Shelf Bite: Rat Queens

RatQueens_01_02_finalFangirls unite

‘What’s with men and tentacles? I’m sick of this shit.’

Following the success of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga, Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch’s Rat Queens continues to deconstruct the sci-fi and fantasy genre. Where Saga deals with high concept and more surreal devices, Rat Queens is perhaps closer in tone to Terry Pratchet; simply not justified by a mere ‘Python meets Thrones’; this is balls to the wall storytelling with four of the best female characters to grace the pages of the medium for a long while. Pinup bombshell, Hannah the Elf, fashion hipster dwarf, Violet, atheist human cleric, Dee and the hippy lesbian Halfling thief smash their way through the sword and sorcery sub gene in an effortless read. Inverting the cliché imagery of scantily clad females, Rat Queens is a fresh depiction of various female body types and places the cliché, heroic male as ‘second fiddle’. With the current influx of the fangirl community revitalising comics, it is not hard to see the current trend, even from the big two’s Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, yet Rat Queens clearly remains top of the game. Current volumes are: Sass and Sorcery and The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth.

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Shelf Bite: Ex Machina

ex_machinaThere is nothing more human than the will to survive

‘Did you program her to flirt with me?’

Man’s fascination with playing God is a central concept to all those science fiction tales that force us to question our own place in the universe and the legacy we may leave behind. As with the seminal masterpiece, Blade Runner, where Ridley Scott built upon the visual details laid out by Fritz Lang and Moebius; Director, Alex Garland strips back the oppressed gloom yet still infuses the film’s narrative with a strong sense of philosophy, psychology and religious themes. The result is a near future with a similar, cynical undertone to Charlie Brooker’s series, Black Mirror – a pristine, product placed future that seems to be set next year rather than a far flung, dystopic conceit. Garland’s flawless script is about the trio of characters and their central conflict rather than a brash, Hollywood fair and closer in tone to a piece of theatre. The central drama is compelling and the special effects, as refined as they are, become almost invisible. Domhnall Gleeson’s naïve programmer contrasts Oscar Isaac’s nihilistic billionaire as he studies the interaction between his employee and A.I., Ava played by the beguiling, Alicia Vkander. With enough red herrings to keep any sci-phile on their toes, Ex Machina delivers a supreme vision of a future we are closer to than we realise.

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Shelf Bite: It Follows

movie-posters-twofive-04It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. It doesn’t give up

‘It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you.’

Another step into Carpenterville that explores the common tropes of 1980s slasher films in a unique and artful manner. Director, David Robert Mitchell infuses the camera with voyeuristic undertones that allows ‘it’ to perform; linger, creep and zoom in on our central character as she is ‘followed’ by an entity passed on through sex. With some genuinely disturbing visuals and, at times, misjudged acts of sexual (Freudian) violence the film builds enough tension to hold it’s audience until the final act looses it momentum. Maika Monroe, already beginning to build up a retro reputation from The Guest, delivers a sullen, paranoid performance that helps to highlight the separation and independency that teenagers begin to experience as they move away from their adolescence and the mistakes they make. The synth soundtrack and production design is both subtle and ‘in your face’ at times; much like the central theme. As with most films that involve teenagers; the characters remain oddly unsympathetic surrounded by distanced adults and yet, in highlighting those common moments of ‘don’t go there’, still manages to deliver a more than effective horror film.

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American Sniper

 American-Sniper-Movie-PosterSharp Shooting?

‘There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.’

There has been much controversy surrounding Clint Eastwood’s latest film, American Sniper based on both its depiction of the central character, Chris Kyle and the innocents caught in the cross fire of bullets and politics. Many arguments have been forged around the film based on its apparent nationalist leanings, all of which are embedded in many US war films leading to propagandist views. Is American Sniper a patriotic, often one-sided view? Absolutely – the clue is in the title. Is American Sniper ground breaking cinema? No – nor does it try to be anything else. What it does do is attempt to deliver how one man becomes a killer and in his own warped perception, a ‘sheep dog’ who protects the flock only to leave what is most important behind as he sheds all humanity in order to pull the trigger.

