Monday, January 09, 2006

Knightfall 23: The end of an era

It's over.

I honestly never thought I'd say this, but the saga of Batman and the Monk, or at the very least this particular manifestation of that saga--this specific graphic novel or multi-issue comic series, if you will--has reached its logical conclusion.

I've spent one day short of 5 weeks avoiding any contact with M--a struggle that felt sometimes like it would tear me apart. There were days when I wanted more than anything to turn myself in and return once again to his clutches, but somehow I always held out. This meant that Batman was effectively forced completely underground, able to go visible in Yahoo Messenger only in the very late hours of the night, for more than a month.

Believe me, this is a very, very odd way to maintain a "friendship." And ours has been a most unusual friendship from the get-go. (This might be an appropriate place to note the distinction between the virtual friendship of two real people, chatting in cyberspace, and the epic struggle between the two mortal enemies we played. Those lines get fuzzy sometimes, which is partly what this entry is about.)

Tonight--feeling empowered and not at all ready to succumb--I signed on to Messenger (that is, Batman walked into the familiar alley where he knew his enemy would find him), and within two minutes he pinged me (that is, the Monk made his presence known). It was quite clear that, while the last several weeks had been every bit as charged for me as when we chatted on a daily basis, my silence had not carried the same intensity for him as it had for me. Far from it: he'd lost "the spark" and had moved on to other victims, other interests, and assumed I had done the same.

We spent the next two and a half hours chatting, not as Batman and Monk, but as the two real people beneath those guises. I think we both, fairly quickly, understood the other person's perspective--and we both acknowledged that our story had come to an end, at least for now. (As I noted in my last entry on the subject, the beauty of an adversary in the comics is that he never really goes away, just gets sent to jail for a few years and then resurfaces, sooner or later--or could, at any minute. Keeps the hero on his toes, which is always a good thing.)

And as Ii wrote in the very first chapter of this "Knightfall" saga, I hit a point a few years ago when my solo "batplay" reached a dead end--there was only so far I could go, playing both villain and hero, tying myself up and breaking free. That was fun and/or enlightening for a good ten years, but I needed to explore territority I couldn't cover by myself. I craved an element of surprise, a real sense of an adversary outside myself. The Hub was more than willing to suit up and play good guy or bad guy for a night, which was/is always fun and sometimes remarkable, but for the most part the whole business does not carry the same intensity for him as it does for me. So I turned to the online community to deepen my bat-adventures. Problem was, I've never been in this simply to jerk off. (When I want to get off, it's way less work to grab a video or even a comic book than to have to type a scenario for some horny semi-literate guy I'd probably never want to talk to if I met him in real life.)

Enter the Monk, who seemed to grasp exactly the kind of longterm 24/7 fantasy I was into and who was more than willing to create it alongside me, enjoying it as fully as I did. As I've documented here in great detail, that ultimately involved my being unmasked, broken, humiliated, and transformed into a lowly slave he dubbed "Ratman"--until I eventually came to my senses (or, to hear him tell it, fulfilled the destiny he had always had in mind for me)--and broke free of his clutches, reclaiming my old costume and mission once more. All of this unfolded on a more-or-less nightly basis over the course of a year and a half, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my adult life. That is to say, the fantasy taught me as much about myself as any real-world experience.

Alas, "powerful" does not always mean "pleasant," and there were times when being beaten and broken just made me feel ... beaten and broken, or, at the very least, like I was conducting some kind of torrid affari behind my Hub's back, even though that was clearly not the case. I wrestled with my attraction/repulsion to the Monk, and weighed my major options:

*I could return to him and surrender forever, which did not feel like a wise thing to do on any level (given how crappy my earlier subservience had me feel), or
*I could leave the online world altogether, never to return, which also did not seem like something I really wanted to do. (For one thing, I've made some really nice friendships in that world, and I didn't want to leave all of them behind.)

Between those two extremes lay a middle ground: I could go cold turkey and wait out my "addiction" to his charms until he no longer held such force over me. Thus the 5 week hiatus. Alas, the real person behind the Monk persona was not privvy to any of this, and simply lost interest in waiting for me to resurface. In short, we'd both reached another dead end: I couldn't defeat him or reclaim the secrets he'd stolen from me (my unmasked face and identity), but neither did I want to continue living with the less than pleasant feelings this whole saga conjured up for the real-life me, and the Batman in me was similarly left in limbo, unable to fight other villains and unwilling to submit to the one who had defeated him. In the course of our discussion, we mutually agreed that our adventure, or at least this version of it, was over. I called it a victory,he claimed it as a draw. And we both expressed our high regard for each other, as adversaries and friends alike. As he put it, "Monk found Batman to be the ultimate prize...and ___ found ___ to be the ultimate roleplay chat bud." (The ____s being real names, of course.) I couldn't say it better myself, and the phrasing makes the stalemate clear: it's hard to keep the "ultimate" going continuously for an unbounded amount of time. Again, a dead end--which is in no way a complaint or shortcoming.

He asked if Batman would seek out other villains, and I reminded him that that's what Batman always does. I just can't say whether those will come from the online world (not too likely, since I really do find the vast majority of opponents from that realm are not into the same thing I am), from my own imagination once more, or from some as yet undiscovered realm. I only know that I treasure the saga that unfolded and the friendship of the man who helped unfold it, and I'm happy to move on. After our talk tonight, I feel pretty certain that the friendship is still intact, even if the circumstances that first brought us together have now changed. Until this evening, I had not figured out a way that could happen--so, for me, the "battle" is over, and both of us have won.

It's thrilling to me on some deep level to fantasize that the Monk could resurface at any time--online, on the phone, even in person. Like any great archenemy, he's always out there, plotting his next move. And it's also exciting to realize that, like any hero, my own work goes on--on other fronts, in other battles, against other adversaries.

It's funny: in the daylight world, I have all kinds of problems with endings. (I could devote an entire blog to that last sentence, but then you'd want to charge me for your services, and I already pay a shrink.) This one, while hard won, feels exactly right. I have a feeling I'll have more to say about the Monk in the future, and our paths may even cross again, but at the moment it feels great to close the book on this particular case. I can even call it a happy ending--something Batman seldom allows himself to do.

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