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Batman: What’s yellow and writes?

Robin: A ballpoint banana.
Batman: Exactly!

Commissioner Gordon: Penguin, Joker, Riddler…and Catwoman, too! The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!
Batman: We’ve been given the plainest warning: they’re working together to take over…
Chief O’Hara: Take over what, Batman: Gotham City?
Batman: Any two of them would try that!
Commissioner Gordon: The whole country?
Batman: If it were three of them, I would say yes, but four? Their minimum objective must be… the entire world.

Seriously, you know my favorite Batman story? Batman: The Movie! The one with Adam West and Burt Ward, I mean. Seriously, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, well that’s fine, but it just doesn’t get better than this, folks:

Robin: When you think, Batman, with those four supercrooks hangin’ around, it’s amazing somebody hasn’t already reported this place to the police!
Batman: It’s a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They’re used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.
Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn’t it? I’d rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!

But then, I have a soft spot for insane parody. (Guess what my favorite James Bond movie is… Right, Casino Royale!)

I think this is probably my last post on Batman (for a while, anyway), unless I think of more I want to say about DKR. While I’m here, I should note J.W. Hastings’s Watchmen vs. DKR post. To put it uncharitably, the idea seems to be that DKR is better than Watchmen because Watchmen actually excepts you to think and analyze the text (which, isn’t that what reading is—analyzing the text? just because it’s not a “deep” or “pomo” analysis dosn’t mean it’s not analysis…), whereas DKR is content to be a totally awesome book where Batman kicks out Superman’s teeth. And, well. I disagree, as you may have guessed from the fact that I’ve spent the last couple weeks analyzing DKR a whole lot. OK, and I thought the line about Watchmen being a 12-issue deconstruction was pretty funny, because I don’t remember much deconstruction going on in Watchmen at all and, as I think some of my DKR-blogging and certainly Rose’s post no working class hero indicate, DKR is fertile ground for deconstructive analysis of heroism (vs. villainy). Anyway, I am being uncharitable, as I said—this passage, J.W. is obviously engaging in actual thought and analysis:

Yet they are more honest and exciting than Moore’s comics, and, in the end, they are more complicated–not in terms of structure, but because Miller leaves things unresolved the moral questions he leaves us with are more pressing and harder to answer. Alan Moore draws detailed maps for his readers to follow, but Frank Miller tosses you into the middle of a dangerous world and forces you to choose sides.

…which makes me wonder why he said “analysis doesn’t really suit” DKR, but maybe he was just being, well, ironic. Or maybe the problem isn’t analysis in general, but “academic-style analysis” (whatever that is). At any rate, it all seems like a fairly strange critique of the books.

Oh, there was one other Batman thing… Paul Levitz on the necessary components of a successful Batman story (maybe a temporary link… are Yahoo! news stories temporary?):

There’s the “aspirational experience,” which Levitz says consists of how people react emotionally to the Bruce Wayne character, his traumatic childhood involving the death of his parents and how that leads the billionaire to use his riches to fight crime.

“It’s all about making you feel that if you went through something traumatic, you’d rise to the challenge in the same way,” Levitz says.

Right, I hope if my parents are murdered, I’d have the courage to beat the living shit out of criminals while wearing a rubber fetish suit. Batman as representative of a moral ideal we can aspire to? Of all the weird ways to reading superheroes… Oh well, here’s more lovely Batman: The Movie:

Vice Admiral Fangschliester: Avast and belay, Batman. Your tone sounds rather grim. We haven’t done anything foolish, have we?
Batman: Disposing of pre-atomic submarines to persons who don’t even leave their full addresses? Good day, Admiral!


  1. David Fiore says:

    I haven’t seen that pre-Burton Batman movie since the eighties Steven, but I remember this:

    Batman: Quick, Robin, the SHARK-REPELLENT!!

    I think we know who to blame for those ozone layer difficulties, don’t we?


    — 19 February 2004 at 10:20 am (Permalink)

  2. J.W. Hastings says:


    I’m not trying to suggest that analysis of DKR isn’t possible or useful, but, rather, I draw a distinction between something like Watchmen–which is written in order to be taken apart and analysed–and something like DKR–which is written to be the ultimate Batman story. Any reading of Watchmen that doesn’t consist of a lot of analysis would be superficial. On the other hand, I think you can (and most people do) respond deeply to DKR without having to resort to a theoretical/academic vocabulary. I’d liken this to the difference between reading Joyce’s Ulysses and reading Dicken’s Bleak House. You can analyse Bleak House til the cows come home, but you don’t really have to. However, Ulysses just won’t make any sense unless you put it into an analytic framework.

    To your other point: I think Watchmen is a prolonged work of deconstruction. That’s why all those “documents” at the end of each issue are so important–they are aids to the read to help deconstruct the text–likewise the pirate comic: another tool for deconstruction–In fact, Watchmen is just about a textbook example of deconstruction at work. DKR may indeed be “fertile ground for deconstructive analysis of heroism”, but I don’t see Miller engaged in deconstruction himself. It seems to me he has put all his conflicting feelings and ideas about heroism right on the page. You can deconstruct them, if you want. To me, however, DKR suggests that things like heroism really can’t be “deconstructed”: it’s far too ambiguous, fleeting, and contradictory. If I had to use an academic-type word, I’d say that DKR “complicates” issues heroism, justice, etc.

    (As a recovering academic, I’m a little down on a lot of theoretical jargon, so please don’t take my personal prejudices personally).

    And I really wasn’t being ironic: “choosing sides” is not the same as “analysis”–or at least textual analysis. Posing a moral dilemma is not the same as exposing the foundations of a moral system (which is what Watchmen is, partly, about, as Dave Fiore’s recent posts on that book suggest).

