Episode 40: Batman is done

This is the version I just submitted for editing. I gotta admit not my best but considering the circumstances it’s still pretty good. Enjoy.

To Preserve and Destroy Innocence:

Exploring Aspects of Paternity in Batman

         I was born again with him

         and I started becoming silent

         as I stopped being my center

         to become the orbit of my waking son.

(“Paternity” by Hugo Ríos[1])


The following is an analysis of the importance of paternity within the identities of major characters in the Batman DC Universe series. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, the Caped Crusader is well known for being orphaned as a young boy and selecting other children as his protégés to stop crime in Gotham City. Close readings of key comic books storylines as well interpretations in other media are used to analyze how Batman serves as a parental figure and how his parents continue to influence his identity. Analytic paradigms focus on masculine identity and patriarchal roles though examples of important female characters, like Martha Wayne and Batgirl are also included.


A lovely couple and their young son are walking away from a movie theater after an evening of entertainment. The moment of familial bliss quickly turns to tragedy as a mugger confronts them and that poor boy is now orphaned. In an instant, innocence is destroyed and a burning desire for vengeance will never die out. Readers will recognize this scene as the iconic origin story for Bruce Wayne and his transformation into Batman. Different interpretations of this moment have been made in comics, cartoons, and films throughout the years with minor variations but the tragic result is always the same. Be it through the stoic reflection of “I haven’t been a kid since I was eight years old.”[2] and the memetic catch phrase of “My Parents are dead!”[3], it is clear that Batman’s identity is defined by the sudden loss of his parents.

The chain of influence that parents imbue on their children is one of the more universal aspects of our human nature. Whether it be positive or negative, it shapes identity and in turn how one takes on the role of a paternal/maternal figure in the future. Everyone, ranging from the mild mannered to the heroic, both in real life and works of fiction has this relationship as a cornerstone to their identity. And yet, one continues changing and evolving through time so it is important to take into consideration how these different attitudes play out across the years. What follows is a close reading of many major story arcs in different media explaining how Batman and other major characters deal with their feeling toward their parents and the anxieties that come with becoming one, figuratively and literally.

From Origin until Crisis.

Most comic book readers of DC are quick to make the distinction between any of the events that happened in any continuity as pre or post “crisis”. This distinction refers to the massive crossover limited series, “Crisis on Infinite Earths”[4] that served to simplify the complexities of the multiverse (multiple continuities and alternate realities surrounding different characters) and change the origin stories of most characters. Most contemporary versions of characters are based on their post crisis models. Still, it would be irresponsible to sweep almost  fifty years of comic books under the rug so here are some important pre crisis things to keep into consideration.

Batman first appeared in Detective Comics issue #26 in 1939. By 1940, the character of Robin was introduced with a similar tragic past to that of the Caped Crusader. Richard “Dick” Grayson of The Flying Graysons circus performers saw both of his parents fall to their deaths after mobster Tony Falcone sabotaged their performance. Because of their profession and Dick’s age (him being portrayed in most versions as a teenager) the demise of his parents is not as dramatic as that of Bruce Wayne’s but the desire for justice is still there. Bruce would bring Dick into his home as his ward (he was technically never adopted) and trained him enough so that they could put Falcone behind bars. The training and adventures of Batman and Robin would continue for years (even though neither of them aged during that time) as the Dynamic Duo would solve countless mysteries together.

The relationships between both of these characters bring to mind a father-son relationship but their interactions suggest otherwise. The way Batman would explain his deductive reasoning or the constant training paints the picture of a teacher-student relationship or one that resembles a Rousseauian[5] style master with his apprentice. Had there not been such a distinctive age gap between them, many readers would consider them masked version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The uneasiness in defining their relationship leads to different readings of the characters, especially Frederic Wertham’s claims that  “Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoeroticism which pervades the adventures of the mature ‘Batman’ and his young friendRobin” (189-190)[6]. The incredibly campy live action movie serials and television program of the 1960s continued the portrayals of a pedagogical rather than paternal Batman.

Perhaps the most fatherly figure throughout the decades for both Bruce and Dick is that of their butler, Alfred Pennyworth. He is one the most dependable characters in the series and is always there to provide words of advice, a helping hand, and even a shoulder to cry on. What makes it interesting is that Alfred is in charge of the majority of the domestic responsibilities around Wayne Manor, thus raising the question as to whether he in fact provides more of a maternal role for the Dynamic Duo, rather than a paternal one.

Frank Miller’s Interpretation

Batman had many interpretations throughout the years in various comic books.      Still, the pervading image of the Caped Crusader was very light hearted thanks in large part to the television program starring Adam West[7]. The Batman movie[8] and its infamous “shark repellent” scene further cemented the perception that the Dark Knight did not exactly strike fear into the hearts of his enemies beyond this campy continuity. Frank Miller would step up to recreate Batman as an entity of darkness and vengeance because as he said an interview, “It was really up to the people of my generation to give Batman his balls back.”[9] Miller’s work deals with the future of Batman as an aging hero who comes out of retirement to stop a resurgence of crime by his old rogues gallery and Mutants. Miller’s miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns[10] showed that Bruce Wayne was willing to kill and to do whatever it takes to preserve society.  The only people he could trust beyond a few other retired heroes were Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, both of whom served as father figures to him. In addition,  Batman brings in a new female Robin, Carrie Kelley, to train and ultimately serve as a paternal role model alongside a reformed gang that calls itself “the Sons of the Batman.”

Here we see that the isolation of a retired Bruce Wayne as a hero can only be countered by his parental figures (Alfred and Gordon) and that his responsibilities as a father to a new Robin and his “sons” allow him and to an extent Gotham City to survive even when hope is lost.

After the events of “Crisis”, DC asked Frank Miller to once again work his magic and to give a new origin to the Dark Knight for its main continuity. The result was Batman: Year One[11], which deals with Bruce Wayne ‘s first attempts at being the Caped Crusader, as well as shining a light on how James Gordon deals with corruption in the Gotham PD. Issues of paternity appear early and frequently throughout the title. As Gordon is transferred into Gotham, we see him worried over his wife Barbara that will soon join him in the city and he hopes to himself that “The tests. I pray they’re negative” (6). From here on out the stress of soon being father are constantly in the back of his mind and other characters are quick to mention it as well. We see Gordon call his child James, hoping that he will have a boy. Immediately afterwards we witness him being beaten by masked fellow police officers as a warning to stay in line, “they remind me that I’ve got a pregnant wife” (9). In this moment we see that Gordon’s identity as a father gives him hope towards the future but it also becomes an extension of his responsibilities that limit his freedoms. The imagery of fatherhood is also a constant throughout the text as we see him drinking from his “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug and a very noticeable pregnant wife. The restrictions of being a father become apparent as his relationship with another officer, Sergeant Sarah Essen, develops into an affair and his unwillingness to leave his wife as Sarah wonders, “I just want to know – – if you wife weren’t pregnant, would you… I’m sorry. Wasn’t Fair. Damn it, Jim.” (74, author’s emphasis). This point is further emphasized when a gangster known as the Roman sets a trap for him where they would take his wife and son hostage. He instructs his nephew Johnny that, “Once a man becomes a father he is never truly free.” (88).

The story of James Gordon runs parallel to that of Bruce Wayne and his own development into Batman. There is only one page of the moment when his parents are murdered but aspects of parenthood still appear in the rest of the comic. Perhaps the most poignant is the moment when an injured and disheartened Bruce Wayne returns to his home after an unsuccessful exploration of Gotham’s most crime ridden regions. As he lays bleeding out in a chair looking at a bust of his father, he calls out to him. The inner monologue that begins with “Father… I’m afraid I may have to die tonight” (20) is a powerful scene that summarizes Bruce’s realization that he as a person has failed to provide justice to the meaningless world that took his parents. It is in this moment, with his father in mind that a bat crashes through the window, giving him the will to live on and the inspiration to transform into something more. What is interesting about this iconic moment is that his mother, Martha Wayne only appears in the images of the flashback but is never called out throughout the text. In a traditional masculine perspective, maternal love is often considered to be unquestioning and always present, as opposed to the paternal affection that somehow needs to be earned.

Here we see a modern version of the patriarchal judgment, wherein a king or lord has a son or subject come and explain his actions to prove their worth. Bruce Wayne cannot determine the value of his actions beyond a point of failure and lays the decision of whether or not he should continue living at the feet of his patriarch. The fact Thomas Wayne is dead is irrelevant, he is still considered by Bruce to be the lord of Wayne Manor and only he can pass down patriarchal judgment even as his son is at death’s door. It is not until the very literal bat comes crashing through the window and sits upon the bust of the Wayne patriarch that the power structure can shift from one of paternal dependence to one of self-sufficiency. While the deaths of his parents continue to haunt Bruce Wayne, it is through Batman that this paternal influence no longer overpowers him. The shift in power by placing the figure of the bat above that of his own father allows for the patriarchal structure to be subverted allowing him to become the Dark Knight even if he has no lord and master.

The Robins

Many consider Batman to be one of the greatest superheroes in the DC Universe but he rarely works alone. Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, alongside crossovers with many other heroes, are there to provide help and advice but he is only one half of the Dynamic Duo. I discussed the case of Dick Grayson, the first Robin, a little earlier but I think that this facet needs to be further expanded upon. Batman takes a fatherly role to each of his sidekicks and yet the question of whether or not he is a good father to them or should he even try needs to be asked. Many critics are quick to chastise  Batman for taking in young orphans and putting them in harm’s way rather than do the right thing and let Social Services handle these cases. While it is debatable whether Bruce Wayne would be a good parent, it is clear that his crime fighting alter ego should be someone you do not want near your kids. Some versions of Batman have him being incredibly over protective of his sidekicks even as they are always in dangerous situations. Other versions, like the one done by Twitter persona “The Batman” (@God_Damn_Batman), take a humorous approach to an overly abusive Dark Knight that goes through several Robins a week. The more iconic versions of Batman show a struggle as to whether he does more harm than good to the young boys he trains. Does his quest for giving justice to an orphaned youngster help them cope with the grief or is he living vicariously through them in the search for his own sense of closure?

