Never fails. I get a Monday off work, I forget to post NA09. Sorry!
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It’s November 26, 1994. The top song is still Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You”; indeed, the charts are almost unchanged since last week’s “Lock-Up,” with the only difference in the top five being that Sheryl Crow has dropped out, replaced by a second Boyz II Men song. The top three movies are likewise the same movies as last week, just in a different order: The Santa Clause, Star Trek: Generations, Interview with the Vampire. The Lion King, Stargate, Pulp Fiction, and the remake of Miracle on 34th Street are also in the top ten.
In the news, in two days’ time Norway rejects membership in the European Union and cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is beaten to death in prison. Two days after that, Situationist Internationale founder Guy Debord commits suicide, leaving behind an autobiographical film about the social problems of Paris in the 90s in lieu of a suicide note.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
Leave it to Robert Frost, that towering mediocrity of American poetry, to render the apocalypse twee. Nonetheless, quoting his “Fire and Ice” is nigh irresistible here, if only for the fact that “Robert Frost” sounds like the civilian identity of an ice-themed supervillain. This episode’s villain, on the other hand, is a study in rendering the twee apocalyptic: a thinly veiled caricature of Walt Disney plots to plunge the Earth into an ice age which only his newly constructed “theme park”–actually a model city built on fascist principles–will survive.
We know that this scheme is doomed to failure, because the world he seeks to destroy, the world of Batman: The Animated Series, was already destroyed in “Harlequinade,” by magic clown rather than fire and/or ice. But even in destruction, there are elements of BTAS which deserve preservation, most notably its masterful construction of complex, sympathetic villains. Who better, then, to return in the show’s final hours than its sympathetic villain par excellence, Mr. Freeze? And given that his first appearance, in which he was contrasted with the thoroughly unsympathetic villainy of the corporate tycoon, worked so well, why not give him another such villain here? Given that, it makes sense to model that villain on Disney, who (according to a clearly impossible, yet persistent, urban legend) was cryogenically frozen upon his death, to be restored to life in some future age.
The ensuing portrait of Walker makes for an interesting contrast with Ra’s al-Ghul, our patron saint of near-apocalypse. al-Ghul pursues radical change, seeking to topple the world’s power structures, and preserves himself indefinitely to ensure his ability to pursue that goal, his followers a relatively diverse bunch united by devotion to his ideology. Walker, on the other hand, wishes to freeze the world in ice, ending the changes he perceives as a form of decay and locking in its primary power structures–rich old white men uber alles–by reducing the world to a single space small enough for him to personally control, and seeks to preserve himself indefinitely in order to maintain that control forever.
In short, Ra’s is a revolutionary; Walker is a fascist. Both are bent on apocalypse, but Ra’s seeks to destroy the past to usher in his vision of the future; Walker seeks to destroy the future to usher in his vision of the past. And it is here that the value of the superhero becomes clear: for all that they prevent meaningful change for the better, the defenders of the status quo are also a powerful bulwark against those seeking to change the world for the worse. As Batman says, he may be a protector of order, but he will fight to the death to prevent the order that Walker represents.
In the end, however, it is Freeze who makes that sacrifice, forcing Batman to retreat to save Robin, while he remains with his wife, still frozen as a consequence of her fridging in his first appearance. Indeed, much as Walker sought to reduce the entire world to a space familiar to him, a space in which white people work for a “visionary” CEO who controls every aspect of their lives, Freeze ends up in a space containing only himself, his wife, longing and regret. There they will remain, until something happens to melt them out.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Icy hatred, callous indifference to the suffering of others, is perhaps the worst form of hatred. It is the kind of hatred which allows the upper echelons of a large corporation to toss workers into the street to shave a few points off production costs, or to build an oil pipeline across sacred lands, or to turn a blind eye while a city is poisoned by their own water. It is the hatred which creates violent conflict in distant lands and then turns away the refugees. The hatred which decides that making a product safe is more expensive than the wrongful death lawsuits, so let’s ship the deathtraps. It is the hatred of the bully, the Internet troll, the corporate climber, the “I’m not racist, but.”
Frost is, of course, wrong. It is not a world-ending hatred, but a world-preserving one. It is a hatred that perpetuates the status quo, that lets the structures of power remain indefinitely where they are. But Frost was writing long before the 80s taught us what form the second apocalypse would have to take: fire, explosions, and a rain of radioactive debris.
At last, we’re very nearly there.
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