Friday, February 18, 2011

The Hero with a Thousand Capes

I intend to explode the myths about myself and get down to the real truth about the legend that is Batman.  Bob Kane (Creator of Batman)

We like Batman - we understand him, we suffer with him. On the other hand, we want to be Superman. But they're conflicting philosophies. Let's bring them together in one movie and see how we, as an audience, wrestle with our inner demons.  Wolfgang Petersen

Welcome, true believers.  Gregarious Pope Gregory here with another blog hot and bothered on the heels of my last one.  Trying to knock the rust off my knuckles here.  My last blog was dealing with a lot of heavy ideas all in the same place, compressing difficult ideas into a phone-booth while someone was already in there changing into their blue and red jammies.  What I want to bear down on in this blog is the concept of the modern superhero and how it relates to myth and why it is because we have both actually abandoned our old myths and realized they really can't speak to us today the way we need them to anyhow that we do have these modern heroes...and why specifically in Uhmurkah.

I can credit my conversion experience from the darkness of institutionalized Xianity partly to comic books.  They also helped build my vocabulary when I was developing because deity knows the Uhmurkan school system didn't (and doesn't) have any interest in doing that.  But what comic books provided, before I even realized it, was to give me heroes and stories that meant something.  Yes, when I read about Samson getting great strength by being bitten by a radioactive rhinoceros...I mean...being blessed by Yahweh...and performing great feats and such, that was the Word of Gawd...and when I read about Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man, etc...those were just stories.  And yet, looking back, the realization for me and for millions in Uhmurkah like me, is that these stories provided the calories I needed that the bible stories weren't providing.  Because they are both stories, but Samson (a "Semitic" story, but like much of both the Old Test it has its origins in the pre-Hebrew settlement of Canaan.  His name means "Son of the Sun" and is one of these heroic characters from the ancient world like Hercules, Gilgamesh, Cuchulain, etc that you find as a repeating motif) is a hero from a people who I don't associate with and who lived thousands of years ago and Superman landed in Kansas just a few decades ago.

Just as radio and teevee came in, as I observed last episode, to help us find new myths and stories to replace the old, worn out ones once we unconsciously sensed that Xianity had finally breathed its last, so did comic books.  Before comic books were the adventures of certain heroic characters in literature.  Sherlock Holmes could arguably be the first "crime-fighter" hero presented as such.  He has qualities that set him apart from the rest of us.  He has gifts, but also worked hard at developing them, researched what he needed to, and had a drive for justice that often is like a force of nature.  We trust his judgment, even if he acts like an asshole a lot of the time, and when he lets the thief go in, for example, the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, we can understand.  He's a vigilante, in some respects, as he will indeed break the law in order for justice to be done.  Holmes, we often neglect, is also skilled in the martial arts and is proficient in boxing and wrestling and will use a gun when he must, but prefers to let Watson handle that.  (More on the subject of "the sidekick" as it applies to superheroes after the ads for the X-Ray Glasses.)

Now, does the above description remind you of a more modern superhero?  Well, it should because it describes Batman.  In fact, there was a portion of Batman's history in which he was called The Dark Knight Detective and is still called "The Detective" by one of his greatest arch-enemies, Ra's al Ghul...which is his Professor Moriarty.  Deadshot is his Col Moran, Catwoman is his Irene Adler, so forth.  So we see right away with Sherlock Holmes and the crimefighting heroes that followed, Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger and so forth from pulp novels and radio shows another realization...the difference between The Law and Justice.  Laws are arbitrary and often written by those in charge to make sure they are in charge and as all Uhmurkans and others in the world have seen post 9/11, laws have been put into place that are very cameras are all over the place and citizens are encouraged to report activity that may look suspicious and more and more we get the idea that we are deemed guilty and have to prove our innocence, not the other way around. 

But as the experiment of Uhmurkah was shown to have failed miserably, even as far back as the Civil War period where the South actually argued the Constitution protected slavery, even as waterheads in the South today argue the Constitution says Uhmurkah should be a  Xian nation run as a theocracy, so it was realized that the rule of law really didn't protect and that in many cases the criminal element was protected by the laws and the police were either hampered or crooked themselves.  Which is why we have characters like The Shadow and later Batman who devote themselves to making sure crooks pay for their crimes even if they have to break and enter and assault and batter and vandalize and litter and destroy personal property and break the speed limit to do it.

Comic books themselves didn't start right out of the gate with these sort of characters, but were collections of the color comic strips that were found in the newspapers, like the Sunday Funnies still are a separate section to this day.  The idea came up to collect these in a new format, put a staple in the middle of the pages, and lo and behold.  

