Ok, it’s the first post on a forum. How could it not be a geeky subject?
I just finished watching the latest Chris Nolan Batman effort (The Dark Knight Rises).
I’ll admit it now – I see comics as the closest thing modern day has to old school hero myths. They provide cultural meta-narratives, and not just to kids. Grant Morrison (who wrote Supergods, all about this phenomenon, and has also written for all the major superhero comics) put it like this: the creators of these characters are now dead, and other people will be writing stories about them long after the current writers are also dead. They’re bigger than that. Much like the “Homeric question”. The Iliad was written by generations of bards before anyone put stick to papyrus.
Batman has been my personal favourite of these modern myths for a long time. I’ve never bothered with the ongoing stuff with Robin and all that crap – just the quality, finite stories that, up until recently, could have their status upgraded to “graphic novel” and sold in hardcover at Borders for upwards of $50. (Eg Frank Miller and Alan Moore stories).
The key reason he’s my favourite is the sheer determination he has towards self-mastery for a noble cause. Until tonight, I had focused on the “self-mastery” side of that equation, but I’m now thinking of it in a different light.
Nietzsche saw people as belonging to one of two types of morality. Master morality and slave morality.
Master morality is that of the ancient Greeks, with an emphasis on pride of ability and personal power. Good = capable. They’re myths are full of warriors and tricksters that can make sh!t happen for themselves, sometimes at the expense of the Gods.
Slave morality is that of the Christians. Nietzsche’s idea was that common, incapable people make themselves feel better about being plebs by demonising the powerful masters. “The meek shall inherit the earth”. Good = pious; obedient; God-fearing.
Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to us for our own advancement.
Jesus gave us early warning that the boss was planning to downsize, and we should be on our best behaviour.
So, back to Batman.
He’s as feared as Achilles, for good reason. Let’s assume he’s at least black belt in an arbitrarily long list of martial arts styles; owns and can expertly use any weapon under the sun – and even invents his own, better weapons (in the first Nolan film, he even makes his own bat-ninja-stars by hand). And, in his spare time, can continue to amass a fortune to pay for it all, and still be philanthropic with big chunks of cash.
Some of the comics develop his self-mastery even further, with him learning Buddhist meditation techniques to prepare for death and create an alternate personality as a contingency in case he was ever under psychological attack. (Did I mention he was awesome?)
Clearly a master, in Nietzsche’s books, right?
BUT – and this is what I realised tonight – he could also be seen as a slave. A slave to a traumatic childhood experience, a slave to some moral ideal that he can break people’s bones, but not use guns or kill people that are about as evil as Hitler. A slave to an ideal that prevents him from being in love and having a family. A slave to maintaining an alter ego, so he doesn’t even get any credit.
Achilles would not be cool with wearing a mask.
So which one is he? Or is there some hybrid thing going on?
It doesn’t seem as black and white as Nietzsche would have us believe.