Tag Archives: Superheroes

The Darkness in Humanity – Batman as Avatar of our Shadow Self

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“Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our own soul. He symbolises how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them toward our highest good.” – JOHN SORENSEN

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YES FATHER… I SHALL BECOME A BAT

Batman symbolically represents the darkness that is in all human beings. Not just potential darkness, but the darkness that is factually in all human beings, whether we acknowledge it or not. Those who claim nothing like that is in them, are most at risk to succumbing to their own disowned behaviors through total ignorance of them.

Other fictional characters who we could call avatars of darkness and shadow include Dracula and Darth Vader – characters who have surrendered to their darkest, most murderous, primitive and single self oriented survival impulses.

year-one-origin Frank Miller YES FATHER BECOME A BAT

What distinguishes Batman is that he walks the line between darkness and light – choosing not to kill. He skirts around the edges of the abyss, he’s been there and knows the temptations that would lead him down the path of total surrender to darkness like Darth Vader. Unlike Darth Vader, Batman has journeyed into darkness, into the very depth of his own mind, heart and soul, seen what lives there, what drives him and used that power, harnessing it for his own ends, rather than becoming a slave to darkness or evil like Darth Vader or Dracula.

Integration is key. Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark – Brene Brown

Seeing the existential abyss of darkness for what it is, Batman transcends and includes all his pain, his miseries, his best and worst qualities. He transmutes it all into an unwavering passion for his vengeance or justice driven mission as Batman.

So let’s take a look how dark Batman is, and how he uses that darkness as a weapon, along the way we’ll also take a quick look under the cowl to check on his mental health and see if those internet fan theories can hold any water.

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BATMAN – SAVIOR OR HERETIC?

Batman accepts all that he is; the good, the bad and the ugly. He makes no apologies for his flaws, and if anything he is his own worst critic -taking on the responsibility of the world when it is not truly his responsibility to fix the world (of Gotham City) and nobody ever asked him to.

Batman does not suffer from introjection – that is the unconscious “exterior” voices of societies values, his parents and heritage. If psychological Projection is the disowning of your own qualities that you project and see externalised in another, then its opposite is Introjection: turning inward something that belongs outside.

It is a small but key distinction in Batman’s psychological make up, but one that many people fail to notice when they project their own fears and insecurities onto Batman and assume he is like us. He’s not like us, Batman lives at a higher level than we do. Rather than try and become more like Batman, those fans and critics have tried to make Batman more like themselves, assuming that he must share their flaws, rather than having transcended them. The road to self-knowledge is filled with many pot-holes of ignorance.

Batman makes conscious what lives and thrives in darkness. Batman is not afraid to look into his own mind, his own soul and see all his failures and bad habits. Bruce Wayne lives in alignment with his core values. To get from being Bruce Wayne to becoming Batman means a journey into the mythic, into the recesses of Bruce Wayne’s heart, mind and soul, stripped bare and laid naked, he is reborn in a baptism of pure darkness, everything unessential falls away until there is only the Bat and his mission.

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You can call Batman a nutcase, an eccentric, an unholy warrior on a mission of vengeance, or just a man who  decided to do something different to process his trauma over the death of his parents, by dedicating himself to a worthy cause. Super-heroes do tend to have the mind set of wanting to save the world, or at least leave it a less shitty place than when they entered it. It’s part of their attitude and psychological make up. It’s what distinguishes them from non-heroic individuals. They are here to make a difference and don’t sit on the fence.

The “save the world” mentality is something that exists in individuals here in the real world too, and it has its healthy versions – serving food to the homeless, fundraising for community and charity projects – and it’s unhealthy pathological versions –
suicide bombing, acts or murder, torture, terror etc for the often delusional perceived higher good (for the State, for God etc).

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THE STATE OF BATMAN’S MENTAL HEALTH

Arrogant, angry, stand-offish, emotionless, doesn’t work well in teams, shuns help from others, psychotic, a mentally ill man child. Sound familiar?

What is the state of Batman’s mental health, and who should we trust on this subject? There is no shortage of internet fan theories about the state of Batman’s mental health, some of them make good valid points, some are partial truths – while others are just plain old Wrong with a capital “W”.

“He’s an angry repressed rich boy who takes out his frustration and anger beating up criminals”

“He suffers from PTSD, depression and can’t let go of the death of his parents”

“He’s a schizophrenic savior who suffers from messianic delusions”

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I am continually amazed at some of the ideas I see posted online about Batman that make it obvious that some people either have not read many Batman comics, or don’t know how to use the dictionary.

Coming up with a fancy theory or great sounding idea does not make it true no matter how much you want to believe it. That also applies to myself and my articles here. Feel free to disagree with any of them. Feel free to write a rebuttal or prove them wrong. In my mind I’m right, but I know other people with very different opinions about Batman who also FEEL they are right.

For example there are people who would label Batman a psychotic, a schizophrenic, as suffering from post traumatic stress (reliving the pain of his parents death) or any number of other conditions. Robert E. Terrill has written a thoroughly engrossing article that uses Jungian ideas and terminology to categorise Batman as a Schizophrenic acting out his delusional dreams because he is unwilling to do the real hard work of true psychological integration.

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The article Put on a Happy Face – Batman as Schizophrenic Savior by Robert E. Terrill you can find online as a PDF, it’s about 18 pages long and well worth reading – but keep in mind this article deals with the 1989 movie version of Batman, not the Batman from the comic books. It is worth reading though, even if you strongly disagree with it as I do.

A contrasting perspective is the one Robin S. Rosenberg takes in her book What’s the Matter with Batman? An Unauthorized Clinical Look Under the Mask of the Caped Crusader.

Robin’s published book on the Psychology of Batman addresses each one of the various things he may or may not suffer from. She cuts through the confusion of Bat-Mind-Theories like a brightly lit Bat-Signal in the night sky.

Point by point, Robin Rosenberg states the essential criteria needed to satisfy being considered as psychotic, schizophrenic, PTSD, personality disorders and more. And by and large Batman meets some of the criteria for various disorders, but not all of the criteria to meet the requirements as having any of those conditions.

I tend to trust her point of view over fanboys and fangirls as Robin Rosenberg is a trained Psychologist, as well as a fan of Batman and other superheroes. It’s also possible she is wrong, but I urge people to make up their own minds and not take my word for anything. Robin has also been talking, lecturing and writing about human values and heroes for over a decade, so you’ll excuse me if your  “Batman is nuts ‘coz my brother ‘sez so” theory doesn’t hold much sway with me.

Robin’s criteria rather than just being a fan theory, or fun writing experiment uses the terminology of mental health experts. You can read a great extract from the book at Psychology Today: What’s the Matter with Batman?

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THE BATMAN OF MANY THEORIES

There is a fair bit of information and misinformation (mostly on the internet) about the state of Batman’s mental health, usually from people who misuse the terminology of Psychology to make it sound like they know what they are talking about. That Batman meets some of the criteria for various types of mental illness lends credence to those half baked fan theories you read online on reddit or Quora.

Batman is an emotionally stunted man child who refuses to grow up and takes out his frustration and unresolved pain from the death of his parents by punching people

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Some people think Batman is a Schizophrenic, others say he is psychotic, or has post traumatic stress disorder, depression or any number of other behavioral dysfunctions. It’s easy to see Batman as this hyper-aggressive psychotic lunatic if all you have ever read is Frank Miller’s version of Batman, which is purposefully and masterfully exaggerated and over the top, as are most of Miller’s stories.

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Can Bruce Wayne ever be truly mentally healthy and happy, as long as he is Batman?

One perspective is that As long as Bruce Wayne is Batman he will never be happy. He will never settle down with a wife, he will never have kids, he will stay angry, repressed, antisocial and guilt ridden over the death of his parents death as long as he is Batman. Batman thrives on guilt and pain, true forgiveness means letting go of being Batman.

Another contrasting perspective is that Gotham and the world needs Batman, and that he has overcome his pain and insecurities and fears. Batman continues his war on crime not out of pain over the death of his parents, but remains Batman as a tribute to them and their community service. Bruce Wayne continues being Batman as a service to Gotham to honor his parents and what they stood for; social justice, reform and standing up for a cause, living your values etc.

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Batman can be many things, and is open to multiple different equally valid interpretations. It is part of the strength of the character that every fan has their own idealized Batman, and no two fan versions of Batman are exactly the same. But there is enough of the character that remains recognisable so when we talk about Batman, we can understand each others unique perspective.

And that is what it comes down to. There is no objective criteria for what Batman is, and what Batman is not. It’s all subjective. But good writers, and smart thinkers, tend to think at least some of the same ideas about the character, and that mass consensus of what we agree upon tends to form the picture of Batman the majority of us have in our minds.

Writing something that sounds plausible is a good way to keep the wheel of misinformation going. However long term Batman fans tend to look below the surface, they tend to go a bit deeper in life for answers than internet fan theories etc.

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All of these contrasting ideas  strangely play into the myth and strengths of Batman – to some he’s a vampire, to some he’s an urban commando, to others he is a ghoul in night, an unkillable wraith, more shadow monster than man. An unstoppable force. Something to be feared and talked about in hushed tones, because if he hears you… “LOOK OUT! Aw gees, the BAT! Run!”