Then Lee Falk created The Phantom, the first modern superhero as we recognize them today.  What Lee Falk did differently is he wanted to create a crimefighter like The Shadow, Doc Savage, etc.  One who used guns but had a personal presence that would inspire awe in both the bad guys but also with us, the readers who was looking and holding out for a hero, like that song goes.  We knew something wasn't right with the world, so we needed a hero, who was a human...but more than that, he was what we could aspire to, and his character would be flawless, an idealization of what a hero could we used to have back in the day with the Greek heroes and such from the myths of our ancestors, and which we had gone so long without.

Now check out the below images:

The above pic is of The Phantom himself...the below is a Greek bronze sculpture...supposed to be Zeus or maybe Poseidon.  I lean toward Zeus as the right hand appears to be designed to hold something and I'm thinking 1000 watt thunderbolts.  Right away you see the similarities between the two, and Lee Falk knew exactly why he made The Phantom the way he did...that is, with a skin-tight outfit.  Because just as these Greek statues, along with other images on pots, jars, etc and such showed idealized human forms of gods and heroes to represent their perfection and that they were ideal paragons of a humanity that was maybe attainable, but reserved for the gods, so Falk knew that if he made his hero to have these classical forms, which required a costume that showed his musculature in detail, The Phantom would have already the charisma and impression such a hero should.

Notice also the eyes.  In classical sculpture like this, often the eyes are blanks.  Either there is a hollow space there now or they were just blank with no details of the eyes.  Falk was also struck by this image and The Phantom was the first hero to have eyes that were just white, thanks to his domino effect that is hard to get when you want to tell the story of such heroes like The Phantom and Batman and such in this modern age in live action.  In the Dark Knight, in the climatic scenes when Batman has to battle the police and the bad guys in order to get the job done, he uses a technology that involves these lenses coming over his eyes and for a few moments, we actually see Batman as he is intended.  The eyes are no longer human, he has become something else, a superhuman...he has crossed over to something other than else...he has become an archetype...a god.  Currently, the movie producers aren't getting this and they continually show the eyes of the actor with that silly black-face paint around them to bring out the eyes.  The effect will be much more dramatic if you just put while slits there.  These stark white eyes show that although Batman is a dark, menacing character whom everyone should fear, inside is light and we know that he is on our side and we no longer see the man wearing the costume, he becomes The Bat and to superstitious and cowardly Republicans, he is a symbol of fear.  A criminal should not be able to look into the "eyes" of Batman, but should see only the symbol he is.  A shaman wears a costume, often to imitate animals to invoke the qualities of that animal, thereby becoming, to the observer's eyes, no longer the man, but the symbol...the shaman becomes the god, becomes the bear/eagle/buffalo spirit.  Same bat-thing, same bat-channel.

And since then, heroes have been depicted more often than not with these white eyes, in skin-tight costumes, just as the pictures of humans in Grays Anatomy and in 5th Grade Biology class show an idealized human form, not your neighbor with the eczema, excessive body hair and Pabst Blue Ribbon Paunch.  These heroes and images show an idealized human form, just as your favorite movie or music star also keeps in shape and has these heroic proportions, which is why so much fuss was made over Susan Boyle...she doesn't look like any goddess we recognize, but she sure as Hell sings like one...but for every Susan Boyle, there is a hunnerd Beyonces or Lada Gagas who we do recognize from a Greek mosaic or amphora.  Comic book heroes and these other "heroes" are the new gods and demigods and heroes, they fulfill for us what we no longer get from the myths we still cling to, Xianity especially.  It is nothing for a devout Xian to also have an obsession with say, Johnny Depp or that guy from the Twilight movies, etc.  It's because they go to church and have bland oatmeal for their soul, empty hollow myths that no longer resonate and so something other has to replace that, so they eat their Wheaties by going to see the Dark Knight, or Iron Man 2 or the Green Hornet or etc etc etc.

The hero from myth as described by Joseph Campbell is taken from/has to leave behind the world of reality and the commonplace, as we see in Bruce Wayne.  Bruce Wayne had a stable life as a boy, security, great parents, a life ahead of luxury and privilege until crime took what really mattered away.  Something happened to Bruce Wayne then.  Maybe he realized it, maybe he didn't, but that was his shamanic initiation.  In the movie Batman Begins, Wayne is shown as lost for a the books, he is more driven even at that age.  He has anger in either case and he eventually gets to a point where he does not retreat into himself, but due to his empathy with others, he takes it upon himself to at least try the best he can to see to it that no one else has to suffer like he did and still does.  He has to remove himself from what other people know, how other people live, he has to become something other than a person, he has to become the symbol of wrath and judgment upon the wicked, he has to be the fear of the dark, the threat of getting caught and having to face the monster that the criminal knows in his heart eats and then damns the soul of such as he.

