You’ll be seeing some articles about Batman and his world in the near future, and before it’s asked, I want to answer: “Why am I including the Batman in my quest to become more cultured?”
The Goal of Culture quest
Part of the answer lies in the mission statement of CultureQuest. It’s not my goal to read all the books assigned in school, or to master Shakesphere’s plays or anything like that. If that’s your take on Culture Quest, well, have fun with that. You do you. But, strangely, if those things do happen, I won’t have failed *my* Quest.
See, the mission statement of my Culture Quest is: I will become a more rounded and better individual if I “Read” more, better, and with Intent.
Let’s break that down a little.
First, “Read” is in quotes because it’s not all about books, innit? There’s plenty of good films out there, good music, good TV, and even good video games. Not that Culture quest needs to be about good material. We’ll cover that later.
It is true that reading hits us differently than other mediums. I find it easier to think in the source with a book than with other media. But I do not believe there is anything inherently superior in reading a material.
Second, More implies an increase, indeed, a constant increase. I should always be “Reading,” always be finding new material. It’s SO easy to get caught up with things that are like Krispy Kreme donuts. Empty nothings that taste good, but you start and suddenly it’s hours later, the donuts are gone, you’re still hungry, and nothing about what you did mattered. Youtube, games on my phone, and Reddit tend to be my Dark Playgrounds that eat my time.
Third, we’ve been dancing around the idea of better for a bit, so let’s go right in. What makes something good? What makes it bad? Why? These are important questions. You can learn a lot about how NOT to do something by seeing bad content. And that can be a more useful lesson. Learning how things become good leads you to create things in that fashion. Learning how things became bad lets you avoid those mistakes while giving you plenty of space to make your own mistakes.
Also, there is value in looking at something that is “bad” and trying to discover how you can fix it with the least amount of work. This is good practice forfiguring out how to fix your own work when it’s having problems.
That’s a good enough segue into Fourth, with Intent. This is about improving. Reading a book is great, but after you read a book, thinking about the book, about what it means, about what it says, what the author is trying to say and what it means by how they’re saying it. Some books make this type of introspection easy. Heck, some books (looking at you, Aesop and Orwell) beat the reader over the head with the moral of the story. Other books take a bit more work to understand what can be learned.
This is all well and good, but I can hear you gentle readers asking another hard question: What does this have to do about Batman? I want to hear more about Batman!
This Heading could have been Clickbait
Time is a fickle thing. It’s really hard to have the past, the stuff I haven’t lived through, I mean, laid out in ways that mean something. Anything I didn’t live through is kinda stacked up on a shelf roughly labeled the past. Maybe for you, it’s different. Anyway, the point is that until I actually look at two things in relation to each other, I don’t have a good feel for how things relate chronologically.
This is all lead up so you won’t make fun of me when I say I was surprised that the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954) was released fifteen years AFTER Batman (1939). This means it’s entirely plausible that Legolas was based off of Green Arrow (1941). I don’t really believe that, but that’s totally how I’m going to be introducing this idea to people from now on.
This is my first key point of why Batman is worthy of Culture Quest. He’s old. Or the Source is old. How old? You know Sherlock Holmes(1887)? The length of time from now to the launch of batman is over one and a half times longer than from Batman to Holmes.
So why isn’t Batman as highly lauded as Holmes or Tolkien or other examples that I’m too lazy to lay the groundwork for comparison? Well, for one, comics have a stigma of being “For Kids.” and it’s taken a long time for that reputation to be eroded. And it’s still not gone.
Part of the reason it’s still not gone is that a lot of comics still have children as their target audience. That’s not a bad thing, but it does change how we have to approach it. Just because something is “For Kids,” however, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it, grow because of it, and, hey, if we’re giving it to kids, we sure as heck should know what’s in it!!
Another thing that has kept heroes like Batman attain notable status in the literary world is the length of the stories. I’m not saying that short works are bad and long works are good, but the first Batman stories were around 12 pages long. There’s not a lot of time to build character, foreshadow events, produce allusions and metaphors, all those things that make English teachers salivate. Longer works require more framework, and probably better writing. On the other side, having a book 2000 pages long when you only really have 50 pages of story doesn’t qualify it for a Pulitizer. Brevity is the soul of wit, and if you’re done with what you want to say, get off the stage.
The Story Teller’s Kaleidoscope
There is another reason Batman hasn’t made it into the big time for classics, and that is something I’ll call “Fragmentation.” This is a property that most Sources don’t have to deal with. The Lord of the Rings is three-ish books by one author. It’s fragmentation is low. Looking at Xanth or Discworld, that’s one author with 50 books for each source. The fragmentation is higher. Batman, has many TV shows, Movies, books, and thousands of comics books, many with their own author. The fragmentation around Batman is really high.
