Often I’ve had fantasies of swooping down from tall buildings and scooping up crooks, chaining them to lamp posts and the like after I’ve beaten them silly for breaking whatever law they were ignoring and, thusly, meriting said beating.
Fantasy indeed, as I’m a big softie who doesn’t even like to honk a car horn after being egregiously cut off in busy traffic out of fear of some sort of road rage reprisal. I’ve also only been in one fight, a fight that ended with me and the other combatant weeping and apologizing to one another. I don’t like pain. I don’t like to run. I don’t like working up a good sweat even though sweating profusely is something my body does extremely well. I’m just not cut out for the superhero gig. I want to be, but I’m not. Physically, psychologically (another “cally” of some sort) I don’t think I could—maybe that’s why I read comics. I don’t know, (insert shameless late-nineties pop culture reference here:) I might be a coward, I’m afraid of what I might find out if I’m ever really tested.
I must admit, however, there have been times that donning a makeshift costume and scouring the streets for law breakin’ punks has been tempting.
How does a guy like me, with very few skills and waning testicular fortitude through aging and not wanting to do much at all besides read and write, have sudden urges to fight crime? It doesn’t make much sense. I could lie and say my dissatisfaction for the current processes of law enforcement is the cause, but I’d just be wasting my breath (and/or fingertip strength). I think we’ll have to take look back to the future for an answer.
In the late nineties (right about when I got myself into that fightlet I mentioned) a cartoon series was released chronicling the futuristic adventures of a new Batman (Terry McGinnis) who’s taken up the mantle after the original man behind the cowl (Bruce Wayne) had become too old to continue fighting the proverbial good fight. While it had to bear the stigma cartoons are often slapped with (kiddy stuff, not worth a damn), it won its fair share of accolades. A Daytime Emmy to boot!
Since the cartoon’s inception I’ve maintained a healthy (okay, healthy(ish)) obsession with the sleek, cape-less black uniform, and the blood red bat symbol emblazoned across the chest. Terry’s age may have played a part as well. Heck, he’s only, like, five years older than me! I used to think. My affinity for this Batman held precedence even over the traditional bat.
Always underwhelmed with playing sports (I stunk (hard)), over-entertained by what was (and is) available to the generation I was born into (um, everything), undisturbed by the jeers of dorkishness (okay, I was afraid of the taunting, but not enough to quit liking what I liked). I’d found my niche, my little place in pop culture that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Sprinkle in technological advances that were launching the mid-eightiers (folks born around 1985) into territories that looked shockingly similar to my favorite show, an imagination that plays itself out like a Jason Statham flick, a whole group of kids to interact with who were growing up with a flare for the dramatic, and dreams of being rockstars, astronauts, and presidents (obviously my dreams of being Batman weren’t all that outlandish) and here I am, thirteen years, a college degree and a receding hairline later, I still want to be Batman, and Terry’s come back (just this time in comics).
I did what every person who suffers from occasional bouts of obsessive behavior would do. I went to Best Buy with a wad of money I’d earned at my big-boy-job stuffed in my pants pocket and purchased the all three seasons of Batman Beyond. I then sped home and watched episode after episode after—well, you get the point. Terry’s adventures atop the gargantuan, futuristic (by futuristic, I mean neon) buildings that turned Neo-Gotham into a scene from Blade Runner were churning in my brain (sort of resembling Spellbinder’s costume if I were to toss some dorkdom into this piece). I was obsessed (as implied upon above).
Through watching the full run of the cartoon, reading the new comic series, and being completely entranced with everything Batman Beyond for months on end, I had an apostrophe (Hook, anybody? Hmm? Hmmmmm???). Lightning had struck my brain. My sizzled brain cells as a result fired several questions along my synaptic pathways, questions I’ve been grappling with since the credits of the last episode rolled. Questions I will now pose to you:
Can anyone pinpoint the moment in history when our real lives, the real world, suddenly began looking more like the science fiction we view as entertainment? Better yet, how is it the technology we use everyday has progressed and, in many ways, surpassed that of the marvels of the entire science fiction genre? Is it art mimicking life, or life mimicking art? Is art predicting life, or life predicting art?
