Tag Archives: Mythic Characters

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

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

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

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

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

The Trickster Archetype

Joker as Trickster

The classical Trickster archetype performs a range of functions.

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

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

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

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

Carl Jung Psyche model Archetype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joker as Shapeshifter

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

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

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

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The Joker’s Many Incarnations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sadistic Soldier and Killer Clown

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

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

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

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The Thin White Duke of Death

 

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

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Clown, Killer, Psychotic, and all around funny-man

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

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

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

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The friendliest and funniest psychotic killer ever conceived in children’s television

 

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

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

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

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

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

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“Oh how delicious it is”

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

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

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

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

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“You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with”

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

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Origins of the Joker

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Joker as Mythic Archetype

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joker as friend or benefactor to Batman

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Joker as Madman and Cipher

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real Joker please stand up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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An End to Madness and Laughter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Forces that Shape our Stories – Why We Crave Superheroes/Modern Mythology like Oxygen

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.

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A mythological dragon can  represent out own personal demons to battle, to triumph over.  The dragon can also represent the unintegrated aspects of ourselves that we have disowned or refuse to acknowledge.  A dragon may also represent the ‘other’ in physical terms, the ‘other’ may be perceived as threatening or benevolent.  Art by El Grimlock / DeviantArt

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.

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Werewolves are fun, they serve as warnings of predators and are symbolic of animal instincts and sexual energy

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. quote-we-shall-not-cease-from-exploration-and-the-end-of-all-our-exploring-will-be-to-arrive-where-we-t-s-eliot-57010 Disassembled Car 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.Terminator Matrix Tron Neo Arnold 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”.

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Australian Aboriginal culture may be earths oldest at an estimated 75,000 years of unbroken genetic lineage

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?

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Labelling something does not mean we truly understand something, we may miss vital information that does not fit the label

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. the unwritten22 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. unwritten arm55 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 unwritten Book 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. Spiral 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. red skull hitler stalin thanos dr doom dictator bad guy 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.

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Dr Doom meets the Kryptonian Knuckle Sandwich

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. Star Trek Unity and Viruses 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. Super hero 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.

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Strong empowered female heroines are rare

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. batman begins darth vader wolverine neo matrix rocky spider man movie 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. batman-3

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. heart diagram-horz 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!

Superheroes and Savior Figures, Oh My!

Superman Clark Kent by Alex Ross transformation
Up, Up and Away!

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.

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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.

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WORLDS FINEST: Dancing with the stars edition

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?

Kevin Porter Batman cosplay
Kevin Porter Batman (Bat in the Sun Productions)

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.

We are all Wonder Women by Catherine & Sarah Satrun
“We are all Wonder Women” by Catherine & Sarah Satrun

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.

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YOLO Jesus

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.

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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.

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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.

Batman-Arkham City Concept Art CG Render XX

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

Batman Arkham Asylum Game Concept Art_1

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

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Lean and Mean Batman by Diego-Rodriguez

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.

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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.

Cookie Monster of the Sea
Cookie Monster of the Sea, a timeless cultural myth

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.

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The real Goldfinger? No, it’s the Legendary Ox riding Lao-tsu / Laozi

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.

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Avalokitesvara Buddha

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.

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Batman’s Identity remained a mystery

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.

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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.

Be inspired!

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“I am Vengeance I am the Night” – Exploring the dark Psyche of Batman

Batblog Carl Jung Kicks Ass Edition

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

Carl Jung Comic_1_Batblog Number One Batfan

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.

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The all boring “couch issue” of Brave and the Bold

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.

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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.

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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.

Darth Vader = Bad Ass

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.

Darth Vader Transformation_My My this here Anakin Guy
That’s gotta hurt

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.

Batman Ego_Darwyn Cooke Art
Batman “EGO” by Darwyn Cooke

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.

Legends of the Dark Knight #39, Mask_390x600
Batman “Mask” by Bryan Talbot

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.”

Legends of the Dark Knight #39 Mask_Interior

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.

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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?

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Batman “Shaman” by Denny ‘O Neil

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.

Legends of the Dark Knight #4_Shaman_Panel

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.

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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.

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Catwoman / Selina Kyle by Darwyn Cooke

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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.

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Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul

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.

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Bruce and Nocturna

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.

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Talia Al Ghul

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Batman Grendel Devils Bones Book 1 Cover 390 x 600

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.

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Batman Action Figure Silouette_Batblog

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.

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Batman #1 Hugo Strange and the Monster Men

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.

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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.

Lessons from Batman #52 Adversity, Batman vs Darkseid_Batblog

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.

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Will the real Dark Knight please stand up?

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.

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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

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