Batman is perhaps the most serious superhero in all of the DC Universe. If you see him smiling, you are probably in for a world of hurt. However, behind that grumpy exterior there may lie a dangerous psychological condition that detaches him more from reality than one could imagine. Peter Pan Syndrome is not officially recognized by the American Psychological Association but is well known in popular culture that refers to someone never wanting to grow up and become a productive member of society. Bruce Wayne could easily be read as someone who puts on both the masks of the billionaire playboy and of Batman to avoid being an actual adult. Here we have a man in a costume, with every possible gadget imaginable, a secret base in his own personal cave, and a butler that cooks and cleans everything for him; not to mention, that he gets to beat up villains and criminals with no bedtime in sight. This is a young boy’s dream life. In his own way, Batman, wants to go and take other orphans like him to live with him and share in this fantasy world. Now, most comic book writers purposely avoid depicting Batman as happy with his situation, especially after Miller’s interpretation, but one can clearly see that there is a disconnect with the real world and that he is willing to bring boys with a similar tragic past as his own into it.

Each of the Robins go through a maturing process that allows them to find their own identity that goes beyond their father and mentor in Batman. Even in the pre crisis era, Dick Grayson after many years would leave Batman’s side to join the Teen Titans group as its leader. He would then decide to leave Batman’s shadow and forge his own heroic identity, Nightwing. Dick would eventually travel back and forth between Bludhaven (a municipality bordering Gotham), New York City, and Gotham City itself performing his own particular style of vigilante justice but always willing to help his mentor and father figure should it be needed.

The second Robin, Jason Todd, is a completely different case than what happened to his predecessor. Pre crisis, his short story was almost identical to that of Dick Grayson. Post crisis, he was a streetwise punk whose introduction is with him trying to steal the tires off the batmobile. Rather than being orphaned by crime, his mother overdosed and his father was one of the many nameless mooks that worked for one of Gotham’s criminals and are never seen again. Batman found a youthful spirit in Jason that was desperately needed after Dick left his care. While he is not a natural acrobat, Batman sees a lot of potential for his protege and fears that if left alone he would become another one of Gotham’s criminals. While Bruce sees another chance to become a good father figure, Jason is rebellious and refuses to fit the mold of Robin of his predecessor. Here lies a lot of the conflict between the two that evokes something closer to a father-son relationship than what was seen before but ultimately what made most fans dislike this new Robin. With his lack of popularity, a unique aspect to the “Death in the Family[12]” story arc put the power in the hands of readers. During the search for his biological mother, Jason Todd is captured, beaten, and tortured by the Joker while his mother looks on after she was tricked into being bait for him. Jason was left for dead in an abandoned building covered with explosives. The penultimate installment ends with time ticking away and Batman racing to save him. Readers were given a 1-900 number to cast their vote to see whether Jason Todd survived or not. With a margin of less than one hundred votes, Jason’s fate was sealed  and batman would arrive too late. Bruce considered this moment to be his greatest failure and his grief was almost on par with that of losing his parents.

After the tragedy of pretty much losing his child, Bruce Wayne became even more reclusive. He placed Jason’s Robin uniform in the Batcave as a reminder of his shortcomings. It is in that sadness that he suddenly finds Tim Drake, a young boy that would become the third Robin. Rather than an orphan that needed saving, he was a kid with some family troubles but was a huge fan of Batman that recognized that his hero needed help and he volunteered. An incredibly gifted detective, Tim by the age of nine had determined the identities, of the original Robin and subsequently of Batman. Bruce was obviously impressed and decided to take him under his wing but would make him go through six months of training before even his first night on patrol with him. After maturing as an adult, Bruce would become an important father figure to Tim, even as he still had both parents alive. Several years later, Tim’s father Drake was killed and his mother became emotionally unstable, leading to him being formally adopted by Bruce and even given the surname of Wayne, something that no other Robin had gone through.


Barbara Gordon may just be one of the only major female characters in Gotham City that is not a villain or a love interest for Batman. She was originally created as the daughter of James Gordon with his wife Barbara and a younger sister to the baby James we see in Batman: Year One. She is later introduced as being Gordon’s niece but a car accident left her orphaned at a young age. James and Barbara brought the girl to live with them and formally adopted her a little later on. Marital problems would later lead to a divorce, with Barbara taking James Jr. with him out of Gotham and James Gordon Sr. taking custody of Barbara. He was a very caring and protective father to her, to the point that when she expressed interest in becoming a detective, he forbade her from pursuing that career for her own safety. As an act of rebellion, she would take on the mantle of Batgirl, eventually getting training from Batman and with it, another father figure.

While an important character in her own right, many storylines revolve around Barbara being a love interest to Dick Grayson or as a target to make Batman and/or Commissioner Gordon suffer. Perhaps the biggest example of the latter can be found in the one shot graphic novel The Killing Joke[13]. Here, the Joker decides to torture James Gordon to show Batman that anyone can be corrupted. To do this, he goes after his daughter and in a memorable scene that rippled through the main continuity, he shot her point blank and shattered her spine, leaving her paralyzed. Gordon is distraught but endures this and many other tribulations as a metaphorical Job to prove that he will not succumb to darkness.

Another interesting moment of Barbara being a central figure while not being center stage is in the episode “Over the Edge[14]” in the 90s cartoon. Here, a battle with Scarecrow leads to Batgirl falling to her death and crashing on top of her father’s car. With her dying breath, she apologizes for not telling him the truth. Batman rushes to console his friend and father figure but is suspected of being her murderer. Gordon, quickly realizes Bruce Wayne’s secret and goes over with a full police force to capture him. Nightwing, Robin, and Alfred are imprisoned and a battle between Gordon, Batman, and Bane leads to the death of all three of them. At this moment, Barbara wakes up and realizes that she was having a nightmare thanks to Scarecrow’s fear gas. Her own anxieties manifested themselves into a battle to the death between two of the most important and influential men in her life. No longer able to keep her secret hidden, she plans on telling her father the truth about her identity. As she is about to tell him everything, James Gordon demonstrates his parental affection and trust in his daughter as he stops her and says that she does not have to say anything, she is a grown woman capable of making her own decisions and that he will love her no matter what. In that one brief exchange, we see a demonstration of a father’s love that lives on as both characters remain alive throughout the main Batman continuity.

Damian Wayne

For most heroes, the idea of settling down, getting married and starting a family is dangerous because their responsibilities will always take precedence and the people you love will be put in danger. Batman is certainly no exception but that doesn’t mean that having a child is, pardon the pun, inconceivable. The “Batman and Son[15]” story arc reveals that Bruce Wayne had fathered a child with Talia Al Ghul that she has kept hidden from him until she asks him to take her of his now ten year old son. Damian takes the role of the young boy by Batman’s side as even Tim Drake is now an adult, so the father son relationship of a Dynamic Duo. What makes this case interesting is that Damian is already a skilled and deadly martial artist. Being raised by assassins, he is a killer’s instinct, as evident that his attempt to prove that he is useful to his father’s quest against crime ends with him beheading  a minor villain called Spook. It is clear, that Bruce’s role needs to be less of a mentor and more as a father to his son in order for Damian not to become a sociopathic vigilante. The social skills and manners of a child are the priority of their training together. After all, Batman’s relationship to his previous protégés was about the balance between preserving their childlike innocence and destroying that innocence by training them to fight against the cruel world that had already hurt them. Damian’s case requires that innocence be instilled in him and to appreciate the value of human life. Luckily, he has Alfred, Dick, and Tim to help him in this paternalistic endeavor.

A Prodigal Son and the Claiming the Place of a Father

Just before the appearance of Damian, a character long thought dead made his return. A criminal calling himself Red Hood, a moniker once used by the Joker, begins dismantling crime organizations and making his own, all the time saying how he and Batman have unfinished business. This “Under the Hood”[16] story arc revealed that the criminal was a resurrected Jason Todd that was astonished that his father figure had not cleaned the streets of crime in retaliation for him dying. He is completely flabbergasted upon realizing that he had never been properly avenged and that the Joker was still a menace to people. Batman  now sees his failure as a father as even worse, since death was an occupational hazard but having lost his son to evil made his worst fears come alive. The rest of the narrative revolves around the potential redemption of Jason Todd, only to see that he is too far gone as evident by his torture and attempts to kill the Joker.

Jason would come and go as he pleased for several years throughout the storylines. However, in the “Battle for the Cowl[17]” limited series, the apparent death of Batman leads to a conflict as to whom would take the mantle of their father and his identity. Dick Grayson is the obvious choice, but a will made by Bruce specifically forbids him from becoming Batman because he had already found his place as Nightwing. The reluctance of passing down the essence of Batman is troubling for Bruce, since he wants his sons not to take up the traumatic burden of Batman and that they find their own paths in life. During that time, Jason Todd claims what he assumes to be his rightful place as successor to the Dark Knight. The ensuing battle between Jason and his brothers in the Bat family brings to mind the wars that sparked between siblings to prove who the rightful heir to the throne is. Tim Drake ends up donning the Batman suit after Jason almost kills Damian but ends up getting wounded himself. It is up to Dick Grayson, the symbolic first born to take out Jason Todd, which he is able to do after an all-out brawl. Jason barely escapes, leaving a reluctant Dick to shed his identity of Nightwing to become Batman. In addition, Tim Drake would become his own hero, Red Robin, and Damian would take the role of Robin to help his older brother.

Thomas Wayne and Flashpoint

            One of the more interesting narrative aspects of comic books is that alternate realities are not uncommon and stories that would completely contradict the main continuity can still be told with confusing the reader too much. No inquiry into the paternal issues of Batman is complete without looking at the events of “Flashpoint[18]”. Here, the Flash (Barry Allen) finds himself in a world different than his own, thanks to the nefarious plot of a speedster super villain that has created an alternate timeline. His investigation leads him to find Batman, only this reality there are no Robins or Bruce Wayne and this reality the Dark Knight is actually Thomas Wayne. Bruce was the one that was killed on that fateful night and a grief stricken father would become a symbol of vengeance for all of Gotham’s criminals to fear.

