I'll be a big success (The Man Who Killed Batman)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 now on sale!
It’s all about rules, really.
It’s February 1, 1993, five days before “Robin’s Reckoning Part One.” The top song this week is Whitney Houston with “I Will Always Love You,” with Shai’s “If I Ever Fall In Love” and “A Whole New World” from Aladdin filling out the top three. The top movie is Loaded Weapon, with, yes, Aladdin coming in at #3 and The Bodyguard (the source of Houston’s chart-topper) at #10.
In the news, not much seems to be going on at the moment. The Russian space station Mir hosted the first orbital art exhibit on Jan. 25, Vaclav Havel was elected President of the Czech Republic on the 26th after overseeing the peaceful dissolution as President of Czechoslovakia last year, and Belgium switches from being a unitary state to a federal one.
In Batman the Animated Series we have one of the classic episodes, “The Man Who Killed Batman,” which follows clumsy, awkward, nerdy would-be gangster Sid the Squid as he apparently accidentally kills Batman in a rooftop duel, and then has to deal with the consequences, chief among them the Joker’s fury that someone other than him killed the Bat.
Sid is a classic instance of the Fool, a recurring character type across much of folklore. Like many Fools, Sid is unaware when he is being made fun of, determined to pursue a calling (being a gangster) for which he lacks any talent or appropriate personality traits, clumsy, and generally gormless and dismissible. But like many Fools, Sid is also prone to extremes of luck, both good and bad. Thus he is able to fight effectively against Batman, where far more skilled combatants cannot, by sheer dint of luck that turns the environment into a weapon on his side.
In this Sid recalls the folkloric Gotham, origin of the name of the comic-book Gotham. In English folklore, Gotham is the City of Fools, a place where no one has any common sense and everything is ridiculous. This, in turn, is based on the actual village of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, which according to legend protested a planned visit by King John, which would have turned their land into a public highway, by baffling the king’s messengers with absurd behavior such as trying to kill an eel by drowning.
In the origins of Gotham we see one of the key features of the Fool, which is that it is the other side of the same coin as the Trickster. Often the characters are one and the same, varying in their role from story to story, or even within a story, as does the West African trickster god Anansi in “The Death of Anansi.” Both character types exist outside of society’s norms, behaving in ways that seem strange and sometimes comical to “normal” people, and both have access to sources of wisdom unavailable to others.
Which brings us to the episode’s villain, the Joker, who dresses himself as a traditional Fool and pretty clearly fancies himself as a Trickster, engaged in an elaborate game with Batman. And certainly he manages to fool Sid, who slowly relaxes from terror to nervousness over the course of the (extremely funny) impromptu funeral the Joker throws for Batman, before returning to terror when he realizes that he’s going to be killed to close out the ceremony.
But that’s where any attempt to read the Joker as a Trickster in this episode falls apart, because the Joker’s anger is over the fact that he didn’t get to kill Batman. He’s upset because the game is over, and he lived for the game–but games are defined by rules. A game is, in a very real sense, nothing but rules, which is why Tricksters don’t play games–they cheat.
This is another sense in which Harley Quinn is what the Joker merely tries to be. She is a true Fool in this episode, with her ridiculous, misplaced and overblown responses to the Joker’s twisted eulogy. And elsewhere, as we have seen and will continue to see, she shows that she is better than him at being a Trickster, too, precisely because she’s not fixated on winning an elaborate game.
We have observed previously that part of the Joke of the Joker is that every time Batman defeats him, the Joker wins, because it’s proof that the Joker can only be defeated by someone who breaks the normal rules of how society deals with criminals. In his role as a spirit of chaos and anarchy, the Joker revels in the breaking of rules and the breakdown of order. But he’s a hypocrite; he revels in the breaking of others’ rules, but when his own rules, key among them “Only I may kill the Batman,” are broken, he reacts with rage and violence. The one who actually calls society’s rules into question most successfully is Batman himself, who day after day shows that what semblance of order Gotham has can only be maintained by a man operating above and outside the law.
Which is why–calling the rules into question being a major role of the Trickster–it’s Batman who successfully pulls off the big trick here, arranging events so that following the rules to the letter, sending Sid off to jail, actually gives him the position of safety and acclaim he’s always wanted, as the Man Who (Almost) Killed Batman, hero to the underworld.
It’s a sign of a possible way out of the problem we’ve posited before, that the superhero, at least as constructed here in BTAS, is necessarily both product and defender of the status quo, and thus cannot accomplish the fundamental change necessary to actually fulfill their role as hero and bring their story to a conclusion. But here we see Batman stretching the rules, working within them to create something better for one person. Perhaps there is a way he can create such spaces for others. Perhaps he can even find a way to create a space for himself.
We’ll see.

