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January 09, 2005


Transitional Man

I don't think the commitment to 'public good' suffient to overcome the conservative bias of the superhero in general. Pubic good is an extremely nebulous concept, it is very much in the eyes of the beholder. An actual study of history will show that most real villains defined their evil deeds as good. For example, Hitler really believed he was promoting superior people and his prosecution of the Holocaust was designed to promote a public good. Certainly the men who attacked America thought they were doing good, and there are many more examples.

Another example comes from the literature of Ayn Rand. Rand's "objectivist' ideas celebrate the individual as keeper of all that is good in society. People working together have brought the world to ruin. it is only the individual prowess of Dagny Taggert and Hank Reardon under the inspired leadership of John Galt who keep society running. The reste of us are sheep, the little people supposed to take orders and keep out of the way. Only the great ones matter. Only Superman can save us from Brainiac or the Fantastic Four from the menace of Galactus.

Warren Ellis' book Ocean may offer an alternative, with it's hero being an arms inspector from the UN and it's anti-corporatist viewpoint. But it is not at all clear if Ocean is a superhero comic, or one about ordinary people.

If we must have one, perhaps Moore's Top 10 might go, because here the superheroes are ordinary government officials, multi-ethnic, multi-talented and led by a very competent, likable homosexual. Who is also in the closet.


"(Mark, leave a comment!!!)"

Hey, my blog only gets about 30 hits a day, gotta fish for hits... :-)

Actually, I think much of the debate has to do with libertarianism and where that fits in the political spectrum. Most libertarians consider themselves fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Is a a superhero a fiscal or social creature?


Inspired by your work and also the post by “Dave in Transition”, I had a few thoughts I wanted to toss at you, particularly regarding the differences
between Superman and Batman as displayed in KC and DKR. Basically, I was trying to understand why, on the one hand, Superman leaves in KC and favors self- imposed obscurity in DKR, and on the other hand, Batman sticks
around in KC and ultimately decides to return in DKR. I decided that Dave in Transition was on the mark with Batman, in that he is highly individualistic, while he may be missing the mark with Superman.

Yes, as a single person, Superman often has to use individual means to effect change. But he is, in essence, a singular symbol of the collective best of mankind. He wants to believe that he embodies the best of humanity, what all of us will someday be after overcoming our own lesser instincts. For Superman, law is justice, a manifestation of the public will.
Ultimately, as the ultimate alien/immigrant, he holds his adoptive land to the ideal that humanity should be able to right itself. Society can be fixed by the non-superpowered. When superheroes turn bad, or become
unacceptable to society, they must respect the wishes of the populace. It is a display of utter faith in democracy, as we saw in DKR, as he is serving a
democratically elected (though ineffectual) government. Additionally, Superman can be seen guiding the JLA, and also negotiating and meeting with various government and agencies in the comics and cartoons.

At the same time, Superman is not a slavish instrument of “mob rule.” It is simply that he feels his moral code (inspired and informed by the pure as snow Kansas couple that adopted him) and humanity’s highest ideals are
aligned. That is why, in KC, his ideals became cracked. The public seems to accept Magog’s methods in dealing with crime and social disease. Humanity was no longer trending towards justice and peace. Rather, it seems to
be regressing towards barbarism and bloodlust. The law acquitted Magog. Law no longer means justice, in his mind. That is why he feels he must flee: he no
longer identifies with humanity. He is no longer the expression of humanity’s desires. Instead, Magog has taken his place as the singular symbol of mankind.

For Batman, justice is a free-floating, objective entity, one that he feels he (as a victim) has a unique insight into. . For him, law is incidental to justice, created by those without a “victim’s point of view”. A
democratically elected legislature cannot speak of justice with their laws. Instead, they can only speak of social control and regulation. Unlike Superman, Batman is convinced that Man (as a whole) will never overcome his base emotions; therefore these emotions must be suppressed and literally beaten into submission. Batman doesn’t want to uphold the law, he wants to impose justice on humanity, regardless of whether humanity understands or even desires it. That is why he never leaves in KC, and why he is so unhappy
until he comes back in DKR. Mankind, as a whole, has nothing to say to him about justice. Sure, majorities can pass laws. But they can’t deny justice. The Batman is a creature of justice, not law. Thus he will not leave simply because superheroes are unpopular.

