Like turning on lights in a roach motel (Two's a Crowd)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
It’s February 15, 1997. The top songs are largely the same as two weeks ago, with a slight difference in order; Toni Braxton is still at the top, however. The Star Wars Special Edition is still number one at the box office, too. In the news, on the 10th George McKinney, Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, will be suspended pending court martial for multiple counts of sexual harassment, part of a succession of sexual harassment scandals which have plagued the U.S. military from the 90s to today; on the 13th the Hubble Space Telescope receives some much-needed upgrades; and on the 22nd scientists in Scotland will announce that Dolly the Sheep–the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult–was born last July.
Yawn. The same boring, pointless rote repetition of boring, pointless factoids as every entry. Why even bother? It’s not like you ever do anything with it.
Superman: The Animated Series ends its first season a bit oddly, with something that feels like just another episode, as opposed to a season finale. This was the norm for Batman: The Animated Series, which tended to end its seasons with relatively weak episodes, but subsequent seasons of STAS will end with Apokolips and major upheavals to the status quo–the second season with the introduction of Supergirl, and the third and final season with Superman tarnished in the eyes of the world, transformed into a figure of fear.
But the choice to do a BTAS-style, lower-key finale is fitting, as in many ways this season has been about figuring out how Superman: The Animated Series differs from Batman: The Animated Series. We’ve already discussed some of those differences–the art style, Superman’s desire to be loved rather than feared–but this episode highlights a major difference: the villains. Batman’s villains are, generally speaking, physically and mentally grotesque; that is, their bodies are distorted from the supposed norm in ways that reflect their mental deviation from similar norms–even when it is arguably the norm, rather than the deviation, which is grotesque, as with Poison Ivy.
Did you really just describe Poison Ivy–Poison Ivy!–as grotesque?
Superman’s greatest foe, however, is not grotesque at all; both physically and mentally, Lex Luthor is what society says he should be, a physically fit master capitalist, the ubermensch from which Superman derives his name. Metallo is somewhat more like the “tragic villain” figure which BTAS did so well, and as an entirely inorganic being, it’s unclear whether this concept of the grotesque applies to Brainiac at all.
Which brings us to this episode’s villain: the Parasite. Physically grotesque, a purple hairless monstrosity that feeds on the living energy of human beings, we see in this episode that Rudy is actually fairly rational: he is selfish and opportunistic, yes, but no more so than Luthor, and perfectly willing to help save the city if it will get him a cable hookup in his cell. By contrast–
Ugh. You’re obviously flailing. Do you even know where you’re going with this? Something half-assed about class? Or back yet again to beat the Superman/trauma horse some more?
–Earl Garver, despite his apparent conviction that he is always the smartest person in the room, lets his sense of superiority blind him to the fact that playing along is his best bet. Earl’s constant dismissal of Rudy and gradual takeover of the Parasite gestalt jeopardizes not only the comforts Rudy seeks, but their prospects of survival, as they find themselves fighting Superman while a literal ticking clock counts down to an explosion that would kill them.
Pathetic. Your puerile observations aren’t improved by injecting this second voice pointing out how pitiful they are. This is a gimmick, and it isn’t working any better than the plain entry you were stuck on. Face it: you’ve got nothing worthwhile to say about this episode. Not that that’s different from any other entry, you fraud.
