I had originally planned to do another gun control post today based on something that popped up on my feed in another forum. But that kind of thing is always coming up and for various reasons I decided to do something different today.
So today it’s the Batman rant.
As I mentioned before, I grew up on comic books, stretching from when I was in the single digit age range up into just after the mid ’80s. I read anything I could get my hands on. I’d even read my sister’s “Young Love” and “Young Romance” type comics. Yes, I’d even read the Archie comics. But my first love was superheroes.
One of those heroes was Batman. Now, the Batman I knew was quite a bit different from what most people seem to think of the character these days. My reading spanned the late Silver Age and into the Bronze age and just a bit into the Modern Age which is where I started losing interest. The Batman of this period was not, generally the costumed psychopath and certainly not the control freak who “refuses to play well with others” that I saw later. Nor was it a Batman whose sole motivation is some kind of displaced revenge for the death of his parents.
Let’s take that “displaced revenge” part. The Batman I grew up with had largely come to terms with his parents’ deaths. He hadn’t gotten over it. You never really get over something like that. There are much lesser traumas that I still struggle with. But you can come to terms with it and move on with your life. The Batman I knew had. This was a Batman who could laugh and joke with Robin (Dick Grayson then). This was a Batman who, when Dick Grayson decided he had outgrown the “Robin” identity and passed it on to a younger protege (Jason Todd, at that time another circus performer whose parents were murdered–in one letter column a writer commented on the similiarity to Dick’s origin and in a later letter column another writer pointed out “where else are you going to find someone with the kind of acrobatic ability to be a “Robin”?), was able to accept that decision calmly. (A later retcon not only changed Jason’s origin so it didn’t make any sense at all but also had Batman “fire” Dick as “Robin” as if Dick couldn’t move out, put on the costume and go out on his own anyway.) This was a Batman who could be a close friend of Superman–with each of them respecting the others strengths and understanding their weaknesses–and a valued contributing member of the Justice League, working well with others.
Sure, Batman would have started with displaced revenge. He would have started looking to enact revenge on criminals with his own hands for the deaths of his parents. And the rampant corruption throughout politics and law enforcement in Gotham City would have seemed to shut off “conventional” means of fighting crime. But only started. By the point in his career when I came in he had other reasons reasons that could be summed up as that he was just that good at it. He saved lives and protected people, whether it was stopping muggings in Crime Alley or fighting off world-threatening foes with the Justice League. “The World’s Greatest Detective” in story was not hubris. He simply was.
One of the common complaints people make about Batman is that he could do more to help people, and reduce crime, through his wealth than dressing up in a bat-motif costume and punching out a few criminals. What these people apparently never realized is that the Batman I crew up with, in his “Bruce Wayne” guise did exactly that. The Wayne Foundation was its own force for good in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne used his wealth both to finance his activities as Batman and to help the people of Gotham in other ways, all while maintaining his “playboy” guise in an effort (that would never work in reality, but just go with it for story purposes) to keep his nocturnal activities secret.
The simple truth was that Bruce “Batman” Wayne was a good man who did a lot of good (at least within the strictures the story format and the writers allowed–popular villains could never be permanently removed). He certainly didn’t keep other heroes from operating in Gotham City out of some territorialism. Rather, those other heroes weren’t in Gotham City because they had their own areas, and their own problems, to deal with. (Yes, Superman could probably have swept the whole planet clean of crime in an afternoon if he exerted himself but, well, that’s another thing you just had to go with for the story.)
That’s the Batman I grew up with.
But then Frank Miller wrote the mini-series “The Dark Knight Returns.” It was an excellent story. It was an excellent version of Batman–both returning in some ways to Batman’s more violent “Golden Age” roots and in others taking it in new directions. An excellent version. And in the comics Batman started getting a little bit of split personality. The “Batman” we saw working in Gotham City with Jason Todd was more the Batman I grew up with. The Batman working on the West Coast with the hero group he’d just formed “The Outsiders” was becoming more as one letter writer termed it “a cowled psychopath,” more the Batman from TDKR.
Then came the Crisis on Infinite Earths. DC eliminated their multiverse with various versions of Batman, Superman, and others leaving only a single Earth behind. That meant no different versions of Batman. And when DC had Miller write “Batman: Year One” it became clear that, while the events might not play out that way the Batman of TDKR was where that Batman was headed. The erasing–it never happened–of the Superman/Batman friendship was another bit. The retcon where Dick Grayson was “fired” instead of moving on with life and passing the mantle of Robin to Jason Todd, who know instead of being a circus acrobat was a street punk Batman found trying to boost the wheels from the Batmobile. This was a Batman who disliked and distrusted anybody who was not under his direct control (such as the series of “Robins” that would follow Dick’s departure).
This was not the Batman I knew and loved.
Look, Gotham City was a dark place. The crime and corruption made it so. Batman’s villains, where even the most “normal” of them was a little on the crazy side (Selina and her obsession with all things feline) and the worst (Joker and Two Face–’nuff said), were dark. Batman’s costume was dark.
Batman was not dark. On the contrary, Batman was a beacon of light in that sea of darkness. Perhaps I’m in the minority in thinking this, but that’s the Batman I knew and loved. I caught a glimpse of him in the cartoon Batman: The Animated Series. For the most part, though, he’s been missing in action.
I kind of miss him.
And that ends The Batman Rant.