In political terms, I think Superman can be seen as a liberal hero, in the sense that society at large can (occasionally) collectively negotiate and overcome problems. Until the day comes when this routinely happens, and in the absence of sufficient public will, Superman will be there to single-handedly muscle a problem into submission. But I think Kal-el
would think he is only doing what mankind really wants, but doesn’t have the sense or experience to do quite yet.

The Dark Knight is more akin to a John Galt character: strongly individualistic and flouting the public will due to a deeply felt set of principles. I do not think he is doing the public’s will; quite the opposite
in fact. Batman will continue his fight until society comes to his terms, to justice’s terms. (Of course, Galt ran off to create his own ideal community in a valley instead of staying to fight it out. Batman never did that.) The only thing that matters is his crusade. It certainly sounds like Dave and I would agree on that, at least.

Oh, and I think you should do a post on Dark Knight Strikes Again, as I think F. Miller sees some of the shortcomings addressed by you and other posters on the topic of the roots of social disease and comic book
evil. Batman finally strikes at the causes of social ills, instead of its symptoms. Interesting read (if not a very good comic book) that has some interesting political imagery (but that is an entirely different

Take care,

Dave Intermittent

I think that the Other Dave's critique is flawed at a fundamental level, insofar as his definition of "liberal" seems to me very wrong. A conservative is someone who imposes his will on the world, usually through violence; liberals (and I may be off on this point, since I'm making this leap by inverting his conservative definition) talk their way through things. Changes via jaw, jaw rather than imposed.

But of course this definition would exclude, at minimum, say, Debs. Marx is out, of course. Possibly FDR; is something any less imposed if imposed through law (backed up the implicit threat of violence) than by violence itself? And besides, FDR certainly cultivated the cult of personality; no meek prole he.

Now, Transition Man can still complain that he is opposed to the Big Man school of historical thought. Which theory is, I think, largely valid. Or maybe Transition Man thinks that liberal ideas can't be imposed via force and is willing to rewrite off FDR. But Superman the book might have a liberal message despite Superman the character not being a liberal; after all, most times superheros try and address root cause type issues through force....they fail.

Dave Intermittent

Oh, and the great power line can most definitley be given a liberal spin (pun intended):

English and American common law holds that no man has a duty to aid another man, unless some duty is otherwise imposed by law (lots of exceptions, so many in fact, that the rule is sort of hollow, but the general thrust is correct). No one is compelled to be a good samaritan; I, the good swimmer, can watch a man drown, being under no legal duty to save him. Conservative commentators applaud this theory; a requirement I wade into the surf is tantamount to slavery! And from here they go on to analogize about taxes, etc; surely, if the state can't require me to act, it can't require me to pay my hard earned tax-dollars to save a life.

Spider-Man sort of turns this on its head. Power--the ability to help--implies a duty to help. Peter Parker can't walk away from the burning building, even if doing so would make his own life that much easier, because he has power and thus a duty that he can't ignore. It's a short step from here to a general duty to help, to the limits of your ability; Spider-Man might be Richard Epstein's greatest foe.



I am making a research about the social relevance of super heroes and the possible connection of superheroes comics to terrorism in relation to theatrical action. Still clear to you ;))) Can soöeone please help me on that matter with books, thoughts, ideas and philo stuff.

Thanks in advance.






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I believe this to be horribly misleading and indicative of the authors typical misunderstanding of individualism. Which conservatism is often associated with.

Individualism and a lack of being forced to do a good is not indicative of a tendency to not do that good. A fight for the rights of gays and the opposition to FORCED multiculturalism (through government mandated anti discrimination laws with ones own PRIVATE property, and the subsidy of one particular group at the exclusion of another in a particular region...) is indeed individualist in nature and NOT communal ("liberals" as they are known today, love these sorts of violent state intrusions into peoples lives). Military and conscription especially of the state sort are also communal and opposed to voluntary association unlike the very conservative republic ideal of a militia and volunteer soldiers.

Superheros are similar to a man who carries a gun here in VA. He is by no means obligated to help anyone whose life may be in danger... but through his own personal morals most likely will come to the aid of a man in distress... despite no law from the government to demand it from him.


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