often has a mentor to guide him on his journey to being a hero. However, the fledgling is never shown to actually be hammered by his gender. This is not the case with many heroines in comic books.

Women who want to take on heroic roles in comics often have their abilities questioned simply because they are female. And this skepticism often comes from their fellow male heroes. These women usually need to undertake this journeys to heroism on their own, without the help of a mentor. So, the Heroine can start off her journey facing adversity not only from her foes, but her allies as well.

supergirls cover by mike madrid.jpg

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I’m not sure that a female hero has to have a distinctly different journey from a male. The motivation for being a hero should be the same for a woman or a man:the desire to make the world a better place. The end goal is going to be the same, although the woman may face additional or different challenges along the way. A woman’s methods may differ from a man’s, but that’s what will make her a believable character.

Marvel’s current version of Thor, who is a woman, is an interesting example of a female hero’s journey. The new Thor has had quickly assumed a mantle of great power, and the reader sees her jump right in and grasp her new role. She displays a formidable persona that convinces her fellow heroes of her tremendous abilities.

But through Thor’s internal dialogue the reader can experience how this heroine is evolving in this role and learning about her new life. So she seems like a real character without having to be presented as a bumbling newcomer trying to figure out how to swing her hammer.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

Well, obviously women have to be viewed as being equal to men. This is a challenge in America, where women aren’t paid the same as men and where we’ve never had a female president. As much as comic books present this fantastic view of the world, often the values seen in these stories are much the same as what we see every day in our so-called “real world”.

wonder-woman-statue-mike-madrid

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

It’s good that the mainstream comics industry has finally recognized that there is a sizable readership, both female and male, who will buy titles featuring strong heroines. The problem is that these characters are sometimes just written as men, with breasts.

I think the most successful recent incarnations of Marvel’s Black Widow and Spider-Woman and DC’s rebooted Batgirl are good examples of characters that are shown as strong and capable, but still also come off as believable women. A woman doesn’t need to suppress her female nature just because she has taken on a heroic role. She can be strong and brave, but still show compassion and understanding.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I think the Heroine’s Journey can teach readers, particularly female readers, how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their goals. However, I feel like comics often focus on this journey for too long in the case of female heroes. While people ideally continue to grow and learn new things throughout their lives, as a certain point I feel it’s important to show female characters as established heroes rather than continually putting them in the role of novice.

This has been the case with Wonder Woman throughout her long career. Male writers seem to think she is a more interesting character when she is the outsider learning what it takes to be a hero. And so we have seen her origin story continually retooled and her journey toward heroism beginning anew again and again. I prefer when Wonder Woman is simply presented as an established hero on the same level as her contemporaries Superman and Batman, rather than a few steps behind them.

Q. Where can people find you online? What projects / websites / books etc are you involved in?

Besides The SupergirlsDivas Dames & Daredevils and the companion volume Vixens Vamps & Vipers, I am doing a series of collections of the adventures of some of my favorite Golden Age heroines like Black Angel and Spider Widow. You can find more information about my books at  heaven4heroes.com.

Mike Madrid books.jpg

Note from BATFAN JOHN: I own all three of these books, and I highly recommend them, Supergirls is a fun informal history of female pulp characters and Superheroines, while Mike’s other two books contain reprints of vintage comics along with some introductory essays to the comics and their era. You can find Mike’s books on Amazon.

THANK YOU so much to everyone who made this article so much fun to put together and read. Thanks to Nicole, Kate, Alice, Nav and Mike. Words can not express how grateful I am to you all for your insightful and interesting diverse answers to my Questions.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Alice Li.jpg

The Secret About ‘Why We Need Superheroes’ Everybody Should Know

 

SUPERHEROES ARE AN INSPIRATION AND REMINDER OF THE GREATER OFTEN UNTAPPED POTENTIALS OF HUMANITY AND IN YOU

Superheroes are a reminder in our darkest times of our inherent potential for greatness.

As we grow from children to adults, we need role models to imprint on, who are usually our parents and people in our immediate environment. Sometimes those people are good role models, other times they are not.

When we are kids, superheroes are most appealing for their bright colors, and exciting action packed adventures. As we mature into teenagers and adults, superheroes are more appealing for their moral character and the way they challenge us to better ourselves. They are living inspiration, their dynamic exciting adventures allow us to see how our values play out in a story, and the consequences of our actions.

The moral development of Superheroes (or lack of) can inspire us to be better people. While characters like Captain America and Superman are reminders of the best qualities in humanity – courage, strength, resilience, compassion, hope, empathy etc characters like Wolverine or The Punisher – avatars of anger, vengeance and hatred are reminders of people and values we don’t want to aspire to.

EVERY KID AND ADULT NEEDS INSPIRATION BEYOND THEIR ORDINARY EVERYDAY LIFE

The stark contrast in values from say Superman to Batman to Wolverine or Wonder Woman challenges us with moral complexity. Reading these characters forces us to take some sort of view, to agree or disagree with their actions. Seeing them in action forces us to look at our own values and think “What would I do in that situation?”

Other inspirations from superheroes include physically weak children who like the strength of superheroes and grow up to be people who work to grow stronger both physically and mentally in their daily lives.

Some people are inspired by the Superheroes mission, purpose or creed and find their way in life goes a little smoother when they choose a purpose of their own.

Some people are inspired by the superhero ideal of selfless service to humanity, standing up for your values, or being a force of positive social change – which reflects real life heroes such as Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama – all of whom are tireless servants who work for a better tomorrow, whose lives are living examples and tributes of the values they embody, who work towards peace and lifting up those of us who are most vulnerable in a sometimes cruel and hostile world.

WE INVENTED SUPERHEROES TO REMIND US OF HOPE AND ALL THE BEST QUALITIES AND POTENTIALS OF HUMANITY

It’s no accident that Superman turned up around the time of Hitler being in power in Nazi Germany. For evil to exist in the world, there needs to be a counterbalance, and although Superman is a fictional character – Superman is far more important than Hitler will ever be.

And although he’s not real, Superman (and all other great archetypal superheroes) have inspired millions of people in the real world not only to have hope and courage, but to better  themselves and stand up for their fellow human beings, and to live with purpose and gratitude. Taking responsibility for themselves, and those whom depend on them.

Superheroes are like lightning rods for unleashing our own inherent potentials. By seeing our heroes in action, we are reminded how important in life is the ongoing process of Waking Up, Growing Up and Showing Up, of being our most authentic self in daily life.

SUPERHEROES ARE WAKING DREAMS THAT EXIST AS PURE IMAGINATION WHILE INFLUENCING OUR REAL WORLD

While comic book superheroes are a modern invention, we’ve had some form of hero story around as long as we have been on this planet, in one form or another. Every culture in every age has had its hero/heroine stories – and those that didn’t just went ahead and invented new heroes. Superheroes don’t come from “out there” in the exterior world, they come from “in here”, from the depths of our hearts and souls.

They are idealised figures that represent our best greatest hopes, dreams, values in a form that is far more immediately engaging and entertaining that mere abstract words and ideas could ever convey.

batman motivational 400 a hero can be anyone

Superheroes in their purest form are mythic archetypes, they are pure ideas of inspiration and a reminder of the great potential of humanity. Their strength lies in their home dimension of imagination. Trying to make them “realistic” is kind of missing the point of their very existence.

Superheroes are here to inspire us and raise us up metaphorically. They are not here to replace us, or do the hard work of living for us. Each of us must find our own hero within , our own values, mission and purpose in life if we wish to live a truly satisfying life.

superman motivational 400 never stop fighting

Batman’s “Joker” as Mythic Archetype – The Clown Prince of Crime

batman_arkham_origins_joker

“When it comes to the Joker, I think there’s a lot more self-doubt than there is with other characters. He really is his arch-nemesis. He is the devil in his ear. He tells you all the things you’re most afraid of are true about you.” Scott Snyder on the Joker as Batman’s nemesis

The Joker is a character that writers love to play with, a character open to various interpretations each rich in their own subtext.

