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Author Topic: 1950s Batman: Love in the Time of Melancholia  (Read 1752 times)
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India Ink
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« on: December 11, 2011, 06:04:55 AM »

I want to advance an argument for the mental toughness of all the happy and optimistic stories that were published in the 1950s, as exemplified by Batman and Robin.

Too many people look at the 1950s comics--especially those after the Code--and dismiss them as childish ephemera. Even the champions of these comics--myself among them--tend to argue for these comics from the standpoint of childhood joy.

It's not that I dispute this, but I want to take another angle on this. I want to approach this era from the perspective of my parents' generation--those who were raised in an economic depression and fought in a world war. Those who were the parents of the baby boom--the parents of those babies that grew up on these sunny, wonderful comics.

Why did the people who created and published these comics produce works with such a positive and some might say superficial view of the world--when these same people had suffered through so much?

I think it's because they endured so much in their young lives that they bequeathed to their progeny something better and lighter--an uplifting message that turned away from darkness and offered the hope that we could resolve our problems with a minimum of violence and with a lot of technological wizardry.

In a sense, adults were overcompensating for their sad history and the children became their main project in life. That's why baby boomers tend to have a sense of entitlement. They believe that the time they lived through was the best one--and in a lot of ways it was, for certain segments of the population, because their society indulged them and allowed them to enjoy life to the hilt. It wasn't just the parents, but all of society was looking out for these children, protecting them and feeding them messages of hope.

I'm not saying that comics set out deliberately to create this reality, but this is the kind of reality they manifested in the 1950s. Batman functions as a good symbol for this purpose. Bruce Wayne himself is the damaged personality who suffered through his own personal horror. The death of the Waynes is like a shorthand image of all that people suffered in the 1930s and 40s. But as Batman, Bruce stifles his personal tragedy and acts as a good citizen to create a better reality for all. To this cause comes Robin. Even though Dick has suffered a similar tragedy as Bruce, it's not the Boy Wonder's lot to suffer in the same way. Instead, Dick is provided with support and kindness. The contrast is made evident in the contrast between the two. Batman is dressed in black-blue and grey-purple. Robin is dressed in a symphony of bright colours.

Batman/Bruce dedicates himself to training Robin/Dick. He shows a stoic optimism in the face of danger and sets an example for the Boy Wonder. The dangers of the 1950s are not so grave. And every time the young reader witnesses the Dynamic Duo's triumph, the message is brought home that we can conquer our fears and create a better reality.

Had Batman and Robin behaved in the 1950s like they do now, it would have been entirely the wrong message. That other generation did not want to perpetuate the age old hates and fears that had created all the terrors in the first half of the 20th century. They wanted to embrace a new approach, often through science, so that their children would have peace and contentment.

Even the creation of the Comics Code was an act of sincere love. Parents wanted to provide their children with a positive view of the world. Of course, they knew from experience that this wasn't their reality, but it was the reality they hoped to create for their children and their children's children. As social engineers these parents and teachers were not always fully equipped to create a road map for the future, but they sincerely believed in the worthiness of their project. And they looked at anyone who threatened to corrupt or destroy these children with understandable suspicion. Maybe they went too far, but the way they put the needs of children (as they saw it) ahead of others' needs is rather admirable.

It's not that Batman had forgotten the tragedy of his childhood, anymore than these adults had forgotten the sad reality of their history. But in an act of love, these adult figures chose not to pass on the melancholia of the past to the future generation.


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India Ink
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