My favourite version of Batman is the Denny O Neil / Neal Adams globe trotting James Bond inspired Batman of the 70’s…
My favourite Batman is the relentless Manhunter Paul Dini version in Batman the Animated Series…
My favourite Batman is the ass kicking one man army we get in the Arkham Asylum video games…
My favourite Batman is the uncompromising driven Batman we see in Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins…
Truthfully I have no “favourite” version of Batman.
In my mind I do, but he’s a composite of everything that has been in 70+ years, of comics, games, animation, TV, movies, art and more – and some things I add in my own imagination of my ideal Batman that reflect my own values. My ideal Batman is the archetype of Batman himself, the very IDEA of Batman is my favourite version.
A man is just flesh and blood and can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol… As a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting – Bruce Wayne / Batman Begins
Batman is a clearly defined character, but he is also a cipher – he’s this template or archetype who is whatever we want him to be, he reflects our values today, and his characterization shifts over the decades to mirror our values.
In my mind and in my heart of hearts Batman is the guy who channels all his pain and anger and frustration into his war on crime, his life is one of service to a higher good that he probably doesn’t even comprehend or think about.
Batman will never solve / fix / end crime permanently. He knows it and we know it.
There are cops out there in the real world who do an amazing job. Sure there are bad eggs that we hear about in the media, but most cops are honest hard working stiffs doing the best they can to function in a corrupt system. They don’t expect to solve crime forever, and neither would we expect them to.
Expecting Batman to solve crime is unrealistic and well… a bit silly.
Do you expect a fireman to put out fires permanently?
Or do you expect them to turn up when the shit hits the fan and do everything in they can in their power to be of service?
Batman is like an emergency response unit. He turns up to whatever crisis he can, as often as he can, and then he moves on to the next crisis.
ALWAYS BE BATMAN!
BUT WHAT CAN ONE INDIVIDUAL DO?
Not solving crime forever is not some sort of failure on Batman’s part. His strength is standing up and saying;
“I’m one guy, look at the difference I make in the world, look at what ONE person can do who has a real mission in life”
It might seem like bullshit, but, well…
Gandhi was one person.
Martin Luther King was one person.
Einstein was one person.
THIS MOFO ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT STOP
Batman is an incredible example of relentless determination, of unrelenting fury and passion and pain channeled into a single cause with an unwavering laser-like focus and precision.
His commitment is total, he never gives up, and he absolutely will not stop doing the best he can, is his unique way to be of service to the world.
He’s not a saint, you could say he’s not even a hero if you like. But what he is an unrelenting force of nature, he’s all the dark and scary shit you don’t want to deal with in life manifested in a single wraith-like form . He’s all that and more, he doesn’t run from fear and pain, he is fear and pain. And as a manifestation of all our unconscious dark scary psychological stuff, he still ultimately is a servant for good.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at that white light that shines from his eyes. He may dress in shadow, but’s he here to help.
Batman’s greatest strength is not only that he does not give up on himself and others,not only that he stands up for his values and makes a difference in the world, but that he is an a living inspiration for others to do the same, to stand up for what they believe in and make a difference in the world.
I’ll leave you with some words of Bat-Wisdom from one of the wisest Bat-Brothers on the planet, Rabbi Cary Friedman, who sums up Batman better than I ever could:
“One of the most pervasive themes of Jewish religious tradition is the endless capacity for human greatness. Not surprisingly, this is a constant message of Batman comic books: How far does human potential extend? The Batman stories are unequivocally clear: to infinity. There is no limit.” – Cary A. Friedman, Wisdom from the Batcave
“This lesson about the endless capability of every human being is the single most important theme of Batman. It is this greatest of all truths that defines the essence of the Batman and accounts for his enduring appeal. The Batman, more than any other literary character, reminds us that every person has an infinite capacity for achievement.” – Cary A. Friedman, Wisdom from the Batcave
“A great rabbi used to say, “I never asked myself if I could do it. I only asked myself if it needed to be done.” In his relentless struggle against evil, the Batman never asks himself if he can do it; he asks only if it needs to be done” – Cary A. Friedman, Wisdom from the Batcave.
“Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our own soul. He symbolises how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them toward our highest good.” – JOHN SORENSEN
YES FATHER… I SHALL BECOME A BAT
Batman symbolically represents the darkness that is in all human beings. Not just potential darkness, but the darkness that is factually in all human beings, whether we acknowledge it or not. Those who claim nothing like that is in them, are most at risk to succumbing to their own disowned behaviors through total ignorance of them.
Other fictional characters who we could call avatars of darkness and shadow include Dracula and Darth Vader – characters who have surrendered to their darkest, most murderous, primitive and single self oriented survival impulses.
What distinguishes Batman is that he walks the line between darkness and light – choosing not to kill. He skirts around the edges of the abyss, he’s been there and knows the temptations that would lead him down the path of total surrender to darkness like Darth Vader. Unlike Darth Vader, Batman has journeyed into darkness, into the very depth of his own mind, heart and soul, seen what lives there, what drives him and used that power, harnessing it for his own ends, rather than becoming a slave to darkness or evil like Darth Vader or Dracula.
Integration is key. Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark – Brene Brown
Seeing the existential abyss of darkness for what it is, Batman transcends and includes all his pain, his miseries, his best and worst qualities. He transmutes it all into an unwavering passion for his vengeance or justice driven mission as Batman.
So let’s take a look how dark Batman is, and how he uses that darkness as a weapon, along the way we’ll also take a quick look under the cowl to check on his mental health and see if those internet fan theories can hold any water.
BATMAN – SAVIOR OR HERETIC?
Batman accepts all that he is; the good, the bad and the ugly. He makes no apologies for his flaws, and if anything he is his own worst critic -taking on the responsibility of the world when it is not truly his responsibility to fix the world (of Gotham City) and nobody ever asked him to.
Batman does not suffer from introjection – that is the unconscious “exterior” voices of societies values, his parents and heritage. If psychological Projection is the disowning of your own qualities that you project and see externalised in another, then its opposite is Introjection: turning inward something that belongs outside.
It is a small but key distinction in Batman’s psychological make up, but one that many people fail to notice when they project their own fears and insecurities onto Batman and assume he is like us. He’s not like us, Batman lives at a higher level than we do. Rather than try and become more like Batman, those fans and critics have tried to make Batman more like themselves, assuming that he must share their flaws, rather than having transcended them. The road to self-knowledge is filled with many pot-holes of ignorance.
Batman makes conscious what lives and thrives in darkness. Batman is not afraid to look into his own mind, his own soul and see all his failures and bad habits. Bruce Wayne lives in alignment with his core values. To get from being Bruce Wayne to becoming Batman means a journey into the mythic, into the recesses of Bruce Wayne’s heart, mind and soul, stripped bare and laid naked, he is reborn in a baptism of pure darkness, everything unessential falls away until there is only the Bat and his mission.
You can call Batman a nutcase, an eccentric, an unholy warrior on a mission of vengeance, or just a man who decided to do something different to process his trauma over the death of his parents, by dedicating himself to a worthy cause. Super-heroes do tend to have the mind set of wanting to save the world, or at least leave it a less shitty place than when they entered it. It’s part of their attitude and psychological make up. It’s what distinguishes them from non-heroic individuals. They are here to make a difference and don’t sit on the fence.
The “save the world” mentality is something that exists in individuals here in the real world too, and it has its healthy versions – serving food to the homeless, fundraising for community and charity projects – and it’s unhealthy pathological versions –
suicide bombing, acts or murder, torture, terror etc for the often delusional perceived higher good (for the State, for God etc).
THE STATE OF BATMAN’S MENTAL HEALTH
Arrogant, angry, stand-offish, emotionless, doesn’t work well in teams, shuns help from others, psychotic, a mentally ill man child. Sound familiar?
What is the state of Batman’s mental health, and who should we trust on this subject? There is no shortage of internet fan theories about the state of Batman’s mental health, some of them make good valid points, some are partial truths – while others are just plain old Wrong with a capital “W”.
“He’s an angry repressed rich boy who takes out his frustration and anger beating up criminals”
“He suffers from PTSD, depression and can’t let go of the death of his parents”
“He’s a schizophrenic savior who suffers from messianic delusions”
I am continually amazed at some of the ideas I see posted online about Batman that make it obvious that some people either have not read many Batman comics, or don’t know how to use the dictionary.
Coming up with a fancy theory or great sounding idea does not make it true no matter how much you want to believe it. That also applies to myself and my articles here. Feel free to disagree with any of them. Feel free to write a rebuttal or prove them wrong. In my mind I’m right, but I know other people with very different opinions about Batman who also FEEL they are right.
For example there are people who would label Batman a psychotic, a schizophrenic, as suffering from post traumatic stress (reliving the pain of his parents death) or any number of other conditions. Robert E. Terrill has written a thoroughly engrossing article that uses Jungian ideas and terminology to categorise Batman as a Schizophrenic acting out his delusional dreams because he is unwilling to do the real hard work of true psychological integration.
The article Put on a Happy Face – Batman as Schizophrenic Savior by Robert E. Terrill you can find online as a PDF, it’s about 18 pages long and well worth reading – but keep in mind this article deals with the 1989 movie version of Batman, not the Batman from the comic books. It is worth reading though, even if you strongly disagree with it as I do.
Robin’s published book on the Psychology of Batman addresses each one of the various things he may or may not suffer from. She cuts through the confusion of Bat-Mind-Theories like a brightly lit Bat-Signal in the night sky.
Point by point, Robin Rosenberg states the essential criteria needed to satisfy being considered as psychotic, schizophrenic, PTSD, personality disorders and more. And by and large Batman meets some of the criteria for various disorders, but not all of the criteria to meet the requirements as having any of those conditions.
I tend to trust her point of view over fanboys and fangirls as Robin Rosenberg is a trained Psychologist, as well as a fan of Batman and other superheroes. It’s also possible she is wrong, but I urge people to make up their own minds and not take my word for anything. Robin has also been talking, lecturing and writing about human values and heroes for over a decade, so you’ll excuse me if your “Batman is nuts ‘coz my brother ‘sez so” theory doesn’t hold much sway with me.
There is a fair bit of information and misinformation (mostly on the internet) about the state of Batman’s mental health, usually from people who misuse the terminology of Psychology to make it sound like they know what they are talking about. That Batman meets some of the criteria for various types of mental illness lends credence to those half baked fan theories you read online on reddit or Quora.
Batman is an emotionally stunted man child who refuses to grow up and takes out his frustration and unresolved pain from the death of his parents by punching people
Some people think Batman is a Schizophrenic, others say he is psychotic, or has post traumatic stress disorder, depression or any number of other behavioral dysfunctions. It’s easy to see Batman as this hyper-aggressive psychotic lunatic if all you have ever read is Frank Miller’s version of Batman, which is purposefully and masterfully exaggerated and over the top, as are most of Miller’s stories.
Can Bruce Wayne ever be truly mentally healthy and happy, as long as he is Batman?
One perspective is that As long as Bruce Wayne is Batman he will never be happy. He will never settle down with a wife, he will never have kids, he will stay angry, repressed, antisocial and guilt ridden over the death of his parents death as long as he is Batman. Batman thrives on guilt and pain, true forgiveness means letting go of being Batman.
Another contrasting perspective is that Gotham and the world needs Batman, and that he has overcome his pain and insecurities and fears. Batman continues his war on crime not out of pain over the death of his parents, but remains Batman as a tribute to them and their community service. Bruce Wayne continues being Batman as a service to Gotham to honor his parents and what they stood for; social justice, reform and standing up for a cause, living your values etc.
Batman can be many things, and is open to multiple different equally valid interpretations. It is part of the strength of the character that every fan has their own idealized Batman, and no two fan versions of Batman are exactly the same. But there is enough of the character that remains recognisable so when we talk about Batman, we can understand each others unique perspective.
And that is what it comes down to. There is no objective criteria for what Batman is, and what Batman is not. It’s all subjective. But good writers, and smart thinkers, tend to think at least some of the same ideas about the character, and that mass consensus of what we agree upon tends to form the picture of Batman the majority of us have in our minds.
Writing something that sounds plausible is a good way to keep the wheel of misinformation going. However long term Batman fans tend to look below the surface, they tend to go a bit deeper in life for answers than internet fan theories etc.
All of these contrasting ideas strangely play into the myth and strengths of Batman – to some he’s a vampire, to some he’s an urban commando, to others he is a ghoul in night, an unkillable wraith, more shadow monster than man. An unstoppable force. Something to be feared and talked about in hushed tones, because if he hears you… “LOOK OUT! Aw gees, the BAT! Run!”
Batman then is an urban boogeyman. So all of those crazy fan ideas you read about online are quite valid, even if you disagree with them. It’s all part of Batman’s mystique, his confusion and distraction while he accomplishes his mission. He wants you to think he’s crazy, he wants you to think he will do anything, that he can’t die. Batman wants to scare the living hell out of you, and he enjoys doing it.
Robin Rosenberg gets the final word on how nutty Batman may or may not be in her succinct book What’s the Matter with Batman:
Assuming that by Dissociative disorder, you mean DID, he is nowhere close to having that. He would only have paranoid schizophrenia if everything about him being batman was a delusion.It’s really hard to peg what, if any disorder he would have. The funny part about it is that one of the defining characteristics of having a mental illness is that it has to impair functioning in your life.
And one could argue that he successfully leads two lives, so there is no impairment, or his having to lead two lives IS the impairment.In any event, the only thing I could confidently say he suffers from is Depression, for obvious reasons. If I were to extend so far as to say that he had a personality disorder,
I’d put my money on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.Personally, I don’t think he has any real mental disorders outside of depression. He is a just a very rational introvert who made a very strange decision that most of society would see as a terrible, and downright crazy idea. – Robin S. Rosenberg
Of course if you want to believe Batman is truly crazy delusional, then The Batman Complex fan made video is made just for you…
I KEEP MY EYES WIDE OPEN ALL THE TIME, I WALK THE LINE
Batman may be an avatar of darkness, the physical manifestation of his totem Bat animal, but he is also more than than the sum of his parts. In shadow he is like a wraith or demon from the classical underworld of mythology, and those white slits where his eyes should be are creepy as hell. His costume, physicality and persona evoke something primal and mythic that we can’t help but respond to on an unconscious level. In medieval art, he would undoubtedly be labeled as a demon.
