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Second Star to the Right… The Contextual Usage of "Fan Fiction"

Earlier on in the Batman storyarc "Death of the Family", we were introduced to the idea of the Joker as court jester, but this obfuscates seeing him for what he is: Peter Pan…

Several things struck me as I read Batman #15 from writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia: pacing can have various rhythms, but when done right, the speed or tempo doesn’t matter; Batman makes an interesting Wendy to Joker’s Peter Pan; and the definition of “fan fiction” needs to become even broader with notes on contextual usage. There are many other things that make this installment of Batman a tremendous issue, but those three points stick out the most as I reflect on it. That there are numerous points to think about underlines another point that this Batman, critically acclaimed and embraced by fans, overall overcomes any shortcomings with style and terror.

The Joker knows. The Joker knows who the Bat family members are behind the masks. Suddenly, the psychopathic clown becomes even scarier. He has already struck at the family in very personal ways and now he claims to know their identities. That personal terror, a hallmark of Snyder’s work, forces the various heroic players to confront their mentor. Batman himself is forced to show just a moment of self-doubt. It’s self-doubt that is the actual poison to Batman. Timidity is not a strength for the Batman, it opens a Pandora’s box that could undermine everything he’s worked for since his parent’s death.

To present this point, Snyder scripts an issue that relies on pacing and format. We open on the object of fear and an aspect of that fear. The eyes are windows to the soul, as the saying goes. That these eyes know nothing of dilation defines a soulless killer without saying it. This is a pure definition of “showing, not telling” in the form of comics. That it is part of a reflective narration, a narration that also closes the issue, points to a “bookended” chapter emphasizing the Dark Knight has doubts.

We’ve seen Snyder and Capullo work with pacing, format and presentation before. Batman #5 is an example of that--and clever design. This issue works differently. The tempo shifts from slow to thrilling to expository to chilling to dramatic--that last page leaning a bit melodramatic. This issue is also about exposition, about the family asking questions, looking for answers and creating tension.

I was critical of Batman #14 for the type of verbose, wordy dialogue that Batman #15 uses to excel. It’s about the context of dialogue--sometimes less is more and more is too much. Where appropriate, and necessary, lots of talking as it were can create the dramatic tension this issue needs to push the overall storyarc forward.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it,” writes J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan. As I said earlier, doubt for Batman is poison, and doubt of this magnitude, while contained in him, has a way of tearing down everything. The moment is, as Snyder has described it, that moment when you wish momentarily that the family you created would just go away. It would be easier to be alone, to eliminate worries. To be a kid forever.

In this scenario, this narrative, the Joker takes on that embodiment of Peter Pan that Barrie used to illustrate loss of innocence. Here, Snyder is not trying to directly address loss of innocence, but when dealing with a homicidal clown, how can you not even remotely consider it. He’s trying to address a loss of fidelity.

The “court jester’s ode to his king” dialogue is just a joke, a bit of demented of humor from the Joker. The joke is not very strong and confuses this Peter Pan subtext. It’s probably the strongest piece of criticism you could level at this issue of Batman and entirety of this story arc. The Joker just isn’t very funny. Maybe that’s the existential crisis promised by the Joker’s faceless existence?

“What are we going to call fan fiction now,” a fellow Batman reader asked me when talking about the current run? He was referring to numerous things, but mainly he was talking about how the current run of Batman references previous pieces of mythology (Year One, The Killing Joke, etc.) but is not bound or really defined by them. His question is also related to the New 52 reset and the confusion of what pieces of Batman lore still stand and which have faded from the pages of legacy. It’s seemingly shortsighted, reflecting on continuity obsession that endears and hinders comics, but it reminded me of something Snyder said to me a year ago.

“It’s almost fan fiction,” he said referring to his then current story “Court of Owls.” But, if we haven’t figured it out by now, Snyder is a fan too and he’s interested in writing things that matter to him personally.

Many of the writers currently writing our major superheroes are fans of the characters. They’re not the original creators of the character, so what’s the difference between fan fiction and what is being published today? Sophistication? Editorial endorsement and inclusion in canon? A paycheck?

“The writers write it [fan fiction] and put it up online just for the satisfaction,” writes Lev Grossman for TIME. “They're fans, but they're not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”

In those terms, in terms of the culture talking to them and they responding in its language, “Death of the Family” and Snyder’s Joker is not “almost” fan fiction, it is fan fiction and that’s something he should be proud of. While I have been wary about the amount of horror that has been injected into Batman, and concerned the Joker hasn’t to this point been very funny, and that each and every issue hasn’t been an ideal portrayal, I will always be appreciative knowing a fan is writing this cornerstone of comics.

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