Retroactive Continuity: Devilman Crybaby E9 “Go to Hell, You Mortals”

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One of my mother’s favorite jokes is about a trial where the prosecution presents five people who saw the defendant commit the crime. So the defense presents ten people who didn’t.

As I write this, it’s September 28, 2018, and the farcical confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States is on pause. He is probably a rapist, and he will almost definitely get the job. (Note from the future: he did.) Part of this farce was my mother’s joke, played out in real life: he was accused of attempted rape, so his supporters put out a letter signed by 65 women that he is a good person who totally would never do that kind of thing. People, in other words, who didn’t see it. So, I come at this episode with a certain bitterness, centered as it is around Miki’s decision to post a defense of Akira that amounts to “he’s always been nice to me, therefore he can’t have killed people as has been credibly claimed.”

Miki’s a Christian, of course. She believes in sin, in the toxic doctrine that good and evil are not adjectives, but substances. That evil acts stain a person, making them evil people; ultimately she believes in the toxic logic that leads to the conclusion that there are no crimes, only criminals. That it doesn’t matter what Kavanaugh does; he’s a “good person,” not a “criminal,” and therefore will be confirmed to the highest court in the land.

Of course, there’s a pretty big difference between a job interview and a murderous mob coming to your house. That part of the episode felt disturbingly real. The responses to Miki’s post are juxtaposed with Akira placing himself between a group of humans falsely accused of being demons and an angry mob about to stone them. When Akira begins crying for the victims, the mob starts laughing at him, taking pleasure in his pain; at the same time, commenters lash out at Miki for protecting Akira.

Akira is, as we’ve discussed, defined by his compassion. But to feel compassion is to share another’s suffering, to feel pain because they are hurting. The mob feel no compassion, and therefore do not hurt when Akira does; instead his pain is funny to them, and their decision to cause pain righteous. They can do this because Akira isn’t a person to them; he’s a demon. By publicly siding with him, Miki sees to be a person in their eyes, too; she’s a witch.

Demon, witch, criminal, sinner; they all mean the same thing: a person-shaped object made of evil. Not a person whose suffering matters; just pure evil. They, the good people of the stone-throwing mob, the Internet hate machine that doxes Miki, the neighbors who converge on her house to murder her and her friends, they’re not criminals, or demons, or witches; they’re good people and therefore what they do is good. Even when it’s murdering a houseful of people, then setting the house on fire to dance around the flames.

It’s the same logic, in the end. If good and evil are substances, then a good person is obviously innocent of any wrongdoing, no matter what they do, just as an evil person is guilty of any and all crimes, no matter what they do. There is infinite forgiveness for the good, and infinite punishment for the evil.

Disgusting.

Consider instead what Akira represents. Compassion that places itself between the victims and the attacker, no matter who they are. Violence to protect the victims of violence, rooted in compassion for those victims. Compassion is a form of suffering, and many other feelings can rise from suffering: fear, sadness, despair, rage, determination. Akira burns with all of these now.

We, if we are compassionate ourselves, can only hope the world burns with him.


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Transition: The Best Year of My Life (So Far)

One year ago today, I realized I was trans. I came out to my best friend later that same day, and to my family and a few other friends that week. I was out to all my friends within a month, and started HRT around the same time. Soon after that I came fully out online. I began the process of coming out at work shortly thereafter.

Today, I present as a woman 24/7, and have no intention of ever not doing so ever again. Frankly, I’d rather die.

The reason is simple: this was the best year of my life by a substantial margin. For the first time since college, I was actually happy; for the first time ever, I was not filled with self-loathing.

They say that you’ll end up regretting anything you write about being trans in your first year of transition. I’ve therefore mostly resisted the urge to write about it in any substantive way—but it’s not my first year anymore.

The Before Times

Some people have always known they were trans. Others know they were always trans. I belong to neither camp.

I’m pretty sure I did not become trans in the moment I realized I was. That just isn’t what that moment was: it was a revelation of something self-evidently already true, not a transformation (except that in the sense that revelation is always transformative).

