Is Batman a leftist???
I suppose that it was inevitable really, amidst the media hype surrounding Nolan’s third and final Batman film, during a US Election year, that something like this would come up.
Rightwing blowhard Rush Limbaugh has tried to start a little Kulturkampf over a cartoon inspired movie – according to Rush (or “fucknuts” as his close friends know him), this years’ extension of the franchise is overtly anti Mitt Romney and big business. Why even the main villain, the Homophobic, tyrannical Bane has a name that sounds like the vulture capitalists that dear Mitt used to work for…
…and the left takes the bait.
On Sunday, Labour List published a post by the Labour Student hack Connor Pope extolling the leftist credentials of the Caped Crusader, to whit;
He uses his great corporate wealth to fight crime, rather than amassing more wealth for its own sake.
Unlike Superman, Green Lantern et al, he has no special powers, just a cave full of gizmos.
He is quite a nice, though haunted, chap.
err, that’s it.
The post is followed by an ever increasing comment thread, as lefties and comic book nerds (the two groups being by no means mutually exclusive) sling fairly polite but meaningless nonsense at each other. This, like much of the Culture Wars of the 1970s and 80s, is besides the point, and also possibly a dangerous cul-de-sac to be driving down in Austerity Times.
For the record, I have enjoyed both the Burton and Nolan Batman films for what they are – escapism and nothing more. In fact, when comedian Reginald D Hunter described Batman back in 2008 as a rich dude who combats street level crime, whilst ignoring corporate criminals, I really see his point, although in the case of such a “Golden Age” comic hero, maybe he misses the point a bit…
In truth, since the 1970s, comics have produced a whole host of left-slanted stories and heroes to follow on both sides of the Atlantic. After cutting my teeth on the Beano, that home of militant feminism (“Minnie the Minx”), proto-Trades Unionism (“The Bash Street Kids”) and sheer joyous anarchic rebellion (“Dennis the Menace”), I moved on, like many boys of my generation top that other childhood staple, the War comic.
Its hard to imagine now, but in the post war years, there were a cornucopia of these – Valiant, Victor, Battle, and the Commando War Library (we could also buy pretty realistic guns firing caps and plastic bullets – all the better to act out our fantasies in the back gardens and parks). Not only did we have these, but pretty much every Sunday afternoon there would be a war movie – Dambusters, The Longest Day, Angels One-Five, Zulu … the list was seemingly endless, with seasonal variations (the Christmas war movie would be Where Eagles Dare or Heroes of Telemark – because they were set in the snow…).
My favourite was Battle, which weekly featured the memorable stories of “Charlies War” – set in the Great War, this had a recurring anti-war theme. Officers were generally heartless toffs, the (graphic) slaughter was portrayed as meaningless, and the hero, Charlie, was an East-End boy who came from grim poverty. Another hero, although I think he may have been in Victor, was Johnny Red – a WW2 RAF pilot fighting with the Red Air Force in the USSR. Naturally, almost every German was a Nazi, every Japanese was a fanatic (“Banzai! AAAIIIEE!!!!), and the Italians were comical. Plucky Brits died mouthing the words “Bought it Tommy…”, and Americans chewed cigars… Even in the 1970s it seems, the Henty-ish picture of the outside world that Orwell wrote about still held sway.
… yet there were, as I have stated, significant rebellions from the normal stereotypes. Being British products, the class war did creep in…
Later on, I graduated to 2000AD and its great left wing satire on the consumerist police state of the future – Judge Dredd, who’s very name came from a Ska protest song. In the Strontium Dog Johnny Alpha you had a critique of racism, Skizz, where the enemy was an Apartheid-era South African scientist, all these and more were, if not avowedly socialist, certainly to the left of the standard comic book. In the early nineties, even the venerable, conservative Eagle got in on the act, and Crisis published a revisionist, anti-Thatcher Dan Dare storyline…
The work of Alan Moore, Wagner, Grant, Morrison and of course Hewlett and Milligan has been, and continues to be subversive – both of the genre and often of society in general, and their influence has spread…
The Dark Horse Aliens Comics have provided much better sequels to the first two films than Hollywood, often dripping with bile against corporate culture.
So, I think that to debate the merits of one classic hero in the context of politics is kinda pointless. After all, while the left was busy fighting and winning the culture wars of the past fifty years, we were also busy losing the far more important economic one. Perhaps it is time to reverse this?