Batman – the man we love but don’t care to understand17 min read
Who doesn’t love the Batman ? Even those who claim to not like him or call him overrated enjoy him as a guilty pleasure ! But how many actually care to understand the Batman. Not many I am sure. Today lets care to understand him as much as we love him.
Superheroes used to be the primary route of escape from our real world grayness. They were meant to serve as a mode of entertainment and education for young minds. But over the span of the 20th Century when comic books made its path into the adulthood , writers and filmmakers forced by the need of diversity, introduced some real life implications and more grounded philosophies to superheroes and/or their friends , family and enemies. This changes has intensified with time.
But due to obvious reasons , inserting realism in fiction has always affected characters more grounded to reality since inception ; more. For example , Batman , one of the earliest comic book character who do not only share human qualities but also suffers from them.The character was made by Kane and Finger at a time of urban expansion , depression and violent crime ; a time which demanded more light-hearted superheroes like Superman.
While the character is nothing like the Man of Steel and the last character to be introduced during a dark time , the character since then has garnered fans and lovers from around the globe ; fans of all ages. Unfortunately not many of those fans actually care to understand him. Very few care to actually peep into the mask and just leave after admiring the caped crusader’s looks , moves or physicality. Granted it is a piece of fiction , but what’s the use of enjoying a good piece of fiction always thinking it as such ? Today we care to try and understand the layers within the man behind the mask.
Beware – The article in no way appreciates or intends to sympathize the character. The article tries to help make you understand the complex psyche of Bruce Wayne , the man Batman truly is – naked and vulnerable. But if you like dramatic reading , here is just the ally you will need (use headphones , play the video and scroll downwards to start reading) :
“A scar shouldn’t remind you of how you got hurt and the pain that came with it…It should simply remind you that you survived” ― Mihoko Shijo
It all started when Bruce Wayne, an extremely wealthy American ; witnessed the murder of his parents as a child.Now without continuing , just think about it for a moment. A kid , from an extremely privileged household , saw human blood for the first time ; that of his own mum and dad while they slowly breathed to their last in front of him ; at the age of 8. Witnessing the death of loved ones is known to bring drastic changes in a human mind. Here we are talking about murder.
But that’s not it. The real brain chemistry takes a long way to settle in. Preparing for the funeral is easy , people come to pay their condolences with flowers , but what when the noise stops ? What kills you more , the silence with in the big manor or the gunshot that night ? Though we have a faithful butler to aid you in all sort of needs , but with all respect , a butler is not a father or a mother ; he can never be.A kid experiencing that kind of trauma in the real world resorts to a multitude of layers within oneself to find escape most of the time.
A pain that early an age does create depths within a person which he/she can’t escape ever again. And Bruce is not different – he does suffers from schizophrenia and paranoia. His parents death , their blood running through the Gotham streets and his incapability to do anything that day – left a scar which never healed. Another bizarre thing about Bruce Wayne is that he has a brain working perfectly in all cases. But when it comes to this particular memory of his parents murder, he has shown signs of delusion at many occasions , twisting the manner of how things played out that night.
Various issues have even proved that at some point he didn’t let the scar heal. The reason varies from being super heroic ( the sake of any other child who need not experience what he had ) to downright selfish ( where he suffers from existential nihilism every time he’s not Batman).Regardless , a scar like any other thing on the body is meant to heal as a natural process. Going against nature makes you an abomination. In real life . we have examples where a pain sustained for too long eats a human brain inside out.
At the end of the day , Bruce is unique and an inspiration to many lost in the same darkness. He has walked on a very thin rope from the incident to the point where he becomes Batman. Sadness, shock, anger and fear—all emotions bound to be strong and powerful in a child who has just lost their parents—cry out for something to direct them towards. They demand an answer. Why did this happen? What’s the reason? Why didn’t anyone stop it? Why did it happen to me? But there are no answers. A senseless act of violence has no reason behind it. Certainly not one that’s going to matter to a grieving child. And when there are no answers, you look for someone to blame. Likewise , in Batman #38, we are introduced to a kid called Matthew. He is a wealthy young boy who experienced the same thing as Bruce. But unfortunately , he couldn’t handle the way Bruce did. In the end , Mihoko Shijo’s quote (at the top) works the reverse way for Bruce. The scar reminds him of everything but his survival.