But those white slits also show the light in Batman. The bright white where his eyes are meant to be shows us symbolically that Batman in not in total darkness, but is in fact an avatar of light who masquerades in darkness to both fight the forces of darkness, and transmute his own inner darkness, his own dark knight of the soul into a force for good, for service to humanity. We have Batman co-creator Bill Finger to thank for those white eyes, Bill understood Batman at a deep level few people would appreciate and doesn’t get the credit he deserves often enough.
The anger and pain Bruce Wayne feels at the death of his parents, that at times threatens to consume him – he channels into fuel for greatness as the Guardian of Gotham City, the cities own Dark Knight. His never ending war on crime gives an outlet to his madness, rage and pain, channeling all his dark intensity and unrelenting passion into a force for good.
Like a classical Greek hero or demigod who journeys into the underworld, Batman takes on the symbolic trappings of darkness to inspire fear in the criminals he hunts, he uses shadow and darkness as his allies, having made them his closest friends.
To fear the dark is to live in ignorance, while to embrace the dark is to welcome the knowledge it brings. No being can live in only darkness, or only light. Either way leads to being unbalanced. Human beings need both light and dark in them. Batman walks the line and at times risks going all the way into darkness like Darth Vader or Dracula. It’s part of what makes him so damn sexy and uber-cool. He’s a good guy dressed in the cinematic costume of a bad guy or demon.
Batman is married to Gotham city, he may dabble in serial monogamy, but ultimately his mission in life is to be Batman. Batman and Gotham City are forever intertwined. In a warring city of ruthless gangs, psycho killers and cut throats Batman is Gotham’s Warlord, his word is law, his will unbreakable, his enemies and friends alike fear him and his wrath. Nobody wants the Batman’s attention, and if you ever saw him in person – you would really wish you hadn’t.
WE ALL FALL DOWN
How does Batman avoid the corruption that characters like Dracula succumbed to? How does he use darkness rather than be consumed by it?
History is filled with those who held themselves up as heroes, as bastions of moral virtue and goodness only to succumb to their own repressed dark side, the side they never allow any healthy expression, and that you never see in the public arena that often is expressed through demented perversion in private.
Politicians and Priests provide some of the more obvious cliched and dramatic well publicised examples in our society. It seems the corruption of the few influences how we see the many, the disproportionate media focus on corrupt Priests and Politicians ignores the fact they are the minority, and that the majority are hard working honest people who capably go about their job, and look after the people they are responsible for.
None the less, when an individual is incapable of finding a healthy expression for their Shadow Self, and instead they become corrupted causing harm to themselves or others, then at those times it may be necessary for third party intervention. In cases of abuse of other individuals by that person, then unwelcome media attention can be a good thing, in exposing what lies in the shadow through the light of awareness.
How does Batman avoid the same psychological traps? It’s not easy, he walks a constant line between who he is and who he might become. Batman doesn’t repress who he is. He lives his darkness at every level of his being, and he uses it as yet another weapon in his war on crime. He avoids falling down to his Shadow qualities by not hiding or repressing his Shadow, but embracing it and knowing it intimately.
Batman is a zealot in a way, and his unholy mission is to fight the forces that would serve to victimize the good citizens of Gotham, at the same time Batman is a hero we can relate to for his flaws, for we see the darkness and flaws in him as in ourselves.
Batman’s flaws are what make him human rather than super-human. Even if Batman took a super-pill and did gain super-powers, he would still be the same angry repressed guy. Batman remains a fantasy figure who lives an impossible life, but remains appealing due to his grounding halfway between realism and pure fantasy. Alex Wainer defines Batman’s adventures as falling between realism and fantasy as “Romance” using Northrop Frye’s scale of literary classification.
REALISM <<———-BATMAN———-> > FANTASY
“The romance is contrived to allow for a pleasing form that displaces aspects of myth, while at the same time borrowing a semblance of realism, to ensure a level of plausibility. Abstracting from the concrete, i.e., the realistic, toward the mythic, the romance mixes elements of the two poles to become a story form broad and flexible enough to include an enormous range of narratives.” – Alex Wainer: Soul of the Dark Knight
“…Set on a perpetual quest for justice and vengeance, Batman is more than an outraged vigilante, but less than a divine nemesis of evil. Partaking of qualities derived from earlier mythological sources and patterns, he symbolically fights against the chaos that frightens and angers us by adopting the fearsome visage of a night creature. Though apparently mortal, he transcends human limits in his keen ratiocination and athletic grace and power. Thus, as a mythic figure expressed in the comics medium, on the Literary Design Scale, he belongs at the upper levels of romance as an idealized, extraordinary heroic figure in a still-recognizable urban setting.” – Alex M Wainer, Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film
I AM VENGEANCE! I AM THE NIGHT! I AM BATMAN!
As an avatar of darkness and night time Batman fulfills a sort of elemental role. The Bat -his chosen symbol and totem animal – Batman is a creature of the night, a figment of our unconscious mind, a lord of the underworld, the bastard child of Erebus and Nyx – the illegitimate brother of Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death).
If Icarus flew too close to the sun, Bruce Wayne went too far into the Underworld, punched something dark and ancient in the face and stole its power to aid his war on crime. Touching the face of pure evil, he dares to wear its colours and mocks the unseen forces he fights against every night of his life as the Guardian of Gotham, its Dark Knight. He’s untouchable, he fears nothing, he will not stop, and he wants you to know it and be very afraid.
There is a purpose for every thing under the sun, and even the things that live in darkness have their own purpose and way of being. Batman who lives in darkness is still human and still feels connected to his humanity despite outward appearances.
To be in darkness is to know and embrace a part of our Being we often deny or don’t acknowledge. It’s something we don’t talk about in polite company or hear much about. To never explore that part of ourselves, to never metaphorically explore the underworld of our own minds is to live in fear of that darkness, of that unknown and all it entails. It is the place of creation, of sex, death , life, hunger, and all primal urges.
We give power to our unconscious forces and primal drives by refusing to explore them. Most of us are afraid of that which is beyond words, space and time. The primordial unmanifest force that rests in the hearts and minds of all people, but is ignored due to the discomfort and pain of true self-knowledge – in favor of an inauthentic life of comfort and luxury.
The Hero’s Journey is not just a mythical “story” framework to be adapted from antiquity onto the cinema screen, but a metaphor for the necessary and essential psychological process of Waking Up and Growing Up in life that philosopher Ken Wilber discusses in many volumes of his Integral Theory. The Hero – or Heroine’s journey is our birthright. The refusal of the call, is the refusal of life, the refusal to grow and change and evolve. All things that live must grow, and that which does not heed this principle embraces death.
To explore and stay in darkness is to give in to our own darkest impulses. However to never willingly journey into darkness is – like Luke going into the cave during his training with Yoda to cut off his own head – to never look beneath the cowl it to live in fear of our own primal forces. Take a look at Darth Vader. Nobody want’s to end up like that poor bastard. He’s a monster, and the ultimate bad-ass – YET – we still feel sorry for him. Instead of Vader passing through his own dark night of the soul, he began the process, staid there and swore allegiance to his corrupted master Darth Sidious.
The danger Batman forever faces is not that he may kill, but what happens afterward – that he may lose his humanity if he gives himself completely to darkness. Exploring our own Shadow means acknowledging all our bad habits and self-destructive choices, those we know, and those we are not aware of (and need others to point out to us) and our own repressed higher potentials. What is in shadow if often a corrupted version of what is good in us, as well as what is harmful.
Batman is an avatar of darkness, but also a symbol of how to accept and transmute all of our own nature – light and dark – and use it for the higher good not by denial or repression, but by acceptance and integration of all aspects of ourselves – John Sorensen
In stages of human growth, we may pass through a Spider-Man stage (child/teenager) a Batman stage (adult /power) a Superman stage (god/transcendent) etc. As great as any of these characters are, we must not stay in those stages, but learn from them and move on. There are lessons to be learned in life wherever we turn, even in the humble pages of cheap pulp inspired comic book stories printed on flimsy paper. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, find inspiration and power wherever you please.
I think we can find inspiration is just about any good comic book or movie character. Good or evil, they all have some qualities and values that resonate with us, or we would not be so powerfully attracted to them in the first place.
Batman is the coolest fictional character on the planet if you ask me.
Batman is cool, sexy and a bad boy. He’s rock and roll. We love him for it. Batman wears the outfit of a villain, but he’s dedicated to righting wrongs. If we look deep enough, we may learn a little about ourselves from the Boy who became a Bat. Who embraced rather than repressed his Shadow Self.
He understands pain, fear and doubt, Batman feels it all and doesn’t identify himself with it, he feels ALL of it, but doesn’t mistake pain and doubt and fear for who he is, or let it stop him from accomplishing his mission. He transcends his circumstances, he transcends body, environment and time by focusing his mind on his chosen task, he’s honed his skills through years of physical and mental training. He’s not ordinary. But even taking all that into consideration, Batman is still flawed and deeply human. His flaws are what make Batman more human and relatable. He’s human and he feels every pain and every hurt, but he looks past it and keeps moving forward.
Batman has experienced deeply personal pain and loss like many people in the real world, and that has inspired his life’s mission, to help victims of crime and poverty through the Wayne Foundation and personally preventing as many violent crimes as he can. As effective as Batman is in his world, he’s even more powerful in our world as a symbol of standing up for ourselves and others, and of true self knowledge that embraces all that we are, strengths flaws and all with an unflinching gaze of wisdom that does not misidentify what we experience and feel, for who we are.
Fear disowned is a destructive choice, both emotionally and spiritually. It leads to all-too-happy spiritualities with beings who seek only the light. Fear starts to drive their being unconsciously. We end up seeking only goodness and pleasantness in order to avoid pain and fear. But this is not the way. The truth is:
“To conquer fear, you must become fear”
Fear owned and embodied is a form of awakening. Batman is therefore a Realizer of Awakening through the form of Fear – Chris Dierkes / Beams and Struts
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.
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.
A little over a year ago I started a blog about Batman called “BATFAN on BATMAN” at WordPress.
I wanted to take two of my favourite things – my passion for writing and my love of the fictional character Batman and combine them.
The decision to start this Blog I was inspired by several things:
1) My lifelong love of Batman, the greatest fictional character of all time.
2) The book “Wisdom From the Batcave” by Batfan Rabbi Cary A. Friedman.
“Wisdom” is a book I find to be deeply inspiring and motivating in my own life.
It is the tone that set what I wanted to do with my Batman blog, explore how The Batman inspires me (and others) to be a better human being and face life’s challenges head on. You can find the book in print and in digital format at Amazon. Wisdom from the Batcave, Cary A. Friedman – Amazon.com
3) The Podcast “Fatman on Batman” by Batfan Kevin Smith, he of Clerks fame.
I have been listening to this Fatman podcast along with Smodcast and HBO for several years and love the laughs and stories Kevin has shared through his podcast network. The name of my blog is inspired by Kevin’s podcast. You can find his Fatman on Batman podcast on itunes and on his smodcast website. The sub site is Channels Fat Man on Batman
You can also find Kevin Smith on Twitter and Facebook where he posts cool stuff relating to his movies, Smodcast Network and other projects.
A little over a year old, my blog gets regular amounts of traffic, and is slowly growing.
Cary Friedman (the guy who wrote that book I love) I communicate with now and then via email, and he has given me some really generous feedback and encouragement on my articles so far, and I have to admit, that is awesome!
Of the 50 articles so written far (this right here is post #51) the consistently most popular ones have been my “How to Be Like Batman” series.
It takes me around a month to write one part of the How to Be Like Batman series, as I read a lot of books, comics and other stuff that I quote from and am influenced by. They also tend to be 5000-8000 words or so each, so yeah it is a real bitch to edit them and it takes me forever. But it is worth it, because I love writing those articles.
I decided when I began that this BATFAN on BATMAN blog that I would eventually collect the best articles into ebooks for Amazon kindle. My feeling is that the first book will be the HTBLB (HowToBeLikeBatman) series expanded into a full ebook, which means it will be a few months away, as I am currently writing parts #4-9 of the series. It also means I will rewrite part of each for the ebook format. I also have to teach myself all sorts of boring stuff about formatting. UGH!
I recently added an expanded article listing on the sidebar to my blog, so now is a great time to check through the older articles if you have not already taken a look.
Just scroll down and you will see it on the right side.
Scroll down from the top – which looks like this:
Keep going down a little from the top of the page/ header and you will see the list of articles on the right hand side of the screen at BATFAN on BATMAN Don’t forget to follow this blog on email by clicking that orange bar thing under my smug mug. That way you can keep up with new posts, which are rather infrequent.
So far I love writing this BATFAN on BATMAN blog. I have several hundred articles planned out in hardcover journals, and I am adding new ideas to them every week. I wish I had more time just to write. Currently I put 1 hour per day into writing the blog, I average around 2-3 posts a month, at around 2000-5000 words per article.
I would like to post more frequent posts, but I prefer QUALITY over quantity, so I never rush anything. Every article is some sort of idea I had, or was inspired to write about for whatever reason (other than the opinion pieces, which are usually shorter posts I out out while I am working on my main articles).
I aim to write timeless rather than timely content, so you can read it tomorrow or ten years from now and it will still make sense, rather than being dated.
I keep a pen and pad by my bed, and in my study by the computer so no good idea ever gets lost.
If I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, I write it down on a pad, then the next morning I add the idea into one of my blog drafts that just has lists of article ideas, and potential titles for articles.
I keep notebooks next to the bed, and next to my PC always.
In the above pic you can see the ungodly pile of books, notebooks and crap that sits next to where I sleep.
