Kicking things off on a fun note, I thought I’d start with a fan favorite of mine. Growing up with Batman was like having a second dad for me, but he sounded nothing like him. Which was cool, you know, differences are what make us unique and discover other identities. That’s why I love the Caped Crusader, he’s immediately relatable to us. Bruce Wayne lives a lavish life, but his diamonds are scratched. Bruce Wayne isn’t much more himself than he is Batman. Heck, it’s just Batman because the Wayne name has been nothing but a red herring for a one man war against the crime that created him. A harrowing of hell for a bat out of hell. Sadly it’s a plan that involves seclusion, brooding, action and life altering events. Yet it is the Batman that displays sheer determination in the face of despair that makes him the brave, dynamic, foible character we all love. Sure he’s stubborn, and it may be his allies who have better judgment, but we love him for it. Batman never gives in or gives up, he only gives it his all.
Comics, television series’, movies, games, there lies more to a character in the realm of fiction. The appraisal of Batman does not go unnoticed and for good reasons. Not only is the winged vigilante of the night propelled by injustice, but it’s a vendetta that runs deeper than a personal resolve. His story begins and ends in drudgery, knowing that with his efforts, although ceaseless, he cannot end what seems endless. Batman remains fictional but his difference strikes a chord in its readers and viewers ever since his debut. The Great Depression was a time riddled with turmoil and uncertainty. With the introduction to the comic book and its respective tales of heroes alike, their began a shift in the day to day deprivation. Comics gave people a newly renowned sense of hope in their lives, what many call escapism today. Now Superman might have set the precedent first, but Batman perpetuated crime-fighting, placing emphasis on the greatest super power of all: will power. Here compiled for you is what makes the ideal hero, most notably none other than the Batman.
A Man’s a Man
Bruce Wayne is only a man and while not a simple man, he’s still mortal just like you and I. Seeing how indomitable his spirit is, it’s hard to believe Batman can easily be riddled with bullets or fall from rooftops (heck, the man recovered from a broken back in the Knightfall story arc by the hands of Bane!) He’s human, not perfect, and to prove it there’s a fair share of mistakes both self-decided (Talia al Ghul) and guilt-driven (Jason Todd from A Death in the Family, which was the reader’s fault and choice, and the drug addiction in Batman: Venom; not to be confused with the Titan enhancement of it from the game) which seem to be unpredictable and unavoidable. All things considered, that doesn’t separate him from any of the roster of heroes, even if he’s more than hard on himself about his righteous campaigns. When Batman strays off course and doesn’t catch himself in the act, it’s a personal demon he’s failed to defeat. That’s why he strives to do and be better, as should we, cape and cowl or not.
Inescapable to the cultural presence is the Batman’s logo. It’s undoubtedly the most recognizable icon that comes to mind not only in comics, but around the world. The symbol is a spur for hope and justice among the mixed emotions that come with it. A strong metaphor resonates for a man’s bereavement and plunge into combating the rogues’ underworld, striking fear into those who prey on the fearful like a modern-day Robin Hood, there’s no chance of the black and yellow ever going unnoticed.
Perhaps the greatest calling card their is, the bat-signal allows Gotham’s Dark Knight to clock in in times of distress. While Batman’s preoccupied in the latest investigation, he needs a way to act upon crises within moments. Despite all his telecommunication capabilities, it’s understood his city needs help when the floodlight shines bright against the night sky (it’s certainly a step up from the Batphone, but it’s good to explore your options).
The most popular and iconic means of transportation for Batman is the Batmobile, an unconventional take on the automobile. Among all the Bat-oriented things in his reach, the Batmobile is Batman’s baby. For Batman, batgrappling and gliding from rooftops only slowed him down in the past, but now he can be at the ready when disaster strikes. Other than the Batman himself it’s this allure of a hot rod that gets us daydreaming (you’ve thought of how cool it would be to drive in it, let alone have it yourself) and unless you’re Batman, your car’s probably not street legal.
If being smart was a sport, Bruce Wayne’s mind would be its star athlete. Specializing in deduction and reasoning, applied sciences, multiple fighting styles, history, reconnaissance, architecture, computer technics, coaxing (sometimes with his fists) and just about anything he needs to know, Batman is always thinking ahead of time. There’s nothing you know that Batman doesn’t know, and if there is, he’ll find out. He’s basically the Renaissance man of comics, heck, he could tell you the eusociality of bees if he had too. Bees. My God.
