Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire: Part 4--The Wounds of Discovery


1. The Strength of Knowing Weakness
What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.
Ecclesiastes 1:15

If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
John 9:41

Among superheroes Batman represents the pinnacle of human mental and physical potential. Compared to other superheroes he is habitually depicted as a mortal among gods. How can Batman square off against monsters, immortal terrorists, drugged-up superthugs, mad scientists, corporate tycoons, petty thugs, samurai, aliens, and wild animals and defeat them all when in many cases they are stronger, faster, smarter, and more durable than he is? 

To answer this question we must go back to the beginning of Batman. We must see that his strength derives not merely from his discipline and training but his experience of what it means to be broken. From the moment he saw his parents gunned down in Crime Alley Bruce Wayne has come to know through life and training what his emotional, physical, and mental breaking points are.  It is this familiarity with brokenness and limitation that enables him, time and again, to discern the breaking points in others.

When the Dark Knight's enemies presume they have outmatched him in brain or brawn they are defeated. This is not because they are really dumber or weaker than the Dark Knight; it is because they cannot accept that they can be broken. Batman shows them that they not only can be broken but, in most cases, they already are. The degree to which his enemies accept or reject their broken state, and relinquish their criminal quests, becomes the degree to which Batman shows them compassion or redoubles his efforts to stop them.

Grant Morrison has eloquently summed up Batman's villains as depicting different forms of mental illness. In Batman: the animated series villains are generally motivated by one (or both) of two core failures, irrevocable loss and impossible desire. The focal point of this loss or desire informs the villain's gimmick, motive, or both.  The identity the villain subsequently forges through his or her strength becomes the monomania revealing his or her ultimate weakness. Paradoxically each Batman villain embodies a perfected singularity which, time and again, is defeated by Batman who, though broken, is whole.

As reductionist theologies of glory go, you can't get more obvious than Batman villains. And though the characters are over the top, the things they want are often similar to what you or I would want from life--a relationship, a prestige founded in skill, or simple control over our own bodies. In his commentary on the episode "House and Garden" Paul Dini explained, " ... not all the villains are completely evil. They do want things that are not far from what regular people want, just that how they go about getting them is what makes them villains."  A good Batman villain is a supercharged version of a flaw that you or I could recognize in ourselves, or people we love.

2. Idols of the heart
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9

It's not uncommon for a person to start down the path of wrong-doing by being obsessed with getting or keeping a certain kind of relationship. We know why restraining orders exist and we know what custody battles are. In the pantheon of villains in Batman: the animated series no one is more defined by obsession with a single relationship than Mr. Freeze.  He is driven by the loss of his beloved wife Nora. But Mr. Freeze isn't the only man in Gotham desperate to be with someone he believes will complete him.

If Mr. Freeze is defined by his loss, Jervis Tetch is defined by desire and envy. Tetch becomes the Mad Hatter from his desire to have his secretary Alice Pleasance. Even though both he and Alice work as employees for Wayne Enterprises, and have the personal support of Bruce Wayne, Jervis Tetch lives within the confines of school-day grievances.  Tetch is an omega male pining for the pretty blonde cheerleader who's dating the tall, dark handsome football star (Alice, who is engaged to her boyfriend Billy).  While the episode "Mad as a Hatter" does not play out this motif at its most literal level the character designs telegraph what we need to know.

Tetch has invented microchips that allow him to connect to and control the minds of other living things. He's been funded to create technology to enhance the human mind by Bruce Wayne but Tetch's invention simply controls its recipient. At length Tetch succumbs to the temptation to use this invention on Alice to make her his, and others, which gets the attention of Batman.  When confronted about his willingness to use innocent people to get what he wants the Mad Hatter is remorseless, even self-pitying, blaming Batman for forcing him to control Alice.  Tetch tells Batman, "I've waited my whole lonely life for her."