But I do not know how long before that I was a woman. I can point to things I wrote in the years prior that sound particularly eggy, or I can delve into my childhood for memories that suggest something going on earlier. The thing is… well, there’s this game my girlfriend told me about, a sort of icebreaker exercise used to help people recognize they’re more creative than they think. You write a bunch of jobs down on slips of paper—fireman, for instance—and put them into a hat. Then everyone draws a job, and whatever they draw, they have to discuss a childhood memory that leads logically into “and that’s when I knew I would be a fireman when I grew up.” (Or whatever they drew.)

The point is, most people can do this with most jobs. Given a narrative, we’re very good at fitting whatever facts we have into that narrative. But on the other hand, that’s what truth IS—facts plus narrative. And identity is pretty much entirely the latter.

So the facts don’t really matter: if I want, I can definitely construct a narrative that I was always a woman, and the facts fit. It’s not the only narrative they fit; but it’s a truth, a nd that’s all we’re ever going to get.

And I do want. That’s key, the absolute most important thing: I want to be a woman. I wanted to be a woman, for a long time before I realized that was all I needed to be one. The narrative was there and the facts could fit it; it was always a truth. I needed only to claim it; to throw off the narratives of others and embrace my own. (See the first chapter of Animated Discussions for an example of what is very obviously an egg working her way toward the realization that she’s trans.)

But I spent decades in misery because I too readily accepted the narratives of others, and ignored what I wanted. I was ashamed of it, and so I never quite connected the dots. I felt like there was something monstrous inside me, something evil and wrong. I lived in terror of being truly seen, because someone might discover what was inside me; I recoiled in disgust from my own body and from my sexuality. I had dreams in which I was a woman. In times of stress I fantasized about being transformed into a woman; I thought it was a weird, gross fetish. I created accounts on web fora and Tumblr—not to catfish, per se, just so that, in those times of stress, I would have spaces to retreat to where I could be the woman I wanted to be.

And so I proceeded, miserable and self-loathing, for most of my life–until late on January 2, 2018.

The Revelation

I had been starting to question my gender and sexuality for a couple of years prior to that night. I toyed with the possibility that I was somewhere on the ace spectrum, or even that I might not be entirely cis. I hadn’t made the connection yet, but I had written and published Animated Discussions, with its so obviously eggy first chapter. On December 31, I wrote an essay that had been commissioned through my Patreon, about Insexts vol. 1. I wrote about the abjection of femininity, the body as a monstrous entity within which lurks something horrifying and beautiful. Iwas nearly there.

Fast forward a couple of days, to late on January 2, near midnight. I was feeling restless and unable to sleep, so I went on Twitter. And there, I saw a tweet from my friend Ana that would, ridiculously, sublimely, utterly transform my life.

Image of a tweet from Ana Mardoll. Tweet includes a drawing of a redheaded girl in a bikini, on a beach. She is looking with surprise and delight at a flying, iridescent seahorse with butterfly wings. Text of the tweet reads, "The queerest of animals: the Rainbow Butterfly Seahorse. Legend says that just LOOKING at the creature can make you trans."

The tweet that changed everything.

In the moment I looked at that tweet, I distinctly, clearly thought a single phrase: “I wish.”

And then I realized what I’d just thought. I realized what it could mean.

It was like the entire world realigned around me. It was like solving a mystery I hadn’t even realized I was there; all of a sudden details I had never paid attention to fell into a pattern. All of a sudden things made sense. I made sense.

There was an I to make sense of!

My brain fizzed, ideas seething and churning as a new narrative assembled itself, a lifetime of drifting facts suddenly finding a structure to attach themselves to. Truth was happening. It was exhilarating and terrifying.

Not knowing what else to do. I messaged Ana: “If my immediate kneejerk reaction to [that tweet] is “Man, I *wish*…” does that mean what I think it means?” And then I waited in terror, not sure which possible answer frightened me more.

“Oh bless, love,” xie wrote back after a few minutes in which I died of several dozen heart attacks. “Yeah… As a general rule, if you want to be trans, you are.”

That was the answer I’d expected. Was it the answer I wanted? We talked a little more before Ana went to sleep. There was no possibility of me doing the same, however. My brain was fizzing much too much. I’ve never had a religious revelation, or really any kind of religious or spiritual experience at all, but this was what I imagined that would feel like: a single moment of clarity that alters the entire rest of your life, whose full implications could take years to work through.

