I once taught with a bloke from Manchester who'd worked behind the bar of The Hacienda while he was an always-broke student at University there, back then in the long-ago early 1990s. When I asked him if the club had been as wild as a thousand articles and a hundred books would have it, he said - and I really can hear him say this - "Mate, you don't know the half of it." In Peter Hook's tragicomedy of an autobiographical memoir "The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club", he describes one typical Saturday night in the home of Baggy and Acid House, The Roses and The Mondays. Substantially seasoned with cannabis, speed, ecstasy, cocaine and a staggeringly ferocious intake of alcohol, Hook pursues his seven-days-a-week programme of constantly "'avin' it LARGE" as if desperate not to miss an illicit pleasure which he might one day record in an almost-tell-all bestseller.
"Where were we? Right, lines. I bring out the charlie, chop them out and survey the madness; a sea of hands, flashing lights, all moving to the bang, bang, bang of the bass drum. God, it's good to be alive .... "
Candi Stanton's "You Got The Love" on the turntable. A literally world-famous club full to the gills. Any drink he wants from behind the bar, in any quantity. The lights, the soundsystem, the drugs, the mates, the scene, the gangster-bouncer as a bodyguard, and his own bucket in the kitchen to piss in since the club toilets were always full.
Though it was swallowing millions of Hook's royalties from his Joy Division and New Order albums, and though those were millions he could never get back, The Hacienda was his club.
There was a time when the Batman editorial office at DC had the sensational idea to break The Batman's back. And when this awful event finally occured, they had as the back-breaker the super-villian Bane, who was, in effect, a Mexican wrestler addicted to a super-steroid which pumped up his muscles so he could cripple super-heroes. In a marketplace where Superman's recent death had sent his titles' sales up and through the roof, there must have been a sense of "What terrible thing can we do to The Batman in order to raise sales too?". Given that death had so recently been taken off the board of the "cruelty to costumed crime-fighters" options, it must have seemed peversely reasonable to opt for breaking Batman's back instead.
Me, I thought it was a daft decision. Superman is superpowered. Death was no great obstacle for him; he'd inevitably develop super-ressurection breath or some-such power to lift the great heavy lid of his coffin from the inside. It was implicit in Superman's history that there was no fate so awful and final that he couldn't overcome. But the conceit of The Batman is that he's just an ordinary guy who's worked incredibly hard to become excellent at everything. Being ordinary, in an utterly abnormal sense of 'normal', is central to much of his appeal. Readers like to imagine that they could have been The Batman if only they'd applied themselves, if only they too had been lucky enough to have their parents gunned down by Joe Chill before them, that crucial motivational tool. Superman, we're told, is not a self-made man, and therefore less of a figure whom audiences can associate with. * He can survive just about anything. But The Batman, he's supposed to be like us. If you prick him, he certainly does bleed. And though he can achieve quite frankly impossible achievements, he must at least remain mortal. That's who he is. If you break his back, his back should stay broken. Or he's not The Batman, who we could all have become if only ...
How the Batman office struggled to move their hero and victim into the torture chamber for his maiming. I found it wonderfully amusing to watch as the plot of these stories piled on agony after agony after agony, as if the creators believed that The Batman couldn't possibly be defeated until he was utterly mentally and physically shattered. They believed so much in the myth of The Batman that they felt they had to destroy him first before they could so fundamentally wound him. As if The Batman himself refused to be so shattered until the Batman office all held him down and did the wretched business themselves, while he stared them in the eye with no fear and a great deal of contempt.
If The Batman was too good a fighter to suffer his back being broken by a clown of a wrestler, so I imagine the argument must have gone, then The Batman would have to be weakened and then utterly exhausted from a string of one-after-another-after-another super-villian attacks. If The Batman was inherently too bright to allow himself to be driven to exhaustion and towards his own extinction, for surely The Batman would grasp the concept of a rest-break, innocents had to be shovelled into peril in the plot. And in this way the plot closed around not just The Batman, but the very idea of The Batman itself.
