Friday, December 31, 2004

Backstage at "Beginnings"

My latest cold, and before that the over-full madness of late December (work, holiday, etc), have slowed me down on the batfront lately, as readers of "Beginnings" have surely noticed. It's not easy keeping up with new chapters of that story; ideally there would be a new one every day, but I decided long ago not to worry when that doesn't happen. I like the idea that the narrative moves along in real time, so if I miss a few days, then those days pass in the story, too. (Except when I give myself permission to cheat now and then.) Both a challenge and an opportunity. It's nice to be able to incorporate holidays and other occasions as they come along, for instance.

Speaking of which, apologies for shamelessly and perhaps tastelessly lifting a certain recent real-life crisis in Eastern Europe for a plot device in the last few chapters, but then so many world events lately seem to resemble the plots of comic books, don't they? (I'm sure I've already mentioned my Osama-as-Joker theory, right?)

Funny how that works. Frank Miller's initial "Dark Knight" graphic novel (along with several other developments around the same time) felt so fresh in the way it carried the comics world into "reality" (or at least televised reality--since so much of the story is told via news anchors, Letterman show appearances, etc) and nowadays it seems like the opposite is happening more often... the daily news looks like an issue of DETECTIVE.

Talk about crossover!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Knightfall 11: Through the Looking-Glass

Perhaps the single most fascinating aspect of my ongoing bat/rat saga is the way that other characters have begun to enter into it. At first it was just me, then the Monk entered the picture, then other people--heroes trying to win me back to the side of Good, villains eager to gloat at my downfall, and so on. These latest arrivals are almost all longtime readers of this very blog, which means there's this mind-bending situation where readers of my fiction (or whatever you want to call this role-playing dreamworld) are now entering into the story they're reading. As a writer in the daylight world, I wish I could find a way to create something similar. (I should note that all of us are merely borrowing scraps of a pre-existing fiction--the lore of comic books and their spinoff tv shows and films--that none of us can lay claim to, even if we are all fine-tuning it to suit our own purposes.)

I think of two parallels, neither of which I have any direct experience with. (Too busy living my own fantasy!) One is only a title: The Counterlife, which is the title of a Philip Roth novel I haven't read. Evidently it concerns a group of characters who slip in and out of various alternative destinies, drawn from their unfulfilled dreams and roads-not-taken. Me, I just like the concept implied in that title: that my bat/rat adventures are a kind of counterlife I can enter and exit at will, accompanied by a growing cast of fellow adventurers whose counterlives happen to intersect mine at the moment.

Then there's The Game, David Fincher's precursor to Fight Club, in which characters become engrossed in a live-action role-playing game that invades their "real" lives with fantasy elements. Once again, I haven't actually seen it (though I'm a sort-of fan of David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, which is also about a multi-player game that blurs the usual boundaries between reality and fantasy).

Another interesting parallel to what's going on in the bat/rat realm right now is the twist revealed back in chapter 17 of my "Beginnings" serial: that Batman actually began his crimefighting career as an online and offline fetish role-player whose virtual fuckbuddies started getting out of hand and committing real-world crimes. (Hmm, better point out right here and now that I'm NOT looking for that to happen in real life, folks. Let's keep this all in text form, please! There, THAT ought to make everything okay...)

Meanwhile, the man I've dubbed "the Monk" is developing quite a fan club of his own. I keep getting inquiries about him from people who read what I'm writing here and want something similar to happen to them. My counterlife identity as Ratman has become his number one recruiter--his "poster boy," as he calls me. I'm a little troubled to find out that so many so-called heroes share my desire to fall from grace. Aren't we supposed to be saving the world from the bad guys?

That last sentence only calls to attention the obvious question: which side am I on now: Us, or Them? Good Guys, or Bad?

Wait and see, friends and fiends, wait and see. Better yet, don't wait, just dive in to the storyline yourself. But beware: the water's pretty deep now, and the current is strong. If you're not careful, you'll either be dragged under or get carried away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Knightfall 10: Kid in a Candy Store

I grew up in a warm climate, and I vividly remember standing in a department store at the age of 10 or so, staring in awe at the gloves in the adult men's section. No one in this part of the country has any real use for such an accessory--it just never gets that cold--and so I'd always associated them with my favorite heroes. I couldn't wait to be a grownup so I could move somewhere that would justify wearing gloves, and, by extension, to live my life on my own terms, which might well entail wearing a superhero costume for real. This--far more than IRAs, extended mortgages, or anything along those lines--was what adulthood meant to me.

