Anarchy in Gotham City

                Back in the tender years of my high school existence, I was big into anarchism. It’s not hard to see why — as anarchism seems like the perfect philosophy for a high school student.  For starters, there’s that ever important sense of danger and rule-breaking. It’s almost inherent in the name: anarchism — anarchy! It even sounds dangerous and that makes it cool. Plus there’s the dangerous reputation it has — bomb-throwing, President McKinley-shooting, rioting, that sort of thing. It’s candy to a high school mind. But when I started researching anarchy, I learned that it’s more than just a word and violence. I didn’t read Kropotkin or Bakunin, as that seemed a little too dry for my tastes. Instead, I focused on the more historical, personal side of anarchism. I read Emma Goldman’s autobiography, fiction about Zapata  and the story of Nestor Makhno, leader of the Ukrainian Black Anarchist movement during the Russian Revolution (and the image of Makhno and his buddies sporting sunglasses and pistols struck me as extremely cool).

                I learned that anarchism is more than just the chaos, manic laughter and wanton destruction. It’s not the libertarian/tea party/Ayn Rand/kooky ‘let’s remove regulations and government and let free enterprise rule everything either.’ Instead, anarchism is everyone working together for the common good, with no money, no religion, and no borders. I guess it would be like the Federation in Star Trek, if you want a sci-fi example? That’s not to say that there isn’t violence in anarchy, but it’s not just hurling dynamite around and twiddling moustaches. Emma Goldman’s comrade, Alexander Berkman, bungling his assassination of ruthless robber baron Henry Clay Frick seems a better image. And when you think about all the people capitalism has killed — like Frick getting Pinkerton goons to kill striking miners — it’s pretty clear which philosophy has more blood on its hands.

                Anyway, I say all this so you know how much it pisses me off when people assume anarchism is just ‘blowing stuff up’ and insanity or when a worker’s revolution is assumed to be a bad thing. Whenever that happens, it — and pardon the pun — really lights my fuse. For instance, The Dark Knight Rises, with its villainous peasant uprising just being step two on a villain’s master plan and the police getting upset when armed revolutionaries told them they couldn’t march around, sincerely pissed me off. The V For Vendetta movie did the same thing, by taking a story rooted in 1980s British anarchism and turning it from something with a blatant political message to a generic action movie. All of that brings me to the third episode of the new Batman TV show, Beware the Batman, which features the debut of an sort of obscure Batman rogue named Anarky.

                Anarky — as you can guess from the name — is an anarchist. Or at least, he started out that way. According to an extremely detailed Wikipedia article,  Anarky is a child prodigy in a costume based on V from V for Vendettacreated by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle in 1989. He later became a follower of something called Neo-Tech, which is based on Objectivism and the power of the free market (ewww.) I’ve only read one issue featuring Anarky, where he visits evil space tyrant Darksied to discuss philosophy and I remember it being pretty good.  Beware the Batman, looking for underused Batman villains, snapped him up, gave him a snazzy new white costume and had him battle Batman in episode three, entitled ‘Tests.’

                I watched it, curious as to what they did. I was expecting to get sincerely pissed off — and I was not. It’s not because Anarky is a nuanced portrayal of an anarchist revolutionary. In fact, he’s exactly the opposite. In the episode, he gives fancy weapons to two street artists/criminals and turns them loose on Gotham and then challenges Batman while threatening innocent Gotham citizens with time bombs. He croons about how he just wants chaos and loves the idea of innocents being caught in the crossfire. So why wasn’t I super upset? Well, I realized that this is a children’s show and the likelihood of Anarky actually exploring anarchism was, sadly, pretty low. Also, he reminded me of another DC character who I seriously love.

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                 This is Mr. Nobody, created by Grant Morrison in the pages of Doom Patrol. He’s the leader of the Brotherhood of Dada and is devoted to spreading surreal chaos and generally being weird. Mr. Nobody and his bizarre friends in the Brotherhood of Dada aren’t necessarily evil. Instead, they’re merry pranksters devoted to removing reason from the world. Their antics sometimes endanger innocents, like when they trap Paris inside a painting, but they also reveal the hypocrisy and idiocy inherent in civilization — such as the excellent arc where Mr. Nobody runs for president.

                Anarky strikes me as a less playful Mr. Nobody. Instead of fighting for a coherent political philosophy, he just wants to fight Batman — seemingly just for kicks. That even goes down to his all-white get-up, which clashes with Batman’s all-black uniform in a neat ‘spy vs. spy’ sort of way. His voice actor, Wallace Langham, adds to that feel by making Anarky seem very gleeful in his villainy. He’s just really happy to be battling Batman. Of course, that does make him like a less intense Joker as much as more intense Mr. Nobody. I suppose there’s room for that, but I am hoping that further episodes will give him a more unique feel. And if they don’t want to have a class war on the Cartoon Network, it seems that madcap villainy is the way to go for this guy. I’m also curious about him being a little kid, as he is in the comics. Since he is a devoted terrorist in the show instead of a politically astute anti-villain, that would seem to be a dark turn. Either way, I’m definitely intrigued.

                So, would the high school-age Panusher be upset? Indeed he would. But the current, world-weary Panusher? Well, part of him is upset — but part of him is also understanding. Part of him recognizes that Beware the Batman is probably a poor source for a truthful look at anarchism and that Anarky — whacky as he may be — probably isn’t the best mouthpiece. Besides, there will always be Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, V for Vendetta and plenty of others. Anarky may be popular or unpopular, but I can take some solace in the fact that Anarchy will always live on.

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