Thomas’s incarnation of Batman is a dark one, willing to kill many of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals. his is a quest comprised of personal solitude and vengeance. The story becomes more complex as we realize that the Joker is still a menace, raising the question as to why the Dark Knight has not killed him off like so many others. It is not until the end of the series that we find that this world’s Joker is not only female but is actually Martha Wayne. Her son’s death had caused her to lose her mind and any grasp of reality, even as her husband struggled to stop her crimes and possibly rehabilitate her. Here we see a very gender stereotypical reaction to the unimaginable pain of tragically losing a child. The father is emboldened with renewed strength to make those responsible pay. His feelings are buried deep, because if he ever let anything out beyond anger and determination, the sadness would cripple him and make him lose whatever purpose has allowed him to cope. On the other hand, we have the mother that is inconsolable in her grief. She cannot face reality and can only express herself through her sadness. She weeps uncontrollably and her emotions are so strong that she loses all reason. The chaos manifests itself making the pain grow for herself and others.

Flash would eventually explain to both Thomas and Wayne the details about his own reality and how their son grows up without them. Martha restores a semblance of her sanity upon hearing that  her child is alive and well but the revelation that Bruce’s life is one of constant pain and suffering shatters her fragile psyche. Knowing that her son is meant to live in misery is too much and she leaps off a building to take her own life. Thomas realizes  that his world should never exist and helps Flash return to his own timeline and make things return to normal. Before this sacrifice is made, Thomas writes a letter to his son, pleading to his son that he be a better father by focusing on the wellbeing of Dick, Tim, and Damian rather than the importance of the mission that Batman undertakes. Flash would eventually save the day and delivers the letter to Bruce, who is deeply moved and appreciative of his friend and of his father’s love.

Portrayals of Batman in Animated Television Shows

            For my generation, Batman the Animated Series, shown during the 90s in the Warner Bros. channel was the iconic version of how the Dark Knight should be portrayed. Grim, serious, but all around a nice guy made this Batman someone to fear and yet worth your trust. Several other cartoons have been made changing a few elements around, like the early very pre crisis Super Friends and the recent  The Batman and  Batman: Brave and the Bold which show a different side of the Caped Crusader. Two other programs have very important scenes considering aspects of paternity and Batman.

The first off is Justice League Unlimited[19], a revamped version of Justice League,  where Batman is surrounded by other superheroes of DC but no version of Robin exists. One episode, “For the Man Who Has Everything”, heavily based on an story done by Alan Moore of the same name, has Batman momentarily under the control of the Black Mercy, an evil plant that traps you in a dream world where you are at your happiest. Batman’s idyllic place revisits the moment when his parents were killed, only to this time have his father beat up the mugger as a young Bruce cheers him on. The dream only lasts a few minutes but it shows a sense pride in his father for fighting back. This reaction leads one to wonder whether Bruce ever thought that his father was not strong enough to defend his family, which in turn motivates him to be well trained in just about everything.

There are several other episodes where Batman’s emotional scars are still raw over the passing of his parents. However, there is one that places him as an actual father to a new Batman. “Epilogue” serves as a crossover to Batman Beyond[20], where forty years into the future Bruce Wayne entrusts troubled teenager Terry McGinnis to be the new Batman. The episode question shows an older Terry confronting Bruce as to how blood tests show that he is his biological father. The investigation leads Terry towards Amanda Waller, former head of Cadmus where she reveals that she is responsible for this thanks to a complex process involving  nanotechnology. The process was done to ensure that the world would still have a Batman in the future, though they never went ahead with the part where Terry would be orphaned. Terry’s conflict of choosing which father figure is more important to him mirrors nature versus nurture, the man who raised him versus the man who trained him and to whom you owe your genetic material. In the end, we find him at peace with his identity, and Bruce becomes more paternal as well, making sure that he gets sleep and eats well in between patrols.

The second cartoon that shows Batman actively taking a paternalistic role is Young Justice[21] which resembles a more serious version of the Teen Titans series. Batman is placed as a supervisor for the team and a liaison between them and the Justice League. The team includes a young teenage Dick Grayson as Robin, alongside Superboy (Cadmus clone of Superman), and several other former sidekicks. Batman takes an active part in Robin’s life, even playing basketball with him after a rough day, even if he calls it training. In the episode “Schooled”, Bruce confronts Clark Kent and asks him to be a part of Superboy’s life, since “the boy needs his father”. Superman clearly dismisses this notion and leaves angry and it is not until several episodes later that takes an investment in Superboy’s life; albeit as a big brother figure.

Perhaps the episode that best sums up Batman’s identity as a father is “Agendas” where the Justice League is deliberating whom to accept as its newest members. During the debate, the issue of age comes up, once Captain Marvel is revealed to be ten year old Billy Batson. Batman responds that he knew this secret but accepted him into the league regardless but Wonder Woman scolds Batman and the following dialogue takes place:

Wonder Woman: I shouldn’t be surprised, since you indoctrinated Robin into crime fighting at the ripe old age of nine.

Batman: Robin needed to help bring the men who murdered his family to justice.

Wonder Woman: So he could turn out like you?

Batman: So that he wouldn’t.

This exchange shows the struggles of Batman as a father figure. He takes in Dick and the other Robins not to extend his own legacy but rather so that no one else would suffer like he did. It is because justice could not be served that Bruce Wayne needs to find a strength inside himself to keep going, something that he cannot do alone, a drive that comes from being Batman.


Our identities are heavily influenced by our fathers and father figures. Sometimes we achieve success because of these paternalistic roles, other times we do so in spite of them. Batman and many others in his supporting cast are no different. No matter what the continuity or medium, Bruce Wayne is emotionally conflicted due to the trauma of losing his parents but he can go on thanks to the help of Alfred. His sons, both biological and surrogate, help him with hearts and fists to protect Gotham so that no one else should share their despair. Even Gordon, who has no mask or heroic mandate faces similar struggles as a parent. They struggle, just like any other parent, to keep a balance between protecting and preparing them for the life that awaits them. For that is one’s paternalistic duty, to preserve and destroy the innocence of their children.


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[6] Wertham, Fredric. Seduction of the Innocent. (Rinehart and Company, Inc: London, 1954.) 189-190.

[7] Batman. (ABC. 1966-1968). Television.

[8] Batman, directed by Leslie H. Martinson. (1966. 20th Century Fox.) Film.

[9] Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked, directed by Steve Kroopnick. (History Channel . 2003. ) Television Documentary.

[10] Miller, Frank (W)(P) and Klaus Janson (I). Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. (Febr.-June 1986. DC Comics.) Print.

[11] Miller, Frank (W), and David Mazzucchelli (A). “Batman: Year One” .  Batman # 404-407 . (Febr.-May 1987. DC Comics.) Print.

[12] Starlin, Jim (W), Jim Aparo (P) and Mike DeCarlo (I). “Batman: A Death in the Family.”                  Batman #426-429. (Dec. 1988-Jan 1989. DC Comics.) Print.


[13] Moore, Allan (W) and Brian Bolland (A). Batman: The Killing Joke. (March 1988. DC Comics.) Print.

[14] “Over the Edge.” The New Batman Adventures. (Warner Bros. Network. May 23, 1998. ) Television.

[15] Morrison, Grant (W), and Andy Kubert (A). “Batman and Son.” Batman #655-658. (Sep. -Dec . 2006. DC Comics.) Print.

[16] Winick, Judd (W), and Doug Mahnke (A). “Batman: Under the Hood.” Batman #635-641 and 645-650. (Feb 2005-April 2006. DC Comics.) Print.

[17] Daniel, Tony (W) (P) and Sandu Florea (I). Batman Battle for the Cowl.  (March -May 2009. DC Comics.) Print.

[18] Johns, Geoff (W) and Andy Kubert (A). Flashpoint. (May – Sept. 2011. DC Comics. ) Print.

[19] Justice League Unlimited. (Cartoon Network. 2001-2006). Television.

[20] Batman Beyond. (Cartoon Network. 1999-2001. ) Television.

[21] Young Justice. (Cartoon Network. 2010-Present.) Television.

Episode 39: Of Cowls and Fathers:Determining Inheritance and Destiny

Let’s try an experiment when it comes to writing. Rather than my usual background chatter of Sportscenter and whatever video game music interests me, I have decided to try something a little bit more fancy. I got this off a weird group in Facebook which normally just gives me jokes that make me qustion my sense of humor. This however got my attention because it wasn’t a giant troll and actually delivers on its promise to make you feel fancy. Instructions are simple: Just open the the following three tabs and let the sounds carry you elsewhere.  

1. http://www.freesound.org/people/reinsamba/sounds/18766/
2. http://endlessvideo.com/watch?v=HMnrl0tmd3k
3. http://www.rainymood.com/

Now back to actual writing. As I have mentioned before, I am working on this cool paper about Batman that may make it into an actual book. Going through old emails I noticed that the twenty or so pages of material I promised is due next Monday. I don’t feel too stressed out because this just has to be a damn good manuscript that has to go through an editor before I end up making further changes. Still, my name is going on this thing and academics love and strive to be published in order to stand a chance in the job market to come. I’m not even sure I may even see a penny from this but the whole having your name tied to the legendary caped crusader in a more official standing than the average blog post is certainly worth it.

My most noteworthy concern however is the fact that I don’t actually own that many comic books. I only have Batman: Year One which I have already written an earlier blog post about it. The majority of my material stems from the cartoons and movies about Batman. Still, I have been doing a lot of research on the subject: and by that I mean read a lot of Wikipedia articles and documentaries that talk about Batman. I must admit that my topic is an odd and ambitious one, to talk about issues of Paternity in Batman (actually mistyped it as Baternity, which sounds intriguing gotta remember that one for later) even with limiting myself to a handful of characters. My primary instinct of saying that this person has daddy issues due to being orphaned or whaever needs some actual critical background and examples. To help me get my head around this, here is a list of characters and some interesting moments that deal with fatherhood.

