Friday, August 29, 2008

Ozymandias vs. the Dark Knight Batman

One of my very first blog posts was about Batman. Time to write about him again.

On a bookshelf downstairs I have two graphic novels next to each other. One is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the other is Watchmen. In my mind they go together, along with a Spider Man comic I no longer own.

Spider Man's motto is "With great power comes great responsibility." He must be a superhero because would feel guilty allowing preventable evil. This is simplistic, but so is that comic book series. During my high school and college years the Spider Man series stood out for having the best supporting characters: its protagonist was witty but not an especially deep or well-developed character. Unlike so many superheroes he did not feel as if his identity prevented him from fitting into the world. Rather, they forced into his life a role and destiny--they made him fit into the world in a certain way.

Batman, in Frank Miller's now-classic comic, has the motto "When the world does not make sense you must force it to." His role is not personal but civic. Gotham City is broken and he must try to fix it both through his business's work and his secret identity. Batman is an anguished character because he can best fix the broken city by becoming like its brokenness: he is addicted to vigilantism despite it being illegal, violent, and merciless. Thus his superhero identity also forces him to fit into the world in a certain way, and it both thrills and torments him.

Ozymandias, in Watchmen, has the unspoken motto "When the world does not make sense you must not make sense either." His life is a series of sliced Gordian Knots; he overcomes challenges by always doing what seems unexpected and unwise. He has no powers but at the end of the story is the one who saves the planet, in deliberate contrast with another character who apparently has every superpower but whose actions only escalate tensions. To Ozymandias, the issues of having a role and fitting into the world are semantic nonsense: the world does not make sense; nothing fits; the only worthy knowledge is perceiving this clearly; the only worthy life is withdrawn (and lonely) so able to help the common man not realize how nonsensical the world really is.

Of the three, Spider Man is happiest. He thinks he fits. He is not lonely. He can feel successful in trying to be responsible.

Batman is depressed. He knows he fits and it haunts him. He is lonely. He realizes he will never finish fixing his city although he will not allow this thought to linger.

Ozymandias sits in between. He accepts that nothing fits. He is lonely but does not mind. There is more to do but he accepts that problems do not end. His only yearning is for an omnipotent being to tell him that some terrible choices he made while saving the planet were the best possible alternatives.

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