Could Batman take Edward? Fantasy males and mistaken ideals.

by - August 24th, 2010

I have taken a few potshots at Twilight recently and have a confession to make. I may be firmly off Team Edward but I have felt -and still feel – the allure of a fictional man. Mr Rochester of Jane Eyre, Wesley from the Princess Bride and even Raistlin from Dragonlance have all warmed my heart briefly and oh-so-embarrassingly, but there’s only one fictional character who can be my One Twue Wuv.

I admit it, it’s Batman. Something about that cape and cowl and tortured soul just makes me want to pull on my underwear over my tights and go fight crime with him. I liked him in the movies, I like him in the comics, and I think that he’s still adorable at 50 and with spinal augmentation (thanks to imaginative artworks of Alex Ross in graphic novels such as Kingdom Come).  Would I like to ride with Batman? Oh, yes please.

And I am not alone in this. At the Warner Bros. Movie World parade in the Gold Coast, the kids may have been laughing with the Looney Tunes but most of the older women were busy admiring Batman’s rubberised pecs. Wealthy, self-assured and utterly screwed-up, Batman owes his appeal to his brooding good looks, big brain and occasional bad manners.

Sound familiar? It’s a common theme. When it comes to writing a fictional fantasy man, Stephenie Meyers is following in the well-worn footsteps of writers such as Byron, Austen and Brontë and giving us a hero that is difficult to like or keep up with but all too easy to fancy. Twilight’s heroes certainly aren’t the first characters to angst their way into their reader’s fantasies. If, like me, you have sighed over the infamous Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, you’ll have some sympathy for girls with a taste for anti-heroes and Byronic heroes.

And while it might seem that Twilight came out of the blue, it may have been the right book in the right place. Twilight successfully taps into the voracious market of romance and that of young adult books, and taking a swipe out of the supernatural market while it’s at it. There is a tendency to ignore romance fiction but it’s a booming market and its audience is 90% women. In the USA in 2008 it sold the largest share of the market, with 75 million Americans reading at least one romance novel that year.

Twilight is a dark romance story at its heart, with a brooding male hero (in fact, quite a few brooding male heroes). And as a teenage reader, when you are surrounded everyday in school by fifty hyperactive boys with breaking voices, clumsy feet and a tendency to tease, the appeal of a silent type like Edward Cullen is pretty obvious. Less likely to pull your hair, at least when he is being taciturn and grumpy he’s not being noisy about it.

Adding the supernatural twist is just the icing on the cake. Vampires tick off all the boxes as a classic take on the perfect man – a handsome Prince, come to whisk you away from all this. Tall, dark, handsome, – and usually cultured, powerful and wealthy. Lets face it, it’s all the benefits of a young man’s body with the budget of a sugar daddy and the style of a Hugo Boss model. Oh, and they have super-strength and can fly. I mean, really, what’s not to love?

Other than the fact that he keeps trying to eat you? And, you know, he’s not Batman.

While I have my own reasons for disliking Twilight and believing that Edward and Bella’s unequal relationship is a terrible example for very young girls to be reading (no, breaking into your room at night, choosing your friends and dismantling your car is not romantic, call the cops if it happens) I can’t plead innocence on understanding the appeal of literary bad boys.

All I can ask for also understanding myself that these characters are fantasy, and I would probably want to punch them in five minutes if we really started going out. And, for girls just starting out on understanding relationships, that their parents take the care to explain that, really, having a controlling boyfriend in his hundreds who alienates you from all your friends would not be as much fun as Bella seems to think it is. That declarations of eternal love is not all it takes to have a decent relationships and that sometimes – in fact a lot of the times – romance books get it really, really wrong.

Well, that and a bat signal.

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