Batman then is an urban boogeyman. So all of those crazy fan ideas you read about online are quite valid, even if you disagree with them. It’s all part of Batman’s mystique, his confusion and distraction while he accomplishes his mission. He wants you to think he’s crazy, he wants you to think he will do anything, that he can’t die. Batman wants to scare the living hell out of you, and he enjoys doing it.

Robin Rosenberg gets the final word on how nutty Batman may or may not be in her succinct book What’s the Matter with Batman:

  • Assuming that by Dissociative disorder, you mean DID, he is nowhere close to having that. He would only have paranoid schizophrenia if everything about him being batman was a delusion.It’s really hard to peg what, if any disorder he would have. The funny part about it is that one of the defining characteristics of having a mental illness is that it has to impair functioning in your life.
  • And one could argue that he successfully leads two lives, so there is no impairment, or his having to lead two lives IS the impairment.In any event, the only thing I could confidently say he suffers from is Depression, for obvious reasons. If I were to extend so far as to say that he had a personality disorder,
  • I’d put my money on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.Personally, I don’t think he has any real mental disorders outside of depression. He is a just a very rational introvert who made a very strange decision that most of society would see as a terrible, and downright crazy idea. – Robin S. Rosenberg

 

Of course if you want to believe Batman is truly crazy delusional, then The Batman Complex fan made video is made just for you…

I KEEP MY EYES WIDE OPEN ALL THE TIME, I WALK THE LINE

Batman may be an avatar of darkness, the physical manifestation of his totem Bat animal, but he is also more than than the sum of his parts. In shadow he is like a wraith or demon from the classical underworld of mythology, and those white slits where his eyes should be are creepy as hell. His costume, physicality and persona evoke something primal and mythic that we can’t help but respond to on an unconscious level. In medieval art, he would undoubtedly be labeled as a demon.

But those white slits also show the light in Batman. The bright white where his eyes are meant to be shows us symbolically that Batman in not in total darkness, but is in fact an avatar of light who masquerades in darkness to both fight the forces of darkness, and transmute his own inner darkness, his own dark knight of the soul into a force for good, for service to humanity. We have Batman co-creator Bill Finger to thank for those white eyes, Bill understood Batman at a deep level few people would appreciate and doesn’t get the credit he deserves often enough.

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The anger and pain Bruce Wayne feels at the death of his parents, that at times threatens to consume him – he channels into fuel for greatness as the Guardian of Gotham City, the cities own Dark Knight. His never ending war on crime gives an outlet to his madness, rage and pain, channeling all his dark intensity and unrelenting passion into a force for good.

Like a classical Greek hero or demigod who journeys into the underworld, Batman takes on the symbolic trappings of darkness to inspire fear in the criminals he hunts, he uses shadow and darkness as his allies, having made them his closest friends.

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To fear the dark is to live in ignorance, while to embrace the dark is to welcome the knowledge it brings. No being can live in only darkness, or only light. Either way leads to being unbalanced. Human beings need both light and dark in them. Batman walks the line and at times risks going all the way into darkness like Darth Vader or Dracula. It’s part of what makes him so damn sexy and uber-cool. He’s a good guy dressed in the cinematic costume of a bad guy or demon.

Batman is married to Gotham city, he may dabble in serial monogamy, but ultimately his mission in life is to be Batman. Batman and Gotham City are forever intertwined. In a warring city of ruthless gangs, psycho killers and cut throats Batman is Gotham’s Warlord, his word is law, his will unbreakable, his enemies and friends alike fear him and his wrath. Nobody wants the Batman’s attention, and if you ever saw him in person – you would really wish you hadn’t.

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WE ALL FALL DOWN

How does Batman avoid the corruption that characters like Dracula succumbed to? How does he use darkness rather than be consumed by it?

History is filled with those who held themselves up as heroes, as bastions of moral virtue and goodness only to succumb to their own repressed dark side, the side they never allow any healthy expression, and that you never see in the public arena that often is expressed through demented perversion in private.

Politicians and Priests provide some of the more obvious cliched and dramatic well publicised examples in our society. It seems the corruption of the few influences how we see the many, the disproportionate media focus on corrupt Priests and Politicians ignores the fact they are the minority, and that the majority are hard working honest people who capably go about their job, and look after the people they are responsible for.

None the less, when an individual is incapable of finding a healthy expression for their Shadow Self, and instead they become corrupted causing harm to themselves or others, then at those times it may be necessary for third party intervention. In cases of abuse of other individuals by that person, then unwelcome media attention can be a good thing, in exposing what lies in the shadow through the light of awareness.

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How does Batman avoid the same psychological traps? It’s not easy, he walks a constant line between who he is and who he might become. Batman doesn’t repress who he is. He lives his darkness at every level of his being, and he uses it as yet another weapon in his war on crime. He avoids falling down to his Shadow qualities by not hiding or repressing his Shadow, but embracing it and knowing it intimately.

Batman is a zealot in a way, and his unholy mission is to fight the forces that would serve to victimize the good citizens of Gotham, at the same time Batman is a hero we can relate to for his flaws, for we see the darkness and flaws in him as in ourselves.

Batman’s flaws are what make him human rather than super-human. Even if Batman took a super-pill and did gain super-powers, he would still be the same angry repressed guy. Batman remains a fantasy figure who lives an impossible life, but remains appealing due to his grounding halfway between realism and pure fantasy. Alex Wainer defines Batman’s adventures as falling between realism and fantasy as “Romance” using Northrop Frye’s scale of literary classification.

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 REALISM <<———-BATMAN———-> > FANTASY

“The romance is contrived to allow for a pleasing form that displaces aspects of myth, while at the same time borrowing a semblance of realism, to ensure a level of plausibility. Abstracting from the concrete, i.e., the realistic, toward the mythic, the romance mixes elements of the two poles to become a story form broad and flexible enough to include an enormous range of narratives.” – Alex Wainer: Soul of the Dark Knight

“…Set on a perpetual quest for justice and vengeance, Batman is more than an outraged vigilante, but less than a divine nemesis of evil. Partaking of qualities derived from earlier mythological sources and patterns, he symbolically fights against the chaos that frightens and angers us by adopting the fearsome visage of a night creature. Though apparently mortal, he transcends human limits in his keen ratiocination and athletic grace and power. Thus, as a mythic figure expressed in the comics medium, on the Literary Design Scale, he belongs at the upper levels of romance as an idealized, extraordinary heroic figure in a still-recognizable urban setting.” – Alex M Wainer, Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film

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I AM VENGEANCE! I AM THE NIGHT! I AM BATMAN!

As an avatar of darkness and night time Batman fulfills a sort of elemental role. The Bat -his chosen symbol and totem animal – Batman is a creature of the night, a figment of our unconscious mind, a lord of the underworld, the bastard child of Erebus and Nyx – the illegitimate brother of Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death).

If Icarus flew too close to the sun, Bruce Wayne went too far into the Underworld, punched something dark and ancient in the face and stole its power to aid his war on crime. Touching the face of pure evil, he dares to wear its colours and mocks the unseen forces he fights against every night of his life as the Guardian of Gotham, its Dark Knight. He’s untouchable, he fears nothing, he will not stop, and he wants you to know it and be very afraid.

There is a purpose for every thing under the sun, and even the things that live in darkness have their own purpose and way of being. Batman who lives in darkness is still human and still feels connected to his humanity despite outward appearances.

To be in darkness is to know and embrace a part of our Being we often deny or don’t acknowledge. It’s something we don’t talk about in polite company or hear much about. To never explore that part of ourselves, to never metaphorically explore the underworld of our own minds is to live in fear of that darkness, of that unknown and all it entails. It is the place of creation, of sex, death , life, hunger, and all primal urges.

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We give power to our unconscious forces and primal drives by refusing to explore them. Most of us are afraid of that which is beyond words, space and time. The primordial unmanifest force that rests in the hearts and minds of all people, but is ignored due to the discomfort and pain of true self-knowledge – in favor of an inauthentic life of comfort and luxury.

The Hero’s Journey is not just a mythical “story” framework to be adapted from antiquity onto the cinema screen, but a metaphor for the necessary and essential psychological process of Waking Up and Growing Up in life that philosopher Ken Wilber discusses in many volumes of his Integral Theory. The Hero – or Heroine’s journey is our birthright. The refusal of the call, is the refusal of life, the refusal to grow and change and evolve. All things that live must grow, and that which does not heed this principle embraces death.

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To explore and stay in darkness is to give in to our own darkest impulses. However to never willingly journey into darkness is – like Luke going into the cave during his training with Yoda to cut off his own head – to never look beneath the cowl it to live in fear of our own primal forces. Take a look at Darth Vader. Nobody want’s to end up like that poor bastard. He’s a monster, and the ultimate bad-ass – YET – we still feel sorry for him. Instead of Vader passing through his own dark night of the soul, he began the process, staid there and swore allegiance to his corrupted master Darth Sidious.

The danger Batman forever faces is not that he may kill, but what happens afterward – that he may lose his humanity if he gives himself completely to darkness. Exploring our own Shadow means acknowledging all our bad habits and self-destructive choices, those we know, and those we are not aware of (and need others to point out to us) and our own repressed higher potentials. What is in shadow if often a corrupted version of what is good in us, as well as what is harmful.