Current status of the Patreon:

Mawaru Penguindrum 23 and 24 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Penguindrum and commenting there starting at 1:00 p.m. EST. That’s one hour earlier than normal!

I will not be here for this liveblog because convention, but please go ahead and do it anyway–we’ve already missed a week and I want to finish the series in time to be able to panel about it at the end of March. Also, if one of you could keep a log and post it in the comments afterwards, I’d appreciate it.
I’ll update this post with my own liveblog when I actually do it, some time next week.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 63

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Fishy Business: Morwen tries to find out if the Cirinac know anything about the Tholians.
  • In Deep: To determine whether the Cirinac can be trusted, Morwen goes looking for the Whale Probe.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.

Star Trek, 9/11, and the Age of Perpetual War

A panel I gave at Connecticon 2015, talking about differences between 90s Trek and modern versions, and how those reflect changes in American attitudes to war, terror, and security.
The panel ran out of time, so the last half hour has never been seen anywhere before!
Early access to all videos for Patreon subscribers: http://patreon.com/froborr
My in-character STO blog: http://e-n-morwen.tumblr.com

re:play Episode 7: Final Fantasy VI Part 7: Microcosmic Melodrama

Made possible by the generous contributions to my Patreon! We’re monthly now!
Closed captioning isn’t done yet because it’s decided to be extra buggy and obnoxious this month, but I’m working on it, and if I didn’t get this up today it wouldn’t be going up this month.

As always, these videos don’t always display correctly on Tumblr, so those of you seeing this there please click through to jedablue.com to watch.

