American Identity

Perhaps you’re familiar with Two-Face, the Batman villain, played both by Aaron Eckhart and by Tommy Lee Jones doing an impersonation of a malfunctioning black-light. Regardless of which version you cling to as the definitive one, Harvey Dent is a super-villain who uses his trademark coin to make all his decisions. One flip to decide which bank he will rob, which city official he will shoot, and which pair of sewed together suits he will wear for the day. -His tailor fees must be outrageous- Yet, in a lot of ways Two-Face may be a good metaphor for our American identity, because it feels as if we are split between two parties, two points-of-view, and as if every decision we make is made by the flip of a coin.

The Face You Choose
Harvey Dent had acid thrown in his face, leading to his identity complex, but America’s split-personality disorder traces its origins back to something much more sinister and corrosive, politics. Since 1852 either a Republican or a Democrat have come in first or second for the Presidential race, except for one. Theodore Roosevelt lost as a third-party candidate to Woodrow Wilson, but that was after he had already been President as a Republican. In the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats have become the only two parties to hold power -aside from a very few exceptions- for the better part of a century and a half. In fact, since World Way II no more than two seats in Congress have gone to third-party candidates. We have to face facts, people, we have a Two-Face problem with our American identity, and its not something that Batman can simply solve by punching.

Our election process uses First Past the Post Voting. Basically it a system where the person to win the majority wins the election. It seems like the most simple form of democracy -mostly because it is- but there are serious drawbacks. The biggest being that even electoral systems that feature multiple parties will, over time, eventually be whittled down to a two-party system. It is something that very often happens in Britain, Australia, or other countries that have several political parties. Two tend to emerge as more dominant. That is because with FPTP voting, there is a lot of potential for wasted voting.

Think about the 2016 election. -We know it hurts, but try anyway- Anyone who wanted to vote for Jill Stein or that other guy… we want to call him… Jerry… It doesn’t matter… Either way, you knew with a fair amount of certainty that there was not a Mr. Freeze’s chance in Hell that either candidate was going to win the election. So, even if you agreed 100% with their platforms, you still realized that you were throwing your vote away, and by doing so you might be accidentally helping the candidate you dislike most. Thus, most rational voters tend to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” Basically, you’d rather choose to vote for the mafia over the Joker, because at least your fairly certain you understand the mafia’s motives. In FPTP voting most people tend to vote against candidates rather than for candidates. Now there are other systems, but that’s for another article. As for right now, all we need to understand is that for 150 years America has been stuck in an entrenched two-party system, and that has very much affected our American identity.

Heads or Tails
In much the same way that Harvey Dent’s injuries are superficial, so are the labels of Republican and Democrat. They are two valid philosophies on how to approach the governing of our country, at least that was how they started. Two-Face’s injuries may be superficial but they have become the basis for his mental disorder, in much the same way that our political parties have become the basis for our American identity crisis. This has become especially true over the past decade. Each party has always had their extremes, but they always seemed to be able to find compromise, yet that has changed. Gridlock, in-fighting, and extremism have become the common practice of Washington, and it has come to affect the rest of the country.

A new survey from the Associated Press’ NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that we can no longer even agree what it means to be American. Unsurprisingly, the results are split down party affiliation lines. Roughly 65% of Democrats cited a mix of cultural groups and ethnicities as being either very or extremely important to the American identity. Only 35% of Republicans agree. However, 57% of Republicans believe that strong Christian values are very or extremely important to the American identity. Only 29% of Democrats agree. Republicans are far more likely to cite European values and Christian practices as our biggest strengths, while Democrats are far more likely to cite our country’s traditions of immigration and diversity as our biggest strengths. Regardless of party affiliation, 7 in 10 people agree that America is losing its identity.

These results aren’t exactly surprising. What is surprising is that: despite the fact that the amount of Independent voters -or voters unregistered with any party- is up, strong political leanings of voters -especially over the past few years- have sharply divided down demographic lines. Depending on whether you are old, white, Hispanic, religious, college-educated, or live in Gotham city, it is more likely that your political leanings have become sharpened over the recent years in very predictable ways. Overall, 48% of registered voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 44% who identify as Republican or lean toward Republicanism. That only leaves about 8% of American who are truly undecided and independent, and this hyper-partisanship is tearing at our American identity.

Everything is becoming political. The advent of social media, cable news, and the constant echo-chamber-interaction of modern politics has ensured that almost every issue -from religion to Broadway– exists inside a political spectrum. That means when people begin to strongly identify with conservative or liberal leanings, they also tend to mindlessly begin to judge the world through those lens. In many ways, it has stopped being about what do you think of an issue and become more about what does the party think about an issue. In a sense, we have lost a bit of our own thoughtfulness and replaced it with blinded adherence to political doctrines handed down from self-serving political super-villains. We are no longer content to be “fiscally conservative” or “socially liberal” or some other piece-meal-political view. We have begun to pitch our tents under one flag or the other, and that does not lead to a healthy American identity.

The Bicameral America
A phenomenon happened in America over the past two decades where politics became something more than external labels. We equate it to how people feel about sports teams. Of course, we’re nerds so we cling to labels such as Trekkie or Whovian, but the principal tends to be the same. As humans we don’t like complexity, it muddles our minds and takes brain power away from things we enjoy, so we condense ideologies and slap labels on them, like a can of soup. We also do this when it comes to ourselves, and thus we get people who live and die by the New York Giants, or the LA Lakers, or your local high school sports team. We all want to feel as if we are a part of something bigger and then we take that thing and integrate it into our own sense of identity. In one form or another we all do it. Yet, before the 1980’s, people rarely did it with politics. Sure, there were always the exceptions, but back then knowing how someone voted did not always correlate with their self-identity.