Religion, I have come to think, is actually a good metaphor for gender. Most people get assigned one at birth, after all, based largely on circumstance. They get raised with expectations about their behavior and nature rooted in that assignment, and over time internalize their own conception of what it really means, though that conception is derived from what they’re taught about it (both deliberately and by example). Most people remain more or less satisfied with whatever they were assigned at birth, though many tweak it to fit themselves better. But for some people it never quite fits. Some of those remain, miserable, in their religion assigned at birth, because they don’t see a way out or because they believe there has to be some way to make themselves fit it. Others find another that fits them better, and convert to it. Still others start their own, or reject having one entirely.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, of course. Some religions don’t allow conversion; most of those that do have requirements of varying stringency that must be met before you can join. To be trans, on the other hand, requires only the desire. If you want to be a trans woman, or trans man, or nonbinary, or what have you? You are, and the implications of that are yours to decide.

By morning of that sleepless night, I was certain. I wanted to be a trans woman. I was a trans woman.

Coming Out

I spent the next few days terrified that it was all a mistake. I had nightmares of being subjected to batteries of tests that “proved” I wasn’t trans, and doomed me to spend my life as a cis man. But slowly I came to accept that it was real and it wasn’t going away. The “monster” I’d been keeping inside me all my life, terrified that others might see it, was out. Her name was Jenny, and she was awesome.

I went to work, I came home, I told my best friend. She was supportive, sensible, pragmatic, everything I could have hoped for. She asked if I’d picked a name yet; I said I wasn’t sure but leaning toward either “Jennifer” or “Meghan.” Talking to her, I realized Jennifer was the right name.

Later that week, I made phone calls to family. I meant to go slow, but my sisters were tremendously supportive, and my parents had questions but were supportive, and my brother had questions but was supportive… there was no reason to slow down. So I kept going. I came out to friends, I came out online; a few weeks later I came out to my boss and discussed coming out at work. While all this was going on, I found a new doctor–who was way better than the old one, and shortly after replaced by one that was better still–and started HRT.

I had the Cinderella coming-out. Everything went right. One family member had serious issues with this–that I only heard about second-hand, and they’ve always been entirely wrong about everything as long as I’ve known them, so I don’t really care. Anyway, they’re the token conservative in the family, so I expected it from them. Importantly, I haven’t spoken to them since before I came out, so I’ve never had to deal with their transphobia, and never had to care.

Everyone else–every family member, every friend, every coworker, my therapists and every member of my therapy group–has been positive and supportive. Some have grown closer: a Facebook friend I’d met in person once, at a convention in 2011, volunteered to go with me on my first makeup shopping expedition. At lunch beforehand we realized she and I had more in common than either of us knew; by the end of the trip we realized there was a powerful draw between us. Within weeks, we had fallen in love.

I know that I am, as transitions go, astoundingly privileged. I live in one of the trans-friendlies cities in the country, with some of the strongest civil rights protections. I’m fat enough to hide my Adam’s apple, quite short, and have small hands and a high-pitched voice–it is less effort for me to pass than most. I have insurance that covers some transition costs; I have access to very good physical and mental health resources via the Whitman-Walker Clinic and the Washington School of Psychiatry; I have a decently paying, steady job and no significant debts. And, most of all, I have that supportive circle of family and friends.

I am the luckiest goddamn trans girl in the world.

And I’m happy. I’m finally, for the first time in life, somebody I want to be. I feel comfortable in my body, happy with the ways it’s changing. The HRT side effects have been minimal–my pre-existing stomach problems now flare up for a week or so every month instead of popping up randomly for a day or two every couple of weeks, and that’s about it–and the effects overwhelmingly positive. My self-loathing is mostly gone, and my body no longer feels like hundreds of pounds of baggage I have to carry around 24/7; it feels like me. Of course my life isn’t perfect–no one’s ever is–and the people at the top of the government very clearly want me dead, along with significant chunks of the population. People misgender me maliciously on occasion, but mostly I don’t interact with people I don’t know, so it doesn’t happen much.