Bruce Wayne: aka original Batman:

His parents are Martha and Thomas Wayne, both were shot and killed by Joe Chill in most continuities. Bruce was a kid between the ages of six and nine when this happened. As heir to the Wayne estate, he is cast under the shadow of his father and many times calls out to him even in adulthood to ask whether what he is doing is right. There’s one particular episode of Justice League Unlimited titled “For the Man Who Has Everything” where a crazy plant traps you in a perfect dreamworld as it slowly eats you takes control over Superman, leading to one of the saddest moments ever, and attaches itself for a moment to Batman. He dreams of the night his parents were murdered but imagines that his father actually grabs the gun and beats the crap out of the mugger as a young Bruce looks on happy and proud. This shows that subconsciously he believes that had his father been stronger the trauma could have been avoided and that the need for Batman is a source of that strength to prevent such painful moments from happening again.

As Bruce grew up and trained abroad, he came to know various father figures. Various martial arts masters are mentioned and whenever one of them dies, Bruce takes a moment to mourn them. Rhas al Ghul gets thrown at there as well but I think that has more to do with the Batman Begins movie more than anything else. Upon his return home, Bruce’s butler Alfred Pennyworth acts as surrogate father to him and continues to do so throughout the years. In a few comics he will actually refer to him as dad. Another interesting father figure is that of Comissioner Gordon, though its more often portrayed as him being respectful to what may be the only good cop in all of Gotham.

Bruce in turn becomes a father figure to all of the Robins, the Batgirls, and a handful of other characters in the DC Universe. Dick Grayson became his ward/ was adopted and trained with him for years. Jason Todd, well he’s a weird case let’s keep going. Tim Drake still has something of a family but Bruce is more a father to him than anyone else. Barabara Gordon has this interesting conflict of having her father comissioner Gordon at odds with her father figure Batman while she struggles to be Batgirl and then Oracle. Bruce actually has a bilogical son, Damian which often fights with his “brothers” Dick and Tim. Due to crazy nanotech expirements by CADMUS, Bruce is also the father of Terry McGinnis, the guy from Batman Beyond.

Alfred Pennyworth:

He serves as a father to Bruce once he was orphaned. In the webcomic Batman and Sons, he actually gets a Father’s Day card. What makes Alfred interesting is that he also helps out all of the Robins. THis leads many to think that since Bruce takes the role of a father to these young sidekicks, then Alfred becomes a maternal figure for them. It makes sense when you consider that he does all the housework and does a lot of consoloing when training, missions, or whatever take their toll on the characters.

James Gordon: Already talked about him during my Year One post but there a few more things worth discussing. The most recent movies focus on his relationship to his son, James Jr. The cartoons have him as the father to Barabara Gordon. In the comics, this gets pretty messy,You see, James is older than Barbara and in some continuities they have her as his second child. Post Crisis, they made so that Barabara is actually his niece, whose parents where killed in a car accident and she was named after her Aunt Barbara, i.e., Gordon’s wife. Then it turns out that him and his wife get divorced, she takes James Jr. somewhere else and he keeps custody of Barbara, whom he later adopts. FYI: James Jr. later comes back as psychopath and almost kills his dad (and this is why I love serials).

Dick Grayson: Parents were trapeze artists and were killed by mobster Tony Zucco. Depending on the writer, he can be nine years old, sixteen, anywhere in between or weirdly a young adult thanks to Batman Forever. In any case, it’s implied that he was older than when Bruce’s parents were killed. Also, since they were acrobats that performed without nets, the idea of them dieing was not as farfetched as the tragedy that struck the Wayne family. In some versions he trains for years under Batman before becoming Robin, in others, he dons the cape and mask in a matter of days after being taken in by Bruce. Still, the idea is that he was older whent he started being a crimefighter than Jason, Tim, and especially Damian. The idea of becoming Batman is eventually too much for him and he strikes out on his own to become Nightwing. Later on he would take the cowl and temporarily become Batman but he serves as an older brother and father figure to all the folowing Robins; though, in Jason’s case that would end up with a pretty deadly rivalry.

The Joker:

I only mention him because in the Heath Ledger personification of him he would begin his “do you know how I got these scars speech” with the figure of his father. Sure he’s insane and is the quintessential example of a multiple choice past, the fact that he places an abusive father as responsible for his appearance is certainly interesting.

Thomas Wayne:

Father of Bruce Wayne. Usually described as a medical doctor or surgeon. Some versions have him being a really nice and loving dad. In others he is more focused on his patients and his work than his family (sound familiar). Still he is a man that stands for a greater good for society as a whole. One comic books has him driving around when he encounters a weird light. When he investigates, it turns out it’s a probe sent by Jor-El (Superman’s actual dad) as he is investigating planets and choosing which might be best for his son. Thomas actaully talks to Jor-El and his asked about this, to which he replies almost word for word what Marlon Brando will say at the beginning of the Superman movie as to how humans are flawed but that they have potential for great things. Thomas would then reverse engineer the probe and use to give Wayne Enterprises a great Technology department.

Perhaps the coolest thing I found about Thomas Wayne is that in some versions he would dress up as a bat and punch criminals in the night. This is taken to the extreme during the Flashpoint series. The basic plot is that Flash runs so fast in order to try and stop his daughter from being killed that he accidentally makes a parallel world where Bruce was the one who died that night. Thomas is grief stricken and uses that anger to become Batman, although he is a lot more violent and wiling to kill. It is later revealed that Martha Wayne’s sadness drove her to madness and that she is The Joker of that world. Flash would actually talk to both of them about the real world and How Bruce is doing. Martha is actually horrified that he has become Batman and all the suffering that he has to endure and commits suicide. Thomas is sad but writes a letter to his son, and helps Flash restore the time flow, thus erasing his own existence. Bruce would actually get that letter and is inspired to become a better father and focus more on his family than on his crusade for justice.

Episode 38: Everybody Lies until the End: Looking at House

Today was the series finale of one of the great serials of my generation, House. I’m watching the final minutes of the show and am having a difficult time trying to figure out in which direction the show is pulling my heart strings. If you haven’t seen the episode then you should really try and find it and witness it for yourself. Spoilers as always are plentiful from here on out, consider yourself warned. If you have never seen House then you have missed out on a pretty awesome program in my opinion. Eight seasons and 177 episodes of of the most magnificent bastard of a protagonist that viewers love and love to hate.

Allow me a few paragraphs to indulge myself in the serial narrative complexities of the show which I find very interesting. The titular protagonist is a doctor, also he is an ass. The format is relatively simple, take a brilliant  but flawed doctor, surround him with well intentioned but quirky doctors and have them solve medical mysteries. The first season was fairly straight forward in that few things happened that followed every episode, i.e., there wasn’t much of an overarching plot. Sure there was interactions between the characters and the whole “will they or won’t they” between House and Cuddy, House and Cameron, Cameron and Chase, and a few other combinations. As the years went on, the surrounding cast shifted and changed, some left others died but there was always one person that was always there. I am of course talking about Dr. James Wilson, mostly known as Wilson, the Jiminy Cricket conscience and best friend to House.

It’s kind of difficult to describe how House Wilson work together without witnessing it first hand. At first glance it seems dysfunction to the point of an abusive relationship as House takes advantage of his good nature, while Wilson is more than ready to lend a sympathetic ear or helping hand to his friend when life seems to collapse around his friend. If you’ve seen the most recent Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. then you have a really good idea how such a friendship can exist and survive throughout all those years. Now as for the rules of serials, the core relationship structures stay fairly consistent throughout the years. The interactions remain mostly the same even as the characters grow. House has his poignant moments but ultimately he is an ass to everyone. Wilson has almost infinite patience towards a friend wo barely deserves it. Foreman is always serious, Cameron is nice and personable, Chase wants to escape being under people’s shadows, Cuddy struggles to maintain balance between logic, ethics, and how to protect the entire hospital as House does something crazy that ultimately saves lives.

It is perhaps the formula of each individual plot that is so formulaic but so entertaining as well. Person gets sick during everyday activities, probably collapses or starts bleeding from a random orifice. The diagnostic differential between House and the team continues. A disease is suspected and they start treatment, only making it worse. New symptoms appear and the patient is now knocking at heaven’s door. Then, a revelation, probably originating from an interaction with WIlson or something dealing with the subplot of the day. Mystery is solved and nine times out of ten the patient survives, most likely after revealing some deep disturbing secret, and everyone comes out learning a little bit about themselves. It is here that you see that it’s not about diseases or doctors, but the program is about people. The human condition is revealed with two central themes that are constant for the series. The first is House’s catch phrase of sorts: “Everybody lies” The second theme comes in the form of the Rolling Stones song that often times shows up being quoted directly, other times as background music: “you can’t always get what you want but if you try real hard sometimes you get what you need.” It is in that search for equilibrium between what we and reveal, between the conflicts of our desires and our necessities that we as viewers connect to the characters. The fact that for eight seasons, the conflict continued in that no one was ever really happy after spending time with House, even if they are healthier and have faced the truth, especially House himself. The point of serial narratives is that you delay the happy ending but you keep the hope that it will come, maybe not for everyone, but that the conflict will ceratinly end. Sometimes they do it with having the characters ride into the sunset, maybe it’s with a wedding, other times with a funeral. House decided to pull an all of the above.

Now I’m the first to admit that I have not seen the show consistently over the last couple of seasons so I was not up to date with the most contemporary plot lines beyond the basics mentioned above. Perhaps the biggest change was that Cuddy, former love interest of House, was not around for the last season at all. Before the finale, they did an entire behind the scenes special talking to cast and crew. Perhaps the weirdest part is hearing Hugh Laurie in his natural British accent the entire time. In the context of serials, a look behind the scenes is great for serials because they allow for the people behind the scenes to be placed into focus. Seeing the actors be people and not characters makes for a better connection for the readers. It lets you take a moment to give a proper send off and really achieve closure. The finale itself surprised me in that you didn’t have a long preview to help viewers catch up, it just started in medias res in a pretty dangerous situation. I was able to go through episode guides to check the lead up and the fact that it was the last season was apparent in that you can do some crazy stuff to your characters. The most important detail to know is that Wilson has cancer of the I don’t know but it will definitely kill him soon variety. He had tried some treatments but none of them worked, so he decided to stop trying to look for a cure and live his remaining time as best he can. With only five months to live, Wilson and House are slightly at pece, but House gets in some sort of prank war with Foreman and he ends up destroying a floor/medical equipment that turns into vandalism that will put House in jail for six months minimum. And with that in mind, let’s talk about the finale.

