Vivek’s View: Batman vs. Superman

Spoiler Alert: Analysis of Superman & Batman

Due to the imminent release of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice it is the perfect time for an analysis on they’re differing ideologies and ultimately how they as metaphors effect us me in the real world. Furthermore, recently I was asked by Peter Duffy & Michaela Hollywood (co-founders of the awesome Muscle Owl) on their podcast who my favourite superhero was. The answer will always be Batman; this question prompted a deconstruction of my feelings regarding Batman and divergent superhero ideologies in general.

“Sometimes it’s only madness that makes us what we are.”

Batman

There are 2 main parallel directions regarding superhero archetypes, either the striving for perfection/god-like archetype (Superman) or the flawed/human superhero (Batman) archetype.

“Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person… and deep down, I’m not.”

– Batman (Hush 2003)

Starting with Superman, he is usually depicted as somebody with powers that make him extraordinarily more than human, a saviour, the embodiment of perfection and a hero to be emulated. This superhero archetype does not suffer from any health issues, mental health issues, are usually very clever or fast (Flash) able to solve any kind of evil. In my opinion this is a very simplistic and naive superhero concept.

“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, hono(u)r and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

Superman

Superman’s worldview is a positive, optimistic one with strong altruistic principles that are supposedly human but his alter ego Clark Kent only acts human by becoming somewhat physically weaker, wearing glasses and with an ‘average’ life. This reinforces Superman’s god-like SUPERhumanity, that he apparently has extra knowledge about humanity or that his dream of perfection can ultimately be achieved. However, the problem will always be in defining what is perfection? It is similar to this notion of normality that we disabled people don’t seem to live up to so we are classed as abnormal. Superman becoming human by ‘faking’ being a ‘normal’ human by becoming weaker completely undermines normality, the metaphor for disability as it perpetuates society’s notion that disabled people cannot reach ‘normal’ let alone perfection. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, I cannot physically do many simple tasks but I feel perfect or content in my life. Perfection is ultimately down to the perception of your own happiness and that can only be truly found within. There are more flaws in Superman’s ideals in comparison to a more character flawed Batman.

(to Superman) “Everyone looks up to you. They listen to you. If you tell them to fight, they’ll fight. But they need to be inspired. And let’s face it “Superman”… the last time you really inspired anyone — was when you were dead.”

– Batman (Infinite Crisis 2005)

The quotation above perfectly expresses my thoughts on Superman and why he never inspires me, his perfect, strong, kind, optimistic demeanour seems too simple or too perfect. His flaw is this perfection. It seems that the Superman stories DC comics have produced since the HUGE Death and Return of Superman event (1992-1993) has been lacking, the best storylines have been when focused on the brilliantly arrogant characterisation of Lex Luthor in Action Comics #890900 (2010-2011). It must be difficult to create viable storylines or enemies to fight someone practically invincible like Superman. It’s bizarre to think that Superman may be the worst part of his comic.

(to Superman) “More powerful than a locomotive, and just about as subtle.”

Joker

The flawed or dark superhero concept Batman adheres to has become an avenue for fascinating character development and realistic human emotions. The flaws make the hero by giving them an edge or strong motivation rather than the powers defining the hero. There are many superheroes that embrace their dark side, such as: Daredevil, Hulk, Moon Knight, Punisher and Wolverine.

“Criminals, by nature, are a cowardly and superstitious lot. To instill fear into their hearts, I became a bat. A monster in the night. And in doing so, have I become the very thing that all monsters become – alone?”

– Batman (Hush 2003)

Batman is clearly a metaphor for a man battling bereavement and depression throughout his life; Bruce Wayne losing his parents has definitely created deep psychological scars. These psychological scars are what make Batman human; he is far from perfect with obsessions, compulsions, sociopathic tendencies but his flaws motivate him to perform extraordinary things that make him a superhero. The motivation behind Batman comes from him understanding his flaws, accepting them and ultimately embracing these shadows to thrive in them. This is Batman’s power, this ability to cope with tragedy, from his parent’s death, the second Robin’s (Jason Todd) death, Batgirl/Oracle (Barbara Gordon)’s paralysis, his paralysis after Bane’s broke his back and his son Damien Wayne’s death. He is most comfortable living in darkness, as a loner but his Bat family: Alfred, Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood keep him from going totally insane. The Joker is what Batman would become if he goes insane. His focus and determination to overcome anything is a powerful force for crime fighting and signifying that mental health issues do not stop you from greatness.

“People think it’s an obsession. A compulsion. As if there were an irresistible impulse to act. It’s never been like that. I chose this life. I know what I’m doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn’t that day. And tomorrow won’t be either.”