“It looked as if a night of dark intent was coming, and not only a night, an age. Someone had better be prepared for rage…” ― Robert Frost
While one may seem the description an attempt to “over-analyze” fiction ; everything the caped crusader fights for is everything the real world suffers from everyday. Unfortunately the real world is more vicious which gives passage to a lot of dead parents but has no place for a Batman. So what makes Batman special for what he is , even in the fictional world ? More so , what makes Bruce so special ?
What fills the void when your tears dry away ? rage and vengeance. Rage helps make the stationary pain mobile. Rage is something no one is prepared for ever.The rage that burns through Bruce’s soul , makes him stand again and again after he falls. The rage in him makes him such an adamant , tough and aggressive opponent. A man who gets out every night to beat numerous people unconscious , defeat enemies stronger than him and carry himself even when he can’t ; needs an amount of viciousness and rage in him. Your hands need something to go on , something powerful to beat a human to a pulp. If you can’t imagine how it feels like , imagine remembering an incident which humiliated you and made you feel helpless. Now use that anger on a boxing bag for as much as you can. Imagine that amount of rage burning your soul all the time but you just pretend whenever you are not in suit…. pretend you are interested only in good wine and ladies. If you try and the incident you think of is powerful enough , you will get an idea of what I am trying to convey.
Even when Bruce Wayne can afford the most expensive of flesh , he doesn’t have a soul who could shed a tear when he dies. The rage though does make Batman an unstoppable force , it , similar to the scar , eats away the life out of Bruce .It makes Bruce Wayne , courtesy of Frank Miller , an empty shell ! There is an weird amount of rage always in him which never ceases , anyhow ,ever. If not for the physical tenure and the gadgets , it is also nearly impossible for a human psychology to bear and suffer from the amount of pain and rage for as long as Bruce does. At a point of time , one has to come to some kind of resolution with oneself. One good example of that is Mask of the Phantasm where he tried but couldn’t.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ― Paulo Coelho,
Yet another quote Batman defies every moment of his life. Now you might be wondering whether I have taken it to myself to contradict great quotes with Batman. Well , all I want to demonstrate is how much a human anomaly Bruce Wayne actually is.The only thing which has been a difference between his life and death in several occasions is fear…Fear of losing without being able to do what his rage and pain intends to ! We know , Bruce Wayne feared bats and later used his own fear on others. But it is not his greatest fear !
He fears failure more , which helped him overcome the fear of bats. He fears death in some gutter without being able to fight back, of standing up to his parents portrait , of failing his father’s greatest dream – Gotham. Obviously some issues have lightened this a lot. This is comic books we are talking of after all , which had many different eras to thrive on. But this is the essence of the character.
Bruce is an extremely flawed human as far as general standards of superheroes are considered. He uses an evil persona to invoke fear in criminal’s mind to maintain justice and is extremely egoistic and aggressive but he always keeps coming back. There’s something in him which is more than a miracle in a fictional world. Something more relatable ! Something which keeps a brawler to go on rounds after round even when he can’t , something which prevents a drug addict from stopping , something powerful and untameable. His fear of failure is what moulds the rage and fear in shape.
Yes , at a point of time , his fear was replaced by over-confidence ; another human flaw. But he was soon brought down to fear again by unpleasant happenings. Batman needs to fear. While its true that fear of failure prevents you from achieving impossible feats in your life , it helps you in more basic needs…like surviving.What Batman does everyday.Many comic panels , Games , motion pictures have been the witness to this thing.