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Batman is an avatar of darkness, but also a symbol of how to accept and transmute all of our own nature – light and dark – and use  it for the higher good not by denial or repression, but by acceptance and integration of all aspects of ourselves – John Sorensen

In stages of human growth, we may pass through a Spider-Man stage (child/teenager)  a Batman stage (adult /power) a Superman stage (god/transcendent) etc. As great as any of these characters are, we must not stay in those stages, but learn from them and move on. There are lessons to be learned in life wherever we turn, even in the humble pages of cheap pulp inspired comic book stories printed on flimsy paper. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, find inspiration and power wherever you please.

I think we can find inspiration is just about any good comic book or movie character. Good or evil, they all have some qualities and values that resonate with us, or we would not be so powerfully attracted to them in the first place.

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Batman is the coolest fictional character on the planet if you ask me.

Batman is cool, sexy and a bad boy. He’s rock and roll. We love him for it. Batman wears the outfit of a villain, but he’s dedicated to righting wrongs. If we look deep enough, we may learn a little about ourselves from the Boy who became a Bat. Who embraced rather than repressed his Shadow Self.

He understands pain, fear and doubt, Batman feels it all and doesn’t identify himself with it, he feels ALL of it, but doesn’t mistake pain and doubt and fear for who he is, or let it stop him from accomplishing his mission. He transcends his circumstances, he transcends body, environment and time by focusing his mind on his chosen task, he’s honed his skills through years of physical and mental training. He’s not ordinary. But even taking all that into consideration, Batman is still flawed and deeply human. His flaws are what make Batman more human and relatable. He’s human and he feels every pain and every hurt, but he looks past it and keeps moving forward.

Batman has experienced deeply personal pain and loss like many people in the real world, and that has inspired his life’s mission, to help victims of crime and poverty through the Wayne Foundation and personally preventing as many violent crimes as he can. As effective as Batman is in his world, he’s even more powerful in our world as a symbol of standing up for ourselves and others, and of true self knowledge that embraces all that we are, strengths flaws and all with an unflinching gaze of wisdom that does not misidentify what we experience and feel, for who we are.

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Fear disowned is a destructive choice, both emotionally and spiritually. It leads to all-too-happy spiritualities with beings who seek only the light. Fear starts to drive their being unconsciously. We end up seeking only goodness and pleasantness in order to avoid pain and fear.  But this is not the way. The truth is:

“To conquer fear, you must become fear”

Fear owned and embodied is a form of awakening. Batman is therefore a Realizer of Awakening through the form of Fear – Chris Dierkes / Beams and Struts

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

EVERY KID AND ADULT NEEDS INSPIRATION BEYOND THEIR ORDINARY EVERYDAY LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WE NEED A HERO! 3 Brilliant Writers Answer 5 Questions on Heroism

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It’s no secret that I love Batman as  a fictional character. I Iove to read Batman comics and also other non-fiction books on Batman, and basically anything to do with Heroes really. And if there is one thing more awesome than reading great articles and non-fiction books by super-smart people, it’s talking directly to them so see what they really feel about the topic of Heroes, Heroines and Heroism.

So kick back and enjoy this roundtable Q&A with 3 Amazing Experts! We have three Wonderful Writers whose works make my humble blog pale in comparison. Their depth and insight on the topics of Heroes, Superheroes and Heroism leaps over tall buildings in a single bound! Together they are stronger than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet!

So who are these talented folks you ask?

Alex M. Wainer – author of Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film

Nav Kumaravithana  prolific fellow blogger on Superheroes and Comicbooks at Girl on Comic Book World who always has brilliant insights in her articles.

Mark D. White – Author of… too many books to count! Including Batman and Philosophy, Superman and Philosophy, and my favourite: The Virtues of Captain America

So let’s get to those pressing ponderous Questions dear reader!

Q: What is a Hero / Heroine (in your own words)?

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Alex: A hero of course is someone who goes beyond the average person in effort, courage, and competence in achieving goals, usually military, moral and who offers some form of rescue, example and inspiration to others.

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Nav KNav K: A hero is an individual who goes above and beyond their obligations. They are morally stronger individuals who pursue their goals no matter what the obstacles are. It is their constant devotion to good and their willingness to even make a personal sacrifice and go beyond their abilities to help others that separates them from others. It’s not necessarily about saving people’s lives or anything that dramatic,

it’s just about having the compassion and empathy to go out of one’s way to help others and be a force for    good no matter what challenges confront them.

Mark D White profile 150

Mark: To me, a hero (male or female) is someone who makes an extraordinary sacrifice for another person or a principle
larger than him or her.

Q: What three qualities/skills/attributes do you feel every hero must have?

Alex M Wainer 150

Alex: Some ethical code rooted in universally shared moral values. Perseverance too. [See also Alex’s answer to the previous Question]

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Nav KNav: Strong moral compass: Heroes have a strong sense of what’s good and bad. It’s their deep beliefs that drive them to their heroic nature. They are confident enough to choose to live and die by their personal values.

Willingness to go beyond what is expected and obliged from them: We all have certain roles that we are expected to fill in life. A hero extends their obligated roles and does more for the sake of others.

A Desire to selflessly help others: Putting others before themselves is a true test of heroism. It’s easy for the ordinary individual to be selfish and service their own needs and wants before others, and that doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them normal. A hero is someone who genuinely wants to and will put the needs of other before themselves. They are compassionate and empathetic enough to help others no matter what.

Mark D White profile 150

Mark: First, courage—a hero has to have courage to do the right thing regardless of physical danger as well as disapproval or ridicule from others. The latter, which we can call moral courage, is all too often forgotten, but is more important than physical courage for the kind of heroism we can all practice, such as sticking up for the downtrodden and oppressed against the crowd and saying no to everyday injustices wherever we find them.

Second, judgment—a hero needs sound judgment to decide when intervention is needed and what to do. It’s not enough to set out “to do what’s right”—the hero needs judgment to determine what the right thing to do in a certain circumstance is.

Finally, determination or resolve—it’s one thing for a hero to decide to do what’s right, and it’s another thing
entirely to stick with it in the face of obstacles and opposition.

Q: Why do you feel that heroes (whether real life heroes or heroes in fiction) are important?

Alex M Wainer 150

Alex: I could quote Aunt May’s remarks in Spider-Man 2, as they sum it up nicely. Although there is danger in some forms of hero worship, it seems all culture in all times have either wanted or needed heroes—in real life, to provide leadership and rescue, in stories to embody the ideals of that culture, and because they are simply enthralling entertainments that offers us someone with their values tested in conflict.

Nav K

Nav: The idea of individuals, whether fictional or not, being out there with the willingness to be the best person they can and be a force for good for other people, is an important and inspirational force that people need in their lives. Heroes are role models that have the capability to rise above any obstacles and weaknesses, to achieve their goals. They are resilient, selfless and remain strong in the face of challenge.

Ultimately that serves two very important functions in the world. It gives people an ideal to strive towards, and gives people the sense that even in their darkest moments there is someone good out there, giving them hope that the world isn’t that bad and they can escape that darkness. Having positive hero figures out there is about giving people hope at the end of the day. Even if the hero is fictional, it’s the overall idea that they stand for that can help an individual even at the lowest moments (after all ideas are bulletproof).

Mark D White profile 150

Mark: I think heroes are important because they show us we can be better, that we can transcend our everyday concerns and do something extraordinary for someone or something else. We’re all far too cynical these days, and heroes remind us that there is good out there—good in us—and we just need to bring it out.

Q: Who some of your all time favourite real world heroes?

Alex M Wainer 150

Alex: Oh, man, that’s a tough one. I admire many of our soldiers who did their duty in recent wars despite less than stellar leadership or policies. Ronald Reagan was the last great president we had and he acted from deep conviction without disrespecting his political opponents. The problem with real-life prospective heroes is that they haven’t finished their run yet and could still blow it in someway. (This is why the Catholic church waits till someone is deceased before starting to consider someone for sainthood, we are all running a race and it’s the end that counts.

Nav KNav: Weirdly enough I’ve never really had any definitive all-time favourite real world heroes, because of my overly sceptical natural state of self I try not to over-idealise people. But in saying that I have a great deal of respect for people who have the courage to and are willing to go against the grain, and fight for their beliefs, not matter the uphill battle it is. There are countless figures in history who have had the world mock them for their goals, only to use that hate as momentum to achieve their goals that better society.

And although I’m not one to idealise celebrities, one individual who I have a deep respect for is Emma Watson. She is a heroine in her own right. She doesn’t care how many faceless internet users call her campaign “feminazi” propaganda, she passionately pursues gender equality even in the face of the harsh spotlight. And even though feminism has become this taboo word for many actresses because of the ridiculous connotations associated with it, Watson sticks to her beliefs and is in a unique position of power to actually have the potential to make an impactful change.

Mark D White profile 150

Mark: It changes every day – today it’s the three young men who stopped the terrorist on a train from Amsterdam to Paris last week. Three people who saw danger, forgot about their own safety, and confronted danger to protect others—they’re my favorite heroes today. Tomorrow it might be the firefighter who rushes into the fire to save a family, or the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his or her unit—or the eight-year-old girl who stands up to bullies picking on her friend on the
playground.

Q: And who are some of your all time favourite fictional heroes?

