Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Knightfall 16: Black Sunday

My boyhood comics collection really didn't contain many issues of JLA or similar magazines. (Neither does my adult collection, for that matter.) I've just never been that interested in large-group superhero sagas, with the possible exception of The Authority--and I would happily dispense with most of the characters in that one, too. It's the same reason I have no use for Batman's or Superman's extended families of fellow heroes: I'd rather see them work alone. (Those two are orphans, after all.) I know that in the post-modern era we're supposed to find it amusing to watch the individual members of the Justice League or Teen Titans or X-Men or the Avengers all bickering among themselves, but that thought strikes me as about as exciting as observing the day-to-day workings of a law firm or corporation. If I want office politics, I'll go to my office, dammit.

Even so, I do enjoy tales where a big bunch of good guys is brought to their knees--literally, if possible--by one or more supervillains. No surprise there, I guess: since I find the humiliation of one hero to be so hot, the idea of a whole truckload of them brought down is even hotter.

That's why the latest developments in my personal "Ratman" adventures hold such special appeal (if that's the right word) at the moment. In the early days of my encounters with the Monk, it was just me against him--and, later, me under him. But as more and more readers of this blog have joined in the storyline (and more are always welcome--M is hungry for fresh meat), the cast of characters has gotten far larger, and I find myself with a veritable Justice League of my own, with a suitably international ensemble: a British Batman, a Texan Superman, a Canadian Robin, and so on. From time to time I introduce these men to each other, forge alliances, etc. For a while, this gave me hope that I might somehow escape M's clutches.

But just as membership has its priviliges, it also has its down side. As Ratman, I am under orders to turn each of these characters over to my master, and he picks and chooses which of them he will work on. Thus, the Monk has a stable of his own, thanks in part to me. Last week, one of my closest comrades in this complex counter-world took me completely by surprise and administered a drug to me, designed by the Monk to make me both more subservient and more evil. Then the two of us were assigned to take down a third hero, one whose relationship to M actually predates my own by several years.

We did so a couple of days ago, during an event I've already come to think of as "Black Sunday." The unique torment of my present condition is that I'm fully aware of my past as Batman and thus how wrong it is for me to now be working for my former archenemy, and yet I'm powerless to resist. As a result of Black Sunday, I have now dragged another good man down, an act which looms heavy on my conscience (or would, if the drug would allow me to feel remorse). The same goes for Superman, my partner in crime. A further effect of the drug compels me to report any backsliding on his part--and I now risk our victim turning me in should I ever come to my senses. Thus, M has established a brilliant system of checks and balances, a self-policing triangle of helpless slaves.

In other words, I'm now living through yet another of those scenarios that brought me such dizzying pleasure in the comics: I am not just a minion, I am part of a cadre of minions, all former legends, now kneeling at the feet of the man who brought them down. Like everything else about my dreamworld saga under the control of the Monk, it's both repellent and irresistible.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Daredevil: Man Without Clothes

I'm sure you know I am a DC man through and through, but its age-old rival does have its share of hot heroes. And I swear to you, if something like the cover of Daredevil #70 had appeared when I was an adolescent, I might well have changed teams. (To Marvel, I mean; no amount of Batgirl exposure would have turned me straight, I assure you.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present a 100% butt-naked Matt Murdock standing and staring at his empty costume. It truly doesn't get any better than this. The issue itself doesn't hold much interest to me, but who cares?

Thank you, Marvel Knights. You've made my night, that's for sure.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Ransom Note UPDATE: Hold your calls, the demands have been met

I got the 5 responses I asked for--within 24 hours, no less (damn, I should have put THAT in the original challenge!)--so it's back to BEGINNINGS again. I had a very difficult week in the daylight world, and it was great to come home and read such nice comments about the story.