And no that is not a sex toy and lube. The stick is a rolling thing for post-exercise myofascial release, and the thing beside it is hand cream, as I do a lot of deadlifting and have to file calluses from my hands, and I usually forget to put on moisturiser so basically my hands are like sandpaper most of the time, which tends to annoy my girlfriend.
I take long walks for 1-2 hours often in the mornings, and sometimes I take my dictaphone with me and record ideas while I am walking, that I later write down in the journals.
I don’t limit myself to any one form of Batman, nor any one media. My personal favourite Batman however is the comic book version, so I tend to focus on him. I guess the second favourite version would be the one in 90’s animated series, and I really love the version of Batman they created for the Arkham video game series, he kicks some serious ass.
Video games are the only medium where we can actually see how Batman moves, where he has his full martial arts abilities that you don’t see in any of the live action movies or animated shows.
I’ve held off on some particular articles – like my Arkham Asylum video game series of articles as I have planned to do not one or two, but a whole series focusing on the gameplay, art design, themes and motifs, story and overall planning and design of the games.
And a whole series of articles on Batman: The Animated Series – as it is so highly influential, it helped set the tone and style for modern Batman and I just love it to pieces!
My blog so far has 50 articles, and 80+ articles in draft form that I am still working on. Some get finished in a week or two, others take months as ideas come together.
So expect to see the blog grow exponentially in the next six-twelve months.
I have another key focus also on spotlighting the best non-fiction books about Batman, most of that stuff in still in draft format. I read those non-fiction books about Batman for fun and personal research while writing, but I am also writing an authoritative guide to all the best books about Batman.
I want it to be a useful resource for fans, writers/researchers/theorists and even people looking to buy gifts for family members etc. So I am taking my sweet time with that one, as I want it to be authoritive. I’ve looked for an article like this online, and so far the closest thing is BOF (Batman on Film’s list) which doesn’t cover even one third of the books out there. But you should read that BOF list for sure to keep you going.
A follow up to my inevitable Great Non-Fiction Books about Batman Guide will be an article on the best Batman trades and graphic novels.
I could have written that a year ago, but I put that off for now seeing as there is plenty of other guides already on various sites like IGN and ComicVine. if you are looking for more good Batman trades right now, then just google “best batman books” and you will find the lists on IGN, ComicVine, Reddit etc.
Now, those lists are good and useful. But my list will kick their lists ass and have them begging for mercy.
I don’t care about the TOP 10 or whatever. I am more interested in what are the best Batman stories and collected editions of all time, across all formats and all media, including expanded Batman media, alternate reality tales etc as well as the mainline DC Universe.
I love all those lists, but they are not definitive in any way. They are basically lists of best selling comics, not necessarily the best of most in interesting stories. Great to start with, but not much use to long term fans.
My overall aim for the BATFAN on BATMAN Blog is to write content you just can not find anywhere else on the internet.
I was sick of reading the same shallow articles about Batman media copied and pasted on 50 different websites masquerading as “content”, UGH!
That kind of crap really only exists to create web traffic and generate ad revenue sales, and frankly it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
There are perhaps less than half a dozen in depth books that cover the topics of Batman Theory, History, Myth, Psychology and Legacy that most people have never read, nor even heard of.
So it is part of my mission, my vow of to make casual fans and experts more aware of these books. It’s obvious every time I am on Quorra, Facebook and Twitter that the same questions keep being asked about Batman, and reading even ONE of those awesome books about Batman would answer most people’s general questions, not to mention make you almost an instant Batman expert.
If there is guiding ethos to my Batman Blog, it is to talk about Batman with the passion of a fan, the depth of an academic, but the accessibility of the internet, podcast and video game generations.
So yeah, it may not be for everyone. And that is okay. But I hope you find something to enjoy here.
I believe that people should be able to find great content about Batman in print and digital media.
So far the Batman print media is far better than any online content, which is a real let down in my opinion, there is perhaps less than 10 genuine Batman websites that have real Batman content (other than the latest non-news like a picture of Batflecks Bat-Underwear, Bat-Underarm Deoderant or other Bat-Bullshit).
My aim is to write articles that are more in depth than the typical shallow articles you find online about Batman, with the depth and insight of academic writing, but without being so stuffy and boring. Also I horrible at typing, I really should not tell you that. But whatever.
If you ever saw one of my drafts it looks like somebody vomited words on to a page in a random assortment. It’s not pretty I tell you. It takes me hours to edit the hell out of things to get them readable, let alone comprehensible. I wish I could just talk and have someone else type and edit my ideas. I keep dreaming about a podcast, but I need a regular co-contributor to host with me, as it would be dead boring just me talking for hours about Batman.
One of the things I love about Batman is that he is always being reinvented for new audiences.
Just when you think Batman might be done…………. you remember that Batman might have something to say about that….
Batman is my favourite character by far, in any medium.
He takes the best elements of Zorro, The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula and combines them into an awe-inspiring package of exciting thrills and non-stop entertainment.
Batman comics have incorporated German Expressionism, Gothic Romance, Film Noir, Penny Dreadfuls, Pulp Fiction, Crime Thrillers, Police Procedurals, Lovecraftian Horror and Superhero Conventions into a seamless package. After 75+ years, there is no shortage of Batman stories to tell.
Batman remains not just cool, but upper echelon level cool like James Dean, Bruce Lee or Elvis Presley. He’s a genuine icon, in the best possible way. And he is inspiring as hell.
Batman possesses the kind of timeless cool that never goes out of style.
He may die and come back. He may get re-booted into new universes. His costume might change a little here and there.
But ultimately, Batman is still Batman. He works. He just works no matter what you throw at him, he makes sense of it and keeps going – Batman is an unstoppable pop-culture Juggernaut.
While Batman is a composite character composed of the best bits of other characters that came before him like…
Superman (the basic costume, chest insignia and superhero motif) Doc Savage (his utility belt) The Shadow (night time masked avenger and antihero) Zorro (swashbuckling dual identity, rich playboy persona) Sherlock Holmes (worlds greatest detective)
Yet, despite being a composite character heavily influenced by the pulps and science heroes and detectives that preceded the superhero genre – Batman somehow manages to be unique and one of a kind.
There are similar characters with superficial similarities, and costume etc – but no other character in all of fiction is quite like Batman at his very core.
So here’s to Batman, and here’s to many more posts and articles in the near future. And a big thank you to my supporters, readers, fellow bloggers and everyone who just freaking loves the god damn Batman. I don’t want to name names and sites/blogs as you are ALL awesome, and I don’t want to leave someone out. But THANK YOU so much for reading and following this blog.
You make slaving away at a keyboard when I would rather be outside walking around (or inside playing Assassin’s Creed) all worth it.
I’m kind of a slow mover in life. I don’t like to rush anything. It means that I like to take my time and when I do things, do them well and give it my best efforts
But I’m just getting started. Consider every post so far a “warm up” for the articles that are yet to come. I don’t know how long I will keep this blog up. I have a lot to say about Batman, and I’ve committed…. no I’ve sworn on oath to my parents (who are both still alive FYI) to write for 5 years and get out every article that is rattling around inside my brain, otherwise I just can’t sleep at night.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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’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 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.
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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is true is that we humans cannot shrink the Universe or its God down to something we can see and understand. We, to understand, must expand our ways of understanding to infinite and eternal expanses. -Bob Laughlin, Denver, USA
In the modern world our mythologies and legends have been deconstructed.
Our cultural stories have been torn apart, dismantled, analysed to death and seen through the eyes of post-modernism and a rational scientific mind.
Our religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions have been endlessly studied, analysed and pulled apart.
At the end of it all we have culturally dismissed most, if not all of it as irrelevant or at least the childish beliefs of primitive societies. While the inherent corruption and power of cult like societies that steal people’s money while keeping them stupid has diminished, we have also lost some important benefits along the way.
Few people in the modern world consider mysticism a genuine spiritual path, yet most if not all religious founders had some sort of mystical experience of love and unity, the watering down of that experience then becomes all sorts of nonsense beliefs and practices by people who don’t understand what was attempting to be communicated by the founder who had the direct experience of a higher reality. This is generalising of course, as religions, belief systems and political messages are added to, redacted and promoted or neglected according to who is in power, and what cultural story is being massaged into an easily digestible group of beliefs.
We have thrown out our myths and fables, which served as communal ways of transmitting not only important life lessons, but basic survival skills while warning us of genuine dangers such as predatory animals and the danger of wandering into the wilderness away from our tribe or group where death was a constant threat. Our cultural stories are infinitely adaptable to any belief system and we tell stories to small children, and it becomes part of their ongoing education.
As adults stories entertain us but also can be used to convey important life lessons. At no point do we cease individually or collectively growing and learning. Life is growth. Of course we can choose to remain stupid and not learn, nobody is forcing us. We may have moved on from the fundamentalist mythic-literal interpretation of events in world religions, we may dismiss myths and fables as silly stories from a primitive world view. However, if we deconstruct our cultural stories, this in no way fulfills our genuine need that was at least partly satisfied by those stories.
Our need for cultural values passed on through oral traditions, our need for wisdom, a sense of belonging, our place in the world, our unique personal story, and the mass story of our tribe, town, city, nation or world story. This article then is about stories and myths, our need of them, how they fail to meet our needs and how we live in constantly changing times where our mass cultural stories and fictional stories are all up for grabs. Our mass and local culture is being rewritten, re-interpreted, re-invented. As deconstructionism and reductionism have served their purposes, the inevitable move then is back to Holism, to arrive at the place where we have always been. Let us say for example you take a modern car / automobile and you pull it apart. You take every piece of it and completely dismantle it, label every piece carefully, you look carefully at all the parts, see the functions they have and can accurately tell someone everything you have learned from taking the car apart, you have learned all you possibly can from this process. Now, suppose you have to be on the other side of town within the next hour. What use is the car to you in this disassembled state?
We still have need of a vehicle to take us to our intended destination.
We have dismantled our cultural myths, we have dismantled our religions (although some still choose to be part of them). We have dismantled and studied the ways of life of hundreds of generations who proceeded our time on this earth. We feel that we are above all of that primitive stuff, we feel that we are above – rather than a part of – Nature. That somehow the religion of Science will fix everything, that there are experts somewhere who have it all figured out. We still have the same needs as human beings that led to those myths, religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions and cultural stories being formed in the first place.
We may currently be living in the techno-inspired future of Tron, The Matrix and The Terminator, but we are still running around in hunter gather bodies primed for action and reaction to immediate physical threats. Our intellect has grown in leaps in bounds while we have lost touch with our “primitive” bodies, the modern workspace and educational arenas see us ill-equipped to handle adrenaline and nor-adrenaline dumps into our blood stream to in response to threats both imaginary and real. Modern man then is cut off his at the head, disconnected from his body. We stand on the verge of reintegrating our lost stories and values, our lost ways of being. But where we are at present is a place of fear and uncertainty that can lead to inaction where action is required.
We are then the hunter gatherers who have evolved to greater intelligence and sophisticated culture and domination of the natural world, but have yet to evolve our world views. Like a caterpillar mid transformation, the promise of the butterfly is yet to appear, and some traditionalists want to remain caterpillars, while progressives argue that we are already butterflies. From my perspective I would say we are collectively like Neo in The Matrix, some of us have taken the “reality” pill, while others are as yet undecided, but the future of humanity demands that we both grow up and wake up to ourselves and our world. To remain ignorant is a luxury none of us can afford if we want to survive as species. What we have not done in the modern world is create a new world myth, world religion or world spirituality to replace what we have pulled apart. We are a culture and world obsessed with technology, but we have yet to reconcile our hunter gatherer roots with our techno space age ambitions. No true synthesis of belief system that incorporates our previous ways, meets out genuine needs and integrates with our modern and post-modern technological world view has yet appeared. What we are left with is endless yearning for something undefinable, something just out of reach.
We don’t quite know what that something IS but we know we have the capacity to fulfill any wish or desire we may entertain. The cycle of satisfaction and completion escapes us when we are lost in frivolous pursuits and neglect the essentials of life. We lack a communal world story to match out current living at a world-centric level. Our problems are no longer just local, but global. But our religions and spiritual traditions have remained in the cultural dark ages while our every day reality has blasted off to the the moon and back.
Old time religions where never intended to handle world-centric concerns. It’s like asking a Ford Model T to outperform a V8 Supercar, Formula 1 or Nascar in a race, that old Ford vehicle was NEVER intended for such a task, and is completely incapable of fulfilling that purpose. Our technological progress have outpaced out spiritual progress as a species and few today are capable of even defining what Spirituality even means, instead being lost in petty arguments about whose version of the Truth is more “true”.
Some have tried to synthesize a new world view based on the old world views, but so far attempts at world religions, world spirituality and/or belief systems have failed. And some people would say good, we don’t need it, we are no longer primitives running around with stone and wooden idols making human sacrifices to some god in the hopes that our crops will grow and that we will be successful in slaughtering our enemies/neighbors/friends whose hearts we have literally ripped out while atop our glorious citadels. We have taken the old ways, pulled them apart, claim we understand them and they are redundant in our new scientific world view (Science being the default world religion of today).
There is a clear and present danger in assuming we know everything there is to be known.
That kind of arrogant erroneous thinking led to limited beliefs like the world being flat and that the earth was the center of the known Universe. When some new information comes along that proves how clueless we are as a species, we tend to try and categorise and apply it within old world paradigms. But that is like trying to play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc on a record player, not only does it not work, the technologies are fundamentally incompatible. Retrofitting new world experiences into old world paradigms is a recipe for disaster, if not mass voluntary suicide through ignorance.
Progress through the Sciences is generally met with resistance, ridicule and denial, often one grave at a time. As the old guard dies off, new ideas and theories gain the opportunity to flourish or flounder among younger generations who eventually grow up and replace the old guard completely. When new ideas are suggested, we often view them through the filter of our old world beliefs. But we just metaphorically threw out most of our old ideas, or rejected them as irrelevant back in the beginning of this article – so where does that leave us?