I mean, not only are we progressing technologically at a rate that makes even the most creative science fiction writers second guess themselves, but we live in a post-9/11 culture and that event’s aftermath has altered the world around us so profoundly that William Gibson (the father of the cyberpunk sci-fi offshoot) has gone on record to say that he is unable to write about a distant future because of how much the devastation and the technological progression has altered the path we all were on. He finds it difficult to write speculative science fiction because we, as a culture, are no longer on any particular path. We’ve essentially derailed ourselves (to use a Vonnegut-ism, we’ve become unstuck in time). It’s almost as if art and life have no desire to reconnect, to even be in the same room with one another any longer. Of course we could look at this point in history as a chance for infinite progress or the possibility of imminent destruction. Both have thousands of potential paths that could branch off like the limbs of a tree.
Try and predict the outcome of a football game without knowing a single thing about the rules of play, about the players, without seeing the statistics or the records. It would be a toss up, a fifty-fifty gamble. Let’s try to spice this metaphor up a bit more, shall we? Let’s say we throw one hundred different types of sports teams on a football field. We now have a game that could have an infinite number of outcomes. Now, take the rules of each respective sport out of the picture. Toss a couple hundred pucks, balls, and other sportly accoutrements onto the field. Place the goal posts, bases, and nets on conveyor belts so they never stop moving. Now try and think of at least one thing that could happen. Besides, mayhem, there’s nothing else. Predicting anything at all about what could take place there would simply be a waste of time.
Prediction or speculation regarding art and life is now, in a way, irrelevant due to the fact that what we live with currently is a blend of both. The oversaturation of every facet of artistic media has soaked the shoes of reality, making the goals we strive for into fantasies. That consequently resulted in reality becoming, for lack of a better word, absurd due to our overexposure to every source of media on a constant basis. We’ve made the word “art” hold little to no value. It’s become sheer whimsy.
And here we are, living cartoon characters. Caricatures of, well, ourselves, really.
I’m not sure what I’d be if I wasn’t defined in someway by my interests, if I had to strip everything away but the bones, blood, guts and skin. (Technically speaking I’d be nude and no one wants to see that. So I’ll keep myself all gussied up.)
There are advantages, however, to living in a time where Mr. Spock has mind-melded us to our media. For instance, Japan is developing a robot to perform house-hold tasks (Rosie from The Jetsons), robots to fight war (The Terminator (okay, that could fall into the disadvantages column)). Theoretical Physicists can prove (mathematically) that parallel universes exist. This is, of course, theoretical but so was the idea the earth was round. They cracked that mystery wide open by sailing a boat. We just need an interdimentional boat that’ll sail us to parallel world so we can talk to different version of ourselves (just as every single DC and Marvel comic character has at one time had a conversation with an other-universely counterpart.)
I’m going to go on the record and say that while I love comics and sci-fi and escapism of all kinds, I’m grounded in reality. I’m not some nut. However when the United States Armed Forces went ahead and officially named their new one-man-army project, Project Batman, I started realizing that “being grounded” means precisely nothing. They’ve made lightweight Kevlar bodysuits that can withstand gunshots and knife-slashings, and wing-esque parachutes that allow men to glide to the ground safely after hurling themselves from the tops of buildings. Simply put, we live in an amalgamated world. The rules have changed and this stuff is real.
All of it is completely absurd.
But it’s real.
Could it be that my childhood (adulthood) fantasy is an actual possibility? Could I become Batman? I mean, even if I don’t become the Batman, will some devoted soul take on the responsibility of a symbol that frightens the wicked into piddling their pants?
Look, ten years ago I used to sneak a couple CDs and my Discman into my backpack every morning before school without my mom’s permission. I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t see it and think I was shirking my scholastic responsibilities. That was only a decade ago. Now I have my entire record collection on a hunk of metal that sits comfortably in the palm of my hand.
Never expected that, did we? And that’s just a device used for entertainment!
Terry McGinnis never thought he’d live up to anything in life, he became Batman; just we have an uncertain and dangerous future ahead and there could be many Batmen striking fear into the hearts of criminals. There could be robots fighting wars to cut down on loss of human life. We’ve got books without pages, music without CDs, phones without cords, cars without gasoline, we’ve got, well, we’ve got whatever we can think up.
Fantasy and fiction are real. Reality is now fantastical and our technology has made real life seem fictional; hyper-real. The cliché “anything is possible” has become a literal truth. And as to what path we’ll choose when looking into a future with an infinite number of options, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Yeah, I read comics. So what?