Something started during the Reagan years, where people’s party affiliations and labels of progressive and conservative became ingrained with their sense of self. That’s not a good thing, because… well just log onto Facebook. When your political affiliation starts to become essential to the core understanding of who you are as a person, than your liberal aunt isn’t just attacking Donald Trump, they are attacking you. When your conservative cousin badmouths Obama they are -in essence- badmouthing you. The vitriol and hard-line division is not because we are really defending one policy or politician over another. It is because we defending ourselves against each other. This is why people cry at baseball games. -Despite what Tom Hanks believes- When your team loses, you lose. When someone tells to you that the “Yankees suck,” all you hear is that “you suck.”

America has become Two-Face because much like Harvey Dent we have internalized our superficial disorder. The American identity has become a split personality because we have become homogeneous in our beliefs. Among engaged voters -those who always vote- 99% of engaged Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat, and 98% of engaged Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. That’s up from 88% and 84%, respectively, in 2004. We have compromised our American identity for party politics and it is driving us farther apart. We have stopped looking for the common ground and started fighting over the higher ground. We want to protect our sense of self so we argue that we are on the winning side in a battle that was never really meant to have winners or losers. In a way, we have internalized politics and that is a dangerous chemical to be fooling around with, unless of course you are fine with becoming a super-villain.

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Young Justice

We’re going to level with you, on this one. DC Comics hasn’t exactly been hitting home runs the past few years. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Too Long of a Movie Title sucked worse than that time the Batmobile lost its wheel and the Joker escaped because of it. The New 52 comic reboot went so poorly that DC rebooted it again this past year, and quietly whispered a “we screwed up,” so low only Kryptonians could hear it. Even Suicide Squad, their best and halfway decent movie only gave the world a pointless plot and proof that Jared Leto has a blurred sense of reality and propriety. That is why this past week when it was rumored that Netflix was in talks to create a third season of Young Justice, the beleaguered DC fans of the world rejoiced. Unfortunately, that promptly turned out to be a falsehood taken out of context, and that may be the cruelest trick DC has played on us yet.

Gone in a Kid Flash
For those of you unaware of the existence of this amazing gift that is Young Justice, let us be the first to tell you about. If there is one thing DC has always done better than Marvel it is animated cartoons. From the Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series to the Justice League DCAU to their cartoon movies, DC has always shined when it came to animation projects. It is probably the one battleground they have yet to yield to Marvel and their lackluster Disney-esque cartoon shows. DC animation has never been shy about bringing in comic story lines, making epic story arcs, delving into characters’ darker motivations, and doing it all with visual flair. However, all of that pales in comparison to Young Justice. If you like superheroes, this is a cartoon that is so good we don’t even recommend that you finish reading this article. You should just call out sick from work, run to your Netflix, and binge the first two seasons right now… Go…

For everyone else still here, Young Justice, took established characters and made them fresh. It even did the impossible and made sidekicks fun again in a mature and well-written manner. The premise of the show is that Robin, Aqualad, Speedy, and Kid Flash start a young Justice League -hence the name- and as they go forward their roster expands and contracts as they confront hardship and triumph. This includes the expectations of their mentors, and all the complicated emotions that come with them. Young Justice has the wherewithal and the impressive ability to create a universe that feels true to DC comics, but is also compelling enough to be believable. These traits are what made it so beloved by fans. Unfortunately, studio executives thought they were the wrong kind of fans… Prepare to get mad.

Young Justice was cancelled at the height of its popularity for several reasons, but mostly because, “girls liked the show.” According to the executives at Warner Bros., serious superhero cartoons were not what they wanted. They wanted wacky and weird superhero shows like Teen Titans Go, shows that better resembled Adventure Time or Regular Show. Their belief was that boys only wanted action and fart jokes, but what put the real nail in the coffin was the explosion of avid girl fans that fell in love with the show. Young women and entire families were suddenly sitting down to watch. It makes sense, considering that Young Justice gave examples of a lot of powerful, confident, and complex female heroines dealing with issues that many girls can relate to: family, relationships, body issues, etc. Unfortunately, for Warner Bros. they were an undesirable demographic, believing that girls would not buy actions figures or other merchandise. So after two seasons, Young Justice was cancelled, even though it was succeeding in the ratings.

Robin from the Rich
As much as we enjoy the humor of shows like Adventure Time, we would also argue that it is not the irrelevancy of that cartoon’s jokes which make make it a success. We also believe that there is room on a child’s cartoon pallet for ridiculous fun and serious action. Kids cannot live on fart jokes alone. Unfortunately, this whole thing only goes to show the true purpose of cartoons in the entertainment industry, to sell toys. Apparently, it does not matter if a show has a great plot, a bevy of amazing characters, or enough heart to make a linebacker cry. It all comes down to merchandising, and that is pretty damn depressing… Also, it explains Michael Bay.

Young Justice was full of bold ideas and incredibly creative characters. It may have been too serious for Cartoon Network and the WB, but its first two seasons have now found a home on Netflix. The online streaming service has been doing a lot to create interesting and worthwhile kids programming. Over the summer they released Voltron: Legendary Defender -and we recommend that you check that out too. A show like Young Justice would fit right in on Netflix and it would be a huge boon to the streaming service, and -quite frankly- to the struggling DC Entertainment company that has not been having a good year.