As Earl grows stronger, both Rudy and Superman grow weaker. That’s the Parasite’s power, of course: it grows stronger by weakening others, leaving them drained, listless, and in extreme cases even dead. One of the common results of trauma–
And here we go. Learn a new song! Find something else Phil Sandifer wrote about that you can crib off! Lord knows you can’t come up with anything on your own.
–is depression, which likewise leaves one drained, listless, and in extreme cases even dead. In addition to the trauma itself, social isolation, difficulty in expressing oneself, and the lack of a stable sense of self can contribute to an extremely negative self-image–feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing are quite common among trauma survivors.
Coward. How many times did you erase that paragraph and rewrite it? Holding back, keeping yourself out of this story, leaving it as dry and empty as everything else you attempt. And you think this italicized shit can make up for that?
Depression is very much like a parasite. It eats at you, denying you nourishment in the form of positive memories and feelings of achievement, while a vicious, nasty voice tells you how worthless you are. And that voice is smart, very smart, able to twist anything into a negative, to come up with the flaws in any plan to get better, to manipulate its way into survival no matter how you try to eliminate it.
Again: yawn. It doesn’t matter if you manage to pull something out of your ass for this episode, you know you’re fucked on Retroactive Continuities and Crisis on N Earths to follow this. It’s a good thing you’ve barely got any readers–just think about how many people you could bore and disappoint if you had more!
But that’s not the really dangerous voice. It’s the other, more insidious voice that’s the real threat. The one that doesn’t say “you suck,” but rather asks “why bother?” The voice that advocates the easy way out, the feeling of tiredness that leads you to not take care of yourself that leads to more tiredness, the seeking of comfort instead of doing what needs to be done. That’s the most insidious side of depression, because it is so hard to tell the difference between genuinely running out of energy such that rest is a form of self-care, and falsely feeling out of energy such that doing nothing is a form of self-harm–and as difficult as it is to tell the difference when you’re depressed, it’s impossible for anyone else to tell at all.
For other people, maybe. It’s easy to tell where you’re concerned, though: you’re always faking. You’re always giving up too easily. No amount of work will ever be enough to make up for what you are, especially when your work is this bad. But that’s no excuse for how often you blow it off to feel sorry for yourself, or how much of a coward you are for not just coming out and saying what you mean.
Rudy is stronger than Earl, and outlasts him. But in truth, both are ever-present. The Parasite is never not going to be a villain–there is no suggestion, as there is with Batman’s villains, that he can be reformed. Given that we argued that Batman’s insistence on trying to reform his villains is rooted in the hope that he can be healed as well, this would imply that Superman has no such hope.
Which seems to be the case. Batman wears his self-loathing on his sleeve, choosing to become someone who is feared and hated. As we have observed, he fights crime knowing that sooner or later he will be killed, like his parents, by “a punk with a gun,” because on some level he believes he should have died with them. Superman is a little different; as we observed from the start, he actively seeks love and approval. He is not a tortured soul, diegetically speaking; at the same time, he is still a superhero, which is to say a trauma survivor’s protector fantasy. It’s just that in his case, part of the fantasy is that the trauma is largely externalized–so triggers become radioactive poison and red suns, and depression becomes a hulking purple monster that steals life force.
Believe me, if I had the option to stick my depression in prison, I wouldn’t be interested in whether or not it can be reformed either.
This didn’t work and you know it.

