Batman: The Libertarian Caped Crusader

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There is something
inherently libertarian about most comic-book superheroes.

They are vigilantes.
They wouldn't have to do what they do if the government were at
all successful in protecting the innocent from the bad guys.

And more than
a few of them are wealthy entrepreneurs. You have to be a billionaire
industrialist like Tony Stark if you are going to create the high-tech
arsenal necessary to be Iron
Man
. And it takes the wealth of Bruce Wayne to keep the Batcave
properly equipped.

But some of
them are more explicitly libertarian.

Steve
Ditko
, co-creator of Spider-Man,
dreamed up the first explicitly libertarian hero, The Question,
during his stint at Charlton Comics in the '60s.

In the '80s,
DC Comics purchased the rights to Ditko's Charlton characters, but
subsequent writers have purged them of any hint of Ditko's philosophy,
which was basically Ayn Rand's Objectivism minus the sexual hang-ups.

In fact, some
superhero comics have become decidedly Left Wing during the past
decade, thanks largely to an influx of British writers, who happily
cash their American paychecks while complaining that the United
States needs to be more like pre-Thatcher England.

One comic book,
"The
Authority,"
features a team of Left Wing superheroes who,
in authoritarian fashion, force their vision of a "better world"
upon everyone else. (Exactly how ironic this is, and how like the
manner in which real Leftists behave, seems lost on the book's current
writer.)

But one hero
seems to stand against the tide of Left Wing fascism.

In the '80s,
writer/artist Frank Miller satirized the feel-good militarism of
Reagan's America in his mini-series "Batman:
The Dark Knight Returns."
Now, Miller is back. And he is
taking aim at the feel-good fascism of the Clinton/Bush years with
a three-issue series, "The
Dark Knight Strikes Again,"
commonly referred to as DK2.

In interviews,
Miller describes his Batman as an “idealistic anarchist.” And certainly
the world order Miller's Batman inhabits is in desperate need of
being overthrown.

It is a world
where no one cares about trifling things like civil liberties and
individual rights, as long as the Dow Jones continues onward and
upward.

Sound familiar?

To drive his
point home, Miller resurrects The Question, who is back to his old
Randian self.

The Question
keeps tabs on the government and writes down what he sees:

"The world
spins mad. The people are so intoxicated by luxury they forget everything
that makes us more than house pets. Reason. Truth. Justice. Freedom.
The human spirit is a shattered pane of glass – wrapped in
soft velvet and soaked in sugary poison. Evil has seduced mankind.
And mankind has shown all the chastity of a three-dollar whore."

But, like Rand,
The Question is in no position to act. He can only write. Miller
leaves the action to Batman, who must start by taking down the symbol
of the political establishment, Superman.

It seems strange
to think of Superman as the bad guy, but the Man of Steel has always
been a tool of the powers that be.

In the 1940s,
he was a New Deal propagandist. He is always the superhero the president
calls in times of need.

So, naturally,
when the government is corrupted, Superman is corrupted along with
it, no matter how much lip service he may give to defending "truth,
justice and the American way."

At the end
of "The Dark Knight Returns," Batman uses his wits and
some teamwork to defeat Superman. By the end of only the first issue
of DK2, Batman does so again.

In
the two issues yet to come, perhaps Miller will give Superman a
way to redeem himself – a way which will almost certainly involve
taking down the status quo.

If only things
in the real world were as easy as they are in the comics.

January
21, 2002

Franklin
Harris [send
him e-mail
] is
a columnist and online editor for The
Decatur Daily
.
His Web site is www.pulpculture.net.

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