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Commentaries on this Media!

Plurimediality and the Serial Figure

by Ethan Tussey

by Ruth Mayer & Shane Denson for IN MEDIA RES

The serial figure, as we call it, is not merely a character in a series; rather, it exists as a series – across a variety of media, shaped by a dynamic interplay between repetition and variation. Serial figures such as Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, or Tarzan proliferate in literary works, films, comics, television series, and video games, and (in stark contrast to the characters of ongoing, monomedial series) they constitute discontinuous, plurimedial serialities without regard for diegetic consistency. Serial figures are 'flat' in most of their instantiations, and they show a remarkable self-reflexive awareness of the material parameters of their own serial restagings – and the media-technical changes informing these restagings. A great number of serial figures are Janus-faced beings who oscillate between secret and public identities, or between the human and the animal or technical, and this narrative duplicity maps nicely onto the duality of inward and outward-looking perspectives towards diegetic contents and medial forms. Movement between media implies constant revision, a lack of true origins (or an overabundance of the same), so that productions in a new medium constantly circle around origin stories, rewriting them and thereby positioning the new medium as the figure's native turf. It is fitting, then, that Tim Burton's Batman (1989) stages the central battle between the title figure and his nemesis Joker as a battle over media and (serial) memory. In this clip, Joker hijacks broadcast TV to issue his challenge, which Bruce Wayne reviews at his elaborate multimedia console (combining televisual reception with production, surveillance, recording, and computing capabilities), before turning to a newspaper clipping recording the past. The very circumstances of this 'face-off' thus belie Joker's claim that this is "just [between] the two of us." The ensuing flashback gives us the figures' 'backstories,' but it does not disrupt the highly mediated format of the encounter, relating the past events in markedly cinematic terms and in a highly artificial noirish style from an impossible vantage point (certainly not the child's perspective). "I have taken off my makeup – let's see if you can take off yours," quips Joker near the beginning. This is the one thing, however, that serial figures cannot do. In the end, Wayne dons his Batman suit to go to battle. Framed by a multitude of media, the scene gestures towards the fragmented, plurimedial existence of every serial figure.

Batman and Plurimediality

the clip features Bruce Wayne, from the 1989 film, remembering his parents' murder

from Batman (1989)
Creator: Tim Burton
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Posted by Ethan Tussey