The opening shot is House awakening in some sort of abandoned dark building, heroin needles all around, and a body lies next to him. The other person is revealed to be dead by none other than Kutner/Kumar. This was Kal Penn’s character that committed suicide several seasons ago. If there’s one thing I love about final shows is that old characters reappear to add another dimension of growth for the characters that have sticked around. Having Kutner show up as the personification of his subconscious, something that the show had already done before, allowed for an exploration of the character of House and what led him to this moment. Oh and did I mention that the abandoned house he is in is on fire!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing beats a journey of self discovery than one that is done on a time limit when your life is on the line. The corpse in the corner is a junkie that went to the hospital to score some powerful narcotics, House catches him, but finds that he is actually sick. Somewhere down the line the guy is about to die but House notices what’s wrong and what can save him. The revelation of the medical case is done through flashbacks of House facing his hallucinations. First it was Kutner, then it was Amber. As House gathers the strength to try and get out of the burning building, the floor collapses under him, he struggles to bring himself up, but ultimately falls and is now surrounded by flames (so metaphoric). As he lays collapsed on the floor, a new subconscious apparition  appears in the shape of Stacy, the woman he loved but that left him with excrutiating emotional and physical pain in the name of doing what was best for him. As House is about to give up, one final form manifests itself, Cameron. One of the first cast memebrs to leave, Cameron returned and looked as if she was going to help House be at peace with dieing but ultimately convinces him to take actual action, change, and live. While this is happening, Wilson and Foreman team up to find House, who has been missing for days. Both feel guilty, in that House approached them for help so that he wouldn’t go to jail, albeit through unethical means, but both chose that they could not help him cheat the system, not this time. They find the building, and Wilson thinks he sees House just about to leave. Then the building collapses, then it explodes, and it was still on fire.

Staring at his own mortality looming, he witnesses the death of the man that most infuriated him but the one whom he considered a true friend. The body was identified with dental records and a funeral soon followed. Characters from seasons past and present came together to say their goodbyes. Noticibly absent from the cavalcade of characters was Cuddy. Each one said how House had changed their lives by making them confront the lies they told themselves. Wilson begins his eulogy by singing his praises for his friend but ultimately says that he was an ass that had to be the center of attention. Then he gets a text message and leaves abruptly. He goes around town and finds House, alive and well, who got out the back door, switched some dental records and ultimately faked his own death. Without the threat of jail time, House is now free to ride into the sunset (on motorcycles) with Wilson to celebrate what little time he has left. The epilogue showed that the characters had their own happy endings. Cameron is now married and with a kid, Chase is now head of diagnostic medicine, and everyone else was okay. Closure was provided in a way that only the magnificent bastard known as Dr. Gregory House can dish out and man was it a Hell of a ride.

Episode 37: Reading Lists with Explanations

So today I put the final finishing touches (for now) on my reading lists. What you see here is exactly what I sent to my professors because I am too tired to make any distinguishing differences. Be warned, this is about 15 pages of text. Yay academic progress.

Reading Lists #1 Contemporary Serials
    The following texts serve as the best examples of serial fiction over the last fifty years in each medium. They are chosen not only because of my own interest and familiarity with these works but because they best illustrate the serial reading experience and the effects of particular installments on the rest of the narrative. Each of these texts are subdivided under different media, each with their own justification.
Webcomics: Microserialized digital graphic narratives offer a connection between author and reader that few other media can replicate. Often a one person operation, there are fewer layers of interpretation when it comes to narrative production, as compared to the director, producer, writer, editor, actor of something like a film. Webcomics may well be the most common form out there today of serial fiction on the digital landscape. While there are thousands of potential webcomics to explore, Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick is the best example of a continuous story being told for almost a decade. With 850 comics online (as of today and more being updated) divided over 4 books, two print only prequels, another book of extras, and several PDFs alongside other ancillary texts that are all canon within the work, there is enough material to go over.
Comics: One of the more interesting dichotomies in the average reader’s reception of comic books and comic strips is that they are always the same thing while at the same time being too complex and riddled with backstory for new readers to jump in and understand the plot. Superhero comics are quite easily the most accused of this perception. Frank Miller’s Batman serves as both a reboot to the narrative to give it a new beginning but also serves to redefine the Caped Crusader’s character into already running storylines in different continuities. The events of Year One were originally published in DC Comics Batman #404-407. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is a self-contained story originally published in twelve installments but is now more commonly seen and sold as a graphic novel divided into twelve chapters. Many twists and shocks during the serial reading but as a single text the effect is lost. Brian Walker’s book is huge and covers a variety of comics, both in newspaper strip and comic book format, and how they have been developed throughout the years.
Films: Reboots, reimaginings, sequels, prequels, and other variations of installments are quite common in the film industry. Out of the many movie franchises possible, the best example is the Star Wars series. Originally a standalone film, it wasn’t until years after hitting theaters that the first film was retitled as Episode 4: A New Hope. New editions of the original trilogy have altered sequences in controversial ways, such as the infamous reedit so that Han did not shoot first, and digitally replacing old Anakin Skywalker with Hayden Christensen’s portrayal at the end of Episode 6. The prequel trilogy was one of the most anticipated films in the history of cinematography and have a mixed a reception. Rumors of a third trilogy depicting what happened thirty years after the fall of the Galactic Empire ebb every so often in the fandom as well.
Web Serials: Outside of webcomics, other forms of digital serials are developed around the Internet. Horror author Stephen King published several books originally as magazine serials and decided to do the same in a digital format with The Plant. Other forms, like blogs, videos, redubs, and fan fiction are fairly common but these are more difficult by which to discern a clear overarching example.
Print Books: The biggest selling book series of all time as of now clearly shows how contemporary serials still have the same effect even in the traditional print medium. The seven books that make up the Harry Potter brought an entire generation of readers to come together and discuss the texts as they came out and wonder collectively what would happen in upcoming installments. It was both a literary and cultural phenomenon. Interestingly enough, the actor’s portrayal in the film version actually inspired the author to change the characters themselves to better fit these versions, even though the first film came out as she had already finished the fourth book.
Graphic Novels: Often erroneously considered as the fancy and serious term for comics, graphic novels are much longer than the traditional comic book and both fall under the umbrella term of comics aka graphic narratives. The basic analogy for proper depictions is as follows: Comic book is to graphic novel as short story is to novel. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is perhaps the most famous and respected graphic novel after winning the Pulitzer award. While only the first part won the prestigious prize, the second part is just as compelling, to the point that it both installments are often bundled up and sold as The Complete Maus. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman contains multiple volumes but I am only focusing on the first three to show how varied the work can become and yet still maintain serial cohesion. The first volume Preludes and Nocturnes, ran as the first eight installments of the comic book series. Volume two The Doll’s House was published as a standalone novel that worked as a direct sequel while the third one Dream Country is a collection of short stories.
Television: Except for a few one part made for tv movies, most programming provides some sort narrative being told over several installments. Of all the television shows available, 24 provides the unique ability to depict the narrative in “real time” as one hour of the show was a very literal 60 minutes of what the characters were going through over the span of a 24 hour day. Perhaps more interestingly is that only the first twelve episodes of the first season were finished by the time the show started airing, a practice that was continued throughout subsequent seasons. Thus, there is a window for fan reception to shape the upcoming episodes that are being made. 1. Burlew, Rich. The Order of the Stick: Don’t Split the Party. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2009. Print.
2. —. The Order of the Stick: Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2005. Print.
3. —. The Order of the Stick: No Cure for the Paladin Blues. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2006. Print.
4. —. The Order of the Stick: On the Origin of PCs. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2005.
5. —. The Order of the Stick: Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2011. Print.
6. —. The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2007. Print.
7. —. The Order of the Stick: War and XPs. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2008. Print.
8. Frank Miller. Batman: Year One. New York: DC Comics, 2005. Print.
9. Alan Moore. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 1986. Print.
10. Brian Walker, Comics: The Complete Collection.
11. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
12. Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
13. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
14. Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope
15. Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
16. Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi
17. King, Stephen. The Plant.
18. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
19. —. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
20. —. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
21. —. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
22. —. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
23. —. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
24. Art Spiegelman. Maus I.
25. —. Maus II.
26. Neil Gaiman. The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.
27. Neil Gaiman. The Sandman Volume 2: The Doll’s House.
28. Neil Gaiman. The Sandman Volume 3: Dream Country.
29. Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran. 24: Day One.
Reading List #2 Critical Theories
The following list contains the primary texts that explain the critical theories that I use to bring into academic context the works from my other lists. Since many of my readings are multimedia and multimodal in nature, a multidisciplinary approach is best suited for this type of study using a variety of critical theories and theorists. Here are the primary theories alongside an explanation as to how each fits within the spectrum of my other reading lists.
Narratology: The key distinction between a narrative that is serial in nature and one that is episodic is the fact that the former contains an overarching story throughout its installments. To better trace how the story itself changes as it is published, the fundamentals of narratology provide a solid foundation. Tzvetan Todorov, founder of narratology, places its roots in structuralism and places that rules must be maintained throughout the story, something that Mieke Bal further elaborates on in her work. Gerald Prince continues this tradition and introduces how the reader becomes more important as a narratee. More contemporary explorations of narratology, like James Mitell and Marie-Laure Ryan, will specifically refer to terms like “narrative continuity” that are used in popular culture to explain classical print texts and contemporary films and television programs alike. It is within broad narratological analysis that I study serials and the stories they present. Regardless of media, or time of publication, serials often follow similar narrative strategies or tropes to maintain the interest of the reader in between installments and other tools of the trade to tie together and fix parts of the story that contradict something that has already been published. The balance between cliffhangers, filler, and the delay of narrative closure is something that was first developed by Victorian authors in their serials and this struggle has been adapted and continues today with more contemporary forms.
Textual Criticism/Editorial Theory: This theory works directly with the figure of the author and the search for both the intended and the authorial text. Preambled by the seminal works by Barthes and Foucault on this subject, the author loses mysticism but remains an important purveyor of meaning. The field is often divided into two camps. One has the authorial/first edition text as its priority and disregards secondary texts by the author, as seen by the studies of Jerome McGann. The other area favors the intended text and looks through every ancillary and additional text by the author to find authorial intention. The latter perspective is the one on which I focus, following the works of critics like George Thomas Tanselle and Peter Schillingsburg. Additional information like that found in DVD commentaries, blogs, and other forms of social media are standard practice amongst the authors of contemporary serials and is intended to be read alongside the actual text. Letters and reviews by Victorian authors served the same function centuries ago and are now compiled and used in the creation of authorial versions of their texts. Works of serial fiction often have two very distinct forms, the separate published installments and the compilation of them in one book. The former works as the intended text to be read with enforced interruptions, while the latter is more authoritative, since it contains various edits of minor and major mistakes from the original publishing. Both in contemporary and classical serials, the serial reading experience has a very limited window in which readers can participate in, and attempts to be replicated in the authoritative/annotated version. The distinctions and similarities of both versions regardless of medium is explored in John Bryant’s The Fluid Text and shows how the serial version of a text can be defined as its first edition, though I relate it closer to what he calls a “circulating draft”.
Media Specific Analysis: Also known as Media Studies, this critical theory serves as an umbrella term for the analysis of each medium, like tv studies, film studies, etc. Since my work focuses on different serial works representative of each medium, media specific analysis is a must for this work. The distinction between the digital and analog/traditional print and the “limits” of each is one of the major points of study within this critical theory. Janet H. Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck was one of the first works to explore how new technologies could reimagine the reading of a classical work. Though her ideas are considered farfetched even by today’s standards of technology, her book has inspired many to follow suit and analyze how the medium of publication affects narrative output and reader reception. New Media critics like N. Katherine Hayles and Jay David Bolter analyze how writing practices have changed to better incorporate contemporary technology, not just with shifting everything from print to digital. While Media Specific Analysis focuses on practices and works of the last fifty years or so, it can still be applied to classical forms of printing. For example, Tim DeForest takes the importance of material culture and emerging technologies from print to film and even radio in his work.
Reader Reception Theory: Theorists like Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, Wolfgang Iser, and Stanley Fish have written extensively about the importance of the reader in relation to the author and the literary work. The ability to react individually or come together as a reading community places readers not just as the receiver of the author’s work, but one who can determine its importance and even survival. Since serial works are published in installments, a lack of interest through sales translates into the series stopping abruptly, even if the story has a lot more information to be told. On the other hand, high levels of interest by readers make it so that additional installments continue to be made even after the narrative closure has been achieved for all of the characters. Readers’ expectations are a driving force in all forms of literature but serial fiction allows for their collective voice to reach the author before installments are published and have the potential to actively shape the narrative. Contemporary serials offer a high level accessibility between authors and readers through the form of social media. Webcomic cartoonists for example depend on a very high level on their readers, to the point that Tarol Hunt, author of Goblins, refers to them as his “e-maginary friends.”
Comics Studies: This particular critical theory almost encompasses each of the previous ones mentioned. The combination of print and image in one text pertains to Victorian serials and the illustrations that served as the cover for each installment, as well as the graphic narratives (like film, tv, graphic novels, and comics) of contemporary serials. The works of cartoonists turned theorists Will Eisner and Scott McCloud are essential towards understanding how one puts static words and images in motion through the act of reading. 1. Bal, Mieke. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1988. Print.
2. Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1466-1470. Print.
3. —. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975. Print.
4. Bolter, David Jay. “Critical Theory and the Challenge of New Media.” Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media. Eds. Mary E. Hocks and Michelle Kendrick. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. 19-36. Print.
5. Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999. Print.
6. Bryant, John. The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.
7. DeForest, Tim. Storytelling in the Pulps, Comics, and Radio: How Technology Changed Popular Fiction in America. Jefferson: MacFarland, 2004. Print.
8. Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. 1979. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. Print.
9. Fish, Stanley E. “Interpreting the Variorum.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 2071-2089. Print.
10. Foucault, Michel. “What Is an Author?” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1622-1636. Print.
11. Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Print.
12. —. Writing Machines. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002. Print.
13. Herman, David, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. New York: Cambridge, 2007.
14. Iser, Wolfgang. “Interaction between Text and Reader.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1673-1682. Print.
15. McGann, Jerome J. The Textual Condition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. Print.
16. McQuillan, Martin, ed. The Narrative Reader. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
17. Mittell, James. “Film and Television Narrative.” The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. Ed. David Herman. New York: Cambridge, 2007. Print.
18. Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: The Free Press, 1997. Print.
19. Prince, Gerald. “Introduction to the Study of the Narratee.” The Narrative Reader. Ed. Martin McQuillan. New York: Routledge. 99-103. 2000. Print.
20. Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Toward a Definition of Narrative.” The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. Ed. David Herman. New York: Cambridge, 2007. 22-35. Print.
21. Shillingsburg, Peter L. From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.
22. —. Resisting Texts: Authority and Submission. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. Print.
23. Tanselle, G. Thomas. A Rationale of Textual Criticism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print.
24. Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. 1973. Ithaca: Cornell, 1987. Print.
25. —. “Structural Analysis of Narrative.” Trans. Arnold Weinstein. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 2099-2106. Print.
26. Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. 1985. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Print.
27. —. Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. 1996. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Print.
28. Elsaesser, Thomas and Malte Hagener. Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses. New York: Routledge, 20. Print.
29. McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels. New York: Harper Perennial, 2003. Print.
30. —. Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form. New York: Harper Perennial, 2000. Print.
31. —. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.
32. Barnett, Brooke et al. An Introduction to Visual Theory and Practice. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. Print. Reading List #3 Victorian Serials