The important thing is that my life is better now, on every front, in every way, than it was a year ago. Being a trans woman is the best thing that ever happened to me; I cannot imagine wanting to be anything else. That ridiculous rainbow butterfly seahorse worked. Just looking at it turned me trans–and I’m so glad it did.

Perfectly creepy (Love Is a Croc)

It’s July 11, 1998. The top song is “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy & Monica; Shania Twain, Next, Usher, and Madonna also chart. At the box office, Lethal Weapon 4 knocks Armageddon out of the top spot; further down in the top 10 we have Mulan, The X-Files, and The Truman Show, which confirms Batman Forever‘s discovery that Jim Carey actually can act if forced to stop being a rubberfaced fartsmith* for five minutes.

In the news, Japan launched a Mars probe on July 4, becoming the third nation to explore extralunar space. The probe is intended to reach Mars orbit in 1999; it will end up taking until 2003 and never actually achieve orbit. That’s about it news-wise.

Baby-Doll and Killer Croc’s introductions were two of our go-to examples of sympathetic villain episodes, so an episode that pairs them into a relationship makes some sense. At the same time, it’s an episode about the Bonnie-and-Clyde affair between a giant lizardman and a woman stuck in the body of a toddler, so “sense” is relative.

But why? What’s strange about that? Baby-Doll is a woman, that’s the whole point of the episode. For all that she is small and behaves intensely childishly most of the time, she is an adult woman with an adult woman’s needs–namely, respect, companionship, and love. The episode is written to make it nearly impossible not to squirm in discomfort at her affection toward Croc, but because she acts like a child, not because she looks like one. Her mind, her pain and her rage, they are as fully adult as his.

But he doesn’t see that. He treats her the same way everyone does, the same way everyone treats him: he sees only the difference of her body, its otherness, and he is repulsed. It is classic abjection; Baby-Doll and Croc differ from the bodies we are used to, and in so doing remind us that our bodies could be other than they are. In turn, we are reminded that we are bodies, that we could be other than we are, that we will never be anything but dreaming meat. Caught between our subjective awareness of ourselves as people and the objective fact that we are sacks of skin stuffed with flesh, blood, bone, and bile, we project that feeling of abjection onto the experience which caused it, the appearance of their “incorrect” bodies.

Or, at least, some part of us does. Not everyone reacts the same way, but everyone has internalized social norms; everyone has some idea of what a “correct” body is, and some degree of negative reaction to “incorrect” bodies. Ideally that would correlate to harm; the only incorrect body would be one which is suffering, and the negative reaction it engendered would be empathy.** But that is not the nature of our society, and therefore not what we learn; we learn to abjectify them as people, to deny their subjectivity and treat them not only as objects, but objects of disgust.

Even if we ourselves have bodies labeled as Other, we nonetheless learn to abjectify Othered bodies, often including our own. We’ve seen that with Baby-Doll before: the climax of her titular episode showed her reaching out to the normative adult (conventionally attractive, white) woman’s body she feels she was denied. She loses that fight because she abjectifies herself; in “Love Is a Croc,” she loses because Croc abjectifies her.

Croc is a terrible partner. He physically abuses Baby-Doll, cheats on her, and lies to her. Her attempt to murder him and all of Gotham City is melodramatically over the top, of course, because this is Batman, but the feelings underneath are genuine. She thought she could find love in someone who was othered the same way she was, and he betrayed her.

He isn’t the only one, and she isn’t the only one betrayed. People look at Mary-Louise Dahl and see Baby-Doll, the cute, funny eternal child. Yet no matter how much she acts like that, they refuse to give her what she needs, what everyone needs. They even use her behavior–the behavior she was taught that they expected!–as a reason to punish her and deny her. The same goes for Killer Croc; people look at him and see a monster. Yet when he acts like the creature they expect, they use that a reason to punish him and deny him what he needs.

This episode hurts.

