Wednesday, January 3, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance and Urban Centers (Or, what we talk about when we talk about Batman)

One issue with comic cities, especially Batman and Gotham (which means by extension the PCs and New Salem) is that the circumstances that crafted the 1970's-90's comics era we're aiming for tonally don’t exist today. 

Frank Miller began made Daredevil a crime comic is not just because he loved crime comics, but because he once got held up 3 times in one week in 1970’s NYC. There was a massive crime wave that crested in 1993, and all the ‘urban justice’ books - from Spider Man fighting the flood of Saturday Night Specials or the Teen Titans intervening to stop runaways from being enslaved by criminal cartels, to Batman having a never-ending series of thugs to fight - derived from that. Vigilantes were needed - and we let them get away with violence – because the systems were failing. 

But that’s not true today: violent crime is down by 3/4ths and it is not going back up; the much fear crime wave of the 2020s is a temporary return to the level of the... 'oughts. The circumstances that caused the crime wave – dosing 4 generations of children with an airborne neurotoxin that reduced impulse control while government policies hollowed out the income and tax base of the urban centers – are not coming back. Current urban centers are too expensive for urban poor to be urban in, or too hollowed out to recover. Without lead poisoning the crime rate stays down. There are more murders per year on TV New York on any station then there in actual New York.

The problems inside the urban centers today are the infiltration of fascistic/oligarchic ideology into the institutions that were empowered in the 1990's to deal with the crime wave. It can be hard for people born in the 90's or later to comprehend how much urban people of color were backing the fielding of more police, harsher sentencing, and all the tools used by the ACAB of today. The ACAB itself comes from concentrated efforts in the 1990's and on for white nationalist movements to infiltrate and direct the culture of law enforcement. Urban police in the 1990's really were outnumbered, underfinanced and threatened; these days pizza delivery is more dangerous than law enforcement, and and that in turn is because the city is so much less dangerous, but the monster we created to deal with the other monsters we created prior has slipped from our control.  

So where does that leave us for the New Salem project?

  1. I want to keep New Salem in the timeless/overlapping time aesthetic of Batman: the Animated Series. Ideally i would make it completely retro, but I fear people are too used to the 2000's cell phone and internet culture. I won't be commenting on those things, leaving them unsaid. But it could be the late 80's/early 90's and the crime wave of that time fits. This will be represented in one of the two conspyramids I'll be making for this, with the criminal elements. This is what I'm working on now, as its full of Batman-esque villains with strong gimmicks etc. 
  2. But New Salem is also deeply corrupt, so there's a second pyramid of urban/civic corruption: the various aspects of the law enforcement system will be represented - various groups of corrupt cops of different flavors, bought and sold members of the legal and judiciary, etc. - which will link to the oligarchical families that use the city as a plaything.
  3. There may be a 3rd pyramid of some sort of Hydra/Viper etc. comic book paramilitary world domination group as well, infiltrated through the city. 
These pyramids will overlap at points, but each have their own flavor and each have to be dealt with differently. Plus they aren't completely aligned. I could build one giant conspyramid but isn't Night's Black Agents: there isn't a Dracula behind EVERYTHING. The characters can wipe out all the costumed criminals and drive the Syndicate underground, but that won't fix everything if the cops are still a corrupt military force....

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