Alex M Wainer 150Alex: Well, who could that be for my main man? In comics, Batman of course, although he is quickly followed by Captain America. Daredevil often. Sherlock Holmes has endured for good reasons. Captain Kirk before the reboot. I really like Superman but it’s so hard to find good stories about him. Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. I guess those are at the top.

batman resized looking over city Nav KNav: Cliché answer but my all-time favourite fictional hero is 100% good old Superman. Yes I know it’s a slightly lame answer, but there hasn’t been a character that’s resonated more with me than Superman. He’s Clark Kent, a guy who grew up on a farm and one day found out he was an alien, and suddenly had to deal with all the expectations and sense of responsibility that comes with. He could choose to just ignore his powers and carry on with a normal life, which he would love, but instead because of his nature and the nurture of the Kents he chooses to be more.

He chooses to be there for people, and give people a sense of hope in a cynical world. For those that only know the character by name, they think he’s a boring hero because he’s a boy scout who always knows what the right thing is to do and does it. But that really isn’t true. He has to look at the world, and what he believes would be acceptable and then make base his actions off of that and what his own morals are. And sure he doesn’t always make the right decision, but he learns from his mistakes. And that’s what makes him such a great hero. He steps up to the challenge.

Superman is welcoming of other people’s ideals and views, and balances that with his own moral compass. He has the courage and strength to fight for truth, freedom and justice no matter what the adversary is. He always believes in the goodness of humanity, even when they give him every reason not to, and it’s that continued sense of hope that makes him such a great hero. Believing in people, even when they don’t believe in themselves.

All Star Superman in sun

Mark D White profile 150Mark: My favorite is (no surprise) Captain America, because he exemplifies all three attributes mentioned above.I also like Batman because he represents an extreme version of heroism—sacrificing his entire life to a mission to fight crime and pursuing that mission with flawless determination—that I wouldn’t hold up as an example for anyone, but I find endlessly fascinating to read about. Finally, I really like Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing from the Fantastic Four; he was dealt a rotten deal from the universe but, even though he feels sorry for himself once in a while, he still dedicates his life to
helping others while keeping a sense of humor about life. All superheroes, of course. 😉 But none hold a candle to the ordinary people who do extraordinary things each and every day.

cap saving folks small

Q: Where can people find you / your work online?

Alex M Wainer 150Alex: I used to have a blog until about four years ago but as you know, it needs regular input to hold readers and I couldn’t pull that off, so now my occasional articles at Breakpoint.org (nothing very recent but you can search there for past articles). Soul of the Dark Knight, of course. Googling my name will bring up quite a bit of past work.

Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film is available in Paperback and Kindle format at Amazon.com.

Alex Wainer soul of the dark knight cover high res

Nav KNav: You can find me on Twitter @Nav_Kay and my Superhero / Comic Book blog at Girl on Comic Book World https://girloncomicbookworld.wordpress.com/
Check out these sensational in depth articles by Nav at her Girl on ComicBookWorld Blog:

Batman Character Analysis: He ain’t crazy but he is complex
Joker the Absurdist: A character analysis
Superman Character Analysis: More than just a guy who punches things
Batman Day: Why is Batman so popular?
Superhero Movies: What makes a great comic book villain?

girloncomicbookworld NAV K

Mark D White profile 150Mark:My website is at http://www.profmdwhite.com where you can find information about my books, articles, and what I’m working on now. I’m also on Twitter as @profmdwhite. I’m currently working on final production details on two books coming out next year: a popular book on the ethical judgment and behavior on display in Marvel Comics’ “Civil War” storyline, and an edited scholarly volume on economics and virtue ethics. [Modest Mark has also written Philosophy books on Green Lantern, Avengers, Watchmen, as well as traditional academic works, check out his Amazon author page link below]

The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero

Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul

Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do

Mark D White’s Amazon Author Page

mark d white cap bat superman philosophy

I highly recommend Alex’s Soul of the Dark Knight book, Mark’s Batman and Philosophy, The Virtues of Captain America – all of which are excellent reading. I also recommend Nav K’s awe-inspiring Comic Book blog, I read it every week and I encourage you do the same.

These three experts on Heroism and and what I call “Hero Theory” have helped me expand my ideas of Heroes, and I am frequently inspired by these three Super-Awesome writers in my own work and life in general.

All that remains is to say a Super big THANK YOU to – Alex, Nav and Mark for taking the time to tell us your thoughts on heroes and superheroes.

This article is part of a series on Heroes and Heroines, I’ve got several more features that will be up soon, so face front true believers and stay tuned for more exciting talk about Heroes and Heroines. And be sure to check out each the works of each of these experts on Heroism.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some more BAT-reading and pondering to do in my man-cave.

batman and philosophy john reading batblog

Batman’s Love Affair with Physical Pain – The Benefits of Pain

Batman beating up goons in alley

For Batman pain is an old friend.

A constant reminder of his physical limitations.

Pain is direct feedback from his immediate environment about what his body can and can not do.

Batman has the presence of mind to be aware of pain, while not being overwhelmed by his physical pain sensations.

The suffering that comes with physical pain Batman transcends by refusing to let the signals of physical pain overwhelm his consciousness. He refuses to let his mind and judgement be clouded by physical pain.

He still feels every bit of the pain, but he does not let that physical signal that travels along his nervous system into his brain turn into mental/psychological suffering because he does not mistake the experience he is having (pain) for who he is (Batman).

Batman accepts that physical pain and injuries are part of his mission. He is not bothered by injuries, other than that they slow him down or prevent him from completing a task.

In one way of looking at Batman’s behavior, Batman abuses his body by pushing it too hard. Another way of looking at his behavior is that Batman refuses to let physical limitations prevent him from accomplishing a task in his war on crime.

Of course there are limits even to what Batman can endure and some types of pain and injury will cause immediate dysfunction and render Batman incapable of doing anything other than calling for help or retreating to heal before coming up with a new plan, tactic or strategy.

We too should know the Bat-Wisdom of when to ask for help, when to retreat, and when to heal and recover.

There are times in life to listen to the signal of pain, and back off from what we are doing – like at the gym or during sport – if we experience an injury, the smart thing is to stop what we are doing, rest, get treatment and use active recovery.

batman-death-mask-1_cover-art

But then there are times when we must push past pain signals and ignore what our body is telling us. We must act in SPITE of pain. We must not let our body run our mind.

We must choose without any external signals to know when to push past limits, and when to respect them. Either way requires a conscious intelligent decision, rather than blind reaction.

For example you wake up and your house is on fire. You children are asleep and you must get them out or they will die.

Your body is screaming at you from the pain of inhaling smoke fumes, you may get burnt during the process or injured by debris or tripping on objects. The door handle burns your hand when you touch it, but if you do not open it you will die.

If you fail to transcend pain, your kids will die.

These are the times to rule our body with an iron fist and ignore the signals to simply get out of the house and live.

The greater perceived potential pain of death and loss helps to us to look past the immediate physical pain and very real present danger.

These are the times to be like Batman, to transcend ordinary circumstances and find our inner hero who will preserve the life of his children and family at all costs, even if it means sacrificing his own.

While we may have to perform a heroic act perhaps once in a lifetime, Batman goes out night after night and does his job, he fulfills his calling to simply “Be Batman”.

Pushing past pain just to kick a ball harder, or lift a weight heavier serves no higher purpose. They are ultimately selfish goals.

It may feel subjectively great, even euphoric to break one of our own athletic records in the moment, but what is more valuable?

Beating some personal record, experiencing a moment of euphoria that may come at the cost of months of rehab after we abuse our bodies – or the saving of a human life?

We must know our own strengths and limitations in life, and we must equally know when to gently move through them gently and respectfully, and when to break down walls like Batman in the Batmobile busting through police blockades and barriers – not just because we can, but because it serves a higher purpose.

Batman leaping yellow glow batsymbol

Batman knows his priorities. He doesn’t doubt himself, or his mission.

He doesn’t care about setting athletic records or lifting a heavy weight for the sake of it.

Batman’s training is ALWAYS practical. That heavy weight lifted in the gym translates into lifting a heavy fallen beam during a fire that has pinned some poor soul to the ground, and will be dead in a matter of moments.

That gymnastic leap, tuck and roll means he can dive through a window, his cape, cowl and gloves protecting him from serious cuts from the glass.

Those brutal training scenarios where he deprives himself of food, water and yes, even oxygen means that Batman has mentally prepared himself for all eventualities, and has a plan for how to beat every impossible scenario he can conceive of. Batman has a rich mental bank of scenarios and escape plans for every type of situation.

While he plans and prepares, Batman must remain focused in the present moment. Ever alert to opportunity and new possibilities emerging that he had not yet anticipated.

While Batman is a master planner and strategist, he is also an expert at off the cuff spontaneous creative simple solutions to difficult problems. He is the MacGyver of the Superhero world. Batman is a master in the fine art of masculine improvisation.

Give Batman a box of matches, a watch and a toothpick with some gum, and he will escape from an impossible trap, build an airplane or defuse a nuclear bomb before he has even had breakfast all while he is bleeding to death with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder.