As an archetype the Joker is a Trickster – he disobeys societies rules and conventional behavior. He is a shapeshifter, a clown, he is the best class of criminal that Gotham has ever seen.

Where Batman is about control, precision and discipline and serving a higher good, the Joker is  about unrestrained spontaneity and wild glorious mayhem in a whirlwind of chaos. He serves only himself. If he has a higher calling it is to cause as much harm and destruction to the people of Gotham while fucking with Batman’s mind any way he can.

The Trickster Archetype

Joker as Trickster

The classical Trickster archetype performs a range of functions.

In its most benign form the Trickster is a playful mischievous character (sometimes a shapeshifter) who brings attention to whatever is repressed in our individual or collective psyche. A Trickster is often an inversion of social norms.

The Trickster then is not only a character in a story, but an outer analogue for our own inner psyche. Whatever we are afraid of, whatever we keep repressed or don’t want to face, whatever is unpopular of should not be spoken of in polite society – the Trickster is going to bring attention to all of these things in its own unique way.

With the Trickster (and all archetypes) we are able to take an interior event of our psyche (1st person) and project it on to a character or archetype (3rd person) via story, film etc – in a way that personifies the qualities of that archetype. All archetypes (according to Carl Jung) live in our Unconscious mind, both individually and collectively.

This 3rd person mental abstraction (or character, exterior) then allows us  a chance to work with the archetype and reintegrate our own often unconscious or disowned qualities back into our psyche (back to 1st person interior).

Carl Jung Psyche model Archetype

While classical Jungian psychology allows for and encourages a healthy relationship with archetypes, to the modern world we are most familiar with archetypes through stories – movies, novels, comics, animation, art etc. The Trickster often is an inversion of our values, of whatever we outwardly say is important. But if the Trickster were merely the opposite of who and what we are, then there would be no truth in the Archetype.

So while the Trickster may appear bizarre, abhorrent, or at least unwelcome, it is merely a reflection of a part of our psyche that we refuse to look at, to integrate or become familiar with. The Trickster then is ultimately a servant of the mind, it exists to allow us a change to come to terms with the ideas we struggle with in a playful way. The Trickster is also a representative of primal forces likes sex, death, procreation and animal instincts.

Archetypes exist in all of our world stories, myths, and legends. They reoccur whether we want them to or not for all stories are reflected aspects of ourselves, and the purpose of stories is not just to entertain but pass on symbolic life lessons and help us transition into different eras of our lives.

Stories and symbols (such as Archetypes) can contain coded information that interacts with out mind at different stages of our lives, the same story can have very different meanings as we grow and evolve. Stories then are also a kind of technology for passing on information critical to human growth. Art is not only essential to human growth and development, but has always been and will always be part of what we are at a fundamental level.

joker and harley quinn 1.jpg

The Joker reoccurs throughout Batman mythology and follows Batman around like a bad smell. You just can’t get rid of him. For Batman to kill the Joker is to become that which he hates – those who would enforce the philosophy of death/execution on any they disagree with. For all of Batman’s psychological hang ups, he believes in the right of all people to live, he will even risk his own life to save those who would do him harm.

This could be viewed as a virtue, or as further evidence of Batman’s nuttiness – why the heck would you go out of your way to help someone who is trying to kill you? It’s one thing to say pull out an unconscious criminal from the wreckage of a prison bus hanging on the edge of a cliff. It’s another thing entirely to try and save someone from falling off a building who is awake and firing bullets at you while you do it.

The trickster is an alchemist, a magician, creating realities in the duality of time and illusion. In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal who plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior -www.crystalinks.com/trickster.html

The Trickster Archetype-tile.jpg

Joker as Shapeshifter

The Trickster archetype can also be a shapeshifter, taking on the form of the opposite sex or an animal – which goes some way to explaining the different versions of the Joker across different media, and his personality varies according to whoever the current popular writer may be. The Joker’s ad hoc multiple origins and rebooted continuity (depending on what era of Batman comics you are reading) also fits with the Trickster archetype. Trying to understand the Joker or pin him down is futile.

Heath Ledger’s Joker famously made up multiple origin stories that he would tell to people just to keep them guessing. One ongoing theme in the comics is Batman trying and failing to understand the Joker. Joker’s personality and methods shift with his various incarnations. A shapeshifter is ultimately whatever it wants to be, but also sometimes reflects a twisted version of the values of the hero or protagonist.

Trying to figure out what makes the Joker tick is like asking what is the essential nature of water. Is it liquid, steam or ice? The answer of course is that water is all three of these states, and it will shift between them depending on the conditions of its environment. The Joker can change persona’s and origin stories as easily as changing clothes.

Joker tile small.jpg

 

The Joker’s Many Incarnations

Bill Finger gave us the first version of the Joker, a career criminal and killer with a clown motif. Later as the Joker’s background was expanded it was established that he had been a regular criminal who fell into a vat of acid. Instead of dying a painful death – his skin and hair were chemically bleached, his mouth was damaged giving him a permanent grin. He dressed in a purple suit and went with the whole “clown prince of crime” theme. But these elements were not added until years later, so in his earliest appearances, you would assume the Joker’s face to be make-up.

red hood detective first appearance

Further adding to the Joker’s origins was the Red Hood persona, a simple red helmet and cape that created a new mystery man in Gotham whom Batman and Robin would have to catch. While the Joker has had a number of redacted origins over the years, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson deliberately kept the Joker’s origin ambiguous and unknown. It was only later writers who made attempts at adding a true origin to the character, or more accurately an origin of who the Joker was before he was the Joker.

The Red Hood as a gimmick is a common one in superhero genre material. Create a “mystery” character, and tease out who they really are for as long as you can, keeping the readers on the edge of their seats. The strength of this trope is that the character can be anyone, and when revealed, often the character is not whom you suspected – because the writers usually don’t know who it is either. So they throw out multiple clues for different people the mystery person could be. Then they may change the identity at the 11th hour, leaving readers puzzled and often quite angry with all the false clues.

batman 1 punch Joker face

With the  censorship and forced overly conservative stories throughout the 1950’s the Joker became more a criminal who played a lot of gags on Batman, and was not particularly threatening.

Detective193 Joker runs newspaper.jpg

It was not until the 1970’s that the Joker got his teeth back, and returned to being the more sadistic gleeful killer and maniac he had been in his earliest pre-comics code appearances. When Neal Adams and Denny ‘O Neil worked together on Batman, they made a deliberate attempt to take Batman back to his Gothic roots.

Gone was the barrel-chested smiling cop Detective, and in his place was was the lithe gymnastic Batman, the first Batman who looked like he really knew martial arts, a globe trotting James Bond in a Batman costume. This 1970’s Batman incarnation was the beginning of the modern day  Batman and paved the way for the Dark Knight we know and love today. As Batman grew darker and more Gothic once again, so the Joker returned to being more  of a maniacal killer, and less an annoying clown.

Marshall Rogers Batman Joker art.jpg

From the 1970’s onward the Joker has gotten progressively darker, more psychotic, more… ‘evil’ for lack of a better word.

Frank Miller made the Joker an integral part of his Dark Knight Returns story. While the Joker’s role in Dark Knight Returns is small, it sets up the nature of the ongoing adversarial co-dependent relationship of Joker and Batman for the next several decades up to the present day.

To Miller’s Joker, Batman is his world, without him Joker’s life has no meaning. Without the “game” of playing with Batman, Miller’s Joker becomes a catatonic nobody, until Batman returns from retirement.

Meanwhile, Miller’s Batman (having moved on and retired from being Batman) has no real interest in the Joker, other than stopping him once again after they both come out of retirement. A brutal fight ensues where the Joker dies after repeatedly stabbing Batman is something of a sidebar in the larger story of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Yet that scene remains one of the most defining moments in the history of Batman’s encounters with the Joker. The Dark Knight and the Clown Prince coming alive again to face one another, two archetypes locked in an eternal symbolic struggle, the warring conflicted selves of man’s psyche.

