The Eternal Issue: Batman vs. Spider-Man

Sunday, December 23, AD 2012

 

 

Ah, TAC tackles only the big burning issues of our day!  Travis D. Smith over at The Weekly Standard raises a philosophical question that has always intrigued me:  who is the greater hero, Batman or Spider-Man?

Reservations  about technology are at the heart of Spider-Man’s story. Peter Parker  gains the proportional strength and agility of a spider when a high-tech  experiment goes awry. His webshooters and spider-tracers are products  of his own ingenuity. His rogue’s gallery, by contrast, comprises a  testament to the dangers inherent in modern technological science given  the myriad ways it can be misused and lead to unintended consequences.  With few exceptions, Spidey’s foes can be categorized as either (i) good  guys who were transformed into villains (or ordinary thugs who were  made much worse) by technological mishaps or unexpected side-effects  (e.g., Doctor Octopus, Electro, Green Goblin, Lizard, Morbius, and  Sandman; Venom, too, indirectly), or (ii) crooks who specifically  invented, obtained, or otherwise employ technology for the sake of doing  wrong or becoming worse (e.g., Beetle, Chameleon, Hobgoblin, Jackal,  Mysterio, Rhino, Scorpion, Shocker, and Vulture; Kraven is the  noteworthy exception). The young Peter Parker is corrupted by the  culture around him no less than any other young man. His first instinct  is to use his newfound powers in a selfish, though harmless, manner: He  plans to make it big in showbiz for the sake of supporting his family.  But after he internalizes Uncle Ben’s message, Spider-Man stands out as a  marvel precisely because he is both the victim of science gone wrong  and a manufacturer of technological wonders, yet neither makes a monster  of him—if we set aside that brief period he had six arms.

Modern  society, marked, if not defined, by our devotion to technological  science and premised principally on theories of rights, explicitly  rejects classical ideas that emphasize virtuous character and duties  that transcend individual will. Assessing all relationships in terms of  power, defending subjective rights as absolutes, and replacing  interpersonal duties with collective responsibilities, preferring the  indirect benefactions of impersonal institutionalized mechanisms,  modernity is a breeding ground for tyrannical souls and a recipe for  tyrannical regimes. It is in this light that Spider-Man can help us to  see that modernity’s capacity to turn out relatively well depends on  habits and ideas that precede it.

When  I teach introductory classes in political theory, I am grateful for the  example that Spider-Man provides of Glaucon’s model of “the man of  perfect justice” from Book II of The Republic, one who always  does the right thing (in terms of complying with conventional morality)  even though he always earns a reputation for doing the wrong thing.  Nobody who would wield great power intending to work on behalf of  justice can avoid earning a bad reputation. Spider-Man is sure to be  accused of being an accomplice in any bank robbery he thwarts. The  headlines of the Daily Bugle regularly prompt readers to ask  themselves whether he is a “Threat or Menace?” Nevertheless, Peter  chooses to keep up the good fight. The language of “choice,” however,  falls short here. Whereas Bruce decides to become a costumed agent of  vengeance, acting on an internal compulsion, Peter regards what he does  not so much as a choice but as a responsibility, a duty he must meet  irrespective of his preferences and desires. This accords with the  classical notion that virtue is demanded of us by our very nature; it is  not something that anyone can opt in or out of indifferently.

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16 Responses to The Eternal Issue: Batman vs. Spider-Man

  • I grew up with marvel comic books, but determining the greatest of imaginary creatures is not an eternal issue for me. Forgive me for being such a spoilsport. Only the shadow really knows.

  • “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…”

  • Batman.

    What else needs be said?

  • The Super Heroes are all personifications of the virtues, of Justice. The evildoers are all personifications of vice.

  • My oldest son is less than one month from being five years old. His favorite shows are Superman and Batman, both done by the same people, from the early and mid 1990s. Hub shows them nearly every day. These cartoons were not developed solely for children and often have some mature subject matters.

    Cars, trucks, trains and superheroes are usually fascinating to little boys. They were for me and they are for my son. I remember the Filmation Superman and Batman cartoons from the 1960s as well as the Spiderman cartoon. They used to be shown in the afternoon hours after school.

    I once heard it said from a radio DJ that he preferred Batman to Superman because Batman was more believable. Almost nobody in the Batman world had superpowers.

