I’ve written before that I was put off
superhero comics by all the dying and resurrected X-Men—the eternal
return and the attempts to escape it. You might have noticed that DC
and Marvel’s superhero titles have become a bloodbath. Sure, it
started it with big crossovers and the death of Superman. Captain
America’s death at least seemed story-driven. But Blue Beetle, The
Question, Martian Manhunter and maybe Bruce Wayne? In the midst of
all the slaughter, it’s a good thing we have a hero who never dies,
I’ve been playing LEGO Batman: The
Videogame (Traveller’s Tales, 2008)* with my friend Alex for
about a month. We play games cooperatively and Lego Batman
has plenty of silliness best enjoyed with someone else. Besides
Batman, players can try Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl, who not only
never dies, but never can be paralyzed by a bullet to her spine.
Plus, there are a crazy number of famous and not so famous
bat-villains to play. Let me just say that Lego Batman: The
Videogame and The Secret Six have softened my heart
If you’ve read the skinny then you know
that the game is in the style of Batman: The Animated Series
(including the theme music) and doesn’t follow the movies. (What
kind of kids’ game would The Dark Knight
be anyway?) It consists of three crimes in progress played
through first as Batman and Robin, then as the villainous
masterminds. In free play,
players can go through any of the 36 levels with any characters or
any vehicles they’ve unlocked. But there are so many mini-games,
small goals and worthwhile unlockables that replaying the same area
isn’t tedious. Repetition can be fun.
The game has puzzle, platforming and
fighting elements. Lego Batman includes some special moves
that players can control—the Joker’s joy buzzer, Bane’s
Poison Ivy’s deadly kiss and Killer Croc’s suplex. In Lego Star
Wars 2, with the blasters making bdew bdew noises and no
permanent death, I didn’t feel as guilty as I have when I shot Alex’s
character or scraped his fender in other games. I did feel bad when
I accidentally hit him with a shovel in Lego Indiana Jones.
That dull clang is brutal. While I’m pretty good at fighting in a
game, I’m a weak jumper. Luckily, no matter how many times
characters jumped to their doom in Lego Batman, they respawn.
With the fear of death no longer confounding me, I find enjoy other
things about the gamer rather than mere survival—the puff of dust
when Scarecrow flops to the floor, Man-Bat at rest hanging upside
down from a tightrope, walking the Joker slow at the disco.
A while ago I wrote that for me “comics
are a mythic media using shared characters and stories” and I enjoy
“the possibility of seeing different versions of the same character
or even the same story.” I like the possibilities within a set of
very disciplined constraints and I like the space and time to explore
them. Lego Batman offers all
these things as Batman respawns after his “death” over and over
in the game. Turns out the eternal return is liberating. Who knew?
I know a lot of
people are annoyed by comic book characters returning after they’ve
been killed. I agree that all the resurrections lessen the impact of
any one superhero’s death, but then a lot of the deaths seem to be a
pointless continuity fixes and maybe, secretly, a nostalgic attempt
to recreate some earlier superhero death that utterly devastated
readers. And right now as characters die across genres and media, I
kind of blame Joss Whedon not because he engages in death as retcon
or nostalgia, but because he wrote some effective, shocking and
moving deaths that seem to have influenced nearly every writer. At
the same time, I’ve gotten to where I can predict which Whedon
character will die and, instead of experiencing it viscerally, I end
up looking at the death structurally. It’s almost rote. I suspect
that, as a writer, Whedon worries that he’ll be soft on his favorite
characters—so he kills them. Whedon doesn’t believe death is
redemptive, so any characters who die have their shit worked out. He
wants evil to have consequences, but sometimes death is not a
shocking consequence. For example, I think Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog
would be more effective if the lady love got her leg broken. It’s
proportional and it is a rotten consequence. But dying? She becomes a
symbol, a mirror image to Kyle Raynor’s girlfriend in the refrigerator.
Lately, death just
seems too easy. It becomes a handy way of re-organizing continuity
and is therefore cheaper to me than the inevitable resurrection when
another editor or writer who was a fan of Martian Manhunter or Bruce
Wayne returns them to continuity. Want a death to mean something?
Stop killing so many characters. Till then, I’m happy with Lego
Batman—and Lego Bruce Wayne—and their eternal return.
*The caps lock will be standing down for the rest of the article.