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…And Explaining Why I Love Them so Much
Blame it on Batman!
Let me explain. The popularity of Batman which saw a resurgence after the release of Frank Miller’s comics, “The Dark Knight Returns”, reached its peak with Christopher Nolan’s, “Batman Trilogy” movies. There is currently no indication that the popularity of Batman is waning because when compared to other superheroes/heroines, DC Comics releases more comics book titles associated with the Batman universe than it does in relation to anyone else in other words DC Comics has more money riding on Batman than on anyone else.
As I continue reading comics I have realised that DC Comics is most probably dedicating its best story tellers and pencillers to its Batman franchise, if not for anything else then for simple economic reasons, after all- best talents being attracted to the best pay packages is a basic corporate principle. I will come to the Batman stories later but in order to prove my point about the pencillers of Batman you can have a quick glance at Greg Capullo’s work in the “New 52” Batman titles. Many of these can be hanged in the best contemporary arts galleries. (Point 1, in why I love Batman).
Pic 2 (Source)
It is difficult to show the superiority of Batman stories to the stories of other superheroes or heroines in the DC Universe, but I have taken a counterfactual to make it easier to understand. Due to nearly 80 years of existence of Batman comics he has fought against all categories of villains. Even people who do not really like Batman agree or come close to agreeing to the point that Batman has the best Rogues Gallery in probably the entire comic book world- the Joker, Enigma, Two-Face, Ra’s al Ghul, Bane, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and the list goes on. This is important from the point of view of the fact that the Rogues often play a central role in any story arc of any comic book title. When the Rogues gallery is as impressive as this it is hardly surprising that when one reads comic books of other superheroes/heroines at least of the DC universe one is either left underwhelmed or at the least with a slight feeling of déjà vu.
Pic 4: The Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery
But, a small, albeit an important space is left mostly unoccupied by most of the superheroes/heroines in the DC Comics universe under the leadership of Batman (leadership here refers only to popularity). This unoccupied area is the realm of magic. Many DC Comics book characters like Zatanna and Constantine inhabit this area, but Wonder Woman reigns over this realm without any equal.
Allow me to show how these two areas in DC Comics co-exist and are mutually exclusive of one another at the same time. Without straining my grey matter much, some of the names of superheroes in the group led by Batman that comes to my mind are – Superman, Flash, and Green Arrow. The primary story telling device used on these characters involves examining how they shape, effect and help the world that they exist in. This helps us- the comic book lovers in our flights of fancy when we wonder about things like, “what would Superman do in this situation?” or “what would Batman say, if someone said this to him” and the best of all who would win a fight between this and that superheroes/heroines. The last element might also involve the characters which reside in the realm of “magic” but as I will explain later that due to the prevalence of the element of “conditionality” with regards to the characters in this realm involving them in a “versus” battle usually makes the discussion moot.
Before it is too late and I start discussing Wonder Woman let me tell you the other more important reasons why I love the Batman comics. The present day popularity of Batman which I have traced above to the Miller comics of the late 80s is a child of a father which is post-modernism and a mother- the “End of History” politics which are best enumerated in Francis Fukuyama’s book “The End of History and the Last Man”.
I am not a post-modernist myself but I think it suits superheroes to be post-modernist because of the amazing powers they wield. If they did not recognise that there are no absolute truths, “things were not what they seem” and that there are always good and bad, positive and negative angles in a story it will lead them to become hegemonic over the common people. Batman is the best example of a ruthless post-modernist. He is the quintessential “detective”. Nothing is “holier than thou” for him, he considers everyone fallible and if someone looks infallible he then goes after their vulnerabilities because for Batman nothing is more important than completing the mission. This makes Batman technical, cynical, paranoid, result oriented, ruthless and all together not a very nice guy when trying to solve a case.
These features of Batman are very well illustrated in a couple of instance which involved Wonder Woman. In a Wonder Woman vol. 2 story arc she losses her eye sight after which in order, to test whether she could still be an effective member of the Justice League they make her fight against the other members of the League minus Batman. During the fight she handles the other member quite well but both Wonder Woman and Batman suspects that the rest are not are not giving their 100%, so Batman joins the fray and in no time kicks her ass.In a Trinity story arc, Wonder Woman
is shocked at how brutally Batman beats up criminals and at his ways of getting information from them. So, much so that she chastises Superman for calling Batman his friend!