It is interesting to note that Steven Spielberg was originally set to direct and had plans to expand on the Iraqi sniper and in equal measure show a point of view that would help humanise the other side. Aside from this being a less marketable offering, it is Eastwood’s fearless trademark approach of stripped down efficiency to his direction that also makes it such a different film. It is more than clear that, although it is briefly touched upon in a scene that lasts no more than a minute with the opposing sniper’s wife and child watching him pick up his rifle; Eastwood’s story was to focus primarily on Kyle and the impact of his killer instinct on not just himself but also his own wife and children. It is here that both Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, considering the sensitive nature of the story, deliver more than earnest performances – Miller in particular who is beginning to show a deft in her acting that is marking somewhat of a recent revival of her career.

Unfortunately it is the nature of film to manipulate and sacrifice most truth for cinematic effect yet, after the shit storm has settled; there needs to be a degree of responsibility in the messages it conveys. Most see this film as what it is and find it difficult to see past how one of the most respected and revered filmmakers has the only balls in Hollywood to deliver a film that doesn’t just provoke but aims for the kill. Only Clint could do this and for that alone there is a degree of respect in the film’s execution rather than that of Kyle’s own actions. Yet, in order to do that, there is the difficult decision of removing oneself from the original material and, in the wake of recent incidences at home and abroad that involves the potent image of the gun it begs another debate whether anyone should be watching such films at all.

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Shelf Bite: The Guest

The_Guest_Main_One_Sheet.jpg_cmykBe careful who you let in

‘I’m afraid I haven’t been fully honest with you…’

If you’re an appreciator of the current trend in retro thrillers kick started by Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive then The Guest is another welcome addition to the sub genre. Much like Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, the Director’s latest effort is a film that mixes sinister undertones, blistering action, thrill of the hunt and a dose of horror akin to the best of John Carpenter. There is even the menace of James Cameron’s original Terminator programmed with enough charm and finesse to give Jason Bourne a run for his money. With a solid soundtrack that sets the perfect tone Wingard keeps the delirium flying while he throws one or two red herrings into the mix. The Guest doesn’t set any new precedence’s but delivers a lethal punch and old school affair that elevates Dan Stevens’ central performance well beyond Downton Abbey’s tweed stereotypes.

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Spring

Spring_poster_goldposter_com_2-400x592Love is a Monster

‘I don’t think you’re ready for where this is going.’

Often, amongst the subpar horror fair of late, there are the hidden artefacts you stumble across that dare to deliver something different. As part of the current renaissance in intelligent, independent horror films that have the unhinged freedom to explore more metaphysical concepts there are the hidden gems built on the germ of an idea – the less tangible…the less obvious. Often deemed to have smaller audiences, the likes of Honeymoon and The Babadook have, at their core, something deeply personal shrouded in expressionistic brushstrokes that help to convey more thought provoking ideas. Although The Babadook descended into more of a cliché, Honeymoon managed to retain its serious, speculative approach and it is the same conviction that makes Spring one of the strongest horror films of 2015. It’s a sad state of affairs that such a masterpiece has zero marketing and is only released in the UK on DVD at the bargain bin price of £4.99.

With its more obvious tropes nested in the masterful tales of H.P. Lovecraft, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s second feature reminds us how a heady mix of romance can work wonders. Traditionally, these genres are not as removed from one another as we may think and have more than been taken advantage of in these Twihard years. Yet Spring manages to deliver a fresh and often beguiling approach with its meandering nature and stunning scenery swaying close to Richard Linklater’s conversational piece, Before Sunrise and therefore attempts to avoid the imagery we are all too familiar with.

After his mother passes away, a young bartender by the name of Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is left alone and angry with regret. When he prevents his friend from a potential glassing, a bar brawl ensues which results in the loss of his job. Before long his life is threatened by the hapless thug and the authorities begin their search. With nothing left to keep him rooted, Evan sets off for a random destination and ends up in Italy where he briefly meets up with a couple of cockney backpackers, secures a part time job and, amongst the wine and sunshine, meets the beautiful and alluring Louise (Nadia Hilker). As they begin to spend time with one another, it is soon clear that she hides a dark and terrifying secret that literally evolves throughout the course of the film.

Comparisons to Upstream Colour can also be noted; yet where Shane Carruth’s film deals with many ambiguous themes in a more speculative light, the visual language is just as arresting. Throughout the labyrinthine streets and swell of the sea, Benson and Moorhead take their time to explore character, which enables the viewer to accept the grotesque transformations Louise undertakes. In the moments the creature is seen it is disquieting, unsettling, shocking and disturbing – each transformation exploring the familiar while still retaining a fresh direction that helps to elevate its more primordial nature.