An Adaptive Bat
Batman is a walking armory. He has gadgetry that’s small in size but does extraordinary things you wouldn’t expect to fit in those utility belt patches. Batarangs, smoke pellets, tear gas, grappling rope, you name it. On top of that, he uses his environments to his advantage. Anywhere from a compacted room full of villains to a place completely out of his element immediately becomes surveyed and adapted to Batman’s tactics. He will use anything in the vicinity as a weak point for his foes. Big, small, it doesn’t make a difference. There’s something in his arsenal to handle every possible variant and it’s not any coincidence. From the very beginning, you know a great deal of preplanning and expectancy went into these possible outcomes. Years in advance taken up for the day that the unexpected befalls everyone else, but not Batman. Batman: Hush, JLA: Tower of Babel, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns are clear indicators of that. Batman under the weather or under pressure finds a will and a way to overcome the impossible.
Never mind the fact that Batman has a number of aliases. The most important of them all is who he is and how he came to be. A master of stealth, Batman flips his foes’ power over on its head and has them playing into his hand. You can’t shoot what you can’t see and even if you get a glimpse of him, you won’t shoot. Batman keeps criminals second guessing in the dark, having them spooked by looming shadows and corners. To see the silent predator and protector manipulate the surroundings most familiar to his prey is like watching a nature show, panel by panel. One could say his greatest ally is the still, encompassing night for he is the watchful guardian. He is the Dark (K)night.
A Creature of the Night
The cape and cowl aren’t just for looks. Fashion meets function when it comes to stalking deviants in the night. Batman’s cowl integrates the technology of the Batcave for accessible communications and detective analysis on the fly. Speaking of fly, the cape allows for a surreal experience: gliding like a bat! For some it’s a theoretical improbability how Batman can glide with a thick piece of fabric and for those people I say watch Batman Begins, it does enough convincing. It’s a comic book world and suspending our disbelief is what makes Batman real and all the more fun. Just read Batman: Year 100, you’ll see what I mean.
As a vigilante, you’d think Batman would have an agenda selfishly proclaimed for means all his own. Quite the contrary, he seeks out his adversaries with the intent to prevent their evil acts, never to officially end them. It’s a moral compass that cannot be taken on the wrong path. Batman does not and will not kill. He’s an anti-hero by his own definition, the difference is that he puts away with street justice and replaces it with what justice is suppose to be; fair, unassuming, poetic justice.
A database with the digital makeup of every possible trace of villain, hero, and person there is or ever has been on profile. For Batman, criminals old and new have been configured in their own data banks for reference’s time, gathered in his all-in-one FBI and CIA personal computer. News clippings, interviews, audio and video recordings, chemical and physical analysis, it’s every supercomputer’s dream. It even has a nickname (Dupin; named after C. Auguste Dupin, the first known fictional detective by Edgar Allan Poe)!
The Bat Cave
A sanctuary of solace, what more could you ask for? Its existence is kept hush, hidden underground through miles of caverns, with pitch black that ruins depth perception without the sonar of a bat, and the convenience of it all right under the foundation of the Wayne establishment, it doesn’t get any better. Batman isn’t Batman without a bat cave and sure enough, he puts it to good use. Housing the many Bat-vehicles, villain paraphernalia, and the extensive inner workings that run the cave’s technological systems, it’s “the” home away from home.
During the day, he’s Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire and philanthropist. He lives the stereotypical lavish life of a carefree aristocrat (as seen in Batman: Year One) but more recently realizes the mask of charitable works is enough to keep the lonesome rich act alive and believable, that is without a steady drop in friends and increase in backlash. At dusk, Batman takes the night shift, pursuing evil lurkers while Bruce Wayne takes to his lazy homebody routine. More often than not, Bruce Wayne has kept to himself as most with affluence do. The quiet approach raises no questions; really, who’s worried over a Rockefeller’s status quo? He can do just about everything and that includes being Batman (*hush hush*).Yet it’s really a sadder case than a rich, lonesome man. Even though he is Bruce Wayne, he’s more Batman than anything else each waking day and night. So, it’s not so much mystery as it is money.