Batman replies, "Then all you've waited for is a puppet, a soulless little doll." Like Mr. Freeze the Mad Hatter is by besotted with an idealized woman rather than a flesh and blood woman.  But whereas Victor Fries knew the flesh and blood Nora, Jervis Tetch sees Alice as a trophy to be gained in a revenge fantasy in which he is still working out an omega male resentment that he "could not make the dance." Though Tetch has the power to make people do what he wants he cannot concede that what he ultimately wants cannot be given to him.

Tetch, plotting revenge against Batman, turns the tables. Instead of trying to impose his will on others he decides to trap Batman in a dream machine that will feed the Dark Knight a dream-world made of his own deepest longings. In "Perchance to Dream" Batman is led into a trap and placed in this dream machine.  It gives Bruce Wayne everything he has always wanted. Bruce's parents are alive, Bruce is engaged to Selina Kyle, and someone else is Batman. But that someone else is Batman troubles Bruce because he knows that this life he is suddenly living is too good to be true. As if that weren't enough, Bruce Wayne discovers he can't read in this world. A dream world may be perfect but it is a world in which one cannot learn. Knowing that he is truly still Batman Bruce Wayne goes out to confront the Batman imposter.

In the end Bruce Wayne discovers that this world's Dark Knight is actually the Mad Hatter, a dream version invented just in case Batman ever caught on to the trap.  Hatter explains that there is no way to escape the dream and since it is everything Batman wanted, why would he want to escape? Since the Mad Hatter's weapons are manipulation and deceit Bruce Wayne discovers that, as the Dark Knight, his strength comes from remembering his wounds and remembering the truth, despite its pain. No dream world will bring his parents back from the grave.  "I won't live a lie, no matter how attractive you make it." Bruce Wayne realizes the only way to escape this endless dream world the Mad Hatter has placed him in is to kill himself in this dream world. Once he dies to any possibility of his own deepest desires being realized he can return to waking life and defeat the Mad Hatter again.

"Perchance to Dream" is typical of early Batman: the animated series and presents us with a wonderful dramatic irony. Where in his first encounter with the Mad Hatter Batman confronts Tetch about the impossibility of his fondest longing, in his second encounter with the Mad Hatter it is the Hatter who uses Batman's deepest longings as a weapon against him.  It is only by admitting that his deepest longings are impossible that Batman is able to defeat Mad Hatter's dream machine. Yet paradoxically it was a promise Bruce Wayne made to his parents' memory that motivated him to become Batman.

At length Hatter's desire to prove himself a big man about town and show up others continually fails. Even as a criminal he goes from being a threat to the Dark Knight to becoming a third stringer to villains like the Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, or even Harley Quinn.  But in Tetch's perverse way of thinking he's still gained what he wanted, the ability to make the people who used to laugh at him cower in fear.  Like Mr. Freeze Hatter is obsessed with correcting something disordered in his self-contained emotional world but cannot bring himself to consider that what is wrong in his life is himself.  Other Batman villains, however, are obsessed not simply with getting what they want out of life but what others think about them.  If Freeze and Hatter are obsessed with matters of the heart other villains want to solve every riddle and win every fight. 

3. The life and death of the mind
All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise”— but this was beyond me.
Ecclesiastes 7:28

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 26:12

If there is a thread that can be said to unite most the big name Batman villains it is an inability to cope with regret. A villain like Two-Face or Poison Ivy may seek retribution but rarely feels regret or remorse. If there is a villain in the BTAS rogues gallery defined by the pursuit of retribution to avoid regret that villain would be Edward Nygma, the Riddler.

Frank Gorshin's Riddler withstanding, the Riddler has not been as popular as the Joker, Two-Face, or Catwoman. Despite a memorable gimmick and an iconic look, the gimmick of sending riddles to Batman and law enforcement creates numerous story-telling limitations. If the riddles are too esoteric an audience will be angry at their obscurity, but if the riddles are too obvious the audience will feel insulted.  Even if this precarious balance is obtained the question that is ever present is, "Why?" What kind of villain would feel compelled to give clues that would give the hero a way to defeat him? This was why even the writers of Batman: the animated series wrote no more than three episodes for the Riddler.