Batman is this character, as The Shadow and Zorro and Robin Hood before him, that bridges the simplistic, dualistic idea of good and evil, black and white, the rule of law and is more concerned with right and wrong and justice and therefore is prepared to do unlawful things, to make sure the right thing is done, and is prepared to sacrifice a normal life and themselves for The Greater Good.  To the Greeks and others, the Netherworld and the denizens and gods of it were not evil, there are rarely truly evil things in the old stories and often they are the monsters, which is why comic books have their share of them.  Sometimes the monsters are the heroic characters, like Thing, or the (Incredible) Hulk, or Swamp Thing, etc. further showing that often appearances are deceiving and there is more of a variance and a duality within one archetype and why, for the past couple decades there has been the phenomenon of the "anti-hero" who is still the hero, but whom we wouldn't invite over for dinner.  Marvel Comic's Wolverine and the Punisher and such are of this mold.  And then we have these figures that blur the line.

For example, in the Norse myths, we have Loki.  In the Marvel Comics series of The Mighty Thor, just about as obvious as you can get with trying to replace old myths with new ones by revisiting the old ones (Wonder Woman is another example, the archetypal warrior goddess with her heritage straight from the Greeks and Amazons).  In the Thor comics, Loki is purely a villain.  But in the old stories, Loki is less easy to define.  He is often used by Odin and the "straight gods" to do their dirty work because they know he has the cunning and guile and such to pull off incredible deeds because he is able to get his hands dirty and doesn't give a fuck.  Of course, he often ends up betraying the gods here and there, as he is forever outside that circle, being not born of a good enough pedigree.  He winds up finally being more harm than good, so he's eventually sentenced to being bound to a rock under the earth with the intestines of one of his sons while a snake drips venom in his eyes.  Which is exactly what needs to happen to Dick Cheney for his war crimes.

Batman has the Joker, which is like Loki, but the Joker is evil, or better, an agent of Chaos.  Joker shows the duality because he is like a clown, and that makes him more terrible.  Batman is the agent of Order, but dresses like Dracula.  So we have these two opposing factors, neither is able to eliminate the other and we know if either Batman or Joker end up killing each other, the story is over.

But it is this duality and complexity and humanity of Batman which makes him more interesting than Superman...but we want to be Superman...we want to be Apollo or Hercules or Lugh Samildanach (look him up).  We don't want to be Bruce Banner who becomes the Hulk, changing into another form much like the Irish hero Cuchulain was said to have his body distorted when the battle rage came over him.  Superman is the super man...he is what we would like to be, and before I close this, I'll show what the phenomenon of the superhero is trying to tell us about ourselves.

But the hero can't do it alone, which comes to the "sidekick."  I know you were wondering as we've passed by the x-ray glasses ad some drivel back.  On the Hero's Journey, he invariably encounters these mentors and other people who support him.  In the old myths, the other folks are usually gods, spirits or shamanic-type characters.  King Arthur has his Merlin and his magic sword, Excaliber.  Aragorn goes to Rivendell after years of walking the earth as basically a hermit, like Jesus spending his 40 days in the wilderness, and receives his magical weapon, the physical metaphor for the coming of the kingdom.  You see, we know that Aragorn early one will become king, just as we know Luke Skywalker is going to blow up the friggin' Death Star (with help form his Merlin, Obi Wan, and his "sidekick" R2D2 and one of the knights he has hooked up with, Han Solo), it is only HOW he's going to do it that is of interest, the journey the hero takes to reach the goal.

Bruce Wayne, after years of traveling the earth and gaining earthly knowledge and physical skill, perfecting his body and mind, knows he needs a way of going about his terrible task.  In the Frank Miller book, Batman: Year One, Bruce Wayne arrives in Gotham ready to go, but he starts out without a definite angle for his mission, he just wears a disguise, goes out looking for trouble and scares nobody.  Then he goes home, bleeding to death, ashamed, thinking he had let his father's memory down then in comes a bat, crashing through the window.  The totem animal has come to the hero to show him the way...yes...bats scared him as a child, his mansion has a cave o' bats underneath it...yes...he must become a bat.  That'll make 'em poop their pantaloons.