The practice of publishing works of fiction as serials gained tremendous popularity throughout the 19th century, especially during the Victorian era. Many classical and canonical works of literature started out as serials during that time but these texts are often read as standalone novels rather than their original multiple installment format. My research focuses on analyzing these works of literature first and foremost as serial texts, alongside editorial changes that took place between its original format and its conversion into a full length novel. The following list contains representative samples from some of the most well-known authors of 19th century England alongside secondary sources that help to illustrate the cultural context behind the production and reception of serials.

Perhaps one of the most famous authors whose name is almost synonymous with that of Victorian serial fiction is Charles Dickens. His novels are some of the most well known in the English language and most began as serials in literary magazines like Bentley’s Miscellany, Master Humphrey’s Clock, and Household Words where he served as writer and editor. While Dickens has many great novels that have been the subject of academic analysis, I focus on his first two serial works, Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, respectfully.I choose these two texts because they help show the process of narrative maturation, for the story as well as for the author, as time goes on and Dickens was honing his craft. Both novels were also shown in different formats throughout their publication, like the stage version of Oliver Twist that ran while the original installments were still being made. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that both works appeared simultaneously from February to November of 1837 and that neither had an installment in June of that period due to the death of Dickens’ sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth (Don Vann 61-62). While he is certainly not the first or the most prolific writer of serial fiction, Dickens is considered to be the codifier of many of the tropes found throughout serial publishing.

A number of different authors also provide additional texts within the serial publishing tradition. Some like William Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, and Anthony Trollope are renown for their extensive serial writing. I select some of their most well known novels, like The Newcomes, Man and Wife, and The Way We Live Now, respectively to demonstrate similarities and differences within their writing styles toward narrative production. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair also provides an interesting study of levels in authorship since he was the writer and the illustrator for the text. One need only look at one of the images that implies that Becky Sharp killed Jos, something that is barely suggested in the actual text. The illustrations that accompanied and served as the cover for many installments for Thackeray and many authors of the time show a for different forms of visual literacy for the readership to understand these serial texts.

The action/adventure genre is one that works well within the serial publishing format since cliffhangers are more easily intertwined into this type of work than say one of romance. While these texts were more popular with their intended readership of young males, many elements would carry over unto contemporary serials like those found in television shows and comic books. Two great works of serial fiction that served as an example for others to follow are Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Both texts deal with young protagonists suddenly being swept into a world of high seas adventure alongside sailors and pirates as they grow from boys into men. While this particular genre draws itself well within the serial format, it is worth noting that Treasure Island gained most of its popularity after it was published as a full novel.

The greatest example of a character centric serial wherein the protagonist goes on adventures time and time again in every story and every installment is that of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote several collections of stories surrounding the mysteries solved by his literary detective. I focus on two of these collections. One of these texts is The Study in Scarlet, wherein the first adventures of Sherlock Holmes are told. The other selection is that of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which has Doyle reviving his protagonist after he had officially died in a previous installment. This serves as one of the first moments of retroactive continuity being used to bring back a character by popular demand from a very vocal readership.

A number of female authors have also been selected to variety to the selection of readings. Writers like Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Ellen Wood are primarily known for their serial works. Interestingly enough, George Eliot is one of the greatest female Victorian novelists but her serial writing is considered to be of slightly lower quality than the rest of her work.

Since works of serial fiction are considered by many as a popular form of literature, it is important to go beyond the classical works of this era. Penny Dreadfuls are a type of literary magazine known for their sensational texts of relatively low quality. Two narratives from penny dreadfuls round up my primary works of literature to add variety to the selected readings and show a different style of serial. Varney the Vampire and Mysteries of London are particularly massive texts in that each contain over 200 chapters. Varney the Vampyre’s word count (around 660,000) is actually larger than that of War and Peace.

The remainder of this reading list consists of secondary texts that help in contextualizing various elements of that literary period. Some of these texts deal directly with aspects of serial publication at the time. J. Don Vann’s Victorian Novels in Serial serves as an index towards how many novels were originally published and any discrepancies between the first and subsequent printings of a particular text. Robert Patten’s article, “When Is a Book not a Book?” focuses on Dickens’ Oliver Twist and how the serial reading experience of its original publication is quite different than contemporary reception. Frederic G Kitton’s book, Dickens and His Illustrators, shows the complex relationship between levels of authorship, especially when the illustrators start taking credit for the entire premise of the book; such as in the case of George Cruikshank, illustrator for Oliver Twist, who claimed that it was his idea and drawing that made the story focus on Fagin rather than Oliver. Additional information on the importance of images for their narrative content can be found in Mary Leighton’s and Lisa Sutheridge’s article.

