Friday, August 31, 2012

The Brave, The Bold, and The Brooding

I've been watching a lot of batman lately. The last of the Nolan movies left me wanting more of one of my favorite characters of all time. I decided to finally get to some of those comics gathering dust on my shelf and to re-watch the nineties animated series which I haven't seen since I was a kid. In addition I finally decided to watch the old justice league cartoon from around the same time, as I had never seen it.

As I watch, it continually surprises me how much I love the character with how little he actually seems to do. His entire character as Batman revolves around showing as little emotion as possible, and half the time as Bruce Wayne he spends falsifying emotions and pretending to be a playboy. It's really quite amazing that a character who says so little is so pervasive through our culture.

The Eternal Loner

I think I find popular culture's interest in Bats so fascinating because it's the opposite of reality. Pop culture in all forms love the quiet, introverted and borderline sociopathic lone wolves while in real life they are virtually shunned. Right now three of the most critically acclaimed properties are Batman, Doctor Who, and Sherlock. All of which are loners to a large extent (except their trusted compainon) and all hide their true emotions on a near constant basis. In real life people with their personalities would be outcast. They're quiet, smug, arrogant, and in the doctor's case, ramble to the point of annoyance. Hell whenever any of the three talk it's either to show how smart they are, how stupid you are or to show how little they care about the rest of us.

While these characters can be funny and charming at times their over all personalities are a checklist of off putting and undesirable characteristics. Why is society fascinated with arrogant loners in fiction, but ostracizes them in real life?

Under Calm Seas

Beneath the flat surface of these character lay a storm of conflicted emotions. And this is where I think the true strength in the characters lay. All of them have deep personal conflicts and tragedies that define them. Unlike in real life, we the the viewer are privy to the total knowledge of the character. We know why they hide behind the mask or the bow tie because we've seen their pain.While others see only the smug arrogance and a mask of deflection, we see the scared little boy that misses his parents underneath.

I've heard a lot of people say Batman's popularity is because of his rouges gallery, and though I think he has probably the best group of villains, I think this is untrue. Batman has managed to stay relevant for decades across multiple platforms and even extremely different styles. From the pulp detective stories to the tongue in cheek humor of the Adam West era, from the dark days of Miller to the realistic days of Nolan, Batman has remained one of the strongest and most beloved characters of our time. You couldn't do this without such a strong character to hold it together. For every Riddler or Joker in Arkham there's a Calendar Man or Cluemaster. Criminals come and go, without our hero the struggles against them wouldn't matter.

A Fine Line

As writers and storytellers we have to be careful with how we craft and display our characters. Whether it's show, don't tell, or making sure our brooding, conflicted hero doesn't look like an emo kid wearing mascara. One of the thing's I've noticed about the Bat is that even though he rarely speaks, what he has to say usually matters. You see this a lot in the Justice League cartoon.

The writers of the Justice League have their screen time split between seven heroes that all are major names in their own right. As such they often exaggerate the character's traits to ensure they stand out. The Flash becomes a constant stream of one liner's and corney jokes. Wonder Woman becomes a non stop feminst and Hawkgirl wants to smash everything in site.

For Batman this means he almost never speaks. When he does he's usually explaining something the others were too stupid to catch. Most of his emotions in the show come from his eyes by either narrowing into a squint, or widening out in surprise. And the wonderful thing is we know exactly what that means. It's all Bats needs to do for us to get everything he's thinking. It's a brilliant bit of showing and not telling. In Doctor Who the title character almost never shuts up, so it tells us how bad or difficult things are when he does.

What's more, when Batman does talk, not a single moment is wasted. He may say one line, or one joke in the entire episode but it hits home because it is placed at the precise moment it needed to. Characters such as these teach us that we don't have to put every motivation or thought on the screen. We can trust the audience to understand our characters and their emotions by giving them the minimum of what they need and letting them construct the rest.

Remember the next to time you watch the strong and silent type to watch how little speaking they do, and how much non verbal communication they use. Analyze how these characters are used at their most effective, and allow that to guide you in how you think about all your characters and how to use them at their best.

Now I'm thinking about a Batman, Doctor Who, Sherlock cross over...

No comments:

Post a Comment