We live in a cultural, religious, scientific and spiritual ghetto.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us with the story of “no story”. It leaves us thinking hey, we are pretty smart, we don’t need all that old cultural junk from pre-modern times, it just held us back, we’re marching boldly forward into the future baby! But what if some of those old ideas and traditions actually held something quite valuable, that we did not recognise. What if amongst the noise of wars, persecution, assassinations, executions and genocide of the old world in the name of the most holy, or whatever King or dictator was flavor of the month – we lost something of our unique cultural story and perspective?
What if we overlooked some very fundamental needs that were addressed through life lessons and fables by those old world stories? What if there were deeper meanings to those stories we learned as children that we would neither understand nor comprehend understand until we were adults and seriously inquire into our inner and outer universe? Another perspective at being at a place of “no story”, is that we are in metaphorical terms at a point of “zero” or infinity. At the point of zero, everything is possible.
Eventually we will have a new cultural mass story, but first our old ways have died like the Dinosaurs, the hazard of moving to zero point is that we lose our traditions and gradual incremental growth oriented changes. Good cultural stories, be they scientific, religious or purely poetic or mythic are like a Trojan Horse. Outwardly they appear as one benign and perhaps beautiful form, while inside they contain something potentially more powerful that may help or harm us. Good stories may act as catalysts, as information that interacts with out unique consciousness to unleash our innate potentials by reminding us of who we are and the life we intended to live before we got distracted by the ‘noise’ of the world. Good stories exist on multiple levels that can speak to different ages and generations. Good stories can have every day simplistic meanings in union with deeper symbolic meanings, every element then becomes essential and we should consciously aim to understand the literal AND symbolic meanings of good stories, we should aim to understand both the simple and the complex in life, valuing both interpretations equally. How we learn and evolve is partly through increasing our simultaneous parallel perspectives on life. The more contrasting and complementary points of view we are able to hold within our own minds at one time the greater our mental model of reality and life becomes. The cyclic journey of our lives appears to be a circle, but from a different perspective the unique story arcs of our individual lives is more akin to a spiral that seemingly overlaps with a return to the resonant themes and motivation of our lives, this spiral then is a growth of our selves in time as we overlap previous versions of ourselves. Sometimes when we seem to be at the end of something in life, we are truly starting from zero with new perspectives. Regression seems to be a step backwards, but our inner and outer journey in life is a series of spirals that bring us full circle through our path of learning with ever deepening meaning and an expanding perspective. A big part of that learning in today’s world is learning not only our own cultural history and traditions, but the history, traditions and ways of life of other cultures. We are only capable of thinking within the dominant paradigms we grew up with in our own culture and passively absorbed as children. While we learn from our mass and individual history, a key point is not to be enslaved to any idea that does not serve our needs for the sake of “tradition”.
Tradition is fundamentally the passing on of daily habit through ritualised repeated behaviors for people who have no access to written records, or are under the rule of an oppressive leader. Tradition and ritual preserve cultural wisdom across all fields, as well as the deeper subtle fields of the inner universe (your own mind), soliciting both beneficial inner states and outward physical action. If we want to expand our personal realities and intelligence then there is a need to learn the ways of people from cultures different than the culture we grew up in, not just their outer actions but how they elicit their inner subjective states, their fundamental relationship to how they perceive the world – while remaining committed to your own learning, expansion of love and not being a slave to any ideas or limited philosophies that oppress humanity along the way.
To transcend and include, but not be held back by anyone or anything. Our devaluation of wisdom traditions and ways of the old world has lead us to feel collectively lost and alone in an existential void, and we try so hard to fill that void with drugs, bad relationships, food, sex, entertainment, or anything else, but it is never enough and does not truly satisfy us. Anything to offer a brief reprieve from that emptiness that we so desperately need to be satisfied, and which can easily be satisfied once we identify that which is essential in life, that which is real and timeless. We collectively lost sight of our traditions as they became more and more perverted through the willful destruction of libraries, perversions of sacred teachings by rulers who seek to control the masses, genocides, wars, gaps in the passing down of traditions, or that good old standby – mad power mongers and super-villain like rulers with iron fists who tear down culture and tradition in the name of their own inflated ego or anti-life philosophy. Think Dr. Doom, Thanos, Darkseid, Stalin, Hitler etc. To destroy the will and heart of a people, you take away their culture, you take away, destroy or pervert their personal story. You break the will and the Spirit of people be denying them their basic freedoms and sowing seeds of doubt and mistrust in their own minds about who they fundamentally are in their heart of hearts.
I don’t have the answers, just an inquiring mind that never rests – and I do not suggest you look for the answer to life’s biggest questions in a Hollywood movie. But, in the existential wasteland we live in contributed to by deconstructionism and a post-modern rational scientific world view there now exists a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. Something will come along to fill it, it may be good or bad, but what that something is we do not know.
The future arrives one day at a time, and it is not all hover boards, DeLorean’s and sports almanacs. Part of what has stepped into that existential void we currently live in is modern superhero cinema. It is only one contender, one idea in the ring, and it is not the only idea out there. Superhero cinema in no way replaces or meets our actual needs in life, and I do not mean to suggest it does. Superhero cinema does not replace genuine Spirituality or man’s search for for or relationship with God in any way.
I believe that Superhero cinema can be inspiring, uplifting, but also remind us of own potential for greatness, and inspire us to live out not only our grandest dreams, but to co-operate with others, to be considerate and be of service however we can in life.
When I watch the old Star Trek shows, I see a human race that bickers and fights amongst itself, but I see a human race that is ultimately united in their mission and purpose. Good science fiction, fantasy and superhero stories can help to remind us that we are one human race, one big family, and the sooner we learn that lesson, the more can co-operate and work together creatively instead of inventing new ways to slaughter each other. I love when fiction reminds us of that possibility. For to manifest out hearts desire we must first see that desire as possible, we must imagine a future grander than any Star Trek like utopia where humanity functions as a healthy whole organism, as symbiotic organisms that live with the earth and its many species rather than as parasites or viruses who attack their host. The hero archetype and myth is as old as time itself, the particular superhero evolution of the hero archetype is just another spin on a timeless tale. Whether the hero/heroine and superhero/superheroine archetype is one that ultimately serves us or holds us back as a species, as a culture is really up to us. Where we place our values, what we invest our time and efforts in ultimately determines the direction of our lives.
The Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell is a fascinating, deep, insightful and meaningful work. However that work comments on the past, on what is and has been. As valuable as it is, it only a beginning. It can only tell us where we have been, and not where we are going. The Hero’s journey is one of common tropes across different cultures in different times identified within a patriarchal paradigm that displaces female power by necessity. Whether we continue to define the Heroine and Superheroine in male terms, as reactions to male power, rather than finding the authentic voice of feminine power and strength within women and men as we live today, and incorporate that into our stories and new mythologies is up to us. The re-emergence of the suppressed divine Goddess within all of us is long overdue. Living as we currently do is psychologically unbalanced for both sexes, how and when we address that issue is up to us as individuals and as communities. Men need to be able to express their emotions and follow their intuition, Women need to be able to stand up as self-confident empowered individuals and equals, and not as merely reactions to perceived male power.
Each of us must do the hard inner work of acknowledging and allowing healthy expression of the male and female aspects of the psyche within each of us. Collectively we must work to embody our deepest values in the outer world as free thinking and feeling men and women. Perhaps it is time on this planet for the artificial battle of the sexes to come to an end, and instead be replaced by a genuine equality and co-operation that we have never known in modern times. It is up to us to create, model and live that way of being, and to refuse to back away from the challenge.
We should not remain prisoners of the past, or outmoded ways of living, merely because what is new and different may at first be frightening and strange to us. Life is change and motion, evolution and growth whether we want it to be or not. We can resist the flow of life, or move along with the beat of the evolutionary impulse within our hearts.
So within the existing cultural and explicitly sexist paradigm of the Patriarchy we currently live in, I feel several significant films have come along that attempt to address our unmet need for myth, meaning and story in our lives. I am not saying that they satisfy our genuine needs, or that movies should ever take the place of genuine wisdom – just that one offshoot of the never ending evolution of story telling has appeared in a popular format that speaks to the masses.
Inspiring films are a complement to, rather than a replacement of our other activities in life. However, while good, these films also fail to integrate feminine energy, to integrate authentic feminine voice and power, despite however seemingly progressive some of them may be. Storytelling, like most other arts has become so commercialized that we barely recognise its roots and origins. The films that we find satisfying not only as pure entertainment and escapism, all have deeper philosophical meanings layered within their narrative structure.
The films I feel that best meet this criteria for putting an emphasis on myth and magic, on Science and Spirit – and this is not a complete list, just well known films that fit the bill that I happen to like a lot – are Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Rocky (1976), The Matrix (1999), X-Men (2000) Spider-Man (2002), Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008) and The Avengers (2012). I could have chosen others, but these films were seen by enough people that even those who have never seen them have at least heard of the characters, and all of these films feature archetypal heroic stories. Part of the appeal of modern hero and superhero cinema is the very primal, fundamental way in which the films attempt to address our need for stories, myths and cultural narrative. Whether Rocky, Batman or the Avengers, superhero cinema is a celebration of old world traditional values (but not Dogma) wrapped up in a shiny new package. Superhero cinema tells the timeless tale of heroes and heroines rising and triumphing over adversity, growing in wisdom and knowledge to meet life’s challenges, and offering their unique gifts in service to the world – rather than sinking away into depression and feelings of powerlessness. What constitutes the core values of a Hero or Superhero, what makes them a hero in the old world sense is the quest, facing adversity, victory etc. A hero in our modern context in my view however is not so much about any particular quest.
The hero I most often think of and admire is Batman. His quest is ordinary and never ending.
He can never win, his quest will never finish, he can never win, it is by definition impossible. Yet he fulfills his duty anyway, not because of any external rewards, not for any magical swords or fair maidens or the love of the people. Batman gives his gifts selflessly, because there is a genuine need for him in Gotham City. But more than that, Batman is simply who Bruce Wayne is. Batman is Bruce Wayne’s calling in life, it is his mission, sole purpose and primary focus in life to be Batman, along with everything that represents.
As an avatar of darkness and shadows, Batman makes the unknown known, he makes the unconscious conscious, shedding light on the ugliest parts of humanity that we refuse to see, acknowledge or integrate.
Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our mind and soul, of how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them towards our highest good.
What I love about Batman, or Spider-Man or the Avengers is that they knowingly face certain death and impossible situations, yet they boldly march forward, because being a hero is what is in their DNA, it defines who they are. Heroes in my mind are selfless individuals who serve the needs of others not just out of a sense of duty or responsibility, but because they genuinely care about the welfare of others.
They are heroes not just because they choose to be, but because they don’t know how NOT to be Heroes, they don’t know how to shut off their humanity or to suppress their feelings, so instead they must be who they are. The heroic movies may focus on spectacle and action, but the heart of a hero is forged in the crucible of testing their values against adversity while not compromising themselves. A hero then is one who serves others and lives by their core values, their own moral code and not by the laws of the nation, and is not motivated by external forces. A hero follows what is in their heart, what they know to be true, and a true hero does what they do out of love for humanity, out of love for life. This article is a long one and I I have plenty more to say on this topic, so I’ve broken it up into two parts – stay tuned for PART#2, where I will discuss the themes and the cool bits of each of the films I just mentioned in detail. I’ll be talking about Rocky and Batman, X-Men and other great characters. Stick around, you’ll be glad you did!
Batman is American mythology. It’s a child’s character that also matures with us as we grow. There are various interpretations for each stage of development. It’s a human hero that endures, who is flawed but triumphs. His heart, his drive and yes that dark side that most people never admit to having. Bottom line, Batman is cool. There’s no arguing that!
-Kevin Porter (Bat in the Sun cosplayer)
Whether historical figures or purely fictional characters, the hero, superhero and savior archetypes show up again and again in human history within our various diverse cultural narratives.
There are many perspectives what role the hero, superhero and savior archetypes have to play within our own lives.
Each perspective is neither right nor wrong, but any perspective is true for the person who holds it, for any person who feels in their heart what is true, is true for them.
But this personal truth is only a partial truth, a valid part of a larger whole. We have trouble when the partial truth claims to be the whole truth, or claims that other contrasting partial truths are invalid.
Heroic figures are generally thought of as beneficial, but heroic figures can also be self serving. There is no moral prerequisite nor absolute standard for a hero, and some historical figures who were considered criminals in their day or even terrorists are later labelled heroes in retrospect.
In Detective Comics #27 Batman is clearly a criminal who operates outside of the law.
In Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Batman could reasonably be labelled a fascist terrorist. Yet he is still heroic.
A hero is typically called a “hero” by an invested party, an observer or witness.
A heroic act performed without a witness is just an ordinary action. A hero without a witness is just a person performing an action, free of labels or judgement.
Some obvious questions arise when we evoke the archetype of hero, superhero and savior.
Is a savior here to “save us”, and if so, from what?
Do we need to be saved? Are we not capable of realising our own potentials without this archetype? Should we rely on heroes to save us, or should we be more self reliant?
Should we seek to become heroes ourselves, or to become like heroes through emulating their example?
How does a savior or hero know what is best for other people? Did they go to hero school, should we listen to them or ignore their advice? Is their agenda the best possible choice in a given circumstance, or just a partial truth within a larger whole?
Another view on the hero, superhero and savior archetypes are as figures of inspiration.
In the realm of inspiration Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao-tzu, Superman and Wonder Woman are equally important.
Some people would be offended at this idea, that a fictional character could be as important as a historical religious figure. Then again, some would argue all of them are fictional characters.
I am not here to debate the historical evidence for whether Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other religious figures actually ever existed, or were even retellings of the same basic composite story in different cultures as some theories suggest.
When we read a story that we find inspiring, whether it was a literal account of objectively verifiable events that actually happened, or a pure fiction invented by a writer, both experiences are within our mind.
That inspiration is within our own mind, that feeling of inspiration resonates within our body. No matter HOW it got there, once there, that inspiration is “true” for us, the feeling experienced is real, any action that may follow from that feeling exists independent of whether the path that lead to the feeling began as fact or fiction. This is what I mean when I say that inspiring figures and stories are equally important to us, and the source is less important, but still significant.