Furthermore, most versions of the character show us a man who thinks he's smarter than other people but isn't. Riddler's egotism, eagerness to belittle adversaries, and his compulsion to show off his intellect make him almost impossible to like. Nobody feels sorry for a man who just can't admit to being wrong about something. This is why most people will never see Riddler as a relatable character, let alone as a tragic one.

Yet Riddler's least relatable qualities are arguably what make him most like us. As Kathryn Shulz put it in a 2011 TED lecture, anyone can grant to being fallible in the abstract but we don't admit we're fallible in the ever-living present and that is how we err. We never warm up to the Riddler because he epitomizes a flaw we display at least once a day, every day, intolerable in others yet excusable in ourselves--"Of course I'm right. Join me or get out of my way."

The Edward Nygma we meet is an intellectual giant in his own mind. Clever as he is at programming and inventing, Nygma discovers too late that signing a work-for-hire contract with his employer Daniel Mockridge deprived him of the rights and royalties for his work. Fired by Mockridge, Nygma is indignant, certain that his ex-boss is too stupid to appreciate what he has done. Mockridge retorts, "Tell me, Eddie, if you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" Insult added to injury, Edward Nygma won't answer the question for himself or for Mockridge.

What Nygma does, famously, is become the Riddler, spinning obscure questions and taunting his intellectual inferiors. The aim is to goad and taunt his enemies into walking into their deaths. When Mockridge bargains with Bruce Wayne to sell the rights to Nygma's video game the deal is interrupted by the villain's first riddle. Bruce Wayne solves the riddle after consulting Alfred and Robin and the Dynamic Duo go to save Mockridge. Edward Nygma debuts as the Riddler to find Batman has already figured out who he is but it will take several battles with the Dark Knight before Edward Nygma discovers Batman has figured him out before he's figured himself out.

While Nygma shuns the advice of his surprisingly loyal henchmen and tries to trap and kill Batman to protect his secret identity, Batman constantly collaborates with Alfred and Robin to solve the Riddler's lethal puzzles.  When Nygma's ultimate riddle is posed to Batman while Mockridge's life hangs in the balance, Batman solves the riddle immediately.  "A lucky guess," the Riddler sneers, "but it won't save you." Batman saves Robin and Mockridge and escapes the Riddler's trap but by then Riddler has escaped Gotham.  If the Riddler had merely stopped here he would have been one of the few villains to have outsmarted and defeated the Dark Knight.

But the Riddler is bothered by two things, that Batman knows who he is and that he figured out a riddle he was sure couldn't be solved.  Before long the Riddler returns to destroy any trace of his civilian identity and to kill Commissioner Gordon in retaliation for Batman's stopping him from killing Mockridge. We never hear a word about Riddler resuming his vendetta against Mockridge.  Why?  Because Mockridge no longer represents the person who has shown he can outsmart Edward Nygma.

In his various battles with the Dark Knight Nygma manages to create riddles Batman gets wrong and even creates a trap Batman can't escape ("Riddler's Reform") but in the end Batman prevails. Whereas the Riddler is obsessed with proving he is single-handedly smarter than Batman, Batman looks outside himself to Alfred and Robin to solve the puzzles and escape the traps. Batman knows that Riddler is compelled to commit crimes and leave clues and tells him, “I’m on to you.” Riddler is shaken by this insight but doubles down, "I fooled the police, the doctors, the parole board, all of them. There's only one person who has ever been able to challenge me, Batman. He's the only one worthy of the game." 

Time and again Riddler tries to prove he is Batman's better, continually running from the simple truth that he let himself get conned, unable to resist cerebral crime sprees to hide from this truth. He can't admit to himself that he's crazy and is even less able to figure out why. The Riddler, another lunatic by Chesterton’s criteria, is a man who has lost everything except his reason. Yet he was outsmarted before he even became the Riddler by a smooth-talking snake named Daniel Mockridge. If we find the Riddler unsympathetic we may need to revisit just what happened in Genesis 3.  

