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Eric: It could be worse -- I could be discussing triple-goddess imagry between Hippolyta, Diana and Donna Troy. And no one wants that.

First off -- this post is going to assume that the reader has been watching Justice League Unlimited, and is going to contain spoilers willy nilly for anything that crosses my mind during the elaboration of my thesis -- that's anything from "Initiation," which was the first JLU episode, straight through "Divided We Fall," which is the most recent.

However, this is not the Justice League deconstruction and critique that's brewing in my head. That'll come after next week's caveat to the arc. This, instead, is an essay I've mentioned I wanted to write, and this seems like a good time to do it. And its birth came in the earlier episode "Double Date." For those who don't know or have forgotten, "Double Date" introduces the JLU version of the Huntress, establishes a dynamic between her and the Question that has significant impact on the remainder of the season, and builds a contrast between Question/Huntress and the more traditional Justice League Unlimited romance of Green Arrow/Black Canary. That episode in particular showcased Huntress, Question, Canary and Arrow, highlighting the essential similarities and differences between the four characters.

And left my lit crit brain with one inescapable conclusion: all four characters are ectypes to the archetype of Batman.

Okay, I just jumped six chapters ahead in the literary criticism handbook, so let me explain the reference.

In mythological and psychological critical theory (which, like all critical theory, is largely a philosophy instead of a law of nature, but run with me here), there is a concept of the archetype: the image that in all ways fulfills the role of the hero or the role of the monster. In Greek Myth, the perfect heroic archetype is Perseus -- the son of Zeus who stands as a man instead of a demigod, acting with perfect honor and using the highest ideals of the Greeks, strength and cunning, to dispatch all enemies who come before him. Perseus redeems the insult to the Gods that causes Andromeda to get chained to a rock for a monster to eat her. Perseus never succumbs to the hubris that got Andromeda in trouble in the first place. Perseus cleverly finds a way to defeat Medusa, and then uses Medusa's severed head as his weapon to fight a foe that force of arms could never defeat. Perseus was honored enough to be given the very tools of the Gods (Athena's shield, Hades's helm, Hermes's winged sandals) but never succumbs to the temptation to think of himself as a God. And in reward for his actions, Perseus, Andromeda, and even Perseus's mother in law Cassiopeia were placed in the heavens as constellations. Also, if the movies are to be believed, he had a robot owl. But that's neither here nor there.

However, having the perfect archetypical hero does us no good unless we also have examples of other heroes who strove for that perfection but came up short. In effect, these are flawed copies of the perfect hero. These are called ectypes, and they echo the archetype. The traditional example is Theseus. He too is a child of the Gods who acts as a man instead of a demigod. He too fights monsters using his cunning and his strength. He too acts to redeem his nation from a curse.

However, he also comes up short. He abandons his newly found wife. He forgets to change the color of his sails and thus condemns his father to death. And later in life he challenges the Gods themselves by seeking to kidnap the wife of Hades himself so a friend of his could marry him. He therefore endures many hardships and curses through his life -- never able to achieve the same heights. Or, take the example of Bellerophon, who fought and destroyed the Chimaera with the help of the winged steed Pegasus, given to him by Athena. But his hubris caused him to try and fly Pegasus to Olympus and the Gods had to have him put down. Sad, really.

Anyway -- you get the point. Ectypes bear the aspects of the Archetype, but fail to fulfill the promise of the archetype. They lack the proper humility, or the proper cunning, or the proper honor, or whatever.

Which brings us back to Batman and our double-date crew.

Batman is, unquestionably, an archetype of the DC Universe. He is the fulfillment of the hero who has no (or few) powers, coming from privilege but dedicating his life to the downtrodden and the elimination of crime. While possessed of flaws, he overcomes them to stand for something higher than his own revenge. His aspects are many: he is an unsurpassed martial artist, able to use misdirection and skill to fight. He possesses many tools and gadgets (his ubiquitous utility belt and the like) which he uses, but none of them are as important as his own heart. He innately seeks to do things for the right reasons, no matter how tempted he is to cross the line. He is perhaps the greatest living detective. And he uses fear as his greatest weapon.

The most obvious ectype of Batman is the Huntress, which makes sense when one considers that the original comic book version of the character was Helena Wayne -- the daughter of Earth 2's Batman. After Crisis, Huntress needed to be remade, but the fingerprints of her origins remain all over the character. In fact, the post-Crisis version of Huntress (which the animated continuity is mostly faithful to) is even closer to Batman than the original. Like Batman, Huntress's obsession with justice began when she saw criminals murder her parents. (Unlike Batman, Huntress's father was himself a criminal, but as the Question points out in the episode himself, the Huntress could hardly know that as a child.) She is a driven martial artist and warrior. She uses a device -- in her case, her hand-crossbow. She is as uncompromising of her beliefs as Batman himself is; she takes expulsion from the Justice League in stride, so long as she can continue her work. And like Batman, she uses misdirection and manipulation when necessary to further her goals. In fact, in one key scene, we actually see her shadow spread over an enemy, and it is exactly the same shadow we associate with Batman -- a hallmark of her similar mask.

However, she is also deeply flawed in ways the Dark Knight is not. Unlike Batman, when put on the cusp between vengeance and justice, Huntress takes vengeance. In fact, the prologue of the piece shows the Huntress apparently committing an act of murder in cold blood. As it works out, the Justice League had anticipated her actions, but there's really no other way to interpret a woman firing a good ten crossbow bolts into someone lying in a bed. For her, the dark path she walks has overwhelmed her heroic impulses, and she crosses the line. Further, while she employs lies and misdirection for her goals -- implying to Question she knew information he wanted when she didn't, trying to trick Green Arrow and Black Canary into believing she was acting on League business -- she's singularly bad at it, which Batman never would be. Finally, she has to recruit assistance to find her enemy -- she possesses Batman's combat skills and edge, but not the finely developed skills in investigation.

The Question, on the other hand, possesses Batman's detective skills in spades. In fact, in an earlier episode, Batman actually tasked the Question with ferreting out the evidence of Cadmus's illegal activities. He sees connections and works out the reasoning behind things. He actually does understand the criminal mindset. Further, he has Batman's flair for the dramatic, and is extraordinarily good at using fear -- Batman's weapon of choice -- to get the information he needs. (In the first episode he appeared in, "Fearful Symmetry," we see the Question interrogate a reporter, terrifying him into compliance with shock value, theatrics, and Britney Spears music.) He is also a master manipulator. It can easily be said that the Question engineered every step that Huntress, Green Arrow and Black Canary took, knowing ahead of time exactly how things would work out and giving Huntress the chance to redeem herself or take that final step over the line. He is a chess player of distinction.

However, he clearly doesn't possess Batman's skill in hand to hand combat -- losing a punching match with Green Arrow (who himself we know isn't a hand to hand master). It could be argued he lost that fight intentionally, setting up the conditions for the later endgame. Further, while he doesn't let his emotions cloud his methods, he clearly sets on this course with Huntress in the first place because he's attracted to her. And finally, he's batshit insane.

No, really. While the best part of the Question's character is seeing all the ways he's right -- and seeing him outsmart and -- more to the point -- outthink everyone in the room, he takes it many steps too far. The girl scouts probably aren't responsible for the crop circle phenomenon, and even if they are, it's probably not a part of an overall conspiracy that also includes boy bands and the rise of Starbucks. Huntress accuses the Question of apophenia -- seeing connections in meaningless or unconnected data -- and while the Question clearly is right about many of the connections he finds, it's pretty clear that Huntress is also right.

Further, Question is paranoid, in a way Batman would never be. Perhaps harkening back to the Question's creation (the Question is a Steve Ditko creation, from Ditko's Objectivist period, and traditionally sees the world in extremely black and white terms. All things that are not good are bad. In fact, in the episode "Question Authority," when the Question insists to Lex Luthor that "A is A, and no matter what reality he calls home, Luthor is Luthor," the Question is directly invoking Ayn Rand), the Question absolutely sees himself as the one good man in a world mired in corruption. By the same token, any action he takes that serves the greater good is justifiable. When the Question discovers that Superman seems to be trapped on a course where he will murder Luthor after Luthor takes office as President -- with armageddon following -- he takes the most direct and obvious action to prevent this; he goes to murder Luthor himself, denying Superman the chance. He lacks the crucial conscience that Batman possesses -- the understanding that the greater good may be paramount, but there are lines you do not cross to get there.

