Saturday, September 09, 2017

CNN report--Paterno reported to have known about Sandunsky's contact earlier than formally stated

Earlier this year I watched Spotlight, which was a solidly made film but ... Hollywood celebrating the power of the press to highlight the abuses that a church leadership culture subjects people to can start to feel ever so faintly hypocritical given how exploitive the entertainment industry has been towards kids, too.  And then there's institutionalized sports ... which I admit I've never really enjoyed or gotten into.

A tossed off line in a South Park episode had Cartman explicitly and directly equating sexual abuse of kids by Catholic priests with what Sandunsky did as a coach. This was directly countered by another character but the observation got made all the same.  It's application is indirect since the punchline is about how, regardless of what power and prestige culture you set up, predators will figure out ways to rise up through that prestige ladder to target and abuse.  If it's not a Catholic church hierarchy now this may have nothing intrinsically to do with the state of Catholicism or any other religious view as much as it has to do with what systems have the most prestige within the cultural milieu.  In some contexts the prestige ladder "might" be a church, for someone like Beria it could be a political part, for others it could be a university setting.

Sometimes it seems as though one of the lessons people decline to learn is to note that one of the sturdier ways to ensure that "it" can happen here is to assume that "it can't happen here". 

Friday, September 08, 2017

William Deresiewicz on being a Jane Austen fan and the puzzle this presents to the women who don't get why a man would admire her work and the man who think no real man should enjoy her work

September 5, 2017 wasn't just the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Batman: the animated series. It was also the day a piece by William Dersiewicz went up at The American Scholar about, among other things, the bewilderment certain women and men display toward him when he says he admires Jane Austen's work. 

So that interview was not the first time I had had to defend my love of Jane Austen. Nor would it be the last, especially, some five years later, after I published A Jane Austen Education, a memoir of my encounter with the author during those very years in graduate school, and of the way she helped me to become an adult. Every time I explained what the book was about—at a party, or to the friend of a friend—there was always a little pause as they tried to work it out, tried to do the math. Men, in particular, would get this look in their eyes, as if to say, “What’s wrong with you, dude?” And whenever I did a reading or went on the radio, I always felt a subtext, a question hanging over the proceedings.
Sometimes the text was not even “sub.” One host, on a local public radio program, patrolled the gender lines relentlessly throughout our conversation. “I know there are many Jane Austen fans listening, probably women,” she said right off the bat. “I’m curious about the men who may be listening, who may be thinking, ‘Eh, this guy’s a weenie. I don’t care what he says.’ ” So already she was furnishing a script, a gendered script, for listeners to follow.
Which they did. The very first caller criticized the book, which I’m pretty sure she hadn’t read, for not discussing the fact that women in Jane Austen’s day were dependent on men for financial security and therefore occupied a subordinate social position. You’re right, I said, they were and they did, but there are also lots of other things to talk about in Austen’s work, most of which apply to men and women equally—like love, and friendship, and growing up, and keeping your eyes open—and those are the things I discuss in my book. But that clearly didn’t cut much ice with her.
In all this, I think, we can distinguish two impulses. One is a desire to exclude men from the sphere of Austen’s readers—or at least to mark them as resident aliens rather than natural-born citizens and thus to claim Austen as the exclusive property of a female readership.
The other impulse rejects the idea that men—that real men—would want to enter Austen’s world to begin with. We still have trouble with gender, no matter what advances we have made. We still think in terms of “acting gay,” which often, to a first approximation, means acting female: dressing colorfully, or being into musical theater—or loving Jane Austen. Those are all fine, if you actually are gay. But they’re not fine if you aren’t. Straight men are still supposed to act the way they’ve always been expected to (just as straight women are). So for a straight man to express a devotion to Jane Austen’s novels is to fall short of the gender performance that society expects of him. This will almost invariably arouse anxiety in other people, who will feel entitled, like the dean or the radio host, to police the violation. [emphasis added]

Later on Deresiewicz notes that our contemporary reception of Austen has been, in a phrase, Hollywood-ized:
Austen’s novels have also been received, especially in recent years, as feminine in a more stereotypical sense: as romance novels in the contemporary meaning of the term, chick lit in its purest form. The movies do this, and so does the fan fiction. But her stories aren’t primarily about romance. Love comes only at the end—her heroines must grow up first—and when it does, it doesn’t look like Cupid’s arrow. Love, for Austen, is a slow outgrowth of friendship. It’s something you have to prepare yourself for, not something that magically happens to you.

But the movies—the major way that people are exposed to Austen’s work today, and certainly the leading factor in creating her contemporary image—never stand for that. She is always Brontëized, always turned into the exponent of grand and unquenchable passion. [emphasis added] The music swells, the handsome actors and beautiful actresses—always so much better-looking than the characters are in the books—lock lips with hungry urgency. So what’s scrubbed from her stories is not only everything else they’re about, but Austen’s own violations of gender performance. Jane Austen, as anyone who has read the novels (and still more, the letters) knows, was not a good girl. She was cool, sharp, sometimes bawdy, sometimes cruel. Her novels can be gloomy, even sour. In her own life, she chose art over marriage. Yet all this has been airbrushed from the picture.