Batman (Identity Crisis 2004)

Batman’s mental abilities to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, to be inventive with weapons or creating a Batmobile, have contingency plans for everything are similar many personality traits I have cultivated over the years due to my Duchenne. Mental abilities can bridge the gap between physical disability and life, as disabled people need more mental coherence to cope with DMD. Acceptance, compassion to oneself, resourceful, fully understanding every part of body/personality, how to stay calm in stressful situations, observational powers, on-going problem solving are important traits Batman.

The most important attribute Superheroes have taught me is the need for a strong mind and willpower to control fear (Green Lantern), anger (Hulk), multiple personalities (Deadpool) or the beast inside (Wolverine).

Advertisements

DC’s Arrow & Disability Representation

SPOILER ALERT: Analysis of Arrow (Season 4)

Arrow focuses on the billionaire vigilante Oliver Queen the DC superhero Green Arrow. It has a wonderful cast of allies and villains (various stolen from the Batman universe), fascinating storylines and memorable fight scenes. Arrow now in Season 4 has become so popular that several spin-off shows were created, Flash, Vixen (animation) and Legends of Tomorrow added to the ever-expanding Arrowverse.

The current character arc of Oliver Queen’s love interest Felicity Smoak is a significant one for disability representation on TV. We can now examine how realistically or effectively Arrow’s writers have handled disability representation, if the narrative relies on typical negative disability concepts or if something amazingly progressive has occurred.

The conclusion of episode 9 “Dark Waters” left Felicity Smoak permanently paralyzed by a gunshot to her spine on the orders of the villain Damien Darhk. This narrative could allow Arrow to stand out from all the other superhero shows and explore an important minority group in society. There are many pitfalls to adding a disability narrative into the superhero genre through a tragic event. Felicity’s injury needs to transcend the ‘box’ of the usual disability plot devices into genuine character development. If handled wisely Arrow could become the benchmark for positive disability representation on TV.

The episode 10 “Blood Debts” responded to Felicity’s paralysis surprisingly (for an American TV series) without over dramatizing it or devolving into simple revenge motivation for the hero Arrow to protect the clinched ‘poor disabled person’. The episode decides to focus on the reaction of the hero, which is initially worrisome as it seems that the writers dismiss Felicity’s character development now she’s disabled into just to illustrate the importance of defeating Season 4’s big bad. In actuality, focusing on Oliver’s view displays the different stages of grief loved ones go through after life changing events: anger, loss, avoidance and acceptance. Oliver spent the majority of the episode avoiding Felicity’s bedside but during their meeting they had an honest conversation about Felicity’s fears that Oliver’s avoidance was due to wanting to break their engagement because of her disability. This narrative is good acknowledgement of real-life fears disabled people may have in relationships; striving to conform to society’s need for perfection sparks these fears. Uncommonly on television Oliver had no problems with staying with her, which is a profound moment for disabled woman in a positive romantic role.

Episode 11 “A.W.O.L” is a pivotal episode focusing on Felicity returning home from the hospital, trying to figure out her value on the team as a paraplegic. Many disability clichés are challenged and overcome fairly effectively here with only a few missteps. The writers did not let Felicity’s humourous demeanour fade into the background, illustrating how personality is not linked to any disability and that disabled people can achieve true happiness. Team Arrow all rally around Felicity reminding her that she’s still a capable integral part of the team, that her superpower is her brain but this idea is fairly typical in a disability narrative. This episode cleverly gives form to Felicity’s doubts, fears, and anger allowing the audience to see her emotional journey through adjustment to her new way of life. It culminates with a powerful reconciliation with her past self and taking her new tech role as Overwatch and Felicity leads Team Arrow to victory. Felicity’s monologue about her value in the team was empowering, demonstrating that she has the same goals in life as before such as helping people as part of a superhero team. Reflecting on her reasons for why she wants to stop Damien Darhk, not due to vengeance but because that’s what hero do enabled her to break out of the pity box disabled people are usually placed. Oliver uses the usual disability cliché “You’re the strongest person I know” but in this case it’s true, Felicity showing her courage to carry on is true strength. The new curved ramp allowing Felicity to access her computer terminal in the Arrowcave was an inclusive addition for accessibility awareness, indicative of the social model of disability that suggests removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people is necessary. However, in practical terms a curved ramp could be difficult to get up quickly in an emergency.

