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Batman, My Hero!
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Over at This Writing Life, Mark Terry points out an article about the new Batman movie (specifically Catwoman) in Time magazine and asks the burning question: Is Batman Insane?

I wasn't able to offer much of an answer in my comment, but I did get to reminiscing. To someone my age seeing Batman being discussed in Time magazine is bizarre. He was my favorite cartoon superhero when I was nine years old but in 1959 he wouldn't have been taken seriously in a news magazine, I don't think.

I liked Batman better than Superman. The Man of Steel was too super. Having more or less unlimited power, in the absence of Kryptonite, is kind of boring. Batman seemed more human. Well, he is human whereas Superman is an alien. Detective Comics used to feature a Batman Superman team-up and almost invariably Kryptonite had to be worked into the plot to sap Superman's powers, otherwise of what assistance could Batman be?

I also enjoyed the weird and dark aspect the Batman comics had, compared to others, even back then, long before they got into the advanced noir Dark Knight stuff. Gotham City was a surreal cityscape of zany billboards and eccentric architecture, seemingly designed for spectacular fights. And Batman's opponents tended to be warped, even before they got in front of his fists.

Batman was, of course, a creature of the night. But insane? Well, I never thought of him as insane back then but I suppose it would be difficult to be any sort of superhero and maintain one's sanity. Then again, look at the super villains. You gotta fight fire with fire.

In some sense those old comics were serious despite the WHAMMING! and BAMMING! Heroes like Batman are powerful archetypes which the "more serious" art forms like movies didn't catch onto for quite awhile.

Then again, you can't make an archetype overly human. The Hero can't have too many psychological hangups, otherwise he's just you or me in a mask and tights. Turn a hero into an angsty young guy and you have...well...Peter Parker, the Amazing Spiderman.

So maybe Spidey is another sort of archetype. Superheros of all sorts do have a certain appeal. Maybe as kids -- and even as adults -- we love our superheros because in the back of our minds we harbor the hope that one of these days we'll abandon our mundane personas, don our masks and fly off -- or ride out in our Batmobiles -- to perform mighty deeds that will astonish the world.

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