That sense of conscience, of wrong and right, of a willingness to put everything on the line -- to die if necessary but never compromising that which is right is a hallmark of our next Batman ectype, Green Arrow. Green Arrow is an obvious ectype, of course -- he was clearly designed as a full on Batman ripoff. He was a millionaire philanthropist who takes up the cause of justice with a series of expertly designed gadgets and a teenaged ward and sidekick, operating out of a cave accessible from his Star City mansion. As Batman himself asked in the Kevin Smith run in the Green Arrow comic book, Green Arrow never had an original idea in his life. At least, in the old days.

However, following the sixties and seventies, Green Arrow became the most famous Liberal in comic books (which in a way makes Green Arrow the perfect counterpoint to the Question). This has been reflected in Justice League Unlimited, and also is reflected in Green Arrow's own journey with the Justice League. Like Batman, Green Arrow wants no part of the Justice League at first -- to him, the Justice League is focused entirely on the galaxy spanning threats, and ignoring "the little guy." Green Arrow is all about the little guy. Further, Green Arrow has no powers but his own skills, the devices at his command, and his sense of right and wrong. However, when push comes to shove, not only does Green Arrow step up, he's the one able to stop the giant monster when the powerhouses -- Green Lantern, Supergirl and Captain Atom -- all fail. By the end of season two, when the original seven are ready to pack it in because of everything that's happened, it's Green Arrow who speaks truth to power and tells them, in effect, to suck it up and do what's right instead of what's easy. All of these things are ineffably Batmanish traits.

However, Green Arrow's own flaws come from his lacks. He has no detective skills to speak of, and while he possesses a typically Liberal set of paranoias (when meeting Captain Atom, his response is "you're what I marched against in college"), he's willing to accept surface explanations rather than dig deeper. He is often counterpointed with the Question, who seems completely insane to Green Arrow, but inevitably the Question's more sinister explanations turn out to be right. Green Arrow is exceptionally good at fighting the symptoms of crime, but lacks Batman's understanding of the roots of it. Even in "Double Date," where he seems to be able to read the Question's motivations one step ahead of the Question, Green Arrow is clearly being used as a pawn in the Question's overall plan.

Black Canary, in certain ways, fits the Batman ectype least well. In part this is because she more properly fits a different archetypal path -- Wonder Woman. She too possesses a combination of sexuality and nobility, combat style and raw power. So, she belongs with the Amazon, with Hawkgirl, with Zatanna and that whole clique. And, given that in Justice League Unlimited, Batman and Wonder Woman seem to be sliding into a relationship, there is a clear correspondence to Green Arrow and Black Canary's own super-heroic courtship. (In fact, while Green Arrow is a clear Batman ectype and Black Canary can be seen as either a Wonder Woman or Batman ectype, it's safe to say that the Green Arrow/Black Canary relationship is archetypal for modern super hero relationships, and Batman/Wonder Woman and Huntress/Question alike are ectypes of it. But that's a different essay.)

But, she also fits elements of the Batman ectype. She was trained by Wildcat -- himself a solid Batman ectype -- as a virtuoso of hand to hand combat. (The implication is she's one of the very best hand fighters.) While she has a sonic scream -- the only honest "super power" of the four -- she can't use it on regular people. It would kill them. It's like the missiles Batman packs in his batwing -- they're there, but he's not about to fire them at the Joker. Her costuming clearly derives from a Noir tradition that Batman is a comic book exemplar of. And more to the point, she is both a detective and a master manipulator. When she discovers that Wildcat -- her mentor and a father figure -- has fallen into disreputable habits, she plays on Green Arrow's obvious attraction to her to solicit his help without involving the rest of the Justice League. In fact, by the end of that episode, Green Arrow is convinced that Black Canary is purely using him as a weapon -- her own nature has interfered with her ability to honestly express her own attraction to Oliver Queen. And that's as Batman as it gets. She has a solid sense of honor, of right and wrong, and of the criminal mindset. She understands implicitly that the only way to get Wildcat out is to beat him at his own game. (Though it takes Green Arrow to realize that Black Canary's plan would break Wildcat, but Arrow's own sacrifice would give Wildcat the mental shock needed to save himself, instead.)

However, Black Canary lacks the core drive and sense of horror that Batman (and the Huntress, the Question and even Green Arrow) possess in spades. Her Wildcat solution is a case in point -- she's willing to break Wildcat to save him. It is the most direct path to preserving his life and legacy, but no matter if she wins or loses, Wildcat would never be able to leave the cage without losing his own essential nature. Her goals are admirable, but she can't see her way out of what looks like a no-win situation.

Obviously, all four characters are rich and nuanced in their own right -- one should never take the approach that ectypes are less than their archetype. Quite honestly, if the Founding Seven members of the Justice League left tomorrow, and we had a new core team with Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Huntress and the Question at its heart, I'd be perfectly happy. Their flaws and weaknesses make them interesting. However, given the clear mirroring of the two relationships in the episode (reflected in the "Double Date" title itself), it's interesting to me, at least, that all four heroes can be harkened back to the same archetype. And, it's a credit *to* that archetype that the four ectypes can be such diverse and rich characters as well.

Check in with me next week, and we'll discuss the rise and fall of Cadmus.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 18, 2005 9:57 AM


Comment from: siwangmu posted at July 18, 2005 12:40 PM

That was really cool! And I'm not even attempting to damn anybody to anything. I've never been much for DC and probably won't end up seeing the show, so I figured I wouldn't actually suffer from reading this, and I know just enough to have made it fun and interesting.

The real reason I'm posting, though, is to share my pain: every time I saw the word ectype, my brain responded "ectopic pregnancy." Hopefully I can inflict that on someone else and thus, karmically, win!

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 12:50 PM

Whew, I was worried that this was going to discuss a JLU ep I hadn't seen. Saturday is usually the epicenter of my social calendar, so I don't watch as often as I'd like.

The only problem with referring to Batman as an archetype and the others as ectypes, to me, is that Batman has no ability to connect on an emotional level to those he cares about. Even those he trusts the most he puts at arms length. I don't think he wants it that way, either, but believes it's the only option, which is another failing.

Just let me know when you decide to actually discuss the female triumvirate. Between video games and anime, I could probably equal you in article length.

Comment from: Daven posted at July 18, 2005 12:58 PM

A very well broken down and thought out essay. My compliments.

I may have to snag this for use in my mythology course. Even pop culture icons can be used to teach mythology with. And even though I rarely see JLA:U because of apathy, I've seen the episodes referenced in here.

Well done Eric.

Comment from: jpcardier posted at July 18, 2005 1:30 PM

I really, really liked this essay. I haven't heard of ectypes before ( a bit in someone who loves Hero with a Thousand Faces). Wow. This is really cool.

Mind you, you did miss what I would call the classic Perseus ectype: Jason. Jason retrieved the fleece, and married the Queen Medea just like Perseus. However, he decided in the Hercules tradition to marry another little lady after he and Medea had kids. This of course caused Medea to go crazy and kill her sons, and fly off in her chariot. I love Greek Myth. It's incredibly frelled up.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 1:42 PM

jpcardier -- Heracles himself fell into the Perseus ectype category. Remember, he didn't become a god until after his last wife was tricked into horribly cursing him and he begged to be put to death. While he was a hero, he was very much striving to meet the Perseus ideal and falling short. That's why he ended up being sentenced to his labors, why his children kept getting killed, and so on and so forth. (Well, that and the jealousy of Hera.)

There are lots and lots and lots of ectypes of Perseus. And so many of them involve slaughter and horrible things and people consuming their own children. Those wacky Greeks!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 1:43 PM

32_footsteps: on the triple goddess image: some food for thought for you.

The proper breakdown is Diana: Maiden, Donna: Mother, Hippolyta: Crone, as opposed to the more obvious Donna/Diana/Hippolyta breakdown.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 2:13 PM

Oh, also with 32:

The only problem with referring to Batman as an archetype and the others as ectypes, to me, is that Batman has no ability to connect on an emotional level to those he cares about. Even those he trusts the most he puts at arms length. I don't think he wants it that way, either, but believes it's the only option, which is another failing.