 4. Ultimate fighter, ultimate humiliation
If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success
Ecclesiastes 10:10

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
Ecclesiastes 9:11

Where villains like the Riddler match wits with the Dark Knight others seek to overcome him with brute strength. Batman has faced down vastly stronger opponents like Killer Croc or Solomon Grundy and outwitted them. In Gotham City Batman is the greatest fighter as well as the greatest detective. Many Batman fans believe it was not until Denny O'Neil created Ra's al Ghul that Batman had a villain who was actually his equal.

When the Cold War ended DC pulled a fast one by marketing the "death" of Superman at the hands of Doomsday. Sales got a boost and it wasn't long before editors decided that someone had to break Batman so that the Dark Knight got a similar marketing spike. In the early 1990s DC comics put together the character that finally broke the Bat, Bane. In the last twenty years Bane has come to be considered a formidable foil for the Dark Knight and Christopher Nolan has confirmed Bane’s emergence as a significant Bat rogue by including him in 2012’s upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.
Yet by the time Bane makes his appearance in the Batman and Robin Adventures he is not the criminal mastermind who is Batman's mental equal and physical superior from the comics. Instead Bane emerges on the scene as a free-lance assassin hired by mob boss Rupert Thorne to kill Batman. As Bane alternately charms Thorne's assistant Candice and plots to destroy Batman, the Dark Knight has quickly worked out that Bane was a man subjected to a super soldier serum called Venom developed in Project Gilgamesh. It takes Batman little time to put together that only Rupert Thorne has the money to spare to hire Bane to kill him.

Bane is, to be sure, a clever adversary and he takes Robin hostage and goads Batman into facing him in arena combat. Bane proudly tells Batman in a phone conversation, "Were I a common sniper you would never have answered the phone." Bane considers himself an honorable warrior and a warrior who will defeat Batman in single combat. As Candice confidently declares, "He was obsessed with you in prison. He knows you better than you know yourself."  Batman is unimpressed by all the threats.
When the battle between Bane and the Dark Knight happens Batman discovers his punches and kicks have no discernible effect on the drug-empowered assassin. Batman begins to throw objects at Bane and use weapons he normally avoids. He manages to save Robin from a death trap but Bane resumes conflict.  After being attacked by Batman with wooden boxes and batarangs Bane sneers:

"Toys. You try to fight me with pathetic little toys. You've got nothing. Beg for mercy. Scream my name!"

Batman replies contemptuously, "Never."  Batman may be beaten but he will not beg for mercy from some self-impressed assassin. At this point Bane prepares to break the back of Batman per the iconic splash page from the comic book years earlier. 

But at precisely this moment we get a different story.  This is not simply because Batman: the animated series, being a children’s' program, would not “go there”. This is also because Bane does not realize the truth--Batman does not have "nothing" he has the knowledge that the only reason Bane is a threat is the power he derives from a drug. Where there is a drug there can be an overdose. After mocking Batman for trying to fight him with "pathetic little toys" that pathetic little toy is what Batman uses to force Bane to overdose on the one thing that was the source of his power.

Forced by Batman to overdose on Venom, Bane begins screaming in madness and agony.  At first stunned by the “impossible”, Bane begins begging for help as his body mutates and contorts, then impotently screams, "I am invincible! I am Bane!" as Batman literally pulls the plug on this self-impressed thug dying of the source of his power. Batman then takes the defeated Bane to Rupert Thorne and unmasks him. Now it is Batman's turn to taunt and he asks Thorne with a sneer, "Is this really the best you can throw at me, Rupert?" Bane came to Gotham believing that by crushing Batman he would prove himself the ultimate fighter yet what he discovered was ultimate humiliation.

It would be impossible to discuss Bane in Batman: the animated series without noting that he only appears once and then appears a second time only in a nightmare.  The second time Bane truly does battle with the Dynamic Duo is in the episode "Knight Time" from Superman: the animated series. Rather than concede that he was defeated by Batman the first time because of his dependence on a drug Bane thinks improving the drug will bring him victory. He prepares a triumvirate of crime with the Riddler and Mad Hatter that is gate-crashed by Batman and Robin. 

