Saturday, November 21, 2009


I have to say, I am impressed with Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Forget Christian Bale, forget Alan Moore...hell, forget Frank Miller, at this point. If maturity means self-loathing, neurosis, and moral equivalency between hero and villain, then call me immature. THIS is Batman! THIS is Heroism! This...IS...FUN!!!

It's got a mix of the 90's cartoon combined with the 50's aesthetic, it's serious, but it's still a comic book...or, it's a comic book, but still serious. The fun is important, because it says that life can be more than suffering, that humor is not the sole domain of The Joker. And the humor is not directed at the heroic, but at the forces that would knock down the heroic (precisely the kind of humor that cynics and hipsters don't like, because it DOESN'T laugh at heroes.) Either way, the heroes ARE heroes. The latest episode, "Death Race to Oblivion," finds a "Secret Wars"-type scenario mixed with Death Race 2000, as Mongul forces a selection of heroes and villains to race in wacky-racer style vehicles for the fate of Earth.

But as wacky as it is, there's still a point to it all. "It's a crooked bargain wherein even if Batman wins, he dooms his fellow heroes-if the villains don't doom them first! There's a moral quandry involved, as Batman knows that Mongul will most likely cheat. Instead of following a Kantian-inspired commitment to "truth" and "duty," Batman takes the lead in the race by making his own rules, setting up in advance his own plan to disable the power enabling Mongul's threat. Morals and principles are contextual, that one is not obligated to follow the "rules" when said rules are anti-life. Batman refused to be held responsible for the fate of the world at the point of a gun; he placed the blame where it belonged: on the villain. And yet, Batman's commitment to those he protects comes through in his "do whatever it takes" attitude. He didn't fall into angst or guilt, he didn't "forgive" the enemy, he didn't go to his therapist. He said "I have a right to exist, and so does the world."

The "Death Race" is a perfect metaphor for what is expected from religion and many philosophies; you're expected to run for your life, under threat of punishment and death, and hope that those holding the reins will honor their part with the promise of an eternal afterlife of joy, virgins, whatever. We're told that we have to suffer "now" in order to get there, or that "virtue" is its own reward, or even that life is suffering, and that the only way to escape is to have no desires, attachments, or love. Death race indeed! This is eloquently summed up in song by Pink Floyd's "Time":

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking/
Racing around you to come up behind you again/
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older/
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death/

LIfe is hard enough, but livable if one respects reality; "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." It is a benevolent universe, in the sense that one can work with the physical world. So the last thing we need is to be told that the world is unknowable...even worse to be told to run that race at the point of a gun, with the fate of the world on your back. A religion or philosophy that stacks the deck against you in that manner is far more villainous than any alien warlord; doomed is the hero who chooses to race in that manner. You can keep your psychotic Dark Knights; I'll take The Brave and the Bold.