I consider that part of Batman's heroic journey, actually. That's always been the way he is, but (in the animated continuity in particular) he's been willing to adapt and grow. He could take on and care about Robin. He could accept the Justice League, and even value it. He could dedicate himself to others and trust others. He could even take Superman's lead in the future course of the Justice League.

The League, in the animated continuity, represents Batman's achievement of his potential. He is able to step up and work well with others.

(It's worth noting that if we extend the discussion to Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne himself fails the archetype, and Terry McGinnis develops the potential to reach it. But that's way in the future, so meh. ;) )

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 18, 2005 2:17 PM

Interesting how the DCU tends towards the mythic/legendary more than Marvel does. For example, I've always seen Peter Parker as almost a Dickensian character. I always thought it was odd that one of the extras on the first Spider-man film's DVD was called something like "The Mythology of the 20th Century" when I always associated that point of view with the other company.

And another view of Oliver Queen as Bruce Wayne's opposite: The first (and only?) American Socialist super-hero, who gave away his fortune rather than utilise it as Batman did?

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 2:25 PM

Ectypes? I don't know. I'm not sure the Question is particularly interested in fulfilling Batman's "ideal." In Greek myth, the ectypes were always *trying* to be the legit hero, but at some point they fall short in their striving, usually due to good old fashioned hubris but sometimes just because they're dumbasses.

I don't see the Question as trying to be Batman. He shares a facet of Batman's personality -- enhanced a thousand-fold, without some of the other qualities, which sets him adrift -- but is he motivated to be another Dark Night? Hardly.

Huntress I can see. She is cast in the same mold, but doesn't have the tenuous balance Batman has.

Green Arrow may be a Batman "rip-off" conceptually, but he approaches crime fighting from a completely different direction. You characterize it as fighting the good fight, but not understanding the motivation of criminal mind... but in Ollie's view, it's not *about* understanding your enemy. It's about understanding that the little guy needs help, first and foremost.

I don't disagree with the general comparisons and observations you make, but I do disagree that the four are necessarily ectypes to Batman's archetype. That would assume that they aspired to *be* the archetype, and I don't think that comes across at all, except for Huntress. Huntress I'll buy.

Comment from: JoK posted at July 18, 2005 2:27 PM

Oh sure follow spoiler drama with spoilers!

I've actually missed the past few eps of JLU I need to catch up =/

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at July 18, 2005 2:30 PM

From what little I know, the next and last episode of this season will be extending the discussion to Batman Beyond (possibly PAST it).

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 2:32 PM

Christopher -- the core of Archetype theory within Mythological Lit Criticism is less conscious and more subconscious -- there is a very Jungian dimension to the whole affair. The Question, in that model, is indeed an ectype to the archetype Batman represents, but as with all ectypes he is a failed one. That doesn't require the Question's desire to be Batman (I agree he's probably not that interested -- and Green Arrow would be horrified by the prospect), merely that he possess the same potentials but fail to meet them in the heroic journey.

Does that make it "right?" Of course not! What does being right have to do with literary criticism? ;)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 2:52 PM

Eric, I'm not versed in the comics at all, and to me Donna Troy is just what Diana uses when she wants a day off from the Justice League. So I'm not going to claim any deep insight on this.

With that said, based purely on the negative aspects of the triumvirate, I'd have to say that Donna is the maiden and Diana is the matron.

First, for the easy part - Hippolyta as the Crone. The negative of this trope is Selfishness - the Crone doesn't care to emotionally connect (there's that phrase again from me), she's interested purely in her own self interest. This is fairly obvious to everyone - she opposes Diana's presence in the world of men, because she wants to keep her daughter for herself.

In terms of pop culture, no portrayal of the Crone has been as complete, warts and all, as that of Ayn Rand. Did she have some wisdom? I believe so, though you're welcome to disagree with me. But she certainly used it for her own ends, and was fairly callous to anyone that didn't serve her own needs.

Now, for Diana, I think she fits the negative of the Matron quite well - Destruction. Most people think of this as a function of the Crone, but the Crone is dealing with destruction, not giving it out. While the Crone is a harbinger, the Matron is an agent.

The Matron destroys as a support for the urge to nurture. Threats to the Matron's charges are to be eliminated. For Diana, she protects society; therefore, crime must be eliminated. Even down to her depiction - full-breasted, a sure symbol of nourishing capability - Diana is meant to be the Matron.

She's not the modern epitome of the Matron - that would definitely be Sigourney Weaver's Ripley from Aliens. She effortlessly glides between comforting and caring for Newt and ruthlessly destroying chest-busters everywhere.

Finally, Donna Troy as the Maiden. Most people would point to innocence, virginity, and purity. Not I; I instead look to her fundamental flaw, seduction. The Maiden is the temptress, the one who manipulates through sex. Donna Troy gets by using her "feminine wiles" to convince people of her powerlessness, and feigns weakness to get what she desires (in this case, living a "normal" life).

To many people nowadays, the Maiden is best exemplified by Marilyn Monroe - particularly her role in The Seven Year Itch, but her actual life shows parallels as well.

Since I did promise to discuss video games, the clearest depiction of the dark Maiden, Matron and Crone appear in the Playstation game Valkyrie Profile. Ignore the fact that Enix (this was prior to their merger with Square) had a poor grasp of Norse myth (among other things, conflating the valkyries with the Norns). They get the deeper symbols right even as they bungle the trappings.

First off, you control the middle sister, Lenneth, obviously the Matron. She clearly acts in that role - she has to develop the souls of dead warriors so they can take their place in Valhalla in preparation for Ragnarok. How does she nurture them? She takes them back to Earth and brings them into battle with demons and undead, ruthlessly fighting to get rid of their taint (and by extension, what impurities lie within the dead warriors). The entire game is a focus on the role of the Matron.

Lenneth's elder sister, Hrist shows up at two points. She first shows up in a bit of the past, where she executes a king for defying the gods. As it turns out, the king is innocent, and his pleas for an investigation are ignored by the cruel valkyrie. Her interest is not in doing justice, but in showing the penalties for defying the gods. It's ultimately up to Lenneth to correct the problem.

Hrist later shows up, taking over Lenneth's body to fight the vampire lord that has taken their younger sister, Silmeria, hostage. It turns out the valkyries are three spirits sharing the same vessel, and without Silmeria the other two feel incomplete. Hrist is not fighting the vampire lord because he is anathema; she merely wants a piece of her soul back. She's also totally ignoring impending Ragnarok for this purpose. Again, acting totally in her own self interest.

Of course, that brings us to Silmeria, the youngest sister. She never actually acts in this game, you only hear from Hrist and Brahms (said vampire lord) of her actions - she tried fighting Brahms to get rid of him when she wasn't powerful enough, and Brahms held her captive. But he very well could have destroyed her, as he's more than willing to destroy Lenneth and Hrist if need be. It's unspoken, but Silmeria has clearly seduced Brahms into using her as a hostage as opposed to eliminating her - when killing the valkyrie would be much more expedient.

Anyhow, with the depiction of the negative aspects of the female triumvirate in mind, Eric, I'd like to see where you think I'm wrong and that Diana is the Maiden.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 3:09 PM

32: I'm going from the classic comic book interpretation (though the question of who Donna Troy is in the comic books is a fluid one: for these purposes, I'm going back to the traditional "near-baby rescued from a fire by Wonder Woman, then raised by the Amazons and given a portion of their power," which was the traditional version until Crisis messed stuff up.)

Hippolyta as crone is an obvious choice -- she is wise, having been used and abused but come through it and achieved final wisdom and perspective. She also cannot truly be the mother, because she never bore her daughter, but instead sculpted her from clay.

Diana as maiden is also obvious -- first off, she is virginal (even today, the DCU has been very careful to keep that card in their hand). Secondly, she was sent from her isolated island to Man's World as an ambassador of peace and war (gotta love those Amazons). More than any of the others she is the innocent in the ways of the world. While she learns quickly, there is a way in which she will always be a child in our society -- if nothing else, because she represents an almost childlike sense of wonder and idealism.

