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Mad Men And Bad Men
August 11, 2013 2:16 AM   Subscribe

What Batman can learn from Mad Men and The Sopranos
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (33 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have always liked Rikdad's analyses of TV shows and I wish he'd go back to writing about Mad Men because that shit was insightful and brilliant. His newer posts on Batmen are good and worth reading though.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:23 AM on August 11, 2013


I think the thing is that Bruce is what we all might wish to be when we were twelve. As an adult, he's a man who lives alone in the house he grew up in, one built for a family. Wayne Manor is a home that's now a tomb. He's haunted, unable to move past a childhood trauma. This is indeed the stuff of compelling serial drama, or could be...but the problem is that if he ever works this stuff out, that's the end of the show. Don and Tony are to lesser or greater extents trapped by circumstance, but presumably Bruce Wayne could just stop being Batman and have an actual life if he got past the compulsion to be Batman.*

*If need be, Bruce could fund an international organization of faux Batmen to batman in his stead (this idea may not be original to myself).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:45 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


...Of course one solution to this conundrum -- what to do about a protagonist who changes incrementally if at all over the course of a serialized drama -- is to move the burden of change over onto the villain, which is kind of what superhero movies have tended to do. You could make this stuff work (maybe) by making the villain the subject of an arc at the end of which s/he could reform, die, or...well, pretty much reform or die, ultimately. Then again, if you take the example of Dexter, which effectively does work this way, you get a strong sense of "wash/rinse/repeat" before very long. You also get a show that gets more popular every season it's on, but that may be satisfying more on a pulp level and not so much on a Serious Drama (Mad Men/Sopranos/Breaking Bad) one.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:58 AM on August 11, 2013


Yeah, but Mad Men and The Sopranos are TV shows. Batman is real!
posted by blue_beetle at 5:14 AM on August 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, this essay manages to miss the point of Batman so thoroughly I'm not even sure how to express it. Nobody over the age of 12 or in their right mind wants to be Batman, including Tony and Don. Because the Batman is insane.

Tony, Don, and the Corleones have family and relationships and responsibilities which drive their actions in furtherance of their careers. Bruce Wayne has only a hole in his soul the size of the one at the center of the Milky Way, one which can never fill up no matter how much effort he pours into it.

And when we meet Tony Soprano, he isn't doing a very good job of dealing with being Tony Soprano, much less aspiring to Wayne's total abdication of human feelings. Tony and Don have careers; for Bruce Wayne, the Batman is a very elaborate way of committing suicide. The Batman doesn't just not support Wayne's other activities, it prevents him from forming normal relationships because his secret is so dangerous.

Instead of dealing with the pain of losing his parents (as Tony manages, through therapy, to deal with the stress of his own work), Bruce focuses it like a laser into a force that takes over his entire life and moulds him, almost literally, into a monster. That he is a monster who has chosen to fight on our side does not exactly make him a role model.
posted by localroger at 5:33 AM on August 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


Robin D. Laws, game designer with an oak leaf cluster, has ideas about dividing heroes into dramatic heroes, where the point is to watch them grow and change, and iconic heroes, who restore order to disrupted situations by being themselves. Batman, in this scheme, is the later type, and Laws argues that trying to make Batman dramatic works poorly and dilutes his iconic qualities. In the end, we want to see Batman relentlessly pursue crime, deploy gadgets against bizarre villains, and maybe go to a gala event as Wayne. We don't want to see him change, really. We want to see him stay as he is.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:02 AM on August 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


Batman is also an older kind of story; an archetype of the revenger. He has been seeking revenge for the last seventy years because of the medium, not because of his story arc. If this were a classical example (Hamlet, The Revenger's Tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi, and a thousand others), Batman would defeat his parents' murderer and in so doing destroy himself. Instead, because Batman has been forced into a serial existence for so long that his parents' murderer has long been dispatched and new nemeses have arisen.