Not just what we do, but “how we are”, is what people respond to. Our heroes and savior figures have magic about them, they stand out in some way, but the greatest of them remind us of our own potential for greatness. A true hero uplifts and inspires others, and asks nothing in return.
The old adage of one mans’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist can easily be applied to the hero, superhero and savior archetypes.
A vigilante hero such as Batman serves his own ends and operates outside of the law, although he does sometimes co-operate with law enforcement via Jim Gordon. Ultimately while Batman serves his own brand of personal Justice, he is answerable to no authority but himself.
Superman while also basically a criminal who operates outside of the law, is not a vigilante in traditional terms. He frequently co-operates with law enforcement and emergency services.
While he can also be said to be serving himself, his collaborations with authorities suggest he serves the greater good, or the will of the nation in the best sense. In his first incarnation he was a champion of the people, of the oppressed underclasses, typically the migrant workers of 1930s America. Batman motivates through fear, Superman motivates through hope.
Later during World War II Superman (along with Wonder Woman and to a lesser extent Batman) became more nationalistic icons, and would actively be associated with pushing “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. The American Way part was added on, and not part of Superman’s first appearances. Later still Superman became the figurehead of a corporation, and an ambassador of superheroes, comic books and any characters that wear tights, underwear on the outside and a chevron on their chest.
Superman’s famous “S” shield on his chest would become known more as a logo, as a brand to be slapped on products, rather than symbolic of a dynamic figure of strength, courage and virtue as represented in his original incarnation.
There is no virtue in a product with an “S” shield logo on it. But in a consumer society where we often feel powerless and disenfranchised, we feel that maybe something of the Superman magic will rub off on us if we wear the logo on a Tshirt, or buy the Superman toy or statue. The irony being that Superman who once inspired and stood for moral values, virtue and hero-ness became just another product in the machine of capitalism to be mindlessly consumed. Another cog in the merciless amoral machine of consumerism.
Of course it need not be that way, despite the commercialization of the Superheroes, they are still available as figures of inspiration if we choose to view them that way, if we look into their very essence, they are still have the same resonance and power to inspire they always did. We just forgot this inspirational quality by turning out attention to the products and icons, the outer form, the package, rather than the inner essence, the real substance of life.
Frank Miller plays up the relevance or meaninglessness of the forgotten icon of Superman in Dark Knight Returns, where Superman has become a boy scout for the government. He mindlessly follows their orders to keep the peace and not make any waves in a world that like Allan Moore’s Watchmen and Marvel’s Civil War, has basically made it illegal to be a superhero.
Superman only exists as a government pawn to promote whatever agenda they see fit. While Superman may have objections, he chooses to submit his will to the government for what he perceives to be the greater good. He surrenders his Godhood and unfathomable power to the will of the nation.
Frank Miller’s version of Superman is a god, or at least a deity. His portrayal as bowing down to the government makes him a coward in the eyes of the author (Miller), and significantly in the eyes of Batman whom Miller speaks through in teh story. Superman and Batman’s differences lead to their inevitable confrontation towards the end of the story arc. The battle while very visceral and physical, is not so much a traditional Superhero slug-fest battle, as a battle of the difference in Superman and Batman’s core ideologies. This makes the anticipation reach a fever pitch in a way the typical Thing vs Hulk or Red Hulk vs Thor battle never achieves.
Superman sees the government – even a corrupt oppressive government – as basically good. Batman sees the government as rotten slave masters, as oppressive enemies no less of a threat than the invading Persians Leonidas faces in Miller’s 300 graphic novel. Batman in Miller’s eyes is not just a hero, but a soldier who fights for the true freedom of the people, with uncompromising integrity. Miller’s Batman is a militaristic hero who values the freedom of the individual, while Superman is the coward who yields to the whip of the empire, and all its enslavement, and oppression of free will and eradication of individuality.
Superman’s “Justice” (in Dark Knight Returns) serves the homogeneous mass of humanity, the individual must serve the state unquestioningly, a gross perversion of Spock’s immortal spiritually intentioned words in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few”.
Batman’s “Justice” serves the individual, he fights for the free thinking and feeling rights of the individual, in his view government and all companies or corporations must serve rather than dictate to the individual.
Both views are valid but partial truths, part of a larger whole. A synthesis of seemingly opposing ideas may lead to greater understanding and more “truth”. But only in open dialogue and through freedom of expression, intentionally looking at another’s point of view we disagree with, and looking for the benefits of that point of view. This synthesis can not be arrived at by force or coercion, but only through open minds and heart, if we are willing.
Often examining contrasting ideas in parallel, rather than in opposition can lead to greater understanding. Neuroscience refers to the human brain as a self-organising system of patterns. Edward DeBono also uses that same terminology in his works and the practical applications DeBono frequently talks about in his numerous books including Parallel Thinking and Edward DeBono’s Thinking Course.
“Studies have shown that 90% of errors in thinking are due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas.”
“Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.” – Edward DeBono
Edward DeBono makes some bold claims, and they are backed up by several decades of research and application in various institutions including various corporations and schools around the globe. Although as with any progressive thinker, some academics criticise his solutions to various problems.
Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven – Edward DeBono
Superman and Batman, while old friends, basically act as archetypal ciphers in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, giving voice to one of the oldest arguments in history. What is more important, the needs of the “individual” or “the many”?
Both the individual and the many are valid but partial truths. Both the individual and society are important, one does not invalidate the other. Both views are part of a large whole, but an intentional shift in perspective is needed to get beyond the ideological argument. When viewed within a larger context the superficial argument becomes redundant, ultimately because we all need each other.
Society would grind to a halt without the co-operation of hundreds if not thousands of individuals that make our every day lives possible.
Societies need infrastructure that benefits the citizens, the government needs citizens to vote for them to act as their representatives (for better or worse) and individuals need their equality and freedom of choice to act as genuine human beings, not as robots nor slaves in an uncaring machine.
No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves – Native American Proverb
Savior figures, real or imagined, whether Superman, Lao-Tzu or Jesus, we encounter them as ideas within our own minds and hearts. None of them can we meet in physical form. If we are inspired by the example of their teachings, their beliefs, attitude and moral example, or their very Being, their very presence, then that is a rich inner experience as valid as any other in life.
The form inspiration may take can be infinite. One person reads a religious text or commentary and encounters an inspiring figure, another person reads Superman or Harry Potter and finds an inspiring figure or role model to emulate.
Of course the flaw here is that someone may find a flawed or even down right bad role model and emulate them. We need look no further than actors, rock stars, professional athletes and musicians for examples of lives dominated by external appearances, shallow ego worship, rampant drug addiction and glorification of false or misleading values.
The question remains do we need saviors to save or fix us?
Do we need to rely on heroes as a psychological dependency or are we leaping into the future by imagining our own greatest potential as popular entertainment? I can’t answer that question for anyone. It is highly personal, and speaks to the needs of unique individuals, not to impersonal masses.
In traditional “God of Abraham” narratives, there is a fall from grace for humanity. The Adam and Eve story brings temptation, knowledge of good and evil, and self as “other”, as separate from God, and sin. The modern context of sin is often rendered as bad, evil, flawed or imperfect. The historical roots of the word in the English language “sin” come from archery, where to sin meant to miss. To miss the mark, make the error of not hitting the target. In contrast Semitic languages have multiple meanings and synonyms for Sin that imply evil acts, or wrong acts.
In other religious traditions such as Buddhism and the Baha’i Faith human beings are not seen as inherently sinful or flawed, but as inherently good, as inherently Buddha-like. Human beings are seen as inherently loving and full of light and other airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo that is often meaningless and impractical to our daily lives. But one look at a mother breast feeding her newborn baby is all the evidence I need to know that we are ultimately lovers here to learn, grow and express ourselves.
Whether we are religious or not, the cultural narrative of the society we each live in is often dominated by one religion, one hand me down belief system or another. So by proxy we adopt some of those mass cultural beliefs unconsciously as children, and if as adults we never question those beliefs, then we assume them to be true and they colour our perception of the world. Those hand me down beliefs we inherited within our culture inform our perception of both our inner non-physical self (or self-image) and how we perceive our outer physical world.
We may forego the traditional religious savior figure or superhero and instead make a political figure, rock star or musician into a savior, putting all sorts of expectation upon them that they can not possibly fulfill.
To grow into an adult means to let go of our limited perceptions and beliefs like a snake shedding its own skin, constantly being reinvented and renewed by the unrelenting thrust of life to grow, move forward and evolve into new shades of complexity.
Wherever we are as individuals is just fine. We grow whether we want to or not. Some of us feel the need to look up to inspiring figures, some feel a need to be those inspiring figures for other people. While others have no interest in the idea whatsoever. Each are valid choices, and one woman’s choice does not negate anothers. One mans ignorance or wisdom does not affect the person next to him, unless he actively promotes a particular ideology.
So is humanity deeply flawed, broken and sinful? Or is humanity inherently loving, are we angels and gods who have forgotten their wings? Does it need to be one or the other?
I don’t see life as a binary either/or choice, but a rich infinitely complex sphere of activity that constantly evolves into greater complexity with infinite simultaneous points of view. A kaleidoscope like holographic Matrix simulation of greater and lesser densities of light refracted into human bodies and brains that think they are thinking, a universe of space where atoms spin so fast they appear to be solid, but if that spin slowed down or if we could change the vibration of our molecules we could walk through walls just like The Flash. Where if densities changed we could jump through the air like Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk.
A dancing universe of infinite beauty that is inherently, more than anything, alive and intelligent, forever expanding, and re-experiencing itself to infinity and beyond. But that is just my limited partial subjective truth, and I may be completely wrong.
Superheroes and Saviors to me are fine, inspiring figures. Do we NEED them? I don’t know, perhaps we do. But let us imagine we don’t need them for a moment, even then I’d still like them to be around, I don’t want them to go away. I don’t want any reminder of our own greatest potential to go away or be forgotten. The names don’t matter to me, I find inspiration in many different figures, each adds something to my personal world view. I’ve had nor shortage of friends of various religious faiths, while not being religious myself. I have also managed to offend pretty much all of those friends at some point with my views, but remained friends despite our differences. Is variety not the spice of life? In my experience, I learn best from experiencing great contrasts. Different foods, different religions and cultural values and practices. Different races and ideologies.
Getting back on topic, in one possible view, we rely on the savior to fix us, make us whole or worthy. In contrast the inspirational view is that we become more like the savior figure. Of course these are just two limited perspectives, there are other valid perspectives, but my objective is not to state them all here and now.
One mode is worship and adoration, with no challenge to grow.
Another mode is emulation, becoming more like the savior figure, and not relying on them to “do” anything, other than be who they already are.
When we consciously model teachers and mentors, we learn their best attributes and apply them to our own lives. But when we worship heroes and savior figures (be it Jesus or Superman [a.k.a. space Jesus], or some idiotic celebrity) we do nothing to evolve our own intelligence, we neither learn nor grow as adults.
But man has need of stories to dramatise events and big ideas in a way that captures his imagination. Darth Vader is much more compelling than the abstract concept of squandered potential, turning to evil and subsequent redemption, or at least forgiveness.
Batman is a hell of lot more dramatic a tale of personal loss, tragedy strength, will-power and vigilante-ism than just mere words can convey. Jesus is still my favourite story of the embodiment of kindness, love and forgiveness. Avalokiteśvara (the weirdo below with 1000 arms to help 1000 people) is my most inspiring personal embodiment of Compassion and selfless service to others.
Whether super heroes, bible stories, or ancient myths and legends all are equally compelling and full of parallels. To me this speaks not to any grand truths on any one topic, but to mans need to tell stories. To project his self through time in mythological narratives that carry the best (and worst) messages of a culture down through the ages. From mimicking our heroes as children to emulating them as adults, they are always there to inspire us and help carry us forward.
We ignore our cultural stories, religions, myths and history at our own peril. If we feel that we are not affected by such antiquated notions as stories passed down from our ancestors, then we are willfully ignorant of our heritage.
Each of us has our own personal narrative, we are the main character in our own individual life story, with everyone else in supporting roles. Of course, to another person, they are the main character in their life story, and we are the supporting player.
If you think this post is building to some intelligent and insightful conclusion, well I only have pre-packaged disappointment for you. But at least it didn’t cost you anything. Other than the time it took to get to this sentence, unless you skipped down from the top, in which case shame on you! If you were hoping to be inspired or saved by the end of the post, well that is not what I am here for, your own personal inspiration is where ever you may find it, and always available to you if you truly look.
Some guy a long time ago talked about living from our hearts, I forget his name, or the words. But I remember the feeling it inspired in me. The feeling of looking within your own heart, and following its call. So far, my heart has never steered me wrong in life, I know of no greater way to heed the call of inspiration than by finding it in the mundane and everyday, in the here and now.
To me all of life is inspired and sacred, especially YOU, so never forget it.
You are unique and one of a kind and destined never to be repeated.
I don’t know what inspiration looks like, but it feels like this picture of Felix the cat, it spills out of you and no container in the universe can ever hold it. It is the flame of flames, your heart of hearts, the infinite wisdom of inspiration is available to you at all times, it flows like a river through you and can not be stopped by any external forces.
Batman’s weakness isn’t kryptonite, silver, or some otherworldly thing: it’s his own, very human nature. And that’s part of what makes him so compelling.
Sure, Batman sometimes acts as a savior stand-in. But for the most part, he’s not a Messiah figure. He’s us.
– Paul Asay, God on the Streets of Gotham: What the Big Screen Batman Can Teach Us about God and Ourselves
Sometimes I like to imagine “What If…? Carl Jung Had Survived Into Our Modern Day” and if he did, who would be his favourite superhero?
Maybe he found the secret fountain of youth, the cosmic cube or I don’t know, the Tardis, it doesn’t really matter. The answer of course to who our man Carl’s favourite superhero would be is obvious, it would be Batman.
Wait a minute… who the heck is Carl Jung?