While it would have been nice enough to just get some basic "yeah, keep doing it" messages, the best thing of all was discovering exactly how thoughtful and articulate the writers were. I may only be writing for 100 or so people, but if even half of them are this cool, I'm happy. Just to be clear, I didn't really post the challenge because I was feeling unappreciated or anything. Obviously I write this stuff first and foremost for myself, and I already knew there were some like-minded readers out there who share my weird mix of raunch and intellectualizing-about-raunch. A few of these folks have become good (if virtual) friends, which brings me great joy.I also didn't do it because I had run out of ideas. (If anything, I have way too many, at this point in the story.) I only wanted to experiment with the unique possibiities of a blog as a vehicle for storytelling. Maybe I'll try other experiments in the future.

One of the people who wrote had this to say:

"...Using your own personal experience as an example, I would think this is not the conclusion, but rather the beginning. If I recall correctly one of your blog posts (about an early encounter with the Monk), this is where it gets interesting.

"I have strong reservations about killing either character off--or even leaving them in a vanquished state. For me, Batman and Robin are heroes; and despite the enjoyment I get out of seeing them in situations of distress, it's important (for me at least) to see them triumph in the end. (It's why I keep expecting you to write a follow-up to the Sadist story someday.)

"I would think this might be a real creative challenge for you; now that you've broken them, how do you imagine these men rebuilding themselves? How does this affect their future partnership? How does it change Batman to know that he's been broken?"

There is so much in this response that I want to comment on. First, there's the reminder that when it comes to broken heroes, I know what I'm talking about. (I hate to say it, but it really turns me on to have a complete stranger remind me that I am, in fact, a broken man. From the moment I started posting here about my adventures with the Monk I've been feeling an immense charge from making my defeat public. Like the original unmasking I endured, it's something that can't be undone, and that thrills me in a powerful way. When people other than the Monk refer to me as "Ratman"--a name I hate--it feels both awful and exciting at the same time. No matter what I may tell myself, there will always be certain inescapable facts I have to live with.) I'll have more to say about all this some other time, but suffice it to say I will certainly be drawing on firsthand experience of bottoming out in telling Bruce's story from this point on, just as I have already leaned heavily on my ordeal at the hands of my own (semi-)real life Dr. Strange thus far.

As for needing to see the heroes triumph in the end (two other writers expressed a similar wish): wow, yes, of course. I sometimes forget how loaded my main character is for other people, not just me. As every slash disclaimer notes, I don't "own" Batman any more than someone could own Santa Claus. My connection to him is obviously intense and highly personal, spanning most of my life, and when I read that someone else finds it "important" for him to survive and thrive, I realize how true that is, on a cultural as well as a personal level. (Not trying to get too big for my batboots here, but it's late and I am prone to big-picture pontification at such an hour.) As I've written many times here, the biggest thrill for me is to see Batman go right to the brink of annhiliation and then pull himself back at the last possible minute. (Needless to say, I blame the ritualized cliffhangers of the '66 TV show for this.) I've read a little superhero snuff fiction (ie, stories in which the hero does not escape at the last minute) and it always feels a little weird and wrong, albeit in a creepily enticing way.

On the other hand, the beauty of Bob Kane's creation is that at this point, no one can kill him off for long--he always springs back to life in another story told by somebody new. Doyle couldn't kill off Sherlock Holmes, DC couldn't keep Superman dead for long... Then again, there's the death of Jason Todd's Robin, which was final, and which (even if it started off as a cheap publicity gimmick) has brought great emotional weight to later depictions of Batman's saga. Now he has to deal not only with the death of his parents but the loss of his symbolic son.

Okay, back to my own story. I confess I rather enjoyed the brief break from posting chapters, and there's no way I can keep up that pace of adding new ones in the days ahead, but I'm also looking forward to starting up again.

And, yes, what has happened so far is ... only the beginning.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ransom Note

After drawing it out as long as I possibly could (with apologies to those of you who open presents on Christmas Eve because you hate waiting), I just posted the climactic scene in my serial-blog Hugo Strange story. The money shot, as I've called it in other entries here.