One oddity in the article is the seeming opinion that Mad Men and The Sopranos succeeded as serials where Batman has failed. Well, Batman has literally been running since before my dad was born. What more successful serial do you want?
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:04 AM on August 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Batman lives in a world of good & evil with a clear line between them. This is it's major distinction from Mad Men and The Sopranos and probably says more about what makes it suitable for kids than anything else.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:20 AM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's always really fascinating to me how conversations about Batman often ignore camp Batman as if he never existed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:38 AM on August 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's always really fascinating to me how conversations about Batman often ignore camp Batman as if he never existed.

And not just the self-consciously camp Batman of the TV shows but also the straight ahead crime-fighter Batman of the Golden and Silver Age comics, who is splendidly untroubled by his past. Tortured Batman is a relatively recent invention in the Batman mythos, but one that clearly did a great deal to revive the brand.
posted by yoink at 7:45 AM on August 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


If need be, Bruce could fund an international organization of faux Batmen to batman in his stead (this idea may not be original to myself).

This exists. I'm thinking you already know this, though, reading your parenthetical.
posted by linux at 7:49 AM on August 11, 2013


And not just the self-consciously camp Batman of the TV shows but also the straight ahead crime-fighter Batman of the Golden and Silver Age comics, who is splendidly untroubled by his past.

And who also threw people in acid vats and carried a gun! Batman is a pretty malleable archetype, one that can be used to tell kids' stories and violent crime stories and superhero punch-'em-ups and really just about any other kind of story (I have a particular fondness for the Victoria Holt-esque Gothic Romance Batman).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:52 AM on August 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tortured Batman is a relatively recent invention in the Batman mythos, but one that clearly did a great deal to revive the brand.

We can all look to Frank Miller for this particular iteration. I was a huge fan of O'Neill/Adams but also Miller's.

Maybe that's why my favorite incarnation is Bruce Timm's: a good blend of both.
posted by linux at 7:52 AM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I want to know is where the new Batman cartoon falls in terms of Bat iterations (ie, should I get sucked into it?).

As for the link, my question is why we should want Batman to be more like Mad Men or Tony Soprano, which seems to be the point. There are different kinds of stories out there. Batman is an archetype and people play with him a lot of different ways (camp, serious, angsty, Gothic-romantic, etc., and that's just your Elseworlds and not the pastiches). Mad Men and Sopranos are great from everything I've ever heard, but Batman is doing fine and doesn't need to fit in a single mold.
posted by immlass at 8:35 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article is from before Don Draper went totally off the rails. I'm not sure how this analysis would change if it were written at the end of the 6th season of Mad Men. Don is, I think, a man grieving for the lack of a family in his life as much as Bruce Wayne is. Even having a wife and children doesn't fill the hole left by his orphaned, abusive childhood. So he constructs his own alter-ego and sets about saving the world, or at least swooping in with impossible pitches to important clients at the last minute.
posted by Biblio at 8:51 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's always really fascinating to me how conversations about Batman often ignore camp Batman as if he never existed.

If you're interested in this, there's a new Batman comic called Batman '66 that's expressly based on the TV show and they're having a lot of fun with it. I'm not a comics person at all but it got me to download Comixology and subscribe to the series.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's always really fascinating to me how conversations about Batman often ignore camp Batman as if he never existed.

Grant Morrison spent the last six years trying to rectify this in his Batman run. He worked to integrate every era of Batman back into the modern depiction. How well he succeeded really depends on who you ask, but I liked it a lot.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:17 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's always really fascinating to me how conversations about Batman often ignore camp Batman as if he never existed.

... which speaks to my contention that saying of Batman that "nobody over the age of 12 or in their right mind wants to be him" is missing the point as much as saying that he doesn't cut it as a hero for adults. Men in tights bombing around vanquishing evil is inherently seven-to-nine year old boy territory (right up there with girls having germs) ... and has no currency beyond that.

At least, that's how it worked for me.

I loved the campy 60s Batman when it was fresh (I turned seven in 1966). It absolutely clicked with me. I cheered Batman and Robin's triumphs, couldn't sleep through some of the cliffhangers (stories tended to be two-parters, with our heroes invariably left in impossible peril at the end of part one). I think I even cried with Batman when Catwoman died. My point being, I wasn't seeing the camp. I was way too immersed in the drama itself -- the perfect target market if there ever was one.