While Evan’s character deals with his estrangement from his homeland, it is during a key scene that reminds us of his unbridled love – in that no matter what happens to those closest to you, love knows no bounds; both emotionally and physically. In the opening moments of the film we understand Evan’s grief and relationship with his mother before he is cast adrift. As much as Louise is a myth, Evan is the truth behind how simple one man’s love can be.

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75 Years of Batman – Part IV

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Dave McKean’s more abstract approach divided readers upon its publication but has produced a rendition of Batman’s world that has rarely been matched for its visual style. Textured and more tactile than what had gone before, the final work was one that sort to be scratched at, much like the unhinged mind of Batman and Arkham’s inmates.

Psychology

‘The Scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls…’ Edgar Allan Poe

The duality of Bruce Wayne’s persona is intrinsically linked to how he utilises a seemingly negative emotion to his advantage. There is contradiction and conflict and it is within these dark confines that Bruce discusses the need for justice and how to save Gotham from criminals at great personal risk to his own mental and physical health. His pragmatic approach and extreme focus is shown directly through his actions and ability to make the most of his surroundings – tempering mind, body and spirit in to the weapon he needs to gain an insight into the criminal mind and deliver his own, swift form of justice. To aid further, his privileged lifestyle has enabled him to have many resources at his disposal – a seemingly endless supply of wealth that has helped him to seek out the most effective teachers in their fields.

Yet, despite this commitment, his own dilemma lies in his own personal ambition and how unsure he is of revenge – a weakness and conflict that his antagonists more than often exploit. It is this moral dilemma that have been explored to great effect in seminal works such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke and Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Not only did these stories reinvent the character but were also a major turning point in comic book history. Having now given birth to a much darker and morally ambiguous rendition of Batman, both Miller and Moore in particular helped to reshape the public’s perception of the world Batman inhabited and over the past three decades have formed somewhat of a Holy Grail for any version that has proceeded.

The extraordinary nature of Bruce Wayne’s physical abilities often overwhelm his own, mental discipline. In a scene from Batman: Year One (1987) he questions his ability by the graveside of his parents and, after leaving, lowers his moral guard that leads to him initiate a street fight. It is this moment that forms an important turning point in his career as a vigilante and, in assessing the situation, understands how much he must control himself. The scene also highlights how much he is still driven by similar adolescent urges that need to be tempered by discipline and the comprehension of why he must follow a strict morality.

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Frank Miller’s bold, iconic style was one of both clarity and brute strength. Influenced by Film Noir, Manga and European artists, Miller’s style is closer to the work of Saul Bass than conventional comic book illustrators. His depiction of Batman is a hard boiled outlaw – grisseled by his experiences and a fine thread away from becoming the very thing he fights against.

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) paints a bleak, post-apocalyptic future Gotham that has fallen in to fear and violence – a Reagan era comment on excess and consumerism grown out of the control of a dystopian society. It is here, that the lack of effort in controlling the escalating violence, the retired Bruce Wayne must, once again, pick up the mantle of the bat, raising the concern: should Batman use violence to help change a society? It is here that his own personal conflict is highlighted once more: if those who are adverse to him are using similar methods then what justifies Batman’s own methods?

In Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (1988) the exploration of fear is shown from the opposite end of the table where the Joker is presented as a yin to Batman’s yang. Saturated in the Clown Prince’s bright colour palette of green, purple, red and yellow, his presence throughout the book is constantly felt. Moore’s Joker is a terrifying Cheshire cat who exacts the most brutal acts on his victims while, with his trademark grin, flippantly laughs off the crime only highlighting his anarchic approach. With the Joker there is no rationality, no empathy – only highlighted further by a man who laughs at his own, sick jokes. Here, Batman doubts his own ability to fight his mirror image and in the book’s opening, while visiting Arkham Asylum, shares these doubts with his archenemy. ‘I’ve been thinking lately, about you and me. About what’s going to happen to us, in the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we?’ (Moore p.1)

It is more than evident that Batman recognises that his vigilantism and the Joker’s terrorism take advantage of fear, presenting him with the unresolvable situation of how he can fight a villain who understands fear more than he does. The story concludes with both of them reaching their final confrontation where they share a laugh together over one of the Joker’s bad jokes as they realise neither of them will win. The end, according to writer Grant Morrison can be seen as the final story of these two adversaries and that the title alone hints at the potential of Batman killing the Joker as his laughter abruptly stops before the final panel. This has never been confirmed by Alan Moore and is often seen as one of a number of jabs the two writers have made towards each other during their career.

Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1987) marked his first foray in to the world of Batman and can be seen as a comment on the society at the time. Much like Alan Moore, Morrison, as a British writer, had come to prominence through the pages of 2000 AD and had developed a similar, cynical approach to his subject matter. The result was a more repressed Batman; a violent figure who was painted as a borderline psychopath that now cast him in a far more complex light.

Morrison’s own interest in the occult and use of symbolism is clear throughout the book. While it often references sacred geometry the main influence is the architecture of a house where Morrison structured the tale of Amadeus Arkham around the lower, basement levels while the long forgotten secret passages connect the wider concepts. The result is a journey through the floors, brought to life by the nightmarish, visceral illustrations of acclaimed artist, Dave McKean. From a visual experience the artwork is multi-layered and hints at the shadows and shapes that play at the back of our own minds; much like the solid execution of a horror film. Influenced by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Morrison’s own dissection of the character leaned more heavily towards European cinema such as the German Expressionistic masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). McKean’s abstract renditions of the Asylum and its inhabitants are enough to hint at the underlining themes, yet to a lot of readers at the time, including Morrison himself, was not a conventional approach to the story. Where Morrison felt his symbolic elements were lost in their representation, the final work has more than stood the test of time and has been a major influence on the mythos, recently spawning a popular line of video games, Arkham Asylum (2009), Arkham City (2011), Arkham Origins (2013) and next year’s Arkham Knight (2015).

Due to his reinvention through these seminal works a far more complex picture of this tragic hero has arisen. It has become ever more apparent how Batman is not a superhero but simply a human being who struggles to remain in control and shows us the full potential of what we can be. Born out of a decade of depression and violence, Bruce Wayne’s omen that he chooses the image of a Bat is intrinsically linked to those early incarnations of his psyche. As a wealthy crusader he cloaks a dark secret that symbolises how he has conquered fear – an ‘exposure’ that helps him remain with what he is afraid of until he is calm. One of the most influential writers who has contributed to the mythos, Dennis O’Neil states, ‘Batman operates in the shadows – outside society yet his values are that of a virtuous man.’ Therefore Bruce Wayne attempts to integrate the ongoing conflict he has between good and evil and presents the person he thinks he is over the person he wants to be.

carl-jung-photo

As well as the notion of a ‘Shadow side’, Carl Jung proposed and developed the concepts of extroversion and introversion; archetypes, and the collective unconscious.

The Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung believed that a distinct, personal struggle wages between the socially acceptable self and the ‘Shadow side’ – a state that we project our dark sides on to. Bruce Wayne taps in to a childhood fear adopting the iconography of evil that resembles old medieval imagery of demonic figures clad in darkness, horns and batwings that personifies a disturbed fascination. As Batman he explicitly owns this identity and exposes it to criminals in his night time crusade as a masked avenger who works outside the law. There is an aspirational purpose as he masters fear, crushes the chaos and, instead, soars upwards above society.

Although there is what can often be seen as a glorification of violence in comic book culture, both history and fiction remind us that one person’s hero is another’s vigilante. However it is clear that this point would not match up in the real world – an idea that simply does not translate efficiently to the masses. While some would ask, ‘Why doesn’t Bruce Wayne just go to therapy?’ Most of us learn to realise that the truth is that the masks he wears are his other personas – the tragic Socialite behind the walls of his Manor and Bruce Wayne the Billionaire playboy. What defines the character is the central humanity that Bruce Wayne possesses and therefore Batman is not only a finely crafted tool but his true identity – he can’t stop being Batman but he can stop being Bruce Wayne as his behaviour prevents him from having any lasting relationship. As a man he is more than capable of falling in love and has often been an exploited weakness as it is the one thing that has no shield – he can’t love openly due to the fear of loss which could act as a reminder and distraction from his exposure.