But he needs Lucius Fox of Wayne Enterprises to get him the "wonderful toys" he needs and his butler Alfred Pennyworth to act as mentor and grounding influence.  And as King Arthur gathered about his knights of the round table, Batman as the years went on, gathered about first Robin, then Batgirl, then the Huntress, then Robin became Nightwing, then we have a new robin, now we have new Batgirls, a Batwoman (a lesbian who still makes me feel funny).  Superman has Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, etc as his friends, The Shadow had Margot Lane as his "friend and companion," the Green Hornet has Kato...etc...these other "sidekicks" are the mentors and helpers who assist the Hero as he goes on his quest.  And as the years go on, Batman and the other heroes joined together in pantheons...I mean Leagues and such.  But the sidekicks, like Dr. Watson...only serve to bring into sharp relief the real hero and more clearly define him.'s Batman and Robin...not Robin and Batman. 

Now today, these myths influence has been taken further, for the need is great, as we have teevee and movies and such based on these heroes and they are some of the most successful media going right now.  We can buy little statues and "action figures" of them, and as children we play with them and as adults we display them, like the Greeks displayed votive figurines of their heroes and gods.  So we see how these myths today speak to us again, and we have new myths that are trying to replace what we lost and which we can associate today with our current world.  Kids in Scandinavia no doubt played games where they took turns being Thor and today our children dress like Batman and Spider-man at Halloween. 

An example of a modern myth that we can especially relate to is where Robert Downey Jr makes a suit of high tech armor (and does a pretty decent Sherlock Holmes) as he is driven to be a difference in the world and he becomes Iron Man but we are reminded in Tony Stark that the man is a man, and has his problems and his demons.  Bruce Wayne is subsumed beneath Batman and has his issues, due to his quest, he cannot enjoy the things we do...he sacrifices himself for us, and Tony Stark is torn between these two realities...just as we are.  Iron Man is very much a hero who while using technology to be the hero, shows that science cannot change the human heart all that much, even his own.

Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are called the "alter-egos" of the heroes.  The Shadow is "in reality" Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man-about-town.  But we really don't care about Cranston...the show is called "The Shadow" after all.  No...the real characters are Iron Man, Batman, etc. 

I believe what these modern superheroes are also trying to tell us is that we as humans can...well...let's put it this way...Samson didn't have another name...he was always Samson because he was this demigod type hero, like Hercules,  and like so many of the Greek heroes, he is part man, part god.  We cannot be Perseus, and Perseus doesn't stop being Perseus when he goes to the board meeting...but Batman and Bruce Wayne are two different things.  Currently in the "Batbooks" as they are called, there is this new concept of Batman Incorporated, in which Bruce Wayne has been missing about a year...he technically died, but that's a long story...and Dick Grayson, the first Robin, actually became Batman...showing how this symbol had taken on a life of it's own.  When Bruce Wayne returned (from the dead...resurrected like so many of those heroes do) he created Batman Incorporated, where Wayne gives a speech saying he has been the one secretly funding Batman all these years and that you're now going to see Batmen throughout the world, carrying out his mission.  So not only is Bruce Wayne able to be seen in the same square mile as Batman, we see "Batman" as this invincible symbol, represented by other heroes who are "taking on the mantle" like a shaman putting on a bear skin to be the great bear spirit.

So we see with Batman that not only has Bruce Wayne become the alter-ego of Batman, Batman himself has reached this realm of living legend and those who are worthy can represent this hero.  The question is...why do modern superheroes have to have alter egos at all?  What point is there for Superman to be Clark Kent?  Doesn't that complicate things?  Shouldn't Superman just be Superman all the time?  The point of alter egos is to show how a human, a person who appears to be a mere mortal can become a superhuman, can go from the mundane to the "magical."  Yes, Clark Kent has all the power of Superman...but it isn't until he changes form that he "transforms" into Superman and although he could fly so fast you'd never see him, Clark Kent has to go into the phonebooth and put on his red and blue jammies in order to keep that train from falling into the ravine.  It is as if his power has to come from the uniform, like a Maori shaman tattoos himself to transform himself.  (On a side note...tattooing today shows how people seek to transform themselves from normalcy into a more unique expression and tattooing previously had been solely for magical purposes.)  Bruce Wayne could stop a mugging in such a way that the bad guys need never actually see him, but he had to become the bat, he has to become the symbol, the image, the super-man for it to make sense.  So why bother being Bruce Wayne at all?

