The city scape, a crusaders turf, a boy wonder’s persona, the edifice of being for the man in blue. Heroes, the very term presents a standard for an individual , a vigilante of sorts that has some sort of tragedy bestowed upon his or her life. In terms of Batman, Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in front of him. Superman, Kal El, or Clark Kent survived destruction of his home planet, the sole survivor of his race. The boy Wonder, Robin, Dick Grayson suffered the loss of his parents. In part the formula for a super hero appears to be one that requires a tragic event plus a super power or exuberant wealth. Although this discussion will revolve around characters from Ex-Machina and Astro City, I will also be mentioning Gotham city
(It’s times like this that I need a good excuse to get to talk about the Batman). This discussion is to establish if the city is the environmental factor that shapes the hero and to discern if it is the hero that ultimately shapes the city, while also attempting to determine if the hero does change the city, do the two entities continue to change one another?
Scott Bukatman’s “Boys in the Hoods: A Song for the Urban Superhero,” establishes the notion that the Superhero is the city, that the edifice reflects the image of the hero. He argues that the “The superhero city is experienced in a rush but opened to contemplation: it is distinguished by this dialectic of exuberent motion and a legible stasis. By exposing and labeling the multiple layers of the city, superhero comics enact something equivalent to the superhero’s panoramic and panoptic gaze just as the dynamic organization of figures and panels enact something of the city’s constant hustle.” (194) Bukatman’s declares that Superman is representative of the city scape, democratic, modern, and open. His metropolis is drawn like the character and represents the rigidity and moral code of Superman. Batman, is hidden under a mask, not open to the panoramic gaze that is Metropolis. Instead, Bukatman says “Gotham City…has no master. It is a city askew defined by angular perspectives, impenetrable shadows, and grotesque inhabitants of its night.” (203)
But I begin to wonder what Bukatman would say about the hero of ExMachina, a hero that hides in the view of the public as the Mayor of New York City. A man illustrated within the tragedy of our own world, our Manhattan, the one that stands as it is today in a static image of terrorism. The Great Machine is a reflection of the Modern New York, aging. When Great Machine goes to rescue a young man who nearly falls to his death, he says, “Kid…you just got rescued by an out-of shape guy…in a jet pack.” This is moments after they both land on the subway rails and the kid complains of a broken arm. But the question is did the glowing light come from the city? If so, did the city make Hundred into a hero?
Superman is in his own league when it comes to the city as far as I am concerned. He represents the Totalitarian Utopia of the perfect world that we struggle to achieve, but never do. Batman on the other hand resembles Hundred, aging with his city, making comments such as the one in Hush, when he says, “first my body betrays me, now my city.” Batman says this just as he is falling to the ground, his body eventually lying broken in an ally, and not just any ally, but “Crime Ally.” As if to say there is one ally above all to stay away from. But the hero as a human, rather than a superhuman is one that is more believable gives one a better ability to relate.
In Astro City, the hero is superman-like. The city villains try to rob a bank, yet there is one among them that says, don’t try and fight them. So this raises the question, if the villain knows they can’t defeat superman, why commit the crime in the first place? Does the villain have a death wish? Do they crave the attention? Is there just some hunger that they cannot quench? At the same time Batman has keen detective skills, able to overcome even his most diabolical of adversaries and yet, they too wish to still commit the crime, knowing that some how Batman may outsmart them. But then, you sit there and ask, what does this have to do with the city? I am glad you are still keeping up and asking the right questions. The City is the hero and vise versa. Look at one’s self. The way we act, the way we talk, our beliefs, the things that we hold value to are shaped by our environment and for some of us that is our city. I feel that my city has shaped the way I view the world, diversified as it is, I welcome the different people I encounter, while others maybe not so much. People disagree and people do tragic things to one another. The comic version of the city scape maintains a meditative state, almost to the point of nostalgic hopefulness, the dream that the city will have symbol of hope, to avert the crime, something greater than a man, “because the man is corruptible,” much like Christopher Nolan suggests in his Batman Begins movie. The city and the hero experience a symbiosis, one constantly affecting the other. It is even synonymous with the world of the real, we too have an impact on our own surroundings.
But then again, it brings up the old question, does life imitate art or is art imitating life? Perhaps art is merely the means to which we can voice our own opinions without baring the burden of criticism, in hopes that perhaps our message will hide in the underscored images of the fantastic.
Later on in the week I will be examining the sexuality and the tension between Batman’s Catwoman and the Caped Crusader. I will argue that Batman enjoys a little S&M from his dominatrix counterpart aka Selina Kyle. Until then, I will be reading about the Homosexuality within Batman… Robin the boy wonder, guess a lot people wonder…