As all regular readers of this blog know, I've pretty much come to live out that childhood dream, several decades later: I have a healthy, happy daylight life (about which you'll never hear much here) AND a fantasy one (that isn't always so happy, as when I fall prey to a mind-warping villain, for instance). True, my anecdote above is proof of what my shrink (let's call him Alfred) told me long ago, when I first started opening up about my long-suppressed bat-fetish: that most if not all fetishes are rooted in childhood fantasy. (He cited the example of the Village People--every one of those gay male types, the cop, the construction worker, the Indian, etc.--comes straight out of little boys' dress-up games.) But he, unlike his predecessors in the field of psychology and psychoanalysis, didn't define this state of suspended infantilism as a bad thing, just a thing. In theory, he pointed out, anything under the sun (and, who knows, probably the sun itself) can become a fetish object if the conditions are right. I didn't exactly embrace his insight at the moment--that wouldn't come for several years--but at this point in my life, I can truly say I cherish this lingering remnant of my youth. (Sooner or later, I'm going to write more about that youth and just how big a role Batman played in it, but let's save further flashbacks for a while.)

The newest stage in my evolution as Ratman has been a more public one. Not in the sense of dressing up with the undie mask on my head and walking the streets, mind you, but I've become--with the Monk's help--more and more proactive in the virtual world, seeking out heroes and practicing my budding villainy on them. In my Bat days (can I truly be putting them in the past tense?) I used to wait for villains to come to me, but now I ask for and then receive assignments from the Monk and carry them out. And, I should point out, people do continue to contact me first, many of them readers of this blog who know exactly what they may be getting into. Suddenly my bat/rat world is far less claustrophobic than it once was. First it was just me, then just the Hub and me, and then just the Monk and me, but now there are other characters. Many other characters; it really is like coming out all over again: when you're in the closet, you think at first you're the only one who carries your dark secret, then you open your vision (through reading or tentative conversation or whatever works for you) and you realize there are others somewhat like you out there, and then--only after you start to go public--you find yourself surrounded by peers, colleagues, friends, even enemies. In my twenties I used to walk into gay bars and feel like I really didn't belong there, felt awkward and out of place. Nowadays, on the few occasions when i go to them, I STILL feel all those things, to be honest, but for different reasons (hey, I'm not really into twinks or body-obsessed guys or Republicans....), but I feel something else, too, a far more powerful awareness: that these are my people. They're not my ONLY people, but I feel a connection to them.

Went through the same process with leather bars in my thirties--fear and self-awareness, followed by a gradual realization that I wasn't a freak among freaks. And now I seem to be going through yet another version of the process, in a different realm, but one that hits far closer to home than either of the last two. (After all, hero fetishists are a minority even in leather bars.) Right now I'm spending 4-6 nights a week in the (virtual) company of lycra-loving, bondage-crazy Batmen and Supermen and heroes whose names are of their own design. These are my people, through and through. Granted, I'm playing the role of their adversary now, which I would never have expected, but I'm loving every sweaty minute.

(PS. The downside of my going more public with the Rat/Batplay is that I'm now less inclined to divulge every little encounter and stage in my decline/evolution/reinvention, delicious though they may be. For one thing, villain or not, I don't want to violate anyone's trust. For another, I'm realizing that to fully carry out my current role, I can't reveal too many of my secrets. More and more readers of this blog are beginning to enter the storyline themselves, and I can't have them knowing what I have in store for them. So forgive me if I start getting a bit more sketchy in my descriptions here. If you really want to follow the twists and turns, it looks like you'll have to hold your breath and jump into the storyline yourself. You know where to find me.)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Knightfall 9: Falling Together, Coming Apart

Yesterday was a day of firsts in the bat/rat/monk saga--too many even to list here, but I'll try to touch on the major ones. (Before I do, I must confess how odd it is that my own personal semi-real-life "saga" is now moving so much faster, and is so much easier to write about, than my serial slash fiction, Beginnings. When I first began that story, there wasn't a whole lot of action on the home batfront, my solo adventures having hit a dead end. Now the situation is completely different--and the serial has suffered as a result. There is a major plot development going on over there, which requires daily updates, but I've been spending the majority of my limited writing/fantasy time over here instead. I'm sure the pendulum will swing back that way eventually, and I promise to any remaining readers of that story that the identity of "H.S." will soon be revealed. But I digress.)

There are many major developments on the bat/rat front, as I continue my slide toward the darkness. For the last few weeks--in a clear reversal of my old bat-tastes--I've been making myself available for IMs,usually when the Monk is not available but I want to stay/play in that world a while. And so I've been hearing from a few fresh heroes and villains, some of whom are regular readers of this blog and thus know the Monk and his role in my life, and they inquire about him. (It's always a bit unsettling when someone brings him up, because I feel partly like a biographer being grilled about his subject and partly like the author of a fiction whose life has begun to intersect with one of his main characters--but trust me, the Monk is no fiction!)

