Monday, May 26, 2014

[Best of Batman] Shaman by Dennis O'Neil

This is the second Batman story I encountered that has supernatural elements (the first one being Grant Morrison's Gothic, which I thoroughly enjoyed). I couldn't say the same thing for this one, however. There were parts in it that got my attention and made me contemplate more about the layers of what drives Bruce Wayne to embrace his advocacy as the Dark Knight, but if we examine the plot objectively, this story isn't as satisfying or as emotionally resonant as Dennis O'Neil's other story Birth of the Demon which I reviewed before.

The story is set during the early years of Bruce Wayne's caped-crusading, beginning with a scene where he was climbing an Alaskan mountain with a bounty hunter as they chase down a killer. A short struggle ensued which left Wayne wounded and bleeding out in the snow. He was rescued by Inuits (I assume, though they were constantly referred to as 'natives' or 'Indians' throughout the next pages). A shaman proceeds to heal him by the use of an ornate bat-mask as he relays an old legend about how a mouse was turned into a bat. This story seems to hold magical properties and anyone who listens to it is instantly cured. I remember being intrigued with the myth itself, especially its effect on Bruce Wayne himself later on whenever he puts on his costume and mask. Even from that start I know there is a correlation to this paranormal plot device and how that would juxtapose with Wayne's choice to become who he is in order to fight crime.

The entire plot is something serviceable. Criminals are after all a superstitious folk and they started to fear an evil shaman who is supposed to represent a vulture god called Chubula, and who utilizes human sacrifices (and other blatantly obvious tricks) to keep the gullible herd of thugs serving its demands. Batman investigates the string of murders committed for this false god. I have no problem with paranormal elements being inserted into a Batman story. It worked well with Gothic, but the difference between that and Shaman is that it never took itself too seriously. There are cheesy passages in this comic book that I have to admit made me roll my eyes every once in a while.

The only reason I kept reading ahead was because I was interested on how the myth with magical healing powers mentioned earlier applies to Wayne's psychological process when he made a decision to choose the bat as his symbol. I saw some interesting parallels between that which was sadly not enough to make the overall plot engrossing.

So after a while the plot became white noise in the background of my pursuit to uncover the connection between the myth and Batman himself. I wasn't entirely disappointed with the pay-off for that. I thought it was a simple yet elegant way of putting things in perspective when it comes to the masks or costumes (personas) that we put on in order to make the most of our circumstances, especially if these things are also able to mask pain that we refuse to come to terms with. Once we fully emerge ourselves into the pretense, it becomes something genuine and indestructible; which is exactly how the mask of Batman functions for Bruce Wayne.

It's difficult for me not to bring up O'Neil's Birth of the Demon in that extent, since this was the conclusion of that other story, repeated using different strokes and notes but the message does not change, not really. Batman has to embrace the mask completely and accept that he has become more than an ordinary man behind it.

Shaman is a good Batman story despite its glaring flaws in structure and execution. It still manages to be charming in some ways, but I'd rather you read Birth of the Demon instead.


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