* Me, if I can imagine pulling on the Bat-ears and the Bat-Boots, and training 22 hours a day for 16 years or so to earn the right to do so, then I can imagine time unravelling backwards and my soul being lifted out of my father's loins and transported by reverse-chrono Zeta-Beam to Krypton and the loins of Jor-El, ready to be born as Superman. The first scenario is in no way less ridiculous than the second.
My favourite version of the Duke Ellington/Bob Russell standard "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is Mose Allison's reading of it from 1958. It's an easy song to get over-enthusiastic with, which tends to leave the listener with the impression that not getting around much anymore is a source of some joy. But slow the tempo far too down and the melody sags; the lyric's knowing awareness of regret becomes a depressed self-indulgence, a plea for the listener to supplement the singer's own excess of self-pity with some pity of their own.
Mose's reading is a masterpiece in approximating, if deliberately not achieving, insouciance. He's thought about the lyric. He knows his voice is a light frothy confection, so pathos is best avoided, as is swinging hard, since that's what others have done before him. So he keeps the tempo high, making sure it never races away from him, and with nothing but his piano and voice to get between the singer and the song, he decides to leave the sub-text alone and tell the story straight. And since the song's narrator is obviously a grown-up, so is Mose's version of the tale; he's not crying through the days because his love-affair's over. (The lyric's most emotive phrase is "I just couldn't bear it without you", but since he didn't visit the club where sweet memories lurked, he's getting by.) It obviously doesn't cheer him up that he lost his lover, but he's got a strategy to carry him through, and the key is that it does carry him through. Anywhere they used to go, he avoids. He's really not making that big deal of things. Yes, it's not great, but it's better not to feel blue than to indulge in regret. In his hands and vocal chords, it's that rarest of love-songs, the song about the lover who isn't going to succumb to self-pity. It's a song about how to survive a broken heart, and how survival itself is often not as bad as might be feared.
"Darling I guess my mind is more at ease, but, nevertheless, why stir up memories?"
There's even a hint in Mose's cheerful tone that the song's narrator is quite pleased with himself, given that he's getting by. And since the whole performance has been played so artfully straight, since the lyric and the melody have been trusted, and the listener trusted too, we feel that the song's subject might actually deserve some empathy for his broken heart, even as we won't insult him with our sympathy. He's clearly better than that.
In Mark Kermode's memoir of his career as a film critic "It's Only A Movie", he explains the epipheny which struck him when he wasn't sacked from a radio programme helmed by Danny Baker after fiercely disagreeing with him:
"... there is nothing to be gained from moderating your opinions because you think it will please those around you. It won't. In a world where every lazy hack falls back on the old 'if you liked that, then you'll love this' cliche, the only thing a critic has to justify their essentially parasitic existence is the belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Sod cultural studies and all that non-judgemental aesthetc relativity clap-trap - the Leavisites were right! There really is such a thing as good and bad art."
When Bane finally held The Batman over his Mexican wrestler's head and smashed The Batman down over his Mexican wrestler's knee, the scene was designed and drawn to be as explicit, as unsubtle, as stomach-turningly literal, as it could possibly be. It was as if the Batman editiorial office didn't believe that the readers could empathise with a simple back-breaking - what's a mere common breaking of a back? - unless all ambiguity, taste and restraint had been artlessly removed from the depiction of Bruce Wayne's near-end. And so it was. You can see the picture above, so offensively unsubtle and so irredeemably profane, that all I could think was: "Oh, I bet that just stings."
Because, you see, I didn't, and couldn't, believe that it had happened. It was too impossible, too plain nasty, to believe, as if my mother had been shot and killed by a UFO before my eyes. As much as I love my Mother, and I surely do, the sheer impossibility of that happening would, in the unlikely event it did, reduce me to tears of laughter and disbelief. I might have accepted the fact that something remarkable and awful had happened to her if it had been reported to me, if a blurred phone photo caught something of the killing beam flailing through her, if a policeman had appeared at the door and said in shocked tones that "something had happened".
