July 6th, 2010
In Batman 700 Morrison threw out a particularly juicy idea, that the bat-foes of 50s and 60s were pop-criminals. Morrison being Morrison he didn’t explain the concept any further so here’s a few of my thoughts
- What is popcrime? Clownish capers, catty conundrums, fowl felonies. Catwoman stealing the giant emerald eyes of Bast, the Penguin besieging the city with hundreds of robot umbrellas, those are examples of pop-crime.
- Popcrime is inherently ostentatious and showy, the grander the better. It’s made for alliterative headlines, and for minimum casualties. It’s popular, fun, sensational and most importantly carnivalesque in the original sense of the term: dates in the Christian calendar when social norms were turned on their heads and nonsense reigned
- Amy recently suggested to me that successful superheroes, and one assumes the supervillains, lug around permanent autonomous zones. Follow the link if you haven’t heard the term before, but the idea, very simply, is that certain spaces largely operate outside the control structures of the wider culture and generate their own form and function from within. I’m not hugely into Hakim Bey, the chap who came up with the idea, but I think that it could be a fruitful way to approach the concept of the superhero, and I’m particularly interested in the parallels between the supervillain as popcriminal and the supervillain as PAZ. Bobsy tells me that Bey was heavily into the idea of spaces and communities so perhaps the straightforward situationism is more what I’m after here, but either way we’re on the same track. The Joker is always on, and even those whose costumes aren’t acid etched into their skin are very rarely halfway committed when they take on their superidentity. Back in the popcrime days Batman might have occasionally caught a glimpse of Edward Nigma, but 99% of the time the fella was all Riddler and the world had to make room.
- I’m thinking that the popcrime Catwoman is more like a contemporary artist than a crook. She isn’t motivated by money or by greed in a straightforward sense, nor is she hugely invested in vengeance or a lust for violence, although these things could well have their place within the popcriminal schema. It’s the raw outsiderness, the absurdity, the virtuosity and the immensity of pop-crime that’s the attraction. Turning the city into a crazy feline themed amusement park, featuring live action battles with Batman and Robin is what pop-crime is about – it’s the thing itself.
- Popcriminals don’t have to be mad. Going back to the Catwoman example, she doesn’t purr all the time because she’s insane, and she’s not obsessed by cats in the clinical sense, and she doesn’t try to claw out Batman’s eyes because she hallucinates paws where palms should be. The pop-crime Catwoman is all about becoming, an attempt to inhabit a role, to get lost in it, a psychologically necessary part of the pop-crime edifice. Committing cat-themed crimes wouldn’t be half as enjoyable or half as successful if she didn’t given herself utterly to the experience.
- Popcriminals make me think of mods and punks and late 80s ravers. Youth movements are all about adopting larger than life identities. Pop-criminals just do it bigger and better. It’s super-fashion.
- I miss popcrime. Let’s face it, while there’s some reasonably sophisticated superhero comics around these days, the actual criminal activities of supervillains are seldom very interesting. I’m bored of seeing blokes dressed up like cobras being reduced to purely physical threats, only ever good for a fight scene or two or the odd heinous crime. I can get fights and heinous crimes any old place – can’t say the same for popcrime. Can’t get popcrime for love nor money.
Popcrime: discuss, my lovelies.