On Batman

Heroes of Darkness and Light

By John C. Wright

1. Dark Knights and White Knights

My girl tells me that she would never date Superman.

She reads comics with a woman’s eye, so perhaps she sees something I don’t see, but she assures me that of the iconic superheroes of comicbookdom, the one with the most animal magnetism, the one the ladies swoon over, is the Batman.

Why is it that Batman has the romantic allure of Zorro, whereas Superman has no more sex appeal than an Eagle Scout? On the other hand, if Batman has all the glamour, why is it that Superman has a steady girlfriend, and he does not?

The two heroes are as different as day and night. There is something in the souls of three generations of readers that reacts to these characters with a shock of delight and recognition: as if by instinct, we recognize that they are icons or archetypes, a modern pantheon of the demigods like those who fought before the walls of Troy.

Some dismiss cartoon characters as childish; and so they are, but not in the way that word is normally meant. Children, learning about a world as castaways might learn about an undiscovered mystical island, find out first about the most important things, the deep things from the roots of the world, the eternal things–it is for adults to concern ourselves with daily surface details. The noble self-sacrifice of heroes is one of the first things children read about when they read adventure tales. It is one of the basic truths of the  …

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