Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dialogue on Superman and Batman: May 22, 2008

Gavin: SO why do you like Superman so much?
me: Me? Who said I did?
2:52 PM Gavin: Don't you?
me: I had a powerful childhood attachment to a Superman doll.
Gavin: It's like a Beatles/Elvis thing.
And I thought you were on the Superman side of the question.
2:53 PM me: Because of that, I've been given many Superman objects.
Gavin: Ah.
2:54 PM me: I probably prefer Batman as a character.
My favorite childhood superhero (say, 4+) was Spider-man.
Gavin: Well, that makes the discussion much less fun. :-)
2:55 PM me: I had glow-in-the-dark Spider-Man pajamas, that I got for my fifth birthday. They were awesome.
I also really liked Voltron then too.
Gavin: I find Superman much less resonant than Batman.
me: There's something appealing about Superman's terminal quality.
2:56 PM He's like Saint Anselm's God.
Gavin: And I can elucidate my reasons for being interested in Batman as an icon, but I've been looking for some insight into Suprman.
me: There's a good cartoon that I watched that has a nice take on Superman.
Gavin: I've been interested in the way in which when Superman and Batman are at odds, Batman seems to win far more than his share.
me: It's Justice League: The New Frontier.
Gavin: And I wonder how much of that is narrative necessity.
2:57 PM me: Well, Superman rarely has to exert himself strategically.
Gavin: It Batman and Superman are really fighting, and Superman is to win, then there's not much left of Batman.
me: It's all about how he's going to overpower you. While Batman has to rely on a different set of skills and strategies.
2:58 PM Gavin: You seem to like that "New Frontier" cartoon. I've avoided it as not being part of the Bruce Timm DC universe, but I haven't really heard all that much about it.
me: If Superman regularly fought people who fought like Batman, it would be different.
I only saw the New Frontier cartoon a few days ago.
2:59 PM I've previously spoken favorably of Superman: Doomsday.
Gavin: I've heard just a little more about that one.
me: The crappy part of Frontier is the villain.
3:00 PM Superman only really fights people with overwhelming power, people with no power at all, or people who trick and trap him.
You'd think he would be better at detecting tricks and traps.
But now, he always charges in.
Gavin: With X-Ray vision? Yes.
3:01 PM me: And super-senses.
You'd think he'd be able to hear or smell Kryptonite gas.
Gavin: You know, if I were ever to write a Batman/Superman, I think I'd have to explore Superman/Clark Kent and Batman stripped of Bruce Wayne.
3:02 PM me: The other thing to wonder about is why Superman is so impotent. It's almost as though he has a psychological aversion to using his full powers.
He's always reining it in, like a boy embarassed by his erections.
Gavin: One, depending on the Superman characterization, doesn't seem to make sense. Why does Superman need a secret identity? He has (almost) no vulnerabilities? What does he have to gain?
3:03 PM me: Presumably he's trying to observe and understand people, and he wants to have friends, a romantic life, etc.
Gavin: Batman is almost the reverse. He gains too much from his secret identity. Unlimited funds, friends everywhere, the ability to buy and build anything, and keep trophies of everything.
3:04 PM Yes, and I think that would lead superman to spend most of his time as Clark Kent.
me: Yet at the same time, "Bruce Wayne" is a much bigger farce than "Clark Kent."
Gavin: Which he may actually "do" in the comics, but not in terms of panel time.
Yes, and thus why bother maintaining something so cares so little about?
3:05 PM me: What Batman should really do is fake Bruce Wayne's death.
3:06 PM Put Alfred or Barbara Gordon in charge of the company and be Batman full time.
Gavin: Well, again, I like the idea of Batman being stripped of Bruce Wayne, the secret getting out, at least to people who matter, and limiting Wayne's access to resources.
And Batman continuing to wear the mask not because it keeps a secret, but because it is his face.
3:07 PM In that way, not just Batman but Bruce Wayne himself becomes part of the urban legend.
Also, get rid of the Bat-Signal, and the Batmobile.
3:08 PM me: The biographical Bruce Wayne really is Batman, while the biogra[hical Kal-El is a version of Clark Kent.
Gavin: In a sense, but again, I like your idea of Supes being ashamed of his powers.
3:09 PM To the point where it pains him to put on the cape.
Clark Kent is actually a strange double-blind.
Becuase Superman is a mask.
And clumsy, mild-mannered Clark Kent in Metropolis is a mask.
3:10 PM Clark on the farm in Kansas is what you're referring to as the biographical Clark Kent/Kal-El.
In a sense, Supes hides even more than Bats.
Bats is really Bats in the cape.
3:11 PM Supes is only really himself when he's visiting the farm in Smallville.
me: That's why Batman increasingly wears the costume when he
's in the Batcave.