But it was so explicit and unnecessary that I knew it hadn't happened, because it was ugly and stupid. And The Batman's too bright and able to let it happen, anyway. And so away the comic went, not with angry throw, but with an apathetic toss. And I thought, at least Sherlock Holmes took Moriaty with him. He wasn't thrown into the Reichenbach Falls by a Mexican wrestler who watched him fall, glee and contempt showing through the holes in his Mexican Wrestler mask.
Ramona Fradon was never a fashionable artist. Her style was closer to the cartoony schools associated with romance comics or funny-animal books than to the so-called realistic style which began its rise to dominate the genre in the mid-to-late 1960s. In fact, Fradon never enjoyed drawing superheroes, which was a shame, for her career coincided with the market collapsing into a superhero comic ghetto. Within that ghetto, however, she was several times commissioned to work on properties more associated with the sensibilities of younger readers, such as her four year run on DC Comics "Super-Friends", which, though still all about those unappealling superheroes, were held to be more appropriate to her gentle, friendly designs and lines.
The "Super-Friends", based on the Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon, was almost universally seen by comic book fans, if not the average comic book reader, as childish and out-of-continuity. The more rabid fans of the 'realistic' school of superhero comics - as if a faux-realist approach to the adventures of flying men and women who punch each other can ever be considered entirely grown up - wanted something that seemed to take itself more seriously. (And for 'serious', read 'violent' and 'pretentious' and 'adolescent'.) But for my money it's a shame that some folks never read "Super-Friends". The scripts, especially when written by E. Nelson Bridwell, were far more continuity-conscious than the fanboy critics would ever have believed, and were - far more importantly - competently-plotted and respectful of the characters involved.
But most importantly, they missed what for my money is the most impressive, most convincing depiction of Bruce Wayne in the history of the alter ego's existence. It's on the splash page to "Super Friends" # 14, and it took me a while to notice it because it's so subtly done. In the splash, Ramona Fradon isn't showing off with her drawing, she's not calling attention to it, and she's not designing it to be so flashy that she can sell off the original art afterwards: she's modestly and competently establishing the locale, the dramatis personae, and the hidden secret identity of Wayne. All of these things she effortlessly, if not spectacularly, achieves. But then, the reader might look again and might notice the way in which Wayne is portrayed as well as the fact of his presence. He's shown dominating the small, well-healed group gathered at a dinner table at the "fabulous Carousel Restaurant in the Wayne Building". He's a big man, straight-backed, and that wonderful square jaw is fully on display, prominent but not ridiculous. But then, above that chin, is a smile, the confident smile of a man born to and comfortable with power. This is man absolutely at ease, as influential and charming as George Clooney would seem to be if playing a mighty socialite-industrialist, if he had a script worth the reciting. This Bruce Wayne, of all Bruce Waynes, would be irresistable to so many women, would command the respect of men, as well as being irresistable to quite a few of them too, would be excellent as a host, and inspiring as a boss, and, quite frankly, all things to most people. (Or at least that's how it would seem to anyone in his presence. We know there might be unexpected aspects to Mr Wayne that could compromise the impression of ease he gives if he was ever to truly get to know anyone outside his inner circle.)
This was not the Bruce Wayne so often seen in comics, and it still isn't. Particularly as the view has become more accepted that Bruce Wayne is a front for the Batman rather than vice-versa, Bruce Wayne has been associated in scripts with reluctant and intermittant forays into society, usually quickly terminated when danger calls or key information has been collected. And we tend to see these social encounters through the eyes of a Wayne who hates being there and wants to be away. All of which makes him seem rather manipulative, and dismissively cruel to the women who flirt with him, who usually seem to be shown as fools, and also rather weak. It's as if he is a wall-flower forced to lead the first waltz.
But here we see Bruce Wayne as the world sees him, and here is the evidence of how intoxicating his presence must be. This is my room, says the body language of this Bruce, and I will now put you at ease while we entertain each other. It's not ego that he radiates, but charm, and confidence. As indeed Bruce Wayne would have to, for if he's just a front for The Batman, at the very least he should be a damn good one.
