I’ve been slowly coming to grips with something about myself. It’s not something I’m proud to admit. It’s not something that goes with my character or even makes me that happy as a self-professed comic book geek. In fact, admitting this is a lot like admitting to gamers that you never played Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Unfortunately, it’s something that I feel compelled to bring forth into the light, if only to cleanse myself of the guilt and shame.
I don’t like Batman.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what one thing I don’t like about him. He’s a billionaire playboy by day and a masked vigilante by night. He doesn’t kill. He has one of the greatest minds in any comic book universe. He’s a master detective and world-class martial artist. All this adds up to what should be the greatest super-hero ever to see print, but for me he just comes across as a dick.
First of all, he’s a billionaire playboy. I’m sure that’s a tough cover to maintain during the day. “Alfred, bring in the next group of supermodels for me to show my batarang to.” Not only can I not relate to him as a character, I’m also insanely jealous. For a super-hero to resonate with their fans they need to be grounded in some type of reality. Imagine if Mark Cuban dressed up in all black and roamed the rooftops of Dallas stopping crime. That’s what Batman is. Can anyone really relate to that?
We’re also expected to believe that Batman can hold his own against the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. There was even a storyline in the JLA comic where Batman had to take out the entire Justice League single-handedly. I know that comic books are fantasy, but I refuse to believe that one human man can dismantle the most powerful beings in the DCU and live to tell the tale.
Of course, if Batman can take out the likes of Superman, then his rogues gallery should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. Batman’s refusal to use deadly force to deal with villains constantly puzzles me. How many times can the Joker escape Arkham Asylum and wreak havok before he is finally put down? Not only that, but the Joker is responsible for paralyzing Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and killing Jason Todd (Robin). If that’s not a reason to coat The Joker in explosive gel, I’m not sure what is. At least Michael Keaton’s Batman was willing to let him fall to his death in the movie.
Speaking of the movies, we’ve only had one really good Batman in Michael Keaton. He was troubled, his toys (those wonderful toys) felt like they were based in reality, and the Batmobile was bad ass. Even as Bruce Wayne, Keaton’s acting made you feel like Batman was just under the surface waiting to be let free. Once he put on the cowl, he didn’t become invulnerable or inhuman. He was just a man in a suit.
In stark contrast to that, Christian Bale’s Batman has a velvet voice by day and sounds like he’s gargling with gravel at night. He treats Batman like a split personality instead of a fractured piece of the same psyche. Bale may be better than Clooney and Kilmer, but he falls short of the bar set by Keaton, and the character feels worse for it.
Batman inhabits a universe of characters that are larger than life. A chief complaint of the DC Universe is that its heroes are too godlike and unrelatable to the reader. Batman is the one character that we should be able to use to relate to the rest of that world since he’s a human among gods. Instead, he’s been elevated to equal with them, and therefore lost his humanity in the process. Personally, I like my heroes to have faults. I don’t like them to be jerks because they’re better than you and they know it.
For Batman to feel relevant to me again would require him to shake off some of the grit that’s been added over the years. He keeps getting darker and darker, which ultimately results in him becoming a two dimensional parody of himself. Giving Batman a lighter tone doesn’t require bringing in Chris O’Donnell as Robin or adding bat-nipples to his suit. Just make him human. Make him vulnerable. Make him real.
And bring back The Batusi.