Or, alternately, people could conclude that she just really wanted to be married herself and didn't "win the lottery" and that she was writing out of her own failed desire to do the normal thing of being married off.  But then, as Kyle Gann noted in his complaints about contemporary historical approaches toward influential figures of the past, we're all trying to psychoanalyze touchstone artists and writers and composers of the past as though we would, in those respective shoes, be better people than them rather than trying to understand the possibilities of how those long dead thought and acted within the confines and also opportunities of their times.  Particularly with music it seems writers prefer to write about the lives than the music for which musicians are known but I digress.  
What occurred to me, as I listened to the panel, was that Austen’s world does function as an arena for the unbridled expression of female desire, but that desire is the reader’s. The impulses that her heroines must conceal or repress, out in the intensely public spaces of her novels, her readers are encouraged to indulge in the privacy, as it were, of their bedrooms. And that indulgence is all the greater precisely because it is denied to the heroines. More demonstrative characters would get between the reader and the hero, would take up all the emotional space. Readerly imagination, as is often said, is incited by what is omitted. Austen’s readers, indeed, can be said to desire her heroes, at least some of the time, even more than do her heroines, because they often get there first. They have no ambivalence about Mr. Darcy, no ignorance about their feelings for Mr. Knightley, no indifference to Colonel Brandon. They are only waiting, as it were, for the heroines to catch up.

Here's my off-hand proposal about why so many men might find the idea of reading Austen, let alone the experience of reading Austen, so distasteful--there's too many men who resent the idea that the man in the narrative can be so easily thought of as the trophy spouse.  There may just be a strata of men who can only imagine a trophy partner being a woman. 

And, of course, there's always the reality that lots of people don't like reading late 18th or early 19th century novels because of a separated-by-a-common-language barrier, too.  But it has been interesting to notice the love or loathe dynamic with Austen and those who have read her work.  My personal loathing is for Hemingway and I also have no use for Twain, but then I don't feign a failure to appreciate that every writer and polemicist is ultimately a moralist and that writers who object to moralists are not objecting to moralism as such but to the morals of a moralist.  And to be deliberately blunt about it, the kinds of men who tend to look down on Jane Austen tend to come across as, well, dicks. 

an Atlantic Monthly case that Woody Allen has been slumming it not just over the last twenty years but for his entire career (no argument here)

I vividly remember only a handful of moments from Woody Allen films, mainly just the scene where Allen is trying to be a cellist in a marching band, which I thought was very funny when I managed to see that scene on TV.  And I saw a handful of his films between high school and college.  But by the time I graduated from college it struck me, for some reason I couldn't articulate at the time, that Woody Allen was an inveterate slummer or slacker as an artist.  I mean, I grant the man is an artist even if I don't particularly enjoy what he does at this point.  That's not even counting his personal conduct issues even if we could say that as the behavior of men who were lionized as entertainers and artists and thinkers cannot be entirely and permanently extricated from the works that made them popular or revered. 

Well, somebody over at The Atlantic Monthly decided to make the case that Woody Allen's inveterate slumming through making films is why he is so regarded.  The cycle in play is that he's prestigious enough to work with actors keep working with Allen and the actors are prestigious enough that Allen gets to bask in the glow of the grade A stars who keep working with him even if it turns out that his film-making process takes the path of least resistance at almost any and every given opportunity.
Though Allen, now 81, has maintained his frenetic pace of one feature film a year since 1982, his more recent output has been generally, yet gently, judged a disappointment. His best films of the past 20 years—Match Point, Blue Jasmine—are solid but overrated, perhaps because so many of us dream of a return to his early form. (A. O. Scott of The New York Times, who accurately described Match Point as Allen’s “most satisfying film in more than a decade,” then couldn’t resist hyperbole: “a Champagne cocktail laced with strychnine.”) The rest run the gamut from middling—Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris—to genuinely bad: Scoop, Whatever Works, To Rome With Love. While the former have a habit of garnering plaudits anyway (Midnight in Paris won an Oscar for best original screenplay), the latter are often politely ignored in discussions of the overall quality of his work.
The upshot has been that Allen’s stature as an important filmmaker (unlike his personal reputation) has proved surprisingly sturdy—despite the withering self-assessments he offers every so often. In an interview during the filming of Match Point, he described himself as “functioning within the parameters of my mediocrity,” and went on to note that if he were ever to make another great film, it would be “by accident.” False modesty? Some, no doubt. But we would do best to take his words at face value.
For years the evidence has accumulated: Allen is an astonishingly lazy director. Often this fact gets a positive spin, as when he is described as “an actor’s director”—code for the reality that he offers his performers little or no guidance and tries to complete every scene in as few takes as possible. Here, again, Allen is bluntly honest. “I’m lazy and an imperfectionist,” he explained in a 2015 NPR interview. “Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.”
But once again, Allen himself is ready with the most astute diagnosis. “I’m not a curious person,” he noted in that 2015 NPR interview. “I’m not curious to travel … I’m not curious to see other places, I’m not curious to try new things.” During the fertile years in which he forged his reputation, he pursued themes very close to home, with films that were set almost exclusively in his native New York City and frequently dealt with the fields of comedy or show business. More recently, he has worked in locales—London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona—he evidently knows only from the perspective of an unenthusiastic tourist. Match Point was knocked for its unfamiliarity with London; To Rome With Love looks as though it was shot with a copy of Fodor’s in hand.
Early in his career, Allen was often his own star, and his distinctive patter—the phobias and neuroses and literary references—worked effortlessly in a way that it does not when it emanates from the mouths of his various surrogates since then. And the filmmaker who these days has so little contact with his actors used to have his female stars close at hand: Between them, his longtime love interests Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, and Mia Farrow starred in 22 out of 23 consecutive films during his heyday.