All we’re saying is that you should definitely watch this cartoon. Maybe if enough people were to stream it that might convince Netflix that it was worth the investment of a third season. Either way, we promise you won’t be disappointed.

Today marks the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Just Another Attempt at Cashing in on a Comic Franchise. In preparation for the upcoming movie we have been bracing for the worst, while also trying to stay quietly and irrationally optimistic. Unfortunately, this movie has a tall building to leap in a single bound, and much like Man of Steel and its jaded and sepia toned hero, everything we have been seeing so far does not actually give us any hope.

The New Shifty Too
We here at The NYRD want to have high expectations for this movie. For many of us DC Comics was our first Springtime love. It was our first nerdy kiss, and like a first kiss it probably seems better in retrospect. Yet, it has gotten harder for DC defenders over the years, and that is saying something. Advents like the New 52 and the DC Cinematic Universe are not quite matching up to their Marvel counterparts. Criticism against the parent company of the Justice League is nothing new, but these days it is getting harder and harder to disagree. People have always liked to say that Superman is too powerful, too perfect, and too boring, and we can take that. Yet, the current problem is that one of those people is apparently named Zack Synder.

DC Comics has done everything they could to “improve” the character of Clark Kent, both under the direction of Snyder and in the New 52 comic universe. They have made him angrier, more tragic, and with a super scowl that could melt steel. The bright colors are gone, and is it just us or does Superman look naked without those red briefs? By altering the classic and iconic appearance of the Last Son of Krypton in order to fit into darker sensibilities, DC and Snyder have altered the character, more than they realize. Yet, that is simply a symptom of the larger problem, because what we get in Man of Steel is a bastardized version of Superman who is striving to be nothing more than a Bizarro reflection that wants to hang its foreign frame on the skeleton of Nolan’s Batman. For Hollywood the philosophy of “rinse and repeat,” is often their only strategy. Opening weekend box office sales may have gone “up up and away,” but DC needs to decide if the product they are giving us is truly representative of their past standards or just a momentary knee-jerk reaction to grab some quick cash.

After all, now that you have built a darker world where Superman -a man who literally is supposed to wear hope on his chest- is monotone and brooding, than what is the role of Batman? The great thing about Bruce and Clark is not their similarities but how they balance one another. Similarly their best moments rarely come when they are fighting, but instead when they are working together. Naming a movie Batman v Superman is such a juvenile transparent corporate profit stunt that it is barely made less ludicrous by the fact that they couldn’t even take the time to spell out “versus” or even at least abbreviate it to “vs.” It feels like the movie equivalent of a 5 year old ramming two action figures together and calling it a day, but then again, what else can you do when you have created a universe where your two main characters have the same depressed and violent personality.

The Last Straw of Krypton
Let’s get the obvious complaint out of the way first: Superman kills Zod, and as egregious as that is, it is only the beginning of the problem. In fact, we are a little surprised that Snyder didn’t slow down the reel so we could revel in the violence just a little longer, like Leonidas hacking a Persian to bits. Mr. Synder, we understand  you want to make a grittier and darker version of Superman, but sometimes tarnishing something that is supposed to be shiny and spotless makes that thing into something else entirely. This isn’t Sparta, and Superman is not Batman.

The Man of Steel is meant to be a boy scout. Bruce calls him that all the time, and it is meant as a term of endearment. It’s part of what makes him who he is. You lost a lot of people with that particular head-snapping-stunt, including Mark Waid, who explains, “Some crazy guy in front of us was muttering ‘Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…’ and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, ‘THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,’ and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out, and that crazy guy was me. That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I’d done that, that’s how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn’t give a damn about the rest of the movie.”

Snyder defends his position saying that this act will be the origin for why Superman doesn’t kill, but that’s not really the point.  That one final act just neatly crystallizes a larger problem. This Superman shows very little regard for human life throughout the entirety of the first movie. Yes, he saves people, but those are all scripted moments. They felt like peace-token offerings meant to placate audiences so that Snyder had an excuse to blow up buildings in the third act, because when the shazbot really does hits the fan we find a Superman who not only ignores the plight of innocent bystanders, but actively disregards the consequences of his destructive battle on the people caught in its path. We can understand the impracticality of stopping mid-fight with the major villain of the movie to try and save bystanders, but it would have been good to see Superman attempt it, despite the impracticality, maybe even because of the impracticality. If we had more examples of Superman trying to hold up a falling structure as people fled, only to be thwarted by a Zod counter-attack, then we might even have felt a little more urgency and even understanding when it came time for Superman’s fateful and final decision.

Superman: Birth Defect
In a non-Synder universe Clark becomes Superman to protect people. He wears a big goofy and bright outfit so people won’t be afraid of him. He does it because he feels this need to make the world a better place and because he is tired of hiding who he is. He does it to bring hope to people and to make his parents proud. In Man of Steel, Clark Kent becomes Superman because Zod forces him into the decision. He doesn’t begin his career as a savior, he begins it as a flying alien who would rather punch things, than stop a few fighter jets from crashing into the downtown area of Smallville.

Ultimately, that is people’s biggest problem with Snyder-man. The Man of Steel that we know and love from comics, cartoons, video games, and Richard Donner movies is a protector, not a warrior. That’s Wonder Woman’s job. Superman should be a beacon of hope who catches falling planes, not a dark avenger who hunts criminals. That’s Batman’s job. That is why the three of them work so well together, they are different shades of the same idea, but if Man of Steel taught us anything it is that DC believes their cinematic universe can only have one bleak and washed out shade of color. Superman shouldn’t need a reason for not killing. He knows how strong he is and how easy he can break things and break the people around him. The real Superman always understood that his powers gave him the responsibility to not do harm, but maybe in Snyder’s universe we can blame this particular flaw on the parents.

