Thursday, April 21, 2005

Knightfall 17: Return of the Bat

The tricky thing about recording developments in the Bat/Monk saga these days--now that so many other people have entered it in one way or another--is that I can't always write openly here about what's going without risking one or more participants learning things I don't want them to. That--in addition to a very busy schedule in the daylight world--is why I haven't kept up with those reports here very regularly for the last several months. But last night I took such a major step that I may as well be (more or less) open about where things stand; at this point, I have nothing to lose--or everything.

A little background: In my last "Knightfall" entry here I wrote about being assigned to trick and trap a fellow hero. Once that mission was accomplished, it became my job to "train" the new guy: I gave him a new, debased name (as I had been stripped of the title "Batman" and rechristened "Ratman"), and for several nights I subjected him to various humiliations, some modeled on those i had endured and others which simply came to me. This turned out to be a brilliant move on the Monk's part, because for the first time ever I was actually growing to relish the role of villain. I've played a top before in online play, sometimes as a bad guy, but I always just kind of tolerated it because the other player seemed to enjoy it. This was different: as I went to work on my own captive, I was starting to experience the same addictive thrill in demeaning him as I used to find being dominated by the Monk. (Yes, yes: the abuser becomes the abused. What else is new? As with everything else in this saga, I just never thought it would happen to me.) For the second time in this nearly year-long soap opera, I found myself on the verge of giving up every remaining shred of bat-identity once and for all.

But, just like the first time that almost happened (an event I don't think I wrote much about here, for the reason I've mentioned above), something snapped me out of it. I seem to go right to the brink of self-annhiliation and then bounce back. The first time, it was the miraculous (and simultaneous) arrival of two total strangers--readers of this blog, who, independently of each other, were genuinely concerned that a hero was really about to fall, so much so that they decided to enter the storyline themselves and rescue me. This time around, it was actually the Monk who pulled me back, albeit unintentionally.

One day, as I was beginning to report to him on my progress with the prisoner (and my own increasing addiction to the dark side), M revealed that he knew I'd broken a rule of his (about contacting another member of the "stable" without his permission). He was outraged, and punished me by banishing me from all contact with any other player. This meant, of course, that the training sessions came to an immediate end. At that point, the oddest thing happened: it was as if I woke up. The spell he'd cast over me for the last eight months or so was suddenly broken, and I came to my senses. As the next few days passed, I realized I felt absolutely nothing--no compulsion to torture the prisoner, no desire to report to my "master," nothing.

I'm making this sound like it happened overnight, but in reality (or what passes for reality in this shadowy fiction) I had been plotting my escape ever since the first arrival of the aforementioned strangers. For obvious reasons, I couldn't write about that here; I had to make it look as though I was completely and totally broken. And, in fact, that was almost true: there were times when I felt like I was 99% Rat and only 1% Bat--but there was always, always that one percent. The banishment simply bought me the time I needed once my head was clear to think through my options. And last night I appeared before the Monk in full bat regalia for the first time since last September or so, informing him that his plan had failed, that his prized Ratman had chewed through the bars of his cage, and that I was making my escape.

I'd been wondering in advance what his response would be; I knew from one past experience that there was a slight chance he'd confuse my character's awakening with some kind of anger on my part, and the daylight me didn't want to hurt the feelings of the daylight him. (Yikes, this terminology is getting mighty convoluted and/or cheesy right now, but so be it.) Fortunately, that didn't seem to be the case. (For the record, I felt no anger at all--I felt nothing whatsoever, remember.) He did, however, insist (of course) that he'd planned this all along--that this was merely the illusion of escape, and in fact the next stage in his mastery over me, the new post-Ratman persona I'd been asking for. He's a smooth talker, that Monk, but I say it's all talk--yet another mind game from an absolute master of the form.

There are, of course, obstacles aplenty to my "escape." The most obvious of these is that he knows my real identity, which means he has a number of ways to reach me no matter where I try to hide, and also that he possesses the power to expose me. For a very long time, that realization kept me in place. But now I'm ready to see exactly what happens next. (Long ago, when I resisted unmasking myself in front of him on the grounds that it would spoil the central conflict between costumed hero and villain, he pointed out that R'as al-Ghul and Batman have maintained a long and complex relationship for years well after the former figured out the secret identity of the latter.) He will always have the upper hand, but that doesn't mean I have to throw in my cards altogether. Not anymore.