Let us also now talk about the mother of Batman’s popularity – the liberal politics of “End of History”. Despite, his dedication to ending a particular mission and his often “ends justify the means” philosophy he never crosses the line and becomes someone who would like to make a better world for the majority by eliminating a few (like for example Lex Luthor) or who would like to make a better world for a few by eliminating the majority (like for example Ra’s al Ghul). Even though it is clear sometimes that people may have died due to his direct or indirect actions, Batman personally has a strict no kill policy which puts him at odds with his own allies as witnessed in the Red Hood and Batman and Son story arcs.
Batman is seen roughing up criminals but never seen indulging in cold blooded torture or murder to dissuade them from future evil deeds.
Some characters in the recent years have been given the post-modernist outlook like Superman and imbibed with the liberal philosophy of “End of History” like Wonder Woman. But it is the balancing act between these two philosophies that Batman constantly indulges in, is what makes him so appealing to me and I believe for many other people as well.
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Once someone understands why the Batman comics are so popular, it is easy to explain why I like Wonder Woman comics so much. But to explain this best let me give you a personal example first. My dad used to be a voracious reader of literature. He had a friend who was a popular but basically a “pulp fiction” writer. But while writing his books this friend of my dad’s used to sometimes have problems with putting the story in order. So, he used to come to my dad and ask him for his help. One of the funniest things that he told my dad in one such occasion was, “Help me out here man, I killed off so many of my characters that there is no point in even continuing with the story”. I feel something similar happens in Wonder Woman stories in the comics.
The Batman comic book stories at least during the era I am talking about usually demands a lot from the writers- as these are usually complicated stories which are crafted like webs and different points of the web link up with each other without a particular pattern, to enhance the “detective” persona of Batman. But Wonder Woman stories are linear and simpler, when you are reading it, you know that the writers are basically testing an idea to see how/where it could lead them without a lot of idea about how the story is going to end. Probably, the writers have some basic objectives that they want to achieves at the end of the Wonder Woman stories but never more than that- for example, they might set targets like – at the end of this story arc Wonder Woman will become the ambassador of Themiscyra in the UN or at the end of that story arc she will become the Goddess of War. But these does not resemble the extent of preparation needed in creating a Batman story arc.
The lack of any end plan leads the writers of Wonder Woman to take refuge in one of the following two things or both which are either to create huge story arcs or secondly to involve an astonishingly large number of characters (almost equalling a 19th century Russian novel) and these writers have got very good in using these two story telling devises so much so that they could give the “better” writers of the Batman universe a run for their money.
For example, the Batman Eternal story arc involves 52 issues which features several major characters in the DC Universe but still left many disappointed at how such a long story line was handled. Contrast it with the Wonder Woman’s First Born story arc, told in over 35 issues involving huge number of characters but none of the major characters in the DC Universe except Wonder Woman and most of the people who read it were quite satisfied and excited about the new avatar of Wonder Woman in the New 52 issues.
But how does the inherent weakness of the Wonder Woman story writers due to lack of funds (in comparison to the Batman franchise) leading to lack of compact and interconnected story lines result in giving us so much satisfaction when we end up finishing a Wonder Woman story arc? The answer lies in the “conditionality” aspect which I have pointed out above.
This aspect of “Conditionality” has to deal with Magic. Magic in comic books are basically like laws- the writers first set “conditions” which sets the “rules of the game” then as the story progresses one starts to realise that these rules like laws in the legal system is filled with loop hopes, traps and the occasional get out of jail free card and these become the devises which takes the story forward To show how this works let me use the favourite tool of a comic book fan- a hypothetical “versus” battle.
Who will win in a battle between Wonder Woman and Superman? To begin with I do agree with Arris Quinones of Variant Comics that Superman is the most powerful superhero in the world of comics.
To understand this battle in the context of this article we need to first remind ourselves of the above instance where Batman defeats Wonder Woman when she is blinded. This to me basically shows a very important thing- that Wonder Woman is a “fighter”. She had been trained in martial arts including use of weapons since childhood. But if you take away the things which are most important to a fighter like eyesight or mobility of limbs they become extremely vulnerable. So, when Wonder Woman has access to all her abilities for example in “Hiketeai” she hardly breaks a sweat in defeating Batman.
