I love the Batman. My youngest years were spent almost completely on the Marvel side of things, but I always had a place in my heart for the Dark Knight Detective.
A few weeks ago while playing Arkham Knight, I hit upon the realization that while we still all seem to love Batman, we’ve also grown to resent Bruce Wayne, as we have increasingly created storylines that take the cape and cowl away from him time and time again. You can check out my article from last week proving this is the case right here.
Now that we’ve been able to identify the an issue, it is time to dive deeper and get to the root of the problem. This week and on through the next I am not only going to explain why we have grown distant from Bruce, but how we can correct thing and build a better Batman.
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing crystal clear. I’m going to use the word “we” when talking about who caused these issues. It is far too simple and rather unfair to assume that Warner Bros and DC are alone in the blame for how things are. We the viewing public and the predominant consumers of this media, have played a role in this as well. This is on all of us, so lets skip the finger pointing and get to the problem solving.
So, where did we mess up? Well, we stopped writing Batman and started writing BatGod.
DC’s biggest heroes have always been seen as gods amongst men. While Marvel’s approach was about taking superheroes and making them relatable, DC has always had their bigger than life icons. We relate to Marvel heroes, we aspire to DC’s. This holds true for pretty much every major hero in the the DCU except Batman (and maybe Green Arrow, but I’ll get to Ollie before I’m done so be paitent). We couldn’t be Superman or Wonder Woman, and were certainly not going to find a power ring and become Green Lantern, but we could push our bodies and minds to the fullest and with enough drive and heart that maybe, just freaking maybe, we could be Batman.
The comics of the Golden and Silver Ages had very different sensibilities than the mainstream superhero comics of today. Back then you cold have Superman sneeze and wipe out a galaxy and nobody would give it a second thought. To keep up in that sort of world, Batman had to have all manner of crazy gadgets and vehicles. Of course, Batman just happens to have seven Batmobiles, two space rockets, and shark repellent spray at the ready at all times. Doesn’t everybody?!
In response to all this madness, comics shifted towards a darker and gritter tone. There was a call to make comic book stories more “realistic”. Several prominent heroes were powered down and some even had their powers removed completely for a little while. Comics grew more socially conscious, which caused a shift in stories to focus less on the fantastic and more on the very real effects of street crime. It is in this time we saw Batman return to being a dark avenger, and where our modern understanding of Batman truly began.
As with all things however, our tastes continued to change and evolve. We loved all the continuity and character consistency, but we once again craved the extremely over the top nature of classic comics, which gave way to feelings of genuine nostalgia. As we embraced the silly side of our comics past, little did we realize we were planting poisonous seeds directly in the heart of the Bat.
Batman once again had to do bigger and crazier things, but unlike the comics of yesterday, where the majority of the inconsistencies and illogical things were explained away with a wink and a smile, fans now expected to be given at least semi-plausible reason for why things happened as they did. Batman couldn’t possibly have all this stuff and do crazy things like build an orbital space station for the JLA out of pocket. While he had always been presented as very rich, now he had to become Scrooge McDuck-level rich. He had to fight more powerful villains so he would need even more gadgets to save the day (which cost even more money), and had to transform from a man at the very peak a physical ability to somebody who could do the punchline to every Chuck Norris joke with ease. He went from a man that planned ahead as best he could to a man that had foreseen every possibility in the expanding multiverse and had plans in motion to address them all.
Bruce Wayne had to stop being just a man, he had to become perfect. Take a look at the Bruce Wayne version of Batman as he stands today and ask yourself if he even remotely resembles a human being anymore. Power creep man, it’s a killer.
Here we have everything pulled into focus. The reason we keep pulling Bruce out from behind the mask is we don’t know how to relate to him as Batman anymore. We’ve taken away Bruce’s humanity and made him a demigod, and our placement of other characters in the suit is a way of trying to cope with what we have lost.
Thankfully, with some clever writing choices, we can fix all this with little to no impact to the rest of the DCU, but that’s for next week. Tune in for the same Bat time, same Bat channel.
To be continued…