Tag Archives: Batman

Heroes and Villains part 3 – Drawing on the Shadow Within #amwriting

Today we’re continuing to explore character creation and the dark energy the villain of a piece brings to a story.

WritingCraft_Dark_EnergyIn his book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler discusses how the villain of a piece represents the shadow. The antagonist provides the momentum of the dark side, and their influence on the protagonist and the narrative should be profound.

The shadow character serves several purposes.

  • He/she/it is usually the main antagonist and represents darkness(evil) against which light (good) is shown more clearly.
  • The shadow, whether a person, place, or thing, provides the roadblocks, the reason the protagonist must struggle.

The shadow lives within us all, and our heroes must also struggle with it. The most obvious example of this in pop culture is that of “Batman.”

About the original concept of Batman, via Wikipedia:

Batman_InfoboxBatman is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, and debuted in the 27th issue of the comic book Detective Comics on March 30, 1939. In the DC Universe continuity, Batman is the alias of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy American playboy, philanthropist, and industrialist who resides in Gotham CityBatman’s origin story features him swearing vengeance against criminals after witnessing the murder of his parents Thomas and Martha as a child, a vendetta tempered with the ideal of justice. He trains himself physically and intellectually, crafts a bat-inspired persona, and monitors the Gotham streets at night. Kane, Finger, and other creators accompanied Batman with supporting characters, including his sidekicks Robin and Batgirl; allies Alfred PennyworthJames Gordon, and Catwoman; and foes such as the Penguin, the RiddlerTwo-Face, and his archenemy, the Joker. [1]

Bruce Wayne is a flawed character. He is both a generous benefactor of many charities and a vigilante with little or no remorse for his actions. As Batman, he is a hero, a defender of the weak and defenseless. Much of what makes his story compelling is how he justifies indulging his darker side.

The story of Batman is complex, which is why so many movies have emerged exploring his story. We sit in theaters and applaud Batman’s dark side because it’s confined to taking on criminals.

The evil in a narrative is not always represented by a person. Sometimes war is the villain. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires—nature has a pantheon of calamities for us to overcome and no end of stories that emerge from such events.

True heroes don’t necessarily wear capes, and the evils they fight against are often disasters of epic proportions. Ordinary people can become heroes when faced with disasters of any sort.

Consider the true-life events of April 11 through the 17th, 1970. Via Wikipedia:

Apollo_13_liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HRApollo 13 (April 11–17, 1970) was the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program and the third meant to land on the Moon. The craft was launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module (SM) failed two days into the mission. The crew instead looped around the Moon and returned safely to Earth on April 17. The mission was commanded by Jim Lovell, with Jack Swigert as command module (CM) pilot and Fred Haise as Lunar Module (LM) pilot. Swigert was a late replacement for Ken Mattingly, who was grounded after exposure to rubella. [2]

The villain in that epic space adventure was mechanical failure. The heroic efforts of the ground crew to brainstorm ways to get the astronauts home is one of the most powerful stories of the 20th century. We were glued to the television, watching as remedies for each disaster were devised, celebrating as the crew made their way home safely.

The villains we write into our stories represent humanity’s darker side, whether they are a person, a mechanical failure, a dangerous animal, or a natural disaster. They bring ethical and moral quandaries to the story, raising questions of morality, dilemmas we should examine more closely.

When the protagonist must face and overcome the shadow on a profoundly personal level, they are placed in true danger. Which way will they go? This is where my characters have agency, and they sometimes surprise me. They may unknowingly offer up their souls if they stray from the light.

Every character has a different personality and should respond to each event differently. The freedom you allow the protagonist and antagonist to steer the events is crucial for them to emerge as real to the reader.

Sometimes my characters make their own choices. Other times, they go along as I, their creator, have planned for them. Ultimately, they do things their own way and with their own style.

Our fictional heroes must recognize and confront the darkness within themselves. As they do so, the reader also faces it. The hero must choose their own path—will they fight to uphold the light? Will they walk in that gray area between? Bruce Wayne is a good example of one who walks the gray area.

The reader forms opinions and makes choices too, and these subliminal ideas sometimes challenge their ethics.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Batman,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman&oldid=1135964072 (accessed January 30, 2023).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Apollo 13,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Apollo_13&oldid=1133889788 (accessed January 30, 2023).

Image: Batman, drawn by Jim Lee for the cover of Batman: Hush. Created by       Bob Kane and Bill Finger. DC Comics; 15794th edition (December 6, 2011) (Fair Use) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman&oldid=1135964072 (accessed January 30, 2023).

Image: Apollo 13 Lift off, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Apollo 13 liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HR.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Apollo_13_liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HR.jpg&oldid=560250836 (accessed January 30, 2023). Public Domain.


Filed under writing

#amwriting: The Superhero

The_IncrediblesI just spent the weekend on grandma duty with a 3-yr old grandson. We did a lot of fun things, but when we needed some quiet time we watched The Incredibles…over and over….