That last paragraph quoted gets me thinking of how guys like Joss Whedon seem like one-trick ponies whose reputations get bolstered by working with women who are more talented and inventive than the dialogue that gets written for them.

when opera was more like watching television and how this changed toward the piety of attending a church service

I've seen a comparison made between attending the opera and watching (if you felt like it) television while you were really mingling with your social scene put forth by Richard Taruskin in his massive Oxford History of Western Music. So it's not a surprise to see this idea set forth in other contexts. 

When the first public opera houses were founded in the mid-17th century, they were designed more as venues for social interaction than as sites of aesthetic experience. Fanning out from the stage in glittering tiers were the boxes. Owned or leased by aristocrats or wealthy bourgeois, these intimate little spaces were perfect for entertaining guests, exchanging gossip or simply being seen. Down below was the parterre. Usually left open and generally without seating, this was the preserve of lower-income groups, including soldiers, students and servants, who used the space to meet friends, share a drink and gamble. Accordingly, the music was treated with noisy indifference, at best, or vocal contempt, at worst. Audiences were more interested in their own conversations than with what was happening on stage. They might perhaps listen to an aria, or watch the ballet (if there was one), but no more; and, if they did not like what they heard, they would make their displeasure known.
Angered by the lack of respect for their music, some composers attempted to fight back – even writing works satirising their audiences’ bad manners. The anonymous Critique des Hamburgischen Schauplatzes (1725), for example, offered a comical defence of opera against the frequent interruptions of German loggionisti. But it was a losing battle. Realising that no audience would listen to an entire work, composers started to produce pieces that took account of their inattention. These often included an aria di sorbetto (‘sherbet aria’), an incidental passage that allowed the audience to buy food or drink without fear of missing anything important.

Interesting stuff and it raises the natural question of when opera became so serious that it could one day be sent up by the Marx brothers.  To put a deliberately polemical point on it, we might ask when attending the opera became a setting with the decorum expectations of attending a church service. 
Not until the late 19th century did silence come to be expected of audiences. Even then, it took longer to reach some countries than others.  [emphasis added] An amusing illustration of the difference between Britain and Italy can be found in E.M. Forster’s novel Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905). Hoping to talk their widowed sister-in-law out of marrying an Italian, the interfering siblings, Philip and Harriet Kingcroft, rush off to the Tuscan town of Monteriano. Soon after arriving, Philip spots a poster announcing a performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and tries to persuade the sceptical Harriet to go with him. ‘However bad the performance is to-night’, he warns, ‘it will be alive. Italians don’t love music silently, like the beastly Germans. The audience takes its share – sometimes more.’ And so it turns out. Though Harriet does not care for music, Forster noted, she knows ‘how to listen to it’, and is outraged by the constant shouting and whistling. Not until the mid-20th century would poor Harriet have been able to find an Italian theatre where silence more or less reigned.
Why did audiences change their minds? Part of the reason is undoubtedly the evolution of opera itself. Although composers had previously been willing to accommodate unruly behaviour, the advent of Romanticism persuaded Germans to adopt a more uncompromising approach in their music. Beginning with Louis Spohr – who abhorred the ‘vile noise’ of Italian opera houses – attempts were made to make opera more like the Singspiele (‘sing-plays’) of folk tradition. This entailed grouping arias into longer and more coherent scenes, which could not be interrupted or missed without the narrative thread being lost. The culmination of this trend was Richard Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total work of art’). Combining music, poetry and drama in epic form, Wagner greatly expanded the role of the orchestra and relied more on the use of leitmotifs – recurrent musical themes associated with a particular character or idea – than on structural divisions to advance the story. So great were the demands placed on audiences, that little scope remained for inattention – or interjection. And, as Wagner’s influence spread, so did the silence. [emphasis added]
Arguably more important, however, were social factors. Between about 1650 and 1850, opera was ‘enjoyed’ by a relatively broad range of people. Though public opera houses tended to be financed by monarchs, nobles or wealthy merchants, performances were attended by high and low alike. In the later 19th century, however, the emergence of music halls changed everything. Offering every kind of entertainment – from music to magic – and a deliberately relaxed atmosphere, these quickly won the favour of lower-income groups. And as opera houses became the preserve of the upper and middle classes, so their audiences attempted to distance themselves consciously from the noisy and often crude behaviour that was increasingly associated with music halls. Silence, in other words, became what it had never been in the past – a mark of social distinction, of taste and of refinement. [emphases added]
This has rather uncomfortable implications. In preferring to listen to an opera in silence, we are really just perpetuating a form of Victorian snobbery. Now that efforts are being made to broaden the appeal of opera, perhaps the time has come to be a little less precious. Especially in the case of works like Rossini’s La Cenerentola – which were composed with noise in mind – Pereira and his colleagues could turn more of a blind eye to the loggionisti. Admittedly, there might be a bit more booing. But who knows? Perhaps the applause might be louder, too.


