The Independent, 14 April 2011

After the ongoing Broadway musical disaster which is Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, you may have been thinking that the world had no need of more superhero stage shows. Indeed, you might well have thought we didn’t actually need the first one. Comic books can turn into good films, but why would that mean they make for a great live show? It’s not like people who enjoy the solitary pleasure of reading a comic are often to be found queuing up to spend an evening in the world of musical theatre. I live with a man who reads comics, and he wants to go to see a musical roughly never. Well, maybe once, if William Shatner ever decided to appear in Chicago.

Even when the Spiderman musical was first announced, it was impossible to feel enthusiastic. Who could fail to be baffled at the prospect of matching the coming-of-age story of everyone’s favourite geeky teen-bitten-by-a-radioactive-spider with the music of Bono (who I suppose does look a bit like a fly in those specs)?

But it turns out that you just can’t keep a bad idea down, which explains why Batman Live, an arena-touring stage show centred on the man with the cape and the cave, had its launch in London this week. The organisers have promised that this show won’t be dogged with technical glitches and injured Spidermen. They aren’t trying to cram all their stunts into a theatre, for a start, and as they point out unarguably, ‘Batman can’t fly, so we don’t have to pretend he’s doing extraordinary things’. At the risk of having my lunch money taken by the bigger kids, I would just like to point out here that Spiderman can’t fly either. He has web-slingers. It’s not the same thing.

They are promising a Batmobile, however, designed by some bloke from Formula One. So if we’re lucky, it won’t look like one really big rollerskate, left over from Starlight Express. And there will be a properly scary Joker. Though Nick Grace, the show’s Executive Producer, said he wasn’t worried about children getting too frightened, and nor should he be. I saw plenty of 8-year-olds howling with fear at Heath Ledger’s Joker, having been taken to the cinema to see the age-inappropriate Dark Knight by their man-child fathers. Once you’ve had your childhood innocence demolished by seeing a grinning man murder someone by driving a pencil through his eye, you’re virtually bulletproof. Like Batman, actually, but with more crying and nightmares.

Besides, the most distressing thing about the Batman story isn’t the Joker. It’s the fact that as a child, Bruce Wayne sees his parents gunned down in the street by a mugger. This can be very frightening for a child who then fears that their parents too might be gunned down in the street. After which they’re faced with the responsibility of becoming a vengeful billionaire crime-fighter with full martial arts skills. In a world with rising youth unemployment, that sounds like a big ask to me.

The one redeeming feature of Batman Live is that it is not a musical. At no point will Selena Kyle sing I’m Going to Wash Batman Right Out of My Hair’, the Joker won’t launch into a final chorus of ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Bat’, and Bruce Wayne can’t revive the little-known Cole Porter number, ‘I’ve Gotham You Under My Skin.’ Thank you very much. I’m here all week.

A British teacher has won his unfair dismissal case in Australia, after he was fired for teaching his non-English speaking students the proper use of swearwords. He’d produced a worksheet containing the word ‘fuck’ in every sentence, and asking his students to identify whether it was a noun or a verb in each case. But since swearing wasn’t on the curriculum, he got the boot, even though his students were in their 20s or 30s, and so had probably come across profanity in one language or another by then.

If his college hadn’t been so prissy, they might have realised that one of the hardest things to learn in any language is how to swear with conviction, and in the right place in a sentence. Yet if you want to fit in, it’s something you really need to learn. Get it wrong and you run the risk of offending, or taking offence, where none is intended.

Besides, swearing is a great way of using language creatively and grammatically. When I was a Latin teacher, my kids all knew that the most important line in Alien Resurrection was, ‘I am not the man with whom to fuck’, because of the way it avoids ending a sentence with a preposition. The swearing stuck in their brains where other, more conventional teaching methods were instantly forgotten. I owe Joss Whedon so much.

Unilever and Procter & Gamble have been fined €315 million this week for fixing the price of washing powder in eight European countries. It would have been a larger fine, but they were given a ten percent discount for admitting their guilt. The European Commission had been tipped off by Hankel, a German company, that something dirty was going on in the usually spotless world of soap.

The EU Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, said, ‘By acknowledging their participation in the cartel, the companies enabled the Commission to swiftly conclude its investigation’. Patted backs all round, then, for an investigation which took a lightning-fast three years. So that’s three years to investigate two soap companies, who admitted they were running a price-fixing cartel, after being tipped off by another one.

That doesn’t sound all that speedy, now I’ve thought about it. It sounds more like a bunch of people sat around doing nothing for almost three years, idly checking the price of washing powder online every now and then, before making two phonecalls, tops. I think I might be in the wrong job.