Fragmentation is the measure of how much this book tells the whole story. A lot of classical works have a really low fragmentation. Stories like Romeo and Juliet, the Scarlet letter, and Catch-22 don’t have sequels or other authors reinventing parts of the Source Universe. (Well, there are some adaptations. Each performance of Romeo and Juliet is technically a temporary fragmentation as those actors add idiosyncrasies that can alter the meaning of lines. But in terms of measuring fragmentation, permanent things, especially works that are not an adaptation but an addition, matter a tad more.)
Is Fragmentation bad? Eh, that’s hard to say. Fragmentation brings Variation. A single work is as good as it is. But with a trilogy, you can rank the works on all sorts of metrics. But unless you’re dealing with scary levels of genius, some will be better and some will be lower.
In terms of Batman, fragmentation has done some interesting things. Because there are EIGHTY years of variations, what Batman means has changed. Some times he’s a ninja, sometimes, he’s a detective, sometimes they focus on Bruce Wayne, other times they focus on Robin. He works against the cops, he works with the cops, sometimes, the cops don’t show up in the story at all.
When various authors write something about the Batman, they have their own idea of who he is. Whether he’s right or wrong, crazy or justified. Each author’s ideas about family, love, justice, honor, and whatever else shine slightly different light on a man who punches bad guys while dressed as a bat. And with how old Batman, is, you could be writing for Batman comics based on how you saw him as a kid, how your dad saw him when he was a kid, or how your GRANDFATHER saw him when HE was a kid. That’s three generations of what Batman means
I find the variations of the Batman fascinating, like peering into a Kaleidoscope with its shifting colors. Each take on Batman has potential to be the best, or the worst, although it is likely to be somewhere in between.
These variations allow us to compare good and bad things about the Source, without having to get theoretical. We have proof of things that have Happened with the source. We can see how the introduction of characters can change a story, how heroes and villains can make small changes to their story, and how plots, simple and complex, can play out in a myriad of ways and I love seeing those play out.
DC Comics does have an interesting mechanism that they use to deal with fragmentation: the universal reboot. They reset their history, starting stories over again, with some details being discarded, and others being folded into the source, so that when the story is restarted, it’s like it’s always been there.
In Batman’s Source, two notable late additions to the mythos are Harley Quinn (1992) and Arkham Asylum (1974), but of which are just assumed to be in the Batman’s world, somewhere…
Some people don’t like this style of world generation, but I do. It’s like all of the Batman source has been reading a rough draft, and THIS time, THIS version of Batman, that’s the one we’re going to call final, push to print and be done with. And of course, it never is. (The idea of things like comics having effectively an ETERNAL series is so interesting to me.)
The Point or, in other words, Skraz
What is the point of this article? Uh…
Well, you got me there. I can counter that articles don’t have to have a real point to exist, and going a step further, what is the point of Fiction in general? But that leads to Nihilism and nobody wants that.
The main benefit of this, and really, of most articles I write, is that I learned things from writing this. I have a much better grasp of the timeline, now. I know I don’t have it entirely straight yet. I need to get my data into some sort of visualization thing. That’d help.
I also came up with the idea of Fragmentation. I don’t know what it means yet, but I think it’s an important concept that needs more development. I think it has important ties to how worlds are built, especially communal worlds with multiple creators. And important thread of thought for anyone building a world, or running games like D&D where the players have some voice into the creation of the world.
Setting the groundwork with this discussion of Batman opens up a lot of other avenues for Culture Quest. I’ve seen every rendition of Alice in Wonderland that I can find, and, even more so than the variations of Batman, I love the many adaptations that come as people take a nonsensical work and try to make sense of it, adding meaning and plot to a book that does not make those concepts easy to translate.
And for my obligatory D&D section, variation has interesting interplay with the three frameworks of campaigns: Modules, megadungeons, and homespun stories. I feel like I might dive into this more fully if I revisit variation and gaming entropy, but seeing the way running the village of Nightstone again and again always turns up new information, meaning a DM can rerun modules for new players. Megadungeons change over time, letting players very familiar with the sandbox encounter new things as they venture down again and again, and for homespun, well, most of those worlds start with a premise. How many worlds start with “What if dragons were gods?” and then build from there. Seeing those variations can show us the breadth of the D&D cosmos.
Finally, when I start posting analyses of Batman, you’re not going to be surprised and I have a convenient place to send people that question why Batman is part of the Culture Quest. And that could be very valuable indeed.