from Arts Journal Copland and the Cold War

As someone who's never actually been a fan of Copland it's hard for me to think of him as "the dean of American composers".  I've loved way more music by Duke Ellington and Charles Ives than by Copland.  Still, interesting ... .
This Cold War chapter concludes a fascinating and at times chilling three-part compositional odyssey charted by “the dean of American composers.” He began as a high modernist in 1930 with his lean, hard, and dissonant Piano Variations – a breakthrough in American music. Then, spurred by Mexico and the Depression, he turned himself into a populist and composed the ballets by which we know him best. It was during the beginning of this period that he addressed Communist farmers, scored The City, and won a New Masses contest for the best workers’ song.
These political adventures returned to haunt Copland in the fifties – during which decade he was bluntly interrogated by McCarthy and observed by the FBI (we now know that the switchboard agent at Tanglewood Festival was an informant). His Lincoln Portrait was dropped by from the Eisenhower inauguration following protests from Republicans in Congress who marked him as a former fellow traveler or worse. Copland now turned his back on the “new audience” he had once wooed, returning to his modernist roots in a series of non-tonal compositions beginning with the bleak Piano Quartet of 1950.
The result is a veritable American fable – suggesting, among other things, that the US is less hospitable to political artists than was the Mexico of Diego Rivera, from which Copland drew instruction. Copland’s Mexican colleague Carlos Chavez at various times conducted Mexico’s first permanent orchestra, ran the National Conservatory of Music, and directed the National Institute of Fine Arts.
Looking back at his Mexican visits of the 1930s, and doubtless reflecting upon the American prominence and influence of such outsiders as Arturo Toscanini, Copland said: “I was a little envious of the opportunity composers have to serve their country in a musical way. When one has done that, one can compose with real joy. Here in the U.S. A. we composers have no possibility of directing the musical affairs of the nation – on the contrary, I have the impression that more and more we are working in a vacuum.”

Shostakovich had plenty of opportunities to write music that served his country but whether it was a joyous opportunity is, at best, debatable.  I often get a rather general vibe from Artsjournal contributors that they feel it would be nice if the empire would subsidize and validate the arts rather than considering that art subsidized by an empire is serving the empire. 

What if working in a vacuum can, under some circumstances, be the more appealing path? 

Given the general tilt of contributors to Artsjournal (Teachout being an exception) I'm not sure I'd say the United States is less hospitable to "political artists" than it is less hospitable to artists who were considered actually communist in their sympathies. But a lot could depend on what the extent of activity and interest was.  Terry Teachout's Ellington biography noted that the bandleader and composer was a part of a communist party at one point but was still given honors by the Nixon administration.  While it's been entertained by some that the administration did the honor as a formality Teachout has countered that given how anti-communist Nixon's sympathies were, why would he have had Ellington received at the White House if Ellington was believed to be actively communist? 

I can't help but wonder whether the grass is always going to be greener on the other side for American artists, musicians, composers and writers.  They love the idea of European state-funded arts but it's easy to love that if you imagine that your preferred style of artistic activity will assuredly benefit from such a state patronage system.  I just finished reading a book recently by a Dutch composer who emphatically dissents from business-as-usual in state patronage for the classical music world but that's something to save for some other time for the time being.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

short updates on that 'Scaffold' sculpture, the wood is being buried rather than burned ...

and in related coverage ... the artist Sam Durant who made the pending-burial sculpture has won a 25k prize.

So, controversy withstanding ... win/win?

Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire--a few notes five years later

Well, of the many things I've written as a blogger over the last eleven or so years one of the most enjoyable projects I ever took up was writing about Batman: the animated series for Mockingbird.  When DZ proposed that I do a write-up about the DC animated universe what he had in mind was something like a simple overview of highlights about the best-known shows similar to a piece that was run by the Onion AV Club years ago.  I enthusiastically agreed to the project of writing about the DCAU but made no promises about how short or, more importantly, how long such a blogging project would eventually be.

The first series I ended up writing about was actually Superman: the animated series.

Then I felt obliged to set the stage by articulating what sea changes were happening in American animation in the final decade or so of the Cold War.  Without some grounding in a sea change of popular thought that if we were getting an end of the Cold War and an "end of history" that perhaps we no longer had the luxury of viewing ourselves as the heroes of world narrative, the introduction of characters like Batman BTAS-style or Fox Mulder might be harder to appreciate.

After decades of Cold War "moral clarity" a la Optimus Prime mainstream heroes and heroines were introduced whose default view of American life was more skeptical.  This doesn't mean these were really revolutionary sorts aka 1917 or anything.  In the wake of the Cold War's end and some bad movies, the pop culture attention shifted from The Man of Steel to The Dark Knight.  The time was ripe for developing an animated series that was not like so many 1980s cartoons that were ultimately about moving units of merchandise. 

For a majority of Americans who tacitly or explicitly identify themselves as "grown-ups" this will all, of course, be not only moot but positively silly.  As I get older and observe how self-described grown-ups talk about pop culture and even high art culture the more dubious I am as to the alleged fundamental distinction between adult and children's entertainment.  I've seen plenty of cartoons in my life (whether American, Japanese, French or from elsewhere) that are as artfully and thoughtfully done as a lot of supposedly "grown up" entertainment.  I don't really see that a show like Friends was necessarily more "grown up" than Batman: the animated series, for instance.

By extension, I don't think that superheroes are better or worse than westerns or horror or urban/suburban marital meltdown genres.  I thought I read somewhere the author Eve Tushnet wrote that "realism" is for those people who presume their own views of the world are "realistic" and that the rest of us make do with this thing they call "genre".   So, as a kind of post-script here are the links where you can, if you want, read everything from Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire as it was originally published at Mockingbird from late 2011 through later 2012.