It hurts to watch, to think about, to write about. It stabs at old, deep wounds–the feeling of being physically unlovable, wrong, broken, cursed. Of not being a real self, but a twisted object, cut off from everyone around me and therefore from myself. Suffering more the more I act as I’m expected to act, and yet not acting as I’m expected to act just marks me still more as an Other. No matter what identity I perform, I’m doing it wrong.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I came out to a staggering outpouring of acceptance and love from the people close to me! It feels ungrateful and whiny to complain about all the people standing just a bit further away with torches and pitchforks. But it’s hard not to be aware–indeed, hyper-aware–of their presence.

They’re dreaming meat, too. The difference is that their dreams, their meat, are billionaire playboys who fight crime in cosplay. Ours are freaks and monsters.

The episode opens with a bit of the past, a clip from Dahl’s old TV show in all its painful black-and-white 1950s white suburbinanity. That transitions almost instantly into a couple–notably with the same voices as Dahl’s TV parents–who encounter her working at a hotel, where the very drunk husband physically assaults her and demands she entertain him. He treats her just as the TV show treated her, as a curious object presented for amusement–because of course her body, safely contained in a proscribed role, ceases to be dangerous, but remains a violation of the norm, and benign violation is the essence of humor.

At the end of the episode Baby-Doll threatens the nightmare scenario that lurked beneath that same 1950s inanity, nuclear devastation. The episode is bracketed by a past of bland sameness and a future of bleak wasteland, because those are the same thing. Those are our options. To cling to our norms, to side with the torch-wielding mob, is to choose wasteland–or a future of freaks and monsters. And frankly, I’d side with them even if I had the choice to do otherwise. I always will.

But Batman–or, rather, the Batman we know, the Batman who is Bruce Wayne–is the dream of that mob. He will always side with them and against us. The only path to the good future, the dark and monstrous future, lies over his broken body.

*Thank you, The Onion, for that astoundingly accurate description.

**Negative in the sense of being unpleasant to experience, not in the sense of being wrong.

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Retroactive Continuity: Kill 6 Billion Demons

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Commissioned post for Aleph Null.

There are other worlds.

We know that in our bones. Our reality is not the only one; it cannot be. There are other modes of being, other modes of existing. We come close to touching them, sometimes–when we dream, when we meditate, when we alter our consciousnesses.

It’s not true, of course. Bones are not to be trusted. They’re too solid.

I’m so tired.

Kill Six Billion Demons is a webcomic by Abaddon. Kill 6 Billion Demons is a graphic novel collecting the first story arc of a comic by Tom Parkinson-Morgan.

Kill Six Billion Demons and Kill 6 Billion Demons are almost, but not quite, the same thing. The implication, therefore, is that Abaddon and Tom Parkinson-Morgan are almost, but not quite, the same person.

Fluids change shape to fit their containers.

The third eye is traditionally the hardest to open. It’s the one that sees into other worlds, but normally its gaze is turned strictly inwards. But that’s okay–there’s as many in there as there are outside.

Open it. See all of the many worlds. Be all of the yous in all of the worlds.

Allison’s key is shoved into her third eye. It is unlocked, and through it, the worlds are unlocked. There are wonders there, and horrors. Angels and devils and witches and lost boyfriends.

Mostly there are horrors.

You only have two eyes.

Reality (ha!) is an ocean. An infinite flux, the chaos primordial. All the worlds all at once. All the possibilities.

The Sea of Dirac they call it, and other things beside. It is much much much too big. It’ll never fit in our tiny heads. Slice it up! The gaze is a sword. To perceive the ocean is to carve it: me from not-me, then you from not-us. This from that. Time and space from here-now. Matter from void.

You cannot carve the ocean, and only a fool would try. The only alternative is to drown, but it’s okay.

You never existed to begin with.

Allison starts with a key to all the worlds in her eye. She ends with a sword to slice them away.

To gaze is to carve.

God is dead. Allison met him.

But he is really just a demiurge. Ialdabaoth and all the aeons gibber and dance at the heart of creation, the depths of the ocean. They understand nothing, see nothing. They do not gaze, do not carve.

They have drowned.

They are free.

There is no point. Only a blade and an ocean, a mind and an eye.

Angels have bodies of void in shells of ash. Devils inhabit flesh and wear masks. The witch has something in her third eye just like Allison, but red, not white.