Donna is the mother because first off, she has known tragedy -- her family was killed in a fire set by a slumlord. Secondly, she is in fact a mother -- she married and had a child in Teen Titans. But she also knows tragedy there -- she divorced, and their her ex-husband and baby were killed. She was also made the consort of Hyperion (and the implication was it was far from chaste) by dint of his overwhelming divine presence and charisma, which adds an element of destroyed innocence as well (though they backed away from implications she was actually raped). She is experienced, and that experience has an element of the destructive throughout it.

Further, while Diana has had relationships over the decades (most notably with Steve Trevor), they were never serious ones by modern definitions. She is innocent, in that regard. Donna has had many serious relationships in the comics (bridging over into post-Crisis, including a relationship with Kyle "Green Lantern" Raynor and an on-again, off-again with Roy "Speedy/Arsenal" Harper), though never the relationship that was set up as her purest, most innocent love -- Robin/Nightwing.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 3:11 PM

Now, as for Batman and archetypes/ectypes...

Now, you could possibly turn it around and say that Green Arrow is the archetype, and Batman is the ectype (except, obviously, for the Green Arrow's origins as a blatant Batman rip-off). Oliver Queen is still connected to the society he helps daily. Those are his neighborhoods, he strives to help them beyond just shooting arrows at crooks, and he tries to make a place for himself in the society. Whether or not he's in green tights and a domino mask, he is a part of society.

Bruce Wayne, however, is not. He's a millionaire, removed physically and most often financially from the effects of what he fights. Even his allies find him cold and distant, and he comes off as threatening and frightening even to those he helps. Batman is forever left on the outside of the society he helps, even when the cowl comes off.

Thus, you could argue that Batman is the ectype while Green Arrow is the archetype - whereas Green Arrow helps society while being a part of it, Batman left society and the ability to make human connections to do the same. And the ability to understand his foes is the sacrifice Green Arrow made on his heroic journey.

Of course, the most rational conclusion is that both are ectypes of a different archetype - maybe Sherlock Holmes, maybe The Shadow, maybe someone else that escapes me.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 3:14 PM

See, this is why I could never get into DC comics - it was too muddled to get a clear picture of what was going on, what with alternate versions of the same character.

Okay, now having learned that Diana and Donna Troy were two different Wonder Women, as opposed to Diana being the heroic identity and Donna being the secret one, I can agree that Diana is the Maiden. Stupid comic writers making it impossible to keep characters straight...

Comment from: Doug posted at July 18, 2005 3:26 PM

After all the (mostly) erudite and scholarly writing on this subject, I'm hard pressed to come up with any cogent comments. So, instead of making the attempt, I'll just write something that will no doubt condemn me to an eternity in the darker infernal regions as being the only just punishment for it.

Does this mean that the four not-quite-Batman heroes have teamed up to form the ecs-men?

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 18, 2005 3:28 PM

Isn't Batman just a version of El Zorro? How about Don Quixote? Or even King Arthur?

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 3:35 PM

Definately taken from El Zorro. Or the Lone Ranger, only with more brooding and a funky car instead of a horse.

But the psychological brokenness of the character is very distinctive (and relatively new in the Batman mythos -- "back in the day" he was very driven but remarkably well-adjusted for a Kid What Saw His Parents Shotted.)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 3:35 PM

Well, my discussion of the female triumvirate would look so much more erudite if I didn't mix up WW's secret identity and the second WW. I blame DC for that.

As for the archetype behind all four... El Zorro is probably the closest choice, although I admit to not being terribly familiar with the stories (but I do recall him being smart, capable, and connected with the people). Don Quixote is another failure of the archetype, because he can't even figure out how to do something right. And King Arthur is a totally different stereotype, along the same lines as Superman.

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 18, 2005 3:43 PM

Zorro is all of the above as you say, plus named after a night creature (the Fox), rich, owning a mansion with a secret cave, a loyal manservant who knew his secret, and as Don Diego disguised himself as a weak playboy. Oh, and spent his teen years travelling Europe and training as a swordsman.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 3:44 PM

Hmmm... I think we have a winner!

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 3:45 PM

"I think this Zorro is trying to tell me something..."

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 3:46 PM

In this particular thesis, we were taking the cosm to be comic books/animation, and Batman to be the archetype thereby. If we expand the cosm, then yes -- Batman harkens back to several antecedents. Zorro's perhaps the most interesting of them, since in Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns (among other sources) it's The Mark of Zorro that Bruce Wayne and his parents go see just before being gunned down in Crime Alley.

However, the antecedent I think that works best for Batman is The Shadow. The Shadow uses fear, misdirection and investigation to bring down his enemies, and sees all the people in his life -- most notably Margo Lane -- as tools in his war on crime. Further, like the Batman, the Shadow "knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men." He understands the root of that which he destroys.

I am a tremendous Shadow fanboy, if that's not obvious.

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 18, 2005 3:51 PM

But isn't the Shadow superpowered? And an ex-criminal?

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 3:59 PM

Well, I don't think you can only take comics and animation alone. I mean, first off, it's fairly arbitrary to lump those two together but leave off other things - why not lump in live action movies? Radio plays? Paintings?

Of course, that leads to the real reason to include all forms of entertainment - these archetypes are not formed in a vacuum. Each variety of entertainment influences another, so you can't pick and choose one or two for purposes of picking out themes and forego the rest.

Batman perhaps is just comics' shining example of the Tragic Hero - even in success, he is unable to share in that success because of his own failings.

I, of course, am the Trickster/Fool - always questioning, always acting contrary, and even willing to look like a simpleton in front of everyone. Butall of this in the hopes that it gets other people to learn more.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 4:04 PM

The original pulps of the Shadow did not have him super-powered, actually. He did eventually gain the hypnotic power to cloud men's minds -- but that doesn't rule him out for being an antecedent of Batman's. Antecedents don't have to be exact, after all.

As for his criminal past... that's more of a modern invention. In the old days, Kent Allard (Lamont Cranston was originally just another one of Allard's many disguises and roles) was always on the side of the angels. However, he employed the tools of the criminal element in his war against them -- from his methodology (breaking and entering, shooting people and the like) to his organization (he and Doc Savage were both notable for Organized Anti-Crime), he struck criminals from the very heart of their own strength, terrifying them all the way.

And that, in a nutshell, is Batman. Except, of course, Batman doesn't shoot people.

Which itself suggests that Batman may still be the archetype. Hah! Recursion!

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 18, 2005 4:05 PM

As for the archetype behind all four... El Zorro is probably the closest choice, although I admit to not being terribly familiar with the stories (but I do recall him being smart, capable, and connected with the people). Don Quixote is another failure of the archetype, because he can't even figure out how to do something right. And King Arthur is a totally different stereotype, along the same lines as Superman.

Don Quixote is definitely, purposefully a failure of archetype since he's a satire.

I'll agree that King Arthur and Superman are more closely related to each other than either is to Batman, but I wouldn't say they're closer than cousins. On the branch of the archetype tree where the highborn, simply-raised (or vice versa) heroes live, as a public leader Arthur descends from Moses while as a public servant Superman descends from Hercules.

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 18, 2005 4:07 PM

New question:

The Trickster/Fool of the DCU/JLA (Plastic man gets you no points)

I submit: Hal Jordan as written by Mark Waid and Tom Peyer in "The Brave and the Bold" and "JLA: Year One" - thinks he's the leader but isn't, embarrassing himself by always having to borrow money.

Wally West in the animated series.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 4:08 PM

Arthur would descend from David (raised up as a King, has troubles with women) rather than Moses (prophet, has trouble with kings).

But I quibble!

Comment from: PatMan posted at July 18, 2005 4:11 PM

Actually, 32_footsteps, you are still confused. Donna Troy is Wonder Girl, A.K.A Troia. Why they gave her a name so similar to Diana is beyond me. And for the record, I noticed your mistake right away and would have corrected it sooner if I could, unlike mean old Eric who sought to confound you. :P

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 18, 2005 4:14 PM

Arthur as descendant of Christian tales would really only cover the French version of the King, where a lot of bits where added. The women trouble, for example, was essentially propaganda where the greatest British (read English) king was cuckolded by a French knight. The primary Welsh tales have a far more Celtic origin.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 4:17 PM

PatMan -- they gave her so similar a name to Diana because in the very original stories of "Wonder Girl" it was Diana. "Wonder Girl" were supposed to be a series of adventures of Wonder Woman as a girl, a la Superman/Superboy.

