I just returned from a few days on the road, which means a few days in hotels, which means a few evenings of watching television. Since I don't have a TV, this is a big treat.
Usually I watch a lot of Law and Order, which is always on, but the best part this time was catching an episode of Justice League on the Cartoon Network. I've seen it a few times before, and it beats the hell out of the Superfriends I grew up on. Not only is the animation crafty, the show is written by witty people who know and love the characters and the whole sensibility of comic book superheroes.
This week's episode featured a ten-foot android deceived by Lex Luthor into believing that the Justice League are bad guys. It emerges that the android copies superheroes' superpowers by looking at them, so before long it's as strong as Wonder Woman and as fast as the Flash. The League wisely decides to have Superman hang back, but when the android is about to smash Hawkgirl into feathers the big blue boy scout zooms to the rescue. He blindfolds the android with a hunk of metal, but before long the android rips that away and catches a glimpse of Superman, leading to some building-smashing that's pretty cool if you like that sort of thing.
Then the show becomes very smart. Batman turns up and we get a look at Batman through android-o-vision.
“You don't have any powers,” says the android.
“No,” says Batman. “But I have this.” He reaches into his utility belt, and produces something green and glowing. The android starts looking woozy. “You get the powers,” says Batman, “but you also get the vulnerabilities.” The android falls into a river, to come back for more trouble later.
Hawkgirl comes up to Batman. “You carry krypotnite with you?”
“I think of it as insurance.”
Now that's the real Batman. None of this “Robin, try using the bat-foam” nonsense. Kids watching this show will learn the important life lesson that you do not fuck with the Batman.
This post originally ran under the title “My mon Bats, he don't shiv”, a reference to a line of dialogue in Frank Miller's hugely influential Batman series The Dark Knight Returns. In that story, the evil gang the Mutants speaks in a peculiar slang; “shiv”, presumably short for “shiver”, means “fear” or possibly “hesitate”.
A reader unfamiliar with the reference pointedly asked if it was kosher for a White guy like me to use the voice of Black slang (“my mon” and the use of “don't” as the third person singular) in the title for this post. It hadn't occurred to me, but on reflection it's A Bit Awkward so discretion is the better part of valor.
It's notable that despite their slang, the Mutants are not portrayed as Black. Indeed, crime-ridden downtown Gotham seems, unlike the cities of New York and Chicago which inspire it, to be almost entirely a White city, with crime coming in the form of White mafiosos, White gangs, and (of course) colorfully-dressed White lunatics. Astute readers have observed that this anomaly is necessary because if Batman lived in an ordinary American city, he'd be a White billionaire spending his nights wandering around downtown punching the Black underclass, an image that Would Not Do At All.
This observation should make us discomforted to think about why Batman's War On Crime appeals to us, no?