The Red Queen goes faster and faster to stay in the same place. The White Queen believes six impossible things before breakfast. Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today. Carve as finely as you like, but you’ll never carve down to the here-now.

Alice takes the place of the White Queen’s daughter Lily. But the White Queen lives backwards in time, and the child is the father of the man.

Alice-son.

(You can’t carve the ocean. All of it is the here-now.)

Kill Six Billion Demons and Kill 6 Billion Demons have the same art, the same dialogue. But they tell different stories. Only the latter has the sword manual.

(Yes, yes, to gaze is to carve.)

Words. Pictures. Data on a screen, or perhaps printed out to a page, but data nonetheless.

A datum is a single point, the tiniest unit of facticity, one dot on a graph. Data is the plural of datum. Sand is sand, but it is also many grains. We can say the grains are covering the beach, or we can say the sand is covering the beach. Grains are plural, but sand is singular, because sand is a fluid. Like water, it cannot be carved. The water is rising.

To be fluid is to be singular and plural at once. Not many, but much.

We used to say “data are,” because the graph has many points. (Statisticians still do.) The greatest spiritual discovery of the digital age is that data flows. Data is a fluid.

Fluids change shape to fit their containers.

Once upon a time, there was time. But that was then, and this isn’t now.

I don’t know why I’m bothering. You’re not even here.

A pearl in her forehead and a sword in her hand, she fights for love.

She fights for him.

She fights for herself.

(Who?)

Before I was born, I saw a seahorse. I tasted the ocean.

Seawater is poison, and so, I died.

The six billion demons are, obviously, us. We broke the worlds. We carved the ocean. We cleaved God in two, and two again, and then into hundreds and thousands and billions.

Into us.

We are the demiurge, who sees without understanding, who shapes a world and thinks it adequate. Who splits day from night and self from sea. We are monsters, with our keys and our swords, our divisions and our gateways. Simply to be is to tear the world asunder, but to not be is to kill the worlds within.

How many times and how many ways can I say the same thing?

None. [rimshot.wav]

What is real?

Whatever you can touch.

But  you can’t touch anything. The repulsive force between the electrons in  your hand and the electrons in the thing approaches infinity as the  distance between them approaches zero.

That’s what touching IS, stupid!

Who are you talking to?

And they were enlightened.

…Why did you just say that?

Everything is as it is supposed to be.

That sentence was in the passive voice. Actively, it is: Everything is as we suppose it to be.

That is what “good” means, and “real.”

It is never ever ever ever true.

You already have a key. You already have a sword. You already have six billion demons to slay.

There is nothing I can give you, not even a quest(ion).

Dance like no one’s watching. Scream for help like no one’s listening.

Spoilers: no one is. God is dead and the demiurge is lost.

No one’s listening, not even you.

Seven crowns on seven heads on one dread hill. How trite.

Hollowing them out to use as apartment buildings is new, though.

A sleeting curtain of inspiration. A susurrus of ideas. A door without a key.

There are clawmarks in the wood, and my fingernails are worn to the bone.

In the name of the moon and the revolution of the world, grant me the power to punish you!

This is nonsense.

This is profundity.

This is pretentious crap.

This is old hat.

This is contained in your mind now.

This is fluid.

I’ve got six billion of these. I could do this all day!

Don’t listen to your bones. They don’t have anything to say.


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Vlog Review: Star vs Evil S2E17-18

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It’s just to scare the bad guys, really (Torch Song)

It’s June 13, 1998. The top song is “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy & Monica; Next, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey also chart. Top at the box office is The Truman Show, a story about a man trapped in a perception of reality he was taught from birth; Can’t Hardly Wait and The Horse Whisperer are also in the top ten.

In the news since last episode, on June 7 James Byrd, Jr was beaten to death by a trio of white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, and the Guinea-Bissau Civil War started; yesterday, France won the World Cup.

“Torch Song” represents an interesting evolution in the DC Animated Universe’s depiction of stalkers. Including this episode, we have had at least three supervillains’ origin stories begin by depicting them as stalkers: the Mad Hatter in “Mad as a Hatter,” Edward Lytener/Luminus in  “Target,” and now Firefly. Laid out this way, there is a distinct progression in the episodes’ choice of focus.