As complex as he is contradictory, Batman must constantly battle with his own adversity which forms a core element of his humanity and without this conflict there would be no need for a Batman and therefore every right for Bruce Wayne to retire – with this in mind, it could be argued that he isn’t a superhero and simply a human being who demonstrates the great things we can accomplish. He shows that we can learn to understand this difficult world and pursue justice that provides the hope that all of us need where heroism is often found amongst the darkness and fear that resides in all of us.

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75 Years of Batman – Part III

deore_lucifer

With the wings of a bat, Lucifer contemplates another familiar form in Gustave Deore’s illustration inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Although created during the height of the Renaissance, the corrupted archetype was, rather controversially, seen as a romantic figure during the 18th and 19th century.

Mythology

‘As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol…as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.’ Batman Begins, 2005

Living amongst the creatures of night, man has always sort to conquer darkness in the shelter of their caves. Before the first light of the fire, stories would have been vastly different and perhaps questionable whether man’s emotions were as psychological. Without fear, man hunted and survived off the land with no preconceived ideas of grand concepts or even their own place in the world. Survival was more instinctual but through the evolution of the hunt, tools developed and with it, self-expression. The imagination, perhaps humanity’s greatest tool of all, has helped to communicate through paintings, words and most potently, symbols.

As with John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, at the height of the Renaissance period and the later Romanticism of William Blake’s own poetry and significant artistry; both their representations of the fallen Angel, Lucifer and his legion of demons have inspired countless stories and visual media ever since. These works have often depicted demonic figures with bat-like wings and horned features, striking fear in to the general public who, at the time, sort inspiration through more religious endeavors. However, mythological stories of man’s transformation in to bats have many other symbolic and cultural links that separate them from the more obvious confines of Christianity.

mayan_bat_sculpture

An anthropomorphised figure from Mayan culture that shows one of the earliest depictions of ‘man as a bat’.

Model behaviour found in mythology can be intrinsically linked when animal attributes are projected on human nature. Ties between the two help us all to see similarities but more importantly, focus on particular aspects and traits that can define specific archetypes. Bats, in most instances, are seen as creatures of the night due to their nocturnal instincts; where drain the life source of others in order to survive. Therefore, often these attributes do not translate to how man should behave and forms much of the basis of why a fear of bats is explored within a number of cultures. Bats are often a symbol of death and deception – where the Mayans in particular depicted them as agents of the underworld; some discoveries from this early civilisation showcase human sized carvings of a bat. Smaller examples that have been located only confirm how much the bat was worshiped and is thought to be how the Mayans honoured the dead and that in doing so, were less likely to join these creatures in the afterlife.

Other connotations of the bat that have originated from South America are that the creature represents greed and jealousy born from the belief that the bat was envious of the bird’s feathers and that his nocturnal lifestyle was a direct punishment for this sin. The bat is also depicted as a conceited bird who lost his feathers through a punishment and out of the shame and embarrassment began to travel only by night while confined to the shadows, undetected. In a more positive light, Chinese mythology viewed the creature as a symbol of good luck, longevity and happiness; while certain native American tribes believed the bat to be a trickster, others believed his presence meant that something good was about to happen.

As a unique and mysterious creature, unlike most animals, its appearance is one that defies convention yet, what is often apparent is that the symbol of a bat manages to convey a very clear and explicit message. With fear in mind, it has been easy to make references to classic, Gothic literature and that there is a truth that supernatural elements form the basis of this emotional reaction. The mere notion of a boy pledging an oath to avenge his parent’s murder is a dark and powerful concept and in realising that the idea of Batman is the result of a child’s reaction to this traumatic event only helps to further justify why a man would dress as a bat. As puerile and juvenile as it seems, the theatrical element of the character lends itself as much to spectacle as it does to subtlety – where it as much about the dramatic leap from a rooftop than to recede back in to the shadows.

eastwood

The archetypal American outlaw has been depicted on celluloid for over a century, from the Golden Age of Hollywood and John Wayne’s clean-cut hero to Clint Eastwood’s gritty depiction. Heavily stylised, Sergio Leone’s ‘The Man with No Name’ is depicted with a cape-like poncho, iconic hat, trademark cigar and revolver. A costume that is only a few steps away from the urban Superhero.