Batman - The Dark Knight Returns Joker dead.jpg
Sadistic Soldier and Killer Clown

Grant Morrison’t Joker is both villain and temporary friend when he assumes yet another identity during the R.I.P. and Return of Bruce Wayne / Batman Incorporated story arc.

Morrison plays up the trickster angle of Joker being both benevolent and potentially harmful. Menacing and deadly in one story arc, benevolent and seemingly a friend in another story arc. I won’t give any spoilers here even though the run finished a number of years ago. If you have not read Morrison’s run on Batman it is great fun, as is Scott Snyder’s NEW 52 Batman run.

Scott Snyder’s interpretation of the Joker has become the most depraved and disgusting version of the Joker yet. While there are elements of Snyder’s Joker that I just don’t agree with, he clearly set out with a particular unique vision of Batman and the Joker, and he accomplished what he set out to do in his five year run. It is no easy task to come up with a different take on a character who has been around for 70+ years and exists across a diverse range of media.

Batman RIP Joker Bowie grant morrison 2
The Thin White Duke of Death

 

The other notable portrayals of the Joker in the modern era have been Paul Dini’s – both his incarnation in Batman Animated –voiced by Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame, and the Paul Dini penned Arkham Asylum game series by Rocksteady Studios.

Joker-batman-arkham-asylum game.jpg
Clown, Killer, Psychotic, and all around funny-man

In the Arkham Asylum video games and Batman Animated series Joker is a wild fun mix of his various elements and incarnations. More toned down violence in the Mark Hamill voiced cartoons, while more ramped up over the top and graphic violence in the video games. This is the same character, again, morphing and twisting to suit the audience (meaning the age ratings and what level of violence was permitted).

He’s the same clown putting on a show, no matter the venue. If you thought Deadpool was very “meta”, self-referential, funny and psychotic – then you really need to experience more of Mark Hamill / Paul Dini’s Joker tales, because the clown prince does murder, mayhem, psychosis and hilarity better than the Merc’ with a Mouth any day of the week.

In Batman Animated the Joker manages to be just as menacing and scary as any other incarnation -despite writers having to cater to network television rules for children’s entertainment  – thanks to Star Wars’ Mark Hamill voicing the animated Joker in a fan favourite performance – on and off from 1992 to 2016. That’s 24 years. No other performer has even come close to playing the Joker for that length of time.

batman robin adventures JOKER pic
The friendliest and funniest psychotic killer ever conceived in children’s television

 

Mark Hamill gave us a version of the Joker who was over the top, the right mix of laughter and menace. To satisfy the requirements of a network TV show, the Batman Animated version of the Joker could not be overly violent or shown to be directly killing people in a show aimed at kids. But clever writing that satisfied the censors still managed to make him a menacing character, particularly in the direct market animated feature Batman Beyond: Revenge of the Joker – where Hamill’s Joker gets cut loose – he is every bit the gleeful sick sadistic psychopath made famous in the comic books.

Joker_fights_the_new_Batman
“Ah, the new boy. The ears are too long and I miss the cape, but it’s not too shabby”

In live action we have the big three icons – Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. Each bringing a unique vision of the Joker to life.

Cesar Romero’s Joker was a comical joking buffoon, a slapstick clown who jumped around everywhere and was very animated and over the top. Many fans found Frank Gorshin’s Riddler to be closer to the Joker from the comics. Cesar Romero’s Joker while  clearly a unique take by a talented actor just has no menace at all. He’s more annoying than scary.

Compare him with his opposite in Heath Ledger’s Joker who is all menace with little to no humor. In the middle you have Jack Nicholson who is both deadly and funny. While Keaton’s Batman is a world away from the comic book Batman, Nicholson’s Joker is much closer to the comics, only one-upped by Mark Hamill who manages to be the most definitive Joker on screen in Batman Animated.

Cesar Romero Joker 1
“Oh how delicious it is”

Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a great performance that veered between gleeful lunatic and unapologetic homicidal maniac. Burton’s Batman and Joker went back to Batman’s roots, emphasizing the Gothic elements of Batman like O’ Neil and Adams in the 70’s. Nicholson’s Joker was true to the earliest golden age appearances of the Joker. A career criminal who falls into a vat of acid and emerges as the Clown Prince of Crime.

Visually, Nicholson’s outfit is the closet to classical Joker we have seen on the big screen. In contrast Keaton’s Batman look is remarkable different from the comics being all black, rather than black/grey or black/blue. Keaton and Burton’s Batman look (the film and the costume) set the tone and style for all future theatrical incarnation’s of Batman, and even cosplayers today typically go with the all black costume when dressing up as their favourite Dark Knight Detective.

Jack_Nicholson_As_The_Joker 1
“Have you ever danced with the Devil by the pale moon light?”

Heath Ledger’s Joker is a fan favourite performance, some would even say it was the performance of Ledger’s career. A more urban Joker whose hair is matted, whose face is a mess, but who still wears a nice suit with a dirty almost punk rock feel to it, Ledger’s Joker was all menace. A gleeful sadist who loves to torture Batman with indecision and doubt and keeping everybody guessing what his real plans and intentions were.

Heath Ledger Joker The Dark Knight_Facing Forward_Looking Up_512x768.jpg
“You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with”

Another interesting take on the Joker was the Brian Azzarello / Lee Bermejo graphic novel “Joker”. This take sees the a hired goon tag along with the Joker for the day, and we see him get up to all his usual tricks. It’s a great read, and noteable for showing a more realist take on the Joker. Not so much his personality, but the overall setting and mood is closer to say Marvel’s the grim tone of  The Ultimates or Watchmen than the usual Batman monthlies.

Joker graphic novel azzarello bermejelo 1.jpg

Origins of the Joker

The Red Hood first appeared in Detective Comics #168. In a rather convoluted page of exposition the Joker reveals to Batman the “one secret I’ve kept from you all these years”. That Joker was a lab worker who decided to steal $1,000,000 and became the Red Hood. He later swam through a chemicals making his getaway which bleached his skin and hair.

Detective Comics 168 Red Hood Joker.jpg

The Joker / Red Hood story is a bit silly, as were many Batman stories of its era. His origin would be told and retold over the decades, each time adding to or taking something away from the various stories he has told about who he is and why he exists. Fans still argue the true origin of the Joker to this day, and some theorists will state factually that his earliest origins are “most true”, but given 70+ years of fiction, and various writers – those details are up for debate and interpretation.

Joker Killing Joker allan moore textless cover image.jpg

Allan Moore did his part to confuse things by writing The Killing Joke graphic novel. Moore wrote it as an out of continuity one-off story. One where he crippled Batgirl/Barbara Gordon. Then when DC published it, they went ahead and made it canon. Leaving poor Babs permanently crippled, something Moore has said he regrets adding to Batman. More ideas for  Joker origins are thrown up in the air in The Killing Joke, which became a semi-canon. Until they were not any more. Well apart from Babs being crippled. They kept that part for some reasons and threw out pretty much everything else, until DC’s NEW 52 where both Joker and Babs get rebooted.

 

 

 

the_joker__new_52_by_mayan kumar.jpg

Joker as Mythic Archetype

In Snyder’s NEW 52 Batman story “End Game”, hints have been dropped that the Joker may be immortal. With images of the clown prince showing up old in photographs taken before Batman and the Joker were born.

The logical rational answer, the answer Batman has to go with is that the Joker is playing another cruel trick. The answer is that after taking a rare chemical called Dionesium (the precursor of Lazarus pits) the Joker is miraculously healed from life threatening injuries. The kicker is that photographic evidence exists putting the Joker at a least a century or two old. Older than Gotham itself. In Snyder’s end to his Joker stories (Death in the Family and End Game) the Joker gleefully torments Batman with the idea that he has been around a long, long time and is possibly immortal. Batman refuses to believe it of course, and the tale is left open ended for the reader to decide the ultimate truth of the Joker’s story, which again plays into the Archetype of the Trickster –  a storyteller with multiple origins and many twisting lies and tricks.