There’s still something about the character [Macgyver] that strongly resonates. And that resonance actually goes a lot deeper than pop culture; it in fact points to an universal archetype of manliness, and a trait of masculinity that has been valued and celebrated across times and cultures: improvisation. – Brett and Kate McKay / Artofmanliness.com

Whether doing the impossible, or making the extraordinary part of his daily routine, Batman applies personal excellence to all he does in life. He transcends pain not as a masochist, but because his job demands it. He can’t afford to fall to pieces going into a burning building to pull someone out any more than a real life fireman can.

Batman can’t afford to get sloppy and let his physical sensations and emotions overwhelm his decisions on the street any more than a real life cop can. Fear and hesitation in the field can mean death comes sooner than rather than later. However the right kind of fear also can keep us alive. It takes training to trust your instincts under high stress situations, and you know Batman has trained himself for exactly that.

While it is impossible to literally be Batman, we can all learn a little from Batman that we can apply in our daily lives. Batman did not turn into a Superhero, urban vigilante and Champion of Justice overnight – he got there through gradual slow training, making mistakes, experimenting with his own life. He made 1000’s of mistakes on his way to greatness. And he will make a 1000 more mistakes as he continues to evolve as a human being.

The Art of Batmanliness then involves not only transcending pain, but knowing your limits.

It means knowing when to push forward and break down barriers, and when to retreat and lick your wounds, growing stronger with each new stimulus, with each new piece of feedback that life gives you. And being like Batman also means that every time life knocks you on your ass you have the bravery to stand back up and fight on or retreat and replan your approach to your mission.

The man who gets knocked down and stays down beats himself.

The man who gets up no matter what is impossible to beat.

Which type will you be?

let__s_stop_whining____by_vranckx-d56huj7
Batman by Vranckx / DeviantArt

More kick ass art by Vranckx @ http://vranckx.deviantart.com/

SUPERHERO THEORY 101 – Create Iconic Well Defined Characters

 

One of the things I love about Batman…

Is that he is such a well defined character, with such specific values, and a particular look and feel to him, that you have to have some sort of reaction no matter if you encounter him in a comic book or a film.

Batman is iconic not just because he is popular and well known, but because he was designed to be iconic from the beginning.

The silhouette, color scheme and chest insignia make him instantly recognisable. Costumes and colours are key features of designing Superheroes.

Scott McCloud has a great section in his book Understanding Comics on color and specifically the colours of Superheroes, take a look at the two pages below.

Understanding Comics_191 x Understanding Comics_192 xGreat stuff, I never get tired of reading McCloud’s ideas and theories.

Good characters such as Batman have strong values that distinguish them from other characters.

Crap characters that are ill-defined are easily mixed up with similar characters.

Characters such as Spider-Man, Hulk, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman are easily identifiable by their unique look, costume and colours, and their personalities, villains, world/setting/background in their respective fictions.

The more simple a characters costume, potentially the more iconic it is. The more symbolic it is not only of the character, but the values they embody, the adventures and fantasy they stand for and the genre they appear in.

The repeated use of the same colours for superheroes (particularly from the 1940’s-1960’s) came to symbolise the characters themselves as Scott McCloud discussed in work magnum opus Understanding Comics.

Superman Spiderman Hulk Batgirl doodles for iconic colors

Now, I can’t draw to save my life. But take a look at my scribbles above and see if you can recognize the characters from their colour schemes and iconic symbols. Hint: that one with the Bat symbol is NOT Batman.

You can see from my terrible picture that superhero colour schemes may have come about due to the technology (or lack of) at the time for printing what was basically works of art on glorified toiler paper – but they are still recognisable even when a someone like me scribbles down somewhat abstract interpretations of genre classics.

The colour schemes that were a limit of technology came to be an essential feature in the iconography and design of superheroes. Today we have a far more rich and deep colour palette available for both digital and print productions, not to mention colour separations and special lighting effects comparable to movies that just were not possible in the 1940’s. I am glad that limitation was there, because without it, superhero fiction may not have developed the same iconic tropes that they are known for.

While it’s easy to look at a classic Superhero and notice how ridiculous they look, an important feature of Superheroes is that they are larger than life. Their costumes, colours and chest symbols make them instantly recognisable, and distinguish them from ordinary mortals and other types of generic Heroes from different genres.

One of the reasons it is hard to create an original superhero characters today that are as instantly iconic as Superman or Batman, is that it is very hard to distinguish your character from all the other characters that have already been created.

Like walking into a restaurant where every table is full, many of the great iconic costume designs, colour schemes and basic personalities and superhero archetypes are already taken.

This makes it hard for a creator to distinguish their character from all the similar characters already in print.

Sometimes a creator will do something unorthodox that makes the character stand out in some way, what you would call in video game terms a “modifier”.

A modifier is simply taking something familiar and changing one or two things about it.

For example if you are playing a first person team based shooter – on a tropical island – a generic Mercenaries vs Marines game or whatever. An environment modifier may be to change from day to night. An objective modifier may be playing capture the flag, team death match or whatever, while a thematic modifier may be now one team is all zombies, and the other team are humans with very basic weapons such as knives instead of RPGs.

Taking this modifier example to superhero fiction we get simple, but powerful ideas such as:

“This guy is like Batman… but he kills everybody” (moral/behavior modifier)

“This guy is like Superman… but he’s a Nazi in World War II” (setting modifier)

“Here’s a Wonder Woman character… who is openly gay” (character value modifier)

You can take any basic hero archetype and modify one or two things. You keep the archetype recognition value of costumes, powers, chest symbol etc. But you make something just different enough that people think “hhmmmm… interesting” or “boy that looks like gimmicky crap”.

Until we read the imaginary story from one of the above three examples (or a review) we don’t really know if the elevator pitch is any good or gimmicky crap. There is a fine line being being clever and just making a spectacle for the sake of spectacle. Most of the time we get crap in comics, and sometimes we something unique or actually worth reading.

Some writers, such as Warren Ellis manage to do the gimmicky and bizarre stories, with loads of spectacle to get reactions from people, but he also has substance in his stories (most of the time).

apollo and midnighter kiss the authority

It is easy to churn out gimmicky stories that get attention.

“Superman and Batman as gay lovers” (Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority)

It is harder to do the gimmick, but have a decent story to go along with it

“Superman and Batman as gay lovers… in a morally complex Orwellian world where the JLA has decided to take over the world for the benefit of humanity, who are too useless to look after themselves.”

kick ass hirt girl mark millar  Three examples of commercial superhero fiction that COULD have been gimmicky crap, but turned out to be pretty good that I really enjoy are:

  • The TV series HEROES which can be described as “powers without costumes”
  • Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass (character and story) can be described as “costumes without powers”
  • Brian Michael Bendis / Michael Avon Oeming’s POWERS can be described as “detectives without powers who investigate the crimes of those who do have superpowers.

heroes tv show jeph loeb

These three ideas manage to make themselves easily understood, while distinguishing their intellectual property from all the other similar comics, novels, TV, films etc already out there with subtle modifications to superhero genre tropes

While quality can vary during a project, I feel that Powers, HEROES and Kick-Ass were all really solid ideas. They were entertaining and managed to do something new with something familiar (superhero genre conventions), or at least they felt fresh and new, even if we had encountered some of the same ideas in other stories. They may not maintain the same quality all the way through, but the initial idea and execution is solid.

To do something interesting in the superhero genre, you either have to create something that is very very very good so that it can stand out from other works. Or do something that is so unique and different that you can honestly say it has not been done before.

Or do both.

Be unique and very very good,

and the property is more likely to be noticed amid the noise of other properties,

but quality is no guarantee of success.

Powers brian micheal bendis avon oeming

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book is very very VERY good. I really enjoy reading the book, and also watch the brilliant AMC adaptation of the show. However if The Walking Dead was with a minor publisher that had crap distribution, it likely never would have sold as well, and it never would have been turned into a successful television show on a swanky network like AMC that does “proper television”.

Fortunately The Walking Dead was published by IMAGE comics, a company started by comic books writers and artists that values creator rights and royalties. If The Walking Dead had been published by a smaller publisher, we most likely would have never heard of it, let alone have our friends and relatives telling us how good it is. My mother watches The Walking Dead, and she has never read a comic book in her life, or watched a Zombie film. She has watched all of Joss Whedon’s Angel at least twice though. So she does enjoy some genre material.

the walking dead tv series michonne comic kill zombie 11

If The Walking Dead had been published by a bigger brand publisher like DC or MARVEL then Robert Kirkman would have had no real stake in the intellectual property. The Walking Dead  most likely never would have been made into a television show. It probably would never have built much of an audience as DC and Marvels’ bread and butter is superheroes, not zombie fiction.

Because of the success of The Walking Dead as a property, and Robert Kirkman’s success as a writer, we got to read fun projects like Marvel Zombies. Where the entire Marvel Universe is turned into Zombies and they eat the whole planet, before leaving to eat people on new worlds with the powers they absorbed from eating Galactus. The Incredible Hulk eating Silver Surfer’s head in one of my favourite scenes from Kirkman’s Marvel Zombies series. It is as gut-wrenching and disgusting and grim as any issue of The Walking Dead, but it is also laugh out loud hilarious throughout the series. Even Robert Kirkman himself (in the trade collection introduction) could not believe what Marvel let him do with their iconic characters.

hulk eat silver surfer head mostly skull

Superhero fiction then works best when we know the genre tropes. Writers can surprise us by subverting or modifying these tropes to make something new, or that at least FEELS new, or interesting.