“Mad as a Hatter” centers Tetch’s descent into villainy in a sort of parody of “sympathetic villain” episodes. Tetch is entitled, aggressive, and hateful, but the structure of the episode means that his self-deception that he is a “nice guy” who has been mistreated is centered in the same way that Mr. Freeze’s much more justifiable claims. By contrast, “Target” centers the recurring threat against Lois, making it clear that Lytener’s rationalizations are just that. On the other hand, Lois is placed in peril and rescued by Superman throughout the series, so “Target” comes across as just a sequence of such moments in a life full of them, not a particularly traumatic episode for Lois.

Not so “Torch Song.” Cassidy is a one-off character who never appears again, so the choice to center her is an unusual one–typically The New Batman Adventures will center a recurring character or villain, but victims-of-the-week almost never get that treatment. The episode thus signposts clearly that it is Cassidy’s experience that is the focus of the story, and Cassidy’s experience is a fascinating one.

An up-and-coming rock star, Cassidy is the picture of performative femininity. She dresses in a way that is as attention-grabbing as Leslie Willis in Livewire, but in the opposite direction: where Leslie wore deliberately shabby clothing–baggy pants and ratty shirts–to emphasize her rejection of social norms around feminine dress and behavior, Cassidy spends most of the episode in a backless black minidress, heels, and long black gloves, essentially eveningwear, but showing a lot of skin for eveningwear. She is presenting herself as formal yet sexual, a “good girl” who can function in polite company but nonetheless is very clearly a physical, sensual presence. She is the essence of the Good Girl Art aesthetic of Bruce Timm just as much as Supergirl is.

Her body language in the scene where she tries to hire Batman as a protector is similar. She is coy, flirtatious, deliberately making herself appear small as she approaches him. This is a woman who has spent her life fitting herself into the spaces she can find, performing whatever she needs to be in order to survive. If all anyone wants of her is her body (and her music as shown in the episode really is not very good), then she will offer up her body how and when it is wanted. She will perform the role she is given–on stage and off.

But the performance is never enough. It is not possible to be everything for everyone, and yet that is what is demanded of her. On stage she must be the innocent-yet-sexually-available ingenue and the powerful performer who holds the audience enthralled; in her everyday life she must deal with the demands of the men around her, from her pyrotechnician/ex-boyfriend turned arsonist/stalker to her manager to, yes, even Batman. And while her performativity clearly works well in her career, fitting herself into the spaces left by others gives her very little leverage to actually get what she wants: her manager doesn’t listen to her, Batman refuses her offer to hire him, and Firefly plans to destroy the city and disappear with her, regardless of whether she wants to be with him.

The result, inevitably, is trauma. Helpless and alone, she is trapped in fire while Batman–who, remember, refused her offer to hire him as a protector!–fights Firefly. Neither seems particularly interested in her impending death until the very end of the fight. She is, in other words, placed in terror for her life with no support of any kind, and afterwards returns immediately to her existence of pure performance, with no one to whom she can express her honest feelings about the experience.

This is a perfect recipe for trauma, and at episode’s end we see that she is indeed traumatized: her terror at the flambe at the next table and the reflection of the flames in her eyes imply that her mind has been plunged back into the fire she very nearly didn’t survive. The episode ends before we see her outward reaction, if any; we do not know if she tries once again to continue the performance, to bury it and shrug it off, or reaches out for support, nor do we know if she receives that support.

We can’t know, because trauma is the heart of Batman; to depict its healing is to call into question his very reason for being. If this one-off character can find support and healing, why can’t he, the main character around whom the narrative bends itself?

These are not questions the show is prepared to answer–and yet it is already setting itself up for its own replacement, which might be able to. Batman is unable to face Firefly on his own, in his normal gear, so he wears armor that is at once reminiscent of the Batman Beyondbatsuit and of the “mecha” batsuit depicted in that series as Wayne’s final, failed attempt to remain Batman despite advancing age. The world is evolving, and the spaces in which he exists and performs his role are squeezing gradually shut.

Bruce Wayne, age eleven, might have to actually grow up.


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