In interviews with the site ComicBookResources.com Snyder and collaborator (artist) Greg Capullo talk about their vision for the Joker in the NEW 52.

CBR: What was your and Greg Capullo’s thinking behind that and how he appears now versus “Death Of The Family,” or even that very first “Batman” issue when Dick was pretending to be him in jail?

 

Snyder: The most important thing is that he looks scary, you know? The other most important thing, when we were talking about him, was that he looks reborn in some way. Classic, but a little bit darker. We talked about different possibilities. We talked about the purple suit, and then we realized, no matter how you cut it and what the suit is, it just makes him not scary in a lot of senses. So for us it became about giving him the black suit with the purple handkerchief, give him a more funeral look. Make the hair shorter on the sides, make sure his eyes are very wide, very bloodshot, the wider grin with the clownish chin and nose. Make him a little less witchy and a little more scary, someone who is in the shadows, looking at you, who is clearly a Joker, young and restarted. He’s come back saying, “This is it. If I’m moving on, I’m starting over without you.”

 

Batman 40 new 52 joker archetype

The cover to Batman #40 depicts and angelic Batman about to stab a Joker themed demonic creature with a staff / spear adorned with the Bat-symbol. It’s  a great cover that emphasies the mythical archetypal relationship of the two adversarial characters in symbolic form.

Batman Europa 2 cover art by Giuseppe Camuncoli.jpg

Snyder: And to me, the reason Batman is inspiring isn’t only because he terrifies criminals, but because he empowers us to go out and overcome our own fears, and to overcome the worry that what we do doesn’t mean anything, and that we can’t make a difference, we can’t change our situation. Batman is the ultimate example of how you overcome tragedy, or you take chaos and random violence and turn it into something meaningful.

Greg Capullo: Are you trying to say that they’re kind of like married, kind of like the yin and yang?

Snyder: Exactly. And I think Bruce knows that in some way. The Joker represents everything he fights against all the time.

wilee coyote bugs bunny trickster

Trickster characters are often inversions of popular beliefs and attitudes. Tricksters take whatever is repressed, hidden or unconscious and bring it out in the open for everyone to see.

The very act of bringing unconscious material to light makes the Trickster character if not unpopular at least confronting and unpleasant.

Not all trickster characters are malevolent, Bugs Bunny for examples is a lovable non-threatening character who plays tricks on his nemesis (Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck), he is playful and challenges the ideas, values and perceptions of those he encounters.

Examples of classical mythological Trickster figures include half man-goat Pan, norse God Loki, and the African spider god/godess Anansi.

Modern Trickster figures include Bugs Bunny, Beetlejuice, The Joker and Dr. Who.

joker dr who bettlejuice bugs bunny trickster archetype

Joker as friend or benefactor to Batman

The trickster is not just a serial pest, but also acts in service to a higher purpose by bringing to light the very ideas and values we may find repulsive, and cannot stand to see in another, but which are in fact deeply embedded within our own psyches.

The more we are bothered by an other’s behavior, the greater the chance that there is some aspect of ourselves we are repressing, or refusing to own.

In this way, the trickster can symbolically help us to see our own Shadow  qualities through story, song and performance.

Once these qualities or aspects of our own psyche are brought our attention, we still have to do the work of what Carl Jung refers to as “individuation” – being the war of opposites or dynamic tension between our higher and lower natures from which the “work” of real psychological growth and maturation into fully human beings comes.

The Joker at times has become a friend or benefactor to Batman (at least in his own warped view of reality). Joker sees himself as challenging Batman to be the best Batman he can be. He claims to know Batman better than anyone, as aspect that both Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison emphasized in their respective runs on Batman books.

 

the_joker__selfie_status_by_mayan kumar.jpg

Joker as Madman and Cipher

The Joker as a foil to Batman reminds him of his own darker impulses, and is a constant reminder of walking next to the abyss but not falling into it. Of Batman not giving in to to his impulse to simply kill the criminals and lunatics rather than catch them.

In the mythical sense, the Joker can be viewed as an aspects of Batman’s own personality given personification. Where Batman does not kill, and rarely laughs or makes Jokes, and is all about discipline and control – the Joker is wild unrestrained Chaos. Pure hedonism, the embodiment of lower animal drives and desires which in themselves are not evil (fight or flight response, sex, death, survival etc) but which unrestrained make us no better than living in an animal state of consciousness.

However, animals generally kill for food or to protect themselves, whereas the Joker kills for the sheer fun of it, making him in a sense even less evolved than an animal. He is sub-human, a gross perversion of culture and humanity reflected back on itself.

The Joker is decadence and self-indulgence and greed and excess and wanton destruction of self and environment personified.

He is chaos and a man like Batman who looked into the abyss of his own soul and rather than finding the line between his higher and lower impulses, fell in love with chaos and and raw unimpeded impulsiveness.

Will the real Joker please stand up?

The Joker can be a blank slate, a blank canvas onto which a writer can project whatever they need to for the story they wish to tell. Joker is the dark side of humanity twisted beyond recognition, a gross reflection of the chaos and unpredictability of life itself. His meanings and symbolism change with the times, reflecting cultural patterns and ever shifting values. In more conservative times he is the silly annoying clown who is more of a pest than a true threat. In more progressive times Joker is the psychotic mass murdering lunatic, always pushing the boundaries of sanity and crime as an art form.

The Joker is the nameless nobody criminal, who reinvented himself as the costumed Red Hood, who reinvented himself becoming the Joker, the clown prince of crime, avatar of chaos and madness.

Whether the Joker is genuinely insane, or merely plays at being insane because he loves to hurt people and cause trouble is up for debate. There is no “correct” answer, both versions are valid, and each Batman writer creates their own version of the Joker, with evidence to support their views in the Batman canon.

Scott Snyder’s Joker seems to be a true psychopath who enjoys murder, mayhem and torture, and his recent End Game storyline is possibly building the Joker up as as some sort of immortal, devil or pure archetypal trickster character.

The deliberate invocation, or even the suggestion that the Joker may be more than some criminal lunatic who dresses like a clown makes for compulsive reading, and leave the reader with a sense of confusion at the end of the tale.

Similar ideas have been hinted at in stories such as Dark Knight Returns, that Joker and Batman give each other meaning, and that the Joker continues to push himself to new depravities just to fuck with Batman.

 

Batman RIP Joker Bowie grant morrison 3

An End to Madness and Laughter?

The Joker’s characterisation varies by writer and era. Sometimes he is a loveable fun trickster, at other times career criminal. He plays at being a gang leader only to routinely kill his employees. Joker has been a lunatic, psychopath, sadist and clown. Or any combination of these qualities depending on what elements a given writer wants to emphasize.

The strength of the Joker, and the Trickster archetype is that he can be put into just about any kind of story, and he works. Like water that once poured into a glass becomes the glass, the Joker becomes whatever is needed in a given story. He is the clown prince of crime, career criminal, lunatic, shapeshifter, trickster and more. He is all of these things and yet not limited by any of these facets of his personality. He evolves and devolves, taking on new forms for new stories.

Each new interpretation of the Joker adds something to the collective archetype of “The Joker” in Batman media. Each writer or actor that comes along has their choice of which elements they want to use from all the interpretations so far, as well as adding something unique of themselves to the character.

One of the great things about the Joker is that if you don’t like a particular version – there is always a new interpretation right around the corner.

Cesar Romero Joker Heath Ledger Jared Leto Jack Nicholon 1.jpg

The Joker and Batman have a symbiotic relationship, as do most classic heroes and villains throughout literature and film, each hero and villain representing the aspects of human potential and personality through stories. Within each person are all archetypes and possibilities, the different aspects of our psyche being reflected symbolically in stories of exciting characters having adventures, facing challenges and becoming more than what they were, or simply entertaining us with a mindless distraction from our daily lives.