The Tragic Hero
Born into a fortunate family, Bruce Wayne never cared for the world around him accept for the things it could offer him, one carefree whim at a time. Adolescent and naive to the inescapable grime that etched the city, there wasn’t anything that could hurt him, until one fateful night out from the Monarch Theatre and into the infamous Crime Alley. This was the birthplace of Batman. This was the psychological detriment of an innocent eight-year old boy who lost his parents to a mugger that would change who he was forevermore. An origin story bittersweet as this one goes without saying, Batman wouldn’t have came to be had it not been for Joe Chill that night. Bruce Wayne would’ve never experienced Gotham from its darkest, deepest roots, only left to guess at what lurks out there at night from the confines of his mansion just outside the city limits. A selfish thought for an unfortunate turn of events but, the table’s turn when the hero we know and love has a score to settle: taking crime by the heartstrings it never had and turning that dark heart into light.
The darkest plain of existence in fictional America. It’s the city of corruption, darkness, and deceit. It’s the city that took his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Gotham serves as a place consumed by its own dirty pleasures with no plans of being cleansed. The city from the ground up is a walking Gothic exhibit and it’s an architectural feat all the same, made prevalent in Chip Kidd’s Death by Design and Snyder’s Gates of Gotham. Batman makes up a good percentage of the city entailed, emphasis on good, but if a city with its own criminally insane asylum doesn’t leave you dead inside or deathly worried, you are truly a Batman fan.
Batman might prefer to work alone but he’s not afraid to lean on a few shoulders. By far the best support group you could ask for, Bruce Wayne has a small task force he can call family. Friends, friends of friends, friends’ family, he’s practically kin. Robin, all collectively, Batgirl (accompanied by the Birds of Prey), Alfred Pennyworth, Leslie Thompkins (which has to be the most influential if not least noticed person in Wayne’s life; she nursed him all his childhood and has been there for him every reunion at Crime Alley), Commissioner James Gordon, Lucius Fox, he’s not only got connections to be Batman, he’s got the loyalty and perseverance that inspire him to do just that. Every one involved is just as much Batman as Batman is Batman. In conclusion, Batman isn’t Batman, he’s Bat-family Man. Sorry if that was a trifle harsh on the tongue (and mind) but it’s true.
The Rogues Gallery
Without question, Batman has the most interesting, depressing, dark, horrifying, cast of creepy criminals. It could be that Batman creates all his enemies, in the case of the Joker, so it seems like he has the time. Although, it could be just by chance where a new villain takes to the streets to challenge all of Gotham and that includes the big, bad, Bat. All of Batman’s foes are creative, some might say gimmicky, and disturbed because they are! It’s too much of a roster to handle at once and it keeps growing. Luckily for us we get their antics one issue at a time. For Batman, it comes as a second thought. Where we see scary and overwhelming, he sees another cowardly lot. It’s great that he can take things we’d be shocked about and down right point a stone face at it. Batman knows underneath all the gilded pride, there’s a shell of a person inside the crudest of villains (maybe except for Joker, that guy lost his mind and not even the World’s Greatest Detective can find it.)
Every great hero has a great archenemy and the Joker fits that bill (sorry, Hugo Strange is a definite second.) In a strange way, the Joker’s almost a reflection of Batman; dark, mysterious, unpredictable. Their complete polar opposites like yin and yang, yet they belong on the same spectrum. Both underwent a form of PTSD; Joker creates an alternate personality to ignore his true reality while Batman overcame it by making a change for the better, if not for himself then for everyone else. Other than the likelihood that the Joker and the Batman are the ultimate good vs. evil match made in heaven (and hell), it was something of an accident. You thought the Batman had a history, wait until you get a hold on the Clown Prince of Crime!
The point of reference I stand by here is Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and there are other graphic novels that tell of the Joker’s origin and psyche (Batman: The Man Who Laughs and Azzarello’s Joker for example). It was the 1980s that brought back the revival of the Joker both through comics and movies. According to Moore, Joker was once a regular Gothamite. He was a comedian at the time, low on money, with a baby on the way. The city made him fall desperate however, and in response joined a group of lackeys to pull off a heist at the Ace Chemicals building. Of course, he was set up to be the masked Red Hood, an anonymous identity shared with the crime world over, and sure enough, he became Batman’s fall guy. A run-in with the Bat lead to a chase which lead to a nasty splash and thus the Joker was born.
Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman shows a similar tale, with a Joker that has credit to his name. Jack Nicholson played Jack Napier, the only name associated with the Joker (and if I’m not mistaken, there was a chat between Batman and Oracle in the first game of the Arkham series where the name Jack White was stated alongside a mention of Joker). Again, a heist to steal from the safe of the Ace Chemicals building takes place but, we’re shown a Joker sans Red Hood. Escaping on his own, Jack is the last of the criminals to face Batman and unlike The Killing Joke’s scene of events, Burton’s Batman attempts to save Jack from falling into his chemical bath demise. Precariously later, the man falls in and comes out of the polluted water a ghostly figure with red lips, green hair, and an undefeatable, maniacal cackle and grin.
Batman #1 in 1940 starred the Joker as the unoriginal, original gangster, fully based on Paul Leni’s adapted 1928 film The Man Who Laughs. His fashion sense and overall appearance, while off-putting, was different and new from what we’re used to from a thug’s usual garb. It was the comic that showed us a villain with an insane caliber like no other (I’d also like to mention the nod made out to the first battle between Batman and Joker at the bridge, which can also be seen in The Death of the Family story arc).
He, ladies and gentleman, is the jack of all trades, master of none. At times, Joker is an innovative villain, surprising everyone that gets in his way. Hand-buzzers, acid-spitting boutonniere, gag weapons, and his personal favorite, his signature staple, laughing gas! It’s his uncertain vanity that causes us to be the butt end of the joke, for in his eyes, the Joker sees a world without smiles. Despite his twisted take on a statement like that, I’m sure he meant it dearly as a comedian once. I’m afraid his mind remains an incorruptible trap to himself and to others.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Holy Bat-nipples, Bat-credit cards, Bat-puns, surreal Bat-behavior (of the 1960s in particular) and of course, all-around just a bad Batman, Batman! And I agree, a Bad-man while not unintentional is a bad thing, it’s just a silly take on what serious tones there are to be had. The movie spin-off of the television series was a diabolical rule the world situation, but the mannerisms and appearances were too corky and colorful to think of it otherwise. Unlike the Schumacher films, which were an unintentional and a complete unnecessary use of camp, some may argue its revival from its 1960 predecessor was appreciated (I’m reaching here).
The first time I could make sense of beating the dead horse was from Batman & Robin, with its overkill of the very puns that created the only villain suitable for them, none other than Mr. Freeze. Within the first ten minutes, were given a hefty flashback of the campy Batman we used to know. Themed henchman in trench coats and goggles for what looks like skiing but is contrarily used for their ice skating. Put simply, Schumacher made campy look intentionally bad in an unintentional way. Anyone who’s seen it before the television series won’t have the same reaction: a fun and funny Batman alongside a naive, but loveable Robin the Boy Wonder that’s approachable to both adults and kids. I will say this though, Batman Forever was the better Schumacher film as far as campy reminiscence goes. Still, needs more Batusi.
Now that that rant’s out of the way, time for a rave! Since I hopped between decades, let’s get to the meat of it. Batman The Animated Series. Need I say more? Well then, Batman The Animated Series is without a withering of a doubt the epitome of childhood animation not just for the 90s kids and crowds but for all of time. The show encompassed dark themes normally not seen in cartoons and its contrast stood out, again, to adults and children. It’s a cartoon but a drama, situated at all things decent being pulled and tugged all aloof for a world that was not too far from our own. There were your average street peddlers with guns, the believable group of ruffians that occasionally took the limelight, yet we all knew the real rogues to look forward to.
Batman’s villains had a touch of humanity in them and how they coped with reality was both a psychological and disparaging condition. In one way you feel for their hardship, and in another, you can’t stand their malpractice to overcome it. All of them were given a spotlight, origins and everything personal. Even the lesser known villains had their own episodes (Baby Doll anyone?). You witnessed their transformations from innocent bearings and sometimes not-so-innocent bearings to the hardy, cold criminals they are today; lost in a world already lost to them. Clayface, Harvey Dent, Mr. Freeze, all of which are sad cases, however, two wrongs don’t make a right. This might sound awful to you, but I only got two seasons of BTAS under my utility belt growing up, until recently I watched the remaining seasons, so when the show was cancelled I was devastated. Then I was introduced to Samurai Jack and all was well! Though nothing replaces what BTAS did or is. Period.