    I will say that I’ve enjoyed reading all the stuff on DKR on your site, and I do hope to respond to it in more detail. I’m still playing catch-up after a comics blogging hiatus.


    — 19 February 2004 at 1:15 pm (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:


    Ignoring J.W.’s good points because I’m on a tight schedule and wanted to say this earlier, I don’t think the aspirational aspect of the Batman mythos is so weird or wrong, really. The idea seemed to be that it would appeal emotionally to someone in crisis, not that Levitz expects it to hold up to intellectual scrutiny as an actual template for building a life.

    In thinking about the things I posted and this, I think in some ways Batman’s big sacrifice is in not being Paris Hilton. The obstacle he has to overcome is his astounding wealth, though of course he does this by using his resources. I’ve always wondered what kind of tax fraud he commits to hide his Batman expenditures from the Gotham version of the IRS….

    Anyway, I guess what I really wanted to say is what if the genial scoutmater movie Batman is an aspirational character? Would that be more palatable than the dark and dismal version we’re more used to? Campy Movie Batman is a kind fellow in an inept world, who manages to make everyone good feel better about themselves, scoop up the villains, and even facilitate world peace, being entertaining all the while. Not bad for a guy in tights!

    Anyway, I’d rather hope it would be a cathartic identification with superheroes rather than an aspirational one, but you know how I feel about that. I’m skeptical about vigilantes and strongly dislike revenge stories in real life. I’d feel better thinking people are reading Punisher to get these out of their systems rather than because they wish they could get the guts to go face the world, guns blazing. But I’m being an optimist again.

    Also, could Batman (and Robin?) be poster children for what happens to people who don’t grow up in heterosexual two-parent homes? The comics bloggers who write about Same-Sex Marriage don’t ever seem to use comic book examples, alas!


    — 19 February 2004 at 1:57 pm (Permalink)

  4. Steven says:

    If I understand you, you’re dividing literature into texts which are less self-consciously written and texts which are more self-consciously written—or maybe, texts that don’t foreground their self-consciousness vs. books that do? OK. I can see that, although I’d probably put DKR in the self-conscious category. I mean, it’s very ambiguous, and there are many points in the text where I just can’t tell if Miller was doing something consciously. Watchmen has plenty “Wait, is this supposed to be here?” moments of its own, though. I actually think plenty of people respond very deeply to Watchmen without putting a bit of thought into it—I’ve encountered no shortage of people online who were so deeply inspired as to immediately trash entire collections of superhero comics which they now realized were worthless trash thanks to Watchmen, and yet they have nothing more to say about Watchmen than that “it gave its heroes feet of clay” or somesuch.

    I overstated the case in saying Watchmen isn’t very deconstructive (why, I don’t know—this comes of writing at 2:00 AM). W/r/t DKR, though, I think that fertile deconstructive ground is very much a conscious part of the text, which is to say, DKR is written to be deconstructed.

    — 19 February 2004 at 1:58 pm (Permalink)

  5. Steven says:

    Now to Rose:

    Mmm… I think, as Levitz worded it, aspirational identification is very weird—although it’s quite possible Levitz didn’t really mean we should all hope to be courageous enough to dress up in rubber fetish suits and tackle bad guys… At any rate, I do think cathartic identification would be rather better.

    — 19 February 2004 at 2:06 pm (Permalink)

  6. Steven says:

    Oh, and the shark repellent Batspray, yes…

    The best thing about the Batman movie is you can get it on DVD. Featuring commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward—which, as I recall, largely consists of Burt Ward waxing nostalgic about the grievous injuries he suffered as the director refused to use a stunt double and made Ward do all the stunts.

    — 19 February 2004 at 3:36 pm (Permalink)

  7. Johnny B says:

    The only regret I have about the 60’s Batman movie (which I saw for the first time, in 1968, at the sadly missed Twin City Drive-In- every kid in the 2nd grade was there that night!) was that Julie Newmar was unable to bring her great Catwoman portrayal to the large screen due to a prior film commitment (the dull Ulzana’s Gold). Lee Meriwether tried, really she did, but she just wasn’t up to it.

    — 19 February 2004 at 7:31 pm (Permalink)

  8. Johnny B says:

    Oops, I meant McKenna’s Gold! Sorry!

    — 19 February 2004 at 7:31 pm (Permalink)

  9. Johnny B says:

    Aw, ta heck with it. The Batman flick played theaters in 1966-67. Can I possibly get my facts more mixed up? Don’t answer that.

    — 19 February 2004 at 7:38 pm (Permalink)

  10. Rose says:

    I’ve never seen Julie Newmar Catwoman, so I don’t have any basis of comparison. I just know that it makes it even more entertaining to watch The Producers if you think of Ulla with cat ears. And vice versa, I suppose.

    Steven, tangentially related to aspirations, do you have any ideas or recollections about what your childhood connection to the Batman tv series was? Just that it was cool?

    And J.W., I’m not ignoring you. I’m just sticking to the easy stuff on my breaks!


    — 19 February 2004 at 8:40 pm (Permalink)

  11. Steven says:

    I don’t recall ever aspiring to be Batman. As a six-year-old, or however old I was when I watched the Batman tv show, I certainly thought Batman was about as cool as you could get—I think it was the Bams and Pows that really made the show for me. I did want to be Spider-Man—until I realized that would require being bitten by a radioactive spider!—and then I wanted to be Superman (my mom cruelly lied to me and told me I’d learn to fly in Kindergarten).

    I wonder if Batman’s (and Robin’s) tragic origins were ever mentioned in the tv show. They’re not in the movie, as I recall.

    — 19 February 2004 at 9:15 pm (Permalink)