The remainder of the readings in this list contain further historical and cultural context towards narrative production and reader reception in that era. In addition, Michael Lund’s book and Christopher Prendergast’s book show the situation for serial fiction was like in the United States and France respectively. These texts help show that the conditions of serial fiction were not isolated to a particular geographical point in Western culture.
1. Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers.
2. —. The Adventures of Oliver Twist.
3. Thackeray, William. Vanity Fair.
4. —. The Newcomes.
5. Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island.
6. Rudyard Kipling. Captains Courageous.
7. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A Study in Scarlet.
10. —. The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
11. Varney the Vampyre: or; The Feast of Blood.

12. Wilkie Collins. Man and Wife.
13. —. The Woman in White.
14. Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Lady Audley’s Secret.
15. Elizabeth Gaskell. My Lady Ludlow.
16. George Eliot. Middlemarch.
17. Ellen Wood. East Lynne.
18. Anthony Trollope. The Way We Live Now.
19. Reynolds, George W.M. Mysteries of London.
20. Law, Graham. Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press. New York & Hampshire, UK: Palgrave, 2000. Print.
21. Lund, Michael. America’s Continuing Story: An Introduction to Serial Fiction, 1850-1900. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993. Print.
22. Hughes, Linda K. and Michael Lund. The Victorian Serial. Victorian Literature and Culture Series 8. Charlottesville: Virginia, 1991. Print.
23. Leighton, Mary Elizabeth and Lisa Sutheridge. “The Plot Thickens: Toward a Narratological Analysis of Illustrated Serial Fiction of the 1860s” Victorian Studies 50.1 (2008): 65-101. Print.
24. Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. New York: AMS, 1975. Print.
25. J. Don Vann. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. Print.
26. Robert L. Patten. “When Is a Book not a Book?”
27. Richard Altick. The English Common Reader.
28. Andrew King and John Plunkett. Victorian Print Media Reader.
29. Prendergast, Christopher. For the People by the People? Eugene Sue’s Les Mysteres de Paris–A Hypothesis in the Sociology of Literature. 30. O’ Gorman, Francis, Ed. A Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel.

Episode 36: Kids, in the Summer of 2012, A Great Episode of HIMYM Happened

I just finished viewing the season finale of How I Met Your Mother. The unwritten rule of no posting specific events of particularly important tv episodes keeps me from going all out to explain my reactions to the events that have transpired. The delay is because a lot of people DVR or watch episodes through other portals like Hulu and other such services. This is actually fairly interesting in the world of serial literature since a television program is designed to be published out there once, with reruns being limited for most cases and you have to wait a while for said episode to enter the syndication circles. oR at least that’s the way it’s supposed to go, thus making the serial reading experience a unifying experience to the readership that has some temporal wiggle room

So back to the show; as you can imagine spoilers are ahead so be careful because I’m about to do a play by play of pretty much the whole episode with a lot of going back and worth throughout the series. The season finale had been posted for a while with previews that said episode would officially declare who the bride was going to be. Now if there’s one thing I love about HIMYM is that they say small and big things for a brief moment that are automatically canon throughout the program. If you haven’t watched the show before then why are you reading this, except of course if you are one of my respected professors in my dissertation committee or a stalker with violent tendencies, neither group I wish to anger so let’s go a little bit more into detail as to how the show works. At its most basic, the program consists of four friends who hang out in traditional sitcom format, kind of like Seinfeld or Friends. What makes it interesting and somewhat unique, besides the amazing individual talents of its star ensemble and characters, is that narratively speaking it’s done all in flashback form. As the title of the show and of this post implies, everything is told by protagonist Ted relating all the stories to his kids in the year 2030 as to how he met their mother and his eventual wife. The disembodied narrative voice is not the same voice as that of Ted Mosby, played by Josh Radnor, but is actually that of an uncredited Bob Saget of Full House fame. While it’s done in a retrospective manner, the episodes contain a degree of verisimilitude to the time of publication, in that when the show started in 2005, we are being told about what happened in 2005. There are a lot of flash forwards and flashbacks throughout the series as to why and how some things happen. While there are a lot of moments where the narrator admits to not knowing all details and shows his bias and penchant for exaggeration, some pieces of information are pretty much official when it comes to canon.

This incredible maintenance of narrative continuity throughout the years with a nonlinear temporal structure that makes the program so awesome and why it tends to show up in some versions of my reading lists. I don’t care how good a writer you are, there is no way you can have multiple installments or even seasons thought out, written, and cemented in a way that nothing can change what will happen down the line to your characters, much less likely to the very end. This is why it strikes me as surprising that the character of Robin is introduced as a love interest to Ted but the end of the episode reveals that she is the kids’ Aunt Robin. The fact was written in stone for the fans as most of the first season has Ted try to enamor Robin and them actually being together a few seasons later. A lot of the most recent season still had Ted wanting them both to be together and we as viewers know that they work well together but ultimately that they are not meant to be. While the central attempted relationships revolve around Ted, it was Barney that started taking center stage and the spotlight as to what will happen next.

Barney Stinson is perhaps one of the more interesting characters in television right now. The character is the quintessential hypersexual male, filled with insecurities and whose bravado is mostly for show. The actor is Neil Patrick Harris, an openly homosexual married man with kids. Barney Stinson easily has the role of the ensemble Han Solo, not the protagonist but the one you most remember years later. As the show went on, Barney’s character was showing some growth and maturing as he pursues a relationship with Robin, yes that Robin. The compatibility between them was believable and romantic in their own dysfunctional way. And yet it was like the third or fourth season in the seven years that it’s been running. You can’t have a committed relationship, see my previous post on this, especially when you already have Lilly and Marshall as the designated married couple for the program. Barney and Robin were together for a while but ultimately decided that they weren’t happy together. After that moment, there were several instances, some stoic some boisterous, of will they or won’t they get back together. Even with both of them being in serious relationships with other people the idea of them being together again was always there, especially when they started to talk about the wedding.

The wedding of course refers to a one line moment where Ted says that he meets his own future wife at a wedding in which he is the best man. This wasn’t that big of a deal when they said it because the show already said that Ted was going to be the best man for friend from high school Punchy’s wedding. This suddenly became a big deal when the season finale for last year included the reveal that the Groom of said wedding was actually Barney. This of course sent the fandom into crazed wondering of the bride would be and tonight’s episode had the big reveal in the last minutes.

The episode was a two parter, sort of, since you could watch one episode without the other and it still makes sense. The first part involved the birth of Lilly and Marshall’s son, Melvin Waitforit Eriksen, yes his middle name is “wait for it” which is freaking awesome and everyone agrees with that. I am actually kind of hoping for all the kids will be named as such, better than any Kardashian naming trend. The second part worked directly with the relationship between Barney and Quinn, his stripper girlfriend and they even moved in together. She of course was being set up as the potential bride, as I discussed with a few friends online before the program started, Quinn was the logical choice but for me and many others, the emotional and proper choice was for Robin to be the bride. As someone who studies serials, Robin was the clear choice because when it comes to a stable part of the main cast or a new character that has been around for less than a year, the connection to the former is too strong to overcome.

The actual episode was interesting because the lead up to an amazing magic trick by Barney surrounded at gunpoint by TSA is actually an elaborate proposal for him asking Quinn to marry her. She accepted and was later accepted into the group, all was well. Then they fast forwarded to the wedding and the bride was shown to be Robin. Now I admit that I cheered when the reveal was made. This of course opens up the questions in the upcoming season as to how Quinn and Barney split up or how Robin comes back into the picture. As fans of the show know through the case of Ted and Sthella, a wedding does not necessarily mean a happy ending for the couple. It becomes especially weird when you consider that if your two best friends are getting married, who could you possibly meet at that wedding as a future mate that you haven’t met before? Anyway, let me get back to the point of writers having everything so well planned out from the beginning. There is something called character economy in serial fiction. Basically, it means that you can’t have too many extra characters because there is only so much narrative content that can be spread around a limited number of people. In the first few seasons, the cast will expand to have a number of additional minor characters to flesh out the main people’s family, coworkers, etc.  A lot of people will show up for one, maybe two episodes tops played by both noname unrecognizable actors and actresses to some really famous people. The weird part comes with the people that join the cast for more than that and take center stage, mostly in the form of a love interest. For readers and viewers, we have no idea if this person will stay for about a season or will they become a new Robin style character. And of course, anyone can come back from the veritable gallery of exes, tonight’s episode showed that in the case of Ted.

In my opinion it had to be Robin because they would have mentioned by name or at least by anonymous reference at some given moment. Everyone in the main ensemble outside of Ted and the mysterious mother are refered to as Aunts and Uncles. If any other important person for the sake of the future and role in the kids growing they would be called Aunt or Uncle as well. No one has been given that familial title so if anyone is going to be important for the core cast until the year 2030 then they have to be presented as such. They already showed with Robin that they can’t and won’t use crazy misdirection for long. Or at least I like to think so, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about serials is that the story remains in narrative flux until the last installment is published because anything can change, no matter how much the writers want to maintain narrative continuity and consistency.

Episode 35: Look Mommy I Have a Blog and It’s about the Holocaust

Wow it’s been a while since I’ve written something. First and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day to whomever qualifies for the celebration. Now time for some somewhat biographical details as to things that are going on between posts. I was sick for a few days while working on stuff. The fever was pretty bad, sweated through a few shirts a night kind of deal, so I took a page from one of my favorite shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender andused the time as a type of transormation. Long story short, good news: I dealt with some issues and feeling a lot better. Bad news: I think my first level of Paladin just got retconned. By the way if you haven’t seen the new Avatar show, see it! So amazing at every level of storytelling possible.

I was motivated to start writing again thanks to this amazing blog called Film Critic Hulk. It’s everything I would like this blog to be down the line, without the all capslock but still cool. Check it out when ypu get the chance and you might just learn something awesome. http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/

Now let’s get to the actual part of serials. A little while back I read what is considered perhaps one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and gave it to my students, which they loved as well. I am speaking of course of the Pulitzer prize winning Maus by Art Spiegelman. What makes it amazing and unique is that does something that few other forms of comics do, at least according to conventional thought, is that there are no heroes. It’s the story of a man talking to his father about the worst possible time in his life and recording it for future reference.  It reads like a biography but it’s fairly meta in that you see Art talking with his father and engaging in regular converstation about well anything. His father, aka Vladek Spiegelman, is old and kooky to the point of borderline stereotypical miser Jewish guy. Somewhere down the line I started reading Vladek with Zoidberg’s voice and it somehow made way too much sense to stop, even if I felt a little guilty about it. The character is fairly complex in that you really find him annoying to the point of borderline hatred when you see him as an old man but you cheer and hope for him as he is taken captive during the events of World War II. It is because of those traumatic events that we Vladek bem=comes the he is and ultimately whe we as readers pity him.

It is an amazing story but you may be wandering how exactly is it a serial? One of the more interesting parts Maus is that the last part ends with Vladek saying “and then they sent us to Auschwitz” then revealing something that makes Art storm out and openly hate his father. Maus part II wasn’t exactly planned or probably going to be published and probably wouldn’t had the first one not been critically acclaimed and well recieved. Maus, technically Maus I, ended with a pretty decent cliffhanger. The second part is a pretty good story, mostly following what we already saw in the first part, but it is somehow not nearly as good. Perhaps that’s why the most interesting part as a serial is that you wil often see the books compiled into The Complete Maus in one giant (okay it’s really not that huge) hardcover book. The second part starts out normal, but the second chapter has this weird moment when it becomes super meta and it’s just Art talking about the process of writing and publishing his book. For all intents and purposes, it works like an introduction to the book, even to the series and yet here it is as part of the narrative exposition. In case you were wondering, the Americans are shown as dogs to continue with the metaphor that Jewish people are mice, Nazis are cats, Polish people are pigs (WTF?!?!) and the French are frogs (kinda hoping for a Pepe Le Pew type skunk but it makes sense.)

Now I bet that you are wondering why is it that I picked this particular serial for Mother’s Day to write about. What many people forget is that the catalyst for the father and son to reunite and for the story to be written is that the mother (Anya) commits suicide years before the story takes place. Mala, Vladek’s second wife, is literally an attempt to substitute one love for another and her leaving Vladek and his neurosis (what is the plural of that word? neusoseses, neurum, neurosii?) crazy antics pushes for another meeting of father and son, thus pushing for the second part of the novel. One of the more pignant and slightly disturbing parts is that one of the chapters of the first book is the award winning short story/comic that Art did right after his mother’s suicide that goes through the event and the depression that followed. The break from the narrative focus of Vladek’s story and the shift in artistic style is jarring but poignant for the reading.

Let’s see if I can get back on the habit and write a bunch more this week. Coming up: The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman. 

Episode 34: Comeback with a Twist of the Dickensian Variety

It’s been a long while since my last post but I have a good excuse. Old laptop, the one I got in 2006 when I started my year as an exchange studen,t was crapping out on me. Let me give you an example, I was writing a Word Doc and it completely froze just on the autosave function.  It was bad but I was able to get a good deal on a new one and it is working awesomely. Now I just need to get back on track of writing and reading. Classes have pretty much ended for everyone else around here so I need to at least mimic the effort that other students are going through in order to survive finals and keep that momentum from now until comprehensive exams.Since I haven’t written in a while, I figure I should post something about one of the most famous serials by a literary master. Oliver Twist by CHarles Dickens, considered by many to be one of his greatest novels, one of the best of all time, and one that my grandmother keeps reminding  me as to how it changed child labor laws in the Western world.

When you hear about oliver Twist the first image that comes into your mind is about this sweet little kid in an orphanage and the famous line: “Please sir, can I have some more.” (cool fact: you just read that in a British accent) THe serves is surprised and says “More?!?!?!?!” If you haven’t read the whole thing or if you vaguely remember it from an old Lit class then let me remind you that this event occurs in Chapter 2 of a 53 chapter novel. Also, it wasn’t an orphanage, technically it was a working house for people who are homeless, this one just specialized in people between ages 9 and 14. Another interesting point, Oliver did this because a bigger kid wanted more fod, bullied everyone else and Oliver got voluntold into getting more food and then got the crap beat out of him.

The story is fairly complex if you try to understand every sub plot but if you stick to Oliver then you realize that about a fifth of the novel is actually about him. The character is very passive, things happen around him and the spotlight changes while he sort of hangs out while everyone discusses what to do with him and resolve their own personal issues (and there are a lot of them). Oliver was very few actual lines of dialogue and if it wasn’t for the fact that his name is on the title or that important people are going out of their way for this little kid then you’d forget that it was about him. The best way to summarize my feelings toward Oliver Twist the character is that he isn’t the protagonist so much as he is the MacGuffin (plot critical item).

When I first got my hands on the book, I crossreferenced it with another book that told me where each of the original installments ended and started and marked chapeters accordingly. I then tried to read the ecquivalent of one installment, read other things, go on with my normal life, and read another installment later in order to mimic the original serail reading experience. As you can imagine, this process ended up taking way too long relative to the reading discipline that is expected of an Enlish PhD student. Dickens sesquipedalian loquasciousness style of prose was also a particular challenge to overcome, as overly elaborate descriptions that your eyes kind of gloss over happen alongside plot critical moments and character interactions and you find yourself halfway through the book asking who hell is that guy and where did he come from? And the novel has a lot of characters not named Oliver Twist all over the place and since it is a serial you don’t know whether person who shows up in chapter 3 is actually really important, filler material, or some sort of Chekov’s Gunman who will show up later and surprise everyone. Recurring characters are an important factor in all things serial literature but you can’t recognize their importance just on their first appearance.

Something I’ve discussed in my previous research and maybe in earlier posts is that serial reading is a lot different than reading the whole thing at your own pace. While I was reading the novel, moments of confusion didn’t lead to rereading previous chapters because I just imagined that somewhere down the line they will explain it and will figure it out. If not, then finish reading whole thing and check Internet/back of book for contextsand details I might have missed. When the rest of the book doesn’t exist yet two things will inevitably happen if you interested in the narrative.

1. You will go over early installments several times to attempt and find something that you did not realize upon your first reading (I calculate/guesstimate that you read the first ten percent of any given serial 100 times more than the last percent of it, don’t quote me on my fuzzy math).

2. You will fing other people that are also reading the serial or convince your friends to join in even if several installments have already been published. Serial reading is a communal activity but only as it is being published. The time between installments allowed for conversations to arise, speculations to be made, and an anxiety over what happens next. The best part is when you have a crazy idea that actually is what happens, or proving that your friend’s stupid idea continues to be stupid. If you have a varied enough group of friends you get a lot of different perspectives and a more complete reading of the serial as a result.

Let’s go over some potential discussions regarding the novel. First thing is that Oliver’s mom dies right after child birth. This of course raises the question of who is the father (something which I’m sure every male character got some speculation on throughout its publication). Somewhere down the line, someone has to ask whether or not other family members of Oliver are around. As I read the novel, an extended family never really factored in so the big reveal of having the mysterious Monks be Oliver’s half-brother and Rose Maylie actually be his Aunt was kind of a surprise to me. And yet, I imagine that somebody would have already asked that question and surmised that answer by the fourth installment and then loudly declare “I knew it!” once the official reveal was made.

Other characters that would have made a splash definitely include the two street wise kids. The Artful Dodger and Charley (aka Master) Bates (not even trying to be funny even in Victorian standards that was still technically PG language.  Both end up being mentor types to Oliver in the mean streets of London but you were really wondering whether or not they would stay in that dangerous and evil road for the rmainder of their lives. The Artful Dodger was sent to jail near the end chapters and was apparently sent off to Australia and nver heard from again. Master Bates (the 12 year old in me always chuckles when reading this) in the super epilogue final chapter of the book is shown to have learned the error of his ways and actually struggled to become a better person. Speaking of that Epilogue, everyone gets a fairly well extended explanation as to what heppened years after the end of the novel.

The most interesting character by far is that of Fagin aka The Jew. He is not even the only Jewish guy in the novel, the young one that shows up is rarely if ever called by name and has some sort of weird lisp. Based heavily on Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Fagin is a fairly complex character. Sure he is old and weird but training orphans without the tools to survive how to steal in an urban environment isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not exactly evil, fairly greedy, cunning as Hell, and one big nose comment in the entirety of the book is only mildly racist by my account. Fun fact: Dickens actually thought most people that were kidsmen (used kids to steal stuff and get most of the cut of selling the items) were Jewish. It’s not untilDickens was older that he had Jewish friends that told that they were actually offended by the character, much to his surprise and he actually edited a lot of the references to his faith. That’s right, Fagin the Jew was a lot more anti-Semitic during the early editions of the book. More contemporary adaptations may completely disregard that he is Jewish and some don’t even have him die in the almost last chapter. Also, if you are anything like me, you’ll go through the titles of chapters in the index before officially starting to read and you see that it is actually called “The Jew’s Last Day Alive”, stupid lack of spoiler alerts.

The best part of the novel was  the little asides done by the narrator or the chapter titles. Fourth walls were broken all the time in what I like to call paratextual moments, something like the preview of what’s coming in the next episode or the recap of earlier stuff. Chapters would often be called, “short but important for some reason” seriously. In the middle of the novel there was this cool moment when Oliver was coerced to accompany other thieves into breaking into a house and robbing it. As the would be robbers are escaping, an errant shot by someone in the house actually hits Oliver, thus the cliffhanger is that the protagonist has a massive bullet wound. The next installment focuses on the people in the house and introduces several new characters and subplots. Then the next installment has the thieves saying that they left Oliver in a ditch and went on their merry way to avoid capture. The end of that installment actually says something to the degree of, “don’t worry, next week we’ll reveal what happened to poor Oliver so stay tuned.” I had to wait six chapters to see what happened, original intended readers waited over a month to figure out what happened to the title character. I just feel sorry for the guy who bet with his friends that Oliver died and Dickens was just trolling the readership.