And now comes a moment I've been contemplating for months: I've also posted a challenge to readers on the site. I'm perfectly content continuing the saga (which would pose new challenges since so many things have changed so radically according to the storyline), but first I want to hear from people who've been following it. As for everyone who writes fanfic or slash, this is a labor of love, or more likely lust, for me, and I'm curious about whether there's enough interest to make it worth my time. (Who am I kidding? If I don't write "Beginnings" anymore, I'll just start a new story sooner or later. But it might be nice to take a break.)

Naturally I have that whole "Death-of-Robin" publicity stunt from the comics in mind. But I also like the idea of the fate of these characters resting in the hands of the people who give them life by imagining them/reading about them/fantasizing about them. So all I ask is for five readers to e-mail or IM me in order to save the lives of Batman and Robin (or perhaps end them in a particularly delicious manner). Think of it as a hostage crisis--or the next step in reader-interactive literature. (On second thought, just think of it as a hostage crisis.)

I'll actually be perfectly happy if I don't hear from anyone at all--after all, you know how much I happen to get off on the concept of a truly broken Bat (they don't call me Ratman for nothin'), and there's something exciting to me about this particular version of the bat myth ending on so bleak a note. But really, now: do you want to see Batman meet his fate this way? Don't delay--cast your vote today!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Knightfall 15: Beyond Good and Evil

My online world has become well populated these days; a while ago, to help sort things out, I divided my "friends" list on Yahoo Messenger into--but of course!"--"Heroes" and "Villains." But it's hard sometimes to figure out who fits in which category. There are players who assume both roles as the mood strikes them, for instance. Then there are self-styled heroes who gloat about my downfall, which hardly strikes me as heroic behavior. And now that I've fallen under the control of a master villain, is everything suddenly turned upside down--should I consider the Monk my hero and Superman a villain? (That one's easy: the distinction is between heroes and villains, not friends and enemies. Superman, no matter how my master regards him, is still a hero... Or is he, now that he too has fallen under the control of the Monk? See how complicated it gets?) Then there's the issue of self-identification: if I am no longer allowed to call myself Batman, and if I now serve a supervillain, what camp do I fall in? I don't, for the most part, do villainous things myself, I simply serve a villain as a broken hero...

And so on. All of this reminds me of a certain aspect of my real-life family history. My late mother had a series of very close friends with whom she eventually had a falling out--you could say they went from Good Guys to Bad Guys. And both of my sisters, and two of her sisters (my aunts) also made a shift in category. Usually the move was from Good to Bad, but on a few rare occasions a Bad person became Good again in her eyes. Every member of my family was aware of this categorizing, and one of my sisters used to refer to it explicitly: "I was the Good Daughter and C was the Bad One; then something happened and she became the Good One and I was the Bad One," she said--in a direct but surely unintentional paraphrase of the Prodigal Son parable (which, as I read it, is all about the irrelevance of such distinctions).

As a result of all this, I've never had much use for such simple categorizations in my own adult life. I get bored and annoyed when Hollywood movies employ the good guy/bad guy dichotomy (a simplification which tends to flourish during Republican administrations, I've noticed), and I was outraged when our current president started trotting out the "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" rhetoric. Never had much use for Reagan's "Evil Empire" mantra, either.

Granted, the Batman of the 60s TV show was a true-blue Good Guy who confronted a series of easily identifiable Bad Guys (except when the Green Hornet paid a visit to Gotham), but my own version of the character has long been far murkier. He may have devoted his life to fighting criminals, but he's a vigilante, working outside the law--and if he were a real person, he'd actually be breaking the law in several municipalities by virtue of his signature mask, to say nothing of his violent behavior. I prefer to think of him as unclassifiable--heart in the right place, but so obsessed with his mission that he's become a virtual sociopath.

Meanwhile, I continue to play with all this good/bad stuff in my online existence, almost every night. Part of the challenge is figuring out what I am deep down, and what to make of my partners in crime/crimefighting. And the line I've crossed--and crossed again and again and again--in my dealings with the Monk only makes the dichotomy fuzzier, and thus more fascinating, than ever.