But by the time I was nine and a half, I was past it. It was dumb, completely unbelievable. And then, sometime before my eleventh birthday, I suddenly realized, holy shit, this stuff is hilarious. And thus it remains. I don't care how deep Frank Miller etc have gone into the shadows of the guy's psyche -- he's a grown man in tights bombing around vanquishing evil. He has no meaning for adult me (or even inner twelve year old me) that isn't inherently absurd, something to laugh at.

If I want serious stuff about complex men with complex shadows, that's precisely what stuff like Madmen and The Sopranos is for. Which isn't to say I wouldn't enjoy a re-jigged Batman where he was in therapy, working through his complex inner stuff. But I would laugh at it.
posted by philip-random at 10:17 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still a bit frustrated that the Tim Burton Batman films didn't go the direction I thought they should go -- where EVERY villain Batman faces becomes, in the midst of his psychosis, the people who killed his parents.

Because, basically, that's what is going on with him. I just wanted to see it presented as part of the storyline. And it wasn't, and I felt quite let down.
posted by hippybear at 10:25 AM on August 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm still a bit frustrated that the Tim Burton Batman films didn't go the direction I thought they should go -- where EVERY villain Batman faces becomes, in the midst of his psychosis, the people who killed his parents.

Because, basically, that's what is going on with him.


*mind blown*
posted by KingEdRa at 10:33 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always found it interesting and telling that in Gotham City, the psychiatrists are villains: Scarecrow, Hugo Strange, and Harley Quinn, for example. The face of mental health in Batman's universe is Arkham Asylum, which is a terrifying and horrible place. There's a joke that the one thing that could keep Batman from being Batman is extensive amounts of therapy, but I can't ever imagine that the central conceit of the Sopranos ever happening to Batman. His universe just doesn't work that way.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, the closest I can think of a psychiatrist superhero in mainstream comics is Falcon, and he's a social worker. I could totally be forgetting someone, but I'd still argue that there's not much in the way of mental health treatment in either the Marvel or DC universe - you either repress, act out, or are eventually contained when 'acting out' tips over into supervillain territory.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Marvel has Doc Samson, who is a superhero and the Hulk's shrink.
posted by Biblio at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because, basically, that's what is going on with him.

Remember Sammy Jenkins.
posted by ian1977 at 2:35 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Imagine Batman with Tony Soprano's room-shaking nose breathing.

IMAGINE IT!
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:51 PM on August 11, 2013


Hmm, I immediately thought of Dr. Malcolm Long, from Watchmen. We actually see a lot of Rorschach's backstory through his eyes, and it shakes him badly.

Anyway, I'm not sure that we need Batman to go into therapy to reveal his soul -- we usually manage that quite effectively without that particular cliche. And, really, I'm feeling very post-superhero right now -- I almost hope this particular era has passed, because I'm not feeling, for example, much of anything about Spider-Man despite liking Andrew Garfield as an actor. Iron Man still seems to have some life to it, but what more can you really say about the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.? And yet here we are.

It was also like this when the Western got tapped out. You really needed to look to revisionism to say anything, as early as the 1950s (e.g. the feels very conventional now Ride the High Country). Undoubtedly there were people who were deeply beholden to the genre, but at a certain point it's all been said.
posted by dhartung at 3:34 PM on August 11, 2013



Grant Morrison spent the last six years trying to rectify this in his Batman run. He worked to integrate every era of Batman back into the modern depiction. How well he succeeded really depends on who you ask, but I liked it a lot.


I guess I should mention that I found this blog while looking for articles about Morrison's Batman run, and Rikdad has some great ones, though his annotations are less esoteric than places like Barbelith or Mindless Ones.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2013


[Sorry if this is off-topic, but I like the lit crit links.] It occurred to me while watching a trope busting movie (not a spoiler?) where the heroine is willing to kill a friend to save the Earth, that Hollywood morality is that of a D&D Paladin, "Lawful Stupid." In a superhero movie the heroine would say no, and then a Deus Ex Machina would make the tough choice go away.