Fradon's skill can be emphasised with a glance at the second panel of this story. There Bruce has been relegated to the back of the scene, though the table is still obviously his, but he's so relaxed in his power that he's leaning back against his chair. He's not coiled for action, he's not holding onto a drink, frowning, getting ready to leap backwards, or any of the other stances he's often shackled with. He's relaxing, and he's still impressive. That's something so many superhero artists can't do with their subjects, something that they haven't learnt to do and probably don't really want to do. (Even when showing superheros at rest, in costume or out, there's often a terrible posed quality about their repose, with all the verisimilitude of underwear models pretending to be laughing and relaxed while a stranger photographs them in their posing pouches.)
But Fradon can do this, because she's learnt to draw people, and her work serves nothing but the story, and she doesn't show off with her artwork, so her characters don't either; they have a reality of their own because of, and not despite, her cartoony style.
I've rarely seen a superhero fight where I winced with shock or bit my lip with sympathy when a character got hurt. Water-towers might be dropped on, say, Spider-Man, but the impact never seemed to raise much sympathy with me. Intellectually, I knew that Spider-Man was in pain, and that he'd have to raise his game to survive, but survive I was sure he would. Drop a mountain on Thor, or a planet on Superman, and I always knew the fisty-cuffs were purely plot engines, designed to move a story on or bring a story to a close. The Thing gets hit by The Hulk, which sets up the Hulk's escape and The Thing's sense of emascualtion. Fights were technical things. They didn't involve me, so they didn't make me jump, or wince, or wonder what could possibly happen next. There are of course many exceptions to this rule, but as rule, it holds.
In fact, I was never drawn to violence at all. To those who argued that all the fighting in comic books would brutalise their readers, I always wanted to show them what I did whenever fights broke out around me. I read more comic books than anybody I ever knew, so behaviourist logic would seem to condemn me to a life as a punch-loving empathy-diminished victim. But that's not what happened whenever violence broke out around me.
We can all recall how children so often adore the spectacle of the punch-up. Word would pass that so-and-so was going to clout some unfortunate somebody else, a somebody else who'd usually be a far less good fighter than the aggressor. That's what schoolground fights nearly always were: there was the one who could punch doing the punching, and the one that couldn't punch so good, or at all, doing the being-punched and suffering. The venue for the ambush would be set, the information passed, the crowd waiting to encircle the gladiator and his clawless prey. Then the spectator's circle would close to trap the victim, and the infliction of pain and humiliation would begin. (This only happened to me in a designated role as 'victim' twice. I was too big and too good at fighting to permit a walkover, so easier prey were usually settled on instead of me. And both times I was designated the victim and encircled I won, and pretty comfortably too. And hated every moment and never felt proud, though it always felt better than losing.) I would never stay to watch the champion pummel the not-challenger. I never did. I read more comic books than probably every one else in the school, but all they did was intensify my loathing for violence. Comic books showed what bullies the violent were, and under slogans such as the well-felt but somewhat naive "Make War No More", focused on heroes who would prefer not to fight, and who'd have to be pushed into a very tight corner before they balled their fists and came out slugging.
That trope of super-hero comics, that the costumed protagonist only lashes out when it's a gesture of last resort, when escape is impossible or when innocents are threatened, said to me that violence was a reluctantly-adopted means to my costumed role models, and never an end. (At least it was until Wolverine appeared, and where Wolverine was concerned, I was with Cyclops.) So, violence was never a casual pleasure to me, in classroom or comic book pages.
Indeed, the only form of violence I could ever enjoy, and which actively involved me to the degree that I would indeed wince, and groan, and look away and quickly back again, was the violence of cartoons, of Chuck Jones and his wonderful little epics. How strange that my anticipation and my empathy was engaged by the only fictional characters for whom violence has at worst short-term consequences and whose resemblence to human beings is limited in so many ways. That rather shattered the model that violence was thrilling and desensitising. I enjoyed the violence in Wily E. Coyote's endlessly futile pursuits of the Roadrunner because I knew the violence was a beat in the telling of a finely-tuned joke. Everything in Chuck Jones' cartoons was part of the joke. There was no waste, no showing off, no faux-realism, no lack of skill or competence or control on the part of his fellow animators. The characters were simple, but effective for the purposes of the gags they played their roles in. The jokes were apparently banal, but it took the skill of a master to choregraph them with such precision that they became something splendid.