Batman absorbs some of the classic tropes of the Western archetype – an antihero who rides in to town and saves the day – but there have also been a number of important iterations of the character that have shaped our understanding of a more modern, mythic hero. In an analysis of Batman during the early seventies, writer and critic, Roger B. Rollin had compared Batman to other important heroes from history, such as Beowulf and Milton’s Paradise Lost. As with the majority of these examples of fictional work it is within these studies that the classic ‘hero’s journey’ has been explored in great length through such works as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) – a ‘monomyth’ outlining there are specific, universal themes that define a hero. Self-sacrifice, reluctance to the cause, the quest, the old man as guide are just some of the parallels that can be drawn, however, Rollin’s analysis argued that Batman’s hero type could also, more specifically, be identified by influential Canadian literary theorist, Herman Northrop Frye. In his article, Beowulf to Batman: The Epic Hero and Pop Culture (1970) Rollin references Frye’s Type II hero as: human yet morally and legally superior to others – a conception that gives him “a semi-divine aura” (Rollin, p. 435) that places him beyond real human concerns, “Though limited, he is still overwhelmingly powerful and overwhelmingly virtuous” (Rollin, p. 435). Frye’s conclusion presents a cohesive vision of unrivaled morality that expresses an appropriate code of conduct to the reader.

Where Campbell’s hero’s journey described an individual who ventures from the normal world into a supernatural one; winning a decisive victory and returning with their reward – in contrast, Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence set out to argue for the existence of America’s own monomyth in their book, The American Monomyth (1977). As later extended in, The Myth of the American Superhero, they defined:

‘A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.’ (Jewett, Shelton Lawrence 2002, p.6)

The American Monomyth suggests a level of cultural belief in American society that helps to explain the desire in American government to ‘save the world’ and is perhaps a quality mostly associated with the superhero complex. Having observed the major differences between heroes of ancient mythology and those of popular American culture, Jewett and Shelton Lawrence developed a critical definition of a cultural American pattern. They observed that these heroes fitted this pattern and were ubiquitous in American culture, which made them problematic and, some would argue, an almost ridiculous contradiction:

‘In these conventions the monomyth betrays an aim to deny the tragic complexities of human life. It forgets that every gain entails a loss, that extraordinary benefits exact requisite costs…The American monomyth offers vigilantism without lawlessness…He unites a consuming love of impartial justice with a mission of personal vengeance that eliminates due process of law.’ (Jewett, Shelton Lawrence 1977, p.196)

batman_symbol

One of the most iconic symbols around the world, this unique graphic device distills and personifies the character and attributes of Batman and has helped him transcend many barriers of communication – a major contribution to his universal appeal.

Impartial justice and personal revenge have always played an important role in the story of Batman. His motivation is brought to the forefront by the strict moral code he has defined in order to help protect the innocent and the legacy of his parents. Despite his brutal approaches in working outside the law, his refusal to use a gun symbolises an individual who forms the antithesis of one of America’s most controversial laws. It is this decision alone and the discipline of the character that helps him transcend any form of patriotism and conformity that, to some, may seem a step too far and another important facet that lends a more universal appeal – where Superman represents how America views itself, Batman can be seen as how the rest of the world views America. His mythology is built from one man’s quest of vengeance and although justice is not as tangible as the Holy Grail it is still the chalice that Bruce Wayne searches for, not only defining his character but the also the world he inhabits.

To be continued in Part IV: Psychology

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HOAX: Psychosis Blues

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Leonardo M. Giron illustrates ‘Life’.

The Art of Collaboration

‘This illness will not claim me, not today.’

HOAX: Psychosis Blues is a work of major importance, primarily in its support of mental illness but also in its expressive collaboration that helps to deliver how sequential art can only highlight the power behind poetry. The result is a limited first edition that acts as a counterpoint to writer, Ravi Thornton’s HOAX: My Lonely Heart, a theatrical production also inspired by her brother, Rob who tragically lost his fight against schizophrenia in 2008. Interspersed by Leonardo M. Giron’s subtle and expressive illustrative style, each year, Ravi reflects on key moments she observed followed by a selection of comic book artists and illustrators (Bryan Talbot and Rian Hughes to name a few) adapting a number of Rob’s poems. Heartfelt and tragic, Rob’s soul clearly resides in his collaboration, which is brought beautifully to life by a sister who has not only produced the ultimate tribute to a loved one but also a project to help others realise they are not alone in their own torment. For more information about the book and other projects, please visit: www.ravithornton.com or www.ziggyswish.co.uk

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75 Years of Batman – Part II

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The earliest origin tale is depicted in Batman #1, Spring, 1940.

