I’m wrapping up this series with a slightly more personal look at things, because that’s how I am. I think I’d disappoint everyone, myself included, if I didn’t. It’s not going to be too long, I swear. I’ll also fold in the key character to whom I’ve not given enough attention, Alfred.
It’s just going to be why I love the character of Batman so darn much.
Batman is better than just about any comics character; old-school Wolverine is an exception, but not the kinder, softer Wolverine. The one who took a sword through the neck and still kicked the s*** out of Silver Samurai.
Batman Is More Real
Batman is better than any of the other because he’s the most believable.
I know, the tale of a millionaire/billionaire who uses his fortune to turn himself into a one–man army in order to clean up corruption and crime is a bit far–fetched. It’s more than a little impractical, too. But there’s more emotional truth to this character than others.
The “outsider” take on Superman is a modern invention; if anything, I think they’ve cribbed it from Batman to give Superman a little more cred in the modern day. We’re all skeptical of our heroes and prefer them with big glaring flaws now, as opposed to tried-and-true symbols of perfection.
So anyway, Batman has always rung true with me. I could understand why he was the way he was. He didn’t luck into super powers (Spider-Man) and he didn’t even have the advantage of those sort of powers to begin with. He was motivated by pain, and then by the higher calling to lift that pain from others. Batman was a character who actually grew into his role of protector. He’s not on a nihilistic revenge kick anymore (Punisher), he’s actually acting to prevent others from going through what he endured.
A Little Help from His Friends
He’s also what I’d call a “realistic loner.”
By that I mean, he likes to think he’s alone in this world in no small way. He is the lone actor in his drama. But he’s got a hell of a supporting cast, headed by Alfred.
Alfred’s not an authority figure like a parent. He’s the stalwart model of a sympathetic friend. The one who stands by your side even when you’re a complete dick, because he understands why you’re being that way and knows that you’re a good person inside. He nudges and suggests, never imposing his perspective on Batman but letting him take advantage of his wisdom when he asks.
Through the years in the comics, Batman has eventually gathered a small network of support, from Barbara Gordon to Lucius Fox, Dick Grayson to Jason Todd. While I’m not a particular fan of Robin as a character, he does underline the need of Bruce Wayne to try to find a family of sorts, though he’s too dysfunctional to maintain a real one. Alfred is a foster father, Robin an adopted son. So this lone wolf character shows the precise importance of friends and family to surviving the burdens of life.
The Difference Between Law and Justice
Gotham City over time has come to represent what happens to society when people, not laws, are the arbiters of justice.
Gotham is a warning tale based on a very real situation that so many cities have found themselves in when laws are flouted by those with enough political clout to get around them. Sure, everyone picks on New York City through time, but Washington, D.C. is a great example, too. Not for the jackals in the federal government alone, but the local political machines are a lot like Chicago (though much less competent, and on a smaller scale). I mean, really. Marion Barry’s still on the City Council for goodness’ sake.
Batman is the one who refuses to bow to pressure or conventional wisdom and just accept things as they are. There are laws and there are rules, and someone has to enforce them fairly or everything goes to s***.
And of course he has to break the law to maintain it, raising the whole question to another level.
The Dark Knight Returns naturally defined Batman for an entire generation. Without it, 1989’s Batman would have been lighter than it was. I truly believe that. Frank Miller showed the audience what it had been craving for a long time; a Batman that could have existed (with a little suspension of disbelief) in our world. A Batman that was not just motivated by what happened to his parents, but at the fact that when he retired, Gotham didn’t just revert to its filthier truth, it got worse.
The Dark Knight was released during an era of deep, dark crime in places like New York. Times Square wasn’t the bustling Broadway showcase for Disney that it is now. If you look at a lot of the movies of the 1980s, the vision of the near future is very dystopian, rooted in the belief that the cities were going to get so bad that we’d be lucky to survive. (Personal favorite: Escape from New York.)
And so Batman was reborn as the avatar of justice again; But this time he wasn’t motivated by personal tragedy alone. This time he was a man unable to withstand the disgusting truth of what humans can do to each other for the sake of thrills and money. But in this world, he wasn’t hailed as a hero but regarded an outlaw.
His natural enemy became Superman. And not to spoil anything, but Batman had issues with him.
If you haven’t read it, I’d have to say that Miller’s tome was undoubtedly formative on the world outlook of at least one young boy who learned to regard some things just a bit differently after reading it. Some of it stuck with him. Some of it should stick with all of us.
One More Thing
And finally, the crux of it all, is that Batman is plain old smart and determined. Other superheroes can get out of a jam because they can move super fast or whatever. And so the writers have to come up with even more extraordinary ways to get them into trouble.
Batman deals with problems like someone threatening to poison the reservoir (this was the Joker’s standard introduction to the storyline for many years). No Kryptonite, no super cousins, no power armor like Iron Man or invincibility like Wolverine.
Just a man with wits, will and the means to leverage them.
What’s not to love?