And if The Roadrunner had ever broken Wily E. Coyote's back over his spindly knee, I would have felt it, really felt it. I would have flinched, and laughed, and I'd have wanted to know what came next, what new gag this was the gateway to.
"Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is undoubtedly a great popular song, and I make great claims for Mose Allison's cover of it, but there's not often an obvious example of a single definitive version of a great song, and there isn't one here. So, though Mose's one is the one for me if there's only one I'm going to get, I know there's a great deal more fine versions than just his. And if I saved the one take on my hard-drive, I'd miss, say, the sheer elegance of Ella Fitzgerald's various versions, and miss the way that she finds it impossible to hide her longing for the man she's lost. I'd miss laughing along with Bobby Darin's very determined attempt to out-Las Vegas Frank Sinatra. And I'd miss mouth-parping in disharmony with Sonny Criss's exuberant 1963 take, where his racing alto saxophone runs quickly escape any reference to the meaning of Russell's lyric. But then, the song was a mid-swing era instrumental years before the lyric was crafted onto it. And Criss just seems to be having such fun. I'd miss that sense of sheer what-the-hell-let's-try-it-this-way-too that he chased around the studio.
In truth, the more sturdy and traditional and able a song's construction, the more it's capable of being stretched this way and that without getting too bent out of shape. But The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" would be a challenge for anybody to outdo. Strip away the production and there's not much of a song there to reinterpret.*
So where there's a classic song on offer, you just need to bring some honest skill to the microphone and some respect for the fundamentals of its song-DNA. Just like Mose Allison did. That's all a classic needs.
* But then, why would anyone want to strip away the production, except for reasons of musical archeaology? It's a fantastic record, psychedelic in the truest and best sense of the word, and that's that.
Peter Hook may have owned The Hacienda, but he didn't control the space within its doors, or immediately before its doors. You would think that he could at least walk anywhere inside The Hacienda, for example, but as he describes:
"The alcoves are famous. Each contains a different gang, but we call this particular one Hell. This is gang-member territory. If you wander in without approval you get a slap and you're shoved back out if you're lucky. Even I won't go there without Cormac or Twinny ... Travis takes ages, comes back with a bloody nose, says they've fucked him right off. I'm angry now, so I storm off to the door to get hold of Paul or Damien, shouting "How long do we have to put up with this ...?"
At the public heart of The Hacienda in its later years was the loved-up wonderland of the dancefloor. But shift away from the spectacle and relative safety there, and, as the shadows darkened, Manchester's gang culture had staked out the club's territory as its own. There the apparently inclusive and democratic space promised by the casual ideologies of Acid House and Madchester gave way to far harsher realities of power. Gangsters established their own spaces with their own rules. Outside the club, the bouncers fought with dangers real and imagined, often acting as gangsters in their own lights, and yet the violence was never kept outside the club once the gangs understood what they could gain from moving in. The drugs that fuelled so much of the fun also fuelled the gangster's power, and ate away the happy space that was The Hacienda's original purpose.
"At first the gangsters were customers, joining in with the hugging and the general togetherness. But over a period time they sussed out how much they could earn if they took over."