    Spiderman has a superpower and finds himself with an obligation to use it no matter his personal struggles. Batman uses his vast resources to fight his enemies.

    Which one prefers depends on one’s own tastes.

  • I always liked Superman partly because he was a down to earth midwestern farm boy at heart. DC has in the recent decades played up the “Last Son of Krypton” in regard to Superman, but there was always more of Kansas than of Krypton in the Defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

  • True RL! And how could I have overlooked Duck Dodgers, the champion of justice in the 24th and a half century?

  • Don, I think you hit on an imporant point that the Weekly Standard article only inches toward.

    Take this as a thesis: Spiderman is human, Batman is angelic.

    Batman isn’t a superpowered being so much as supernatural. He knows everything, is all-powerful, and acts with perfect motives. He fights beings that are pure evil. In his origin story, he was only a witness to sin. On the other hand, Spiderman was born in original sin. Peter Parker is trying to improve himself, whereas Batman always seems to be perfect. Spiderman’s enemies are as human and error-prone as he is.

    Batman isn’t a character to be emulated. We’re foolish and sinful. We’re not the world’s greatest anything. Humans make their biggest mistakes when they think of themselves as angelic: willing to become agents of God’s pure wrath in order to make the world a better place. That’s where the Weekly Standard rightly senses something dangerous.

  • Wow Don. i didn’t know about Duck Dodgers – at least I sure don’t remember it. Pretty cool stuff.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Duck Dodgers came out a few years ago. It became a favorite of my kids and I enjoyed it also. Merry Christmas RL!

  • “Take this as a thesis: Spiderman is human, Batman is angelic.”

    Interesting thesis Pinky. I always found Superman to be a more down to earth character than Batman, in spite of his vast powers. Batman was sort of an archetype of Nemesis in his war against the underworld, as he was originally portrayed. This changed in the Fifties when Batman got involved in science fiction and time travel adventures and became a much more run of the mill superhero. DC returned to the original concept with the New Look Batman stories starting in 1965.

  • I’m sure you know Bats better than I do. The most I know about Batman’s history is that he’s oscillated between dark avenger and camp. But he does play with being a force of nature, an archetype of fear. Spiderman is a spider because he got bitten by a spider. Batman is a bat because he thinks it taps into subconscious fears.

    Now Superman, I never could relate to. He’s 100% of everything good, so there’s never any suspense with him, except for the inevitable Kryptonite. The guy has one weakness, so every writer has to exploit it, or there’d be no story. I never found Superman to be any more human than Popeye.

  • Superman has several weaknesses:

    Kryptonite, in manifold forms; magic; and he loses his power under a red sun. In the Golden Age of comics in the forties the fact that Superman was so immensely powerful was overlooked and he almost always battled gangsters with no superpowers, with the exceptions being Lex Luthor and a very few supervillains such as the Toyman. Since that time writers for Superman and Action Comics have been bedeviled at trying to come up with situations for Superman that are challenging without relying on one of his weaknesses all the time. Periodically Superman’s powers have been reduced, but the pull to portray Superman as the most powerful of superheroes is apparently irresistible at DC.

The Dark Knight Rises: A Film for the Age of Obama

Wednesday, August 1, AD 2012

I saw the film The Dark Knight Rises with my family last week.  I thought it went on too long, some of the various plot threads were confusing and the film required too much suspension of disbelief, above and beyond what is usually required in a superhero film.  It will not make my top ten list of favorite films for the year.  However, what is stunning about the film is that it conveyed fundamentally conservative messages.  Andrew Klavan tells us how, and the usual spoiler alerts apply:

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7 Responses to The Dark Knight Rises: A Film for the Age of Obama

  • And the Democrats were going to use the criminal Bane as a play against Romney’s Bain. I do not think they are capable of seeing and understanding the truth, whether it be portrayed in entertainment fashion or given to them straight like medicine.

  • I finally saw the movie last night, and can definitely see the implicit conservative, or rather anti-radical message. And, fwiw, it would definitely make my top ten list (not that I’ll even see ten movies). It was certainly better than the Avengers.

  • I don’t think the Occupy movement is going to be happy with this movie. I don’t know the Nolans’ background, but they appear to be students of history. I was struck by the scene where the Stryver character is brought in front of the kangaroo court. His appeal to the arch villain Bane echos the appeal of Genrikh Yagoda to Stalin during his show trial. It’s nice to see that there are few people out there who know that history loves re-runs.