I love post-modern superhero fiction. But I wish more of it was hilarious like Marvel Zombies, and less grim and boring like Allan Moore’s Miracleman.

Yes I just said that. Miracleman is brilliant and important and blah blah blah. But it also DEAD BORING! It doesn’t even have one good zombie in the whole story!

Give me Mark Waid’s Irredeemable any day of the week over Miracleman. It has any evil Superman that tries to kill the whole planet. It’s 30 issues of exciting superhero fiction that manages to be iconic, subvert genre tropes and it is not CRIMINALLY BORING!

Well I’m done.

More on this topic in the near future no doubt.

5 Embarrassingly Bad Batman Habits That Had to Go

We all have bad habits.

Things we want to keep in the past and would rather our friends not know about us.

But Batman is better than us, right? He’s a master of martial arts, criminology, a a world class detective and apparently a real jack-ass.

It’s time to rifle through Batman’s dirty laundry and shake some skeletons out of the closet and see what turns up.

Here is a list of the Dark Knight’s embarrassingly bad habits, some of which he has managed to beat.

Let’s count down 5 of Batman’s most ill-advised habits, and I’m sure you can suggest a few Bad Batman Habits in the comments.

#5 BATMAN’S CHAIN SMOKING HABIT

In the modern comics Batman is in tip top shape. But it was not always that way. In his earliest appearances he was constantly smoking a tobacco pipe, fitting in time to solve murder cases when we was bored, nor too busy smoking.

Bruce Wayne Smokes a pipe
Smokey Wayne is on the Case!

Batman / Bruce Wayne loved a good puff back in the day.

Sometimes when he was not busy smoking he would even consider solving a case or two. Because he had “nothing else to do”.

“A murder, how frightfully boring!”

#4 BATMAN USES GUNS

It is no secret that Batman used guns in his first year as a masked dual identity avenger. But that was swiftly changed when the DC staff realized how much kids loved batman – they did away with the guns. Modern Batman has also used guns sometimes, usually getting retconned away at the blink of a batarang.

Batman using guns

I love the scene where Batman shoots at some explosives as a distraction.

“Well here goes. I hope I don’t get blown up.”

Way to use your that brain of yours Batman. IDIOT!

#3 BATMAN KEEPS KILLING PEOPLE

The cavalier attitude of Batman in his first year as the Dark Knight Detective resulted in significant incidental deaths. Knocking people out of high rise window, off platforms in chemical factories, swinging into a dudes neck with his foot resulting in a broken neck, not to mention hanging one of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men in Batman#1.

Batman kills people
“Sorry about that old chum!”

In Detective Comics #27 Batman shoves a man over a railing into an acid tank.

In Detective Comics #30 Batman swings toward a bad guy with his head out a window, his foot directly colliding with the unfortunate mans neck. A sickening *snap* highlights the Batman’s brutal treatment of this criminal.

If you thought that was bad, it gets worse. In the back up story in Batman #1 (the same issue where Robin debuts) Batman hangs one of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men.

The Hanging Avenger
The Hanging Avenger

On the previous page he fires a mounted machine gun at the bad guys van, commenting

“Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary!”

Whoops, butterfingers

If you thought that Batman executing a criminal was bad, it gets worse…

In Detective Comics #39, Batman pushes a giant idol onto a whole mess of bad guys with no remorse, and no good for reason for doing it in the first place.

Unlike in the  video games, these guys are not just resting their eyes for a really long time.

Batman expresses his disapproval of all the night rave party
Batman expresses his disapproval of all the night rave party

#2 BATMAN IS A DRUG ADDICT

In Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20 Batman gets hooked on the super steroid drug Venom (the same drug that villain Bane would take years later).

After failing to save the life of a young girl trapped underwater by a giant boulder, Batman is convinced he needs to get stronger. Failing to surpass his limits in weight lifting, he turns to a new designer drug from a madman chemist who is out to build his own mindless insane Super Soldiers, and he wants to recruit Batman. (Yeah he’s also the villain SHERLOCK, way to use that Bat-Brain of yours again World’s Best Detective!)

The Dark Knight eventually triumphs, but not before becoming a deranged addict, sending Alfred packing and refusing to read the newspaper.

“You got what I need fella”

            Batman goes to his dealer and also disrespects Alfred. I have not included the panel where he beats                 up a young kid and threatens to rips his head off. No, I’m not joking.

Bruce disrespects his main man Al

An overly aggressive and out of balance Bruce sends his trusty Butler and friend Alfred packing

Legends of the Dark Knight #18,1991 has the infamous cover of a strung out Bruce Wayne. In this issue he comes to his senses and has Alfred lock him in the Batcave for a month in a self-imposed detox.

Somebody needs a bath

And in the next issue after Batman kicks his habit he fights a shark on one of my favourite Batman covers of all time.

Proving to kids that they don’t need drugs to fight crime or beat up innocent sea creatures!

Batman jumps the shark
Batman jumps the shark
Okay, some of that stuff was a little bit crazy, but now it’s time to get nuts…

THEN LET'S GET NUTS!!
THEN LET’S GET NUTS!!

#1 BATMAN IS BATBALLS CRAZY

In World Finest Comics #153, 1965 Batman becomes convinced that Superman killed his father, slaps Robin for DARING to question his insane crusade to get Superman, and teams up with Lex Luthor (after revealing he is secretly Bruce Wayne/Batman) to finally take down Superman.

Sounds CRAZY?

Well it was.

The story was part of DC’s line of “Imaginary Stories”. Whatever the hell that meant. Stories that were made up for comic books that never really happened. You know, like every comic book story ever.

World's Finest#153 spawned one of the most well known Batman internet memes
World’s Finest#153 spawned one of the most well known Batman internet memes

Wait a minute, are not ALL comic books stories made up stories?

Who can say what really happened, what was an imaginary story, hallucination or dream sequence? The writers? The readers? Does anyone really care?

It’s a pointless discussion, as all superhero comics are imaginary stories. But fans actually argue about this kind of nonsense all the time in internet forums, podcasts etc. I’ve never done it… as far as you know.

Anyway, take a look at the images for yourself and see how crazy Batman was in this story.

For my next crime, vandalism of a public figure

Batman is convinced Superman killed his dad! He must get revenge, but not before he vandalizes a giant picture of Superman – the fiend!

Why he bothered to get a near life sized portrait of Superman to scratch up with a knife when he could have been busy getting revenge on his friend I don’t know. But Bruce Wayne is crazy and has loads of money, so he’ll probably write it off come tax time.

Time for a little Bat-Brain-washing old chum
Time for a little Bat-Brain-washing old chum

While it is highly unlikely Batman will use any of the bizarre tactics from World’s Finest #153 in Batman V Superman, the idea that he just might makes me laugh.

“I’ll end Superman’s career forever”

Yells an angry Batman to a picture of his parents on the wall.

Yeah, yelling at pictures will get the job done Bats, you nutcase!

Then Batman *slaps* Robin for daring to question his totally bonkers ideas about Superman.

Of course then he hypnotizes Robin (*cough* brain washes) to make him forget their conversation before dashing off like a lunatic to shoot Superman with an air rifle on the next page.

Remember, Batman was NOT on drugs in this story kids, that was a different story.

Help a Superfriend out Brother!
Help a Superfriend out Brother!

Batman puts his sniper skills to the test, tagging Superman with a radioactive tracer round.

It was probably just super-gas from the ass!
It was probably just super-gas from the super ass!
Superman picks up an odd sound, but otherwise has no idea that his best friend just fired a rifle at him. Some friend Batman is!

Later in the story, Batman knocks out Superman with a Kryptonite Batarang, (as you do for good friends) putting a quick end to the former World’s Finest team. It’s dopey but still kind of cool.

Superman tangles with the disgusting snot encrusted Batarang
Superman tangles with the disgusting snot encrusted Batarang

During the story Batman reveals his secret identity to Luthor, and teams up with him. The story ends with Batman accidentally finding out (through not using his famous detective skills whatsoever) that Lex Luthor was the one who really killed his father. DOH!

Somebody get that Snot-arang off poor Superman before I throw up
Somebody get that Snot-arang off poor Superman before I throw up
The Worlds Greatest Jack-Ass triumphs again.
WHOOPS! Sorry about that old chum. 
“I’ve taken you down with my Kryptonite Batarang and now now I must confess my secret identity to your worst enemy, who is now my new best friend”.
I hope you had as much fun reading this post as I did writing it, it took me ages as I could not stop laughing at some of these crazy panels.

So what bad habits do you feel Batman needs to give up? I look forward to reading your comments.

Superman, John Wayne and Apple Pie

A hero at best can only reflect our cultural values.

A hero reflects the way we want to see ourselves.

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

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

The hero archetype occurs in diverse cultures around the world.

