Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Knight After 3: Careful What You Wish For

My fantasy universe continues to expand and contract. One of the things I most enjoy about this counter-life, now that I've been involved in online roleplaying for more than two years (on top of the nine or so years of solo play before that), is that I actually do have a sizable Rogue's Gallery of villains, people with whom I have a history. There's a Riddler, a Catman, the Ranger, and so on, some of whom I've been battling since the beginning, and some of whom have evolved into completely different characters. Then there are the colleagues and sidekicks, and the newcomers who drop by for a skirmish or two and then vanish. It all feels very much like the world of the comic books that fuel this fantasy in the first place.

In my last "Knight After" entry, I noted that there had been a late-breaking shake-up in the otherwise slow action. It's true: during my third or fourth extended encounter with the Mad Hatter, he had me cornered. Both Robin and my former Nightwing who now works under a different name and identity (call him "Gray Fox") happened to be online, so I called them in for backup, and all three of us somehow ended up falling prey to the fiend. This was an interesting development; I've been involved in larger-group scenes before, but somehow this one felt different, perhaps because the action was more exciting and the stakes seemed higher. In our brief acquaintance up to that point, the Hatter had established himself as a significant adversary, and he certainly proved that when he took on all three of us--and kicked our collective ass(es). In short order he had Robin in captivity, Gray Fox revealing his secret identity and removing his mask, and me about to do the same before our session ended. In fact, he did succeed later that day in getting me--on my hands and knees, no less!--to reveal myself as Bruce Wayne and remove my cowl. Robin managed to escape and dosed him with a blast of amnestics, the drug (loosely based on a real-life substance) designed to wipe out a person's short-term memory, and that's where that day's adventure ended.

I've always been fond of the amnestic solution to such dilemmas; without them, unmasking is an irreversible step in a storyline. Once a villain knows who you are, all hell can break loose: he can blackmail you, can enslave you, or--perhaps most dangerous of all--he can simply slip away into the darkness, armed with priviliged information, never to return. (For the record, I've never been a fan of too many people knowing who Batman is underneath his disguise; it becomes an open secret, like Liberace's homosexuality during his lifetime. At the same time, unmasking is an extremely powerful dimension of the bat-fantasy for me, and the temptation to indulge in it as often as possible runs quite strong, which opens me up to the open-secret situation. The more times I do it, the less powerful it ultimately becomes.)

In the Hatter's case, this is all a moot point, because--exactly as I feared/hoped he would, he managed to hold on to the JPEG of my unmasked face he'd made me send him, and it helped him recall exactly what had happened that fateful night. This all became quite clear to me during our next encounter, last night, which involved him forcing an invitation into Stately Wayne Manor, where I was subjected to an interrogation on camera, commanded once more to kneel before him and address him as "Master," and placed under house arrest, where I remain until our next meeting in 48 hours.

(I admit I feel a teensy bit silly being a 45-year-old man prattling on about all of this as if it is a matter of life and death, but to some degree it is--to the extent that it's a metaphor I use to make sense of my day-to-day existence. The things that happen in the bat-world I construct in collaboration with like-minded roleplayers mirror events and feelings that I fear/desire in the daylight world. That should go without saying at this point, but I feel I need to spell it out from time to time lest I sound exactly like a D&D fanatic or one of those people who dresses up like Darth Vader 24/7. Okay, so there is no line between them and me when you get right down to it, but let's overlook that point, shall we?)

There are a couple of points I want to make about my latest adventures:
1. The Hatter makes such an extremely good adversary in part because he too possesses the same fantasies of unmasking and enslavement in another portion of his own fantasy life where he is a superhero rather than a villain. In fact, I'd say (and he would surely agree) that he's really more of a bottom than a top, but he's very, very good at playing a top because of it. This is a rare phenomenon, from what I've seen, and I feel lucky to experience it. (It may also play a role in my eventual escape plans.)

2. After my encounters with the Monk, which pretty much affected every aspect of my bat-fantasy, I've pretty much decided, at least for a while, to compartmentalize my adventures, so that I can have parallel storylines wih multiple adversaries. Thus, in this storyline Batman is currently the captive of the Hatter, but in other realms I am/he is still free to roam about and fight other villains. I'm not sure how well that will work for me--it's cleaner and less personally confusing when a single narrative unites all the independent threads, plus I really love it when a single mistake has numerous inescapable consequences--but I feel like giving it a try for the time being. Happens in the comics all the time, after all.

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