“You can kill a man but you cant kill a idea.” ― Sophocles
But after all this , Batman needs the paranoid and disturbed Bruce to become the superhero we all know. The prime factor which makes Batman an ideal is the incredible humanity Bruce Wayne processes. Batman is incredibly humane and kind.The idea of a symbol of hope that drives him all the time finds its origin from the great heart Mr. Wayne processes . And herein lies the dichotomy.
The bat persona he resorts to fight crime is a creature of the night. His actions and ways evil and satanic from all point of views. It takes a long time to consider a hero out of this vigilante. Whereas , Bruce Wayne has a seraphic soul. No matter how corrupted or complex his mind is , his heart is as pure as the one it was before his skin was stained by the blood of his parents. But people are tempted by the dark and evil measure Batman resorts to. It is human psychology that is tempted by anything that reminiscent of our darker self. “Bad-ass” , Brutal or “Swaggy” are just modern age’s edgy way to define that.
His idea of being the symbol of hope lays some pretty solid principles. Pretty much every one of them narrows down to him not taking a life. Another confusion I see all the time among the fan community : Bruce Wayne is an egoistic ( to a point where he behaves unpleasantly stubborn and offensive ) person but that does NOT make him a narcissist. And neither he is a fascist ! He is a believer , he is a believer in the American justice system , in Gotham , in GCPD , in Gordon or whoever in charge . He believes he aids the cause , not execute it.
A human and his judgement can be flawed and maturity is in understanding that. Once a life is taken , one can’t bring it back ; no matter how much one regrets over it. The caped crusader understands every bit of this and considers no judgement (including his) ultimate. His extreme vigilante behavior raises the inevitable question : By not killing Joker and other villains is he a part of the crime from there henceforth ? While there is that obvious reason which questions a
comic book publisher’s human’s innovative quality , you can think it around like this : Batman is an idea ; an idea behind a cause . If he kills someone , considering him incorrigible , at any point of his life ; won’t it all result to nothing ?
The moment he takes a life , no matter how much guilty , he loses everything he fought for. The idea – the symbol – the legend – everything burned down to a moment of failure. Its true its unfair – but it’s a fictional superhero. And his moral code is what makes him recognizable among other superheroes with likewise limitations. To end it in a nutshell , fiction especially superheroes is appreciable for some pretty good reason. The prime reason being how different it is from realism. Batman’s idea of symbolism , not taking a life , of him taking the mantle of batman to higher grounds than his enemies is the part of fiction which is elementary to his likability. Inducing realism in those core attributes takes away the respect from the character.
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Confucius
Batman fears failure but hasn’t he ever failed ? Isn’t it even too extreme even for a fictional superhero ? While Batman has saved countless lives and has been a successful beacon of hope for many years for the people of Gotham , he has had multiple failures over his career. While some failures tore the dark knight apart to even a point of retirement ( The Dark Knight Returns) , some questioned the threat he processes to his team mates ( Death in the Family ). His failures range from failing in becoming a guardian , a father , a mentor and a lover on multiple occasions. Though most of his failures are the hand job of his nemesis Joker ( another complex character , maybe to a higher degree ) , some are indirectly of his own.
Batman tried to bring some orphans like Dick and Jason under his shelter with the intention of protecting themselves as well as others from the evil residing outside. While one died a horrible death in the hands of Joker to come out as a nemesis , another one decided to separate ways for his behemoth ego. This are the resultants of the complex mind of Bruce Wayne where he can be protective but never loving. A good insight of this characteristic flaw is executed flawlessly by Hugh Jackman when he portrayed Wolverine for the last time in Logan.
Bruce’s failures are sometimes extension of his own flaws. One among many is that he can not trust anybody. He wants to , but can’t. Both Life and Gotham always had fooled him every time he did. Many authors have pushed the limit to question the readers whether characters like Wonder Woman and Superman can maintain their composure when they see things Bruce has seen. Or will they trust humans again when they go through the filth Bruce has walked on over the years as Batman (consider real life situations assuming how Gotham is defined by over the years : rapes , murders of children and old men, brutality ,swollen eyed drug addicts , cheap young prostitutes etc ) ?