Bane, happy to see Batman again, says, " ... I feared you were gone forever, Batman. That would have meant I'd never feel your spine crumble in my hands." He pumps himself up with the new and improved Venom and begins raining blows on the Dark Knight. Finally he buries Batman under a massive stone statue as he says with a smile, "I almost regret you are defenseless, Batman.  After waiting so long for this day it was, sadly, too easy."

But Bane is unaware of what viewers of the episode have known from the start, that the man under the cape and cowl is not Bruce Wayne but Clark Kent, who has taken up Batman’s cowl temporarily to keep Gotham safe while he tries to figure out what has happened to the real Caped Crusader.   Bane has not finally slain the Dark Knight, he has angered the Man of Steel!  Bane takes at least ten blows from an angry Superman wearing Batman’s costume and, once again, falls in battle, humiliated. No human on a super drug can finally defeat Superman. Once again Bane came to Gotham sure of gaining ultimate victory and once again suffers ultimate humiliation. The race is not to the swift nor victory to the strong but time and chance happen to them all.

5. Feet of Clay, Heart of Stone
Bad! Bad! says the buyer but afterwards he boasts about his bargain
Proverbs 20:14

… but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
James 1:14-15

Mr. Freeze and Mad Hatter began their criminal lives to satisfy their hearts.  The Riddler and Bane seek to actually be the legends they are in their own minds. Other villains who have crossed the path of the Dark Knight emerge through losing battles with their own bodies. Grasping for something beyond the limits of their bodies can lead Anthony Romulus to become a wolf-creature. For Matt Hagan, his desperate effort to regain the body he wishes he still had eventually transforms him into Clayface and all but obliterates his humanity.

Matt Hagan's path to becoming Clayface begins simply enough. He is a successful actor who ends up in an automobile accident that destroys most of his face. He is told by his doctors that the plastic surgery needed to restore his face would take years. A man named Roland Daggett comes by to visit him and tells Hagan that his acting career could potentially be revived in months if he'd be willing to experiment with Daggett's Renuyu formula. Although the scene is ham-fisted and literal it is also brilliant, as Matt Hagan literally reaches out and grasps what turns out to be nothing more than an illusion of control. Renuyu allows Hagan to rebuild his face but it wears off quickly and Hagan becomes psychologically and physically addicted to the shortcut he accepted from Daggett.

Yet after he begins using Daggett's invention Hagan goes on to his most successful film roles. Hagan begins to do favors for Daggett in exchange for continued access to the Renuyu formula. Various crimes of theft and impersonation to get things Daggett wants culminate in Hagan impersonating Bruce Wayne to secretly meet with Wayne Enterprise CEO Lucius Fox.  Hagan, as Bruce Wayne plans to kill Fox after Fox hands over documents that would indict Roland Daggett for insider trading.  Were the real Bruce Wayne not shadowing Fox as Batman Matt Hagan would have been able to murder Fox. By this time Hagan needs to use the formula every day keep up appearances and when his attempts to kill Lucius Fox repeatedly fail Daggett orders his henchmen to kill Hagan.  Daggett's henchmen force-feed him gallons of the Renuyu formula to kill him but the formula does not kill Hagan, it turns him into a shapeshifter of nearly unlimited potential.

Hagan by this time has not only spiraled down into addiction he has transformed his friend Matt into an unresisting enabler. Matt attempts to tell Hagan that his newfound ability could let him regain his normal appearance. Hagan discovers that his shapeshifting ability is like a muscle that must be trained to work and he is unable to maintain any shape for very long. He continues to plot the death of Daggett and proves an exceptionally difficult adversary for Batman to track and contain. 
When Batman intercepts Clayface's attempt to kill Roland Daggett he lures the shapeshifting villain into a set studio and shows him all the roles he used to play as Matt Hagan.  "Look at what you used to be." Batman appeals to Hagan to see how far he has fallen and offers to help restore him, to find a cure for what has happened to him. By now Clayface no longer really wants to regain who he was but to retain his newfound power even though it has robbed him of his humanity. Even when at the end of "Feat of Clay" he seems to die, Clayface's death itself turns out to be a ruse, merely proof of the new and virulent life he has found for himself.  

