Aaron R. Davis
I know I might be asking for a dismissal or a harshly-worded email or a dead gopher in the mail for this one, given our esteemed editor’s love of all things cape-and-cowl, but Batman really bugs me.
He’s bugged me for years, actually, and repeated fanboy assertions of “Batman could totally kick Superman’s ass” and “Batman is the best superhero ever because he’s just a guy and has no powers” have finally driven me to the point where I really have to get this out.
Batman is a lousy hero.
There, I said it. And I feel like DC Comics pushed me to say it.
See, I love comics. I’ve loved them since before I can remember. When people ask what my first comic book was, I usually answer Uncanny X-Men #213. I say that because it was the first comic book that sucked me into the larger Marvel Universe, and from there to the DC Universe, and from there into a big, big comic book fan for life. So Uncanny X-Men #213 was, indeed, the comic book that made me a fan. But before that, I was reading Star Wars for years, or Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham, or Uncle Scrooge, or all kinds of kids’ comics. And of course I knew a lot of the characters from various TV shows, and chief among them was Batman.
As a kid, I was watching Batman with Adam West. I loved it when I was a kid. Then, after the incredibly campy Tim Burton movie supposedly returned Batman to his dark, gothic roots — something fans still push, even though the original Batman comics were maybe dark and gothic for the first six months — I hated the Adam West series. Now that I’m older and can see the satire, I adore it, partially because it’s truly funny, and partly because I’m so sick of movies and comic books insisting that Batman is this troubled, moral antihero who is somehow worthy of appearing in 34 books a month.
See, I really do feel like DC drove me to the point where I’m not only exhausted by Batman, but calling bullshit on the whole thing.
And it’s because of an editorial decision taken in 1989, concurrent with the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, to pretend that Batman was always meant to be a dark, mysterious crusader for justice in a gothic world of tragic villains who are all representative of a troubled psyche that apparently Batman is supposed to be the moral center of.
Since then, because a surprising number of DC writers are hacks, we’ve had story after story devoted not to Batman fighting crime and solving mysteries, but to his near-fanatical obsession with justice and what he represents in a world where injustice is rampant. Batman hasn’t been allowed to be a character as often as he’s just been a moral cipher, a symbol of … well, something that a number of writers seem to think is very important but have a very hard time defining. No wonder the DC Universe is rebooting itself entirely: they stopped telling stories a long time ago and instead started tying in continuities and making sure we know that the characters are important and symbolic without actually bothering to tell us why they should be.
About the only interesting thing DC writers have done with Batman in the past decade has been to (all too briefly) turn Dick Grayson into Batman. I loved Dick as Batman. Grant Morrison was able to get across that Dick was worried about living up to Bruce Wayne’s legacy while still letting the guy be Batman. And that was even through Morrison’s usual convoluted technobabble and sadism.
Then he turned Batman into a worldwide fast-food franchise.
Oh, the DC Universe has turned out to be the easiest thing in the world for me to give up.
Anyway, at this point I actually prefer going back and reading stories about Batman and Robin fighting dinosaur robots and playing baseball with Superman. I’ve gone back to Batman’s real roots: silly stories where the Joker attaches him to a giant typewriter. I like those stories because there’s no continuity porn — the stories are there and then over — and there’s none of this brooding over what a hero should be and how dark the fight against crime is.
Because, quite frankly, the modern Batman is, for me, an asexual neo-fascist pursuing a vendetta for his own selfish gratification. He’s a head case. And he’s not moral.
If Batman were really interested in justice and the preservation of law and order, he wouldn’t be putting on a costume and running around breaking dozens of laws in pursuit of criminals. He’d be a cop. Or a DA. Or a judge or something. He’s not preserving law and order at all; he’s taking the law into his own hands on a nightly basis, and because he happens to catch psychos, he’s a hero. It’s totally false that Batman thinks law and order is important, because he ignores the law constantly. I know that’s part of Batman’s appeal: that he’s able to do things no one else can because he’s not a cop. But isn’t that also praising Batman for being a criminal when it suits him to be? Yeah, Batman doesn’t kill, but suddenly making speeches about the legal system when he finally captures Two-Face shouldn’t erase the fact that he broke every law he could in order to capture Two-Face in the first place.
Batman is a fascist. He’s putting himself above the legal system and declaring “I’m better than this, my crusade is more important than this, I am morally and ethically fit to make these kinds of decisions and interfere in this way.” Basically, we all have to follow the law or risk the wrath of Batman, who will teach you about the importance of law in an ethical society by unethically breaking all of those laws. Sorry, but last I checked, vigilantism is against the law, no matter how many results it supposedly gets. If Jim Gordon lets Batman do what he does, he’s no better than those cops in LA who set up that special squad to just go out and kill drug dealers. Jim Gordon should have been indicted a dozen times over by now.
And let’s mention the weird fan argument that Batman is great because he’s just a man with no superpowers and blah blah blah. Oh, and the people who ship Batman and Wonder Woman, which makes no sense to me. There’s nothing remotely sexual about Batman. The guy’s a damn monk. He’s got no time for such mundane things as human feelings; he’s too busy breaking the law in order to preserve it. He’s too busy being a man with no superpowers except an inhuman physical perfection, the knowledge of every kind of martial art and a mind like a computer. Oh, and a limitless supply of money.
And he does what any caring, ethical man devoted to the elimination of crime would do with a limitless supply of money: makes himself costumes, weapons and Batmobiles. Hey, why bother clothing and feeding the needy or cleaning the city or creating jobs in Gotham or, you know, doing anything about the root causes of crime when instead you can put on a silly costume and go out and punch sociopaths in the face until you feel slightly better about your parents being killed?
And isn’t that what Batman is really about? He’s not a moral crusader; that’s just a smokescreen for his real pastime, which is running the lives of Gotham’s citizens with his high-handed moral decisions and working out his anger over the murder of his parents by punching the Riddler over and over again. He can try and justify it with all the talk of justice he wants, but DC took Batman over the edge a long time ago with their focus on psychology and symbolism. It can force you to take a hard look at what Batman really does symbolize. And to me, he symbolizes a violent reaction against his own daddy issues and a bizarre fear that people need to be protected against themselves.
Batman is bullshit.
Hey, kids! Comics!
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.