Sunday, 23 October 2022

 From Drought to Flooding Rain

     A few years ago, the south coast of NSW was in drought. For the past year plus it has been very wet. We have been through a wet summer followed by a wet autumn, winter and now spring. Melbourne in Victoria is presently somewhat worse off  than the south coast of NSW when it comes to flooding but the south coast of NSW isn't far behind. 

    In parks throughout the Wollongong area there has been the growth of various forms of fungus that thrives on damp conditions. 

In the summer of 2019, I was in New Zealand for a week and there the people were experiencing drought conditions. Nowadays New Zealanders too are wondering when the rain that was once so vital will ever stop. Some rain definitely welcome but there is a limit to what is needed and what is good for the country, any country.

     On the 24th of October, 2022, on the south coast of NSW, Australia, there is a Masked Plover that appears to be enjoying the downpour. Good luck to him I say! 

     The rain appears to be relentless. Will it continue in NSW to Christmas? There are forecasters who say that it will do so. Not all winged creatures are happy about the continued wet. Here is a magpie who would no doubt appreciate it if it would stop raining for a while. 



Tuesday, 4 October 2022

 The Batman - looking at a Comic Book Legend

                                                        by Rod Marsden

     It is highly doubtful anyone in the 1930s and 1940s could have predicted what a phenomenon The Batman was to become. Comic books in the 1930s were not taken seriously. The artists and writers were, for the most part, young men trying to make a living in an America that was hurting from the great depression. Added to this were the crime lords that got organized during the days of prohibition when people generally were indifferent to the Volstead Act that prohibited the sale of drinking alcohol. 

     Well before the first comic book, featuring The Batman, was put on sale, prohibition had ended but those criminals masterminds, knowing it would end, had channelled their ill gotten wealth, from illegal liquor sales, into narcotics, prostitution, and also into legitimate enterprises. It was in such an atmosphere that the Caped Crusader made his debut. Bob Kane and Bill Finger were his creators and they definitely knew how to plug into the angst of the 1930s and 1940s. The New York or Chicago of this period was the blueprint of Gotham just as the shinier and newer version of New York eventually became the blueprint of Superman's Metropolis. 

     There is a story going around that the original artist or writer had a red costume in mind for his creation but settled for an outfit that emphasized his connection with night, darkness and, well, bats. Also the size of the bat-like ears have changed over time as well as the size of the cape.

     In the first few issues in which The Batman appeared, there wasn't an origin story. This mystery came to an end when it was discovered that Bruce Wayne became the enemy of criminals and therefore The Batman because his parents were killed before his eyes by a thief with a gun. 

     There were two Batman serials. One in 1943 and the other in 1949. The cliff hanger endings were good but the costumes left much to be desired. Also the Batmobile in both was nothing special. 

     Over time the weapons used by The Batman changed considerably. In the beginning The Batman could and did use a gun. Then came the batter-rang - a type of boomerang. The bat-plane at one stage was fitted with a machine gun. The no kill but capture angle came later. Much of the early stories involving this costumed character dealt with rather ordinary criminals. Strangely enough, The Batman in his early years was not fond of wearing body armour and got shot at and on one occasion almost died at the hands of a criminal with a gun. 

     When Robin made his first appearance as The Batman's young side kick no one saw anything particularly wrong with that. The audience was young kids and so it was felt okay to put in a regular character kids could identify with. Not long after this, other companies followed suit. Captain America got Bucky. The Human Torch had Toro. It was Fredrick Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent that first brought up the notion of child endangerment. So who then was endangered? Answer: A comic book character. Decades later, Frank Miller when he took on The Batman sent up the notion.   

     By the mid-1950s the Comics Code Authority came in and so the violence in American comics was generally toned down. For comic book readers of the 1960s this weakened both The Batman, Robin and, by then, a whole set of colourful villains. The Joker and the Penguin were far more villainous when they were first introduced to readers.

