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Is Batman Batty?

Posted by Kragghle , in Wisdom, Literature, Superman Aug 27 2012 · 277 views

wisdom literature Superman
:kaukau: Recently I talked to a young man who wasn't impressed with Superhero movies lately. I asked about The Dark Knight Rises and he said he wasn't interested. Since it was a very interesting thing to say and he seemed to be the type of person who would like such drama, I decided to find out more about his perspectives. Here's his response:

"I'm not sure why people idolize him. Instantly to me I just see a rich billionaire go down and become a sick man who dresses up in a bat costume and goes out to beat up other sick men. It's overly dark and dramatized as if you're supposed to take him seriously, but he doesn't actually come across as a hero so much as a man with an obsession."

It's a popular movie, and it's success speaks for itself. On the internet the Dark Knight is considered by most to the the greatest of superheroes, the cornerstone of superhero cinema that all superhero films since have tried and failed to emulate. In "A Muted Superman" Tilius drove this point home with clear meaning: "And of course [Man of Steel] is going to be like Batman - basically every comic book movie outside of the Avengers [sic] wants to be like Nolan's Batman. That's not really a bad thing, but at the same time it's often blatantly clear to be their intention." Batman is at the center of the popular culture universe, and his fans take him very seriously. Had this been an online conversation, the rational thing would be to try to help him see the light and emphasize with the views of the fans, to adopt the mentality necessary for enjoying the film because it would make him open-minded and appreciative of the views of the majority.

I did the smart thing and agreed with him.

He preferred the Adam West version because it was easier to like Batman when he was played for camp. Just because something is campy doesn't mean that it can't be taken seriously, as the original Star Trek shows so well by still persisting as one of the greatest, most iconic, and mot beloved television shows of all time. The elephant in the room of Bruce Wayne's mental stability is avoided and Batman remains just a character (Character in this case meaning the same thing as in the context "He's quite the character."). The more realistic the character becomes, the more the truth behind him is analyzed, the more there's a reason to be concerned for how close society comes to wishing to be like someone who in reality would be a poor example of citizenship.

Now personally, I thought that the grim and realistic version of the story was good, although not necessarily for the main character. His main redeeming quality was that the concept designs, and aesthetics were cool, but otherwise the redeeming features of the series were the villains and secondary characters. It was good that Bruce ultimately retired from the cape because in all honesty I wanted to see him move on. His health, to me, was unquestionable. It was poor. I never idolized the character. He's cool for action, but he is hardly a shining example of manliness.

My hero is Superman. He's not as flawed, but sometimes flaws can drag a character down to the point of making them unlikable. In Batman's case, his defining traits are things that should actually make him an antihero. He's dark and brooding, dedicated toward good citizenship and the preservation of life but also black in his sense of taking justice into his own hands. His flaws aren't addressed and corrected, but rather embraced.

Superman's flaws are acknowledged. I haven't always felt this way, but I grew to love him as a character. He genuinely is heroic and a true, positive example of what heroism should be in a world where heroes and antiheroes are often confused with each other. He works for truth and justice, but he never took it into his own hands. In Superman II he expressed that he was just trying to be a good citizen, and given his powers his obligations as a good citizen were merely higher. He never broke any laws. He never even wore a mask. In fact, he rarely ever lied, and his disguise as Clark Kent was very fair and misleading without being outright deceptive. In other words, with his power he could be considered guilty for many of the crimes about in the world by means of negligence. Truly, he stands for truth, justice, and the American way.

In spite of how simple the character may seem, it's a quality are necessary for symbols. It's often a challenge to write about the character as the themes he explores aren't necessarily physical conflicts. Sometimes this is mistaken for poor quality. Wrack'n'Ruin stated a year ago in the "Writing Advice" topic that "He works best when constrasted [sic] with a better character, like Batman, to portray their growth, not his own. You can only do so much with the Man Of Steel."

While it is true that only so much can be done with the Man of Steel, I see things the other way around. Batman is similarly a static character stuck in his ways, and I think that the characters both work well when set to contrast each other. Including them in the same story does them both well, not just Batman. From my perspective as a Superman fan, it often seems that Batman exists to contrast Superman and portray Superman's growth, or to challenge the Man of Steel's worldviews so as to further validate them. Superman, after all, came first, and Batman was invented later for a new direction.

Ultimately, Batman is a sideshow for the real thing. He's a strong character who is written in such a way that he's a textbook example of why active characters resonate more with readers than passive characters. For being a unique person and the foundation of the restless vigilante archetype he's got all the attention that he deserves, but he's not the face that heroism needs.

