AEL: Under the Red Hood, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Danger and Eggs, Post Captain, In A Heartbeat, Lion in the Valley

Under the Red Hood — Of course all the DC animated movies featuring Batman are on my Amazon watch list (excepting the ones I know do terrible, offensive things to characters I love), but a friend had recommended I watch this one firstish. And then I saw a clip of its gorgeous animation on YouTube, and that was that.

Because, damn, that animation. The character animation, at least; the backgrounds, while they did look pretty good, didn’t always interact with the foreground action very naturally. But the choreography was badass (holy shit, that moment when Batman jumped through the car that had been thrown at him!!) and the characters were fantastic-looking… I really appreciated the lack of mullet on Nightwing, and I even liked the more restrained visual design for the Joker (though I missed the crap out of Mark Hammill).

In general, in fact, I found the voice acting mediocre — I had no significant complaints, but nobody’s performance struck me as particularly impressive either. Some of the dialogue was obnoxiously badbutt too, but I guess you gotta work hard to ensure that PG-13 rating XD

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, though. Seeing professional partners (or even just allies) clash in their attitudes always makes for good drama, and I loved the juxtaposition between Jason and Batman — a casual disregard for life in the pursuit of a specific revenge vs. an unshakable devotion to non-lethality in the pursuit of large-scale justice. I also loved that Jason’s motivation was more than simple revenge (which would in itself have been perfectly understandable)… that he also wanted to force Batman’s involvement in the murder of the Joker.

And Batman’s response to the situation was probably my favorite thing about this movie. By coincidence, I’ve become attached over the years to a number of diverse characters intent on sparing the lives of their enemies, and I think Batman’s reasoning here is the most engaging I’ve ever heard: that once he gives in and kills one enemy — any enemy, even the utterly depraved and irredeemable Joker, even for the sake of preventing murders like the one perpetrated on someone close enough to him for Ra’s al Ghul to call him “your son” — he may end up killing every enemy; he may not be able to stop. Because he wants to kill his enemies; he wants to put them beyond the possibility of committing further crimes; he wants to offer the people around him a more final and sure form of protection against evil that, under the current circumstances, returns again and again and again in an endless, exhausting parade.

And that’s such an excellent comment on human nature, on temptation and addiction — to say, “I won’t be able to stop, so I can’t allow myself to start.” To see Batman not only admit his weakness in this area but struggle continually in such a grippingly human way is poignantly relatable. I love it because it compels me to love Batman even more; it brings him to a more accessible level of character from which his excessive wealth and training often debar him. It emphasizes the humanity of a superhero that has never been superhuman in the strictest sense of the term, and makes him all the better for it.

That said, Jason also makes some very relatable points. During the final confrontation with Batman he says, “Why on God’s earth is he still alive? … Blindly, stupidly disregarding the entire graveyards he’s filled, the thousands who have suffered, the friends he’s crippled. … I’m not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I’m talking about him. Just him.” It’s similar to the usual arguments in favor of the death penalty — he’s committed gross crimes against humanity, he never rehabilitates, he’s sure to strike again — but it differs in its specificity. Jason isn’t arguing in favor of a legal option for the eventual execution of many of Batman’s enemies; he’s requesting that Batman himself, who has the ability to circumvent the legal system, make an exception to his personal policy for the one, least forgivable enemy that’s most direly hurt him and the people he tries to protect. Even someone fanatically opposed to the death penalty might have to admit the reason in this request.

And with this reason in mind, it’s easy to see the question the narrative is asking: when one man needs to die for the sake of justice, safety, and peace, and another man (the only one capable of carrying out that execution) needs to refrain from killing in order to prevent himself from becoming chronically murderous, who should give way? In other words, which is more valuable — true security from the Joker, or Batman’s purity? Or even, given that Batman would undoubtedly force himself into retirement if he feared he wouldn’t be able to refrain from killing during the course of his crime-fighting from then on, which is more valuable — true security from the Joker, or Batman’s existence?

The answer to this question is less easy to see. Jason, of course, makes his side pretty clear with his claim, “I’m a better Batman than you,” and the narrative itself seems to support Batman’s side by allowing him to escape the situation without having to cause or even witness anyone’s death. Yet Jason also survives, apparently, and I think the ambiguity surrounding his fate and likely future behavior is a perfect mirror of the ambiguity surrounding the answer to the question. Was it right simply to send the Joker back to Arkham as usual? We just don’t know, and I’m not convinced Batman does either.

For any character trying to balance an adventurous lifestyle with a strict no-killing policy, the drama arises not merely from all the situations the writer(s) can think of to test the character and push that policy to its limit (or even various clever or not so clever or downright repetitive and stupid methods of killing villains off without soiling the hands of the hero)… It’s also in the reactions of other characters to the non-lethal behavior. The response of enemies, allies, and perhaps most especially friends to the knowledge that this person is unwilling to put a final end to even the worst of villains is often crucial to story, characterization, and relationship-building, and fascinating and emotional to observe on top of that.