Current status of the Patreon:

  • Latest Near-Apocalypse article ($2+/mo patrons can view): Retroactive Continuity: SuperZero Vol. 1
  • Latest video ($5+/mo patrons can view): Vlog Review: Steven Universe S5E1-4
  • Latest Milestone: $110/mo: One-time goal! Jed Plays Undertale Episode 2, in which I do a blind let’s play of the next ~40 minutes of Undertale.
  • Next Milestone: $120/mo ($5 away!): One-time goal! Jed Plays Undertale Episode 3.

We go all radical (Tools of the Trade)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
I know, this is super late. No real excuses, shit’s just been busy and I forgot.
It’s February 1, 1997, a jump of several months from our last episode. The top movie is the special edition release of Star Wars; further down in the top 5 are  Jerry Maguire and Scream. The top song is Toni Braxton with “Un-Break My Heart”; En Vogue, R. Kelly, and the Spice Girls also chart. In the news, on January 22, Madeleine Albright became the first woman to be U.S. Secretary of State; on the 27th, French museums are revealed to possess over 2,000 pieces of art looted by Nazis, mostly from Jews; in an unrelated move on February 5, the Big Three Swiss banks create a fund to aid Holocaust survivors and their families.
Meanwhile, Superman: The Animated Series introduces a cluster of related Jack Kirby creations, all tied to his New Gods mythos: hardbitten Metropolis police officer Jack Turpin (whose STAS design was made to resemble Kirby as a tribute), the planet of evil gods, Apokolips, and its ruler Darkseid.
We will be discussing the New Gods, Apokolips, and Darkseid in more detail in a later post; for now, they remain mysterious but ominous figures, with even their divinity referred to only obliquely. More central here is Turpin, introduced as a relentless, stubborn pursuer of truth in the Lois Lane mold, yet also hostile to Superman in much the same way and for much the same reason as Lex Luthor. Specifically, he seems to be rankled by reporters commenting that Superman is increasingly doing the police’s work for them, but also takes potshots at his boss (and, clearly, old friend) Maggie Sawyer with similar comments. He is upset by the claim because he fears it’s true.
We have, in other words, a working-class older white man frightened that he is being rendered obsolete by a younger, more skilled, more efficient refugee. In a city largely controlled by a self-absorbed real-estate magnate whose enterprise covers up far darker dealings with foreign governments. I am not, to be clear, saying that Dan Turpin is a Trump voter. I’m just saying that if Lex Luthor were to run for public office, it’s the Dan Turpins of the world whose vote would be most likely to put him there.
But this particular Dan Turpin has something that the Lex Luthors of the world would rather he not: the aforementioned relentless, stubborn desire to learn the truth. His off-book investigation of Mannheim leads not only to uncovering the involvement of Apokolips (somewhat–the characters still have no idea where Kanto came from, just that it is probably not Earth) and dismantling Intergang, but also to him saving Superman’s life. The two end the episode with gestures of mutual respect; it is clear Turpin no longer considers Superman a threat.
Because of course he doesn’t. He has discovered that he is stronger than Superman, or at least that he was in the moment in which he saved him. Further, his pride has been assuaged: now, anytime Superman catches a criminal before Turpin can, Turpin can understand it as payback for that time he saved Superman’s life.
All of which makes Turpin sound worse than he is. He’s actually a pretty decent guy throughout STAS, and indeed comes off in this episode as the classic lovable old curmudgeon. He feels like he should be played by Peter Falk or Walter Matthau or whoever took over their roles in live-action children’s movies now that they’re both dead.
True, Superman should never have had to earn Turpin’s respect. Maggie Sawyer clearly respects him from the start–but then, she understands how it feels to be rejected for being true to oneself, after a lifetime of acceptance conditional on living a lie. At least in the comics–and nothing in the DCAU suggests otherwise–she came to Metropolis in the first place to start a new life after coming out as a lesbian.
The point is, though he shouldn’t have needed to, Superman does earn Turpin’s respect. Turpin is at least capable of recognizing Superman’s value when it’s shoved in his face. (Of course, this is all complicated by the fact that Turpin is Jewish, while Superman is simultaneously an alien refugee and a WASP from Kansas, but more on that dichotomy in a much later post.) Lex Luthor seems incapable even of that much.
We have barely scratched the surface of the complexity of Superman-as-immigration-metaphor. There is much to unpack here, and this initial, superficial attempt is necessarily going to be inadequate.  Nonetheless, Superman has always represented a particular kind of immigrant experience in a way that most other superheroes do not (of the major Big Two heroes, the original Spider-Man is the only one that comes close), and as a result the suspicion with which certain other characters regard him is politically loaded in a way that, say, Harvey Bullock’s attitude toward Batman is not.
Turpin, in short, may be an ally now–but he is one who has already demonstrated once that his kneejerk reaction is suspicion and fear. Neither allyship nor his general decency is enough to redeem him for that; more is needed.

Current status of the Patreon:

  • Latest Near-Apocalypse article ($2+/mo patrons can view): Retroactive Continuity: SuperZero Vol. 1
  • Latest video ($5+/mo patrons can view): Vlog Review: Steven Universe S5E1-4
  • Latest Milestone: $110/mo: One-time goal! Jed Plays Undertale Episode 2, in which I do a blind let’s play of the next ~40 minutes of Undertale.
  • Next Milestone: $120/mo ($14 away!): One-time goal! Jed Plays Undertale Episode 3.

Animated Book Launch!

Animated Discussions front cover by Viga Gadson. Click to expand.

Animated Discussions, my new collection of essays on anime, is now available for purchase!
Distilled from years of writing, speaking, and paneling about anime, Animated Discussions includes:

  • Fullmetal Alchemist‘s use of  real-world alchemical traditions, from the wu xing to Jung
  • Anime apocalypses
  • Identity and narrative in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu
  • Narrative collapse and substitution in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Madoka Magica
  • The secret history of anime fandom in the U.S.
  • Utena, gender, abuse, and helping vs. saving
  • Trauma, heroism, and time travel
  • And much more, including a guest chapter by Charles Dunbar!

Excerpts here and here.
You can buy the book right now from these fine sellers:

More sellers coming soon!