Friday, May 1, 2009

Back to the Roots: The Golden Age Was Insane

One of the reasons I love the Golden Age of Comics is because the heroes were far less likely to put up with your shit. Take the Batman, for example. Batman in his original appearances wasn't this ridiculously omni-capable crimefighter who hated guns and would never, ever kill anyone. Oh my no. The Batman as he appeared in his earliest appearances was a creepy bastard who enjoyed terrifying random passers-by and who would shoot you with a machine gun mounted on an airplane at the flimsiest pretext imaginable. That truck there? It contains gigantic monster freaks made by Hugo Strange, and so Batman has to shoot the drivers to protect us all. Really. And if shooting doesn't work, he'll strangle them to death by dropping a lasso around their necks and hanging them with the airplane.

"He's probably better off this way." Jesus, Batman. That dude might have had a family before a crazy criminal scientist made him into a gigantic monstrosity, you could at least pretend you hesistated before you snuffed him.

I'm not arguing (right now) that all superheroes should revert to their Golden Age personalities. As much as I love the Golden Age Superman's total disregard for human life, dignity or even the basic freedoms we all take for granted (if you don't believe me, here's the GA Superman crashing headlong into an airplane hoping to kill the Ultra-Humanite and here he is breaking into a radio station to inform the city that he's going to wreak havoc on their cars until they obey his traffic safety commands - he threatens the announcer with bodily harm just because he can) I don't really want to read him acting that way in a modern comic book. But I do find the cold, malevolent Batman of the late 30's to be an awesome character.

For example, while heading out to sea to eventually save his then-fiancee from a vampire monk, Batman takes the time to scare the living shit out of everyone just because he can.

Don't even try and tell me he's not enjoying himself there. That little smile as he stares down at the people (random pedestrians, no less) tells us all we need to know. This Batman isn't a grim, obsessed loner haunted by the deaths of his parents. He's working his grief and rage out by terrorizing the city. Fighting crime is the pretext here, it's all about scaring the living shit out of everyone.

Frankly, I miss this and wish we'd get to see a hint of it in the modern portrayals of the characters. Like I said, I don't want entire issues where Superman goes apeshit and decides to force us to enact clean water laws and enforce them by breaking into the offices of the EPA and hanging their administrators over improperly cleaned Superfund sites until they start weeping and pissing themselves, but I would like it if every so often you got the sense he might. Not often, but once in a blue moon people would remember that there was a godlike alien living among them who could, in fact, smash into the Pentagon and hang a four star general off of a flagpole if he felt like it, and there really isn't much we could do to stop him if he did. Just ask Hitler and Stalin, who Superman captured and handed over to the League of Nations before all that messy WWII stuff could happen.

Okay, it didn't really take.

Still, I enjoy the Golden Age, where Batman shot people in their sleep because he was pretty damn sure they were vampires, or possibly werewolves. It was a simpler time.

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