Cleaning up the mess (Off Balance)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 now on sale!
It’s November 23, 1992, the day before “What Is Reality,” so see that post for charts and news.
Things have not been going well for Batman lately. Last episode, he was on the verge of quitting, and this episode he is, as the title says, “Off Balance” throughout. Of course this is a pun on Count Vertigo’s powers of disorientation and the way Batman spends the entire episode off his game courtesy of Talia al Ghul.
We should perhaps begin with Count Vertigo, a rare case of a villain who appears in only one episode of the entire DCAU. It’s not difficult to see why; he has a gimmicky power and bizarre costume more at home among Flash’s Rogue’s Gallery than Batman’s, and thus clashes badly with the aesthetic of Batman the Animated Series. Frankly, his decision to construct a complex death trap for Batman and Talia and then leave is more reminiscent of the 1960s Batman than BTAS; one can imagine the episode ending there on a cliffhanger while the announcer exhorts us to return for the next episode “Same Bat time, same Bat channel.”
Rather more interesting is Talia, whose character design here coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, albeit with a different eye color. It’s certainly a convenient coincidence, because Talia bears a striking resemblance to Catwoman in her sexually charged interactions with Batman, albeit with their knowledge of secret identities inverted: Talia learns Batman’s secret identity early on, while Batman does not appear to ever learn who her father is: Ra’s al Ghul, head of the Society of Shadows, played to perfection by David Warner in his brief but intriguing appearance at the end of the episode.
That appearance itself is a sign of how unbalanced things have become. Al Ghul is clearly being introduced as a new villain, but he is given almost no backstory and never interacts with Batman at all. Further, he is not defeated at the end of the episode, as virtually every past villain has been; he suffers a setback in that he doesn’t retrieve the Wayne Industries sonic drill that Vertigo was after, but he remains an active, ominous presence, and the final shot of his face is an effective cliffhanger ending, albeit one that won’t be resolved until ten episodes later.
This is continuity of a sort the show has not had in a long time–continuity that relies not on sequels to past self-contained stories, but on including foreshadowing for future stories in current ones. Not since Harvey Dent’s lightning-lit face in the pilot have we seen something like this, at least not without heavily reading into the episodes as we did with Barbara Gordon’s frustration last episode.
In essence, the future is intruding on the present, perhaps as a byproduct of The Brave and the Bold‘s recent visit. So we find Batman tempted by an impossible relationship with a dangerous, powerful, dark-haired blue-eyed princess from a foreign land, and it throws him off his game. He spends quite a lot of this episode injured, stumbling, disoriented, and confused, and it is up to Talia to find the key to defeating Vertigo. (Which, entertainingly, turns out to be by referencing the movie Vertigo.) But this is not the sadomasochistic dance of Batman and Catwoman, at least not yet; there is definite chemistry, but it bubbles under the surface of a relationship that remains professional and goal-driven. They are working together and only working together, even if both are obviously tempted to do more.
Notably, despite having many key traits of a femme fatale–power, danger, treacherousness, allure, a touch of the exotic–Talia is never actually framed as one. There is no drooling camera following her as she walks out of the scene, no smoky saxophone, no scene in which she attempts to seduce or beguile Batman with her charms, and certainly no giant fanged tentacular death vagina. She is deceptive, attractive, and assertive, but these are treated as three distinct traits that operate independently, not part of a complex or archetype.
It is, perhaps, a measure of how far this show has come. Talia is a woman, and that will matter quite a bit in future appearances, but here, at her introduction, it is simply one trait among many, and less important to the plot than the fact that she is a highly skilled covert operative on a mission that parallels Batman’s own. One need only compare “Pretty Poison” to see how much improvement this is on that front. The show is changing, evolving, improving.
Which is bad news for Batman. He is the protector of the social order, and in turn that social order is the source of his power, because it is only within it that concepts like “wealth” and “law” can have any meaning. For all that it is a clear change for the better, its transformation, bending and twisting away out from under him, is necessarily going to throw him off balance. So he spends this episode struggling to keep up, not able to spot the clues that Talia is up to something until the very end, because she doesn’t fit into the femme fatale role that would be expected in something as noir-flavored as BTAS.
Poor guy. First he nearly loses one of his closest allies and contemplates giving up, now he finds himself out of his depth and struggling to keep his feet. What are they going to do to him next, kill him?

Current status of the Patreon:

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 62

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • A Period of Cheating: The Alliance and Bni negotiate an end to the war.
  • Q-Ball: The Inverse and Shion investigate a strange spatial anomaly, and an unwelcome guest turns up.
  • The Tholian Net: After being sucked into a subspace tunnel at the end of “Q-Ball,” the Inverse ends up in the middle of a conflct between the Borg and Tholians, and the first hints toward a new mystery…
  • Fishy Business: Morwen tries to find out if the Cirinac know anything about the Tholians.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
I am still trying to get an RP-focused fleet together! I am now up to four of the needed five people, so this is happening SOON! Contact me in-game at Morwen@froborr if you’re interested.

Vlog Review: Rick and Morty S2E3

Commissioned vlog for Shane.
Want more of my thoughts on cartoons? My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 is on sale now everywhere books are sold!
Patreon backers can see these videos (including Rick and Morty, my Near-Apocalypse panel, and now Over the Garden Wall) 4-5 weeks early AND Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!