In Man of Steel Jonathon Ken expressed a real concern about his son exposing himself to the world, and any parent can understand that. However, you tend to lose audiences when he starts telling Clark that maybe he should let people die. More than the ending, that moment is the biggest let down of the movie. It was a metaphorical neck-snap of the entire Superman mythos. Pa Kent, a man who Clark always admired and revered and wanted to make proud, is reduced to a damned coward. As an aside, it is also worth mentioning that Clark Kent could have easily saved that dog from the tornado while walking at normal human speed. There was absolutely no reason Jonathon Kent had to sacrifice himself, especially because… again… Superman is not Batman. The Man of Steel never needed dead parents to motivate him, if anything it has always been his living parents that kept him grounded and happy.

We cannot be sure what Batman v Superman will add to the mistakes of Man of Steel. It is possible that this movie will hit the mark in ways we cannot even fathom and retroactively justify every decision made in the first movie. Unfortunately, with what we have been reading lately, that hope may be as long gone as Krypton itself. Despite the fact that DC still has award winning cartoons and enjoyable -if not a little campy- TV shows, heroes like Superman have always been easy targets for critics, but this time around we DC apologists may find ourselves facing another indefensible pile of CGI, jumbled plot lines, and frustratingly missed opportunities. For now, we’ll just have to console ourselves over a pint of ice cream and settle for rereading Superman: Birthright and watching old episodes of Justice League Unlimited.

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” The comic books would have us believe that this quote was spoken by the Joker, but what if that was not truly the case. In fact, what if the Joker never existed, or the Penguin, or the Riddler, or any of them? Each of Batman’s most prominent villains has a strong correlation to part of Batman’s psyche, maybe too strong of a connection. What if that was all they were, the fractured parts of a broken mind created by a young boy in the wake of a horrible tragedy? What if Bruce Wayne never became Batman, and instead his mind broke apart and each piece became a villain we now know.

The Id of Gotham
In this theory, we need to look at the fractured mind of Bruce Wayne in terms of Freudian personality factors: The Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. The villains of Batman represent the Id, each can be described as a type of desire or subconscious urge that a young boy might feel as he grows up in a large lonely mansion after the tragic death of his parents. Each villain contains an aspect of Bruce’s own personality that he is fighting against and may even be based upon people in his own life.

Poison Ivy is a creature of pure desire. Her powers include pheromones that drive men wild, an ability to communicate with plants, and being a red head. Ivy represents Bruce’s budding sexual urges, but with the advent of a hidden danger. Ivy is beautiful -and sometimes barely clothed- but she only uses her abilities to gain control of men. She uses them for her own ends, and despite the fact that lust is a natural urge -natural like plants- Batman fights against her, afraid of the power she could gain over him. In reality, Ivy could be any girl Bruce interacts with, but if it is a specific one she might be older and more experienced.

Mr. Freeze is cold, incredibly cold. The loss of his wife and the experiment that turned him into a creature of sub-zero temperatures gave him powers, but it also left him encased in a giant metal barrier, forever cut off from the world. Before the accident, Victor Fries was a kind and gentle man, as warm-hearted and loving as they come. Freeze represents Bruce’s heart, it is cold and sealed away from the world after the tragedy he endured. Batman fights against him, but he can never cure Freeze. The Dark Knight is never able to warm the frozen heart. In the real world, Dr. Fries may be a medical doctor, cold an methodical in his methods and lacking a bedside manner. Thomas Wayne would have been Bruce’s initial doctor, but now he is gone forever.

The Penguin is Oswald Cobblepot, a wealthy yet deformed “business” man. The Penguin differs from the other villains in that he is not physically imposing. Instead he runs a criminal empire while posing as a legitimate entrepreneur and club owner. His refined sensibilities place him above other Gotham criminals, and to the young Bruce Wayne -heir to family fortune and business- the Penguin represents his familial responsibilities. He is everything Bruce fears about the world he must eventually step into now that his father is gone. Batman fights the Penguin because he fears what he is being forced into becoming. It is very likely that Cobblepot may even be an unflattering representation of Alfred. Both -usually tend to- have British accents, and Cobblepot has the same syllables as Pennyworth. More to the point, Alfred would be the person most pushing Bruce into fulfilling his family obligations.

Catwoman is the one villain that Batman comes closest to accepting. There are even several “What If” scenarios where they do eventually fall in love and get married. A resourceful and thrill-seeking cat-burglar. Selina Kyle has very little responsibilities, preferring to live like one of her cats, free to come and go as she pleases. She represents Bruce’s fear of forgetting his pain and guilt. To accept Selina is to move on with his life and leave his parents behind. Whereas Bruce fears becoming like Penguin, he also refuses Catwoman, no matter how bad he sometimes wants her. Batman still fights Selina because that would mean growing up, getting married, starting a family, and letting go of the past. In real life, she is probably his only friend, a kindred spirit that Bruce enjoy but refuses to open up to.

The Riddler is a criminal mastermind. He is probably the most brilliant of any of Batman’s adversaries and yet he is also one of the craziest. Riddler’s compulsion to leave clues and puzzles at the scene of his crime are often his undoing. Riddler represents Bruce’s intelligence and his logic. Yet, it is a flawed intelligence, one that gets in its own way more often than not. Bruce knows he is a smart kid, and being smart and logical one often wants to feel in control of their own life. He blames himself for the death of his parents. Bruce was the one who asked to go to the theater. He was the one who put his parents in that situation. Much like the Riddler, he was the master of his own undoing and all the intelligence in the world couldn’t stop it. In real life, Edward Nygma might be a teacher who is always giving the class problems to solve.

