Nobody Dies: The Eternal Return of LEGO Batman

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batman and robin 80.jpgI’ve written before that I was put off superhero comics by all the dying and resurrected X-Men—the eternal return and the attempts to escape it. You might have noticed that DC and Marvel’s superhero titles have become a bloodbath. Sure, it started it with big crossovers and the death of Superman. Captain America’s death at least seemed story-driven. But Blue Beetle, The Question, Martian Manhunter and maybe Bruce Wayne? In the midst of all the slaughter, it’s a good thing we have a hero who never dies, LEGO Batman.

I’ve been playing LEGO Batman: The Videogame (Traveller’s Tales, 2008)* with my friend Alex for about a month. We play games cooperatively and Lego Batman has plenty of silliness best enjoyed with someone else. Besides Batman, players can try Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl, who not only never dies, but never can be paralyzed by a bullet to her spine. Plus, there are a crazy number of famous and not so famous bat-villains to play. Let me just say that Lego Batman: The Videogame and The Secret Six have softened my heart
towards Bane.

If you’ve read the skinny then you know that the game is in the style of Batman: The Animated Series
(including the theme music) and doesn’t follow the movies. (What kind of kids’ game would
The Dark Knight
be anyway?) It consists
of three crimes in progress played through first as Batman and Robin, then as the villainous masterminds. In free play, players can go through any of the 36 levels with any characters or
any vehicles they’ve unlocked. But there are so many mini-games, small goals and worthwhile unlockables that replaying the same area isn’t tedious. Repetition can be fun.

batman and robin 250.jpg

The game has puzzle, platforming and fighting elements. Lego Batman includes some special moves that players can control—the Joker’s joy buzzer, Bane’s back-breaker, Poison Ivy’s deadly kiss and Killer Croc’s suplex.

In Lego Star Wars 2, with the blasters making bdew bdew noises and no permanent death, I didn’t feel as guilty as I have when I shot Alex’s
character or scraped his fender in other games. I did feel bad when
I accidentally hit him with a shovel in Lego Indiana Jones.
That dull clang is brutal. While I’m pretty good at fighting in a
game, I’m a weak jumper. Luckily, no matter how many times
characters jumped to their doom in Lego Batman, they respawn. With the fear of death no longer confounding me, I find enjoy other things about the gamer rather than mere survival—the puff of dust when Scarecrow flops to the floor, Man-Bat at rest hanging upside down from a tightrope, walking the Joker slow at the disco.

 

A while ago I wrote that for me “comics are a mythic media using shared characters and stories” and I enjoy “the possibility of seeing different versions of the same character or even the same story.” I like the possibilities within a set of very disciplined constraints and I like the space and time to explore them. Lego Batman offers all
these things as Batman respawns after his “death” over and over in the game. Turns out the eternal return is liberating. Who knew?

I know a lot of people are annoyed by comic book characters returning after they’ve been killed. I agree that all the resurrections lessen the impact of any one superhero’s death, but then a lot of the deaths seem to be a pointless continuity fixes and maybe, secretly, a nostalgic attempt to recreate some earlier superhero death that utterly devastated readers. And right now as characters die across genres and media, I kind of blame Joss Whedon not because he engages in death as retcon or nostalgia, but because he wrote some effective, shocking and moving deaths that seem to have influenced nearly every writer. At the same time, I’ve gotten to where I can predict which Whedonn character will die and, instead of experiencing it viscerally, I end up looking at the death structurally. It’s almost rote. I suspect that, as a writer, Whedon worries that he’ll be soft on his favorite
characters—so he kills them. Whedon doesn’t believe death is redemptive, so any characters who die have their shit worked out. He wants evil to have consequences, but sometimes death is not a shocking consequence. For example, I think Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog would be more effective if the lady love got her leg broken. It’s
proportional and it is a rotten consequence. But dying? She becomes a symbol, a mirror image to Kyle Raynor’s girlfriend in the refrigerator.

Lately, death just seems too easy. It becomes a handy way of re-organizing continuity and is therefore cheaper to me than the inevitable resurrection when another editor or writer who was a fan of Martian Manhunter or Bruce
Wayne returns them to continuity. Want a death to mean something? Stop killing so many characters. Till then, I’m happy with Lego Batman—and Lego Bruce Wayne—and their eternal return.

*The caps lock will be standing down for the rest of the article.

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Lego Bruce Wayne’s private jet might not be all that useful, but Lego Bruce Wayne can throw down with his briefcase.  Or at least Carol Borden thinks so.
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4 Comments

  1. Ah the eternal return…
    Do you think Lego Batman forgets his other lives each time like Elric, or does he remember all his previous incarnations like Erekosë?

  2. Grant Morrison recently had the Joker believe that Batman forgot all his previous incarnations while the Joker remembered all his and felt the pain of transformation.
    But my sense of Lego Batman is much more “material.” He falls to pieces, disappears and then respawns as the same Lego Batman in the same configuration made of the same material re-enacting the same story. I generally assume he is the same person, but I don’t know and I don’t know if he remembers.
    Is he me? Is he not me and I’m pushing him around? Can I be trusted to say? I guess I’d have to be certain of my relationship to him as the player.

  3. I know that feeling myself. There have been comics deaths where I just wanted to throw the book in question into the fireplace.
    I didn’t have the same reaction as you to J’Onn J’Onzz’s removal, oddly enough. Nor to Ted Kord’s or Vic Sage’s. And strangely, it should have been Vic’s death that set me off in the worst way possible.
    Long story, that, which I should save for blogs elsewhere.

  4. hey dwight– thanks for writing.
    vic’s (the question) death did upset me, though not the way it was supposed to, i think. by the time j’onn j’onzz (martian manhunter) was “removed” (nice take, btw), i was sort of surprised that i couldn’t take it seriously at all. i mean, he’s going to be back because there are writers and artists who like him.
    i also mention j’onn j’onzz’s death because it hearkens back to the cheesiest tradition of fictional deaths–showing how scary a villain is. might as well have some puppy-stomping as well.
    then again, if every supervillain stomped puppies, that would lose its effectiveness. so there would be more puppies stomped, more graphic puppy-stomping and sudden surprise single panel stompings to try to get the original feeling back.

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