Looking Backwards The Sequel: Backwardser
In the aftermath of Aurora, The Dark Knight, and Aurora in light of The Dark Knight, I’ve been thinking about our relationship to our religion, our God(s), and the extent to which superheroes have become our surrogate gods that allow us to talk about Morality The Way We Think It Ought To Be (basically, assuming that the best of all possible fallen worlds probably works differently than this one does).
Holbo’s conclusion is that “Superhero stories should only ever be about the fact that superhero stories make no sense – if they have to be about something. The Avengers wasn’t really about anything, for example. That was an appropriate message for a film like that.”
That doesn’t feel right to me, though. Superhero stories strike me as being a sub-category of a modern religion. These stories are stories about modern gods… it’s what allows us to meaningfully talk about whether Batman should kill The Joker or whether Superman really is Clark Kent or whether he really is Kal-El. We project upon our small gods the reality we wish to see play out in the real world. (That’s as good as this essay is going to get, sadly, the rest of this is a handful of musings on superheroes, religion, culture, and whatnot that may or may not actually go anywhere. As such, if you feel like just making this an open thread, go ahead.)
One of the things I thought about with the Aurora shootings from the guy who was pretending to be The Joker was, of course, the “What Would Batman Have Done?” (that’s the Catholic Batman phrasing, as I understand it). The various scenarios ended up this way or that but the one I finally settled on was Batman swooping down and landing in such a way that he plants his knee in the guy’s kidney, maybe punching him once or twice before tying him up for the police. From there, I started wondering about what the various responses of us would be to this scenario. We’d have a handful of people who think that The Batman is great. A handful of people who question whether Batman even exists, a handful who point out that there was a guy in a theater who gets his kidney ruptured and suddenly everybody’s cheering and what kind of society is *THAT*? (“What about the smoke bombs and the fact that he had a gun?” “I thought you people supported concealed carry!”… that’s assuming this happened before a shot was fired, if shots were fired we could argue about whether Batman should have gotten there before people started dying… and whether the cops would have left a gunman alone vs. whether they would have gone in before six minutes had passed had they known Batman was in there).
I wonder what cops would think about Batman. Would they see him as one of the good guys who helps prevent crime, giftwraps criminals, and makes their (really tough) job a little bit easier? Would they see him as part of the problem but worse than that because he undercuts Police Authority by being effective in ways that they cannot be? Is it one of those things where Supervillains would change the calculus? (If we want to imagine a Batman who is effective enough for jazz… what could cops do against a Scarecrow, say, who was effective enough for jazz? Wait for SWAT? What do we do after SWAT goes in the building and lose radio contact?)
In thinking about thinking about what Batman would have done, I started thinking about the Ancients and their Titans, Gods, Demigods, and Heroes… and started thinking about how we think about the Ancients. This led me, immediately, to thinking about how the folks who will someday call us “the Ancients” will talk about us. To what extent will they argue about how much we believe in the Batman? Will the scales go from “They believe in the Batman the way that people believed in Santa at the end of Miracle on 34th Street” to holding up a PVC model of Batman swinging through Gotham and asking “why in the hell would they make idols of someone they didn’t believe in?”
I discussed these half-baked thoughts with Human Hireling and he pointed out that his wife asked the question: Imagine finding a couple of snippets of the Batman television series, a large exerpt from the Batman movies, and several different pages from various Batman scrolls. What would this tell you about what the Ancients thought about The Batman? This led me to all kinds of thoughts about which snippets would tell us what (and, of course, the degrees of wrongness the conclusions might take). There were several Catwomen. There were several Jokers… were there several Batmen? Is Batman an amalgam of a team of vigilantes who fought amalgams of criminal gangs? Isn’t it so much better to be living in the future instead of like those backwards Batman-believers?