Sometime later Clayface reappears, stealing isotopes from Wayne Enterprises as part of a scheme to keep his body stable.  He leads on a doctor he worked with from his earlier films who naively believes that Clayface actually loves her. Even when Batman offers to help Clayface cure himself in exchange for turning himself in Clayface hardens his heart even more. If Matt Hagan is going to be saved it will only be on his terms and through his means. Virtually immune to death, Clayface proves so dangerous Batman resorts to an invention we see him use repeatedly in Justice League, the batarang grenade. Hagan's body, still destabilizing as he attempts to kill Batman, is waterlogged by the nighttime battle he has with the Dark Knight. Clayface loses control of his body and becomes a living mudslide that falls into the bay.  Defining his life literally through his power to mimic, deceive, and create an illusion of control Matt Hagan has effectively died and Clayface literally falls apart in the stormy waters by Gotham.

Unfortunately for the city, Clayface is not really dead. As his soupy self floats by some drainage pipes he is restored by a mysterious brew of chemicals. Slowly regaining his bodily stability he creates a scout in the form of a young girl to explore Gotham to see if it is safe for his return.  This girl is discovered by a besotted Tim Drake (the new Robin) who calls her Annie.  Robin works to protect Annie but Batman warns him that he's in danger of letting his infatuation blind him to danger. At length Batman works out that Annie is an extension of Clayface as Annie, a blank slate, seeks to understand her origin. As she gets closer to discovering who she is and who her "father" is she begins to realize not only that her father is Clayface but that she herself "is" Clayface.

In the end the heroes, Annie and Clayface converge where Clayface fell in "Mudslide". The ensuing battle ends with Annie assimilated back into Clayface. In this moment any capacity for trust or empathy Matt Hagan once had seems to have died with Annie's loss of identity.  Clayface is defeated by his own reckless attempts to kill Batman and Robin. The heroes survive and Clayface is captured but the villain has returned more powerful than ever. With newfound power to split himself into separate sentient crooks ("Holiday Knights") Clayface's abilities and power grow as his capacity for empathy has flickered into death. As Batman warns Tim after a battle with the shapeshifting monster, "Sometimes there are no happy endings."

6. The prison of the self
Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.
Proverbs 14:10

Even in laughter the heart is sad, and the end of joy is grief
Proverbs 14:13

Matt Hagan's transformation into Clayface came about because he desperately sought to regain what he had lost. He wanted to get back a face and body that had been ravaged by a car accident. In being seduced by the illusion of control offered by Roland Daggett Matt Hagan did not realize that he had lost a battle within himself, a battle he didn't fight because he didn't realize there was one to be had. But in Batman: the animated series Clayface isn't the only villain whose path began in a battle against one's own body.  

In the annals of Batman: the animated series "Baby Doll" is an episode that many fans just didn't connect with. The villain had a deliberately annoying voice and catchphrase. Yet Marion Dahl is one of the more memorable original creations for Batman: the animated series for what, at first, seem like reasons she would not be a memorable character.  

Yet as I have surveyed Batman villains who are prompted by the agony or loss or the madness of desire no serious discussion of villains in Batman: the animated series can afford to overlook her.  If Clayface is driven by a desire to regain a body he has lost Baby Doll is his doppelganger, a woman doomed to never be able to gain the body she craves, trapped within a body that she feels can only ever betray her. 

Baby Doll's story, though a later story in the run of BTAS, evokes all of the darkness of earlier episodes. It is a character study of a woman who feels shut out by society and betrayed by a reality about her body she cannot change. She tries to adapt by playing a role that leaves her empty yet which is the only thing she knows to cling to. Now this won't be something that everyone will understand but anyone who has ever been frustrated by a disability; felt judged or ignored for not looking the "right" way; or has felt betrayed by the weakness and limits of one's own body Baby Doll is a powerful, memorable story. 