And then they came out with Teen Titans, and someone decided it would be a great idea to throw Wonder Girl in with them. Only... Wonder Girl was supposed to be Diana from twelve years before, so... um....

"No no. Not Diana! Donna. Yeeeeah...."

Donna Troy's history has always been a screwed up mess. It took Wolfman and Perez to resolve it. Only then Wolfman and Perez rebooted the universe with Crisis, and Perez specifically rebooted Wonder Woman, making a sidekick who was already an adult herself with a baby and an ex-husband became... impractical... and so she became Troia, only... well, there was more trouble, and then they did other things, and then she lost and regained her powers about twelve times, and she became a Darkstar, and then she became Diana's sister, and then she became a separate avatar of the same Goddess of Truth that Diana is, and then they killed her off, only she's apparently coming back to life....

Donna Troy: yeah, she screws up everything she touches, but she's cute and we like her.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 4:28 PM

Trickster/Fool of the JLA/JLU? Well, The Flash is obvious for the cartoons, and he does it well. Which is why I despair the near-absence of The Flash in the JLU episodes. Though a bit obvious, The Question also functions in that role, albiet mirthlessly. (For fun, compare and contrast JLU's The Question and Watchmen's The Comedian.)

For the comics... I don't know, Hal Jordan sounds more like an anti-hero than a Trickster/Fool. He isn't questioning so much as trying to profit off of the others.

Of course, a good answer for both is Green Arrow - he brings a much different viewpoint of heroism to the table, and he asks what nobody else wants to bring up - or could even think of.

Pop quiz - guess who's my particular favorite amongst the DCU.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 4:31 PM

As for my inability to wrap my head around Donna Troy, just look at my essay above in this light - it's about the creator of the original Wonder Woman, the original WW, and the original's secret identity. If you do that, it doesn't look like complete bullhonky.

Comment from: PatMan posted at July 18, 2005 4:32 PM


You are just going to confuse him more! Does your evil know no bounds?

And I didn't realize they had called Wonder Girl Diana back in the early days of Titans. You'd think that would have tipped the writer off as to who she was.

And yes, she is cute.

Comment from: PatMan posted at July 18, 2005 4:34 PM

Oh, and yeah, I did read your post that way, Footsteps. It did make sense if one recognized what you were talking about.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 4:36 PM

My comment was denied for "questionable content?" Er... I didn't realize the name of a hero from the Legion of Super Heroes was so objectionable...

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 18, 2005 4:40 PM

"Questionable content?"

What the Hell?

Christopher -- e-mail it to me, would you?

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 4:43 PM

Christopher, I've had that problem in the past too, but it seems that if you log out and then back in, the problem goes away. Maybe there's a mixup with the error messages.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 18, 2005 4:43 PM

Arthur as descendant of Christian tales would really only cover the French version of the King, where a lot of bits where added. [...] The primary Welsh tales have a far more Celtic origin.

True. But we're discussing contemporary archetypes as manifested in comic-book heroes, so all the added bits, as part of the version(s) of the legend used in comic books, apply.

The women trouble, for example, was essentially propaganda where the greatest British (read English) king was cuckolded by a French knight.

I'm a student, not a scholar, but my impression is that, though Lancelot was invented by French writers 'bout 800 years ago, the character wasn't presented as French instead of British until more modern writings. Breton if not Briton, maybe, because I think as early as Malory the siege of Joyous Gard was across the Channel. But then, Malory was 500 years ago. Oh, hell, I don't know.

Say, is anyone out there reading King Arthur v. Dracula? Any good? Is reading it worth the risk of accusations of swiping it should I bring Dracula into Arthur, King of Time and Space one day? Or worth the risk of actually, accidentally swiping it?

Comment from: slabgar posted at July 18, 2005 4:45 PM

I liked the Question's attack on Luthor. From chess, it was in Bird's style. (Taking an opening that most people react to, and simply preventing it, IIRC. It's been many years since I paid attention to chess, but I tend to think of being proactive in surprising ways as being Birdlike.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 4:47 PM

Let's see... "Matter Eater Lad."

That was the phrase.

Seems to work OK this time around.

Of course, that's only true if this post is, in fact, posted. Then again, if it isn't... you'll never know.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at July 18, 2005 4:48 PM

And that was, of course, my guess as to 32 footstep's favorite hero.

Seemed pretty obvious, based on his posts...

Comment from: Pooga posted at July 18, 2005 5:02 PM

My comment was denied for "questionable content?"

Well why were you trying to post it to Questionable Content in the first place? :D

Comment from: vortexae posted at July 18, 2005 5:07 PM

Yay! JLU snark! I finally got to see "Divided We Fall" and am totally looking forward to your take on the rise and fall of Cadmus.

Finally got to see all three parts of Teen Titans "The End" too.

It's a good year for season finales.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 18, 2005 5:12 PM

My comment was denied for "questionable content?" Er... I didn't realize the name of a hero from the Legion of Super Heroes was so objectionable...

Christopher, I've had that problem in the past too, but it seems that if you log out and then back in, the problem goes away. Maybe there's a mixup with the error messages.

Come to think of it, I got a coupla weird screens too, which I didn't read very thoroughly. I figured it just hadda do with that there were about a half a dozen people composing comments at Websnark at once this afternoon. You know, when we were supposed to be working.

Comment from: Pooga posted at July 18, 2005 5:13 PM

Actually, depending on specific phrasing and where you're posting from, it could be a more or less random phrase that triggered a proxy filter. For example, I get blocked at work from visiting Girl Genius. I could almost see that due to the nature of a few of the comics on the site, but according to the filter, the reason is "The Websense category 'Games' is filtered." I get several other weird results like that. Just part of the curse of a workplace proxy internet connection. :-/

Comment from: marlowe posted at July 18, 2005 10:11 PM

Eric - excellent essay (if you ever make it this far down in the comments *grin*). I'd like to pose a question, though, raised by the Queen-as-archetype discussion above: as one's status as an archetypal hero depends on whether one completes the hero's journey, how can we tell whether any of our current heroes actually satisfies the condition? After all, our comic characters are frozen by allmighty Suspension of Disbelief at some point around the height of their careers. Batman, at this point, hasn't had an opportunity to display whether he succeeds in his journey or not. We can say that he's displaying signs that he's going to complete it, but we can't say for a certainty that Green Arrow, for example, is going to fail. (And we can see from the Grail mythos that we can have two successful questers in the same story - Galahad and Percival both succeed in the quest, at least in Joseph Campbell's reading of the stories.) Now, from what I understand (having not seen JLU - I'm basing this on comics here) The Question displays psychological signs that he will eventually fail, but that doesn't translate out to actually failing.

One possible answer - which might explain why you're considering Green Arrow as a Batman ectype rather than the other way around as 32_footsteps proposed - is that DC has done an admirable job of both foregrounding and forecasting their characters' plotlines through "What If?" type events and alternate futures like "Dark Knight Returns" and "Kingdom Come," not to mention "Batman: Year One." These provide bookends to the characters' main-run selves in ways that DC would never think they could get away with in the actual comic, and have the benefit of actually putting Batman, Superman, et. al. on the hero's journey, as opposed to the expoential trajectory ever onward, ever upward that they seem to occupy in the books. And, as a consequence, some of the elements of these final-stage stories have entered the mythos as a whole - consider the scene in No Man's Land where Superman comes to try and restore order in Gotham, and is actually afraid Batman will try to kick him out. While DC will never own up and say Dark Knight Returns is continuity, I don't think there are Batman fans who have read it who don't evaluate the character differently in its context.

And, not coincidental to the point, Oliver Queen is portrayed in Dark Knight Returns as an embattled, somewhat embittered one-armed warrior - portrayed, in short, as having failed the hero's journey of life which Batman, in that comic, is in the process of succeeding. So if someone were to give him the same kind of closure stories that Superman and Batman have gotten, I've got to wonder if he wouldn't achieve the status of archetype in his own right.

On the question of deep-mythology roots in modern heroism, I'd shy away from King Arthur as a model - I just don't see many parallels, although it would be awesome to construct a superhero of that nature (Maybe something for my return to FPL... hmmm...). I would suggest as an archetype for the Superman-Batman pairing one of the basic pairings in literature: Achilles-Odysseus. Once one has adjusted for the differences in morality between our culture and that of ancient Greece (the Greeks seem to have appreciated pride and battle a lot more, although some of Euripides' plays seem to counter that), the similarities are pretty remarkable. Both Superman and Achilles are the super-men of their generation, both are vulnerable in one miniscule way that keeps cropping up, and both are, in the end, essential for the survival of their "team" - their absence from the field of battle boosts the enemy's morale and can create decimating weaknesses in their own lines.