When we read a comic book the page is flat and two dimensional, but beyond the borders of the panels of simple ink on paper – our imagination soars as we expand those worlds to infinite dimensions. We see hear and feel the moments of simulated joy, sorrow and high drama our heroes and villains encounter. Those larger than life characters, however spectacular they may be ultimately remind us of how human we are.

Batman RIP Joker Bowie grant morrison

“In mythology and religion, the trickster deity breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously but usually, albeit unintentionally with ultimately positive effects. Often, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery, and their actions often end up changing the rules in the process of breaking them, much like an act of “civil disobedience”. Tricksters can be cunning or foolish or both; they are often funny even when considered sacred or performing important cultural tasks.” – TVtropes.org

Joker Gallery.jpg

 

 

Batman – The Greatest Fictional Character of All Time

Superman, John Wayne and Apple Pie

A hero at best can only reflect our cultural values.

A hero reflects the way we want to see ourselves.

Or how we imagine the best version of ourselves to be.

A hero represents our collective dreams and imagination.  Heroes are wish fulfillment fantasies while also being ciphers for projecting the best version of ourselves into the future.

The hero archetype occurs in diverse cultures around the world.

America is home to (and the innovator of) two unique versions of the hero archetype – the silver screen Cowboy and the comic book Superhero.

superman pie 1

I love Western films and I can’t get enough of Superhero comic books, so let’s talk a little about heroic archetypes, in this case the definitive Cowboy and the Superhero – Superman and John Wayne.

A hero can choose their actions and live their values, but can only be truly called a hero by an observer.  To call oneself a hero means basically nothing, it is more a label other people apply to the hero.  The hero simply is.

Modern fictional heroes tend to lean more towards pacifism than historical heroes.  But we have no shortage of the soldier/killer hero type of character.  Old time Greek heroes from myths and legends thought nothing of killing monsters or their fellow man in the name of their quest, or if the Gods asked them in return for special favors.Modern heroes like Superman resort to violence as a last resort, and try to avoid killing any living thing unless absolutely necessary.

To some people this non-violence is the evolution of the hero archetype in alignment with modern human values, to other people not killing a clear and present threat is just naive.  There is no right or wrong answer here, merely differences of opinion and cultural values.

The shadow side of a hero becomes an imperialist, conqueror or being of power who imposes his (or her) will on another, regardless of circumstance.  The hero in shadow becomes a self-righteous person unable to stop being the hero, and who is not really a person concerned with serving the genuine needs of others, but with serving their own needs, and enforcing their will on others as they believe they are morally right to do so.  The hero as villain may become a benevolent dictator or world conqueror / self appointed ruler.

1938_superman_logo_by_machsabre-d4lg9lz_1

Superman is the definitive Superhero.  He’s a little old fashioned, he sticks up for the little guy and he visits his parents perhaps a little too often.  He believes in looking after each other, and he believes in America.

He’s the big blue boy scout, the angel on your shoulder that tells you to avoid doing bad deeds, America’s conscience.

He’s the guy who blah blah blah blah and he……..ZZZZZZZ…..

……..SORRY!  I fell asleep there for a moment.

So yeah Superman is a little vanilla, a little boring.  At least according to some people.  I get it, Superman is not what you would call edgy or cool or extreme like Batman.

Classic golden age superman

But frankly I love Superman.  I’ve been reading a a fair amount of classic and modern Superman stories lately, and the more I read the more I love the character.  While Batman is my favourite literary character, I can’t think of him without thinking of Superman, they are like Spiritual brothers, forever entwined.

Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice. – Adventures of Superman radio serial, 1940-1951 (thanks to the CBR Comic Book Legends Revealed column for the quote text)

Batman Superman yin yang

When I think of these semi-mythic timeless pop-cultural icons I am reminded of classical greek myths and legends.

The Avengers are an awesome team, but the JLA are like modern day Gods!

If Superman represents all that is good about America, then Batman is America’s dark underbelly, repressed feelings, ideas and values.  Batman is America’s Shadow self that it doesn’t want to acknowledge.  I think  Grant Morrison sums them up wonderfully in his Supergods book:

“Superman was of the day; Batman was of the night and the shadows. Superman was rational, Apollonian; Batman was Dionysian” writes Grant Morrison in Supergods. This fascinating new hero was horned like the Devil, and most at home in darkness; a terrifying, demonic presence who worked on the side of the angels. – Alex Wainer quoting Grant Morrison in Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film

I tend to think of Superman like Helios and Apollo, Greek mythic figures associated with the sun.  Morrison refers to Superman as the “Sungod from Smallville” – after all, Superman is a living solar battery.  The more solar energy he stores, the stronger and healthier he is, and the less solar radiation he has stored the weaker he gets.  Take away the yellow sun and Superman’s powers fade away until he becomes basically mortal and human.

superman frank quitely sun all star superman1 grant morrison
“All Star Superman” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Superman’s values may be old fashioned but they still have relevance in today’s world.  In a healthy creative cycle somebody creates something – let’s say in this case the fictional character Superman.

The character becomes popular, and then that popularity declines.  Along with the decline in popularity (but not always) comes experimentation, irrelevance, revision, revamp, relaunch, deconstructionism, post modernism, and eventually a return to the original version via Holism.  What was old becomes new again, what was no longer in style comes back in style.  The classic version of a character re-emerges, now more fully defined, and thoroughly explored after going through the creative literary cycle.

From Superman’s humble origins as a champion of the underclasses, the poor, and the disenfranchised to a tool of wartime propaganda and later a corporate icon, to his evolution into a protector of the planet earth from threats both alien and terrestrial, Superman is as Seinfeld calls him “the guy”.

superman seinfeld 1

Superman is the original, the best, the definition of what a Superhero is, or could hope to be.

Despite his metamorphosis from modern day Moses and Samson into a sort of Space Jesus – Superman is still “the guy”. He’s the gold standard all other superheroes are compared to.  He is the living inspiration to generations of fictional heroes in the DC Universe, and he’s an inspiration to a few of us here in the real world too.  He may be old fashioned like your Grandfather – but he’s also loving, kind, and lives to serve others.

One of my all time favourite Superman stories that best represents Superman’s values and what he stands for is the tabloid sized Peace on Earth story by Paul Dini and Alex Ross.  Superman: Peace on Earth is a great snap shot of the values that Superman embodies, while also showing the limitations of the Sungod from Smallville.

Superman_Peace_On_Earth_COVER Alex Ross Paul Dini

The painted  photo-realistic art by Alex Ross in Peace of Earth is based on human models.  The base model Ross transforms into a fictional character, with accurate anatomy and lighting that bring his stories to glorious life.

Peace on Earth deals with some possible real world ramifications to Superman forcing change on human beings.  Despite the realist art style, the book still feels like a mythic tale of a near immortal sun god who walks among us, and painfully realises despite his immense power he has some very human limitations.

What Superman comes to realise is that you can help people all you like, but ultimately they have to want to help themselves.  People have to want to learn and act on that choice themselves, otherwise your efforts can just make people dependent on your “help”, and will perhaps do nothing to evolve in their own way.  This kind of help can even set humanity back by making them dependent on a savior figure, instead of choosing to evolve and think for themselves.

Superman: “I can only tell you what I believe, Diana. humankind has to be allowed to climb to its own destiny. We can’t carry them there.”
Flash: “But that’s what she’s saying. What’s the point? Why should they need us at all?”
Superman: “To catch them if they fall.”