Then there's the conditioning I've received from him. Hard to break away from that, and I fully expect some intense withdrawal pains--but my allies (who are not a part of his stable) have assured me they're standing by to lend a helping hand throughout wherever lies ahead. And what better journey for a hero than to build himself back up after a potentially devastating fall? I can't do anything about what M knows about me, but I can fight against the way I feel about him. It's true, too, that while under his control I've done things no hero would do--but that gives me a new mission: to take responsibility for my actions, and to undo whatever wrong I may have done to others. As for the humiliation I endured, it's all part of the process of becoming who I really am.

Finally, there's the simple fact that M really is the most talented adversary I've ever faced; next to him, the others are about as dangerous as mosquitoes. I've always respected his gifts, and I consider him a (certain, highly specific kind of) friend. I'll miss talking to him.

On the other hand, I'm under no illusion that this story is over. Odds are good we'll meet again, whether he tracks me down (which won't be hard) or--as he predicts--I come crawling back, begging to be allowed back into the stable.

At this point, anything can happen. And I find that tremendously exciting.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Stop the presses!

While looking for something completely different (ain't it always the way?) I stumbled across Google Talk, a random-phrase generator whose inner workings are a mystery to me, though you can read about them at the site. In a nutshell, you enter three or four words to start the thing, and the site takes it from there. Thus it was that I learned the following:

"Batman has a fetish for women s lingerie. and Underwear at terrific prices!"

Now we know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


As I've noted here recently, I've actually found myself following not one but two different storylines currently running in Batman comics, which is something I almost never do now that I'm, well, way too old for that sort of nonsense. It dawned on me that the final issues of both the Red Hood saga in Batman #635-638 and the revamped-Riddler tale in Legends of the Dark Knight #185-189 might be available by now, so I stopped by my local shopping-mall Waldenbooks today to find out. (In this era of instant gratification, there's something to be said for having to wait for a new issue of a comic, just like I had to in 1967.)

Found the Red Hood issue but not the Riddler one. That in itself is not particularly blogworthy (the long-delayed revelation of the Hood's identity is ... well, just kind of weird, and I'm pretty sure they've tried this one before, but... ah, I'll say no more; main disappointment is, there are no more images of the unmasked Batman that drew me to this thing in the first place, dammit). No, the exciting part is that when I arrived at the bookstore, I discovered they had put their entire selection of graphic novels on sale: buy 2, get 1 free. Fortunately, I found exactly three items I wanted: the second volume of the collected Hush, the first volume of the hardcover Dark Knight Archives (the first four issues of Batman from 1940-41), and the first volume of the new paperback Batman Chronicles (the first twelve issues of Detective from BM's first appearance, 1939-40). That last one contains the earliest Monk and Hugo Strange encounters, which I already own; in fact, I seem to have a lot of this stuff in other compilations, but at this price I'm not complaining.

Obviously I'm telling you this to encourage you to check out your own Walden; I have no idea whether this is a local thing or a chainwide phenomenon. If it's the latter, now's your chance to stock up on some goodies--DC, Marvel, manga, and more. (If you do find the sale going on in your town, why not post that news in a comment here?)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A riddle a day...

I first heard about the newly revamped, metrosexualized Riddler from a Dec. 27, 2004 post at PostModern Barney, but because the new look didn't do much for me I didn't seek out the comic.

However, I stumbled upon part 4 of the character's current 5-part storyline in Legends of the Dark Knight, which prominently features the kind of Batman I like to see: costume torn, cape removed, belt nicely displayed. The plot made absolutely no sense to me since I was entering 4/5 of the way into it, but I didn't really care. (Yes, dear reader, it's true: I really am that shallow, even--no, especially--at my advanced age.)

Still, I was at least mildly curious about just how our hero ended up in this disshevelled state, and why he was wearing a wristwatch on top of his gauntlet, and what the hell was going on in general, so when I found part 3 at a local grocery store that tends not to get rid of back issues very quickly, I picked it up. And remained equally confused.