Batman, by contrast, relies a lot more on planning, guile, and simple bastardliness to complement his awesome martial skills - very much an Odysseus character. Heck, even the two fictional worlds that the modern superheroes seem to inhabit (Gotham v. Metropolis and all the contingent realities about their crime, poverty, morality etc.) could be compared to the different fictional worlds of the Illiad and the Odyssey....

Well, there I go again, rambling on. I'm really fascinated by this topic, though... might have to try and work it into a paper some day.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 10:32 PM

Of course, the delicious part of this comment section is where the title of the snark was proven wrong, and in fact at least one person did want to discuss triple goddess-imagery. But then, that's a Fool for you.

In terms of Batman being the archetype over Green Arrow, that's always going to be the case not because Batman is portrayed as being more successful, but because everyone who follows the two knows that Green Arrow was designed purely as a ripoff of Batman. Granted, GA evolved well beyond that, but the portrayal has stuck. You'd have to see Green Arrow get some incredible writing and for Batman to be totally thrown in the toilet to see Green Arrow pull an Oreo.

Of course, is losing an arm really a sign of failure? It may be a symbol that he paid a great price for his victory, one that left him unable to fight again in the future. But it isn't necessarily a failure.

As for super heroes and the heroic journey - well, in a sense, you know they've succeeded because their journey is going on. Their journey ends in failure if they are killed or they give up fighting from here on out. Given that neither has happened yet, they have succeeded on their journey.

I was thinking about the Superman-Batman pair as well, though more in terms of Ego-Shadow instead of Achilles-Odysseus. Ultimately, the reason they are the focus of so much comic attention is because they are the yin and yang of the comic world, and that dualism is a very powerful attraction.

So, if nothing else, I think this thread is the answer to the question nobody asked, "What happens when nobody stops a bunch of literature majors when they start talking about comics?"

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at July 18, 2005 10:51 PM

Now I want to know something.

Which of Batman's ectypes is best at DDR?

(Yes, referencing this Shortpacked strip)


Comment from: marlowe posted at July 18, 2005 11:40 PM

Hehehe... This is true. Maybe there should be a limiting condition to the lit majorage; or perhaps a simple drinking game would serve - every time someone introduces a new set of literary jargon to the discussion, has to define a new term, or references a new critic, take a shot. Although Eric might have to take sips and feel left out, which would be said.

The Green Arrow-ripoff thing is well observed, and I agree that you'd have to pull off a miracle if you wanted Green Arrow to be the dominant archetype over Batman. I think the reason that he exists mostly as an ectype now, though, and not as a separate archetype, is that he hasn't had as much foregrounding. We don't have a sense of how his story will, or even might, end, so we don't know whether he completes his hero's journey.

And, since he appears in the future world of Dark Knight Returns cast as a secondary player, a vigilante similar to Batman who has been operating at the fringes without success when compared to Bruce Wayne, we're forced to see him as an ectype by our current definition *takes a shot*, rather than an archetype (of, say, the socialist hero) in his own right. To stretch the Arthur analogy, he's Launcelot on the Grail Quest rather than Percival, when compared to the "central hero" Galahad.

The Batman-as-Jungian-Shadow comparison is one I've made before, and it's one of the reasons I love the character so much. For me, the Batman-Superman dichotomy in specific, and the mythological aspects of the universe in general, are the main advantages DC has over competitors. This is partly because of this foregrounding of the future I've been talking about - with the exception of Earth X (which I honestly didn't like that much) Marvel hasn't placed the same emphasis as DC on re-telling their stories in interesting ways, so we don't know how their stories end. There's no Professor X: Red Sun, for example. Although 1602 might signify a change of pace... Anyway, I'm straying from the point, and (according to my own scale) need to go take a couple shots. Problematic, that, considering I've got five hours of work left...

Comment from: Kendra Kirai posted at July 18, 2005 11:45 PM

Pooga, that could be because of the Foglio's work on GURPS..they do some roleplaying game stuff as well as Girl Genius, and they talk about it on the site sometimes...particularily in the news item that's been on the newsbox for the last month and a half or so.

Also...In modern times (Post-Crisis) Wonder Woman is Diana, or Diana...Pierce? Something like that. She's definitely not Diana Troy. (I almost wanted to type 'Deanna Troi'...silly Star Trek reflexes.)

I definitely think that The Shadow was probably the archetype for Batman.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 18, 2005 11:59 PM

Wait, so we have to pick between The Question, Black Canary, The Huntress, or Green Arrow for DDR skills?

Well, I'm probably going to have to go with The Question. He's the music buff of the four, who is known to listen to all sorts of poppy dance music and even use it to his advantage in a dangerous situation. And listening to the music constantly is one technique to getting really good at the game. If Black Canary, the best martial artist of the four, isn't tone deaf, she could probably become better than The Question, but I think he could do a song blind much better. Green Arrow (the correct answer to my query about my favorite DC character - seriously, why else would I try to imagine him being considered the archetype over Batman?) has good timing and precision, but his footwork isn't always the best. And the Huntress isn't as good as GA in the necessary DDR skills.

I'll stop now before I list out sample runs for each character.

Comment from: Zaq posted at July 19, 2005 1:23 AM

I'm just curious what percentage of the posts here were actually based on a prior understanding of any given character and any given archetype, and what percentage was basically pieced together from what others have said, a bit of Wikipedia-ing, and basically written on the spot.

Not that I'm accusing a single one of you of doing that, of course. Please believe that I say that without a hint of sarcasm.

Though, I do know that I spent a good hour and a half searching for Wikipedia or similar sources on this "female triumvirate", but came up empty-handed.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at July 19, 2005 1:31 AM

For fun, compare and contrast JLU's The Question and Watchmen's The Comedian.

That's twisted, considering that Rorschach is the homage to the Question. But I don't know that it's wrong...

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 19, 2005 3:26 AM

I hate to see what we would say about the literary devices of the classic Superfriends series. Or maybe the whether or not the Wonder Twins were lamer than Wendy and whatver the heck was that doofish guy's name.

(And on sidenote, I've never liked the whole JLU fortress in space/satellite thingy. I'd prefer the classic "Hall of Justice" 60-ish design. In fact, it's probably one of the few buildings I like from that era and it's fictional.)

Oh, and IOU is the single greatest book ever published for Gurps.

Comment from: theusual posted at July 19, 2005 3:39 AM

The doofish guy was Marvin. I don't remember the dog's name, but I want to say it was actually just "Superdog."

Comment from: theusual posted at July 19, 2005 3:42 AM

Oh, and the Wonder Twins were definitely less lame than Wendy and Marvin. At the very least, the Wonder Twins had super powers (even if Zan's ability made Aquaman look overpowered in comparison). And costumes.

Comment from: arscott posted at July 19, 2005 4:20 AM

New question:

The Trickster/Fool of the DCU/JLA (Plastic man gets you no points)

The Joker.

Comment from: inkbrush posted at July 19, 2005 7:37 AM

Well, if you want to pull in villains to satisfy the trickster archetype, why not The Trickster? As a hero you could also pull in the Creeper, The Flash, G'nort, Guy Gardner (As a GL), Elongated Man, and why not Maxwell Lord? (Back in the Day, at least...)

The main problem with comparing these characters against one another this way is that in their own books, they tend to be the dominant form of whatever archetype they represent. They are dominant in their own books because otherwise no one would want to read said books and sales would plummet.

Also, Plastic Man should be fair game...unless he was discounted because he was too easy...

Comment from: Paragon_Kobold posted at July 19, 2005 8:14 AM

As I understand things Grant Morrison added Plastic Man to the JLA lineup because he regarded him as the original trickster archtype in the superhero world.

Comment from: alschroeder posted at July 19, 2005 10:15 AM

Okay, here you're getting into MY territory.

Most superheroes are in three categories...variations of Batman, variations of Superman, or variations of Captain Marvel (the most successful comic book hero of all time.)