Born with systemic hypoplasia Marion Louise Dahl has remained her whole life with the body of a young girl. Though she found success for years by being typecast as a "child star" in a show called Love That Baby she was tyrannical on the set toward her co-stars and crew alike. A new character introduced in the last season to combat flagging ratings, Cousin Spunky, shoved Baby Doll face first into her own birthday cake. Livid over being humiliated on her own show by a character added to regain ratings Dahl quit the show and turned to more serious work. Of course this being a Batman adventure Dahl completely failed to transition into serious film.  After having her attempts at serious acting roasted by critics she attempted to return to her old show and discovered the network cancelled it and would not take her back.  Dahl, devastated that she lost the one thing she had built her life on, goes into hiding for years. 

When Dahl re-emerges she has completely subsumed herself into the persona of Baby Doll, eager to kidnap all her old co-stars and compel them to continue the televised illusion she had built her whole life around.  It may have been corny, it may have been poorly written, but that show was Marion Dahl's life and come killing and kidnapping she would get it back. When confronted by one of her old co-stars that she was insufferable on the set and canned her own show because she wasn't getting enough attention, Baby Doll pleads, "But I knows now I made a boo-boo."  And then Marion Dahl breaks character, "It was hard for me out there. I studied and trained auditioned but no one wanted me."  

Although her self-pity reveals narcissism and cruelty Marion Dahl breaks character from Baby Doll. She makes plain her plan to always be Baby Doll so everyone will love her and resumes character to kill the actor who played Cousin Spunky.  But Cousin Spunky turns out to be Robin in disguise and Batman arrives to take down Baby Doll and her minions. Baby Doll escapes to a fairgrounds and hides among children there.  Batman, in hot pursuit, shrewdly uses his legendary role in Gotham to stand on a concessions stand.  The kids, excited to see the legendary Batman, flock to where he stands as Baby Doll flees to, what else? a haunted house that leads into a hall of mirrors.

As Batman pursues Baby Doll he calls out: "Don't run away. I know you must be scared, confused. I can help you." Doll taunts him and tries to shoot him but is knocked into a hall of mirrors when Batman stops her with his grappling gun. Still within her narcissism, Baby Doll is distracted by her appearance in the distorting mirrors and, finally, sees a distorted reflection of herself that shows her who she wishes she was:

"Look.  That's me in there. The REAL me. There I am. But it's not really real, is it? Just made up and pretend like my family and my life and everything else."

Shaking with rage she turns toward Batman with her gun and asks, "Why couldn't you just let me make-believe!?"  Of course in a darkened hall of mirrors none of Marion Dahl's shots ring true. She merely shoots mirrors until the only mirror left is the one reflecting who she wishes she was. Overcome with rage and grief she shoots this mirror, too.  She can no longer hide from herself, or use make-believe to hide from realizing she has gone her whole life feeling helplessly betrayed by a body she cannot change, a body that typecast her into a role that she now can no longer play. Batman won’t let her make-believe any more than he will let a man like the Mad Hatter change a woman into his living doll.

Dahl thought she wanted revenge on her former co-stars but when she sees how futile her attempt at make-believe is she commits symbolic suicide. Only at the end has she realized that what she thought was a vendetta against he co-stars is actually a death-wish.  Dahl drops her gun and turns to Batman, saying her worn out catchphrase but in her own voice, “I didn’t mean to.” This is no longer the justification it has been for everything she did; her catchphrase becomes a desolate and ironic confession.  She meant everything and only now realizes what that means.

All this time the Dark Knight has pursued her, not with a threat of violence but with an offer of help.  When Dahl, knowing she can escape neither Batman nor the truth about herself, surrenders to Batman he says nothing and lets her embrace him in her misery and despair. Batman knows what it is to live between irrevocable loss and impossible desire. He knows what it is to live in a moment with nothing but helpless rage and grief. Because he knows these wounds it is from these wounds he can do more than simply fight the cruel, he can show them mercy.

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