The rest of the League’s stationed near Alpha Centauri (World’s Finest)

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It’s October 4, 1997. Top songs and films are unchanged from yesterday, and the only news of note today is that 600,000 evangelical Christian men gather for the Promise Keeper’s “Stand in the Gap” event in Washington, DC.

The Promise Keepers are largely irrelevant as an organization today, but their model of masculinity and organization has been widely imitated by other “men’s movements,” so they are worth taking a brief look at. An evangelical Christian men’s organization, they promote “spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity” and “strong marriages and families through love, protection, and Biblical values.” In other words, they’re sexist homophobes whose model of masculinity is based in aggression and dominance, although their particular approach also emphasizes “brotherhood,” which is to say it permits some degree of sensitivity and compassion within the context of homosocial relationships.

But there’s a key word in there that should interest us: protection. The Promise Keepers’ model of masculinity emphasizes a male role that includes being a protector of their spouse and children–it places the ordinary man in the position of superhero, guarding helpless innocents against the dangers of the world. It is, in other words, not a protector fantasy, but a heroic power fantasy–something which normally only small children engage in.

But then, thanks to Batman, we know exactly what kind of adult man would position himself as a superhero: the kind that’s emotionally stuck in childhood. We should therefore predict that men’s movements would be marked by childishness, and indeed they are notoriously short-sighted, self-centered, aggressive, whiny, resentful, and irrational–and just like superheroes, they slide into fascism with disturbing ease, which is essentially how the alt-right was born.

So that’s Batman. But what of Superman? His trauma lies in infancy, manifesting only in the physical symptoms of Kryptonite exposure; Clark Kent appears to be a perfectly well-adjusted person emotionally.

But perfectly well-adjusted people do not compulsively put on primary-colored costumes and punch bank robbers, especially not at the expense of their relationships. Yet that is exactly what Superman does early in “World’s Finest,” simply flying off to deal with a robbery while Lois is trying to ask him out. As Clark Kent, he never quite straight-out denies, but never expresses, the attraction and romantic interest in Lois he clearly feels. Even if it was not obvious to the audience how Clark feels (remember, this show’s target audience is prepubescent), Batman spells it out repeatedly.

I have stated before–most recently in discussing DC vs. Marvel–that having two superheroes fight each other is just about the least interesting thing they can do. Thankfully, other than a very brief tussle at their first encounter, Superman and Batman do not fight each other in this story. They conflict, constantly, but in terms of clashing personalities, incompatible methodologies, and romantic rivalry, all of which are more interesting than just hitting each other.

Superman’s interactions with Batman thus start out hilariously petty; the first thing Superman says to him is that he doesn’t allow vigilantism. Unstated but obvious is the exception he makes for his own vigilantism. But as Lois Lane falls for Bruce Wayne–to the point that she applies for a job transfer to Gotham because “it’s that serious”–Clark Kent becomes increasingly passive-aggressive toward both. He questions Lois’ relationship with Wayne and badmouths Batman in her presence, refuses to work with Batman or listen to his warnings about the Joker, and as a result very nearly dies in the Joker’s trap.

It is only after Batman saves him so that he can save Batman and Lois that Superman comes around and begins treating Batman as an ally rather than a rival. In the words of the Promise Keepers, he “pursu[es] vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.” [Emphasis mine.] Because of course a man can’t have a large support network; that would imply that he needs a lot of support, which is to say that he is weak and vulnerable. No, he must be Superman or Batman–untouchable, unstoppable, so that he can be the perfect protector for the helpless and weak.

Which of course positions Lois as helpless and weak. In general, this episode deals with its female characters strangely. There are essentially seven characters in this story, other than assorted bit players: four men (Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor, and the Joker) and three women (Lois, Harley Quinn, and Mercy). Harley and Mercy are depicted as hating each other immediately, and attack each other whenever they’re in the same room, culminating in a near-literal catfight (the sound effects include a cat shrieking) that moves on- and off-screen while Luthor and the Joker argue–and every time Harley and Mercy are seen on the screen again, they have more injuries and less clothing. Luthor and the Joker are centered, focused on, and relatively calm despite their disagreement; Harley and Mercy never state their dislike, and just attack each other violently and fetishistically. (Given that Lois spends much of the story either bound and gagged or melting into a puddle and submissively handing her life over to Bruce Wayne, it seems pretty clear which fetish we’re talking about, too.)

That ties into our theme here, too: the Promise Keeper/MRA/PUA/alt-right construction of masculinity demands that men be dominant, and therefore that women be submissive. But the Harley/Mercy fight adds an extra dimension. Harley and Mercy are each individually submissive toward their respective crime/sex partners, in profoundly unhealthy ways (as we saw with Mercy in “Ghost in the Machine” and Harley in pretty much all of her BTAS appearances). By contrast, Luthor and the Joker dominate them, and their rivalry mostly plays out verbally, until the Joker calmly double-crosses Luthor.

Compare them to another pair of characters who start their relationship with a punch: Superman and Batman. While initially hostile, they are able to recognize that they are on the same side, and Clark Kent’s childish behavior over Lois rapidly diminishes and disappears after the first half-hour. Men’s competition and aggression, in other words, are depicted as more mature and reasonable, while women’s are depicted as childish, irrational, and strictly the domain of “bad” women.

In short: Harley Quinn’s spell failed. The new world has the same problems as the old, the same constraints.

It is, therefore, perhaps a good thing that, as last episode implied, another Apokolips is coming.


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One thought on “The rest of the League’s stationed near Alpha Centauri (World’s Finest)

  1. Talking about the last comments of the post, Magic spells tend not to go the way you think they would. A magic spell to heighten the power of patriarchy (as Alan Moore argues was the intent of the Jack the Ripper murders) has the side effect of the rise of feminism. Likewise a magic spell to express feminine sexuality in a more lighthearted and colorful form could also have the side effect of playing that sexuality for laughs. (There was a essay over on scans daily that talks about the sexual nature of fight scenes: https://scans-daily.dreamwidth.org/4361420.html#cutid1 Sadly, the pictures are no longer there.)

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