What interests me the most about this is the picture of a social, chemical, and physical environment which involves and excites the punters there, while at the same time fuelling the very forces which will bring that environment to its knees. Out there on the dance floor, The Hacienda was the night of choice for the Madchester generation, or the generation that'd been told it was that. The whole culture of dance post-1987 celebrated an unlikely, and dangerously unstable, fusion of '60s drug-fuelled utopianism and the Scally-lad's culture, albeit a lad's culture temporarily chilled out by Ecstacy. But the drugs and the lads were powerful enough to detach Acid House from the mainstream of society without being strong enough to protect it from the sharks who lived out there beyond the mainstream. With an ever-developing power and an ever-increasing force, that happy-laddy world that the Hacienda created and fed off was eaten out from the inside by people who really were outsiders, who really were lads, who didn't play with drugs so much as make a serious business of them, and didn't affect the cause of social revolution so much as brutalise anyone who threatened their power.
Batman got better. The details were always vague to me, There was a Shondra Kinsolving with healing powers, whatever they might be, and it's true that millionaires can alway afford excellent medical care, so there must have been some world-famous surgeons involved, or something. And within a few years, The Batman, the Bruce Wayne Batman, was prowling the roof-tops again, though I no longer believed that was The Batman at all. He could have had the skin-stripped leg of the dead Robin inserted into his back to give him something solid to lean on there and I still couldn't have believed in the whole business less. I didn't believe that his back was broken. So how it could be healed again? I could no more accept than that I could swallow Sherlock Homes being given a ransom note, the letters of whose words were each cut out from different newspapers, leading him to declare to Watson that he didn't have the faintest where these fiddly little letters-things came from, so perhaps Watson could look it all up on Google?
I really think Mark Kermode's wrong about there being objectively good and bad art. Art is too obviously in the eye of the beholder. It's a debate too one-eyed to even engage in here. But I'm not sure that Kermode is really arguing that he can be right about a movie being terrible when somebody else adores it. I think what he's saying is that we must act as if we were right when we evaluate art, that we have an obligation to be passionate and opinionated and well-informed. It's not the same as being right, after all, to play the role of the critic who is convinced of the truth of their own opinion.
And Kermode says as much in many different places in his book. He discusses how he was wrong in his original poor opinion of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet", and how engaging with the opinions of other critics helped to sharpen his own thinking and even change his mind. He admits that this wasn't an easy business, changing his mind, but worse was to come for his ego;
"It's one thing to admit that all criticism is subjective, but quite another to accept that each individual subject is usually far too confused to understand their own personal responses, let alone anyone else's."
So, no, there's no good art or bad art, no right or wrong opinions, and reviewers run the risk of not even knowing their minds, let only correctly applying them to the work of others.
But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.
Imagine trying to nail down a definitive Batman. There's no definitive Batman. Could you ignore the first stories from the team led by Bob Kane, their revolver-wearing Batman, who sat on an gyrocopter next to a female vampire heading off into impossible danger? The happy cavalier of Dick Sprang's day, volting absurdly massive props of everyday objects? Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil's back to basics Batman, creating something new and threatening out of Kane's first run at the character? The Batman of Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rodgers, or Frank Miller? Chuck Dixon or Frank Robbins, Alan Grant or Alan Moore?
In Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?", all of these Batmans are "The Batman", one bleeds into the other and none of them are more fundamentally The Batman than any other. Instead, in finding some common ground between all the character's incarnations, Gaiman reduces our man to the simplest of qualities:
"I'm The Batman. I protect the city. I rescue people. I investigate crimes. I guard the innocent. I correct the guilty."
So, anyone wearing the Bat-Ears, as long he can tick the few boxes above, is The Batman. If Bane pulls the Bat-Ears over his wrestler's mask and decides to "protect the city", and so on, then he could be "The Batman" too. And he could be. I doubt I'd buy the action figure, but I doubt I'd be the target audience anyway. The Batman, this Batman, would continue without my support.
Batman's not my property. I don't even think he's real.
I have thought alot about Hook's Hacienda, with its happy dancers encircled by the gangsters in the shadows, since I read his book. I've always been fascinated by those moments when a city becomes "the city", the place where the music changes, and the culture shifts, and everyone wishes they were, or had been, there. Swinging London. The San Francisco Sound. Madchester. It always seems so much fun, to stand in the eye of the hurricane and see everything mutate around you.
