Fictional Figures of Interest
Batman (Dionysus) & Superman (Apollo)
It should be pretty clear by now that comicbooks experienced a kind of new golden age of interest in the 80s, prompted in no small part by Superman: The Movie's release in 1978. I was Superman for Halloween from a ridiculously low age for a few years. Once I was also Batman, and happened to get my picture in a local paper in that costume. My burgeoning teenage years were ushered in by the nearly-maudlin interpretation of Batman in 1989, and that locked me on a perfect course of obsession for the character. Frankly I think a significant cause of our current superhero movie boom has to do with all those kids like me growing up on them and now being in positions of power - decision-making and simply spending power.
The analogy of these two "World's Finest" and the Greek gods is not perfect. It is, in fact, pretty weak. It's just that there's a personal connection there for me. I played Pentheus in a college production of The Bacchae, which was the introduction to me of the idea that there was an essential opposition between Dionysus' chaos and Apollo's order. Batman is really all about order, but when viewed through a certain lens (e.g., Miller's Dark Knight Returns) he's a rule-breaker as opposed to Kal-El and his strictures of right and wrong. So personally, I see these two characters as representing different sides of me.
Superman is the ideal, an exceedingly humble person who has enormous power that he wields with faith. Not the religious overtones so many interpretations lay on him; rather, faith in goodness and human spirit. (Incidentally: really bugs me when he's portrayed as the Second Coming; seeing as he was created by two Jewish guys, if anything he's the First.) Miller calls him the Big Blue Boyscout, and I don't always see that as an insult. I was a boyscout.
It's only natural that I connected with Batman with such intensity when I was turning 13. The glasses I started wearing in 4th grade - that thrilled me at the time for the Clark Kent parallelism - had contributed to a wealth of factors making me a less-than-desirable layer of the social strata. Real adult problems were just starting to come through the bright-colored camouflage of childhood, so someone who turned adversity to their advantage, who had to grapple with seemingly uncontrollable emotion and impossible odds ... well. He's pretty badass, that Batman.
I am no James Bond, nor would I want to be. But: I was raised on the movies by my dad, and they have indubitably influenced me. Plus there's a lot Wayne and Bond have in common.
Winnie the Pooh (NOT. DISNEY.)
This would be among my earliest, if not the earliest, influence on my imagination and understanding. My mother read me these stories with all the voices, just as hers had done, and I still can't help but use the characters as archetypes when analyzing group dynamics. I think something about my mom's reverence for the character of Pooh also influenced my thinking about philosophy. The Tao of Pooh is by now something of a cliché, but I certainly do find a lot of truth in Taoism.
Friend Davey is responsible for introducing me to the fantasy genre back in sixth grade with the Taran series, the Myth series and Narnia. In case it wasn't already growing obvious, I'm a sucker for the hero's journey when it comes to my fiction, and few have told that story as comprehensively as Lloyd Alexander when he takes Taran from young scamp to embattled leader.
I know. I KNOW. He's another one who caught me early but, even now as well-aware as I am of his many foibles, I less-than-three Hamlet. I have an alarming affection for righteous murderers with daddy issues.
Case in point. (Don't try to tell me he doesn't have daddy issues.) Die Hard is another of those movies I affectionately share with my dad. And it's incredibly over-revered, to the point of being another cliché. But I love it so. I can't get enough of a guy as absolute underdog, in a finite space, just getting the job done any which way he can. A hero flawed as hell, and in the end he's rewarded for his suffering with love. I mean: damn.
Speaking of flawed heroes. They don't all belong together - this is another personal lumping going on. In fact, Arthur really has a different brand of hubris than the other two. But they are each in their own way a crusading hero who meets with tragic just desserts. I like quests. I used to operate from them more, but they still appeal to me a great deal. Life is exciting to me when it's a puzzle, or a maze, or a dance with destiny.
I had the good fortune to play Romeo - albeit a comic one - well past my prime for the role. He's a good archetype for me and the protagonists I've played in my youth. Hopeful to a fault, believers all. So I've always identified with Romeo and his longing. But I've also always wanted to play Mercutio, and always tried to give it up. I'm not born to be the wild one, but I'm drawn to them. A little of the old order/chaos dichotomy at play here. (Though once again it's nuts to associate Romeo with anything approaching "order" on his own.)
Speaking of tragic lovers. The nice thing about the dream king's blighted love life is that it's a consistent background action to his stories, until it isn't anymore and it destroys him (or he allows it to, depending on your view). In high school Friend Dave recruited me to pose as Neil Gaiman's Morpheus for a photo project, and gave me access to the whole run of the Sandman comics to boot. Still enjoy reading through them all to this day. He values duty and responsibility in a darker way than the Big Blue Boyscout. I wouldn't say I identify with Morpheus exactly, but I definitely had a touch of his brooding style in my teendom. I still want a pet raven.
Where are you? You're here! In his aviary! I took that name for the 'blog because of his ravens - Huggin and Muninn, thought and memory - but I like this old God with his one eye. There's something about Norse mythological figures that's satisfying from an iconic perspective, and I like this feeling that Odin has the wisdom of an old father, and a lot of the fallibility you expect from Greek gods. And let's not even get into how many of the characters on this list are Christ analogues at this point. Of course, my view of him is rather colored by how Mr. Gaiman has portrayed him in a couple of different mediums.
From Grosse Pointe Blank, the John Cusack semi-satire film about a mercenary hitman returning to town for his ten-year high school reunion. This movie really resonated with my sense of humor, with its swift dialogue and plenty of deadpan, and Martin Blank is interesting as someone capable (all too capable in some regards) who's trying really hard to work some things out with very little success.
____________, P.I. (The Noir Protagonist)
If you scramble a lot of these together with a dash of my nostalgia for a time when men wore hats when they were outside, it's not hard to come up with the prototypical anti-hero. He's beaten down, he's got a job to do, he can't help but give you a peek past his gruff exterior to see that he might've really loved that dame ... once. It's not original. Men just love this shtick.
Well, this is quite a little list of heroes and anti-heroes. I could blame the media, but the fact is that from my beginning that's what's connected with me. Interestingly enough:
- I haven't played too many outright heroes.
- I haven't included here many of the archetypes I commonly portray on stage (reactionary straight man, fish-out-of-water, young idealist, etc.) nor much along the lines of commedia dell'arte archetypes.