Origins

‘The idea of Batman starts with alienation and acceptance themes. It’s the idea of a kid orphaned by crime.’ Michael E. Uslan, Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman

The privileged son of socialite parents witnesses their brutal murder in a cold dark alley. Traumatised by the horrific events the young Bruce Wayne vows vengeance and invests his wealth to hone mind, body and spirit in his quest for justice. Born out of darkness, as Batman he channels his own childhood fear in to a tempered discipline that aids him in his fight against crime.

Influenced as much by the popular culture of the time as the historic touchstones; Batman’s iconography and persona was also informed by newspaper strips showcasing pulp heroes, The Phantom, The Shadow, Dick Tracey and Doc Savage who lent their sense of high end adventure and secret identities, while classic literary characters such as Sherlock Holmes helped shape him in to ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’. The Golden Age of film presented glamour and dynamic storytelling with The Mark of Zorro (1920), and The Bat Whispers (1930) both of which reflected aristocratic heroes and double identities which left an iconic signature and symbol – other important details that helped shape Batman’s own personality. But it is within wider context and social issues of the time that have been a major, contributing influence on the birth of Batman.

Although the United States had already begun to witness a decline in their gross domestic products it was not until the infamous Wall Street Crash of October, 1929 that its severe effects began to have more visible repercussions. The result was not just a national epidemic but a major worldwide economic crash that marked the beginning of a decade of unemployment that painted a bleak picture of the 1930s. It was during these times that lost opportunities in personal advancement and loss of confidence in the system contributed to an increase in violent crime.

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A US newspaper from October 29th, 1929 presents a bleak picture of the beginning of a new decade.

Numerous factors played in to the politics of Depression era America such as high consumer debt and unregulated markets where unrealistic loans by banks drew many parallels to the recent crash of our times. All these major areas spiralled into a reduction in consumerism, lowered production, a fall in confidence and, for many, an increase in fear. To escape the austerity and overwhelming sense of dread and personal anxieties that could often be projected on the younger generation, children and adults alike turned to escapism. As well as the pulp literature of the time and the heyday of cinema; the birth of the first superhero in Action Comics #1 paved the way for a fresh, new art form the Americans could take ownership of.

After the huge success of Superman in 1938, the Editors of National Publications (later DC Comics) began to see the huge potential of the superhero and set their sights on commissioning like-minded creators to develop other characters. Although there are definitive examples of how the idea for Batman was sparked there has been much contention over the years about whether the original creator, Bob Kane came up with the concept all by himself. Early collaborator and writer, Bill Finger referred to how Kane’s idea resembled more of a ‘Birdman’ in his reddish Superman tights and domino mask, which was closer to Robin in origin. With stiff, impractical wings, this precursor to the bat-wing cape was suggested by Bob Kane after he had been inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s images of the ornithopter flying machine he had seen as a child.

As with the original creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; both Bob Kane and Bill Finger were the children of Jewish immigrants who had settled in New York. Born Robert Kahn in 1915 his studies in art led to him working as a trainee animator at the Max Fleisher Studio in 1934 before entering the comic book field in 1936 where he worked freelance for editor, Jerry Iger’s comic book Wow, What a Magazine! Having known the Godfather of comic books, Will Eisner since school, Kane had now secured work the following year when Iger partnered with Eisner becoming one of the first ‘on demand’ publishers of the medium. Working exclusively through Eisner & Iger, Kane began to produce work for the three companies, Adventure ComicsDetective Comics and More Fun Comics, all of which would eventually merge in to DC Comics.

batman1

The cover of Batman #1, Spring, 1940 already depicts some significant developments. Aside from the addition of Robin the Boy Wonder, Batman displays a tinge of blue, the iconic gauntlets and a slightly less imposing appearance.