-JLA #4

Superman_Peace_On_Earth CROPPED

The welfare of Earth and all its people will always be my primary concern. But if there is a solution of hunger, it must be one that comes from the compassionate heart of man and extends outward toward his fellow man. There’s an old saying: ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’ That simple message asks humankind to nurture with knowledge, to reach out to those in need and inspire others to do the same. That is life’s greatest necessity and its most precious gift. – Superman : Peace on Earth

Okay we will come back to Superman later, but now let’s talk about John Wayne, the all American cowboy hero.  John Wayne was an actor, the most famous screen cowboy that ever was, and in many ways, John Wayne IS America.

Or at least he was.

John Wayne stood for the old guard of America, or more specifically pre-Vietnam and pre-civil rights America where the American dream rapidly became the American nightmare.  There were cowboys before John Wayne, but during his reign as a Hollywood leading man, John Wayne became the definitive film cowboy, he defined the cowboy archetype and any cowboys who rode the dusty trails in his wake are forever eclipsed by The Duke.

While John Wayne had some controversial, perhaps backwards and conservative views, even his critics admit that he was one hell of a man, who almost never said a bad word (at least publicly) about anyone.  Despite his unpopular views during the rapidly changing culture of the post World War II years, and the death of the Western as a film genre in the modern era, John Wayne remains a much loved figure of film culture and Americana.

Wayne’s on screen characters were consistently men of good moral character, who stood up to bullies and outlaws.  Wayne had a no nonsense way of speaking his mind both on and off the silver screen.  John Wayne was a man’s man.  He was big, strong, kind and he spoke his mind.  One of his most well known movie maxims “A man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do”.

John Wanye portrait by Doctor_Pencil_Deviant_Art
‘The Duke’ by Doctor-Pencil / DeviantArt

Wayne’s on screen persona was one of quiet dignity, strength and good moral character.  While off screen he spent most of his time involved in the production of his next project, away from his family, and he never went to war.

He was the only person I could think of at the time who could personify great strength and determination without talking much.  That sounds easy, perhaps. But it’s not.  Either you have it or you don’t.

-John Ford on casting Wayne in Stagecoach

Some of Wayne’s critics felt that John Wayne was a hypocrite for appearing in jingoistic war films, while not going to war himself.  At the time, many leading men in Hollywood did go to war.  Men such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Lee Marvin.  Some critics would say there was a  disconnect from Wayne’s on screen persona to who he actually was.  Despite this seeming hypocrisy, Wayne was still considered a hero by soldiers and civilians alike.

With other leading men away during the war, Wayne had very little competition for lead roles.  His career had earlier bombed when he first had the opportunity to be a leading man in The Big Trail (1930), only to be sent back to B-Westerns for the better part of a decade.  Had John Wayne gone to war, it likely would have been the death of his career, if not his actual death.  Wayne would most likely be remembered as just another struggling actor in B Westerns, or more than likely not remembered at all.  Wayne forged an enduring partnership and friendship with director John Ford.  Ford believed in John Wayne and insisted on casting him in Stagecoach (1939), the film that made John Wayne’s career.

John Wayne Stagecoach1
John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939)

Whatever went on off screen, it seemed that John Wayne was fated to become one of America’s most beloved leading men.  Personally I feel glad that he never went to war to potentially die a pointless death, as his on screen persona would go on to define the role of the American Cowboy hero for decades.  You could say John Wayne had a destiny to be exactly who he intended to be in this life, and nothing in this world was going to change that.

While the Cowboy archetype in the negative aspect is one of potential oppression of the Native American people by Colonials, the Cowboy myth in the positive aspect also stands for determination, self-reliance, hard work, honesty and integrity.  In short the mythic Cowboy film archetype is also a symbol of the rugged individualism, “can do” attitude and self-determination of America, and is tied to the birth of the American dream.

john wayne and ron howad in the Shootist Waynes final movie
Ron Howard and John Wayne in his final film ‘The Shootist’ (1976)

I feel we can all learn a little something from John Wayne, as a on screen example of heroism and determination in the face of adversity, an example of a man of moral character and strong values.  Wayne was human of course, and he had his flaws as all of us do.

Whether ranch hand, settler, farmer, bounty hunter or sheriff, the Cowboy archetype has many facets and permutations.  The Cowboy as sheriff or Lawman becomes the modern day urban cop.  Industrious settlers became captains of industry.  The farmer Cowboy fulfills the typical american dream of marriage, children, property and prosperity born of hard industrious labor and a “can do” attitude.

Modern cowboys still exist in certain parts of America of course, and the general attitude of “Cowboy” is one that America is often labelled with as a whole in a derogatory sense, particularly in reference to America’s never ending invasions and wars in third world countries.

The cowboy archetype never truly died and is alive and well in some modern fictional characters such as Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in Justified, and Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) in Longmire.

John Wayne Mug1 Even John Wayne’s critics had a hard time when they met him in person, finding him an opinionated, strong, likable, intelligent, charismatic and reasonable man.

What John Wayne stands for today, is the archetype of the rugged individual, the man’s man.  This classical male archetype that has all but disappeared from our cinema screens in recent decades with the rise of the “sensitive” man and the metrosexual dilution of typically old world male values in mainstream cinema culture.

image_741 (1)

From the 1960s-2000 we have seen the death of the manly moral Cowboy hero, and the rise of the anti-hero, the amoral bloodthirsty action hero, and the new age metrosexual hero such as Neo in The Matrix (a thin loner computer nerd who becomes an enlightened Superman figure).  We’ve seen our heroes and manly men deconstructed, pulled apart, vilified, called redundant, sexist and old-fashioned. Even James Bond was not immune to the rise of culture clash, and changing gender roles at home and in the workplace.

While films like the James Bond series attempted to remain socially relevant by aping changes in cultural values, instead the films merely adopted a horrendously bad politically correct style that left Bond effectively castrated, a shell of his former self.  Not until the reinvention of Bond as Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006) did Bond get his balls and machismo back.

Post year 2000 we have seen the rise of the comic book superhero film, and not so much a return to the old fashioned potentially racist, sexist misogynist Cowboy heroism, as a further evolution and re invigoration of the hero and heroine archetype.  Moral heroes likes Captain America and Superman are back on the big screen where they belong, and what was once old is new again.  Thankfully a stand alone Wonder Woman film is finally making its way to the big screen, 70+ years overdue, the tireless icon of the super-heroine, the adopted feminist icon and all around amazing Goddess will hopefully get the cinematic treatment she deserves, standing as a rightful equal next to the JLA in “mans’ world”.

Superman Man of Steel Henry Cavill Captain America First Avenger Chris Evans Wonder Woman_1

Old fashioned hero vales may be synonymous with bigotry, but they need not be.  We can enjoy heroes without them being sexist killers, racists and colonials.  Male heroes can have charisma, charm, balls and machismo, without being cookie sexist stereotypes who put women down.  Female heroines can be empowered strong Women in their own right, without just being a reaction to male heroes, or serving as convenient plot devices.

The superhero archetype may have been born in a patriarchal world, but there is no reason for superheroes to remain tethered to outdated and irrelevant paradigms.

 A hero or heroine need not be anything other than what they choose to be.

The power of the hero and superhero archetype is not locked into the past, but remains progressive and ever-expanding.  A hero need not be implicitly be a killer, enforcer of empire, or the “might makes right” attitude.

Many classical and contemporary heroes have been exactly that.  But the further evolution of the hero and superhero archetype is not dependent on reinforcing limiting cultural values of the oppression of any individual or group.  The hero and heroine archetype does not have to continue to be one of sexism, violence and death, it has far more potential as an archetype of higher values, compassion, co-operation and service to humanity.
Mugshots1

With popular comic book heroes we get our puritan moral characters such as Superman and Captain America, our dark, cynical and conflicted characters such as Wolverine, Batman and The Punisher, alongside more middle of the road moral characters such as Spider-Man, and monsters such as the half-human/vampire Blade and the genetic atomic monster The Incredible Hulk.  The hero-ism and moral values of these characters varies, each can be said to emphasise a different aspect of the human psyche, allowing for playful healthy expression of our higher values and darker desires in safe context.

