You were (New Kids on the Block)

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OK, fixing this shit for real now. I am WEEKS behind on posts, so here’s what I’ll do:

  • Queue posts as soon as I post them on Patreon.
  • Post three NA09 entries a week until I’m 3 months behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.
  • Post two sets of 3 videos a week until I’m 1 month behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.

It’s still Halloween 1998, just half an hour since “Judgment Day.” Not a lot has changed.

That’s generally what we expect: that time will flow continuously from moment to moment, that short time spans translate to little change and longer time spans to more. Of course in part that depends on how we define “short,” “long,” “little,” and “much,” but generally speaking it’s usually true that large changes take longer.

There are exceptions, of course. An explosion, for instance, can create a great deal of change in a very short amount of time. But it’s difficult to think of exceptions that aren’t in some sense catastrophic–more controlled, safer changes tend to take a lot longer. Indeed, one might even argue that as a definition of destruction: a very large amount of change in a comparatively brief period of time. (But then, I’ve equated apocalypse and revolution, so of course I’d define destruction that way.)

Then there are things that don’t seem to change, even given a span of time. “Timeless,” we call them, by which we mean that they change slowly or subtly enough that we haven’t noticed. Superman is often described as such, a timeless, iconic figure. But of course, he changes all the time: he was rather more concerned with social justice and corrupt officials in the early days, and it is only later he became more a defender of the status quo. To say nothing of the time he died and came back with mullets and guns!

Within the DCAU, timelessness belongs more to Batman. BTAS was full of anachronisms, and it started with an already fully active Batman. Robin, too, showed up well before his origin story. There was a fluidity to time in that show, such that it clearly wasn’t set in any particular period, but was instead a pastiche of many eras of Batman. Gradually, though, time crept in. Allusions to his backstory abounded, and it was finally spelled out in Rise of the Phantasm; then in TNBA, BTAS itself is explicitly established as being the past, rooting TNBA in the present.

Which brings us to “New Kids on the Block,” which even more firmly affixes Superman in the present of the late 90s: when he was a teen, his parents watched The Dukes of Hazzard. Superman’s an adult in the present of the show, seemingly ten or twenty years older than he is in this episode; that means the “present day” of the show is, at the absolute earliest, 1989 (ten years after Dukes of Hazzard began), and at the absolute latest, 2005 (20 years after Dukes of Hazzard ended). And we can safely discard 1989, or the early 90s in general–Daily Planet reporters have Internet access at work, as we’ve seen a few times. The show is dateable to a discrete 10-year span, fixed firmly in time in a way BTAS never was.

Which is probably why, twenty years later, people don’t talk about it anywhere near as much. For all this episode positions Superman as the iconic ur-hero from which future heroes derive, Batman has always held that position for the DCAU; Batman: The Animated Series its most-beloved show. It is “timeless,” meaning here that we haven’t yet changed enough to render it obviously of a past era; by contrast, STAS is very late-90s.

Which in its own way, makes it attractive. When times are bad, it can be tempting to retreat into the past, even when the past is retreating into its own past, as is happening in “New Kids on the Block.” The entirety of this episode takes place in the not-now–either the far future of the Legion of Superheroes, or the recent-ish past of Clark Kent’s youth. But that future is curiously of the past, too, decidedly zeerust–a term coined by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd to mean the peculiarly dated quality of old depictions of the future–with its extensive space travel and Superior Future Men, very much Golden Age science fiction in its fusion of fin de siecle eugenics and Cold War space race. Modern depictions of the future tend much more to concerns from later in the twentieth century, all-powerful AIs and environmental disasters and a more earthbound humanity. As the saying goes, if you were born after 1965, you were promised cyberpunk dystopia, not flying cars, and that’s exactly what you’re getting.

By the late 90s, that’s already becoming pretty clear. The DCAU’s own vision of the future is going to be much closer to cyberpunk than Golden Age, and the Legion of Superheroes won’t have much place in it. But even as that past is in the process of being rejected, it reaches into the past to try to position itself. Brainiac’s attempt to erase Superman before he comes to be becomes, in turn, an assertion that Superman is the ur-hero, the template on which the Legion based itself, and therefore indelible from history. His world, not Batman’s, is the future they represent, a future equal parts Krypton and Metropolis, the shining city of the future become star-spanning empire.

And that may well be what that future is rooted in. But it’s not the future the DCAU will embrace. We will not get a Superman Beyond, the stories of a young Superman in the Legion’s future–at least, not within the DCAU. Here, Batman is the core, the trunk from which the various lines of narrative branch, and it is therefore the kind of future that comes from him that we will soon see. The kind that comes from the 90s, when the Near-Apocalypse turns Post-Near-Apocalypse.

The kind in which we now live.

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