Monday, September 20, 2004

Knightfall 1: Meet The Monk

When I first started this blog back in mid-2003, it wasn't with the sole intention of logging interesting manifestations of the Batman myth in pop culture. That's mostly what I've done here lately, and it's still a lot of fun, but I always meant to use this site as a place to think and write about (and encourage fellow travellers to think and write about) the deeper psychological, political, and spiritual dimensions of what I call "batplay"--ie, what happens when I suit up and proudly indulge the fetish I once harbored in secrecy and shame.

I've been engaging in batplay for about nine years now: putting on one of several "batsuits" and masks, in the process honoring a childhood fascination with a certain obsessive costumed crimefighter. It feels good, and it turns me on, but it's never been simply "fun" for me; like the comic book character before me, I've turned to these nocturnal pursuits and disguises as a way of working through childhood trauma. It's not about jerking off, it's about breaking through.

Well, that's the theory, at least. But the last few years of batplay, either solo or with my partner, haven't usually been as transcendent as I'd have liked. More often than not, I felt like I'd hit a dead end, like I was just going through the motions. The storylines I'd created in solo play had become so complicated and so layered that they just didn't go anywhere meaningful anymore. There's only so far you can lead yourself when a path leads entirely through your own imagination. Moreover, my opportunities to suit up in private have been more and more limited in recent years for various real-world reasons, and I've learned the hard way that there's no point in trying when I'm tired or in the wrong mood. Meanwhile, batplay with the Hub, while rewarding in its own way, has never been primarily about the quest for transcendence, because the saga doesn't carry the same emotional weight for him as it does for me. For him, it's a little light kink every now and then, which probably reminds him of Adam West's campy tv show and little more. That's not a complaint at all; there are plenty of other interests and experiences we don't share, too, and we're both fine with that. Duo batplay really is more about having fun, and if I learn things in the process--which I often have, like about how to communicate my sexual desires to my partner, or how to share my most private fantasies with him--then all the better.

The dead end came to an end a month and a half ago when, through one of those accidents that feels more purposeful in retrospect, I decided to install Yahoo Messenger on my computer and chat with a few fellow batfans, as I wrote here in early August. I'm still as unimpressed with the chat mode as ever (probably because so much of the dialogue it encourages really is just "chat"--i.e., idle blather that I wouldn't want to engage in offline, either). But the best thing to come of it by far has been my encounters with The Monk.

I'm nicknaming this guy The Monk out of respect for his anonymity (and as you'll soon see, I don't have much more to call him at this point beyond another pseudonym anyway). I've picked "The Monk" as a name for two reasons: first, because that's the name of one of Batman's earliest and most dangerous adversaries in the comics. The first story in the excellent 1988 DC compilation The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told recounts their one and (I think) only adventure, from a 1939 two-parter (back in those pre-Comics Code days when Batman packed heat, as the final page reveals). The opening tease reads: "The Batman--weird menace to all crime--at last meets an opponent worthy of his mettle. A strange creature, cowled like a monk, but possessing the powers of a Satan! A man whose powers are uncanny, whose brain is the product of years of intense study and seclusion!" The comic-book Monk's abilities are mighty indeed, twice nearly killing our hero and seizing control of his brain.

And that description is fairly accurate for my Monk, too. (You want the second reason for that particular pseudonym? All things in time...) Our earliest online encounters were fairly routine--if still hot--roleplaying scenarios, text-only and full of the stuff of every batperv's fantasies: he'd lure me to his hideout, overpower me, trap me, threaten to unmask me, yadda yadda yadda. One of the biggest limitations of textplay is that when I get into it, I tend to forget and then violate various fictional groundrules (can't hit somebody because my arm is shackled, that sort of thing), which of course works for me but not for my storytelling collaborator. Aside from a rather complicated three-parter, these nightly bouts were self-contained (if I got unmasked one night, we'd start from scratch the next night, the slate magically cleared).

After I'd developed a certain trust for The Monk, and an equal respect for his imagination (finally! somebody who played the game well enough that I didn't have to do all the work!), we added photos, then the phone, and finally a webcam to our sessions. And for the first time, a stranger saw my unmasked face. For real (though that word "real" is rather slippery, as we shall see...) My one stipulation was that once The Monk knew what I really look like beneath the disguise, we could never again pretend that he didn't.

And that's when things started to get really, really interesting.

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