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Special Edition: A Farewell Tribute to TNBSA

Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Well, here it is. Tomorrow ends TNBSA's run on regular television. It will survive on Cartoon Network, on tape, and on sites like this one. Still, it's a shame that such a fine series has been cut short. So I'd like to share some thoughts on our old friends Bats and Superman.

First, why do we like them? Because we are easy to please -- just give us the very best. These characters are quality in a world of drivel. That's exactly what worries us. Can quality compete? Can the characters survive? Yes. If the fans keep them honest.

Superman first. Why has Superman survived? I think it's because his character is so focused. An orphan from another culture is adopted by a farm family. They instill in him their values of integrity, loyalty, generosity, and compassion. He then moves to the big city, where he teaches by example. Superman survives because he represents ideals that are universal and timeless.

Unfortunately, the fact that he's dependable means that he doesn't reinvent himself easily. Oh, new producers tinker with his powers, but that's trivial. Superman has a certain Tolkienesque quality to him. That is, you can guess exactly what he will say or think in any situation without taking the trouble of asking him. That makes it easy to write his lines but hard to write an interesting plot to put them in.

Having Lois around helps. The dance between Superman, Clark (the real personality), and Lois is the most interesting thing about him. But he's still hard to write for. Maybe that's why he gets so little attention on his own fan sites and boards. It's been said, it's been done.

Batman, however, is constantly reinventing himself. Batman is SUPPOSED to be inscrutable. He's like higher math, his life an alphabet of variables. There is no "solve for X" to pass the test and be done with it. You have to solve for X, Y, sometimes solve for Z too. Batman is full of contradictions, he's mysterious, and he's a more realistic person.

His contradictions? He's got paradoxes galore. Does Batman belong in Arkham with his enemies? Does he use Jim Gordon, or does Gordon use him? And what about the way Batman treats his Robins? Both Batman and Jim Gordon would tear a building apart with their bare hands if they thought someone was hurting a child inside. Yet Gordon does nothing when Batman takes a child into battle against the serial killers of Arkham -- people the police are afraid of. The kiddies don't seem to see the problem either. Whatever is wrong with Batman, it's clearly contagious.

Then there's the shadow inside the man. I think Le Guin said it best. To go into Superman's mind is to bring light to a dark room. It fills the space until the only shadow remaining is your own. To walk into Batman's mind is to enter a cavern or cave, or a starless sky at night. Your feeble light does not shed light so much as show the extent of the darkness.

Finally there's the possibility of Batman. Batman isn't really a science fiction character at all, just a man with a severe personality disorder. His technology exists. The crime exists. Batman could exist today. So why doesn't he? Maybe we watch to figure it out.

Even Batman spinoffs have a built-in audience. The fans have been screaming for a Nightwing series for years. Dick Grayson was Batman's "firstborn," the one on whom he made his worst mistakes. Terry of "Batman Beyond" is the baby of the family -- by Robin standards, he's downright spoiled. But I think Wayne enjoys indulging him. He has an almost B:TAS sense of humor again.

Still, there are times when the fans have had to speak up and keep it honest. Like when someone insists that Batman or Superman should kill their foes because that's what the speaker would do in their place. (Thank you, I like them just the way they are.) Or when someone at the network tries to shoehorn the JLA/JLU into a Batman series. Personally I think the Justice League storyline should be spun off instead. It's really Superman's baby and much better off on its own.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not qualified to pay proper tribute to the JLA. You see, the Justice League is the lowest common denominator for both Batman and Superman. It's as much as you can water down these characters and still recognize them. That's not an insult, just an observation. Batman in an office, or Superman without Clark and Lois (the two people who make him real) doesn't interest me. But it doesn't have to, either. The Justice League is simply aimed at a much younger audience. There's no need for profound psychological drama to create a great children's show. And a great children's show deserves its own timeslot.

Maybe someday we'll get that all-heroes network we were promised. A Justice League show, our Nightwing series, the proposed Bruce Wayne live series, and who knows what else. Right now we're all feeling discouraged that thirty-minute commercials like "Pokemon" can run our favorites off the air. But cheer up! Ten years from now, the fans of today will be the writers, illustrators, directors, and actors of tomorrow.

Batman and Superman will endure as long as the culture that produced them will endure. They're a way to explore who we are, what we think we're doing here, and what we hope to be and do.

Goodbye to today's great series. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's.  


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