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

superman pie 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic golden age superman

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

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

Batman Superman yin yang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

superman seinfeld 1

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

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

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

Superman_Peace_On_Earth_COVER Alex Ross Paul Dini

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

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

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

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

-JLA #4

Superman_Peace_On_Earth CROPPED

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

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

Or at least he was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-John Ford on casting Wayne in Stagecoach

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

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

John Wayne Stagecoach1
John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many classical and contemporary heroes have been exactly that.  But the further evolution of the hero and superhero archetype is not dependent on reinforcing limiting cultural values of the oppression of any individual or group.  The hero and heroine archetype does not have to continue to be one of sexism, violence and death, it has far more potential as an archetype of higher values, compassion, co-operation and service to humanity.
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With popular comic book heroes we get our puritan moral characters such as Superman and Captain America, our dark, cynical and conflicted characters such as Wolverine, Batman and The Punisher, alongside more middle of the road moral characters such as Spider-Man, and monsters such as the half-human/vampire Blade and the genetic atomic monster The Incredible Hulk.  The hero-ism and moral values of these characters varies, each can be said to emphasise a different aspect of the human psyche, allowing for playful healthy expression of our higher values and darker desires in safe context.

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

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

Suicide Squad Dirty Dozen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman Red Son Iredeemable The Authority

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

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

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

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

superman values grid_12

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

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

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

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

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

superman 233 Neal Adams classic cover

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

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

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

Superman_Peace_On_Earth BACK COVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern War1
War of Nations by Dustsplat / Deviantart

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

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

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

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

Every country has its best self and its worst self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iron Man Downey Marvel Movie Lone Ranger Depp Armie Hammer

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

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

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

John Wayne creed Tomorrow

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

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

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

I CAN AND I WILL, I DO AND I DARE

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

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

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

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

-Josh Grayson / SupermanHomepage.com

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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.

Werewolf by El Grimlock Deviant Art
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.

Dr Doom Superman
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.

Ellen Ripley Wonder Woman Buffy Vampire Slayer Female Goddess Heroine1
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!

Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face: Gotham’s White Knight

harvey-dent I belive in harvey dent Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale Ledger

Aaron Eckhart could have been Batman.

He has the square jaw and intensity of Batman, the charisma, charm, slick confident attitude and good looks to be Bruce Wayne.

It seems fitting that an actor who could have easily played Batman / Bruce Wayne ends up becoming Two-Face.

Two-Face has been handled differently in the comics according to the values of the day, and who was writing the character.  In his original inception, he is a knock off of a Dick Tracy era “ugly gangster with a gimmick”.

The split in half suit of contrasting colours, double sided coin and split personality were a gimmick that made Two-Face distinguishable from other comic book or pulp villains.  The classical look of Two-Face speaks to the era of guys in suits, Al Capone era bad guys, mob enforcers and other similar crooks and made men.

The modern day version of Two-Face plays up the similarities and differences between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, and gives more emphasis to the psychology of Two-Face rather than just the gimmick clothing, coin and gangster schtick.

In Batman: The Animated Series the early years of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent show the two of them as friends and contemporaries.  Both men are passionate about law and order, and genuinely care about proactively fixing the corrupt city they live in.

Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale Ledger

The relationship of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent was retroactively established in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Comics are a strange medium where time is fluid, where events can change seemingly without warning.  The next retcon (retro-active continuity) is only just around the corner for most modern characters.

When the friendship of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne was established in the Batman comics, set during his earlier years in Millers Year One, it retroactively meant that every story before that was now affected by this new continuity.  It meant the relationship had always existed, even if stories  in the previous decades had failed to mention it.

That Harvey Dent / Bruce Wayne relationship endures in most modern interpretations of Batman.  Nolan’s The Dark Knight takes it cues from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween.

The movie version of Two-Face is played by Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s White Knight, a bastion of goodness, moral virtue and incorruptibility.  He is a day time version of Batman, who needs no mask and operates within the law, he exists as a bold contrast to Batman’s Dark Knight.

Thank you for smoking Aaron Eckhart Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale 2 sm

In some ways The Dark Knight is more the story of Harvey Dent than Bruce Wayne.  The entire film sets up Harvey Dents’s inevitable fall from grace, he is used as the Joker’s example (one of his many pawns) of how even the best of us can become rotten inside, if we were not already rotten to begin with.

Even the best of us can turn our backs on our own highest values and dreams, and instead be overcome with anger, grief, depression, vindictiveness, the need for revenge or to take out our frustrations on the world, rather than owning our behavior, and accepting the roles and responsibilities as authors of our own lives.

Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face comes about not because of the scars on his face, the damage to his body, but because of the unbalancing of his fragile mind.  He becomes Two-Face because of his psychological scars, although the movie does hint that he has a hidden dark side.

A throwaway line earlier in the film has Gary Oldman’s Gordon refer to Dent as “Harvey Two-Face”, a name he had been called by former associates. Whether this meant he was genuinely bad, or just unpopular because did his job so well, putting criminals behind bars (many of whom who had were in league with corrupt cops) is unknown.  The Joker does not make Two-Face so much as give Harvey Dent a small push at a critical point in his downfall.

Had the Joker hospital room conversation with Harvey taken place earlier in the film, Harvey might have laughed it off. Instead in his fragile, weakened and traumatised state, he subconscious is laid bare, he openly lets the Joker’s foul ideas into his own mind, and accepts them as his own.

Two-Face is one of the most popular villains in the long running various Batman comic books.  While it was good to see him used in the Nolan Batman Trilogy, we only see Harvey Dent become Two-Face towards the last third of the film.  He could have been the main villain in a Batman film, rather than a side-note.

A one time gimmick character who appears only sporadically through Batman’s first thirty years became a staple in the Bat mythos of the seventies and eighties and has been used regularly since then up until the modern day era.  The character has enough complexity and depth to him that there are more stories yet to be told with Harvey Two-Face.

Considering the amount of characters, plots and sub-plots that must be given screen time in the Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart does an excellent job with the Two-Face character.

Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale 2 movie conept poster

I really enjoyed Aaron Eckhart’s performance, and would have liked to have seen more of him as Two-Face in the Dark Knight film, before his untimely demise at the hands of Batman.  Despite his strict “no-killing” policy Batman manages to cause the death (directly or indirectly) of a major villain in each of Nolan’s three Batman films.

Whoops, so much for those values and codes of behavior Batman holds so dear.

One weaker element of The Dark Knight is Dent’s relationship with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) which seems under baked at best.  Poor Rachel seems to exist in a man’s world, where despite being a strong, feisty independent woman, her role still revolves around the men in this fictional world.

In Batman Begins Rachel wants to be with Bruce, but that does not work out as Bruce will not give up being Batman.  In The Dark Knight, she is with Harvey Dent, but then he dies.  It is assumed that between the films she reverts to the strong independent solo women she supposedly is, but any time we see Rachel on screen – in either film – we only see her reacting to events caused by the male leads, or being saved by Batman who is also secretly Bruce Wayne, or being held hostage by a villain.  She fails to exist as her own character separate from the male heroes and villains.

It is no secret that women come off second best in Christopher Nolan’s films.  They are there to serve the plot, and the male leads.  Nolan is no more guilty than the majority of other mainstream films in a patriarchal society that is content to churn out multiple male superhero leads every year, despite roughly half their potential audience being women.

Rather than being second-stringers, it is long past the time when we should be seeing female leads in superhero films, there are no shortage of characters to choose from.

But getting back on topic, I really liked Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face, he was a welcome addition to the Nolan Batman franchise, and his face looks truly horrific in the film.  I was surprised how graphic and detailed his realistically damaged face looked on screen.

I winced when I first saw it, but the horror fan in me was proud of the special effects and attention to detail shown in Dent’s exposed eye socket, jaw, teeth and muscle and connective tissue.  In The Dark Knight Eckhart shows us some of his best talents.

He shows us his charming best qualities – the slick charismatic and genuine guy we saw in Thank You for Smoking, the leadership  qualities he displayed in Battle: Los Angeles and the softer, fragile tender side he displayed in Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman.

I think Aaron Eckhart is a wonderful actor, and I have enjoyed following his career and hope to see him in more films that really utilise his talents and have him grow as an actor and a human being.

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Have you read these other Nolan Bat Trilogy posts?

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

Christopher Nolan – The Intellectual Knight Gotham needs

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

Heath Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance PART#2

HOW TO BE LIKE BATMAN PART#1: Mental Training and Physical Conditioning

Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.

-Albert Einstein

Batman and The Joker Pin Up

What does it really mean to be like Batman?

Not the part about punching crime in the face while dressed up as a giant bat.  But the core values and characteristics that guide Batman in his war on crime.  What can we learn from this fictional character, what real world inspiration can we learn from his example, and what part of our own greater potential as human beings can we embody through the example of Batman?

To be Batman means the constant training of mind and body.  The disciplines of meditation, weight lifting, and gymnastics require a certain type of focus.  An ability to narrow stimuli from the world around us and concentrate only on the task at hand, what is right in front of you.

From a survival point of view, these kinds of training are stupid non-essential activities.  They require a trust that nobody will attack you while you perform them.  They require concentration that means shutting out the external signals around you, or if not all signals, at least narrowing your attention to a much smaller amount of total sense data.

The Batman embodies such values as physical discipline of his body through rigorous systematic training.  The lessons learned through physical training include respecting the limits of your body and when to go beyond them.

Systematic training means applying our intelligence creatively.  Studying sound scientific principles on ergonomics, body mechanics, how muscle tissue is stimulated to grow through progressive overload, getting adequate nutrition and rest to allow for full recovery and growth of muscle, tendons, bones etc.