I recently mentioned this phenomenon--the Monk fan club, if you will--to the man himself, and he wanted names (mainly to find out if he'd encountered them under his, er, "real" pseudonym). I managed to put off divulging this information for a couple of days, but last night I succumbed. This was a major defeat on my part, because months ago, during a similiar situation when I still wore the cowl of the Bat, I insisted that a true hero never divulges such secrets. My acquiescence this time was one more sign of how far I've fallen.

By great coincidence (or, more likely, divine intervention), the primary individual in question sent me an IM at the onset of the Monk's interrogation. This one is a Superman, an old-school true-blue hero who insists my Bat-career can still be salvaged and that I'll always be the Bat, no matter what. (Naturally, a part of me responds, "Dream on!," while another part thrives on this injection of outside hope into my otherwise solitary despair.) What happened next was something I'd been fantasizing about for the last few days: I not only named his name, but brought the Superman and the Monk together into a three-way chat, where--after much of the usual hero-and-villain banter and bluster--the Monk proceeded to kick Supe's ass. (I, alas, could only participate in a portion of this showdown, since I had other plans for the evening. Holy disappointment!)

So I've done it: I've betrayed an ally, and even assisted in his (temporary) demise. (Though I truly hope I haven't seen the last of Superman--not only is he a valuable comrade, but the three-way interaction was unbelievably exciting to me.) Further signs of my descent into villainy: earlier the same day, I announced two potentially major decisions to the Monk. First, I said it was time I began referring to him, not myself, as Batman (oddly, since he'd been implying this was the direction things were heading ever since he started wearing a stolen cowl, he rejected the name in favor of "Bad Bat," refusing to be my "crutch" while I sort out my shifting identities). Second, I declared I would quit relying on a familiar habit of referring to my erotic impulses (okay, my cock) as a being separate from me--either "Robin" (when I was Batman) or "Mouse" (now that I'm Ratman)--and take responsibility for my entire self. Both of these strike me as important stages in my gradual re-emergence as a single unified being after months of the Monk playing on my split nature (Bat/Bruce/my real name) and pitting the various selves against each other.

There were other firsts last night, too, but these are the key ones. On one hand, I'm moving toward (re)unification, towards a wholeness as a single, as yet unknown, personality (or so it seems)--and at the same time, I suddenly find that the Monk and I have company in our little playroom.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Knightfall 8: All Hands on Deck

The other day I was describing the whole cyber-bat-fantasy realm to a friend, and I compared it to the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm not a Trek watcher, let alone fan, but I think I have the basic idea of the Deck: a zone where people can go to live out their wildest fantasies in a (usually) safe environment, sometimes alone and sometimes with others.

I presume crew members can use this zone to work out issues in their "real" lives if they wish, or just get off for a while. That's certainly the case with batplay, online or off. And one of the things I'm getting to examine in my encounters with the Monk is the tremendous attraction that failure holds for me--the notion of coming as close to defeat as humanly possible and then rescuing myself at the last minute (or, most enticing of all, NOT rescuing myself). With defeat comes shame, and the shame fuels my rebound. I'm one of those habitually late people who pushes a deadline way past its expiration date (a habit which is really, really bad in a writer, by the way), then beats himself up about it, and then produces something pretty good (though never as good as it should or could be). I've long suspected that my little dance of procrastination, self-hatred, and triumph was linked to the cycle of deathtraps and last-minute escapes that so thrilled me as a young BatFan, and as I'm playing out the gradual unravelling of my batself at the hands of the Monk, I'm beginning to see just how incredibly powerful are my fantasies of utter defeat/shame/humiliation.

Ironically--or more likely not--I'm only starting to play seriously with all this stuff in batfantasy at the precise moment that my daylight life is probably healthier and happier than ever. As a man in my mid-40s I've naturally been thinking a lot about what constitutes "success" in my life, and I can honestly say I feel pretty okay with where I am. It's not where I thought I'd be as a kid, but then maybe those expectations were a bit unrealistic to begin with. (For one thing, many of those expectations were grounded in an upper-middle-class heterosexual married-with-kids-and-high-income-job model that just doesn't match my daily reality; come to think of it, I probably picked up a lot of that fantasy from 60s television programming, too--other than billionaire crimefighter Bruce Wayne, my role models once included architect Mr. Brady and psychologist Bob Newhart. Mamas, don't let your babies watch TV!)

With all that in mind, here's another update on my ongoing debasement as Ratman. I was telling the Monk the other day that my transformation is not going the way I'd expected. All along I was envisioning that being "broken" would happen quickly, in a flash, or at least that there would be a single decisive watershed moment. (As I've written here earlier, I thought I'd reached that moment already, but it eventually passed and I realized I had a lot more Bat left in me than I thought.) That might sometimes happen in face-to-face s/m scenes, but in my case what's happening instead is that it's a very, very slow process, as more and more of the batself fades from my being day by day by day. Which is actually way sexier to me, when you get right down to it: some of my darkest batfantasies involve being held prisoner for days, weeks, even months at a time, as I slowly wither away. (I think, too, of the climax of one of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, in which Moriarty captures our hero and begins to drain all the blood out of his body, one drop at a time. Mmmmmm!)