Bane is an intelligent and tactical thinker who becomes a raging punch monster when hooked on Venom. If the Riddler represents Bruce’s logic, than Bane is his rage. Going through the kind of tragedy that Bruce suffered leaves a lot of people with issues of anger, and Bruce Wayne is no different. The drug, Venom, affects the usually articulate and smart Bane in much the same way Bruce’s rage can turn the well-spoken and intelligent boy into a monster. Moreover, rage can be addicting and dangerous, just like the Venom drug. Batman faces many savage enemies -Man-Bat, Killer Croc, and more- and though they all represent part of his savagery or anger, there is no better representative of the potential for his ongoing rage than Bane. He is the only villain who ever succeeds in breaking the Batman. Bane, may not be a real person, but someone Bruce watches on TV, maybe even a Mexican wrestler.

Scarecrow is fear, plain and simple. Having your parents killed in front of you is traumatizing, and we would be amazed if it didn’t leave young Bruce Wayne living in a state of unadulterated and irrational fear. It is also telling that Dr. Crane is a psychologist. In the real world Scarecrow may represent Bruce’s therapist. In talking about the trauma of his tradgedy Bruce is probably often forced to relive the terror and fear of that fateful night in his discussions with the real Dr. Crane. Thus, to the young boy’s mind going to the psychologist is linked instinctively with fear. So when Batman fights the Scarecrow he is really fighting against that fear, and maybe even against the advice of his therapist.

Two-Face was once the celebrated district attorney, Harvey Dent, now he is a killer and a crime-boss. To Bruce he represents a sort of dual identity, and we’re not talking about as Batman. “Stiff upper lip,” is something you can hear Alfred saying to young “Master Bruce.” As a Wayne, the small boy is the last heir to the family business and fortune. Bruce must often be forced to put on an appropriate media friendly mask whenever in public, even when he probably just wants to cry and collapse in his bed. Such a strain can tax even the brightest of children and Bruce must feel as if he is being pulled apart, forced to choke down emotions and smile in public. It is probably no coincidence that Batman also despises his public persona. Dent represents the attorney who prosecuted his parents’ killer. He must have put Bruce on the stand, but not before prepping the boy on how to act -over and over again- as he was the key witness in the case. Because unlike in Bruce’s fictional world, in real life the police caught the killer.

The Joker is by far the most iconic and most dangerous Batman villain of all time. The Clown Prince of Crime is a force of utter chaos and inhumanity, completely irredeemable by any standards. Both comedian and killer, you never know what will come out the barrel of his gun, a punching bag or a bullet. For Bruce Wayne, who lost his parents and sits on the brink of his own sanity, the Joker does not represent any one aspect of himself, instead he represents the enemy, the biggest threat of them all. The Joker is chaos incarnate, a faceless and nameless man without a backstory whose only job is to make Batman’s life a living hell. The Joker is the fictional representation of the man who killed Bruce’s parents, the man who shattered Bruce’s mind.

Many of Batman’s minor villains could also be taken as other and lesser impulses. The Mad Hatter represents living in a delusional world. The Calendar Man represents a fear of growing older. Soloman Grundy represents unstoppable grief, and the list could go on. Ultimately, this theory helps makes more than a fictional comic book world. Gotham City is nothing more than the mind of a scared and mentally damaged child. Even the character’s names sound like things a child would create, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward E. Nygma, Pamela Isely, but what about Batman. What does he represent in this shattered world?

The Ego of Batman
Taking this idea one step further, we find Bruce Wayne, a boy of ten or eleven who just lost his parents. His mind fractures at the trauma, inventing monsters and criminals that threaten to tear apart Gotham, the city that represents his mind. So being a prepubescent boy, Bruce invents a caped crusader to fight them. He invents Batman as his ego, the part of his mind that tries to suppress the Id and find a balance with the Super Ego. The Super-Ego is best represented by Alfred, Bruce’s surrogate father figure. In any Batman story the loyal butler is often the rock of reason, but Bruce rarely listens to his pleas for normalcy. Thus, Batman may help keep these nastier forces and impulses in check for Bruce, but he also does not allow the young boy to get past them either.

Batman is constantly fighting villains, none of which he is able to kill or keep locked up for long. The impulses are always escaping and always wreaking havoc on Gotham. Batman eventually beats them, represses them behind the bars of Arkham. Yet, Gotham never improves. No matter how hard Batman fights to clean up the crime, the corruption, or the villainy, Gotham remains as dirty and broken as ever. Bruce fights against these aspects of his mind, but never allows them to heal. He never gets past them. There is often evidence that when Thomas and Martha Wayne were alive Gotham was friendly and cleaner, but that all that falls apart after they die. Bruce’s mind crumbles into the Gotham City we know today and Batman is part of the problem. He is not really an agent of change so much as he is an agent of the status quo, a never ending cycle that keeps everything exactly as it is.

So, regardless of whether you buy into this theory or not, you have to admit that it fits well within the world of Batman. There has always been a psychological darkness that pervades the adventures of the Dark Knight, and it speaks to us all in a whispered voice that says, “All it takes is one bad day…”

We here at The NYRD are geeks through and through, but we have often resented the fact that geeks are not supposed to like sports. On the contrary, we could not be more excited for the coming football extravaganza taking place this weekend. In fact, we are so excited about our Sunday of nacho dip, over-the-top commercials, and friendly -though technically illegal- betting, that we decided to show our love through comics. Hey, we’re still geeks.

