Moving beyond the boarding up of bookstores and other places where interesting things take place, I see encroaching claustrophobia in the way super heroes are portrayed. Take Batman: since when did he become a souped up, armor plated stand in for technology-enhanced Roman sentries? Isolated in technology to the point where his voice is deepened through modulated software. That seems properly the province of Tony Stark, who is palatable only by dint of his uber-ham portrayal by Robert Downey Jr.
I was a first-generation reader of the Dark Knight comic and, though Nolan and company play homage, this was not the vision of Batman that Ronin-era Frank Miller had. The current Dark Knight is essentially a stand-in for a hero––a suburban geek/gym rat with an excess of handed-down capital, who enters the city to try out his weaponry on people with whom he has no implicit connection.
The beauty of Batman at his height, say the mid 1980s to early 1990s, was the sense of artists breaking new ground, exploring Sam Spade roots and the unexpected mortality of Golden Age men in tights.* Frank Miller did not just write Dark Knight, he also explored the on the edge, Depression-era society that birthed the phenomenon.
There was something fluid and graceful about Batman, a creature of the night. There are a few sequences in Superman v. Batman that reveal that fluidity, the animal-based imagery––one where he is wrapped around some Gotham city skyscraper in silhouette, weathering radioactive attack. Other than that he is metal, clunky.**
I miss an America in which Batman, who embodies an intimate fight against dark forces, an embrace with the urban and gritty, can reveal himself as a human, not mask himself as cyborg. In which police, as in the UK and Japan (countries where basic civility is the lesson-learned norm?) can dress as humans and not carry oversized attitudes and semiautomatic weapons. Where there is not a sense of occupation in drone-guided incursions into crime zones––rather of conscious effort to shape, make better. An implicit understanding of the environment in which Batman thrives, in the shadows, among women of questionable repute, petty thieves.****
That said, I can definitely see Zack Snyder's vision for the movie––he takes visceral joy in comic book/video game scenes of complex, kinetic joy (for the full masturbatory extension of that see Sucker Punch). He also fields some surprisingly dead-on questions on America's bulked up role as benevolent protector/great devil and has that self-knowing touch that enables non fanboys like me to get in touch with our inner superhero (a similar sleight of hand was worked with the latest in the Star Wars franchise). The audience in Dumaguete clapped at the end, a rare thing.*****
**I was struck halfway through the movie that the patently unbelievable Superman was by far the most human of the two costumed characters. Take home: you must be an indestructible alien to reveal a recognizable human form. Or is Superman simply a way of of making weapons of mass destruction palatable? There is a guardian angel to contain those reactions that will inch the earth closer to being a sun––whether by lasso or the ability to chuck nukes into space.
*** Turns out to be Wonder Woman, my bad. Incidentally, did she orgasm during her lassoing of the radioactive blackbelt mutant Dr.Zod? A nice touch, there are so many avenues to go from there. Energy transference, female ascendance. She def had Dr.Zod wrapped in her lasso even before Superman lanced him through with the green kryptonite.
****I incorporate a little of this archetype in the character of Hayao in Arisugawa Park (Plug: The verge-of-retirement detective will make a long-awaited reappearance here in a few hours).
*****Full disclosure: these are not sophisticated audiences. They were showing Superman v. Batman on all three screens. As if other genres, movie-goers do not exist.
For those interested in out-there jazz: last year I did an improv recording Smokescreen with Peter Lamb and George Knott that embodies the manifestation of "back alley" Batman: a distant relative of Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski, assorted Tenderloin saints. Manifestly understanding that those whom he targets are only a few shades removed from his own checkered soul.
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