[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #26 - February 2006 [spoilers]

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sun Mar 5 21:12:34 PST 2006

(Spoilers below.)

Saxon Brenton wrote:

> Green Knight #6
> An Eightfold [8FOLD] series
> by Tom Russell

>      This issue is lengthy, partly to include the various flashback
> scenes which indicate Martin's ongoing secret origin as an impoverished
> child, apprenticeship to the Green Knight as the kid sidekick Acro-Bat,
> later affair with Raina, and later return from fighting in Iraq the
> prompts him to give up the identity of a vividly costumed superhero and
> its associated code to never take a human life.  I'm of two minds about

My main concern with this sixth issue/story was exploring the question,
"What makes a superhero?"  Which is, in and of itself, actually a
couple of different questions.

The first pertains to the code and defines a superhero in the present
tense, i.e., What does a superhero do and not do, what divides a
superhero from a vigilante or nutcase?  What separates Spider-Man from
the Punisher?  What separates the real Batman from the asshole we've
been stuck with for the last fifteen years?  And this is what I would
call the code of a superhero, the rules of superheroing.  One of these
is, as Saxon mentioned above, that a superhero will never take a human

A superhero does not kill unless it is the *only* way to protect an
innocent life.  If the Joker is about to pull the trigger when he has a
gun to a five-year-old's head, and the only thing that is going to
prevent that is lethal force-- than that's what a superhero would do.
They would perserve that innocent life.

Now, this brings up an interesting question, which I call the Joker
Problem.  As we all know, the Joker is a homicidal maniac.  He kills
people for no real reason and is clearly insane.  And so, when
apprehended by the Batman, he is thrown into Arkham Asylum.  And then
he escapes from Arkham.  And then he kills someone.  And then the
Batman puts him back in Arkham.  Et cetera et cetera.  That is the
Joker Problem.  Now, what is the solution?  How can the Batman protect
these innocents and stop this deadly cycle?

The most obvious answer (and the snarky one) is to install some basic
security measures at Arkham Asylum.  Let's assume that no matter what
security measures are in place at Arkham that the Joker will always
escape.  Let's assume that no matter what prison holds him-- be it on
earth, outer space, or the Phantom Zone that somehow, the Joker will
always find a way to escape, and to kill again.  With those parameters
in place, how does one solve the Joker Problem?

One solution would be to kill him.  A fed-up D.A. and a crooked
psychologist declares him sane to stand trial, he goes to trial, he's
found guilty and sentenced to death.  Now, here's the hitch, here: the
Joker is insane and clearly so.  In fact, there was an issue of
Morrison's JLA in which his sanity was temporarily restored.  Maybe the
jury doesn't know that, maybe the D. A. doesn't-- but the Batman does.

So: does the Batman let the Joker be executed?  It certainly solves the
Joker Problem, certainly prevents a further loss of life.  But it does
so at the cost of a man's life-- a man who is insane and therefore not
wholly responsible for his actions.  Now, the point of this situation
is not to debate whether the Joker is responsible for his actions, if
the sane man is still inside there at all, or if insanity excuses
someone from heinous crimes.  Neither is it a question of death
penality politics.

The point is, and the question is, if the Batman feels that the Joker
is sick and should not be put to death, what would he do?  Well, the
asshole we've been stuck with for the last ten or fifteen years, in an
effort to "deepen" his characterization and "humanize" him, would let
him fry.  I mean, let's face it: this is the Grim 'N' Gritty Batman
that thrives on Gray Areas.  But the real Batman, the superhero?

I'd like to think he'd bust the Joker out of prison hours before he is
executed.  That, to me, is what a real superhero would do, and I think
it's more interesting, deep, human and morally ambiguous than letting
him fry.  (Plus, if DC ever did such a story, there's no way they'd let
anyone throw the switch on the Joker.  Which is, let's face it, the
real reason there is a Joker Problem.)  As to where the story would go
after that point, and what solution the Batman would attempt?  Well,
this isn't alt.comics.fan-fiction, is it?  It's RACC. :-)

Of course, it should be no secret that the Green Knight is really my
reaction to that other eternal question, How Can They Fix Batman?  I've
always had two stock answers.  One involves Batman gathering all his
allies on a rooftop and saying, "Hey, guys.  Look.  I've been a dick
lately.  And I'm sorry.  Let's talk."  My other answer is, have Dick
Grayson become Batman.  And, from that kernel, along with my feelings
about my own father's death and my relationship with my father, I
extracted the Green Knight characters/storyline.

I'm not afraid to point this out, because the similarities are
archetypical of the genre-- the billionaire superhero, the sidekick who
takes a new name to find himself, the distant father/obsessed
superhero-- and I feel I've done enough work to distinguish the Green
Knight & sons from the Batfolk.

> I'm of two minds about
> putting so much of Martin's origin and motivations in one issue; on the
> one hand it makes for a useful jumping on point for new readers, but on
> the other it's not as though a lot of the information couldn't have been
> presented in earlier issues, perhaps briefly reprised during the detective
> work in the first half, and then explored in depth during his battle with
> the fear ray.

This is a very valid criticism, and something that I thought a lot

 It might have been better to pepper it in during earlier issues, and
part of the problem is that, though I did have the backstory
more-or-less worked out, I approach each issue fresh, i. e., I have a
rough idea of what I want to do with any one issue and I write and edit
and write and play around until I'm done with it.  This is my standard
modus operandi; even if I had a detailed outline, I never can stick
with it and part of the thing that really fires me up about writing
(and filmmaking, incidentally) is exploring the
themes/characters/story.  Once I have it worked out, it's somewhat dead
to me.  I just can't fill in the blanks afterwards.

