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This week, high culture meets high concept as a poet tackles a comic-book icon…
Most of the recent movies based on DC Comics are no fun at all. This is by design. Over at Marvel, they’ve grown out of their aspirational high-mindedness of Bryan Singer’s glum X-Men movies and into the confident popcorn swagger of Iron Man,Captain America, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy — but DC remains desperate to be taken seriously. Filmmakers and fans alike seek to cement the cultural legitimacy of superheroes by stressing Big Themes — the cost of heroism, the ethics of vigilante justice, the psychological implications of a dual identity — over Big Thrills.
But the poker-faced approach has been wildly successful for the Batman film series, the capstone of which, The Dark Knight Rises, is currently on wide release and raking in All The Moneys. A lot of ink has been spilled over Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of the Caped Crusader — some of it by Yours Truly — assigning it all manner of metaphorical intent. Most of those allegorical readings are nonsense, of course; the notion that the film’s villain Bane is some sort of swipe at Mitt Romney, for instance, is so deranged as to be inadvertently hilarious. But there’s no denying that while the summer’s other tentpole superhero movie, Marvel’s The Avengers, only wanted to be Big, Nolan actually wanted TDKR to be Important.
Be careful what you wish for; The Dark Knight Rises is, without a doubt, the summer’s most talked-about movie, but it is surely for no reason that Nolan ever could have wanted. But the Batman (or the idea of the Batman) had attained the benchmark of true cultural significance before he ever fell into Christopher Nolan’s well-manicured hands — even if it is an old-style benchmark, one that has fallen out of fashion. As evidenced by Chad Parmenter’s odd and about two-thirds wonderful little chapbook Bat & Man (Finishing Line Press), Bruce Wayne and his nightcrawling alter ego have been deemed worthy to be celebrated in verse — in sonnets, no less, that most rigorous and rarefied of forms.
By this point, the Batman is simultaneously more and less than a cultural construct. On the one hand he is simply a brand, a multimedia franchise, a logo to emblazon on bedsheets and backpacks and cans of pasta. And Parmenter gently tweaks that perception in his opening poem, the standalone ”Holy Sonnet for His New Movie,” where he describes the Batman as ”…glittering / beyond these sponsors.” But while acknowledging the character’s status as a commercial icon, Parmenter emphasizes the primal mythic status of the Batman in his closing lines, presenting his appeal in spiritual terms:
…. Batfans, think how long
we tried to pray away the preshow night,
how low our spirits flew while he was gone.
Now fill your mouths with Batman candy. Bite
your tongue and swallow that amen. It’s dawn
onscreen — here comes your christ in vinyl tights.
In a cheeky way, those twinned images — of religious longing and the craving for sweets — point up a truth about the inborn human hunger for story, and the way that pop culture can feed it.
Read the rest of this article at Kirkus Reviews!