Regular readers of this blog from the earlier days will recall that this blog was focused on ... let's just call it Puget Sound history back in that period. 

But this isn't really the occasion where I feel like writing much about THAT.  This is a reminder to myself that in spite of what a few people used to say about how "all" somebody ever did was write critical things about somebody who claimed to be a nobody, there were plenty of other things I wrote about during the 2011-2014 period.  I was even putting finishing touches on the composition of a set of 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar during that period, too.  But for those committed to a tunnel vision understanding of things ... they're set on that. 

Meanwhile, some of us branched off into other topics like writing about cartoons we like.

We're actually here at the end of the work week and I've posted using the scheduling prompt to ensure these are all 25th anniversary posts.  Sometimes other things are going on in life that you don't always post at the time that would be "suitable".  Working on notes about that The Classical Revolution book I mean to review. 

Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire: Part 1--American Heroes at "The End of History"


The end of the Cold War led to a seismic transformation of American pop culture.  The Berlin Wall had fallen. The Soviet Union had collapsed.  The Rebel Alliance had destroyed not only the last Death Star but also defeated the Emperor as well. In all sorts of ways the Cold War was ending faster than pop culture and political theorists could keep up.  By the time Rambo III was released the Soviet Union had already pulled out of Afghanistan, rendering the film redundant.

Neither the Soviet invasion John Milius imagined in Red Dawn nor the nuclear Armageddon imagined by James Cameron in Terminator actually transpired. Such was the apocalyptic fervor of the Cold War, so high were the stakes imagined, it was not possible to imagine any end to the Cold War except through nuclear holocaust or disarmament. The Cold War couldn’t really be over … could it?

In place of Stallone we saw the rise of Bruce Willis.  Arnold managed to transition with little effort into post-Cold War roles in films like Total Recall.  When James Cameron discovered, to his dismay, that people were rooting for the Terminator he contrived a storyline to bring the Terminator back as a protagonist.  He began the 1990s with Terminator 2 and his feature film work in that decade came to a bluntly literal Titanic ending. As a Canadian, Cameron was perhaps better situated to roll with the punches of a Cold War that ended in such a surprising way.

Meanwhile, Superman's quest for peace showed he was a spent force on the silver screen and comics sales were dropping.  The Big Blue Boy Scout who seemed like the embodiment of all that was supposed to be great about America, became a bit of an embarrassment (even if Superman IV: the Quest for Peace hadn’t been such a poor movie!). If Superman represented the ideals of truth, justice and the American way and the United States survived while the Soviet Union collapsed what did this mean? 

It was as though the end of the Cold War shoved Superman and all of Western culture into a strange existential crisis.  We began to suspect that maybe T.S. Eliot was right, that the Apocalypse was not going to end with a nuclear bang but a whimper. Francis Fukuyama began to talk about "the end of history" and how Western style democratic government and philosophy were the endpoint toward which humanity was moving. Meanwhile, Marxists continued to speak of late capitalism as if the fall of the Soviet Union signaled nothing more than a speed bump in the ultimate realization of proletarian revolution. Where could the Man of Steel possibly go?

As if to sum up this anxiety of post-Cold War purpose, Superman died defeating Doomsday, a monstrous creature of destruction, in 1992. It was as though DC had announced that Superman was dead and gone, no longer relevant to what America faced in a world without an Evil Empire.  Never mind that Superman was brought back from the dead a mere eight months later and subjected to a series of reboots (even sporting a mullet), the symbolism was important.

If Superman was on the wane in comics and the silver screen, and if Cold War pop culture narratives no longer applied, who would be the American comic book hero for this age?  Even by 1989 an answer was clear: Batman.  But Batman was not necessarily the hero we wanted.  When the Tim Burton’s film came out, reviewers saw Batman as less interesting than his antagonist, the Joker. Burton himself said the film was more a pop culture phenomenon than an actually good movie.  But what a pop culture phenomenon it was!

Tim Burton's Batman was indebted to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns: a bitter, angry, even psychopathic vigilante who comes out of retirement as society and its capacity to restrain evil ages and crumbles around him.  Miller's Batman ultimately takes on the establishment itself in a battle with Superman.  Clark has become the lapdog to the Reagan administration, having sold out to the worst excesses of Cold War moral simplification.  Bruce Wayne tells Clark Kent that he’s become a joke, the kind of person who says "yes" to anyone with a badge.  Miller’s mid-80s Batman told us that it wasn’t enough just to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.  Depending on which American way was being followed truth and justice were nowhere to be found.

Batman’s final confrontation with Superman in The Dark Knight Returns can be misunderstood.  Batman’s real goal was to confront Superman about his damaged moral compass.  Batman, always living with the irrevocable loss of his parents and the impossible desire to see a Gotham rid of crime, confronts Superman about the fact that no goal, no matter how great, is worth sacrificing the life and liberty of another.  In one of the ironies of pop culture history Frank Miller’s take on Batman inspired the sort of characters Miller’s Batman would have hated, self-serving anti-heroes that were lucky, cynical survivors.

For people outside of America it might be hard to fully appreciate how seismic and representative this pop culture eruption of inwardly directed criticism was. This was nothing less than a collective questioning of whether the very ideals and methods we had used to "win" the Cold War were worth the moral, social, and economic costs we paid.  Tom Cruise’s Maverick was replaced with David Duchovney’s paranoid Fox Mulder. The 1990s were years in which The Cosby Show and Family Ties got supplanted by Seinfeld, Married: With Children, and, most importantly, The Simpsons. 