The reason, I this is trying to tell us to be more than we are that humankind can itself be elevated above just being a person, a victim to fate and the world, that we too can be something other than this.  The superhero, by taking on the persona of the hero, reveals his higher self, that super-entity that he truly is.  Bruce Wayne really doesn't exist...he is more like the mask Batman wears when Bruce Wayne is needed.  As I touched on last blog...what masks do we wear?  Are we hiding behind the idea we're just regular folks and we can't make a change in the world or are we able to become something greater...are we just a metaphysical change of clothes away from expanding ourselves and increasing ourselves to become something greater?  But we can also still be regular folks, too.  We do not have to be one or the other, but when we need to be more than just mortals, we can.

Maybe we can even look back to Jesus, bless his is a man who we figure was a lowly carpenter's son...but then something touches him, he realizes a great truth and he leaves behind the world he knew, leaves behind a stable job and a home, leaves his family, and goes on a mission to try and change the world, to show people also that what he learned is what they can also know and...if we follow the story further, he sacrifices himself for that truth and then becomes a deity...a superhuman, who can not only leap tall buildings with a single bound but says to his disciples, which means anyone who wants to follow his example, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater [works] than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  Bruce Wayne becomes the example, he dies and is resurrected, and afterward he creates Batman, Incorporated where he expands Batman as a legacy for others to also become, not just one Batman, but a League of Batmen, the group being greater than the one. 

Today, the teachings of Jesus are revealed to have been perverted to create Jesus, Incorporated which has as much to do with Jesus' teachings as the Joker has to do with Bozo the Clown.  But Jesus became more than human and then can do this too and you'll be greater than I was.

And this is why in Uhmurkah, a nation full of people who are almost entirely from somewhere else, people separated from their homelands and their traditions and their gods, we have these superheroes as this is a solely Uhmurkan phenomenon, superheroes.  Lip service to Xianity is given, and people are very fervent about it, but Uhmurkah is a nation of people displaced from their roots and from their myths...which is why the promise of this nation is so great...having disconnected ourselves from the Old World, what a Brave New World could there be?  Instead, Uhmurkah has become a bad thing, a paranoid, military-based world empire that not only eats more than anyone else, it also shits in your backyard.  The promise of the articles under which this nation was founded have been displaced by religious intolerance and temporal power and materialism...we have become the second coming of the Roman Empire and Jesus wouldn't touch it with a ten mile pole.

It is no mistake that Superman, Batman and the Phantom just to name a few were created by Jews.  These people, so distanced from not only their ancestral lands, but having spent nearly two thousand years without any viable myths, these are the folks who created  new myths because they recognized the need, even if they didn't say "I need to create new myths."  It is an unconscious drive that compels them...and us, that draws us to these heroes and myths because if you name one nation on this planet that completely severed itself from whatcamebefore, that is the United States of America.  So you have a country full of people from somewhere else, having forsaken their homeland, cut off from their mythic heritage and having Xianity forced upon them, thereby not having any real myths, and comic books provided new stories.  And that is not only why they are still popular, they are more popular than ever...because as we go forward into the next big change that is looming, we need to understand so much more than we do now...and we need to get smartened up soon.

Myths are and always have been, the stories that teach us how to be ourselves on so many levels, to teach us about our culture and our values and to help us deal with the mysteries of life, the unseen, invisible world our senses cannot grasp, but which we recognize all the same, whether you're a fundamentalist Xian or Atheist who thinks they've got it all figured out.  Truth comes to us from stories that appear to just be stories, because it is so is a mystery that we have to work out on a personal level and without myth, we have no foundation or structure and no hope because life does have meaning, does have a purpose and we as humans have to share this understanding that we are all humans and despite the uniqueness of your myths, there is really one big Truth permeating all, not to try and dictate to others that your myths (or opinion that myths are valueless) are superior and think your race or culture is superior due to that.  You can read DC comics or Marvel comics, your choice...these are our new stories.  If you don't like comic books, are your heroes James Bond or maybe Indiana Jones?  Or maybe you follow a particular teevee show and root for your favorite character.  Did you thank Jack Bauer today for saving your life?

Jeshua bar Joseph learned a great and mysterious secret in the Orient, for most of his life he was a mild-mannered carpenter, but he was bitten by a radioactive Truth and became The Christ...and so can you too, since you are already divine, you already have it within yourself to be the change you want in the world, that's what Jesus tried to say...and that's what comic books continue to is not our fate to be helpless victims, but to be greater than that, to become superhuman and move on to the next phase of human history, to be the hero of the human story, whether the continuity will continue indefinitely, or whether there will be that final issue, where we realize that these x-ray glasses are a fraud.  Comics prepare us for that day when we leave behind the status quo, are able to leave the system, devote ourselves to higher ideals, and then go into the phonebooth and pull our mortality down around our ankles and become just SUPER.


(and Selah)

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