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.