The emergence of The Simpsons as the longest running comedy on television signaled several things.  First and foremost it was a cartoon that satirized all of the things that had been held up as virtuous in the 1980s.  Second and more revolutionary, it was animation geared toward adults, a form that had been reserved almost exclusively for children up until that point. The success of The Simpsons meant that cartoons were no longer just for kids.

Where The Simpsons revolutionized the larger pop culture landscape by making a cartoon for grown-ups, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm would revolutionize children’s' entertainment by giving us with a cartoon that turned the values and aesthetics of 1980s cartoons on their heads. Here we had a cartoon that was not selling toys, that made use of talent from outside the animation profession, and would approach its storytelling enterprise first as art and then as commerce. Perhaps most importantly, Batman: The Animated Series would comprehensively destroy the moralism of 80s cartoons without succumbing to either satirizing Cold War values or unreservedly retaining them.  America was going to get a cartoon Batman unlike any we had seen before.  A cartoon revolution was under way.


Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire: Part 2--Enter The Dark Knight

When the pilot episode of Batman: The Animated Series aired on September 6, 1992 the show introduced itself, famously, with a somber, hyper-stylized depiction of Batman defeating two bank robbers. Opening credits of children’s cartoons normally did not tell stories and when they did, we were told everything we needed to know via the theme song. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm took the opposite approach: we were shown everything we needed to know and no words were used, not even a title card. The tone was dark; we didn’t need to be told this was going to be a Batman cartoon.


The pilot in question, “On Leather Wings,” opens with rumors of a bat-like menace in the city of Gotham. We soon discover that, whatever this bat menace is, it isn’t human. The menace could very well be Batman himself. Commissioner Gordon has his doubts that Batman could be behind any of the thefts, but his colleague, Detective Harvey Bullock, and the mayor both believe Batman has to be taken down. District Attorney Harvey Dent, serenely indifferent in his easy chair, flips a coin and tells Bullock that if Batman can be caught, he can make sure Batman stays in jail.


Previous Batman shows had made it abundantly clear that he is on the side of law and order. This time, we start in a city in which not everyone trusts that Batman is really a hero. His first battle is not with a mugger or super-villain but with the SWAT team sent by Detective Bullock to capture him. Being Batman, he eludes his would-be captors, even saving one of their number from a bomb blast.


Batman follows a trail that eventually leads him to the office of Dr. Kurt Langstrom, a scientist who has been experimenting with gene splicing and chemical enhancement - on himself. Langstrom confesses that his work has been more successful that he'd realized, that a creature has been growing inside of him, and this creature needs to be let out. On cue, Langstrom transforms into the monstrous Manbat and attacks Batman. As they battle across the city Batman tries to figure out how to wear down his flying adversary. The Gotham police, meanwhile, are divided between trying to help the Caped Crusade, or arrest him. The episode ends with Batman defeating Manbat and bringing the cured Dr. Langstrom back to his wife.


It would be difficult to overstate how revolutionary this episode was, let alone as a pilot for a kids' TV series. Even the visual style of the show was unprecedented. Black rather than white paper was used as the basis for most cel work. Combined with the beautiful Art Deco stylization and somber color palette, the show more than earned its legendary “Dark Deco” label. The darkness, of course, extended far beyond the visuals. Dr. Kurt Langstrom was not evil for the sake of being evil; he was swept up in the unforeseen consequences of a decision he thought was right. Langstrom’s will was bound by an apparently innocuous decision that would have sealed his fate were it not for Batman’s detective work and intervention. This may have been a Batman cartoon that would revel in mad scientists and monsters and thugs and super-criminals, but it was also one that would show us how not-very-different from us they were, how we could even become one of them. Langstrom's incriminating curiosity and ego would prove to be simply the tip of the iceberg.


Thanks to the series' long run, we would see Batman tangle with more than his usual 'gallery of rogues.' He would encounter nobodies, like the bitter ex-convict who kidnaps his daughter from his ex-wife (“See No Evil”). Sure, the Joker or the Riddler or the Penguin would provide challenges galore, but Batman would struggle in battles with common crooks as well. Occasionally, he would even be beaten by some of these foes, e.g. when he loses a battle of wits with the Riddler (“Riddler’s Reform”).


In his new book Supergods (Spiegel & Grau, 2011), Grant Morrison claims that there is nothing very original about Batman. Any one of the traits about his character, his story, and his look had been done before in the popular film and literature of the 1930s. Yet what Batman/Bruce Wayne lacks in originality he more than makes up for in soul and staying power (Supergods, page 18). What, precisely, is this soul and staying power? Some of it derives from his being the heroic opposite of DC’s other flagship character, Superman. If Superman is bright as day, deriving his power directly from the light of a yellow sun, Batman’s power moves in darkness and strikes without warning. He is the Dark Knight. Superman, famously, has superpowers, while Batman has nothing more than his will, intellect, and fists. Superman fastidiously devotes himself to Lois Lane. Bruce Wayne is the notorious playboy who can’t keep a stable relationship with a woman going. He has a notorious weak spot for 'bad girls', e.g. Catwoman. If Superman is the boy you wouldn’t mind your daughter bringing home to meet the parents, Batman is the weird, dark, brooding guy you wish your daughter saw less of. As Morrison so eloquently puts it, the populist working-class Superman and the grim industrialist elitist Batman only have one thing in common: they both agree killing is wrong (Supergods, page 26). Both heroes save lives as a way to honor the memory of deceased parents. Both men are orphans seeking to shield others from the evil, terror, and loss that they have suffered.