So to have friend-turned-enemy Jason, formerly Robin and now deliberately evoking the proto-Joker, questioning Batman’s policy so incisively and so personally is not only poignant and engaging for the viewer, it’s also a sadly inevitable moment in Batman’s career — not least because Jason isn’t merely trying to make a very valid point and achieve a very logical and desirable end by seeing the Joker dead, but also wants to prove thereby, beyond any doubt, that Batman cares enough about him to break his most sacred rule. And the pain Batman must feel in his inability to demonstrate his love for Jason in the manner Jason demands, because he values his purity too highly even for that, is another tragically inevitable moment in his struggle to maintain a personal policy that some part of him would rather abandon anyway. Is he right to continue that struggle? We still don’t know.

And in fact, that Jason was raised from the dead during the course of a story so concerned with Batman’s willingness to kill may be a symbolic nod to the futility of killing one’s enemies — a subtle statement that, even if Batman were to give in and do away with his nemesis, the Joker would either return or be replaced by something worse… or perhaps return as something worse. I’ll admit that I find Ra’s al Ghul a pretty tiresome character in general, but in this movie I thought he played an excellent part by setting up this interesting situation.

So obviously I liked this movie a lot and had a lot of thoughts about it… and as a consequence am even further behind on logging XD So back to truncated thoughts it is! I’m thinking I might start posting these things more frequently, when I have just a few items mentioned, to avoid these twenty-art pileups.

The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain — I have officially retired this novella from my reading list, as I’ve liked it less and less the last few times through and in this instance could not even complete it.

It has its funny and enjoyable moments, yes, but they don’t make up for the gender stereotypes. LOLOLOL Women are emotional and talk a lot and men are reckless and hopeless at domestic affairs is pretty well the basis of most of the humor, and I’m done with it.

Danger and Eggs — This series is free to watch on Amazon Prime, so I watched it. It’s quirky and funny and sweet, with an amazing grasp on friendship and interpersonal interaction that’s rarely didactic. Also it gets a 20/10 on representation, and I literally cried through the entire Pride episode. It does occasionally miss the mark with the life lesson it’s attempting to teach, and sometimes it’s a little too frenetic (the opening theme/sequence comes immediately to mind), but I will be happy to watch the second season next year.

Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian — Damn. I didn’t take notes, and now I’ve largely forgotten what I was going to say about this book. That’s what happens when I get this far behind on AEL’s!!!! OK, let’s see what I can remember.

That this started out as basically Jane Austen made me squee. And I was filled with rage when Jack became financially ruined! What a great story. Also, the bear thing was ridiculously entertaining.

Only then we had to get into this idea, introduced by Stephen, that men — at least certain men — are literally incapable of sexual abstinence and that therefore a long-term monogamous relationship was a bad idea for Jack because blah blah blah appetites and basically fuck that.

I like Jack a lot, but in some ways I don’t really respect him. I want to see him succeed, but at the same time I was trying to warn Sophia off from him. Like, find someone with better morals.

Oh! I remember two other things. First, the internet wants to convince me that this book is about the duality of Jack’s character on land vs. at sea, but I did not see that nearly so strongly as everyone else apparently did. Second, WTF was up with the falling out and the duel? Like, it sprang up kindof out of nowhere, went nowhere, and was handwaved out of existence offpage. That was weird. Still a great book, though.

In a Heartbeat — Um, so. In recent years, Pixar has made a number of movies that have been highly praised for their emotional impact and realism. And I’ve gotten kind of sick of them, because… how can I even describe this? I kinda feel like they cherry-pick their emotional moments to have a very specific type of impact, and the overall feeling ends up being a little contrived and a little… affected. “Tweealism” is what I like to call it. And, though this short film was cute and definitely gets mad credit for its normalized and positive portrayal of young queer people, I got very much the same feeling from it as I have from Pixar lately. No major criticism; it just wasn’t quite my thing.

Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters — I may have mentioned a bazillion times in the past that any story where the villain falls in love with the hero really does it for me. And the “Most magnificent of women, I adore you with all my heart and soul” moment in this book is one of my favorite instances of that setup. It’s funny how, typically, when Amelia claims to be modest, you simply don’t believe her… but she really had no idea what Sethos was after until he spelled it out for her, and I think that plays into the unexpectedly less-than-complete self-confidence of her earlier days I brought up in reference to the first book.

Also, and this is (that I can recall) not really relevant to this installment, just something I believe I failed to mention before, Amelia is a lot less un-racist than she thinks she is. Of course that makes perfect sense in the setting; it’s just kinda sad. I really appreciate that she’s forced, later in the series, to examine her own prejudices.

Favorite moment in this installment: If Emerson was beginning with one-celled life forms, it would probably take him quite some time to work up to the hominids.

OK, now I’m down to only nine items left! Go me!

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