While this quality of not trusting saves him on many occasions , it has brought destruction to people he cared about. One good example is JLA: Tower of Babel wherein the Legion of Doom is formed to eliminate the Justice League using protocols created by Batman to take down the Justice League , should its members ever go rogue.
“Legend remains victorious in spite of history.” -Sarah Bernhardt
And then above all the layers and flaws we have the legend we all love. The man who defeated Superman. The man who defeated Darkseid. The man who became the god. But if you go through minimal analysis , his greatest stories are always the most personal. Its always about the times Joker or somebody else tried to peel one of the layers (spoken of ) from him.
Over the 20th Century , authors and filmmakers like all other characters have experimented on the character in different realities and scenarios : Adam West’s Batman ( campy and kid friendly superhero TV show ) , The Dark Knight Returns ( dark , old and weary ) , Superman : Red son Batman ( a Russian anarchist Batman, whose parents were killed by the KGB from Earth 30) , Batman Earth-2 (Born in the 1910s, Bruce Wayne eventually retires as Batman and becomes Police Commissioner) ,Gotham by Gaslight (the dark knight from the 1889 era’s Batman) , Superman : Kingdom Come Batman (ravaged and exposed after years of crime fighting he uses an exoskeleton to keep himself together and keeps the peace on the streets of Gotham using remote-controlled robots), Thomas Wayne from Flashpoint Paradox ( where he and Martha Wayne survived and Bruce died ; causing him to be the Batman and Martha to be the Joker ) , Batman : End Game , Batman : Hush , Dark Nights event (the Dark Multiverse containing evil versions of Batman known as the Dark Knights) , White Knight ( in a world where Batman has gone too far, its up-to Joker to save Gotham City) , The Dark Knight Trilogy (Christopher Nolan’s realistic take on Batman) and many more.
Irrespective of all the incarnations , the best Batman stories just like Superman are the ones which are personal and which though rose to great heights to endorse diversity , never dis-respected the character itself. Its proved time and again that Superman and Batman are two sides of the coin and both are required to understand the beauty of the DC world. While the man of steel teaches us to rise above our darkness , the dark knight teaches us the same logic by residing in it. Batman’s logic can be debated to resonate more and stands out to be a better set of survival skills in a world where it’s almost impossible to rise above darkness. We don’t have either of the World’s finest in the real world yet Batman resides more among us than Superman .
As bad as it may sound , a person with the motivations of Superman in our real world is subject to assassination or murder. That raises the question of whether his morals sound strong in the absence of a diamond strong skin or an invulnerable status. Batman’s ideals , on the other hand , stands strong even without strength or wealth.How we need to do things out of the books of honesty and goodwill at times , how to earn your strength , how to be a hero when others don’t , how to stand there when everything is against you , but the most important : how to keep on surviving while doing some good ; Batman teaches us all in one way or the other. While he doesn’t rank high in the moral compass list , the character provokes us more to thrive in this gray world. The character did not receive his strength from birthright , some incident or cause…he earned it. He had wealth and miracles in fictional world , but if you have been reading all along , you know why that holds secondary.
In a world where people use fictional character and their world as a mode of escape , Batman is one of the few who serves as the bridge between the real and fictional world. Its the depth of the character that has made him such a valuable asset of DC Comics. Batman had always sustained a position among the top 3 superheroes in modern history. His comics are said to have sold at times when all others had hard time to roll out. But the ton of the popularity is just awed by how the legend is , from the outside. Though we merely scratched the surface (keeping in mind the boredom of comic book nerds ) , today we cared to look at his inside.
Let me know what points I missed on. Also if you liked this article , what more character you would like me to cover ? Let me know in the comments section below.