I mentioned all this to the Monk not long ago; here's part of his response:

I respect your gradual
submersion into the fact..I encourage
it...savor each and every sensation...the pangs of
confusion...the freedom of debasement..the sheer
eroticism of meeting your destiny at my cowled
control..we'll defeat each of those internal
villains..and create an even better one....

(The "internal villains" he refers to are an allusion to another part of my bat-backstory: in solo play, I have often confronted villainous impulses implanted in me by previous captors who have attempted to turn the Dark Knight over to the Dark Side.) As is the case a disturbing amount of the time, he's described the process with extraordinary precision--but then, that's why he's the master villain he is.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Not-So-Teen Titans

It's not like I don't have a gazillion Important Things to Do tonight, but I've been spending many hours doing the silliest of online surfing. In my quest to track down the specific quote which serves as the epigraph of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis ("a rat became the unit of currency," from Polish writer Zbigniew Herbert--regular H&V readers will know why this is on my mind right now), I came across a review of the novel which in turn led me to discover Titans of Finance, a comic book based on the biographies of various real-life tychoons. Haven't read it yet, but I'm tempted to order a copy. After all, I find (many but not all) men in business suits only slightly less sexy than superheroes, even when their personal politics repulse me.

Anybody out there ever read this thing? If you follow links at the site, you'll find examples of the comic strip it's drawn from.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Hey look--I'm really not Batman, after all!

But is this better or worse:
TV's Superman!
Congratulations! You are TV's Superman, faster than
a speeding bullet, more powerful than a
locomotive, able to do pretty much anything at
all except deal with a little kryptonite! It's
amazing how many ways there are of working
kryptonite into the script, though. You're
smug, but what the hell, you're pretty much
all-powerful. On the other hand, it's not like
you worked for those powers. You just happened
to land on a planet with a different color sun,
so all of a sudden you think you're better than
me. You know what? Screw you!

Which of TV's SuperFriends Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tip o' the cape to In Sequence for steering me to this quiz, an ideal way to avoid actual labor or sleep (even if the questions and answers are pretty transparent).

Now playing in the Batmobile (er, Ratmobile)

Been listening in the car to the audio cassette version of Andrew Vachss' 1995 Bat-novel, The Ultimate Evil. I was vaguely aware of the book when it came out, along with accompanying comic book adaptation, but I'd never heard of Vachss, and besides, the whole premise sounded like it wouldn't be my cup of tea. (I'm not a huge fan of those periodic incursion-into-the-real-world side projects where the Caped Crusader is recruited to deal with land mines, or whatever--mainly because the chances of catching him shirtless and/or bound seem mighty slim under such circumstances. And yes, I am exactly that shallow.)

But lately I've been getting into the books-on-tape phenomenon in a desperate attempt to liven up my daily commute to my soul-draining job. I don't wanna pay too much for these things, since they strike me as single-use items (unlike actual books, whose pages can be turned more effectively than tape can be fast-forwarded), so I limit myself to library selections, remaindered items at bookstores, and used ones. The book I listened to just before this one, as I've noted before, was Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, which turned out to have some eerie conjunctions with my personal bat/rat saga.

I'm not quite done with Ultimate Evil--I have maybe an hour to go--but it has its appeal. On the downside, it's read by Tony Roberts (whom I always sorta liked as an actor in mid-70s Woody Allen movies), and it's a little disconcerting to hear "Max" from Annie Hall as the Batman and a host of other characters. His Batman sounds like a bad Bogart impersonation more than anything else, and that's just not how I hear him at all. It throws the whole thing off; our hero comes across as this slightly cranky, ultra-dorky old coot. Maybe Vachss' prose has something to do with that, but I blame Roberts more.

The story, though, is pretty compelling after all--considerably more interesting than the plots of any of the films, for sure. It's refreshing to see the character taken very seriously by a very adult writer of prose; the third-world child-abuse angle is less stilted and didactic than I might have guessed, at least in this abridged version (though it still has its creaky moments); and, let's face it, I just plain get off listening to detailed descriptions of my favorite fictional hunk and his wardrobe.

Vachss is really on to something with his complex stew of real-world childhood trauma, adult sexual fantasy, and the role of masked manhunters in both. (Added thrill: Batman undercover in a gay bar! In a Time/Warner-approved product!) I know for certain that it's various sad/scary experiences in my own childhood (nothing like the slavery rings depicted in the book, thank god) that inspired me to adopt the Bat as my hero and lifelong mythical counterpart (just as the murder of his parents led young Bruce Wayne to create his alter ego), so it's interesting to watch someone work with all that as subtext in a crime novel.