We like Tony and Don since they aren't Lawful Stupid. They face the tough choice, and it doesn't go away. I don't agree that we like Batman since he has no limitations. In a comic book in which he fights superman he wins, but only after superman loses his superhuman powers to become like the Batman, just a man, even if also a try-hard. If Batman were to fail, it would be like a Confucian failing, because of effort, not because of ability.
posted by saber_taylor at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2013


My point was less that Batman should have a therapy-driven storyline where he become a well-adjusted human being. That would be a horrible idea, because that would be the end to Batman. But the fact that it's not even an option, and it is a huge part of both the makeup of The Sopranos and Mad Men, says a lot about Batman's universe and what sort of cosmology these stories are working in.

I don't know about the superhero genre being tapped out, either - the fact that this format is still so popular that they're considered the main money-making venture of huge studios makes me think that they're still speaking to some people. And the fact that a lot of the discussion around superhero stories these days seems to be about 'why are there not more superhero stories that feature X / don't rely on Y' makes me think that there's still plenty of ground to cover.

Honestly, one could make an argument that Hawkeye, at least, is following the prescription given in the article. He's a larger than life guy, even if he's arguably the most average avenger. But the most recent series does its best to make everything down to Earth - he has neighbors, a strained relationship with his brother, is bad at commitment. His problems boil down to normal people problems quite easily. There are fanworks, also, that are following the same sort of Superheroes-with-real-problems setup (American Captain comes to mind). Things that are less aggressively dark than Watchmen, but deal with more kitchen table discussions than the average comic or action movie can handle. I don't necessarily think it's better or worse than comics that focus on action or larger than life/incredibly alien characters (I love me some weird-ass completely inhuman aliens), but these are definitely stories that are being told
posted by dinty_moore at 7:11 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a "cured" Batman would be really interesting. It'd probably be analogous to those Superman storylines where he loses all his powers and has to act like a person. Like without the overwhelming drive for vengeance, why the hell would a billionaire spend his evenings getting swole/training with ninjas/stalking around rooftops beating up purse snatchers? Why wouldn't he just quietly fund a massive expansion of the local SWAT team and go back to dating models and doing fun stuff?

And then it'd be doubly fun if we find out Bruce Wayne actually has no idea how to cope with normal life. He'd be the classic retired cop but on steroids and speed. Without spending his evenings kicking the shit out of evildoers, he's driving Alfred crazy and driving himself crazy, too. What do you do once you've resolved the most important conflict in your life, the only thing you've ever lived for? That's a hell of a storyline. Of course, I'd end it with a Killing Joke-esque conversation with The Joker where he realizes he's not that different but I love The Killing Joke.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:58 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very cogent:

Bruce drives very fast, spends a lot of money, hangs out with anyone he wants to, fights and always wins, and garners boundless praise from the whole world while he shows everyone else up. It keeps Bruce Wayne from ever having the doldrums that plague and consume Tony and Don. It also keeps him from being the protagonist of a widely-watched serial. He's too much what one might wish to be and not enough what anyone is.
posted by lon_star at 6:47 AM on August 12, 2013


They did a Spongebob where he becomes a regular guy, and it was terrifying! So yeah don't do that to Batman.
posted by Mister_A at 7:55 AM on August 12, 2013


My friend who is my source for comic trivia once put it to me something like this:

Marvel Comics are about people with superpowers: Peter Parker is a high school kid who sucks at talking to girls and has actual problems, and the "normal" people like Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson actually have agency like his and have an effect on his life, interpersonal interactions, day to day shit, etc.

DC Comics are about Gods, as in, mythic figures; Batman and Superman hang out and are one the same level because they might as well be Zeus and Hades. It's not about who they are, but what they represent.

Discussing the real-life motivations/resources/etc of Batman like it could ever make sense is a fool's errand.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:12 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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