Born in 1914, Bill Finger moved from Colorado with his family to New York where he worked as a shoe salesman. His aspirations in writing led him to work for Bob Kane where he was employed as a ghost writer on numerous scripts which led to their initial meeting about ‘the Bat-Man’. Finger’s more informed approach as a writer had built on those important, iconic details that are still associated with Batman today. With Kane’s initial idea, he suggested the cowl, gauntlets and cape instead of wings and removed any distinct colour so he blended in to the night and, although certain personality traits can be linked to Bob Kane and Batman’s alter ego, the secret identity of Bruce Wayne was also created by Finger. Understanding the importance in a name and the resonance it can carry, Finger combined the Scottish patriot, Robert Bruce and another individual who would suggest a colonial reference to the American Revolution with soldier, Mad Anthony Wayne. However, due to Finger’s meticulous details, his research would often result in a slow approach to his work, which led to the Editor of the time, Whitney Ellsworth suggesting to Bob Kane that he should be replaced. During Finger’s absence, Gardner Fox contributed to the scripts that introduced some of Batman’s familiar arsenal such as his utility belt, Bat-Gyro/plane and Batarang. When Finger later returned he added the Batcave and Batmobile that have become synonymous with the world of Batman along with the introduction of Batman’s sidekick, Robin in Detective Comics #38. Although the Boy Wonder contradicted Batman’s motives and morals (essentially placing a child in danger!), Finger believed that his presence would help with a stronger narrative style and help stay in touch with the younger audience. Within the first year, Batman had become a huge, breakthrough success and, in the Spring of 1940, Batman #1 was released.

Without Bob Kane’s initial concept, it is questionable whether there would have ever been a Batman. The creative process of collaborating on a project that is suggested by and then owned by the original publishers can be one of heated debate, however, once an intellectual property becomes a multi-billion dollar franchise, subsequent creative players only help to contribute and own nothing. Bob Kane’s shrewdness and more business-like approach was in contrast to the ‘notoriously tardy’, Bill Finger and over the course of Batman’s first twenty-five years in print, it was a known fact that Bob Kane directed a number of ghost writers and ghost artists to ape his own style.

In 1965, Bob Kane discussed the creation of Batman in an open and heated letter to Batmania Editor, Biljo White where he rebukes a number articles that question whether he was soul creator. After presenting both the myth and the truth behind a number of details, Kane only suggests, Bill Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning. He wrote most of the great stories and was influential in setting the style and genre other writers would emulate … I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective.’ During this time, Kane’s name had disappeared from the comic book. Due to having signed away ownership of the character in exchange for a mandatory byline on all Batman comics, by the mid-1960s it was the writer and artists who were credited. After artist, Neal Adams had reinvented Batman with Dennis O’Neil in the late-1960s, Adams went on to champion original creators such as Siegel and Shuster which resulted in theirs and Kane’s original byline added once again to the credits. Finger’s recognition, however, was not received in the same light. Limited acknowledgement for his writing of Batman was a result of his contract as a writer and although credited for the creator of the Riddler, he only received his page rate with no further byline. In 1989, Kane would go on to admit:

‘In those days it was like, one artist and he had his name over it – the policy of DC in the comic books was, if you can’t write it, obtain other writers, but their names would never appear on the comic book in the finished version. So Bill never asked me for it and I never volunteered – I guess my ego at that time. And I felt badly, really, when he died’

The Joker's first appearance also in Batman #1.

Batman #1 was also the first appearance of the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ – the Joker was credited as Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane’s design but acknowledged Bill Fingers writing contribution.

Artist Jerry Robinson, who was also was seen as a major contributor to the Batman mythos and often acknowledged as the creator of the Joker, criticised Kane for failing to share the credit and recalled Finger’s resentment, stating in a 2005 interview with The Comics Journal:

‘Bob made him more insecure, because while he slaved working on Batman, he wasn’t sharing in any of the glory or the money that Bob began to make…he should have credited Bill as co-creator, because I know; I was there. … That was one thing I would never forgive Bob for, was not to take care of Bill or recognize his vital role in the creation of Batman. As with Siegel and Shuster, it should have been the same, the same co-creator credit in the strip, writer and artist.’

Despite many of the disputes surrounding Batman it is clear that both his origins and the processes in which the original creators worked were vastly different to how comic books are produced today. Both Superman and Batman ushered in a fresh medium that had not been practiced before and therefore the legislations in place resulted in creators often losing properties, being discredited or naively signed over to their publishers. However, the origins of the character have as much resonance today as they ever have – a heroic character that fights for honour and the greater good during a time that has its own, deep-rooted issues. Batman endures because writers, artists and editors have not only continued to contribute to his world but, most importantly, have not forgotten that he functions as a man, not a superman and with that are the flaws we all carry.

To be continued in Part III: Mythology

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