Especially if you look at Kirby, you saw he did that pretty consciously. The three flagship titles of the Fourth World series are New Gods (which began with a planet's destruction and involved a superhuman raised in a different planet than he was born on, fighting evil), Forever People (youths who intitially said a word to summon a far mightier being, the Infinity Man) and Mister Miracle (a more-or-less normal powered escape artists, albeit with numerous gadgets.)

Fantastic Four was a four-way splitting of Superman---breaking it up to the four series devoted about Superman, only each with super powers. So Bizarro becomes Thing, Lois becomes Sue, Jimmy becomes Johnny, Jor-El becomes Reed-- all with powers, all born out of a rocket ship ride into space. Thor's similiarity to Captain Marvel has been discussed many times. Captain America is Batman with a patriotic motif.

(Kirby did the same with Batman earlier at DC, splitting Batman into four characters with his component skills,and created the Challengers.)

Hulk was Superman crossed with monster movies (especially Frankenstein and Dr.Jeckyll) even down to leaping tall buildings at a single bound, born in a huge explosion, with a bespecaled, mild, alter ego...

Ditko sometimes would do variations on them too, but occasionally he would mix them together. Spider-Man is sort of a cross between Superman and Batman---lesser powers than Superman, working at a newspaper, but more feared than Superman ever was. His Hawk and Dove is a cross between Captain MArvel and Batman and Robin---again, lesser powers,a more or less human duo (but enhanced) named after flying animals, but magic word and mystical origins bestowed on youths.

The Question, Huntress, Green Arrow, and Huntress are all variations, of course, of Batman.


Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 19, 2005 10:23 AM

The Trickster/Fool of the DCU/JLA

Does Geffen no longer write Ambush Bug?

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 19, 2005 10:40 AM

The only problem with splitting the world of heroes into derivatives of Captain Marvel, Superman, and Batman is that, well, I always thought of Superman and Captain Marvel belonging to the same superheroic line. Both had an incredible amount of power, both had origins well beyond the realm of normal men, and both are idealized champions of goodness.

For the record, all of my blathering here has been off the top of my head (I'd hope, at least, that I'd have known who Donna Troy was if I worked with Wikipedia concurrent to writing posts). I had two high school teachers that might as well have just taught the whole course on "Mask of a Thousand Faces."

And yes, GURPS IOU, in a totally Discordian moment in this thread, is the best suppliment ever. Maybe one day, I'll even get to use it.

Comment from: Hunter_McEvoy posted at July 19, 2005 11:09 AM

I just thought Plastic Man would be a bit too obvious.

What about this: the mystic nature of the number 7 that Grant Morrison is so enamoured of. How does it relate to the JLA core 7? Seven aspects or facets of the same archetype?

Eric should so delve into this stuff more often.

Comment from: Denyer posted at July 19, 2005 1:55 PM

I'm just curious what percentage of the posts here were actually based on a prior understanding of any given character and any given archetype, and what percentage was basically pieced together from what others have said, a bit of Wikipedia-ing, and basically written on the spot.

Not that I'm accusing a single one of you of doing that, of course. Please believe that I say that without a hint of sarcasm.

Though, I do know that I spent a good hour and a half searching for Wikipedia or similar sources on this "female triumvirate", but came up empty-handed.

Maiden, mother, crone. Crops up in classical mythology, representing the three states of womanhood that were considered possible. Many pantheistic cultures featured some version of a three-in-one goddess, interwoven with mythology about the passage of time and phases of the moon.

A prominent usage of the concept is by Neil Gaimain in Sandamn. He recommends Brewster's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, so you could try tracking down a copy of that if you're interested.

Comment from: Denyer posted at July 19, 2005 1:56 PM

Now, how come that previewed fine but chewed up the italics when posted? Memo to self: next time use paragraph tags rather than breaks.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 19, 2005 2:13 PM

I basically had half of my high school English classes boil down to working with "Mask of a Thousand Faces." Messrs. Chandler and Mitchell would glare at me from all the way in Florida if I didn't remember all of that and various other symbology.

On the symbolism of the number 7, that's often considered the number of the divine. From the seven days needed to complete the process of making the Earth and the seven virtues (their corruptions are well-known as the Seven Deadly Sins), seven has been seen as the number of divine providence. That's also why it's the most frequent lucky number.

I, however, prefer a number much more esoteric to numerology. Of course, that is if you don't buy into Kurt Vonnegut's theory, from Hocus Pocus: "The year 2000 came and went, proving that God has no interest in numerology."

Comment from: Montykins posted at July 19, 2005 2:42 PM

I liked this analysis a lot. I strongly approve of overanalyzing pop culture.

No, really. It sounds sarcastic, but I mean it.

Comment from: Montykins posted at July 19, 2005 2:48 PM

I always thought of Superman and Captain Marvel belonging to the same superheroic line.

Me too. And so did DC, which sued Fawcett for copyright infringement.

alschroeder, you referred to Captain Marvel as "the most successful comic book hero of all time" -- I know the Golden Age sales were really good, but that seems like an extreme statement. What's it based on?

Comment from: marlowe posted at July 19, 2005 10:07 PM

Yeah, if we're posting credentials - half of my classes in high school weren't Hero With A Thousand Faces based, but most of my upbringing was (english teacher parents). A lot of these ideas are coming from Joseph Campbell, and a lot from my own reading of mythology and lit. I haven't found lit classes to be all that useful, unfortunately.

On that note, I think Gaiman is in many ways repsonsible for the current prevalence of triple-goddess issues in mythological analysis, at least among the comics community. While the idea is there in the original stories, he makes it a pretty univeral rubric - I don't recall the Norns or the Eumenides fitting into maiden-mother-crone archetypes in the original stories, for example, but Gaiman certainly makes that reach. 'Course, I could be wrong about this, as I don't have my copy of the myths handy, but I seriously doubt it. Regardless of where the idea originally comes from, it's a pretty awesome one, and provides a good lens for analyzing female positions in mythology. Problem being, of course, that if over-applied it relegates the position of any female character to that of an innocent/seductive engenue, a mothering, supporting figure (or perhaps a smothering figure, like in The Wall), a wise, old, advice-giver or a destructive crone - which in turn makes it very difficult to display a woman as a hero or a central myth figure in the traditional sense.

That's one of the many reasons I love Digger - its main character is strong, female, and actually acting as the protagonist of the hero story rather than as a supporter.

Regardless, the problem I cite above could actually be a problem, or it could just be a feature of differences in sexual characteristics. But if I keep going here, I'm just going to get us on the difference vs. equality-based feminism tangent, and, well... I was going to say "nobody wants that," but if this post is teaching us anything so far, it's that this is a kind of dangerous thing to say. *grin*

Comment from: Rothul posted at July 19, 2005 11:28 PM

Just to throw something out:

The Watchmen... are they all ectypes, despite the fact they all, more or less, have fufilled themselves by the end?

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 20, 2005 1:36 AM

marlowe: man, if I had to take a shot every time I coined a term, I would've been in the hospital after that metahumor thread. Whoo! Fortunately, I believe I shot my wad on that one.

Incidentally, I love that that Question episode is titled "Fearful Symmetry", as that was the title of a Watchmen chapterº that featured Rorschach prominently. Rorschach was, of course, based directly on The Question.

Also, that bit about Dark Knight being a vital touchstone for the Batman character despite not technically being in continuity (man, I wish I could link directly to previous posts): I've read a very interesting bookæ, which analyses superhero comics in a manner inspired by Harold Bloom. The author, using Bloom's terminology (originally intended for the analysis of the literary history of poetry), calls it a "strong misreading"Ñ of the Batman story: a work that takes a pre-existing foundation, and alters it in such a way that later authors cannot simply disregard it (without seeming ignorant or naŒve). The book suffers a little from "I like it therefore it's important" syndrome, but it's still very interesting, and I think makes a good case for adapting Bloom's techniques to comics discussion.

ºWatchmen had great chapter titles.

æKlock, Geoff, How to Read Superhero Comics and Why, 2002, Continuum Books, New York, ISBN 0-8264-1418-4 (hard) ISBN 0-8264-1419-2 (pbk)

ÑI have to take a shot now, don't I?