The world of DC Comics is full of fantastic and “super” heroes, but with an equally “super” football game coming up, we here at The NYRD though it would be fun to take some of those fictional DC cities and envision what their football teams might look like. Our artists designed eight helmets, drawing from the DC Comics New Earth timeline -because of course- and they even made a few original teams inspired by some of those fictional hometowns of your favorite superheroes. Click on the gallery below to check out our newest creations as you get ready for this Sunday’s big game. See if you can spot the inspiration for each team’s football logo, and if you like what you see don’t forget to check out The NYRD Shop to find some more inspired football and DC mash ups.

Game on!

The world of DC Comics is full of fantastic heroes and heroines, but even they had heroes of their own, both on and off the gridiron. Every city in the DC Universe has its own flair and feeling, and their own sport’s franchises that captured the imagination of prepubescent superheroes. Now you can be like young Clark, Bruce, Barry, and Hal, and purchase one of four vintage shirts from the Detective Comics Football League. Choose whether you want to support the Metropolis Metros, the Gotham City Wildcats, the Central City Cougars, or the Coast City Sharks. All four teams are from the New Earth timeline of DC comics. So now you can show your colors and support the hometown of your choice. These are the shirts that your favorite heroes wore as they played catch with their fathers in the backyard… except for Bruce… and Hal… Actually, come to think of it, father’s don’t tend to last long in comics.

We can all picture the iconic scene of when Clark Kent takes off his glasses or when Peter Parker puts on his mask. Secret identities are a part of superhero lore, as much as capes and snappy one-liners, but is the concept of a dual-life quickly becoming something that is too fantastic to believe, even for stories about men who can fly?

In a modern era where, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 58% of all adults 18 and older are on Facebook and 87% of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Facebook, is the concept of keeping anything secret becoming as outdated as the concept of the Daily Planet? After all, you can look up any two words on the Internet and get some kind of hit. How hard would it be to Google “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” and have two-thousand entries appear? He is always taking all those pictures. Even worse, the majority of people in 2015 would probably scoff at the idea that organizations like the CIA or SHIELD would have no idea of the links between heroes and their civilian counterparts. How long would it take the NSA to trace the search history of “How to build a web-shooter?”

Nick Fury is Watching
Thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden we know that organizations like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have been logging the Internet searches, keystrokes, text messages, and phone calls of literally millions of people around the world. According to the NSA’s own April 2013 slideshow for their PRISM program, the government surveillance organization had been collecting data including emails, chats, videos, photos, file transfers and more, from major providers including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and others. Though much of the activity was aimed at foreign communications using American telecommunication networks the truth is that there is no real way to decipher the emails of American citizens versus foreign extremists. Yet, despite the epic level of this Lex Luthor-esque system of surveillance, perhaps, even scarier was the fact that that these 1,984 violations barely registered a low roar of surprise from the American populace. Maybe it is because the evidence only verified everyone’s already suspected fears, we have no more secrets.

Another Pew Research study found that only 42% of Americans were willing to discuss the topics of the Snowden-NSA story on Facebook or Twitter, despite the fact that 80% of American adults agree or strongly agree that we should be concerned about the government monitoring phone calls and Internet conversations. The kind of picture that these types of statistics paint is of a population who fears speaking out of turn on the Internet, because Big Brother might be watching. This also comes from people who openly share their food, workout habits, and embarrassing drunk pictures. Maybe we have no true expectation of online privacy, either from the government and from one another. Maybe we willingly gave it up in the name of convenience and ego. After all, federal organizations are not the only ones collecting data on us.

Lex Luthor is Watching
Major corporations from Google to Walmart are following our digital footprints in order to better target their marketing. Companies use behavioral tracking in order to promote their products directly to consumers who match their target profiles. This data includes your location, your spending habits, and even your health and life situations. Your computer and your phone are constantly sending out information about you. Certain apps on your phone are even programed to send out updates to companies whenever you connect to wifi locations. Businesses can predict when you are getting married, having kids, going to college, and even getting a divorce. Consumer data companies make trillions of dollars selling personal information and histories to major brands around the world. In other words, if Bruce Wayne started buying batarangs or cowls in bulk online, chances are that Target would figure out who Batman was before the Joker ever did.

All of this means is that maybe there are no masks left to hide behind. Maybe this is a surveillance state of our own making. After all, teens are sharing more personal information about themselves today than ever. In a survey conducted in 2012 compared to one conducted in 2006, 91% of teens in 2012 posted photos of themselves, opposed to 79% in 2006. Teens also proved more willing to share their school name, hometown, and email address online. 20% of teens surveyed in 2012 were even willing to share their cell phone number, as opposed to just 2% in the 2006 survey.

The eighteen year olds entering college this year were seven when Facebook was first invented. The fourteen year olds entering high school this year were three. To them email is something that they use to answer messages from their grandparents, and even Facebook is a tool of their parent’s generation. Yet, they still use it, and the typical teen has 300 friends and 79 Twitter followers. They are constantly connected, they live in the digital world as much as the real one. Everything they do in one world is reflected in the other, and to them that is normal. On the other side, if someone is not on a social network, they might as well not exist. Even Facebook has a Twitter account and Twitter a Facebook page. Does that mean that the next generation just has no expectation of privacy, no understanding of the importance of a secret identity?