You have to do something! You're Batman! (I Am the Night)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 now on sale!
“I am vengeance!”
Except that by 2010, after the Near-Apocalypse, you’ll be denying that, and claiming to be justice. But really, they’re the same thing, and neither is the truth of what you are.
“I am the night!”
This is much closer to the truth. “Chill of the Night!” was about putting characters and concepts in pairs: Phantom Stranger and Spectre, justice and vengeance, Batman and Thomas Wayne, origin and destiny, not to mention the Brave and the Bold. Who, then, is the partner for the titular Chill, Joe Chill, if not the one who has become the Night, little eight-year-old Bruce Wayne? He is, as we have observed, the night and The Night, the generic and the one specific night on which his identity was shattered. His own near-apocalypse, and like all near-apocalypses, he returns to it again and again, gnawing at it, desperate to discover why it wasn’t complete.
“I am Batman!”
We know.
It’s November 9, 1992, two days before “Moon of the Wolf,” so see that entry for charts and news.
On BTAS we have “I Am the Night,” which is another return to Batman’s origins. As we have observed before, Batman–and the figure of the Superhero more generally–is born in and from trauma. Mainstream superhero comics, as Phil Sandifer has observed, are structured more like memory than a continuous, coherent narrative: the past is treated as if it has solidity, but it is ever-shifting, subject to constant retcons based on the mood of the moment, constantly returning to and revisiting the most beloved events–and the most traumatic.
That, after all, is the nature of traumatic memories. They return, unbidden, again and again. Batman’s origin is both his most traumatic moment and his most retold and revisited story. Indeed, Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” posits that his existence is inherently circular, that the reward (and the punishment) for being Batman is to be continually reborn as new iterations and interpretations of Batman.
So, as the death of his father led young Bruce to create the Bat as a defense from both the terrors of the world and his own survivor’s guilt, so does the near-death of another father figure lead Batman to try to give up the Bat for good. And Gordon is, explicitly, a father-figure: Batman even makes a point of mentioning that Gordon is the same age his father would have been, had he lived. Once again, Batman blames himself unfairly: he had no way of knowing what the Jazzman was going to do, no way of knowing that the police and Jazzman’s gang were going to get into a firefight early, and certainly no way of knowing that Jazzman was going to double back to try to kill Commissioner Gordon.
Unsurprisingly, it is up to Robin to pull Batman out of his funk and back to action. Equally unsurprisingly, his attempts at persuasion have no effect. It is only when he tries to act, tries to put himself at risk, that Batman steps up; the protective instincts of the Bat cannot be put aside as easily as the costume or the equipment in the Batcave, after all. The long, slow arc of the Batman/Robin relationship has focused on Dick’s frustration at Bruce’s difficulty in seeing him as anything other than a child in need of protection, but here that same difficulty works out for the best, rousing Bruce from his torpor and getting him back into his costume and into action.
In the midst of this action, there are hints of things to come: Barbara Gordon clings to her father’s side, seemingly the only other figure in his life, and her pain and frustration are evident. It is easy to see the line from here to the next time he is endangered, when she chooses to take on the mask of the Bat herself–but her story is very different, her defining trauma one that never actually occurs, and it is not yet time for that tale to be told.
Instead, we end on the Bat renewed, revived. Paradoxically, this ritual reenactment of his trauma has brought him out of depression, instead of plunging him deeper into it. But perhaps it is not such a paradox after all. The Bat is an act of desperation, an escape from the reality of what happened to him. His depression has not been cured, but shoved down, pushed away, just another thing for the Bat to protect him from. Only when he truly does put down the mantle for good will it be possible for him to start to heal, to move past his trauma instead of returning to it endlessly.
But as this episode makes clear, he cannot do that so long as he is able to fight, because the Bat doesn’t just protect him. It doesn’t matter how many young allies, how many Robins and Nightwings and Batgirls he trains, how big of a Justice League he joins, he knows the Bat is necessary, and so long as only he is the Bat, he will remain trapped. Only when “I am Batman!” is no longer true, when there can be a Batman beyond Bruce Wayne’s rage and fear and pain, will he cease to be the Night. Then and only then will it be possible for him to see the dawn, to integrate and heal, to let that eight-year-old boy out and begin to grow up.

Current status of the Patreon: