Many people I know have spent the last several days dealing with feelings of mortification and shame over the Abu Ghuraib prison atrocities. Gary Farber called this situation (and the awful pictures) to my attention in Amygdala last week, a day or two ahead of the release of Seymour Hersh's New Yorker exposé, and the publicity of the story through the rest of the Blogoverse. Since then, he's continued to post a number of well-considered updates and analyses that I recommend to anyone who seeks a review of the chronological unfolding of events related to this shameful tragedy. See also, Juan Cole for ongoing wisdom and expertise, and Kathryn Cramer for additional attempts to identify the faces of corruption. (If you're looking for a place to express personal horror and disappointment over these events among friends, I recommend recent threads on Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblogs, Electrolite and Making Light.)
That said, I went somewhere else, for May Day, out of a desire to escape for awhile.
I started on my way with a link on Neil Gaiman's website to Peter Sanderson's astute literary dissection of Neil's recent 1602 series of Marvel comic books. The 1602 discussion wasn't actually what captured my attention on the site. Instead, I found myself deeply engrossed in the same author's analysis of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
I was and am feeling dispirited over the progress of law, justice, and mercy in this place with the red, white, and blue flag. It is a given (to me) that I should do what I can to further the lawful replacement of George Bush and his cabinet with a Democratic administration -- even if I'm not personally inspired by John Kerry. Criminals and fools are succeeding in dismantling the best parts of 200 years of the American experiment. We need to get the guns, tax laws, and government services out of their hands as soon as possible. John Kerry has only partially supported some of the actions I believe the government of the United States should undertake. But that's not the point. The point is that John Kerry is a rational adult, capable of channeling his conscience to put a stop to the worst abuses of Bush and Cheney.
But, after reading things like this Washington Post poll, I find myself lapsing into the emotional thought patterns of a younger self. "It's Brainiac and Luthor calling the shots in Washington, now, and the American public is in a trance. What if we wind up with another four years of these guys?" When does it become Batman time?
I've been a fan of certain types of comic books for all of my life. I put Superman and the Justice League away in my teens and twenties, in favor of other real-life comic book epics: the adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in Chicago; Ken Kesey's adventures in Mexico; The adventures of mild mannered KSAN Reporter, Dave McQueen, and the tragedy of Allende; Jackson Browne and the Sun Soldiers; Rock Against Apartheid, and so on. In the past ten years, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini have succeeded in renewing my affection for one traditional comic book crime fighter.
I'm not going to pretend that the The Dark Knight Strikes Again isn't over the top. But I will argue that it's a significant work of art for our time.* Or, instead of me arguing, let me point you to this essay by Bruce Baugh, as a supplement to Peter Sanders' "Knight Terrors" critique linked to above.
I guess, childishly, after being confronted, with the inescapable cowardice and cruelty of real world bullies, my mind longed to go somewhere else, this weekend. So I bought a $15 day-pass to the Wondercon Comic Book Convention being held in downtown San Francisco. I found 20 issues of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League for 50 cents apiece. And I watched Mark Evanier moderate a "Quick Draw" artist's improv panel, at which Sergio Aragones, Kyle Baker, Scott Shaw, and Steve Leialoha took turns doing spontaneous drawings (sometimes blindfolded) to comply with Evanier-suggested themes.
The day was capped off by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini presenting the, as yet, untelevised first part of the finale for this season's animated Justice League, Star-Crossed, on a huge screen. Kevin Conroy's Batman is actually the most attractive element, for me, in the Justice League cartoons; but Timm and Dini are definitely still at the height of their creative powers. They readily admit that their mandate from the Cartoon Network is to design for an age demographic between 9 and 14 -- and that they got into trouble at Warner Brothers over "The Return of the Joker," written for an older audience.
Timm, Dini, Stan Berkowitz, and Alan Burnett held court for an hour after the screening, answering a number of questions about their current animation projects. It turns out that Warner Brothers has commissioned yet another animated Batman series, this one not produced by Dini-Timm, but with Alan Burnett as a consulting director. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy won't be voicing in it, but Frank Gorshin will. I took 30 seconds to ask them the closing question of the panel; remarking that, in my opinion, there was no such thing as too much Kevin Conroy Batman. "Could we, maybe, have some more?" Bruce Timm announced his intention of continuing to employ Conroy as Batman as much as is humanly and economically possible.
I came home humming the Lola Ritman JLA theme song under my breath, having succeeded in forgetting about the destruction of the character of America for nearly eight hours.
*And, to my taste, a work of apocalyptic moral fiction with more logical consistency and emotional integrity than most Buffy and Angel episodes. But let's not go there in this post.