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Alex Bab                                                                                                            3/2/09

American Ways: Graphic Novels                                                                        The Ideal and The Real

OK, so here is my second go at a prospectus, and I admit, that my ideas certainly need some fine-tuning...the type of fine tuning that only extensive research can provide.  But here it goes.

Ever since I was a little kid, one of the most important questions I would always ask people when I was determining whether or not we could have any form of meaningful friendship was "Who is better, Batman or Superman?"  Now, I do not have a correct answer to this question: what always mattered to me ultimately was how the individual I was asking justified their response.   Myself, I always have been and always will be a Batman man, because I have a dark outlook on the world.  And I think that ultimately thats what the dichotmoy between these two titans of comics speaks to...worldviews.

In my paper I want to explore the history and mythology of both Batman and Superman, and how their individual universes depict different views of the world.  In my opinoin, Superman depicts man at his ideal...a romanticized version of the hero.  Just look at the setting he takes place in:  Metropolis-the ulitmate city on the planet it would seem: a Metroplolis depicted constantly in the day.  Meanwhile, you can also enter (In the DC Universe) Gotham, a city that is much dirtier, grittier, and rarely portrayed at any time other than night.  Ultimately, how do we see the world: are we the "Superman" transcending above the human muck and flying over the world?  Or do we see it as Batman: a dark and depraved world that we must delve into to understand, and require a mask for the protection of our individual selves?

I will do my best to keep this paper from going to far into a "who  would win in a fight?" type of debate (and besides, its a no-brainer: Batman wins every time).  My overall goal here is to explore the two characters as acrhetypes for readers mapping themselves onto them.  How do we see the world:  A sunny Metropolis or a dark Gotham?  I see some potential to bring in theoretical arguments about the movements of nautral realism and romanticism, and I can already tell my topic will evolve as I write.

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  1. I like the premise behind your title and the issues your abstract brings up.  Perhaps due to its mostly male authors & readers, there's been an awful lot of father drama/trauma in comics -- Superman, Batman, etc. -- and the comics you mention all certainly have this theme going on in them.  Some of the superhero stuff gets unabashedly Freudian.  My main concern is that the other texts you bring in (Shakespeare, Conroy) come across as sort of random; that is, while they do have a thematic commonality, the "Huh?" factor is pretty high.  Aside from the fact that you've read them, what's the inner logic of their inclusion and not, say, Hamlet or Frankenstein or Death of a Salesman?  I think you still need a little tighter rationale for the various texts you choose.  If you're wanting to emphasize the graphic presence/absence of fathers, you might have a preliminary section of your essay that deals with this theme in literature using a larger number of texts + theory of the "absent father," Oedipal conflict, etc.  Pretty hard-wired into literature & mythology, it seems.  Having done that, you then could ask about distinctively graphic visualization -- but don't forget film (Darth Vader!) or television (Tony Soprano).  All this writing seems to be an attempt to get a handle on your project.  I think I'd ask which of the graphic novels you mention inspired this topic; then, ask yourself whether a more sharply defined lineage might be possible....Jimmy Corrigan leads in a different direction, somewhat, than Fun Home.  Stay in touch!

  2. Unknown User (dcb4)

    Well, I'm a huge Batman fan, so no disagreements there.  I have always found him much more interesting than Superman, and his lunatic villains are simply fascinating.  There are a vast wealth of sources for you to draw on for this paper, so no concerns there (if you need any help, I might be able to provide some (wink)).  As with all good papers, it is important to be conscious of the counterpoints to your argument.  For example, some would argue that they prefer Batman comics over Superman comics due to superior writing and that they'd give Superman a chance if his stories weren't all about beating up super powerful aliens.  That's not to discourage you.  I believe a person's outlook on the world could very well influence their taste.

    With some of the differences between Batman and Superman fans, I think it is important to remember that Superman is an alien masking himself as a human, while Batman is a human masking himself as a superhero.  Perhaps that says something about the psychology of those who favor one over the other.  Superman has transcended humanity through birthright, but he strives to be human and has received a traditional, wholesome family upbringing.  Batman is human through birthright, but his "human world" was taken away from him at an early age, causing him to strive to be better than a man, better than a human.  So perhaps Batman fans are the ones that strive for more in life, while the Superman fans are the ones content with who they are?  I don't know if that helps, but either way, I think this paper has the potential to be very good and I am very interested in seeing where this topic takes you.

  3. As I was reading your abstract (and Nick's response) I found myself wondering if the cultural zeitgeist had anything to do with the different worldviews that Batman and Superman are enveloped within. A few clicks later, wikipedia told md that Superman was created in 1932 and Batman was created in 1939. I wonder if Superman's creation at the beginning of the Great Depression versus Batman's creation at the beginning of World War II. The world at the beginning of the Great Depression were looking for a bright spot of escapism. In 1939, however, the world was seeing some of the great evils out there, and they were looking more to rally behind someone who had seen that darkness, who had experienced it and knew it intimately, and who therefore could fight that darkness from the inside out. I think that even a ten year old kid picking up a Batman or a Superman comic today would be working on a similar principle - what he or she had known in his or her life and the outlook of the people around him or important to her would affect his or her affinity. That's not to say that it is the only thing that will affect that choice, but I think it would play a part in it.

    Nick's comments about masking/pretending to be human or super-human was also very interesting. I don't really have much to add to it, not being well-versed in either the Superman or Batman universes, but I think it's a very interesting aspect to explore. I look forward to reading this as it develops!