Why he’s a world famous Swiss Psychiatrist, an explorer of the human psyche, a boffin, a super deep thinker and an all around genius, whose work has influenced not only psychotherapy but the worlds and studies of religion, art and literature and popular culture – that’s who.
Joseph Campbell used some of Jung’s ideas in his magnum opus “The Hero’s Journey”. Joseph Campbell was friends with George Lucas, you know that guy who made Star Wars and used Joseph Campbell’s theory of the “Hero’s Journey” as the model for the way to tell the story. So yeah, now basically ever Superhero film ever uses the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, whether they know it or not.
A lot of Hollywood writers have actually read and applied “The Writer’s Journey – Mythic Structure for Writers” by Christopher Vogler, which is basically a cliff notes version of Jung and Campbells works as applied to screen writing and popular fiction. Batman Begins used the “Hero’s Journey” as a model for the mythic structure of the story, and it is a big part of why the movie was so gosh darn awesome.
“Carl Gustav Jung often referred to as C. G. Jung, was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies. He was a prolific writer, though many of his works were not published until after his death.
The central concept of analytical psychology is individuation—the psychological process of integrating the opposites, including the conscious with the unconscious, while still maintaining their relative autonomy. Jung considered individuation to be the central process of human development.
Jung created some of the best known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and extraversion and introversion.” – Wikipedia
This article then, explorers the mind / psyche of Batman, one of literature’s richest, most well developed, popular and resonant characters. It is very long, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t have the stamina and endurance of Batman to read it on one sitting. But by the time you get to end, your mind muscles will be well exercised.
Of all the costumed adventurers and dual-identity characters, Batman has the most psychological depth to him. Plus, he’s the coolest character in town. He embodies the kind of effortlessly cool and heroic bad boy attitude epitomised by the likes of James Dean and Bruce Lee. Batman exists in the upper echelons of timeless iconic pop-culture figures, and seems destined to remain there. I can see Carl Jung spending five minutes with Superman, then getting rather bored and hanging out for the day with Batman.
Carl Jung put forth many ideas in his numerous volumes of work. One of the more popular ideas was his popularization of concepts such as individuation, a process of healthy integration of the various aspects of one’s psyche, such as the archetypes of the self, which we encounter through the recurring symbolic imagery of archetypal characters, events and motifs. The hero who goes on a quest. The religious figure who goes to hell and heaven, or the underworld and limbo. The mother who raises children and personifies the love of God/Goddess and life energy.
Taken symbolically, rather than literally, Jung’s ideas provide a useful framework for looking at stages of our own life. Conveniently, those same ideas can be applied to works of popular culture such as novels, films, comic books etc. Anything with a story really -for when we want to explore the depths of a character, the themes in their stories, and see how we relate to them. Not all stories can be viewed in Jungian terms, some stories really just don’t fit that mould. Perhaps Batman doesn’t fit that mould, but Batman is pretty damn cool, and I think I ought to give it a go, for this is not the blog Batman asked for, but the blog that Batman deserves. That is Jung up there on the right and left smoking his pipe and pontificating on the mysteries of the Batman in what I can only imagine would have been a very dull issue of the Brave and the Bold involving too much talk and not enough punching crime in the face.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to Jung’s psychological theories, he was constantly expanding and refining his ideas, adding a bit here, throwing something out there. So there is no sense in being dogmatic about his ideas when discussing and applying them to ourselves and the stories we tell. For the sake of simplicity however, I’ll throw out some basic ideas here, that are generally well known and applied critically to popular film and literature. But this article is by no means intended to be a definitive explanation of Jung’s ideas on individuation and archetypes nor Batman. It is written as a playful exploration of ideas, and nothing more.
When we talk about the “Hero’s Journey”, then we are are talking about the work of Joseph Campbell, who was a friend and commentator on Jung’s work and theories, so it is only natural that the ideas of the two friends blended together as they are applied in today’s world towards film criticism and theory. Jung specialised in the mind or psyche, and motivations for human behavior, formulating ideas about archetypes or predictable culture free specific patterns that humanity followed in its development through stages of life.
Campbell specialiased in the journey in life that a person, or hero takes, rich with all of life’s symbolic meanings and parallels told through myth and story across many cultures throughout history. That journey or monomyth Campbell described typically involved several stages in a cycle. I’m not going to cover every aspect of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but just give a brief outline, a further exploration of his ideas will be a topic for another article.
The hero is typically called to adventure, refuses the quest, meets a mentor, and travels beyond the ordinary world into the unknown. This may involve actual travel or not, symbolically the hero journeys into their own mind, to confront death and their greatest fears. Having conquered their fears, they gain some type of power, sometimes a special artifact such as a magical sword or talisman, which symbolises self-knowledge.
The hero returns to the ordinary world to be of service to their community or nation. Heroes who never accept the quest, fail the quest, or complete the quest but do not render service and serve only themselves can be called failed or fallen heroes. Characters such as Darth Vader or Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day) are examples of failed heroes, who have failed or abandoned their quest at various stages and given in to their own darkness, refusing to reach full maturity, choosing to serve their own needs, rather than the needs of others.
Carl Jung talked about individuation as being the integration of the various elements of one’s psyche, which include the Ego (surface personality), Persona (the mask we present to the world, our false face of conformity and social obligation) the Shadow (our dark side, all our hidden, naughty or traumatic repressed secrets, feelings and primal life instincts, sex, death, birth). The Self, unified whole that connects consciousness and unconsciousness, it is the light that shines in darkness until it becomes so bright that there is no more darkness, nothing more hidden from awareness. Then there is the Anima and Animus, the aspects of the unconscious mind or true self in males and females.
The Anima is the female part of the male psyche. The Animus is the male part of the female psyche. Ignoring these or any other aspects of ourselves means seeing the opposite sex as objects, or opposites, rather than complementary to one another. The integrated psyche in Jung’s theories is a healthy mind that represses no part of itself, and is fully aware of its various elements, whether literally or symbolically. A mind or person that is at peace with their higher mind or intellect, embraces intuition and heart feelings, feels their emotions deeply, is empowered by their sex and animal instincts. Nothing is hidden or repressed.
Now let us take a look at [Jung’s ] ideas about the individual, as they may apply to a popular fictional character we all know and love who wears a black cape.
Let’s start with the fun stuff. Hands up who remembers Darth Vader? Okay, of course you do, we’re going to talk about him for a bit, hope you don’t mind, we’ll get back to Batman soon enough. Darth Vader provides a good contrast and parallel to Batman of a character who has embraced darkness, but uses it for evil rather than good. What was it that Vader gave into? Too easy, his dark side of course.
The Shadow self in Jung’s theories is the unknown that the hero journeys into when confronting their own subconscious mind. When Luke fought himself in the cave on Dagobah – you know the cave with the fifty dollar smoke machine that somebody left on overnight – he literally was facing his own dark impulses and the part of him that might become like his father. This was one of his greatest fears “I will never become like you Father” or whatever the heck young Skywalker said, it was something along those lines.
Visually, we see Luke fighting Vader in the smoke machine cave, but of course he is fighting his own dark impulses, which he is afraid of. Entering the cave is a metaphor for Luke going into his own subconscious mind. Seems like a waste of time if you ask me, he could have been ridding the galaxy of those annoying Ewoks as Skywalker Pest Control one light-sabre swipe at a time instead of “discovering” himself like a whiny self-indulgent teenager, but let us move on.
Now, this Vader guy of course never completed the hero’s journey, which meant returning from the Shadow and integrating its power into his whole self. If you imagine Vader fighting himself in a dark and cheesy smoke machine cave, well then he lost that battle to his Shadow. Vader never literally fought himself in any of the Star Wars movies of course, I only use that idea here as an example of how Vader gave in to his negative Shadow.
Darth Vader’s Shadow self was all his core values (good and bad) pain, trauma, evil thoughts and intentions, ambitions, and impulses. He gave in to those impulses and let the negative aspect of the Shadow self take over.
Just because Vader was a total bad ass, does not mean that our Shadow is bad or evil. The Shadow is a necessary part of our psyche that represents our individual subconscious mind in the collective unconscious of humanity. The Shadow is neutral like fire or water, you can swim in water and have a great time, or you can drown in it, or be burned by fire instead of cooking a tasty meal for dinner. The trick is to know how to harness these natural forces for our own use, rather than get consumed by them or obsessed with the power of our Shadow for its own sake.
While in the case of Vader going over to the dark side meant giving in to the negative side of his Shadow and subconscious mind, it doesn’t have to be that way. Our personal subconscious is also the place of sex, survival and life instincts. Without the primal forces that shape us, life would cease to have meaning. However if we were ruled entirely by these primal forces then we would live as animals, rather than living as free thinking and feeling human beings.
In classic folk tales and psychoanalytic theory, the subconscious mind has been something to be afraid of, a dark depository of everything bad and wrong about us, or at the very least strange, unusal and unpredictable. Take for example Alice in Wonderland, which was originally titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” in the first short version, before the full length story was written. Wonderland was a synonym for “Underland”, meaning the place beneath, or the subconscious mind. The place where dreams and the intuitive spontaneous self have been wrongfully imprisoned out of fear, rather than integrated into a whole healthy individual. Whatever we deny or repress we give power to, and when it erupts like a Volcano into our lives, we are rightly afraid of this torrent of mental “stuff” that seems so unwelcome in one hit, but is better digested in small bite size chunks.
Like playing with fire, if we go messing around in our own mind, we may get burned by the memory of old pains and trauma, reliving it, or at least some would suggest that this is so. It is fair to say that if someone has been through massive trauma – war, poverty, starvation, loss of a family member etc, that the last thing they want to do is go stirring up all the dirt in their mind.
Even the very labels of subconcious or unconscious mind (interchangeable terms, although for this article Jung’s Universal Unconscious implies a vast network of non-physical minds or quantum information that make up the collective potential and knowledge of humanity) implies that is it something unknowable, or below our every day awareness. This is really a fallacy, as any part of our mind is open to us, should we bother looking. The very term unconscious mind creates false beliefs in people that lead them to feel cut off from the very deepest parts of themselves.
Talking to a professional therapist is one valid way to let go and process our emotions in a healthy way, in a safe context free of judgement and fear of reprisal. However, this is rather costly and impractical for most people. Many individuals find their own way to process their own trauma, through meditation, yoga, alternative therapies, encounter groups and numerous other methods with varying results.
The association of the subconscious mind as the storehouse of past trauma, leads us to believe that it is too dangerous to go messing around in by ourselves, hence this is why in mythic tales the hero must follow a mentor or guide so they do not get lost in their journey or burned by the flame of Gnosis or knowledge. However, trauma is not the only reason to explore our own minds.
If we never explore our inner selves, then we are no more human beings than mindless automatons, full of reactions and pre-conceived ideas about life. If we rely only on guides however, if we passively wait for someone to guide us or fix us, we never become mature self-reliant adults. We must become our own hero and explorer of our own minds, if we are to be healthy, sane mature adults.
The subconscious mind is not something to be feared, but embraced, this is a key defining point in Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman. Bruce learns to make friends of pain, fear and uncertainty. In short he makes the unknown known through the light of introspection and facing ones fear and primal urges and instincts. He joins his most base impulses with wisdom and discipline, becoming a master of his own mind and body. He transforms his own pain and uses it as fuel for awakening to his own greater potential and his quest in life, to become the Batman, and war on crime.
In the example of Darth Vader, he never completed his journey. He stopped at the Shadow self, and embraced that as his new Persona – the face he presented to the world. But he also gave in to the wild energy of the Shadow not just in the outer physical world, but in his heart. Vader was no longer human. He underwent his transformation from a human Jedi warrior into an unthinking and unfeeling cyborg, more man than machine, but this happened first in his own heart, and then his body followed his inner most impulses and desires, to be inhuman, to give up his emotions and feelings.
Vader giving into his Shadow self is symbolic of modern man’s over emphasis on intellect, logic and rational thought, at the expense of all else. The mechanical modern man is a creature of thought and the head, who has cut himself off from the female aspect of heart, emotion, intuition, love and devotion to and respect for all life.
Only when the forces of head and heart combine, are we fully human. Otherwise, like Darth Vader we are denying an essential part of ourselves.
Fear disowned is a destructive choice, both emotionally and spiritually. It leads to all-too-happy spiritualities with beings who seek only the light. Fear starts to drive their being unconsciously. We end up seeking only goodness and pleasantness in order to avoid pain and fear. But this is not the way. The truth is:
“To conquer fear, you must become fear”
Fear owned and embodied is a form of awakening. Batman is therefore a Realizer of Awakening through the form of Fear – Chris Dierkes
In the comic book story Batman: Ego, writer/artist Darwyn Cooke explores Batman’s Shadow and Egoic self. Bruce has a dialogue with a demonic primal shadow entity that has the face of Batman, minus anything human.
The entity tells hims that he is the very heart of Bruce, not just a persona or costume that he can just take off or walk away from. Bruce refuses the claims and when the Batman entity demands that Bruce give himself over to him, to let him have free reign and kill the Joker, Bruce refuses. The entity then says that he will drive Bruce insane, or alternatively Bruce can kill himself, as the wraith like Bat entity refuses to let go of its hold on Bruce Wayne’s mind.
Bruce begrudgingly realises that the Batman entity is an inescapable part of himself, that cannot be denied or suppressed. However he will not give himself over completely, he will not become a killer and a maniac like the super-villains he hunts. Instead Bruce makes a bargain with the Batman entity (his Subconscious mind, his Shadow) that each will live their part of the life of Bruce Wayne and The Batman. When Bruce puts the mask on he gives himself over to The Batman, the dark primal figure who terrorises criminals in the night. It is basically the same scene where Luke sees Vader (his own fears) in the cave on Dagobah.