It’s a great movie…honest…but now I know the dialogue by heart.

Superheroes are huge in our pop culture. I love them, and everyone loves them. So what is it that makes a story involving a superhero intriguing? First of all, this type of tale is speculative fiction. It is based on the power of “what if….”

When you open a book of speculative fiction, you will often find yourself reading a morality tale, a “there but for the grace of God” tale that keeps you thinking long after you have finished the book.

The main characters are usually flawed heroes, imperfect people who come through in the end, and win the day. Nowhere is the concept of the flawed hero more clearly drawn than in the sci-fi sub-genre of Superheroes. It is a branch of science fiction that has become a sub-culture.

Traditionally, science fiction involves the accurate portrayal of science as we know it, including the cutting edge of theoretic science. For the fans of this genre, plausible science is critical, along with a strong morality tale set in a futuristic setting.

“Superhero” stories take “what if” science speculation to an extreme: they tend to be a mix of known and as-yet-unknown science extrapolated out to the nth degree and heavily padded with uber-dramatic plots.

The spider bite that gave Peter Parker his powers. Amazing Fantasy #15, art by Steve Ditko.

The spider bite that gave Peter Parker his powers. Amazing Fantasy #15, art by Steve Ditko.

Mad science has free reign, threatening the citizens of a frequently unnamed metropolis. Sometimes, ordinary people are caught up in these experiments and granted super powers. Think about Spiderman: he is the victim of an experiment gone wrong. A bite from a radioactive spider triggers mutations in the teen-aged Peter Parker’s body, granting him superpowers.

The early series revolves around his maturing through teen-aged angst to married adulthood, while dealing with his super powers. He is one of the few working-class superheroes–he has no fortress of solitude from which he works, but he does live with his elderly aunt and attends high-school.

Sometimes their gifts are used for good (our superheroes) but more frequently the powers take away their “humanity” turning them evil (enter the supervillain).

It is the imbalance of evil super-ness to good that creates the never-ending string of villains for the superhero to battle.

Other superheroes have super technology.  Consider Batman: he possesses no superhuman powers. However, he has mastered the martial arts, developed espionage techniques, and understands everything from physics to forensics. What he lacks in super powers he makes up for in super-science.

Superheroes all have an exceptionally rigid, highly moral code of honor. They are eager to risk their lives in the service of humanity and expect no payment.

Batman by Jim Lee (2002) via WikipediaThey often work alone. The catch phrase “it’s complicated” completely defines the flawed superhero. Again, let’s look at Batman: he is dark, brooding. He is a man obsessed with the murder of his parents and is consumed with avenging them, taking to the streets to hunt down super-criminals. He is possessed of the money to enable him to fight evil with incredible technology, and he spends it like water.

All superheroes must have a fundamental motivation, a reason for their obsession. In many cases, it’s a sense of responsibility and guilt for a traumatic incident witnessed in their childhood.

Tales involving Superheroes are usually set in modern cities, and have a strong science theme, although the science is frequently fantasy-based. Magic is rarely used in western superhero stories, although Japan has a long tradition of combining science and magic in its manga (comic books).

Most superheroes and the supervillains they battle operate from a secret base or headquarters. These bases are usually equipped with state-of-the-art, highly advanced, and/or alien technologies. No amount of money is spared when it comes to designing a superhero’s (or villain’s) fortress. Let’s examine the Batcave: Batman’s secret headquarters, command center, and safe house. The cave’s beating heart is a supercomputer whose specs are on par with any of those used by our government. It’s capable of global surveillance and also connects to a massive information network including, but outside of, our usual internet.

Naturally, a computer of that size stores vast amounts of information, both on Batman’s foes and his allies. He even has satellite link-ups that allow easy access to his information network anywhere around the globe. No matter where he is, he is connected. Of course, the systems are highly protected against unauthorized access, and any attempt to breach their security is immediately made known to Batman.

dragons in piecesAs an added bonus, while the superhero is often dark and brooding, the evil he battles is outrageously megalomaniacal. The supervillain’s ego is as large as his fortress, and so is his disdain for humanity in general.

Be aware, the science in these stories is “squishy,” and requires the reader to set aside their inner skeptic. For this reason, the superhero is a sub-genre all its own.

There is a lot of room for imagination when writing about a superhero. Lean prose is required, and an almost comic-book style of plot. A plot should have all the elements of a thriller, with a certain amount of mad science thrown in. When done right, the superhero book can be quite a fun read.

For an excellent example of books in this genre, check out Lee French’s novel, Dragons in Pieces. It’s as perfect an example of work written in this sub-genre as I have read outside of a comic book. It has great characters who are complicated and slightly flawed, plenty of mad science, loads of evil henchmen, and an epic plot.


Filed under Adventure, Fantasy, writing