Losing the Mask
In the golden age of comic books, secret identities were more believable, but today, in the golden age of social media and digital intelligence gathering, the idea is become has less and less so. Marvel has all but abandoned the concept in their cinematic universe. It all started with Tony Stark’s declaration, “I am Iron Man.” In fact the Daredevil Netflix series is the first time the audience gets to meet a hero who has to worry about his dual identity. Even the DC movie universe has begun to flounder on the idea. It takes Lois Lane all but ten minutes to figure out Clark Kent’s identity in Man of Steel, and we don’t question it. In fact, of all the sins committed by that movie, that was not one of them. Lois Lane is a crack investigative reporter, and it has always been completely unbelievable that she was never able to connect the dots on the biggest story of Metropolis, considering the clues were right under her nose. Yet ditching the idea of secret identities is both a little worrying and a little sad.

In a way the Internet has given everyone a mask to wear, a new face to present to the world, but now our lives, our bank accounts, our nude bodies, and even our innermost opinions can all be Googled. With cameras attached to the hips of every man woman and child, with facial recognition software so common that Facebook uses it to identify your friends in photographs, and with a youth culture who is growing up with their dirty laundry forever memorialized on the Internet, are we heading for a future where the most any of us will be able to hope for is 15 minutes of anonymity?

The real truth of the matter is not that the general public has not given up on their privacy. In fact, 93% of adults want to be in control of who receives their information. Even the younger generations are not blind to issues of privacy. 57% of teenagers surveyed reported that they did not put something online for fear of negative repercussions, and 60% of teens have their Facebooks set to private. As a population we do still care about maintaining our own secret identities, but we keep seeing a world where it is easier and easier to fall into the traps of convenience and data tracking programs, corporations, and even the government. People have not stopped caring, so much as resigned themselves to the inevitable. It is understandable. In a world where every celebrity has a leaked photo of their genitals, 1 in 5 Americans will have their ID’s stolen, and where Goggle and our phones begin to predict our daily schedule, it is understandable if we feel powerless.

A World Without Heroes?
Maybe that is why our only heroes are the ones left on the silver screen and in comic books. Without any masks our society has lost a belief in heroes. Anyone who does something good and noble today, will ultimately have their dirty laundry aired for all to see tomorrow. It is as inevitable as Aunt May’s next trip to the hospital, and that is the worst part of all this.  We forget that the purpose of secret identities in comic books for people like Batman and Superman was to ensure that they were seen as symbols of justice and hope, rather than as normal men. Our society needs heroes. We need symbols and when you pull away the mask the human underneath can never live up to our expectations.

Even worse, for people like Spider-Man a mask helps protect those he loves from reprisals from super-villains and other elements of the criminal underworld. In a world where Internet commentators are hacked and threatened, with alarming frequency, maybe that does not seem like such a crazy idea. We are not saying that everyone who wears a mask is good. After all, for every activist there is a troll lurking. For every anonymous donor there is a flame war brewing, but for every comment of hate and cyber bullying there is also a message of hope and pictures of kittens, and people willing to do what it right for one another. For every Green Goblin there is a Spider-Man. Oscar Wilde once famously said that, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” and that is true for both heroes and villains, but that is a choice everyone should be free to make for themselves.

Privacy, both online and IRL is one of the backbones of our freedoms. Secret identities give us the ability to be something more than human. We can become a symbol and a voice for change. Once we lose our digital mask, that ability to transcend ourselves, we may never get it back. However, if the Internet does finally strip us of our masks, whose face will we bear for all the world to see? Are we really Bruce Wayne or Batman, and can either exist without the other?

Regardless, we need to take great care to guard what little identities we have left. Once you stand up and declare, “I am Iron Man,” you can never take it back. Just ask Tony Stark.

Bruce Wayne is a racist, there is no easy way to say that. Now before you run to the comment section below, let us start by saying that we are not indicating that Batman participates in active racism. He does not go around and beat down African Americans in between solving the Riddler’s puzzles. No, we are talking about how Bruce Wayne has enjoyed a certain level of privilege all his life. As a member of the Wayne family he was born wealthy. Even as Batman he enjoys the fruits of his family’s position. Yet, more to the point he is a white male, and there are more than a few perks to falling under that classification.

A Two-Faced Perspective
A lot of people will want to immediately protest that last statement. After all, when a real conversation about race starts the majority of Americans tend to shut down or shut out the facts. Thus, a white kid living in poverty is not going to instinctively see the inherent bias in our system, because of his own personal struggles and perspective. We experience the world through our own lens, whether you are Gotham’s billionaire son, a British manservant, or the black guy who makes all of Batman’s technology. Statistics rarely convince detractors, but we are going to hit you with some of them right now anyway. According to a recent 2014 poll, 40% of white Americans still believe that race relations in America are ‘good,’ as opposed to 35% black Americans. This statistic is down over the previous year, because of obvious recent events, but it still shows that a portion of America is unaware of the divide that exists even today in our nation.

The problem is that most Americans think of racism as something that happened in black and white photos in their history books, and fail to recognize that it is still reflected in the inherent inequalities within the system we live in. Thus, even if the caped crusader is not be an active racist, he still enjoys a level of comfort and position built upon the backs of institutional racism and prejudice that stretch back before the Civil War. Racism exists, not always in the actions of one race toward another, but as a historical ghosts that echoes through the halls of our schools, jobs, Arkham Asylums, and even government. It even clouds our perceptions and subconsciously directs our actions and feelings, like some long remembered childhood trauma that happened one night in a dark alleyway outside a theater.

