• The exception that proves the rule

    Yesterday, I went on about how I think endings can be given too much power. I received some push back from people I respect, and so I felt compelled to acknowledge that endings do have importance.

    Longtime readers will know about my love of comic books. But one of the major failings of comic books is that they rarely end. I think it’s a testament to my former argument that even without endings, they remain powerful myths and stories. But without endings, they remain somehow less-than-complete.

    This is, of course, by design. If comics came to an end, then there would be no more money to be made. Like soap operas, they are designed to go on and on and on. Even characters who are killed don’t stay dead for long. Comics don’t end by design.

    Breaking this rule is part of what makes The Dark Knight Returns so powerful.

    Since I still consider it to be one of the finest comic books of all time, I don’t want to spoil too much of it. But suffice it to say that it starts something like 10 years after the last time Batman has been sighted. The world has gone to hell. Most of the superheroes have been forced to retire or leave the planet. Only Superman remains, and in a much diminished capacity. But Bruce Wayne just can’t let it go.

    The story provides an end to so much of the Batman mythos. There’s an end to the Batman-Joker dance, an end to the Wayne family’s relationship with Gotham, an end to Commissioner Gordon, and an end to the world’s finest team.

    It’s not just that it’s an end* that makes it great. The Dark Knight Returns addressed the fact that Bruce Wayne was a pretty messed up guy better than any other story I can think of. We’re talking about a guy that dresses up like a bat and beats the living crap out of people at night. This is not a guy you’d ever want to meet. It also used the media in ways that now seems somewhat prescient. But I think that what still makes it so highly regarded by many who love comics is that it was willing to show us the end.

    So let me amend yesterday’s argument. Endings can be important, but not so important that they lessen your appreciation of all that’s come before.

    *I like to pretend that The Dark Knight Strikes Again doesn’t exist. You should, too.

    AEC

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    • Regarding the importance of endings, Daniel Kahneman in his great Thinking Fast and Slow, describes research showing endings assume great importance in our memory (he distinguishes between the experiencing self and the remembering self and the remembering self has much more power).

      In one experiment, people preferred 20 minutes with their hands in ice water, but the last minute somewhat warmer, to 15 minutes with their hands in ice water.