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Anyone who runs around fighting crime in spandex is nuts.

But he's batman so that's okay.
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What I got from this is that beating people up is okay provided everything is campy.
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"- he doesn't actually come across as a hero so much as a man with an obsession."

I thought this was the purpose of the new Batman movies. I never got the impression he was really a good hero, and it seems like most of the cast agrees.
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:kaukau: I think it was part of the point to the Nolan films, too. He didn't play it up as much as he could have, though. But that's just as well, since at the same time he had to make it an archetypal superhero film at heart because Batman is still classified en masse as a superhero instead of an antihero.

I think I actually tend to see him as being closer to a hero when he's part of the Justice League, but that's another essay completely.

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Exactly; with the Nolan films, they actually address that issue. I think someone called the latest Batman "a superhero movie without a superhero" and it's a brilliant way to interpret the film; it is actually a story about the power of obsession and the cost of revenge, first and foremost.
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:kaukau: Very true. I have no objection against the films themselves or the character. Judging by the way that other forms of media and casual viewers interpret him, however, I think he's still received as a superhero. I suppose it fulfills the simpler fantasies of children, but the character in many ways lacks maturity so the satisfaction doesn't carry on to my adult entertainment. Batman can stand as a legitimate representation of humanity, but name what humanity ought to be.

It should be interesting going back and looking at the Nolan films with this these new ideas. Already I can think of some things that I instantly gain new appreciation for, looking back. Rachel Dawes dying is one of them. Even if she had lived, Bruce would never have had a chance with her anyway because she understood how his dependency on Batman ate him up. His unhealthy behaviors get a lot more acknowledgment from good writers than those who make James Bond movies.

Oh boy, don't get me started on James Bond. Talk about immature fantasies!

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I disagree with your vision of Batman as a foil to Superman, as a way to highlight his growth. In my experience with Superman, which is admittedly minimal, given the character, he doesn't grow. The flying brick remains a flying brick, and he really doesn't have much of anywhere to go. There's only two or three ways to do anything original with Superman. One is to completely demolish him and rebuild him from the ground up, as in the story whose name escapes me, where he is raised in Soviet Russia as opposed to Eagleland. Another would be to explore the interactions between him and other people, villains and allies alike. A third would be a variation of the first, but reduced to a reduction in Superman's abilities, removing some of his overburdening powers, Invincibility chief among them. A character who cannot die has no suspense to his story, the audience does not need to wonder if he will make it. He' Superman. He can't die, and even when he does (see Doomsday, etc.), he just reboots back without any ceremony or anything. Superman is the ultimate embodiment of Status Quo Is God, in that he is eternally there, unchanging.

Now, Batman is similarly static, gaining new training as he needs it, being able to eventually outwit and defeat any foe. Eventually is the key word there, as Batman is defeated much more easily than Superman, because Batman is just a man in tights, as opposed to the Man of Steel. And some of the most iconic stories deal with Batman's humanity, including Knightfall, the first comic starring Bane and the comic where the Bat was broken. Batman, however, manages to occasionally break past the norm for its series and actually explore the relationship between the hero and the villains, even if not completely on the surface level of the story. Usually, this is with the Joker, but a deeper examination in other stories can serve to be just as effective. Indeed, a great many enemies in Batman’s universe are a direct response or foil to the Bat, or even to Bruce Wayne. An incomplete list includes The Joker (Order vs. Chaos/Dark Hero vs. Light Villain), Killer Moth (a villain imitating the Bat), Hush, Penguin and Black Mask (different routes for Gotham ‘Nobility’ to follow after tragedy, as opposed to Bruce), and Bane (what if Bruce Wayne was forged in the crucible of prison, as opposed to the kiln of Gotham?). This dichotomy is more apparent than in Superman’s works, where his most threatening foes are beings of equal cop-out amounts of power, and Lex Luthor, who has a kryptonite meteor under every sidewalk slab in Metropolis.

Now, neither character is truly an example of amazing characterization. Given their typical characterization and medium, both are essentially obligated to be eternal victors, always winning without too much sweat. I would argue that, of them, Batman is the better character, but it is still not much of a comparison. DC heroes in general are like the gods of greek myth; immortal, powerful or skilled beyond measure, nigh-infallable. This is neither to say that DC heroes are universally bad characters, nor that all heroes in general are bad. Spiderman, Anung Un Rama (since we can’t say his other name, due to the filter,) Jim Gordon, Takua (the bionicle comics were published by DC, so they all count =P,) Sandman, they all are better characters than Batman and Superman, because they have hardships to overcome, they have problems to deal with, they are fallable, they maintain an air of “What’s going to happen to ____?” whenever they have to go up against the odds.

Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne may deal with massive foes and impossible dangers for any mortal, enemies who put up a bigger threat than Peter Parker’s usual goon squad, but to me, the ones without the plot armor, the ones who actually risk everything they have when everything they have isn’t much, are the compelling heroes in the comics.

Now, given the choice, I'll still enjoy Batman more, because he's not invincible. He's also not a super hero, either, like Superman is. But, if you ask me, the tights of Marvel's heroes are the ones I'd rather try to fill.
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I'd also like to add that I feel like this whole discussion is over analyzed just a little bit. =/ It depends on what you like. You guys are talking about legendary comic book characters, some of which that have been around for more than fifty years.

I'm not a big comic book reader, but most comic book characters are godlike in a ton of ways, and most of them do get killed off only to return later in the series SOMEHOW. I appreciate Batman though, because he's not always the strongest, not always the best, but uses what he has to do the job.

And while it's been said that the character isn't characterized that well, I will just point out that Christopher Nolan did bring the Bat down to a level that we can all relate too in some way (or at least make known who he is to mainstream). He was a guy that wanted to stop injustice, and because of his cause and his symbol and his determination, a lot of other people joined him. Now there will never be some cool dude who dresses up as a superhero and starts beating up criminals and that causes a city change in real life.

But still, what batman stands for, fighting against your fears because you have become afraid, is tragic and felt.

Anyway, the Batman of this generation I think is understood better because of the movies. Because the movies aren't about Batman, but more about Bruce. And they are great movies, and the cartoons are awesome and the comics are supposedly good as well... so what's the problem here?

And I can't wait for the Man of Steel, because it'll be hopefully done just as awesome, except we'll get a story about Clark Kent. =)
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:kaukau: Once again, Xaerez, you inspire a whole new future blog entry with my planned (and scrapped) reply.

Regarding Batman as a foil, I didn't say that the intention was to change Superman. Superman is where he needs to be. What I think the foil does for him is that it sometimes challenges what he stands for so as to further validate him, and it also encourages seeing Superman from different perspectives so as to gain a better appreciation of the character.


I was talking with the college student who inspired this entry and he said that if he were to make any addition to the case I've presented, it's that "the only reason Batman is allowed to continue to exist is because he's a necessary evil. If Gotham wasn't filled with villains that threatened its existence he would be locked away."

As a symbol of a necessary evil, he has his cultural relevance, but I question the decision to label him as a superhero. To me, that lowers the standards of what true heroism is, and it also desensitizes people to the perils of obsession. The character himself is perfectly valid and good stories can be written about him, just as a good story can come out of MacMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Yet as I've said, the bat isn't the appropriate emblem for heroism. That truly is Superman's job.

When speaking of cultural relevance, I have to go with the most iconic character who's become a figure of Americana.

@GSR: A writer overanalyzing art? Who would have thought :P. But anyway, the problem here is pretty simple: I don't think Batman can be idolized as a hero and should be reassigned the title of antihero. I'll be rewatching all of the Nolan movies strait through once Rises comes out on DVD so that I can reevaluate the storytelling and see if they highlight his mental condition, but until now I'm still under the impression that most people treat him like a superhero.

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When speaking of cultural relevance, I have to go with the most iconic character who's become a figure of Americana.

You mean Spider-man? :P

I don't think Superman is deserving of hero worship. He is someone who could solve all of the world's largest problems in probably a week at the longest, and instead focuses on one shiny city. As Spider-man teaches us, if you have the power to do something, it's your responsibility to do it. Superman could save the entire world- and he doesn't.

(Also he's boring.)
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Not to mention that Supe's still an alien. A symbol of perfection is a symbol of perfection, but Superman is a hollow or false symbol when you realize he is a completely unattainable pinnacle of physical prowess. At the same time, he is one of the bluntest tools in the shed. His typical strategies are either "Plot magic!" or "Punch it until it breaks." Not an ideal I want to live up to.
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:kaukau: If you've ever read Kingdom Come, Surge, you know that's not true. He lives in a world that's even beyond his abilities, and he can't save everyone. That's something that's clearly been established. In the DC Comics encyclopedia of characters, he's also described as constantly feeling guilty about everything that he hasn't saved. Then you must consider that the world will never stop having problems no matter how advanced man is, which is why the backside of the American seal is an incomplete pyramid. Superman's powers might be unatainable, but I believe that his sincerity is.

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Username: Emperor Kraggh
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