I think about Batman a lot. Too much, probably.
But the guy has been a huge part of my life. Starting with Adam West in 1966…
…and on up through to today. In fact, we spent New Year’s Eve screening the wonderful Batman vs. Two-Face, which kind of brought me full circle to something that’s been bugging me for a while now.
Sure, it was Adam West, it was played for laughs in a lot of places… but the core was still there, the things about Batman that I fell in love with in the first place were present in that story. And it reminded me how many of them are absent in the current comics.
Here’s the thing. Even Adam West’s Batman, as silly as he got at times, was still a BADASS. He might have been stiff and square and overly polite but by God he still scared the hell out of criminals and fought tigers.
No matter what version of the character you are talking about, that idea has to be at the center of it. As our friend Pol Rua puts it, “Batman’s real superpower is BEING AWESOME.”
Whether it’s fighting rhinos in the Golden Age…
…taking on the Hulk in the Bronze Age…
(Yeah, the Hulk, straight hand-to-hand– TWICE in one story!)
…or outsmarting the world’s greatest fighter in the modern age.
The awesome. That’s what we’re there for.
The trouble is, I never get to see that guy in the comics any more. Today it’s all dour sad stuff built on the idea that Batman is angry and miserable all the time. Like that’s the DEFAULT setting.
This has been something that has been percolating in Batman stories since the success of the big-screen Dark Knight movies, and it’s really getting out of control since DC’s Rebirth.
The latest spin on it is that Batman can’t BE Batman if he’s happy. At all.
No. That’s the last straw. That is flatly horseshit and there’s at least seventy years’ worth of Bat stories backing me up on this.
First of all, let’s get the main thing straight. Batman should not be constantly miserable.
Why would he be? He’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing, he has fulfilled his every childhood goal. Bruce Wayne moping about whether or not he is fulfilled is absurd because many, MANY writers have established, over and over, that BEING BATMAN is what fulfills him. What makes Bruce Wayne happy is taking criminals down and seeing justice done.
Moreover, unlike all the rest of us, Batman doesn’t ever need to hold back. Some poor schlub working retail has to hold it in and be nice when injustice happens and customers piss him off. But Bruce Wayne only has to hold back long enough to get into costume. Then that hostility gets vented.
On top of all that, he’s filthy rich and he has the coolest car in the world.
It’s not that he’s not serious. Batman’s not happy-go-lucky, no. But he is, above all, a creature of reason.
Batman’s mission is calculated, he dresses and operates the way he does for effect. Scaring the shit out of criminals is his primary tactic. It’s to mess with them, throw them off.
And there is considerable textual evidence that he enjoys doing it.
He’s perfectly capable of amusing himself at his enemies’ expense.
For the longest time, Batman’s windup to taking down the bad guys often included a wisecrack or two. This started in the Golden Age, before Robin even showed up.
When Batman got his seventies makeover into THE Batman, he was still capable of a smartass remark.
Even post-Miller, grm-n-gritty 1990s Batman threw off a one-liner once in a while.
In fact, I think one of the best bits from the Bruce Timm take on the character was Batman making fun of the Joker.
Why shouldn’t Batman make a joke once in a while? It unsettles the crooks and throws them off as much as the scary outfit and the ruthless combat moves do.
The trouble is that people conflate the idea of “serious” with “humorless.” Which is not to say you can’t have some fun with Batman’s scary image…
And it makes Batman more fun when he’s willing to kid around with his posse.
Snarking off with Alfred…
…a brief aside with the JLA….
…these lighter moments ADD to Batman’s coolness, they don’t take away from it. When the approach to the character is measured and capable of changes in tone, moments like this one land harder.
So all this goes to my point. I could go on. I’ve got a whole thing about how the World’s Greatest Detective should actually do a little deductive reasoning once in a while–he USED to– but the important part is that even then, you gotta bring the awesome. Here’s a sequence that illustrates everything I’m getting at, in two pages.
Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about, folks.
My hope for Batman in the coming year, and all the years to follow… is that he lightens up a little. “Serious” is not “mopey.” The mission statement should be adventure, not humorless tragedy. Let the Dark Knight have a little swash in his buckle. You don’t have to give up maturity in approach or technique to have that.
Wishing all of you, and especially the Caped Crusader, a happier New Year.
Back next week with something cool.