Take Me or Leave Me: Shame, Sexuality, and Spider Man

In the past few weeks, we’ve had two high profile celebrities decide to publicly declare their sexual orientation. First was Michael Sam, a All-American football player from the University of Missouri. Sam joins a number of professional athletes who have outed themselves–joining Robbie Rodgers of the MLS and Jason Collins of the NBA–and is poised to become the first openly gay player in the largest, most popular professional sports league in America. The second was last Friday, when actress Ellen Page outed herself during a speech at a conference in Las Vegas. Page is primarily known for her roles in Juno and Inception. Both of these announcements are interesting case studies of the intersection of the public and private.

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The Problem with Superman

I recently watched Man of Steel, the newest Superman movie, and walked away disappointed. Those of you who know me well know that I prefer Batman over Superman (and Marvel over anything from DC). In the right hands, Superman can be an interesting character at the center of some excellent storytelling. The first two thirds of Man of Steel was an excellent example of this type of storytelling but then something happened during the climax of the entire film that exposed the major flaw with Superman that prevents him from becoming a truly compelling character.

Note: Major spoilers follow, ye be warned

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Death of the (Bat)Family

A few months ago, I wrote a post examining the mythology of Batman and his relationship to the villains he faces. Through the duality of Batman and his villains, we are able to clearly see the noble, heroic virtues of Batman twisted and taken to the extreme. I examined all of the villains portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in that post. This last month, writer Scott Snyder wrapped up his Batman/Joker story, “Death of the Family,” in the pages of the current Batman comic book (issues #13-17). This story was one of the best examinations of the relationship between the Joker and Batman ever and evolved their rivalry into unknown and exciting territory. With this redefinition, I’d like to focus directly on the Joker/Batman relationship and examine identity through the lens of that relationship. Obviously, if you haven’t read “Death of the Family,” spoiler alert.

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Why is Batman the Best Hero?

This argument has raged on for years, “why is Batman the best hero?” The common answer to this question is because Batman doesn’t rely on any super powers what-so-ever. He uses his strength and intelligence, as well as his limitless bank accounts, to overcome the corruption in Gotham. I think these traits are incredibly valuable to the strength of Batman’s character. But, I think we have a hard time relating to Batman because most of us are not billionaire playboys who are also great detectives and trained in the martial arts.

I think we can relate to Batman because of the way his heroic character is highlighted by the villains he faces. The most famous rogues that Batman faces feature aspects of Batman’s character or themes that he represents that are twisted and taken to the extreme. We see what Batman could have become if he wasn’t so noble and heroic. I think, to some extent, we all wonder who we would be if a single aspect of our character was changed or different. Batman and the relationships he has with his rogues gallery allow us to see character traits taken to their extremes.

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