Sometimes, this causes some problems.  For example, the first few
issues of any series I write tends to grope around a bit.  Really, if I
was to start the Green Knight over, I would have combined much of the
first three issues into one.  Because, really, thematically, it's all
about Ray accepting the fact that he's dying.  It's setting up the
three main characters and some of the themes.

It's with the fourth issue on that I really have hit my stride, if you
will.  Issue four is about one thing, issue five another, issue six yet
another: each one exists in and of itself, and could (possibly) be
enjoyed independently of the others.  The first three are much more
dependent upon each other, and if you start with issue 2 or 3 one might
not get that much enjoyment out of a single installment.  And that's my
goal, really: to have each episode stand alone and, yet, be part of the
larger tapestry.

I'm not sure if the seventh issue quite stands on its own two feet, as
it carries the burden of the first six issues, pays it off, if you
will.  But I'm still satisfied with it.

I considered putting Martin's origin into the fourth issue, the
"flashback" issue, but it really didn't work: the stories unfold in
chronological order, and some elements of his origin-- particularly the
implied rape-- would be at odds with a "Golden Age"/high energy tone.
So I decided to work it into the sixth issue-- the "Martin issue".

And this brings up, again, the question I posed above, the one I used
as my starting point with this sixth issue: what makes a superhero?
What kind of person is a true superhero?  Are they all just a bunch of
nuts or right-wing black-and-white idealogical zealots?  Well, I don't
think so.  I think a superhero is someone of the higest moral
character, and the classic superheroes are defined, really, by pain.

Pain-- be it a tragedy, a traumatic experience, or guilt (hell, if you
look at it, even Plastic Man is motivated by guilt!)-- tests the moral
fiber of a normal human being.  And those that are strong enough-- and
sometimes, it's the pain that makes them strong-- move past the pain,
or use it to propel them forward.  They don't become cynical, selfish,
or self-pitying.  The same circumstances that shape criminals also
shape incredible altruists.

And that's, really, what this issue was about, thematically.  About
Martin moving past the pain and, yes, about it defining him.  An
examanation of Martin's moral character.  When he was in his masked
vigilante stage, he acted more akin to a Punisher character-- he killed
criminals.  And at least one of those deaths fulfilled a psychological
need for vengeance.  Martin does not just prevent a possible rape in
the alleyway-- he avenges his own.  And, the question is, is that
really justice?  Is Martin really doing the Right Thing, or is he
acting out his own psychoses?

Because, for me, that's not a superhero.  The Batman becomes the Batman
because his parents are murdered.  This event defines him as much as
Martin's experiences define him.  But the Batman (the real Batman) is
*not* avenging the death of his parents.  The need for vengeance
spurned him on, made him the person that he is-- but to my mind, he is
not appeasing some psychotic urge.  The Batman is not a psychopath.
(No matter what DC's been telling us since the eighties.)  He is a man
tortured by personal demons, but he is a man that seeks justice, that
does the Right Thing because it is the Right Thing to do.  If he
succumbs to those demons, he ceases to be a superhero.  Which is what
Martin does.  At that point, he became a vigilante and a nutcase.

The difference between a superhero and a vigilante is, at least for me,
one of motive: are the motives altruistic, or psychotic?  And I'm not
saying that this is a litmus test, exactly: I think a great deal of
tension in superhero fiction can come from someone taking a hard, long
look at their motives and wondering if they have crossed the line, if
their motives are pure, if they do measure up to this standard.  And
this is precisely the kind of tension I was trying to create here.  I
was trying to pose to the reader the question of what makes a true
superhero, and if Martin Rock is one.

Whether he is one in the end or not-- well, that's not for me to say,
is it?  I'm not going to make that kind of judgement on my own
character.  But I will note in the end that Martin *embraces* the code
of the superhero, and that's really the important thing for me: Martin
making that decision, and the life experiences that shape that

>      Oh yes, the fear ray.  From a clue left behind by the Psychopomp

I like that.  "Oh yes, the fear ray."

> Martin tracks down the villain and his goons down to a convalescent home
> where the Pyschopomp is torturing people with a ray gun that induces
> guilt and fear from that guilt.  It seems that Psychopomp has become even
> more of a sick puppy these days, and is now simply inflicting emotional pain
> on people since 'everyone is guilty of something'.  And of course the

I was trying to think, what is the most evil thing someone can do?
What would make the Psychopomp the sickest puppiest sick puppy of all?
Torturing children is one thing, but it's a cheap shot.  Torturing the
elderly, the sick, and the infirm?  It's evil, *and* grotesque.  Which
is exactly what I want for this character.

> Psychopomp manages to use the ray on Martin, and of course he manages
> to overcome it.

That is kind of a cliche, isn't it? :-)  No real sense of danger

I suppose I could have had the fear ray overwhelm Martin and basically
lobotomize him like the rest.  But I wasn't really intending for the
fear ray to be a legitimate threat: Martin himself dismisses its
importance by saying, in effect, this isn't real, so let's just get it
over with and move on, get back to reality.  I was using it more as a
plot device to utilize dream imagery, to make certain thematic
connections more visible, to carry them over to the red zone, if you
will.  This might have been a mistake.  That's always the risk when you
write a story with a Fear Ray. :-)

> to overcome it.  The important thing is that along the way Martin seems
> to be respecting the sanctity of Ray's mask and the code of conduct that
> goes with it.

And the story, in turn, embraces that sanctity, that code, and the
genre itself.  Hence, the Fear Ray.  :-)


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