Physical discipline often means getting up at odd hours to train, at times we may feel uncomfortable, and we may find this routine downright unpleasant.  However there is a very real sense of satisfaction when you keep your body fit and well through regular exercise and healthy eating habits.  There is a joy in sculpting your body to the proportions you prefer, rather than just settling for what nature gave you.

Batman Origins (2)

The Batman cultivates an attitude of never giving up, no matter the odds, no matter how desperate the situation.  Imprisoned in some ridiculously hopeless situation, a deadly death trap or poisoned yet again by one of his rogues gallery, rather than going to pieces he relies on his mental training.  Batman relies on his mind to provide him with the answers he needs, and is highly adaptable in any situation.  He may fail in the short term, be captured, beaten, broken etc.  But he uses each defeat strategically to give himself more data and feedback for future scenarios.

Our routine, known thoughts and feelings perpetuate the same state of being, which creates the same behaviors, and creates the same reality. So if we want to change some aspect of our reality, we have to think, feel, and act in new ways; we have to “be” different in terms of our responses to experiences. We have to “become” someone else. We have to create a new state of mind … we need to observe a new outcome with that new mind.

-Joe Dispenza

Like firemen, police and the military, it is crucial for in dangerous situations for Batman not to go to pieces, not to panic and render himself helpless and useless.  This is most easily accomplished by training, specifically in as realistic as possible scenarios that allow the trainee to condition their response to stress and high levels of danger.

The trainee becomes the calm in the eye of the storm, the unshakable rock in an earthquake.  While we may not want to go to the lengths Batman does, we can challenge ourselves by moving outside of our comfort zone on a semi-regular basis.

We can condition ourselves to remain calm in any situation through role plays, practicing our skills under stressful situations and meditation.  Combining meditation with real world role-play type scenarios is a powerful one-two combo to the face the fear, doubt and insecurity.  Being a master of one’s own senses means not being a slave to every impulse that comes along.  It means when we experience genuine danger (no matter the degree) we don’t go to pieces and panic.

It means when we get adrenaline and nor-adrenaline dumped into our body during the fight or flight response that we move, we act, rather than freezing like a deer in headlights while life steam rolls right over us without mercy.

While we can not just turn off our fight or flight response  – our body responds directly to danger, whether real or perceived, independent of our thoughts or emotions – we can condition ourselves so that when we are in that state, we slow down our thoughts, choose our actions consciously rather than unconsciously.  We can direct our body to do what we want it to, even under extremely dangerous and stressful environments.

Habitual meditators enjoy the benefits of improved memory, cognition, emotional balance, lowered blood pressure without medication, they age more slowly, sleep better, enjoy improved performance in athletic activities and dozens more documented benefits with enough scientific papers to build your own life size paper-mache Batcave.

He doesn’t have any superpowers except for his extraordinary capacity for self-discipline

-Christopher Nolan, director of the Dark Knight Trilogy

The natural thing to do in a burning building is get the hell out.  Yet fireman enter burning buildings as part of their job.  Police pursue dangerous criminals, rather than run away from them.  Batman jumps into a circle of armed maniacs rather than taking a night off to play the newest Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed.

Being Batman (or like Batman) means saying no to goofing off, eating crap and missing heavy squats at the gym.  To be like Batman means developing an IRON-WILL.

To be like Batman means conditioning your body to the best of your ability through multiple methods of training.  Having a razor sharp mind honed through meditation, contemplation, analysis, and detective work, using intellect and intuition in equal measure.  Being like Batman means learning from mentors and trainers who are smarter and better than you, who have the real world skills you want to learn, whatever that may be.

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What practical step can we take to be more like Batman?  Here are some Action Steps to be like Batman:

CONDITION YOUR BODY TO MOVE

Perform physical training that is useful in how it applies to the real world, and not just in a gym or sport.  We all need to be able to squat, pick something up from the floor, stand up and lift the object over our heads.  These are some of the most basic movements in life.  It requires mobility and functional strength in the hips and pelvis, upper and lower spine, shoulders, knees, ankles and elbows.  Add in movements like crawling, walking, pushing and pulling, holding, jumping and running, and you have covered most ranges of motion.

Now do everything in reverse, and you have covered even more ranges of motion, and worked your muscles out in a new way.  Don’t have money for a gym membership?  Go for walks outside.  But a sack of potatoes or another heavy awkward object and take it to the park or your back yard and practice lifting it in different ways.  Pre-industrial cultures typically carried their young children around on their back or front for several hours a day.

Modern people push kids in strollers and don’t develop strength endurance from carrying objects over long distances.  By relying on convenience and luxury our bodies get little to no exercise and then we complain when they fall apart and we get sick often.

If you want to change, you must have in your thoughts an idealized self—a model that you can emulate, which is different from, and better than, the
“you” that exists today in your particular environment, body, and time.
-Joe Dispenza, author of “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One”

SEEK OUT MENTORS

Seek out mentors, guides and teachers, learn from them all you can, then move on to find more mentors who can deepen your skills or learn entirely new fields of knowledge.  This is your Tony Robbins 101 right here.  We seek out people in life who are already successful at whatever we want to do.  A good mentor is someone we can consciously model.  We model not just what they teach us, but learn other useful habits and skills that are often communicated non-verbally.

MEDITATE

Meditate to keep your mind sharp, body relaxed, and reduce the effect of stress on the body.  This means aiming to change your state from Beta brain waves to Alpha brain waves.  And for your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) located in your spine to move the bodies state from emphasis on the Sympathetic Nervous System to Para-sympathetic Nervous System – from arousal, action and exercise to relaxation, meditation and sleep.

The more we condition our mind/body through the breath, meditation, mental training and exercise, the easier is is to transition from one state to another effortlessly.  To be in a state of arousal when we want to sleep is not helpful, neither is being sleepy or overly relaxed when we need to go for a run or drive a car or pay attention at work.  With practice, we create what NLP refers to as an “anchor”, basically a shortcut to any mental state we want to be in.

We rewire the circuitry of our brain through repetition allowing us to move into whatever state we choose, in a short frame of time.  Be it going to sleep, or priming our nervous system before lifting a heavy weight, any state that requires concentration, alertness, extreme focus or extreme relaxation, we can get there faster through the conditioning of repetition

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There is a principle in neuroscience called Hebb’s law. It basically states that “nerve cells that fire together, wire together.” Hebb’s credo demonstrates that if you repeatedly activate the same nerve cells, then each time they turn on, it will be easier for them to fire in unison again. Eventually those neurons will develop a long-term relationship.
-Joe Dispenza, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”

DEDICATE YOURSELF TO A CAUSE

No man (or woman) succeeds beyond the cause he devotes himself to.  You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to make a difference in the world.  While giving to charities may ease your social conscience, it it just not the same as volunteering in your community, getting your hands dirty and meeting people.  Dedicating yourself to a cause is a highly personal thing, and nobody can choose it for you, or coerce you into taking up a cause in the first place.

Batman is devoted to his War on Crime.  But he is also devoted to philanthropy, developing the community in Gotham through backing charities, trusts and funds.  He takes an active hand in visiting orphanages, knowing the pain of being an orphan himself.  He actively looks for community projects to be involved in, not just as an anonymous old man money bags, but as an individual keenly interested in every stage of a project, from concept to practical implementation.

DEVELOP AN IRON-WILL

Jack Lalanne the famous exercise and health guru performed many amazing feats of strength and endurance in his lifetime.  But some of the most important things he did were to eat real food, get some exercise every day and set himself new challenges to conquer.  Just as important was his attitude to life and exercise, the way he kept a smile on his face and a positive attitude contributed to his longevity.  His feats of strength and endurance forged an IRON-WILL that the Batman would be proud of:

“I do it as a therapy. I do it as something to keep me alive. We all need a little discipline. Exercise is my discipline.” – Jack Lalanne

We don’t all have to be Conan or Xena or Batman or Jack Lalanne to be fit and in good health.  Walking, swimming, or riding a bike are all fine exercises.  But if you want to be like Batman, it means going the extra mile, going beyond mere fitness to peak conditioning.  This can be a pursuit in itself, or a complement to a particular sport or other form of training like martial arts, wrestling or MMA.

But just as important, if not more important than physical conditioning is having an iron will and a determined can-do attitude.  Many an athlete or martial artist was let down by their own lousy attitude.  A weak will means never challenging yourself in life and letting mediocrity creep in to every part of your being.  It means living a shallow unsatisfying life.  When I think of an IRON-WILL I think of Louis Zamperini, the real life war hero who was the basis of the movie “Unbroken”.

An IRON-WILL is not just for Batman.  Developing an IRON-WILL is working out your mental muscle, and is for every day people, students, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters, boyfriends and girlfriends.  Developing an IRON-WILL is not about being a hard ass, it is about saying “YES!” to life and doing whatever you need to get done, even when you don’t want to do it.  Especially when you don’t want to do it.

You get off your ass and you act, you go about your day with purpose, drive and determination.  And when things don’t go your way, you don’t bitch and moan about it, you simply put any negative experiences behind you and move on, focusing on the task at hand, and refocus on what your next achievement will be.  That’s how Batman does it, he doesn’t have time to indulge in complaining about the past, and neither do you.

READ MORE ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

How to Be Like Batman PART#2: Develop an IRON WILL

How to Be Like BATMAN PART#3: CORE VALUES

How to Be Like BATMAN PART#4: Build Self Confidence Brick by Brick