Most fans tend to emphasize how different Batman and Superman are. I would suggest that what both the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight have in common is that they, despite the fantasy trappings, boast a vestigial connection to Judeo-Christian ethical imagination. Siegel and Shuster were Jewish, and few writers of the last 70 years have failed to touch upon the overtly WASP-ish nature of Bruce Wayne.

One of the perennial debates among Batman fans centers on his refusal to kill. Batman has arguably the most notorious 'rogues gallery' in the history of comic books. With no small amount of help from the 1960s television show we can name the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. We might even be able to name the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and other villains with a little more effort. Almost all of these villains are ready and willing to murder. Ra’s al Ghul has plotted global genocide so many times you might understandably assume that Batman would make the world much safer by killing the man. Yet Batman stalwartly refuses to kill. Why?


Surprisingly, the refusal to kill does not stem from his characteristic darkness. Bruce Wayne is often a downbeat and grim fellow, even in his humor. In the episode “Christmas with the Joker,” Dick Grayson, on vacation from college, tries to talk Bruce out of going on patrol on Christmas Eve to search for a recently escaped Joker:


Robin: Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. If we go out on patrol and Gotham is quiet, with no sign of the Joker, we come back here, have Christmas dinner, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life.


Batman: You know, I’ve never seen that. I could never get past the title.


At the end of the night’s battle with the Joker Bruce finally watches the classic Christmas movie. He won’t agree with Robin that it’s really a wonderful life, but he dryly grants “It does … have it’s moments.” Despite continually coming up against a seemingly endless tide of corrupt politicians and mobsters, so deeply embedded in the life and industry of Gotham City they can never be fully rooted out, Batman continues his war on crime, apparently indomitable.


Yet in the episode “I Am the Night” we see Batman slumped in his chair in the Batcave confiding to Alfred that a tired body can heal but a tired soul may not. Here is Batman, in a kids show, doubting the value and validity of his own mission. He could even have a gentle debate with a friend about futility and purpose, trading quotes from the works of philosopher George Santayana. This was quite a contemplative Batman for a kids show!


The overriding passion to honor his father and mother is not only the source of Bruce's strength, but also his Achilles heel. We learn that Bruce is plagued by the fear that the work he does as Batman doesn’t ultimately save lives or stem the tide of evil. Worse, as he discovers in his first encounter with the Scarecrow (“Nothing to Fear”), he is sometimes afraid that his parents, were they alive, would be ashamed of him and everything he has done. He doubts the rightness of his methods and the sanity of his self-appointed mission to kick the teeth out of crime. We can see time and again in Batman: The Animated Series how Bruce is driven by an inconsolable sense of loss tinged with grief, anger and fear. He has seen and felt what it is like to be helpless before evil… so why does he refuse to kill the most evil people he meets?


One of the most intriguing answers to this question came much later in the annals of Batman. In the comic storyline, “Under the Red Hood," Batman explicitly states that the problem with killing as a solution is not that it’s too hard but that it’s too easy. Kevin Conroy’s Batman in Batman: The Animated Series would no doubt agree. Yet I would suggest that one of the only ways to make sense of Batman’s refusal to kill hinges on his belief that life, all life, even the life of the most depraved and irredeemable person, is still sacred. A Christian would say that Batman recognizes that even the Joker bears the image of God, and that murder is wrong because it involves destroying the image of God within that person.


And so Batman’s battle against crime continues. Batman: The Animated Series may have a proudly dark sensibility, but it is not morose. Yes, Batman fights bad guys, he scares the scary. He takes his crooks to jail (or Arkham). Yet he also appeals to what is left of their better instincts, if any are left. He even offers super-villains mutated by ghastly accidents ways to cure them. He gives petty thieves a chance to repent and reintegrate into society (see “Old Wounds”). And remember, in the series pilot, “On Leather Wings,” Batman takes a cured Kurt Langstrom not back to the police for imprisonment, but back to his wife. This is a Batman who refuses to assume that a person who is broken is automatically past help or redemption. A Batman that you might even say refuses to play God. Batman understands the darkness inside him and how easily that darkness can take over and intertwine itself with what appear to be the noblest motives. A compassionate superhero, in other words. But what is the difference between Batman’s quest, spurred on by a mixture of grief, wrath, fear, regret, and memories of loved ones and that of his enemies? To answer this question we will have to look at his enemy Victor Fries.


Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire: Part 3--Heart of Ice, Heart of Wrath


If a great hero is defined by a great villain, and Batman boasts the most famous villains in the history of comics, does that make him the medium’s greatest hero? Batman represents the human in peak physical and mental condition – the sum of all righteousness, as it were. So perhaps it is not surprising that his most famous enemies are notoriously deformed and/or insane. Nameless thugs and establishment scoundrels withstanding, Batman’s most well-known foes are the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Two-Face, Ra’s al Ghul, Poison Ivy, the list goes on. Grant Morrison rightly states that Batman’s each of these enemies embodies a different kind of mental illness.

But they are lunatics and criminals of a special sort. The villainy in Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) emerges not from vice but from virtue gone mad. What G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy about modernists could have been about the supervillains of Gotham City: 

The modern world is not evil. In some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues… The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.