Yes, the 60s and 90s have been kind to the Dark Knight, thanks to the lady’s man Adam West and the entrancing, deep voice of Kevin Conroy. Although I think it’s time we pay our dues to the characters that had their influence taken from the Batman. Let’s start with the familiar faces.
Zorro, a fictional vigilante being the embodiment of another fictional vigilante is awesome in theory but even better in practice. An impressionable, young Bruce Wayne had his first experience with justice from the silver screen. The sight of a hero in clad, the mystery behind the man in the mask, the daredevil escapades, and the change one man could provide excited him. It was a first impression taken to heart and lived out to a T. Like Batman, Zorro has his guise which caused many a double take, as well as the acrobatics and disappearing acts that came along with it. He’s also nothing short of charm and some teases during battle or in regular conversation. Zorro even has his own cave, conducting alchemy experiments from time to time, gathering notes all alone out in the desert. One of the first influences and certainly most prominent in the Batman mythos, Zorro’s the definition of a hero’s hero. (Honorable mention goes to the Grey Ghost, voiced by Adam West, in BTAS; an inspiration of Bruce Wayne’s during his childhood, but that’s its own different story).
Other mysterious masked men come flowing forth, such as the radio dramas The Shadow, The Green Hornet alongside Kato, The Lone Ranger with his Native American friend Tonto, and The Cisco Kid with his Mexican sidekick Pancho. The homologous heroes from comics like V for Vendetta, The Phantom Stranger, The Question, Spawn, Judge Dredd, Shadowhawk, Moon Knight, and Morbius (those last three were Marvel characters; just testing you, but all the same!) and even villains like Batzarro, Cat-Man, Ragman, and The Spectre try to steal the Batman’s thunder. Then there are the obvious adaptations from the detective genre with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with his companion Dr. John Watson and Poe’s aforementioned C. Auguste Dupin, but recently I’ve heard of a man that holds true to all attributes above.
Natty Bumppo, the pioneer woodsman of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales, serves as a friendly figure, quickly gaining the honor from neighboring Indian tribes. He comes prepared as a hunter and interpreter, creating bonds between his various Indian brothers. Natty even has different aliases like the Batman, such as Hawkeye, Pathfinder, and Deerslayer. The struggle with him though serves a similar purpose to the Caped Crusader’s, which involves dealing with a daunting reality that seems uncontrollable. How Batman combats the crime world is reciprocated in Cooper’s five-novel series in that Natty Bumppo has to cope with the vanishing wilderness that is the life he’s only known. Cultural assimilation was something of a forced respect in the 19th century for Native Americans, but it’s this deeply imbedded feeling of self that Natty is afraid to lose. It’s argued Batman should change his approach, and sometimes all together, with what can be comprised of a solipsistic, uphill battle, but when there’s good deeds to be done, how can you say no? What we call obsession, he calls succession; with every fighting moment he has, there’s a chance to make the world slightly less bleak. Natty Bumppo, like the rest, are filled to the brim with good intentions.
Here’s comes the heavy stuff. You saw it coming; parodies. Batman has had his repertoire of funny outlets and you’d think someone as brooding as Batman couldn’t possibly be ebullient. There are those who manage… and they do it so well! College Humor, Dorkly, Robot Chicken, assorted memes, Batman Begins (seriously, his voice was butchered and it’s not to remain mysterious, it’s an evident case of forced strep throat!), Mad Magazine, SNL’s Ambiguously Gay Duo, and apparently a 1960s cartoon I’ve never heard of that Bob Kane was in on the joke with, Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. There are cartoons, to my knowledge, you can put a lineup to as well. Darkwing Duck, Spongebob’s Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, Scooby-Doo’s Blue Falcon and Dynomutt (parodying Ace the Bat-Hound), Rat Man from The Justice Friends segment in Dexter’s Laboratory, The Tommy from Codename: Kids Next Door, just to name a few. As you can see, no matter where you place him, clearly our Masked Manhunter has quite the aspiring and inspiring crowd of characters.
He’s the Batman
“I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Batman!”
– Batman, Bruce Wayne
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
There are many conversation pieces to be had about Batman since his evolution with every iteration (I probably would’ve paraded all of them!) He’s an introspective character that digs deep on a personal, psychological, and philosophical level for his readers, viewers, and players. Batman defines our struggles, heavy minds, successes, and losses. For that, we thank the talents of Bob Kane and Bill Finger for giving us the touch of humanity everyone deserves.