For instance, Marvel has been taking a lot of flak about its lack of diversity in casting. Among the major discussions happening is the absence of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Instead, Marvel is once again going with the white male role of Peter Parker. It is great that people are clamoring to see the racial diverse Morales take the place of Peter Parker, but what is not so great is that there is no talk about doing the same for Batman. Spider-Man and Batman are being rebooted into larger universes, and both on the heels of previously solo franchises. So why don’t the arguments being made for the racially diverse version of Spider-Man apply for an African American Batman? Is it because DC has no idea what they are doing? Yes, but it might also be because Spider-Man is a poor kid from Queens while Batman is a rich socialite from Gotham City. Of those two, which do we naturally assume to be a minority?

The Riddle of Racism?
Racism, is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement. More to the point, it is a belief that has informed the way our society has been constructed. An often used complaint among white culture is that Black Americans receive the entire month of February for their history, but white people do not receive a similar month. That is true, but it is also a very limited perspective born from a lack of historical context and the fact that our fleshy bodies only last about eighty years. As humans we have a very small window to view the world, so for some it can become harder to take a more universal approach. People who see things such as Black History Month or affirmative action, are only seeing a small part of the story, devoid of context. It is like watching Batman punch the Joker without having any prior knowledge of the two characters, and getting angry that, “a crazy man in the bat outfit is punching a defenseless clown.” The truth is that we need to recognize that most of our history has been written from the white male perspective, and that perspective has become part of our instinctive understanding of our culture and ourselves operate, and that is the underpinning of the problem.

The practice of colonialism meant that white Europeans spread their dominance over most parts of the world and actively usurped local history and accomplishments with those of their own race. It helped remind locals who was in charge and made them feel inferior so as to not challenge the rule of the colonizers. In America, white culture and history was made superior to that of blacks, first to justify the economical system of slavery than to further the prejudicial system and non-integration. In modern times, those systems, set in place so long ago, still exist today. Our lives, our actions, and our nation does not exist in a bubble that is separated from history. Those past systems still inform the way our culture and society works.

There are plenty of statistics that confirm this. According to the APA, Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black college graduates are twice as likely as white college graduates to struggle to find a job. The sentencing project found that on the New Jersey Turnpike black drivers make up 15 percent of drivers and more than 40 percent of traffic stops and 73 percent of arrests, but that they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites.

Success is built on success. Bruce Wayne inherited his wealth from Thomas and Martha Wayne. White people have had the power since colonial times, and they have passed that power down to their sons and their grandsons. Laws and systems were put into place to strengthen the ability of white people to subtly profit over minorities. Neighborhoods arose as did ghettos, segregated by race, by wealth, and by choice. With those neighborhoods arose adequate and inadequate school systems, gang violence, and extracurricular activities. People grew up different, with different attitudes and different ideas about the world. Some felt repressed and came to believe that they deserved to be, because society confirmed it. Others rose to acquire wealth and prosperity, which they passed on to their children, even after they were gunned down in an alleyway. Bruce Wayne is not prejudiced, but he did benefit from a system of racism. After all, how many parents are gunned down in minority neighborhoods, and of those, how many of those children grow up with the means to become Batman?

A Bane to Real Discussion
This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, especially lately. It polarizes people on both sides. White people do not want to be seen as racist, and so instinctively they will flat out deny the problem and often shift blame to others. In New York, Hispanics and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police. Many white people will look at that statistic and say, “those people should not be doing what they are doing or walking where they are walking or acting how they act and they won’t get stopped.” Or they say that those particular police officers were racist, but that is not the whole story, because passive racism can be just as pervasive and even more damaging. It is old ideas informing not our thoughts but our subconscious understandings, until they become so pervasive we accept them as normal.

The human mind makes associations, it was how we evolved to survive in the wild, but we are no longer a tribal society hunting elk for food. So those prejudices have come to inform our government, our businesses, and the way we treat one another. Yet, because we want to see ourselves as evolved and enlightened we tend to reject those actions or mark them as isolated incidents. In a sense we become Two-Face and our brain literally goes to war with itself over the concept of racism. When that happens we don’t flip a coin to solve it. Instead, many of us just shut down on the subject all together. We say, “it’s not our problem,” “or that we aren’t racists,” or that “we didn’t cause it.”

A Signal in the Sky
Bruce Wayne is a racist, but he is also Batman. The Dark Knight knows something that a lot of other people do not. Just because you are not directly responsible for something, does not mean that you are not responsible for cleaning it up. Bruce did not create the crime and the poverty and corruption of Gotham, but he understands that he is responsible to be part of the solution to it. He could just as easily go on living a privileged playboy lifestyle,  but instead he becomes Batman because he has a responsibility to use his wealth and power to help those around him make the world a better place.

For white people, you have never owned a slave, at least we assume you never did. You probably never participated in active discrimination, you may never even have made a racial joke, but you are still a racist, not because you did something but because you refuse to do anything. You did not create this problem, but you have the power, the position, and therefore the responsibility to help fix it, because it needs fixing.

Racism still exists. We have come a long way, but the journey is not done. Everyone born now, was born closer to that proverbial mountain top, and it is human nature for us to look back at the long and rocky road and say, “look how far we have come. We have succeeded,” but the truth is that we have not yet reached that fabled peak. There is still more to climb. There is still a lot of difficult road ahead, and we are all responsible for getting there. Racism is not an issue for just minorities, it is an issue for all us. No one who lives today started this problem, but, like Bruce Wayne, we are all responsible for cleaning up the streets of our own personal Gotham City. It is up to us, because we are all Bruce Wayne, and that means we are also all Batman.