The maladaptive virtues of the famous Bat-villains define them right down to their costumes. The Joker is funny but he makes life itself the joke. Poison Ivy prizes plants over people. Ra’s al Ghul (“The Demon’s Head” in Arabic) understands human depravity (he thinks) but does not realize his genocidal eco-terrorist plans exemplify it. Two-Face has a suit that reveals his double-mindedness. These are all lunatics, as Chesterton might say, each trapped in the clean, well-lit prison of one idea. And by his metric, no one faces more memorable lunatics than the Caped Crusader! 

If any one episode established the place of BTAS in television history, “Heart of Ice” is that episode. Paul Dini’s story revolves around the Caped Crusader’s first battle with Mr. Freeze (aka Victor Fries). Here was a villain with a sympathetic motive; there was nothing simplistic or moralistic about it. In fact, “Heart of Ice” is a meditation on two men, Batman and Fries, who occupy the space between irrevocable loss and the madness of impossible desire, and the very different ways in which they live in this spiritual place. It is a true masterpiece of the form. “Heart of Ice” is also the touchstone for how Dini and other writers for BTAS would approach nearly all of Batman’s rogues.

“Heart of Ice” gave us a Mr. Freeze who epitomizes the Chestertonian definition of madness. Paul Dini’s script  moves past Mr. Freeze’s second-rate freezing gimmick and runs with the idea that Victor Fries is a man who seems dead to emotion. Fries, like Wayne, is haunted by loss. Wayne lost his parents to a mugger, Fries lost his wife to a disease and the wrath of his employer. Wayne lives with the impossible desire to have a Gotham City that is free of crime, Fries yearns to be with a wife he cannot regain.

Yet Fries, despite his sympathetic motivation, is still a villain. In “Heart of Ice” he loses his wife to the cruelty of Ferris Boyle (this is a Batman cartoon, so goofy puns on “freeze” and “boil” are part of the deal). Boyle is a thug and a scoundrel, and yet he has a point--Victor Fries’ unauthorized experiment has put him $3 million in debt. And as laudable as it is for a man to love his wife, even before his freezing accident Victor Fries was willing to sacrifice another man’s money and resources for the sake of his beloved Nora. Given Fries’ opening soliloquy in “Heart of Ice” we don’t doubt his implacability:

This is how I'll always remember you [Nora]: surrounded by winter, forever young, forever beautiful.  Rest well, my love, the monster who took you from me will soon learn that revenge is a dish best served cold.

But this is not a man remembering an actual woman, the real Nora Fries. He is praising an ideal. Fries will forfeit anyone and anything to wreak his vengeance on Ferris Boyle. As C. S. Lewis put it in The Four Loves, “But Eros, honored without reservation, and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon.” In Paul Dini’s Gotham City this demon owns the heart of Victor Fries.

In his commentary on “Heart of Ice”, Dini remarks that Victor Fries thinks he’s dead to emotion but in the end he is the most emotional character of all. Fries is not only trapped in the “clean, well-lit prison of one idea” (that the loss of his wife has extinguished all capacity for feeling) his one idea is tragically fraudulent. Emotions have not been frozen dead inside him, they are all he has inside him. His reason is trapped within the tiny universe of his self-pity and wrath. Fries’ desire to honor Eros without reservation puts him on the path to robbery, kidnapping, and murder.

In a later episode, “Deep Freeze,” Fries aids a maniacal tycoon Grant Walker by giving him immortality. The tycoon plots to kill most of humanity and make an undersea utopia with Fries’ help in exchange for Nora. Batman tells Fries that his wife would hate him for abetting a mass murderer if she could see him. Fries relents at this terrible rebuke, but like King Saul with David, it is a momentary stay of cruelty that doesn’t last. Even in this moment Fries gladly consigns Walker to an endless living death at the bottom of the sea. Soon Fries is kidnapping and willing to kill an innocent woman to give the comatose Nora an organ transplant (the DVD film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero). In the end Nora’s life is saved but through Bruce Wayne’s charitable foundation.

When Fries finally concedes he can never be with Nora, he seeks to “steal hope” and destroy the work of artists and scientists who spent their lives on career-capping masterpieces (“Cold Comfort”). Everyone else, he says, must share in his suffering. Fries perversely repays Bruce Wayne’s generosity by attempting to kill Alfred and destroy Gotham so that Batman will share in his self-pitying misery. In the end his plans for mass murder would have killed even Nora, had Batman not stopped him.

Ironically, Nora’s life depended on a simple organ transplant. Blinded by his monomania Fries could only think in terms of using his power and expertise to save his wife. He tragically destroys his own life trying to save it, and in the end becomes more callous and cruel than Ferris Boyle, the man he blamed for his misery. Only in flickering moments does Victor Fries discern that if he really loved Nora, he needed to save lives rather than take them.

Both Batman and Mr. Freeze are defined by loss and impossible desire. Where Batman fights so that others don’t have to share in that agony, Mr. Freeze vows that everyone else must share in it. Fries has so deceived himself into that it takes continual battle with Batman for him to discover the truth about himself, that his heart is not, in fact, made of ice. Like other Batman rogues, Mr. Freeze only realizes his true motives, and wounds, in his battles with the Dark Knight. These are more than physical wounds; indeed, as with all of Batman’s villains, these are the wounds of discovery.


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.