In Cooke’s story, Bruce encounters his very real fears symbolically through his Shadow. Realising the undeniable power of his Shadow Bruce Wayne moves through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
He knows his Shadow cannot be denied and instead comes to an acceptance of this part of his psyche. Bruce integrates the aspects of the subconscious that he may have otherwise suppressed and denied or given himself over to and become a killer. He strikes a balance. Without the integration of his Shadow self, Bruce would always be living a lie, torn between two worlds – his desire to be the dutiful son of philanthropists Thomas and Martha Wayne, and his burning desire for vengeance, justice and righting wrongs as Batman. How does Bruce accomplish this integration of his psyche? Through allowing, non-resistance, through willing submission to his own Shadow self, but only on the terms that work for him, thus integrating his Shadow in a positive way, rather than giving in to the negative demands of his Shadow self like Darth Vader did.
Some parts of the tale Ego are a little clumsy, and Cooke is rather critical of his own story in the introduction to the collected edition of Batman: Ego. However, the story is unique, and addresses something that other Batman stories really only hint at by tackling it head on.
Did Bruce Wayne really choose to be Batman, or was he incapable of NOT being Batman?
Were the conditions and forces that drove Bruce Wayne to become Batman too much, was it inevitable that he become Batman. Once Bruce gave himself over to that force, that burning desire to become Batman, could he ever give it up permanently? Was the death of his parents part of some higher order, that orchestrated the creation of Batman as a servant and protector of Gotham. This idea is at the heart of many Batman stories. Some would call it fate, others a calling or simply a mission, Bruce being Batman gives a clear and definite purpose to his life, being Batman makes sense of the chaos his life had become.
Batman means order, structure and routine discipline. Bruce without Batman is a lost soul. This primal conflict makes for suitably dramatic – if not repetitive – stories where Bruce temporarily gives up being Batman, only to return with an almost religious zeal and rejuvenation to continue his war on crime, usually admitting that it was a mistake to walk away from being Batman, or feeling that the city truly needs him, that he is irreplaceable.
In Legends of the Dark Knight #39-40, 1999 by Bryan Talbot in the story Mask – Batman is kidnapped by a criminal maniac posing as some type of therapeutic doctor. He drugs Bruce, keeps him in a hospital bed for weeks causing his muscle mass to atrophy. The false Doctor further convinces Bruce that he is an alcoholic homeless man who only imagines that he is a superhero. That Bruce retreats into a fantasy world of his own imagination, having never coped with the death of his parents.
“You see the world as meaningless chaos. You feel that you need to impose order. It’s a fundamentally fascist impulse that many people share. When you put on that mask, a different personality takes over. Powerful. Dominant. Able to cope with things.” – LOTDK#39
The story is pretty twisted, and really gets into the mind of Bruce Wayne. The two part Mask story has some interesting ideas that give insight into the subjective nature of Batman’s particular brand of madness, or at least possible theories about Batman’s existence. A tormented sedated Bruce Wayne lies helpless in bed while the maniacal manipulating fake doctor tries to convince Bruce even further of his sickness, his fantasy life as Batman.
The doctor torments Bruce with a poor copy of the Batman’s true costume hanging in the corner. A pale Halloween imitation of Batman’s costume that is sad and pathetic, filthy and falling apart at the seams, much like Bruce Wayne’s mind which has gone to pieces in his desperate struggle in the hospital bed. Bruce struggles to find some semblance of self, to make order of the chaos he finds himself in.
The monologue from the fake doctor continues, giving the reader a convenient capsule meta-analysis of Batman as a mythic figure, and making us, the reader question if this really is Batman / Bruce Wayne or someone else altogether. The fake doctor sews seeds of doubt in both Bruce’s mind and the mind of the reader, making for a brief but deliciously demented two-issue tale:
“Did you know that the word “Persona” originally meant “Mask”? According to Jung, this is the personality assumed by an individual in adaptation to the outside world. There’s your mask Bruce, and you didn’t make it just to hide your face. Some masks were used in battle to frighten the enemy. What that your idea with this one?
Some are symbols of deep religious or personal belief systems. They could transform an ordinary person into a supernatural being. In Africa, people saw their fellow tribesmen transformed into spirits, demons, animals. Australian aboriginal “Bush Soul” masks conferred to the wearer the power of the animal or bird they represented.
When you put on your mask, a different personality takes over. Why choose a bat?
Something from your childhood I’ll bet. But it’t not that simple. The bat represents darkness. It’s associated with witchcraft, black magic, vampirism.
In Christian mythology it is “the bird of the Devil”, an incarnation of the prince of darkness. Satan is often depicted with bats’ wings. Do you see what I’m getting at? Batman is your dark side, your negative side.”
Of course, Batman inevitably triumphs in the story, but not without the aid of a nurse (whom he hallucinates is Catwoman) who takes him off the various drugs and sedatives that kept Bruce weakened in a fugue state, and more susceptible to the suggestion of the angry vindictive fake Doctor. The fake doctor/criminal feels that Batman made him a victim and blames Batman for the death of his parents, even though in fact it was the mob who killed his parents after his father became an informant for Batman.
The potential danger of analysis is that the analyser often makes erroneous assumptions about their patient, they look at little pieces and assume they understand the whole. Another character who tried to analyse and understand Bruce Wayne / Batman was Dr. Hugo Strange, who has popped up infrequently throughout Batman’s history, right from the very earliest stories. Dr. Strange (no relation to Marvel) made various assumptions about Batman, many of them completely wrong.
The problem with another person viewing Batman is that they assume that Batman is like them, but he is not. Rather than viewing our heroes and assuming they are “like us”, instead we can look at Batman and assume that he is not like us, that he is more psychologically together than we might suspect, and lives at a whole other level compared to us average Joe’s. This erroneous assumption proved to be Hugo Strange’s undoing, at least in the early stories, eventually Hugo got his revenge in later stories where he dressed up and tried to become Batman himself.
The two part story in Legends of the Dark Knight #39-40 is a good deconstruction of the various elements of Batman. It breaks him down and builds him up in two brief issues, managing to competently explore Batman/Bruce’s psyche without over staying its welcome nor being too philosophical or preachy for the reader. It was typical of the LOTDK title which aimed to do something different than the usual monthly marathon of punching crime in the face and finding clues that conveniently were there like bread crumbs to be found only by Batman.
Legends of the Dark Knight was a more cerebral, intelligent title, the thinking persons Batman if you will, that often dealt with more mythic elements of the character, with stories that mainly focused on his early years. LOTDK managed to tell tales that were deeply engrossing and thankfully avoided being pretentious. The stories in LOTDK also tend to be more timeless than the regular multi-part monthly books and all too often big event crossovers that are like junk food to readers – exciting at first, but ultimately shallow and unsatisfying, with rare exception.
Where Vader gave himself over to his negative Shadow self, and became the Persona of Darth Vader, Bruce Wayne gives himself over to the positive Shadow self, he uses the power of dark forces, but remains in his heart, a good moral and sane man. He may not think of himself as a good man, but his actions say otherwise.
He knowingly became a self-invented urban legend and myth, the Caped Crusader, Dark Knight Detective, the Guardian of Gotham, a Sentinel of Justice and virtue. Unlike Vader, Wayne journeys into his Shadow and returns, having mastered the power of the Shadow and integrated this part of his psyche into himself. Whether Hugo Strange, the Scarecrow or the fake doctor/criminal from the Mask story, Batman proves himself time and again to be mentally stronger than his adversaries had anticipated, and it is usually leads to their undoing.
Over the years Batman has worn may costume variants, and specialised suits, he adapts to the task at hand, appearing in different forms in different times. His metamorphosis is ongoing, some say Bruce Wayne wears a mask, others say that Batman is the man, and Bruce Wayne the mask of normality. From time to time that mask of sanity slips, and perhaps even Bruce Wayne does not know whether he is really the Man or the Bat.
Bruce Wayne wears many masks and displays multiple personas. There is the rich irresponsible playboy on display for the public. There is the Batman who punches crime in the face and creates terror in the hearts of criminals. His irresponsible undisciplined Playboy behavior as Bruce discredits the idea that Wayne could ever be Batman.
Batman is sleek and refined, like a jungle cat. Wayne is sloppy and obnoxious, lending further credit to Bruce Wayne’s acting abilities.
Then there is Bruce Wayne behind closed doors, perhaps sans Persona. Bruce Wayne in the Batman costume, with his cowl and mask removed sitting in his Batcave, usually in front of a bank of monitors and screens – neither fully Bruce nor fully Batman, but a third hybrid personality. Is this his true personality? Is this the ‘self’ that he subjectively feels he is, behind closed doors, when nobody else is watching?
In Legends of the Dark Knight #1-5, 1990 by Denny ‘O Neil, the story Shaman, deals literally with the power of masks, personas, transformation and the channeling of unknown mythic powers unto the bearer of a totem mask. In the Shaman story Bruce Wayne is critically injured and near death during his travels, he is taken in and nursed by a Shaman and his grand-daughter.
The Shaman heals Bruce by telling him a story, the story is a magic ritual to access the hidden powers of the universe. Bruce Wayne recovers, but is baffled how he could have survived or how could he be healed by a story. Wayne is a man of Science, and the Shaman state is beyond him. In later Batman stories over the years, we see Batman meditating, or journeying willingly to deaths door via Tibetan death meditations. We also see him practice Yogic disciplines such as the slowing down of all bio-rhythms including the heart to near death to survive in low oxygen environments, a handy trick for Batman’s inevitable escape from the death trap of the week.
But Batman’s Yoga/Meditation derived abilities are of a different order than the Shaman’s healing powers, which leaves him with no frame of reference for how a healing of life ending injuries could be possible. The story later continues in Gotham with some maniac wearing a similar mask to the healing mask causing trouble in Gotham, and some other guy with yet another mask that seems to have a hypnotic power over people. The details don’t matter so much, it is a fun read and one that is certainly under-appreciated, if a little confusing.
A key scene (which takes place during Batman’s early years) takes place when Batman tracks down the medicine man / Shaman years later to see what the connection may be to the maniac running around Gotham in the healing mask. He finds the medicine mas has lost the old ways and become an alcoholic, to the shame of his grand-daughter. He still manages to tell Bruce a piece of timely advice however: “Wear the mask. Become the mask”.
The Shaman hints at the totem/animal connection of Bruce as Batman, and the possibility that his mask has more power than he yet knows. The Shaman also seems to have a sixth sense, how does the Shaman know that Bruce wears any kind of mask, is he just guessing? No matter how the Shaman knows, it is a powerful scene in the story, and adds a little more to Batman’s inspiration than just the bat flying through the window.
While Batman has been involved with various potential female love interests over the decades – Silver St Cloud, Vicki Vale, Julie Madison, Kathy Kane, Nocturna – perhaps the most significant female throughout his masked crime fighting career has been Catwoman. Catwoman may be seen as a representation of Batman’s Anima (the feminine aspect of a male psyche). The various models Bruce Wayne dates are distractions, part of the public mask of Bruce Wayne, and never serious love interests. The models are far too mundane for a man who is equal parts James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Zorro.
A man who dresses up in a fetish like costume would naturally be more attracted to a female who also dresses up in costume, and is not afraid to fight with Batman, nor to exist in his night time world, the seedy underbelly of Gotham, away from the prissy daytime glamour of Bruce’s false love interests. But Bruce can never fully embrace Catwoman due to his morality, and Catwoman’s immorality. She is a criminal, he lives to end criminals. If Catwoman were to reform and give up her cat burglarly jewel stealing habits, Batman could conceivably have a deeper relationship with her. But Batman would have to give up something to have a relationship with Catwoman also, whether he gave up being Batman altogether, or spent less total time fighting crime would mean compromise. And Batman doesn’t do compromise, it undermines his whole work ethic and values, perhaps if he retired around age 40-50 and one of the various Robins took over as Batman, he may have a chance to fulfill the parts of his life he denies himself.
A relationship where Selina Kyle (Catwoman) would be part of both of Bruce’s worlds. The night time adventures of Batman and Catwoman, and the day time romance of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The only other significant woman over Batman’s long career who could truly match him is perhaps Tali Al Ghul. Talia, daughter of the relatively insane Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman’s most maniacal Bond-like villain with a plan to wipe out most of the world’s population to save the planet) had a passionate on again/ off again affair with Batman starting in the fan favourite 1970s Denny ‘O Neil / Neal Adams run.
The trouble with Talia is that she is allied with her criminal father, and is a criminal herself, the same basic conflict that prevents Bruce from being with Catwoman also applies to Talia. Batman’s morality is absolute and uncompromising in his modern stories. In the graphic novel Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia Batman hunts a young criminal girl who has murdered several people who abused/harmed her. When he finds the girl has invoked the protection right of Wonder Woman through the pact of Hiketeia, Batman doesn’t care and attacks Wonder Woman and continues his pursuit of the girl, whom he can only see as a criminal.
In some stories Talia al Ghul is less a criminal and more aligned with Bruce Wayne’s values, such as in the Elseworlds tale Batman: League of Batmen. A near future sees Ra’s Al Ghul at least partially successful in killing off most of the worlds population (including Batman, whose corpse Ra’s keeps as a trophy). The son of Batman fights to reclaim the mantle of the Bat from Ra’s Al Ghul, who has turned his league of Assassins into a League of Batmen, trained killers who enforce his will wherever he directs them. Talia in this story fights back against her increasingly insane father with the aid of her and Batman’s son.
Superhero stories where the hero gets married and lives happily ever after mostly don’t work. Those ideas work fine in a self-contained story, but not in ongoing comics stories such as Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. Spider-Man and Superman both have been married, and then eventually separated as the stories suffer when the character is married, and the writer is forced to derail the story to include domestic scenes of sitting on the couch watching television.
Nobody wants to read superhero comics with their action heroes sitting on the couch. Unless there is a market for a Big Brother comic book with a bunch of idiots in a house who have super-powers, I don’t think we will see a demand to marry off more heroes. The same basic idea applies to James Bond. You can have the one true love, or the wedding story, but basically those stories are only there to turn bad and provide motivation to the main character, which is lazy cliched writing at best, and downright sexist at worst.
Batman is a deeply engaging character, the multiple interpretations through film, video-games, animation and other media are a testament to the strength of the basic design and themes of the character. You can run Batman through many different filters, different theories and perspectives that may or may not lead to a deeper understanding of the character. The strength of Batman is that he defies categorisation, but it is still interesting to explore the ideas that make up this popular fictional character.
Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s ideas were just theories. However popular they may be, popularity alone does not make them into some unshakable truth. If something such as truth exists, then perhaps it is flowing, living and dynamic, rather than static, fixed and unchanging. One of the few truths we may come to know is that we are alive, we exist and we grow. If life is growth, then how can truth ever be static, fixed and unchanging. If Life is truth, then truth should also be constantly evolving and growing. This is the problem of trying to conceptualise the unknowable in a few words, with limited human perceptions through the medium of language.
Ultimately however we describe reality, we are only using symbols, if we remember that we are using symbols, then we need not get lost in arguments over whose symbol is more important or more true, so we can playfully explore reality through different filters, that some may call beliefs, ideas, values, theories etc. The more different filters we are able to apply to our own lives, the more contrasting perspectives we are able to hold at one time, the larger our mental picture of reality grows, however it is still only symbolic of the whole of reality and not definitive.
Is Batman a kind of truth? I really don’t know if he is, I just know that I experience very real feelings and emotions reading the comics and watching the movies, and I share many of his most sacred values.
Persistence… Determination… an IRON-WILL forged in the heart of self-knowledge
Let us just imagine for a moment for arguments sake that Batman is a kind of truth, if he represents some dark and primal archetypal force that is embedded within the hearts and minds, DNA, cells and ancestral memories of humanity, then I suggest the idea that he is a flowing dynamic constantly changing and evolving truth. I don’t see him as a static figure, even though he may appear on a comic page, he is full of life and motion.
Batman may be a truth that is open to multiple valid simultaneous interpretations. The more he expands as a cultural idea as fiction, fable and myth, the more he is consciously explored, the more we learn about ourselves. How our values en masse and as individuals are reflected in him. How the emphasis of his stories changes with the times, within the multiple competing cultural narratives, while something of the character, some core element… that is almost indefinable… remains.
What does this all this airy-fairy jibber jabber mean? In simple terms we always recognise Batman, no matter what permutations (changes and transformations) he goes through. Whether on the comic book page, the big screen or the little screen, the idea of Batman is so strong that he punches through the comic panels to pull our attention into his world. Somehow when we read the flat two dimensional pages of a comic book, an imaginary character comes to life within our own minds. We care about whether he is victorious in his war on crime, we feel his pain and defeats, we enjoy the vicarious thrill when he escapes a hopelessly desperate situation.
Batman is an idea that refuses to go away, at 75 years young, he only gets stronger and more popular. Let us take a brief look at how the various elements of Batman come together, his character, his values and his journey from man to urban pop-cultural mythic figure.
Batman remains a timeless engaging character, a self-made man who reminds us of our own core values, or lack of values. His bold nature and contrary nature force us to see him in a particular view. To encounter Batman is to encounter our own morality or lack thereof reflected back at us. Unlike Superman who was basically born Superman, Batman became Batman by choice through hard work, persistence, determination and sheer will power.
All good values for people who dare to live the best life they can imagine for themselves. Rather than being impractical, tough minded determination and an iron will combined with an unshakable morality are highly practical qualities to cultivate in a confused world of rapidly changing values. The world needs people of good moral character to be leaders and figures of every day inspiration in their own communities. It already has its share of dictators and people who try to change the world through bending others to their will, rather than co-operation.
Developing a good moral character may seem old fashioned and boring, it sure isn’t sexy or exciting. It means hard work and discipline. It means not giving up when times get tough. It means standing for something in this world and staying the course through this storm and the next. Many people will just go along with the crowd for fear of standing on their own two feet. But not Batman, he stands as a shining example of what one man can accomplish through hard work, an iron will, intelligent training, persistence and determination and service to humanity. He is an inspirational and mythic figure who transcends the boundaries of the comic book pages he was born in.
Batman inhabits a strange and wonderful comic book world where time is more fluid and aging has little effect. Where the laws of physics are perhaps a little different, where a city can reflect the twisted psyche of its criminally insane as well as its flawed Guardian.
A world where a bold adventurer can jump off of roof tops repeatedly without destroying his patella or connective joint tissue and tendons, and where life threatening injuries are conveniently healed by the next chapter in the story. A world where multiple versions of characters exist, characters run into their own evil twins or doppelgangers, time travel is common place and one’s thoughts can be read as thought balloons and speech bubbles by people from another dimension looking down into your world.
The Batman is a fear inspiring figure, he wears horn-like pointed bat ears upon his cowl that in silhouette give him the resemblance of a devil or demonic figure. He dresses primarily in dark colours, to better blend in with the night and shadows. His cape is a clear inversion of the gaudy 4-color superhero archetype, black often being the colour worn by villains in Hollywood movies and popular fiction, he also exists as the counterpoint to Superman’s sunny cheerfulness and bright costume.
The dark cape is perhaps one of the most direct references to Zorro, Dracula and The Shadow. Shadows and the night time have long been often associated with the unknown, and danger. To be in complete darkness IS dangerous, as without a source of light, we can trip, fall and even die from injuries. Thus Batman’s costume itself taps into out very primal, and very real fears, while Superman’s bright primary colours are more reassuring and comforting. Fear can be purely irrational and confusing, and also keep us alive in the face of real physical dangers, a fact Batman knowingly uses against his foes.
The Batman’s eyes also were intentionally made into small white slits (rather than eyeballs) at the suggestion of Bill Finger. To give him even more of an other wordly appearance, he seems to be less than human, and more of a wraith like demon in a cape. The white eyes would become a key visual feature of the character through the decades, giving him an almost instant mythic look. His pointy ears, cape and spiked gloves mean he is always recognisable in silhouette, an important feature when designing iconic characters. Matt Wagner makes good use of the Batman’s iconic face / silhouette on the cover to Batman/Grendel: Devil’s Bones Book #1.
Character designers in animation and comics typically (though not always) make their characters recognisable in silhouette form, see how many characters you can recognise in the chart below. I got all of them except for that character in the bottom right corner.
While Batman is a character of extreme moral virtue and discipline, his early appearances portray him as a somewhat sloppy avenger with a devil-may-care attitude regarding death (both his own potential death and his enemies) and violence. He would spend all his efforts busting into a villains lair then get caught in a convenient and ridiculous death trap. His powers of concentration so focused on his inevitable escape from the death trap that a presumably fatigued Batman would then clumsily stumble into the path of an oncoming bullet. So much for training and preparation. This was not yet the near invincible Batman that would be encountered over the years.
In his early days Batman had not yet learned how to dodge bullets, a feat he accomplishes at a near superhuman level in the modern comics. Notably, in his earliest appearances, Batman matter of factly killed his adversaries, frequently by shoving them over railings in abandoned factories, or out of second story windows. One of those criminals of course became the Joker. Whoops. If he had gone to prison instead of being shoved carelessly into a chemical vat, we the reader would have no Joker stories to enjoy. Batman’s careless actions in this case unwittingly created not only his greatest villain, but gave us years of memorable stories to enjoy.
In Batman #1, 1939 Batman fights Hugo Strange and his giant monster men, one of the monster men is cruelly hung from the Bat-gyrocopter, yet another machine gunned to death by Batman in an crop duster style plane. Batman coldly commenting that it “was probably for the best”. No mercy is given by this grim avenger. Given that the monster men were mindless beasts, it seems a rather cruel and unusual fate to have been hung by the Batman, an execution method usually reserved for law breakers, not mindless possibly mentally ill monsters genetically engineered by a madman.
The point may be argued whether the monster men were human at all, they had human DNA, large humanoid bodies and were closer to human beings than say Chimpanzees or Gorillas. Killing them may have been cruel, but possibly not murder if they were not truly human.
The changing morality of Batman over the years has muddied how various writers and fans interpret and argue about the character. Two things seemed to have remained though, after that initial year where all bets were off. Batman doesn’t kill (which mainly applies to human beings, but does NOT apply to robots, animals, A.I., viruses, fungi, bacteria, and some alien species) and he doesn’t use or like guns.
However at times Batman has used gun like devices that do other things like shock people for instance, and in a couple of oddly out of place stories years later, he did use guns again several times. The other exceptions of course are Elseworlds stories and imaginary stories, again, where all bets are off. So Batman doesn’t kill, unless he does, and he does not use guns…. except for the times that he did use guns. Confused yet? Good, let’s move on then.
Batman is a self-invented myth, created intentionally by a man who manipulates the psyche of criminals and average Joe’s alike. Being an intentionally manufactured mythic figure however, takes away nothing of the effect he has on Gotham City and its citizens. He does not disrespect the power of myth, so much as tap into myth as another tool in his crusade against crime and injustice. What would Carl Jung think of Batman’s early days as a bit of a maniac who dressed up like a Bat and killed people? His community service and war on crime was not very effective in his early years either.
Is Batman a schizophrenic? There is a popular seventeen page article on the internet which suggests so, in reference to the 1989 Batman movie. The article is titled “Put on a Happy Face: Batman as Schizophrenic Savior” by Robert E. Terrill and is well worth reading. Batman later reformed of course, and from then on it was no killing, no guns.
Would Carl Jung see this as evidence of a man who was starting to develop his morality as an adult, and move beyond mere reactionary fascist fantasy behavior of trying to control the external world? Or would Jung see Batman as a man-child who had never recovered from his child hood trauma? Who acts out in the only way he knows how, by retreating within himself, creating a Persona that is bold and powerful, while Bruce the man hides his weakness and pain, beneath the mask of the Titan of Gotham.
Batman taps into the vain of the universal unconscious and archetypes that Carl Jung frequently talked about in Jungian Psychology, that primal part of human beings that responds to images, symbols and mythology. The part of us that inherently recognises mythic figures for what they are in a very raw, visceral, immediate and undeniable fashion.
It is one of the reasons Batman works best as a comic book character, and less so in films and other adaptations. Even with no knowledge of the character, to see the comic book art of Batman is to encounter a physically dynamic, kinetic explosive force of living shadow and dream. A dark monster from the corner of your eye, a figment of your imagination given bold and vibrant life on a two dimensional pulp inspired plane. A crusading avenger of extreme morality and ‘goodness’, who fights the good fight and has the courage of his convictions.
But take away the preparation, strategising, gadgets, tech, wealth and resources of Batman, and you just have a guy who never gives up. His iron will is so strong he WILL beat you no matter what you throw at him. No matter how many times you knock Batman down, he just keeps getting up. No matter how impossible the situation Batman refuses to back down or give up hope.
Has Batman completed the Hero’s Journey? I don’t know, perhaps he has not. Perhaps he is a psychologically damaged individual who is deeply flawed but does the best he can. Perhaps we love him for his flaws as much as his strengths. He may not be an ideal role model, but he sure does embody many good qualities, values and morals. Most heroes have some kind of flaw, Batman just has more than his fair share.
I don’t know that anyone can ever have the final word on Batman, as his character is still growing, his stories are still being told. You could argue that he doesn’t fit into Carl Jung’s ideas, because Jung’s ideas in recent decades were basically hijacked and applied to fictional characters, in ways that perhaps he did not intend when he originally conceived them for actual human beings.
With the popular Denny ‘O Neil Batman we get a tortured soul racked with grief and guilt over the events of his life and choices he has made. In the Grant Morrison version of Batman he is more of a Zen-Yogi-Warrior, a being who lives in the present moment and adapts to his every changing environment. In some stories Batman is a globe trotting manly James Bond with no regrets, in others he is a near manic-depressive racked with guilt over the death of his parents.
Is one version of Batman more valid than another? Which is the real Batman, the Batman in the comics or the Batman in live action films? The Batman in the Arkham Asylum video games or the Batman in the various animated cartoons, or the Batman from the old no-budget movie serials? No version of Batman is truly definitive, because Batman is all of these ideas and more, his whole is more than the sum of his parts.
Some writers and artists leave more of an influence on him than others, but each contribute to a greater canvas. A giant constantly evolving multidimensional Batman mosaic that defies categorization, triumphantly blazing through the collective minds of humanity.
Like a freight train at full speed, to encounter the Batman on the comic page is to find a relentless unstoppable force who bursts right off the page and into your mind, and once there, refuses to leave. He is the real life “Inception”, as are all mythic figures who lodge themselves in the very depths of our collective and personal psyches, and stubbornly refuse to leave no matter our emphasis on scientific material progress. Our disbelief in magic and imaginary super powers is strangely at odds with our heart felt desire to possess real magic and powers.
Perhaps the most relatable aspects of Batman are not just his self-realisation through training, the self-made man of hard work and discipline, who, with a bit of hard work and applied effort we could become more like if we chose to. Inspiring a figure as he is, what keeps him grounded and relatable to kids, adults, movie goers, readers, fans, academics, working class stiffs and others is that Batman is deeply flawed. He is a bit of a mess, at times he is confused and conflicted, we see something of ourselves in him. He is not invincible like Superman, a bullet can kill him, but his real wounds are deep psychological wounds over his failures in life.
He makes all sorts of bone headed mistakes, goes back to the drawing board and starts again. He is bull-headed, stubborn and frequently cuts himself off from human contact, to his own detriment. Batman’s character flaws and suffering help make him more sympathetic and human.
He is neither man nor god, but somewhere in between. In training his mind and body, he transcends ordinary human limitations. But unlike Superman to whom the impossible is the every day, Batman shows us the way to be who we truly are. Neither demon nor saint, hero nor villain, but a real person of angst and joy, pain and pleasure, light and dark, with nothing denied, every part of us owned, embraced and welcomed.
Batman is not Superman. Batman is deeply flawed and in his own words “Not a good person”. Batman fits right in with the rest of us. Sometimes he seems hardly the same superhero. One decade he’s a dark loner, the next he’s a veritable family man, surrounded by batwomen, batgirls, and batpets. In one graphic novel, he’s a wreck, torn asunder by compulsion and neurosis. In another, he’s a rock, a pillar of goodness and virtue. You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get with Batman – just like us
– Paul Asay, author of God on the Streets of Gotham