Sunday!

Photo by CZMJ

Photo by CZMJ Sunday!

When it comes to superheroes, it’s real easy to find stories that don’t age particularly well. Not in the “this was a good story in the moment that was 1978” sense of not aging well, but in the “this is a good story for 7 year-olds but not 17 year-olds (or, heaven help us, 47 year-olds)” sense of not aging well.

There are a couple of exceptions, though. The two big ones are Batman and Spider-Man. I mean, sure, the plots are more likely than not to be juvenile (bad guy shows up, bad guy gives speech, good guy shows up, good guy hits bad guy, back to baseline) but there are thematic elements at work that make these two into things that even grownups who aren’t perpetual adolescents can enjoy at more than a “I need to sit in some air conditioning for a couple of hours” level.

Batman because, at its best, it explores the whole idea of what constitutes civilization and order and the costs of maintaining it. Batman’s villains are the various things threatening to undercut those things. Anarchy, institutional corruption, fear, organized crime… it’s even got a world view that assumes (or suggests) that these things are sicknesses that can be (or should be) cured. (That’s probably an essay for another day.)

Spider-Man (again, at its best), however, explores the idea of doing the right thing even at great personal cost and not giving in to just yelling “HECK WITH IT!” and going with your baser urges instead. (Most of Spider-Man’s top enemies people who decided to just yell “HECK WITH IT!” and go with their ids. Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, The Lizard…)

What makes Spider-Man work, though, is how it portrays the “great personal cost”. It’s not about how he loses his billions or his planet or weird stuff like that. It’s about trying to make rent and being unable to because he got fired from his job because he was late because he was helping people anonymously (or pseudonymously). He knows that With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility and he helps people anyway. Even if it makes him late for his job. Even if it doesn’t have a reward. Because you’re supposed to do the right thing if you can.

Now, they cheat a little bit by showing the joy that can come with being good at something and enjoying being good at it. The fun part of learning how you can do what you do. Climbing walls. Swinging between buildings. Helping people.

So… what are you reading and/or watching?

Photo by CZMJ Sunday!


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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5 thoughts on “Sunday!

  1. Batman is the superhero who isn’t magic. He isn’t from another planet, and he didn’t get irradiated or bitten or granted an alien doo-dad; he’s Batman purely because he worked hard to become that.

    This is also true of the “costumes” in Watchmen (with one obvious exception). I don’t think that’s a comment on Batman in particular, just that the setting works better without magic. Though the one that’s closest to Batman in being rich, brilliant, and inventive, in Ozymandias. Who is the one that thinks there’s a cure for the world’s ills, even thugh it’s pretty drastic.

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  2. I’m re-reading Glass Bead Game. I read it for the first time about 18 years ago.

    I’m also re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    I plan to soon re-read John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy and read (for the first time) his prequel.

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  3. I find there’s a lot to chew on in the Dark Phoenix saga. (not the awful movie version, the comic – there’s a new movie coming out, hopefully they do it credit this time)

    Personally I prefer it to Batman and Spiderman since their subtext ground has been covered in many different forms and the Dark Phoenix subtext is barely explored.

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