The over dominance of male-centric hero characters and plots reflects an unbalanced patriarchal society while simultaneously showing our fear of embracing the feminine aspects of our psyche, both in men and women.

Superhero cinema embraces and draws upon all other genres at its leisure.  Action movies, horror, science fiction, drama, fantasy, existentialism, comedy, western.  Any and all filmic tropes are up for grabs.  The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen can become the Suicide Squad.  The Magnificent Seven or Ocean’s 11 can become The Avengers.

Suicide Squad Dirty Dozen

The further evolution and integration of basic human values in Superhero Cinema is up to the new generation of writers and film makers.  Will they continue down the outmoded path of sexist colonial male heroes with women sidelined as femme fatales, kung-fu divas and other ridiculous stereotypes?  Or perhaps dare to evolve themselves and their world by writing strong independent female heroines?  In my opinion we need more Joss Whedon’s and Angelina Jolie’s in the world.  We need to hear the authentic voice of the feminine at all levels of society, particularly in superhero cinema.

Getting back to Superman (you didn’t seriously think I was done did you?) – Superman’s story is the ultimate immigrant story.  As a character he is timeless and universal.  While born on Krypton and adopted by Ma an Pa Kent on Earth, Superman is truly a citizen of the world, an advocate along with Wonder Woman for world peace, and a tireless champion of Justice, Freedom and Truth.

The famous phrase “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was not part of the original incarnation of Superman, the “American Way” part was added later during World War Two, most famously it was adopted by the George Reeves Superman TV show, and then became part of Superman lore.

CONT-INS-1964
Truth, Justice and… Insurance? [Image courtesy of SupermanHomepage.com]
Truth and Justice can be said to be ideals that can apply in any nation, but “The American Way” makes Superman into an imperialist, an enforcer of American culture and values.  Fans and some writers would argue he has outgrown that status, and has become more like modern world mythology.  Superman today then belongs not only to America, but to the world. The character even renounced his US Citizenship in Action Comics #900, however it is unknown whether that story by David S. Goyer was canon, or merely a one off experiment.

As a non-American, I agree with the decision of Superman. He is more than an American. He is a symbol of peace, justice and humanity. He is no more the puppet toy of one country.

-An anonymous internet fan on ‪‎Superman renouncing his US Citizenship in Action Comics #900

Revisionist and post-modern Superhero stories such as Watchmen, Miracle Man, Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Red Son, The Authority and Irredeemable show the potential negative side of the Superman archetype.  These stories show a Superman figure as a potential tool of empire, as an iron fisted tyrant, an otherworldly alien threat (the eternal outsider or “other” who threatens the status quo), and as an mentally ill evil alien God of near limitless power.

Superman Red Son Iredeemable The Authority

While these stories are entertaining and brilliant in their own right, their place in the canon of Superhero stories is part of a larger cycle.  Creation, Innovation, Experimentation, Deconstructionism, Post-Modernism and eventual metamorphosis back to Holism (the reintegration of the various deconstructed story parts and themes that often resembles the very first version of character) means that even stories not about Superman, ultimately help to define who and what Superman IS, by showing us what he is NOT.

In a similar fashion, the Batman “Knightfall” story gave the world a Batman it did not want, and clearly demonstrated that Batman (as an idea) was not broken, and was not in need of fixing.  Similarly, Superman is not “broken” or irrelevant.  The Man of Steel’s stories are as strong and relevant as the authors ability to write engaging fiction.

Superman stories are as emotionally resonant and deeply meaningful as a writer allows them to be.

The values Superman stands for are not just old fashioned and irrelevant so much as timeless and subject to innovation that ultimately brings the character full circle back to his earliest incarnation. Superman (and Batman) can withstand endless revisionism and retconning because they are such strong well defined characters to begin with, yet with room to project something of ourselves onto the characters so that we can also relate to them.

superman values grid_12

One writer who has struck a chord with modern fans is Jeph Loeb.  Loeb has been a writer for the big and little screens, and comic books for several decades.  Jeph Loeb knows characterisation and plot like the back of his hand.  More than that, he knows how to reinvent a character for a new audience, or reinterpret a character to bring them back in line with their core values that were present all along.  What was old and boring becomes fresh and new again in the hands of a talented writer such as Jeph Loeb.

Superman For All Seasons Jeph Loeb Tim Sale
Fan Favourite “Superman: For All Seasons” by Loeb and Sale

The earliest version of Superman was a man of the people, and for the people.  While modern Superman battles crooks, super-criminals and space aliens on a weekly basis, he still rescues cats from trees, saves damsels in distress and helps out the common man and woman however he can.  Superman never truly ceased being a man of the people, he just took on more responsibility than anyone could rightly ever ask him to.  He transcended and included his earlier stories, he continues to be the champion and inspirational figure he always was and will be, while evolving beyond a simple minded moralistic crusader of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Modern Superman is smart and capable.  While the sungod from Smallville walks among us, no less a man than a God, he is still flawed and deeply human.  He makes mistakes and questions his actions like any sane person would do.  Modern Superman is more complex, more intelligent, stronger and most importantly more human than his earliest incarnation.

Superman is in a sense the best of us, or one potential version of what we collectively imagine the best version of ourselves to be.  He is a man from Smallville, a farmer, a keen eyed reporter, and a living deity of near limitless power.  To some he is Hercules and Samson, to others he is baby Moses floating down the Nile river, to others he is a messianic Christ like figure who suffers for our ill-informed choices, and never complains as all he has for us is Love, tolerance and peace – no matter how badly we treat him.

superman 233 Neal Adams classic cover

Superman can take it, because now and forever, he is “the guy”.  The cloth, the mold from which all Superheroes are cut and defined.  The all American square jaw, the courage of his convictions, his kindness and generosity, his tireless service to his fellow man and calm demeanor are what define Superman and make him the person we aspire to be.  His humble upbringing on a farm in Smallville and very down to earth old fashioned parents inform who Superman is.  Superman is basically the most moral character ever created in Superhero fiction.

Superman sets the bar of human values and achievement high.  While we may never reach the same heights as the Sungod from Smallville who can lift mountains and see microscopic bacteria and macroscopic worlds and galaxies in outer space beyond our limited vision, he knows that we will try to do our best and he will be there to catch us when we fall.

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! And now, another exciting episode, in The Adventures of Superman! 

Superman_Peace_On_Earth BACK COVER

Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear…until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share–I’ll never stop fighting. Ever. – Superman in Action Comics #775

John Wayne 1

John Wayne was more than one of Hollywood’s most famous and most successful actors – he was, and still is, an icon and a symbol of American itself.  Wayne projected dignity, integrity, and strength in all his films, even when his characters were flawed.

– Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend

When I think of the best qualities of America, I think of a nation that has embraced immigrants and diversity, a nation of unlimited opportunity, a nation of freedom of expression, a nation free from the tyranny of Kings, Lords and Royal Families who considered themselves divinely appointed rulers and whose rule was absolute and unquestionable.

While those are all fine ideals, the dark underbelly of America is corruption at the highest levels eating the heart of America like a flesh eating virus that will eventually kill its host.

I am ashamed at the alarmingly high rate of incarcerated African Americans, the relentless irresponsible spending of the War Machine disguised as “Liberty”, and the propaganda that America has enemies it must fight, or foreign nations it must liberate.  I am ashamed that the once proud and free America has allowed itself to be taken over by greedy corporations and mega-banks who control much of the country, and have far more power, money and influence than the Government.

Modern War1
War of Nations by Dustsplat / Deviantart

It is easy to hike up taxes when there is a war on, or some other fear inducing national crisis to be milked for all its worth. America is a strange nation that makes peace by dropping bombs and shooting bullets, but I question whether those actions are in the best interests of the American people.  Home of the brave and free, or home of the unintentionally enslaved?