      The live action Batman television series of  the 1960s was quirky with lavish sets and costumes. The Batmobile was a sight to behold for its time. It was decided that a woman should live in the same mansion with Dick Grayson (Robin) and Bruce Wayne (Barman) to scotch any notions that the dynamic duo were not fond of women. Batman, played by Adam West, could and did ooze sympathy for Cat-woman who to him was obviously led down the wrong path into crime. Viewers, however, saw the Cat-woman as someone who enjoyed crime but didn't like being caught though she did find Batman handsome. Robin, played by Burt Ward, was as gung-ho as he could be and this was part of the campiness of the show. 

     I believe the 1960s Batman television show failed with viewers in the end by running too long. Then there was the writers bringing in the machine gun and the bat-shield. It wouldn't take your average kid long to work out that, by the time Batman got his bat-shield out of his utility belt and assembled it, he'd already be gunned down unless he knew in advance it was an ambush with such a weapon in the hands of bad guys. Also, it seemed that Robin didn't have such a shield in his utility belt. He had to hide behind Batman's shield.

     Unfortunately, the villains near the end tended to be either mediocre or just too silly for viewers. You have the Joker challenging Batman to a surfing contest. There was Shame, a western style character, who was the opposite of the western movie hero Shane. I have my doubts many kids watching Batman in the 1960s got the joke. 

     Prior to this live action Batman show there had been very few costumed heroes on television. There was the masked Lone Ranger who fought crime in the old west with his Indian companion, Tonto. It was an exciting show that began as a radio play and eventually moved to television. There had also been at least one movie serial prior to television. The latest lone Ranger movie, however, is hard to watch because it is so awful. 

     In the 1960s,  on Australian television late at night, there was The Green Hornet with his gadgets and super charged car, the black beauty. The Green Hornet had been a movie serial hero before making it to television. He was more seriously played than Batman. There is an episode of Batman in which the Green Hornet helps out the Caped Crusader.

     It was in 1989 that the first live action Batman movie with sinister leanings emerged. Audiences, especially comic book fans, loved it and many more movies followed.  

     As time passed, the Comics Code Authority weaken and the stamp on comic book covers showing compliance to the code got smaller and smaller. What this meant was that Gotham, the home city of the Batman could once more be a dark and brooding place where what charm it once had had long ago faded. 

    Gotham was meant to be the opposite of Metropolis home of Superman. Whereas Metropolis was depicted as a city on the move and looking to the future, Gotham looked back upon a better past and a questionable future. Gotham, at its best in the comics, brooded. The television show Gotham, set principally before Bruce Wayne became the Batman, was such a city with costumed monsters in their early stages of development. The girl who would become Cat-woman was there along with a canny fellow who would become The Penguin we all know as a major Batman bad guy. 

     One of the writers who made much of the downsizing of the Comics Code Authority and also the backward looking Gotham was Frank Miller. His 1986 Dark Knight Returns was about an old man putting on the mask and cape once more to face, not only his own demons, but those existing in a city he has tried in the past to defend.  His 1987 Batman: Year One emphasized the gloominess of Gotham and the hope a Caped Crusader might bring to a city without hope. 

     Batman stories, at their best, don't offer up easy answers. Miller seems to believe we create, for good or evil, the kind of world we inhabit or, at least, contribute to the evil as well as the good. Superman is the shiny warrior, the boy scout with superhuman powers. Batman is a rich guy who has trained to fight crime and can buy the equipment to do so. 

     The question that arises in my mind is whether Bruce Wayne would not have done better by the people of Gotham by providing new jobs for people, cleaning up slums and, through his wealth, making life generally nicer and thus less crime infected. By putting on mask and cape, he may have done less than he would otherwise have done but revenge is a strong motive and we are brought back to how his parents died. To this day, The Batman remains a time honoured costumed hero of the DC universe and is likely to remain so for generations to come.          

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

                                      Short and Sweet Illawarra Week Two 

There are a number of fine plays being staged on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of September 2022 at the Phoenix Theatre in Coniston, NSW, Australia including Rest in Peace and The Tea Test. Some dramas some comedies. All well worth checking out.


The Rose is offered up as a mystery with a lively ghost.