Wednesday, May 17, 2017

18482--Being Fierce and Influencing People

No!  No!  No!  There goes another another villain who, while crazy as a bag of cats, somehow seems to have their shit together enough to make our valiant heroes look like a bunch of circus clowns.  It's frustrating to read and aggravating to watch when put to a screen.  How has this social defective managed to leave our champions with their pants around their ankles and spanked like a frat pledge?  Sure, we're talking about a criminal mastermind, and one who's prepared for pantsing protagonists as part of the evil plan, but also who's been artfully crafted to be a challenge.  Mental aberrations aside, I think this may be why some people develop a love for certain villains.

Villains driven by emotional anguish (often some perceived tragedy they've overreacted to or, worse, caused) tend toward focus and intensity.  This makes them more on their game than the average person and that dark intensity draws an audience emotionally.  You know who else benefits from this?  Batman.  Yeah, a big shock, I know.  What a lot of people forget is that Superman used to enjoy that same sort of mojo.

Superman's spent a lot of years as a symbol of law and order, but he started out as a crusading rebel for truth and justice.  Before his powers grew to levels that allowed him to perform large scale rescues, he spent a lot of his time battling social injustice and corruption.  Without the restraint he would develop after a few years on the job (which would also bring on a full origin; his first radio show, in fact, had him arriving on Earth as an adult), Superman fought criminals and championed the common man against systemic oppression with less concern for law than for justice and truth.  It was the patriotic rallying cry of war that shoved him into the role of boy scout.  He was polished into a partner of the establishment, given to a softer touch.  On the cover of Action Comics #1, he's smashing criminal's getaway car (a move actually depicted in the story).  Almost seventy years later, when Superman Returns pays homage to that iconic moment, that scene is sort of replicated, but with a runaway car that's rescued and goes from being hoisted overhead to being gently set on the ground.

Technically, the same thing happened to Batman and Wonder Woman, but it was necessary to help them all survive the post-WWII era that saw psychiatry and Congress try to turn the people against them.  Since bringing Robin in to sidekick for Batman had backfired by triggering claims of homoerotica rather than paternalism, many efforts were made to normalize the heroes.  The less-than-edgy dark knight was even given a platinum badge to show how great an establishment supercop he'd become.  The influential 60s TV show added the character of Dick Grayson's aunt, Harriet Cooper, to Wayne Manor's residency to break up the sausage party with a wholesome, family friendly image.

Still, Batman being who and what he is was the easiest to drag back across the line, out of the light and into the dark from whence he came just as they had spawned The Shadow before him.  In the 70s, Denny O'Neill re-established him as a grim, nightstalking detective in a dangerous, dark Gotham.  After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Frank Miller was tapped to turn the caped crusader into a rebel again.  He still had Jim Gordon as a friend in law enforcement, but that was about it.  Relegated to the shadowy fringes of society once again, he gave the imperfect world around him the help it needed whether it was wanted or not.  And it was decided, of course, that he and Superman should no longer be buddies.

It's a hard thing to make Superman feared while he's publicly saving lives, abating disasters, and then racing off to save the world again.  Powerhouse that he has become, he also has to be instilled with copious levels of restraint so he's not portrayed as a bully who does whatever he wants whenever he pleases.  Being superhumanly good is simply a better fit with the narratives of Wonder Woman and Superman.

Still, I was thinking that if the loss of Krypton were to keep the Man of Steel more focused on saving Earth and its people, even from themselves, it would be easier to paint the picture of a Superman intensely determined to save the world.  Superman jumping in to help whether it was wanted or not, concerned more about truth and justice and Freedom yet little about law or the desires of government, would force discussion of issues touched upon in half-assed fashion in Dawn of Justice.  Indeed, how would the world cope with a man of Superman's capacities after he's shifted alignments from Lawful Good to Chaotic Good with a passionate drive to save us from our own self-destructiveness?

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