There were a few problems with certain narrative conceptions regarding disability in episode 11, relating to the perception of ‘normal’ and disability being ‘fixed’. This medical model of disability works when talking about temporary injuries like breaking bones but not for permanent disabilities. It is a common feature on TV shows to assume that all disabled people are ultimately always “dreaming of a cure”, in actuality that is not always true. On a personal note, my disability is only a fraction of my personality but an important fraction that I would never want to lose. Oliver voices the view of society that has the need to categorize people into the deterministic notion of normality.

“I just thought that if you got back behind a keyboard again, that things would change, that you’d feel normal again”

Oliver Queen

“But there’s no way back to normal”

Felicity Smoak (Overwatch)

The writers seem to forget that disabled people are normal but are only restricted by accessibility and lack of disability awareness. This shows that able-bodied people wrote the storyline without consulting with disabled people so disability is unintentionally portrayed only through the eyes of society’s negative misconceptions.

Episode 12 “Unchained” was an effective narrative focused on Felicity combating the villain Calculator and his defeat as a metaphor for her to finally take back her confidence and character agency. As a disabled person, it is initially difficult to ask for help from people especially after such a sudden paralysis, I understand the sense of uselessness and lack of independence she would feel but time teaches you how useful you still can be to other people. Furthermore, hopefully the writers do acknowledge the permanence of paralysis that it is a life-long change so Arrow could consequently develop into an incredibly powerful piece of entertainment by embracing that fact.

Unchained” interesting included Felicity facing discrimination in the workplace due to her disability by a Palmer Tech executive. Somehow, under the impression that her paralysis has not only lowered stock prices, but also diminished her effectiveness at corporate presentations. These are the types of difficult and ignorant challenges regularly blocking disabled people trying to build a successful career. Disabled people in the workplace are often seen through the lens of perfection and supposedly unable to be a ‘normal’ functioning part of a team. Society perceives a wheelchair as an impediment for intelligence or efficiency; physical disabilities only restrict disabled people physically nothing more. Felicity ignores this roadblock and delivers the presentation perfectly from her wheelchair.

“Anything less than a perfect launch, and we are sunk”

Mr Dennis: Palmer Tech executive

A note on Episode 14 “Code of Silence” Felicity is offered a gift of a spinal biomechanical implant that could potentially help her walk again from Curtis Holt a Palmer Tech employee. I had a feeling that Felicity would somehow be cured, through foreshadowing in “A.W.O.L” by Oliver acknowledging the universe of miracles that they live in, a man that can shrink (Atom), run faster-than-light (Flash), fly (Hawkman & Hawkgirl) and resurrect from the dead (Sara Lance).

“I will not stop searching it until we find a way to make you walk again”

Oliver Queen (Arrow)

Thematically within the confines of the show the above quote does make sense that Felicity would want the chance to walk again, but it just seems a strange narrative choice this quickly only 7 episodes after her injury.

Episode 15 “Taken” totally derailed Arrow’s positive disability representation through all of Felicity’s nuanced characterization by: Firstly having her adjusting to all of this change far too quickly: she had two episodes of angst, and one episode of workplace issues, before apparently making a complete psychological adjustment to a wheelchair, without therapy. Secondly, Felicity’s ‘cure’ happened too quickly, suggesting the writers again have used injury/paralysis as a typical plot device.

Not only does it seem pointless to paralyze Felicity only to have her walking again within the span of a few episodes, it also implies that a disability is something to “fix” or “get over.” That is simply not possible for most people. In a wheelchair, Felicity represents a group of people who don’t often get to see themselves in superhero narratives. This narrative choice completely diminishes the trauma and its consequences. Instead, her strength should come from Felicity accepting herself by becoming a key member of the team and living her life with a successful job and fulfilling relationships — all while being in a wheelchair. Disability is an important part of disabled people’s lives and these pointless portrayals on TV affect how society views us. Disability should be portrayed in a progressive and constructive manner not spreading the notion that wheelchair users ultimately want to walk again or be normal. Most disabled people find a wheelchair empowering, not as something that holds us back, but as objects of freedom to enable us to live life as equal human beings.

I do want to end on a positive note because Arrow is a brilliant show and it was great to see a strong disabled female character on screen. Initially Arrow started with excellent acting and positive representation of disability, looking at what everyday problems are faced by disabled people. The writer’s unfortunately wrote Felicity into a corner by ‘fixing’ her paralysis ridiculously quickly; they should have developed her character arc as a disabled superhero rather than forcing a cure on her, it should have been her choice by giving the opportunity to decline.

Representation of disability on TV needs to evolve, we need characters that are disabled from the start, focus on the broad spectrum of disabilities rather than just paralysis and TV should become an opportunity to spread disability awareness and debunk misconceptions or prejudices society unfortunately have regarding disability.