Cop, Bad Cop: The Thematic Par Essay, Research Paper
Cop, Bad Cop: The Thematic Paradigm in American Comics Good
Pow! Zap! Bang! When a reader sees words like these, it can mean only one thing. Comic books have been a part of American culture for decades. Many a child will spend his entire allowance on the colorful magazine; not every adult is immune to the books’ charms. Almost everyone has an inexplicable attraction to the heroes of the comics, and no heroes are more popular than Superman and Batman.
The popularity of Superman or Batman is easy to understand, if one reads The Thematic Paradigm, by Robert B. Ray. Ray defines exactly the characteristics Americans look for in their heroes. Briefly, the American hero has a dual nature. He is strong but compassionate, brilliant but absent-minded. Ultimately, there are two kinds of these dual-natured heroes. The “good cop” and the “bad cop.” Ray calls the good cop the “official hero.” The official hero is the one who operates within the law. He is the one who follows the letter of the law as far as it can take him, and then helps to form new laws for the future. The bad cop is called the “outlaw hero.” The outlaw hero is the vigilante, the man who has taken justice into his own hands; justice is far more important to the vigilante than the law is.
The two greatest comic book heroes of all time are easily placed into their roles as official hero and outlaw hero. Superman, the official hero, was raised from birth to defend those weaker than himself, and to uphold the American laws. “Truth, justice and the American Way.” Batman, on the other hand, saw his parents gunned down when he was a small boy. He became a crime-fighter to avenge his parents’ death. Superman is the official hero, Batman is the outlaw hero.
The official hero has several characteristics to identify him easily. The first category explored by Ray is that of age. A typical official hero is mature, levelheaded, and logical. He does not do things for purely emotional reasons. Superman has most of these characteristics. When he must decide between saving his love interest, Lois Lane, or saving the Earth from one of his archenemies, Superman saves the Earth first, then worries about Lois.
On the other hand, the outlaw hero is more emotional, often immature, and occasionally impetuous. The current portrayal of Batman is of a wise, rational mature decision-maker. To see the emotional thinker, one has to examine his reasons for a life of fighting crime.
One fall night, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne took their son Bruce for a nighttime stroll through a park. A man appeared out of the night, demanding their money. The man threatened them with a gun. Mr. Wayne tried to protect his family, but the gunman shot and killed him. Mrs. Wayne threw herself in front of Bruce, urging him to run. As Bruce barely escaped, he heard his mother die. That night, Bruce swore to avenge his parents’ death by becoming a crime-fighter.
Bruce Wayne grew up to become Batman, “The Caped Crusader.” While he lost some of his impetuosity as he aged, Batman still retains the spirit of the impulsive boy. Batman also took on a partner of a similar background. Dick Grayson, also known as Robin, The Boy Wonder, lost his parents to violence at an early age. Bruce Wayne took him in, and taught him how to be a vigilante superhero.
The second characteristic of a hero, that Ray explores, is the hero’s view on society and women. The outlaw hero usually seeks male companionship over permanent female companionship. He does not want to legitimize himself by marrying or participating in a traditional relationship. Batman is know to be the most eligible bachelor in Gotham City, but his closest allies are his butler Alfred, and his ward, Robin.
The official hero, however, actively seeks societal approval. He sees dating or marriage as a necessary part of life, and will often seek out females that can fit his desired role. Superman falls easily into this role. If one looks at the upbringing of Superman, one sees the pattern of his life emerging.
When Superman was just a baby, his home planet, Krypton, exploded. He was placed in a rocket by his mother and father, and jettisoned into space. His rocket crashed on Earth, specifically Kansas, where Mr. and Mrs. Kent found him. They adopted him for their own, naming him Clark. As he grew up he discovered that he had powers that other boys did not. Thanks to his small town, traditional upbringing, he fell easily into the role of the protector of the weak.
As part of his traditional role, Superman craves acceptance by society. Specifically, he craves acceptance by Lois Lane, his beautiful coworker. Until recently, Lois did not even know that Superman, and her coreporter, Clark Kent were the same man. Kent felt that using Lois’ feelings for Superman to sway her feelings about him was unfair.
The third aspect of the hero explored by Ray is the hero’s reaction to Politics and the law. The official hero is a staunch supporter of the law. He is very popular with people in every position, especially law enforcement or other official positions. The official hero is the champion of a country, both the government of the country and the people of the country. Superman, for example, stands for “Truth, justice, and the American way.” He is frequently cheered by crowds, congratulated by police officers, and when he was thought to be dead, mourned by millions.
On the other hand, Batman is known as the “Dark Knight.” Batman is not concerned with public acclaim. He fights crime. He does not kiss babies, shake hands, or do anything to bolster his public image. His approach is very single minded. Batman finds the criminal and thrashes them.
The Thematic Paradigm is primarily concerned with the portrayal of the American hero in film. However, the principle can be applied to any aspect of life, be it literature, history or even everyday life. As Ray points out, many of our own historical heroes fall into the two categories he defines. Superman and Batman are no different. These almost mythical characters occupy a definite place in the hearts and minds of the American people.
Sonia Maasik, Jack Solomon. Signs of Life in the USA. Copyright 2000 by Bedford/ St. Martins