Editorial: Understanding Batman

Understanding Batman

A Hero Corner Commentary by David 2

If I have to choose between the two dominant superhero franchises, DC and Marvel, I have to choose DC.  DC was here first and they created some of the most iconic characters.

And if I have to choose between Superman or Batman, I’ll choose Superman any day.  Both are also iconic characters, but Superman has always been about hope.  Batman, on the other hand, has been about something entirely different.

I’ll get to Superman in another article, but I think it’s more important to focus on Batman right now because Batman is a character that gets misinterpreted way too often.

People seem to get the impression that Batman is somehow a “superhero” because he is the only one without superpowers.  And then they’re quick to say that his brain is a “superpower” because he can supposedly out-think and out-strategize anyone.  The Internet myth says that Batman can beat anyone, including Chuck Norris, Darth Vader, Satan, and even God.  In fact, some Bat-fans will fanatically believe that Batman could punch-out God Almighty if he was given the opportunity.

No, he can’t do that.  And not just because he just doesn’t have the “opportunity”.

This misunderstanding of who and what Batman is has led to DC pulling out the infamous “Batman versus Superman” thread over and over and over again, especially after Frank Miller first showed it in his “Dark Knight Returns” miniseries.  Yes, Superman can kill Batman if he was so inclined, and do so at a speed that would prevent Batman from doing anything to counter it.  But he doesn’t do that because of who Superman is, not because Batman is somehow better.

Batman has evolved as a character over the decades, and his personality has evolved as well.  The Comics Code Authority castrated Batman as a dark vigilante and had him in brighter colors working more as a strategist and tactician instead of a dark and brooding crime fighter.  The 1960’s “Batman” TV series showed Adam West as a campy blue-and-grey “legally deputized” crimefighter.  Miller returned Batman to his darker overtones, and subsequent artists and writers have tried to follow his lead of turning Batman into a brooding secretive defender of the night.  Tim Burton masterfully showed it in the movies “Batman” and “Batman Returns” with Michael Keaton as Batman.  Christopher Nolan perfected it in the “Dark Knight” trilogy with Christian Bale as Batman.  And, to his credit, Zach Snyder continued the trend starting in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” with Ben Affleck as the current film incarnation of Batman.

But none of this proves that Batman is somehow “better” or some undefeatable champion who can out-think and out-match every force in the universe, including God Almighty.

So who and what is Batman?

Batman is Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne is an eternally traumatized crime victim looking for power and control so he won’t ever have to feel victimized again.

That is it in a nutshell.

In the animated motion picture “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker”, it was Mark Hamill’s Joker that exposed the truth about Batman when he finds out that Batman is Bruce Wayne.

“It’s true, Batsy! I know everything. And kinda like the kid who peeks at his Christmas presents, I must admit, it’s sadly anti-climactic. Behind all the sturm and bat-o-rangs, you’re just a little boy in a playsuit, crying for mommy and daddy! It’d be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.”  (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0233298/quotes)

This is why Batman does what he does.  He is a traumatized crime victim.  He watched as his parents were murdered right in front of him, and because of that, he is on an obsessive-compulsive fixation to find the means so that he will never, never, ever, feel helpless like that ever again.

Batman doesn’t “hate” Superman.  Xenophobic bigotry has been a very disturbing trend in the DC multimedia multiverse, and one that is wrongly placed on people like Batman.  Batman does not “hate” Superman because Superman is an alien.  He hates not being able to control someone like Superman.  He comes up with contingency plans on top of contingency plans because he cannot allow anyone to get the better of him.  He “works” with the Justice League because it’s the only way he can keep an eye on all of them and find out how he can wield power and control over them.  Because that is the only way a traumatized crime victim can function with others.  He sees everyone as a potential threat.

Obviously Bruce Wayne uses women as a “cover” so people won’t think he’s Batman.  But people have also tried to pair Batman up with so many different women, including Wonder Woman and Catwoman, and they’ve all failed.  Because Batman can’t really love anyone.  His traumatic mind cannot allow anyone to be on equal footing as him, because then he would not have power or control over them.  You have to overcome that trauma to be in a healthy emotional relationship with anyone, and that trauma is what makes Batman who he is.

Batman is not “unstoppable”.  In fact, the only reason why he is Batman is because certain people failed to do their jobs to stop him when they had the chance.  Yes, I’m talking about Bruce Wayne’s legal guardian as a child, Alfred Pennyworth, but also the other people that should have stepped in at that point.  Maybe it’s because mental health is in the basement in terms of priorities in society, but Bruce Wayne’s OCD should have been identified and dealt with when he was growing up.  But, obviously, it wasn’t because Bruce Wayne is also filthy rich.  He inherited more wealth than he ever could want or need.  Batman is the original “Affluenza” case, only his self-destruction involves fighting crime instead of drunkenly plowing into helpless families in a stolen vehicle.

This is also why Batman is Bruce Wayne and not vice-versa.  There have been other people that have “become” Batman, and some better at it than others.  Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, Terry McGuiness, Bane, Ra’s ah Ghoul, Kal-El of Krypton, Alfred Pennyworth, Carrie Kelly, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, and – I kid you not it happened in 2016 – Lois Lane have all “became” Batman.

But they never really “were” Batman.  Some of them try.  Some of them even do a pretty good job at it.  But they are not Batman.  They can never be Batman.  Because Batman is Bruce Wayne; a traumatized crime victim with an obsessive-compulsive fixation on maintaining power and control over every situation he is in.

This is why DC Comics cannot get rid of Bruce Wayne, no matter how many times they try to do that.  They killed off Bruce Wayne in Earth 2, but that universe’s Dick Grayson never really could be Batman.  They killed Bruce Wayne in “Final Crisis”, and all of Bruce Wayne’s “Robins” fight over who would follow him, but even with Dick Grayson as Batman paired with the son of Bruce Wayne as his Robin, they still felt compelled to bring Bruce Wayne back from the dead.  They “kill” Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises”, pass the cave over to Robin John Blake, and then they hit the “reboot” button to the whole movie franchise.  They even “kill” Bruce Wayne in the comics in a “final battle” with the Joker, take Wayne’s money away, turn Batman into a corporate-owned police force played by Commissioner Gordon, give a mind-wiped Bruce Wayne the happy life that he always deserved, and they still can’t keep him “dead”.

They all fail because Batman is Bruce Wayne.  Other people can play Batman.  They can pretend to be Batman.  But nobody else other than Bruce Wayne can be Batman, because Batman is Bruce Wayne.  Even Terry McGuiness, who currently serves as “Batman Beyond” in the comics is not really Batman.  He’s just an extension of Bruce Wayne, using his technology and taking Bruce Wayne’s lead because, in the DC comic future, Bruce Wayne is too old to physically continue his quest.  But he doesn’t stop “being” Batman.  He’s just using a proxy.

Batman is not the “apex of human determination”.  He is not a “super-tactician”.  He is not able to beat everyone and everything.  Batman is just a traumatized crime victim with an obsessive-compulsive disorder and more money than he ever could want or need and a group of enablers that failed in their jobs.  And while the writers and directors and actors and artists have been able to turn this traumatized crime victim with OCD into an iconic DC hero and an intriguing protagonist, we should not consider Batman to be anything more than what he truly is… flawed, and very human.

(Note: Batman is a fictional character created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger and is owned by DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time-Warner.  This article is a speculation from a longtime fan and sometime writer under the Fair Use doctrine and should not be presumed to be published with either the expressed or implied permission from either DC Comics or Time-Warner.)

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