Let us come to a Superman versus Wonder Woman scenario in the “Sacrifice” story arc where there is a battle between Superman and Wonder Woman because he thinks that she is Doomsday who has just killed Lois. Superman does not hold back, but Diana does as she knows that something is wrong with Superman. But even under this scenario Wonder Woman comprehensively beats Superman. This fight is not very important in the context of this article but just to mention, why I think this fight turns out like this is because of two reasons- first Wonder Woman’s abilities as a fighter and secondly because Wonder Woman knows how powerful Superman is and how quickly he recovers so she attacks him with disdain for his well-being and at one point even cutting his neck near the jugular vein.
Now let us come to the point the of “conditionality of magic”. The New 52 Wonder Woman of the on-going Wonder Woman series in DC Comics is enormously more powerful than the Vol.2 or the Vol. 3 Wonder Woman. She is now literally a “Goddess” and has to put constrains on herself to keep her power levels down. Now let us set Superman up against a fight with this New 52 Wonder Woman. Suppose before this fight someone kills Wonder Woman and then bring her back to life like the hack job they did in the Batman Universe recently- Wonder Woman would immediately lose her “Goddess” powers- according to the “rules” set in the Wonder Woman comics. Suppose also that Hephaestus thinking she is dead takes away his sword which could “cut through an atom”, and to which Superman seemed to be vulnerable. Add to this someone misusing Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth on her- then Superman will have to keep waiting in the ring to fight Wonder Woman as she will not show up since she has probably fallen into unconsciousness.
I hope you see my point here, just as the concept of “magic” gives great powers to different characters on its realm usually putting the “real world” oriented superheroes/heroines at a loss with respect to how to deal with them; magic at the same time makes its characters extremely vulnerable as well as susceptible to even minor changes in the circumstances. But both, i.e. to make the characters vulnerable or strong the story must traverse through first the “rules of the game” and then check the boxes for fulfilling the “conditions”. How is this so different from the treatment of “real world” characters? It is, because world of magic is filled with objects and people, for the simple reason that the writers usually do not have to give a lot of justification for their existence which is in sharp contrast to them having to write several origin stories for the characters who have their own comic book titles. This is also a reason why there are fewer major characters (with their own comic book titles) whose powers are magic based because just creating things out of the thin air does not usually satisfy majority of comic book lovers like me.
Now add the linear story telling method with huge number of characters in the Wonder Woman comics to the dynamic nature of “magic”, the result you get is a highly complicated story even if a particular story arc runs for just a few issues. These complicated stories are then deconstructed by looking at the above mentioned loop holes in the conditions. Once the loop holes are found- traps are set for the bad guys and the get out of jail free card is acquired by the heroine. Due to this strategy being used in different occasions under different circumstances Wonder Woman comic books have acquired a sense of variety and creativity which has few equals in the comic book world.
Finally, a word on the personality of Wonder Woman. I find the personality of Wonder Woman very attractive. Wonder Woman has a happy, optimistic, caring and bright outlook on life. Wonder Woman embraces the different aspects of her femininity with grace and dignity- she loves to have fun, she likes to hang-out with her girlfriends, she knows which activities to indulge in order to blow off steam, she does not behave like the super heroine/goddess that she is all the time and frequently takes pleasure in the small things in life. Wonder Woman does not feel shy to declare her love nor does she hesitate from telling someone why she does not love them any longer. She constantly challenges the prejudices against women and speaks up for their rights. She is a woman who wields truth itself as a weapon. Wonder Woman is a decisive woman and often acts in a manner which is very different from her comrades in the Justice League. But the most important factor about Wonder Woman is her confidence- she is very confident about her place in the world, in fact she is so confident that she hardly hides behind secret identities like Batman or Superman. Neither does the danger of public scrutiny scare her nor does the manipulation of evil people distract her from her goals.
Conclusion- There is nothing left to conclude here. I have already stated why I love Batman and Wonder Woman, so I guess if you have reached this line- thank you for reading through my article and may you “live long and prosper”.
(Disclaimer: All the pictures in this article and the characters depicted on them belong to DC Comics)