  • I almost cried at the Cops marching in force against a more armed force.

  • Also, they got all the characters right! And I lost count of the number of scenes that were DIRECTLY from comics.

  • So, I’m not quite sure the actual reviewer nor the original poster of this quite got the message. To believe this movie is inherently conservative or anti-radical is pretty absurd. The movie’s message can be seen as quite radical. In fact, quite radical to the nth degree. Wealthy Capitalists and vagabonds are seen as the destructive forces inside of Gotham CIty. The League of Shadow, the major organization in the movie, has sought to destroy Gotham from the first movie. Their leader blamed the cold, criminal, and apathetic wealthy alongside the lower blue collar criminals. The point was that crime was rampant in every sector of life in Gotham. What Dark Knight Rises, and its source material suggests, is that when compassion, heroism, and justice are absent from a society, it crumbles. Absolutely crumbles. In each movie of the trilogy, wealthy trample the poor, poor trample the wealthy, and the government uses lies and deception to improve their circumstances. In fact, the movie makes its attempt at throwing away both forms of life. This is echoed in the film’s final moments when “Robin” repeats that rules become shackles, to which he then is implied to take up the mantel of Batman. It’s a view of American society as a whole, not just against the Obama administration.

  • Problem: only rich crooks we see are working with Bane. Vs the normal criminals who are criminals, and the victims of his envy politics, who are rich to middle class.

10 Responses to The Inevitable Team-Up: Batman and Abraham Lincoln

  • I wonder what happened in parallel universe 5501 after Batman’s encounter with Abraham Lincoln. Would we have avoided what we now face?

  • Of course, this raises the question … if he was such a Southern patriot, why didn’t Booth share all that high-tech weaponry with the Confederate Army? Pickett’s Charge might have succeeded if those Confederates had been wearing that steampunk armor, not to mention some of those suits could have come in handy in breaking the siege of Vicksburg…

  • I bet Harry Turtledove never even dreamed of this one.

  • I think we’re living in parallel universe 5501 right now. It might explain a lot of what’s going on.

  • “Would we have avoided what we now face?”

    Lincoln living would have massively impacted Reconstruction and all subsequent US history. No doubt we would be facing challenges now, but they would probably be different ones.

  • “Pickett’s Charge might have succeeded if those Confederates had been wearing that steampunk armor, not to mention some of those suits could have come in handy in breaking the siege of Vicksburg”

    True Tommy. We can only assume that John Wilkes Booth was in cahoots with an evil scientific genius, perhaps the immortal Vandal Savage, or an ancestor of Lex Luthor of that parallel Universe, or that steampunk technology was fairly common and that both sides utilized it. Hmmm, I can see the alternate science fiction novel title now: The Blue, the Gray and the Steampunk!

  • “I bet Harry Turtledove never even dreamed of this one.”

    He came close in Guns of the South WK, with time traveling Afrikaners supplying the Confederate Army with AK-47’s, so the Boers in the future would have an ally in the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee, learning of the plan to alter history, turns the tables on the Afrikaners as second President of the Confederacy by pushing through the Confederate Congress a plan for gradual compensated emancipation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guns_of_the_South

  • “I think we’re living in parallel universe 5501 right now. It might explain a lot of what’s going on.”

    Larry, in recent years I have often felt like we were living through a badly written episode of either the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits.

  • Reminds me of some of the lines from the classic SNL sketch “Civil War Memories”:

    “General Lee was nobody’s fool! I remember he said to the troops, “Boys, ask not what your country can do for you, ’cause the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I have a dream!” So, when Lincoln heard that, he was, like, “I better hightail it to Charleston, ’cause it’s time for one of my Gettysburg addresses….”

    “And the number of casualties was staggering, right? But it was worse for the South, ’cause the North started getting help from these alien spaceships, right? And no martian’s gonna hold off against those space torpedos. Fuggidaboutit! Right? Ohhh! ”

    “And then this southern guy plugged this Nazi guy in a headlock! And started pounding him! Bam! Bam bam bam bam!!”

    http://snltranscripts.jt.org/94/94gcivilwar.phtml

  • My favorite SNL alternate history skit Elaine was “What if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo?”