I think of archaic horrendous policies like Rendition and turning back the clock on human and civil rights with Guantanomo Bay.  Sadly America has made itself a world leader that coerces other countries through trade agreements to “play ball” or else.

To see America as all shiny red and blue superheroes, rainbows and lollipops is to live in a dangerously delusional and naive fantasy world.  The worlds of American movies and fantasy paint a different story.  They tell us the story of how America used to be, or at least how America imagined itself to be at its best and how it wants to be seen on the world stage.  But that America does not exist any more, and you have to wonder at this point if it ever did.

By contrast seeing America as all cocaine cowboys, mercenaries, and corrupt governments run by shadow corporations is also only a partial truth.  The larger almost incomprehensible truth I suspect is somewhere in the middle, and of course I am using extreme examples to make a point.

Every country has its best self and its worst self.

What I like about American culture is the spirit of independence within the heart of Americans.  I love the “can do” attitude and the will to work to better themselves.

It pains me to see that spirit being undermined by a country being divided amongst itself, rather than united.  The endless “justified” wars and manufactured over inflated crises that keep people too poor and afraid to do anything to help themselves.  The rampant pollution and environmental devastation and corruption at every level that keeps people too sick, stuck in survival mode and afraid to really stand up to the corporate overlords as a collective of free thinking individuals.

John Wayne quote tomorrow

I love the values that Superman and John Wayne represent, and the America that exists in popular fiction.  But was that America ever real, did it ever exist, or was it merely an unrealised dream?  I have no idea.  The unparalleled prosperity America knew in the post World War II era was in part because the factories and exports of competing nations had been bombed to hell.  Once they recovered, life was not so sweet and easy for the average Joe and Jane.

A cynical view of Supes and the Duke sees them as conservative puppets of the establishment – but the values I identify with these two icons more than any other are those of hard work, self-reliance, self-confidence, courage and kindness.  But are those values rewarded in modern America or are people trying to get ahead in a rigged game?  Are people really enjoying the fruits of their labor, or are they finding that Government does whatever the hell it wants to do, no matter what opinions and choices the people voice.

What happens when you work hard to get ahead, live an honest life but then the Government decides to take your house away anyway in the name of “progress” and urban expansion?  What happens when people fight a war of independence, only to succumb to a virtual dictatorship or at best an Oligarchy from a shadow Government that publicly talks about making changes for the better, while privately locking up and torturing anyone they like without trial after publicly calling them a “terrorist” and throwing away the key?

john Wayne A mans got to do what a mans got to do

Is it because we collectively LET it happen through not standing up to the authorities who are supposed to represent the will of the people?  When did the servants become the masters? When did the officials elected to represent the American people decide to kick out the owners of the house, and change from servants into ego-driven dictators?  When did the American Dream turn into the American Nightmare?

I love what the Heart and Spirit of America stands for, but does that America still exist?

Despite all this, I believe that the Heart, Spirit and Soul of the American people is strong, and one day soon, big changes will take place.  The dinosaurs who dictate to the people of America are dying a slow, painful and long overdue death.

Their life support machines are failing, their life insurance policies will not be cashed, a new energy, a new blood is being born onto the planet who will be the final extinction of the “Greed is Good” mantra that has ruled America in recent decades.

Superman and John Wayne are icons and symbols of America itself.  In many ways they ARE America.  

They represent the best and worst of the nation. They represent freedom and independence, but they also represent the might makes right attitude.  To be a hero, you gotta make someone else into the villain, and America loves to invent new villains every week so they have someone to fight or liberate.

Their is a danger in the hero archetype that those who see themselves as heroes will enforce their will unquestioningly.  Hitler believed himself to be a hero for the German people.  He’s no hero in my book.  If he were alive and I met him today, I’d punch him in the face for sure no matter what the consequences. America loves to see itself as Cowboys and Superheroes on the world stage, but the danger in that view is that somebody has to become the villain, otherwise the hero just does not exist..  Somebody else has to be “wrong” to make America “right”, hence the constant invention of new enemies and perceived threats.

Superman_Peace_On_Earth_99

However what I love about Superman and John Wayne is that they are both men of character and principle.  It’s easy to be soft and lazy, it’s easy to drop out, not care or be cynical.  It takes a tough and emotionally strong person to give a damn, to have the courage of their convictions, to not be swayed by the crowd of popular opinion.

The true test of ones convictions is when we stick to our principles during the hardest times in our lives.  

It is easy to have principles and values when there is nothing that challenges those values.  The true test of character is when we face struggle and opposition and we just keep on marching  forward, enduring the unendurable, being true to our word, our actions flowing from our principles without hesitation or second guessing.

The danger here of course is that we may be wrong.  Might does not make right in my view.

But right or wrong, our actions speak louder than words.  There is no greater coward than a person who refuses to engage with the world, or take any kind of action at all.  The man (or woman) who acts and is proven wrong still commands greater respect then the man who fails to act at all.  Having tried and failed, those who act have the choice to modify their actions, and learn from their mistakes.  Those too full of fear, doubt and the mental virus of self-loathing fail to act, and thus fail to learn or to truly live life in all of its complexity.

Having never risked anything, never gained, never lost, the person of inaction can be said never to have lived at all.

Iron Man Downey Marvel Movie Lone Ranger Depp Armie Hammer

Cowboys and Superheroes are more than anything, men of action.

Dynamic figures of bold confidence who command our attention and inspire with their acts of valor, heroism and bravery.  More than their physical achievements, they inspire by example, through being living examples of abstract principles, ideas and values.  John Wayne is America.  Superman is America.

We should emulate the archetypal hero’s core values if we want to better ourselves. We can enjoy heroes and heroines as entertainment, but we should not act out the violence of the Hero, Superhero and the Cowboy.  Let the fictional characters act out the violence we feel in our hearts so that we need not enact that violence in the real world.  To be like our heroes also means acknowledging and finding a healthy outlet for the darker aspects of our own nature, rather than repressing those impulses.

John Wayne creed Tomorrow

America for better or worse is a nation of achievers and people who take action.  Despite rampant corruption in business and government at the heart of America is a “CAN DO” attitude.  I can’t say the same about the UK, Australia and New Zealand.  If you succeed in America or dare to dream, people encourage you.  While in countries like my adopted homeland of Australia, people tend to shoot down your dreams and ask you to “be realistic”.  Basically code for “Be mediocre like me, go nowhere, do nothing, attempt nothing, be nothing“.

I’d like to see more people taking action from their heart of hearts, and not just thinking of short term goals, but what is good for us as individuals and as an intelligent evolving species on this planet.

What I love about America is that it embodies more than any other nation on the planet, the idea of:

I CAN AND I WILL, I DO AND I DARE

Superman and John Wayne are men of action, men of myth and legend.  Men of moral character, men who live their values in every breath and step they take and embody the kind of self-confidence, dignity and pride that can not be faked.

Christopher-Reeve-Superman-Wallpaper-superman-the-movie1

And that is what I love about America, those eternal values that will never die in my view, no matter what corruption festers in the background undermining the hearts and souls of the honest hard working American people.

There is power in the hero and superhero archetype, but whatever power it holds is only what we give to it, and what we allow to manifest within ourselves as we live our lives, and live our core values.

Superman is not just an alien with extraordinary abilities, far above mortal men… he cares for us. He radiates decency and integrity, it’s not just the powers that makes him a great man, it is because he is Clark Kent. He, the All-American country boy from the Heartland. Clark Jerome Kent is too integral to the mythos and grandieur that is Superman. That rocket could have been choosen to have landed anywhere, at any time, even fleshed out for decades. Could it–would it have been the same? Perhaps, but I am thankful such curiosities are left to Elseworlds. The Kent’s wholesome upbringing they raised Kal-El with is what makes Superman a gentle being filled with warmth, kindness, and innocence. An adopted son of man and Earth with honest values and a big heart. 

-Josh Grayson / SupermanHomepage.com

superman john wayne and apple pie_1