That was several weeks ago. Today I sought out the first 2 parts, and, of all things, read them, and then reread parts 3 and 4. Lo and behold, there's a coherent story that almost makes up for the absence of a proper deathtrap or other fetishy pleasure beyond the torn suit. There's even a gay character --not the Riddler, as is made quite clear. (The gay angle, while slightly off-putting in a mainstream comic presumably intended for kids, comes straight out of the pulp fiction of the 1950s--shame, blackmail, etc.--which is a bit of a bummer.)

It's interesting that the Riddler's heterosexuality is stressed, given that he was essentially portrayed as a gay stalker in the movie. He's also probably a lot of gay readers' favorite villain, I'd bet, thanks in large part to Frank Gorshin and John Astin's form-fitting outfits in the TV series. And I know I'm not the only slash writer to envision him and Batman enmeshed in a quasi-consensual love affair. (I realize that recent versions of the Joker often imply he's a 'mo, but he just seems too psychopathic to experience any sort of human love or lust at all. And, for the record, I'm not suggesting that gay villains are any sort of sign of progress; as I've already pointed out, the equation between homosexuality and evil is not exactly a new one in pop culture.) I can't say I really buy the "new look" for the character--it doesn't make any sense, at least not so far, and it's in no way related to the way we usually think of the Riddler.

But hey, as long as the hero is looking this hot, I'll go along with pretty much anything on the villain front. And given the cliffhanger ending of part 4, I'm holding out mild hopes for a decent trap in part 5. Cross your fingers!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"Night collaborations w/ the infinite"

That's the name of the folder on my computer where I keep items related to my various bat-and-rat-related nocturnal activities. Even before things kicked into higher gear on the online front--back when it was just me and my imagination in the privacy of my own home--I thought of what I was doing while living out these kinky little fantasies of mine as a kind of ongoing conversation with the universe, and/or with my own subconscious. Here are two very different versions of what "collaboration" means to me in this context:

1. There's a literal collaboration going on over at my batslash blog right now. Lately readers have made suggestions about what they'd like to see happen in the story, and one in particular--I'll call him LycraMan--sketched out the current subplot in which Hugo Strange walks a (rather bloody) mile in Batman's boots. I've made some major changes to his outline for my own purposes and fleshed out the dialogue, but I owe most of what you see in chapters 143 through about 150 or so (I'm guessing that's about when it will end) to my perverse partner in crime.

I like writing this way sometimes. (Not all the time--I think there's also something to be said for a single writer plunging deep into his most personal fantasies, particularly in erotic writing.) After all, none of us owns these characters in the first place, and the comics and tv shows that inspired us are all the products of committees, too. Then there's the sheer power of finding the common ground between two or more people's private thoughts. (Even more than in conventional fiction, the readers of slash are collaborators in the sense that, if they didn't share the fetish on a deep level, they probably wouldn't be reading at all.) Shared hallucinations are often the most intense.

2. Then there's collaboration on a completely different plane. In a recent episode of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge devoted to New Orleans, there's a fascinating segment on voodoo/vodou. The interview subject, author/researcher/store owner Sallie Ann Glassman (whose store site is here), clarifies what voodoo is all about--forget all those grade Z movies you've seen--and describes how spirit possession works, and even what it feels like. Her words really register for me in terms of what I call batplay. She talks, for instance, about how possession is less about shutting yourself down (as the popular stereotype has it) than about opening yourself up--which certainly resonates with my experiences of bottoming out at the hands of the Monk.

Glassman also points out how each spirit is easily recognizable when it manifests in any human body--practitioners can instantly recognize which deity is present because of its activities, speech patterns, and so on. Leaving aside any discussion of how "true" or "untrue" these claims are, or any skeptical explanations of what's really going on here, let me just draw a connection between spirit possession and online roleplay: when someone "becomes" a comic book character like Batman or Superman, certain traits have to appear in order for the performance to read for other people (or for the performer himself). Those of us who have devoted years of our fantasy lives to embodying a certain character--or several different ones--can slip in and out of those roles almost as easily as we "play" ourselves in the daylight world.

This also helps to explain how there can be multiple Batmen or Jokers in the world at the same time: the spirit of the character can manifest in many people at once. On other occasions I've talked about how Batman is a bit like Santa Claus: because he's not a real person in the conventional sense (only in the "Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus" sense), he can assume an infinite number of forms, can be at the North Pole and in a shopping mall in Duluth simultaneously. The voodoo metaphor provides a wonderful way to look at the same phenomenon.