But I didn't expect to find myself thinking about superhero comics when I was imagining what it'd be like to have been there in FAC 51. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise. I'm always thinking about superhero comics. But there was something there, in the clubland of Indie Overcoats and Acid flares, when I thought how attractive being among the ordinary clubbers on that dancefloor seemed. How colourful I imagined those dancers to be, and yet there were gangsters around them in the alcoves. It took a while, but eventually I realised I was channelling memories of Alan Moore and Don Simpson's "In Pictopia", first published almost 25 years ago, by chance the year The Hacienda's fortunes really started to change as it stumbled towards what the press would label Acid House.
"In Pictopia" is, in brief, a tale of how superheroes take over Pictopia, a town previously inhabited by a wide spectrum of cartoon characters, from the funny animals living in The Funnies Ghetto to the newspaper strip leads drinking in Captain Billy's. But things are changing swiftly in Pictopia. The super-heroes are taking over, muscle-bound, fractious, and cruel. The whole landscape is trasforming itself as the costumed brigade rises to power. Where there were realistic cops and cartoon ones, where there were musical cartoons and romance heroines, now there's just capes and lycra.
"This city's changing, and some thing's don't fit the continuity anymore."
The metaphor is an obvious one, but it's no less affecting despite that. Moore's firing up yet another warning that the super-heroes have taken over, and that anything that isn't superheroes is disappearing under the scorched earth policy affected by the mainstream publishers. It's not as if Moore hates super-heroes. The disillusioned narrator of "In Pictopia" expresses a fondness for his friend Flexible Flynn, a Plastic Man analogue, so it's not as if Moore despises all costumed heroes. But Moore saw more clearly than most that a business that's nothing but superheroes will inevitably be an uglier place than the cartoon diversity that came before. And it isn't long before Flexible Flynn is replaced by a brute of a muscle man, bearing the same name but carrying none of his kindness or charm.
And sometimes, where I imagine the Friday night punters on the dancefloor of the Hacienda, I see the colourful and innocent superheroes of the past. They look splendid as the dry ice billows around them and the lights strobe across them. They look even better because there aren't that many of them. But the more they dance, the more of them appear, and then the competition begins. The strongest, the most brutal, the most gaudy, all elbowing each other out of the way,
"all moving to the bang, bang, bang of the bass drum." And from the shadows of the alcoves, even uglier costumes are sculking in and out of the lights. The villains who've been updated so that they can compete with their now-hyper-powered opponents, the bystanders who've become more hostile, the supporting characters who are far more angst-written and irrational than before. The super-heroes who are more super and less heroic with every passing month.
It's not a precise parallel with The Hacienda, if course it isn't. But the emotional sense of it feels right to me. The apparent innocence of the Acid House dancers carried with it the laddism and appetite for illicit substances that were to bring it down. And superheroes were once an innocent breed, occasionally very popular, but just one part of a complex cartoon eco-system. And they were better that way. The Batman and Superman were all the more wonderful, all the more special and unique, when they stood beside so many alternative genres of cartoons. Now the dancefloor, and the alcoves too, often seem full of nothing except like superheroes. There's just so many of the damn things. And not only are there so many of them, there's so many different versions of each of them. And just as the gangsters killed The Hacienda, the super-heroes sometimes seem to me to have chocked the life out the mainstream.
It's hardly a new thought. But it's still a pertinent one. Just because the argument is long-standing, and just because it hasn't been resolved in favour of those who proposed it, doesn't mean it's wrong.
Sometimes I wish there was just one Batman, one Superman, one Spider-Man. Perhaps six or seven more. I wish the whole business was bankrupt, the publisher's buildings being pulled down, and the space cleared for something else. Lots of something elses. None of them in tights. Not one cape at all.
But the dancers keep on dancing, and some of them dance really well, arms in the air, eyes looking a little wild, chewing, and clutching onto their water bottles for all they're worth.
For all of the reasons given above, and for so many other reasons too, therefore, it must be obvious and beyond argument that the definitive The Batman, and the definitive The Batman adventure, is "The Batman: Mad Love", by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.