By himself, alone.
In a mask and cape.
Gavin: I think the costume could stand a redesign too.
3:12 PM me: I can think of two reasons why Kal-El would be ashamed of his powers.
Gavin: Something a cross between Batman Year One, and Batman Year 100.
Which are both good takes on Bats.
me: First, he's been conditioned to hide them for so long, that he has to overcome psychological resistence to using them.
This is the sort of "ashamed of his own erection" theory.
The other is the primal trauma.
Gavin: But Kal-El's shame is more than just his powers. Kal-El is nearly always hiding.
3:13 PM me: Superman's powers are a direct result of the destruction of his planet and the death of his parents and every other member of his race.
His powers make him an outsider to humans, but an outsider to Kryptonians, too.
Gavin: But that's something he knows about, but doesn't remember.
At least in my take.
My take would be--no other Kryptonites.
me: Still, he's forced to acknowledge it.
3:14 PM Gavin: No Supergirl, no bottle city of Kandor.
me: It's not like other Kryptonians had the same powers.
Gavin: Not even ma & pa Kent know much about Krypton, and they don't understand & aren't interested in what they know.
It's alien, literally.
me: Everything Superman does is an effort to make meaning out of that loss.
3:15 PM Just like Batman.
But while Batman hardens himself against his own feelings of vulnerability, Superman does the opposite.
He is wary of and maybe even resentful towards his powers.
Gavin: Yeah, but in all truth, I like Batman not so much as a man driven by the death of his parents, but as himself.
me: Not least because without them, he and the Kents could just pretend.
3:16 PM Gavin: He would have been Batman, in one slightly different shape or another regardless.
Ah, but I like the home-ness of Clark using his powers on his farm.
me: I don't remember which thing I read, but I always liked the idea that Bruce Wayne comes up against a bizarre wish-fulfillment -- he wanted his parents to die. He wishes he were the criminal who killed them. That's why he becomes one of them.
3:17 PM Gavin: There's a solitude on the farm, a separation that means that he usually doesn't have to pretend.
The wish fulfillment thing gets played with a lot, but often in contrast to a villian that's a mirror image of Bruce.
Both Hush and The Black Mask are like that.
Have that sort of a back story.
3:18 PM me: But see, if you give Kal-El the same psychological depth, then you have to grant that there's at least some element of resentment towards the Kents.
Gavin: Yes!
me: Even if it's awkward, pubescent resentment.
Gavin: Alienation.
me: Superman has to be seen as a kind of perpetual teenager.
3:19 PM Gavin: Which becomes self-alienation, because what separates Kal-El from the Kents is somthing he himself doesn't really understand, because there's absolutely no one to explain it to him.
me: All of the plays on son and sun -- the sun gives him his powers, the sun killed his parents.
Gavin: The rural gay teenager that thinks that he's the only one in the world.
me: Chunks of his home world continue to poison him, yet that's all he wants to return to.
3:20 PM Gavin: Except Kal-El is the only one of him in the world.
(Also, fewer other superheroes.)
me: and none as powerful and alien as he is.
Gavin: Maybe The Flash, Green Lantern, but that's about it. Just Supes and Bats.
3:21 PM me: I like the idea of a rel btw supes and j'onn j'onnz.
Gavin: Not many supervillians either.
3:22 PM Luthor and the Joker would be allowed, because they have no powers.
The Martian Manhunter has never been a character that I've been terribly aware of.
He again, almost has too many powers.
3:23 PM He can fly AND he's strong AND he can shapeshift AND he can read minds?
Too much.
3:24 PM me: Yeah, it's kind of a grab bag.
3:25 PM But he's the other superpowerful alien from a dead world.
Gavin: Right.
me: and infinitely more mature than Kal-El.
Gavin: Ha!
me: If more obviously scarred.
3:26 PM John lost his children.
Gavin: Yeah, but his secret identity is an old, pulpy trench-coat detective.
3:27 PM me: Batman has a great line in the Frontier cartoon:
Gavin: The cartoon rightfully ignored it.
me: "With the other one I need to lug around a 70,000 dollar radioactive rock.
3:28 PM Gavin: :-)
me: "With you, all I need is a dime for a pack of matches."
Gavin: With J'onzz I just need a pack of matches.
Yeah, that's what I thought it would be. :-)
3:29 PM me: Again, that's what makes Batman different.
He always has a plan to kill everyone he knows.
He's like the RAND corporation of superheroes.
3:30 PM Gavin: Yeah, Batman knows everything about everyone.
And even has a plan to take himself down.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Another take on heroes, Superman's hesitancy to use his full power within the comics, and the Superman/Batman contrast, courtesy of "How it should have ended."

How Superman Should Have Ended.