Comment from: Paragon_Kobold posted at July 20, 2005 3:50 AM

I agree with a lot of what is said here, but I do find it amusing that all this talk of superheroes fitting archetypes, both from culture in general, and from other superheroes, is in response to a snark mentioning a character with apophenia.

Comment from: Rothul posted at July 20, 2005 4:02 AM

The characters in issue 2, page 9, panel 5 of Watchmen seemingly cover the entire spectrum of motivation to heroics, suggesting to me that each character in Watchmen was supposed to represent the archetypes of superhero-dom... as interesting as the Marvel/Batman/Superman Trichotomy is, it doesn't really seem to fit all accepted heroes, as it assumes all heroes basic motivation is a striving for an innate sense of good...

I mean, Silk Spectre turns to heroics for publicity, not altruism... does that mean she is not a heroine?

Or for that matter, Dr. Manhatten has all of Superman's powers, yet none of his concern for humanity... if anyone fits the Superman Archetype it's Ozymandias, but still... it's iffy.

Throw in how Nite Owl and Rorschach seems the perfect bisection of Batman (Bored Playboy/Moral Vengeance Driven Vigilante), and I don't know what to think.

Comment from: Paragon_Kobold posted at July 20, 2005 4:26 AM

Dr. Manhatten is the watchmen version of Captain Atom, who is an obvious Superman Clone. Heroes having non-heroic motivations is the major point of watchmen, and this difference must be allowed for when comparing tham to earlier versions.

Also: this snark is mentioned in Daily Illuminator at sjgames.com.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 20, 2005 7:31 AM

[Klock] calls [The Dark Knight Returns] a "strong misreading" of the Batman story: a work that takes a pre-existing foundation, and alters it in such a way that later authors cannot simply disregard it (without seeming ignorant or naŒve).

I like to complain that fiction doesn't have canon. Religious scriptures have canon; fiction has sources. When canon means what's true and fiction means what's made up, applying canon to bodies of fiction is an oxymoron which only serves to divide fandoms when the purpose of fandom is to bring people together.

But I didn't realize that scholars are observing that fandom application of canon is interfering with creators. (Even though I've known since it happened that Jason Todd wasn't killed by the Joker, Jason Todd was killed in a reader phone poll by fans who wanted The Dark Knight Returns to be "true".)

Comment from: alschroeder posted at July 20, 2005 9:24 AM

Montykins, see ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME, or Steranko's HISTORY OF COMICS. Captain Marvel Adventures reached a peak circulation of two million issues---which is why it was published twice a month at its height in the mid-forties, especially just after the war. (Superman peaked at a million and a half copies.) Never been touched before or since.

Yes, there are certainly similarities between Superman and Captain Marvel, and doubtless Captain Marvel started as a variation of Superman--- but as archetypes, they spawn two seperate lines. Thor, for instance, belongs in the Captain Marvel "line" as does the Demon (mystical being produced by saying something, from a human, fallible identity), the Forever People, the Fly, etc.

And Hunter, I think anyone who looks at my webcomic and the archtype I derive it on would admit I know my mythology pretty well. (See "Sources" on my webpage.)---Al

Comment from: marlowe posted at July 20, 2005 11:39 AM

gwalla - yep, shoot away. *dodges*

Back to conversation: Yep, that sounds a lot like something that would come out of Harold Bloom's criticism, and it's a good point. To expand on Paul's observation, though, I think it's interesting to note that such "strong misreading" is not necessarily a bad thing. To consider Shakespeare, the original version of King Lear in the old English chronicles doesn't feature the death of Cordelia, or Kent's disappearance. Edgar actuallly becomes king of England with Cordelia as his Queen, and they spend the rest of their lives fighting the wolves that have overrun the kingdom. Shakespeare's work is, in that sense, a "strong misreading" of the old chronicle. The result, though, is far more interesting than the original. We can find even more grievous cases of this strong misreading in the Histories - Richard III, for example, will always be an evil hunchback in the minds of most educated Westerners, when there are some reasoned historical arguments for why he wasn't all that bad at all. Richard II was hardly as decadent as portrayed in his play. Or, for that matter, take Macbeth, whose main problem in the eyes of British historians was being a strong Scotsman, but who ends up being the king of the tragic murderers. Strong misreading of history makes history - "Oceana has always been at war with Eastern Europe! Oceana has never been at war with Western Europe!"

Speaking of tangents. *grin*

So in short, I feel strong misreadings - I might even call them just plain strong readings, and take another shot - of stories are often valuable and constructive, so long as they don't let them limit our interpretation of stories. The Dark Knight Returns was, in that sense, a strong reading of Batman. Doesn't mean there aren't other strong readings of Batman that could supplement it - just that those haven't been written yet, and as they haven't been written, Batman is going to remain stuck on a character trajectory straight for Frank Miller's future. I mean, even Kingdom Come could in many ways be read as a sequel to Dark Knight Returns, at least in terms of the Batman character's position and evolution...

In an interesting counterpoint, though, one might argue that Batman Begins presented another strong reading of Batman - Batman as Bruce Wayne, rather than Batman as the elemental truth closed within the shell of Wayne. I found myself rooting for Bruce in that movie more than Bats, at any rate.

Regardless, it's the same with King Arthur stories. One guy's interpretation comes along and supplants, or more commonly complements, the first guy's. Mallory gets complemented by White, who then, notably, gets complemented by Marion Zimmer Bradley - all of them strong readings by strong readers. That type of story evolution through strong reading is one of the things that makes mythology, or legend. The maiden/mother/crone trinity, in this sense, might be interpreted as Gaiman's strong reading on female archetypes in myth - it's an excellent way to explain the effect I was trying to describe earlier.

All in all, I definitely need to check out this book. Bloom's wonderful/insane in class, but it's good to be reminded that he comes up with really solid ideas. Thanks!

Oh, and I just know that somebody's going to start wailing on me for spoiling the ending of King Lear now. Poetic justice. *grins* And that's the last spoiler joke, I promise.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 20, 2005 12:19 PM

But apophenia doesn't exist, depending on your philosophical beliefs. If there is a master truth to which everything is connected, then it's not a question of whether or not the connections exist, merely if you've deduced the correct ones.

As for The Watchmen, I know that Rorschach is modelled after The Question, but I was struck by how many parallels there were between The Comedian and The Question. I wonder if those were intentional.

Again, for superheroes, I think that they fall into two categories - those that rise from nothing to become heroes, like Batman, and those with power who descend amongst the mortals become their heroes, like Superman. To me, it's really splitting hairs about origin stories to differentiate someone gifted with divine powers bordering on omnipotence and an alien from an advanced civilization with incredible powers bordering on omnipotence.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 21, 2005 12:57 AM

Bloom's term, "misreading", is kind of misleading, because it sounds negative but really isn't intended to be. To Bloom, a reading is simply absorbing a tradition and repeating it more or less verbatim. A misreading is when someone absorbs a tradition and changes it in the retelling. A strong misreading is when the changes in the retelling are important, such that later readings must take them into account: a strong misreading becomes a new focal point for the tradition.

Comment from: marlowe posted at July 21, 2005 1:33 AM

32_footsteps- that's why I was drawing the Odysseus/Achilles parallel earlier. Achilles has his gifts because his mother is a goddess. Odysseus, while beloved of Athena, is a crafty son of a gun in his own right. Descending from heaven vs. rising from nothing - a pretty solid distinction to draw.

gwalla - agreed; I think that calling that kind of a reading a "misreading" is stretching the language a little more than it will easily accomodate, though, especially when another term like "strong reading" or "strong re-reading" could compensate. Calling something a misreading raises all sorts of hairs on the back of my neck, is all, in that it seems to place the preexisting tradition on a qualitatively higher plane than any possible commentary. But that's likely just me. It's a darn useful concept, though, as I noted above.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 23, 2005 12:38 AM

Paragon_Kobold: Heroi acts having non-heroic motivations, and terrible acts having heroic motivations. Superhero comics have never fully recovered from this blurring of the lines.

BTW, which of the three superhero archetypes (Superman, Batman, Big Red Cheese) would you say Namor the Sub-Mariner falls under? He's a foe of humanity as much as he's a protector, his powers are innate, he's part human, and he's royalty, leading a(n underwater) nation.

(The original Human Torch is clearly a Superman-derivative: not technically human yet works to protect humanity, powers are innate)

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