Analysis of Batman
Exploring one of the most popular characters ever.
Who is Batman
Born the sole heir to the wealthy Wayne fortune, Bruce Wayne is the caped crusader, the dark protector of Gotham City in the fictional world created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Batman is a vigilante and is often hailed as the World’s Greatest Detective. After the tragic death of his parents in an alleyway robbery gone wrong, he becomes disillusioned to the dark underworld of his city and spends his life trying to save it.
Bruce Wayne, with his intellect and inherited fortune, designs and uses a suit of power-armor, called the batsuit, to both protect his identity and to fight crime in Gotham City. But maybe you already knew all that. And that’s why today we’re going to dissect the Bat-Man and see what makes him tick.
Full disclosure, I’m very sure that I don’t know all there is to know about Batman. That said, Batman has pretty much become a pop-culture icon at this point, and he’s paraded world over as a symbol of justice and protection. But why? How did a mentally scarred individual skulking around in a bodysuit punching bad guys become the fan-favorite he is today?
Batman’s origin story
To understand Batman, let’s start with the most common version of his origin story.
A young Bruce Wayne was walking home with his parents through a dark alleyway when they were mugged. In the process, Bruce becomes an orphan and is left with only his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, to act as caretaker and to manage the Wayne estate. Broken and distraught, he realises that it was pure chance that his parents lost their lives, and resolves to make the world a better place. He travels the world, learning martial arts, and honing his skills. He decides to become a symbol, an icon of hope for the salvation of his city. He takes inspiration from his childhood fear of bats and decides to strike fear in the hearts of criminals by becoming the Bat-Man. With the help of advanced technology produced and funded by his parents’ fortune, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham to give the city some hope. He befriends James Gordon, one of the higher-ups in Gotham’s Police Department. Though Gordon disapproves of Batman’s vigilante methods, he understands that sometimes the world needs someone who takes justice into their own hands.
He wears a mask to hide his identity, and to protect the ones he loves. He leads a double life, as Bruce Wayne, playboy philanthropist by day, and managing Wayne Enterprises. At night he dons the cowl and stalks crime in Gotham. His playboy lifestyle lets him write off expenses, and use the money for technology and maintaining his arsenal. In a few versions, Bruce uses experimental military technology developed by Wayne Enterprises, and his Batmobile is a prototype Humvee.
Traumatized by the cold-blooded murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne refuses to kill people, no matter what it may cost him. And his enemies take advantage of this fact, routinely exploiting the broken justice system in Gotham to break out of prison and bring chaos to the city. He claims to only bring to justice those who the system cannot touch, and is hailed as a symbol of hope in the city.
What are his flaws?
That’s really all the backstory we’d need for a good analysis, though a few other details do pop up. In recent editions, he recruits and trains the next generation of the protectors of Gotham, and in effect becomes a father figure to some.
But really that’s beside the point.
Batman and bad medical care
Now I realise this may be a ridiculous point to consider, but: What moral high ground does Batman have, just because he doesn’t kill? From comic books and video games and movies, we see that his methods of incapacitating villains are often more painful than outright killing them. It could even be argued that these common thugs only work for villains because of the outright corruption of Gotham. Without proper public facilities like education and healthcare, these people may work only because the alternative is a short and bitter life.
Also, consider the general lack of facilities in Gotham, again, because of corruption. What’s to say that these goons will get a full recovery? No villains would waste resources on hired muscle, they’re expendable. By leaving them alive with broken bones, Batman probably doomed them to a life of poverty and sickness.
And can we talk about why he needs to be the person to save the city? Why does Batman refuse to do things with bureaucracy, instead choosing to put his body, soul, and his loved ones through hell? There was an alternate storyline where the fights between Batman and the Joker were becoming increasingly violent, to the point it was tearing Gotham apart. In this series, called Batman: The White Knight, the Joker finds a cure for his insanity, runs for councilman, and sets in motion plans that result in a brighter future for Gotham, a far better outcome than Batman could produce.
It’s an interesting story in its own right, and I won’t spoil it here. But it does address an important issue.
Self sacrificial, or Martyr Complex?
It’s not easy for Batman to stick to his moral code. He’s said time and again that he feels responsible for all the people who have died at the hands of his villains because he was responsible for keeping them contained. And painful as it may be, he doesn’t bow out. He faces his challenges head-on. The question must be asked: Why does he believe he must face these threats to Gotham?
Alternate story-lines like the White Knight shows us that Gotham Society can be manipulated into good behaviour, although it involves blackmail and loss of life. But it can be argued that Bruce Wayne’s vigilantism is his acceptance of the fact that the justice system is ultimately not strong enough to handle the threats that he faces. And yet he claims that he cannot kill because he is not judge, the jury or the executioner. He exists outside the system to bring criminals to justice, yet if the system was just, he wouldn’t be needed. He may have found meaning in his life by dedicating it to bringing criminals to justice.
Batman is a catalyst for stronger villains
An interesting point touched on by the Nolan films was that Batman himself was a catalyst for “a new breed of supervillain”. By staying outside the system and still taking down the criminal elite, Batman made it necessary for a crime to have new kinds of villains. Criminals could no longer compete with the technology the Batman had, so they had to get better, and bigger, to fund all the weapons they’d need. Crime had to be organised because the alternative was to be taken down by Batman. Criminals needed the connections afforded by crime lords like the Penguin and Harvey Two-Face because otherwise they’d be swept up by Batman on any night. Batman’s presence forced them to upgrade crime, raise the stakes and go all in because the alternative was to quit crime as they knew it.
How is Batman so popular?
Batman is a morally complex character. His blatant refusal to kill, irrespective of the gravity of the crime is proof of this. He fights for the people of the city and believes that a hero can be anyone, even a person doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that it’s okay. He gives everything he has, from his wealth to his own life, to make sure that the city is safe. He takes the blame of wrong-doings done by Gotham’s White Knight, Harvey Dent, so that the people do not lose faith in the system of law. He cannot allow the city to lose hope, and this lets him be anything the city needs him to be.
Each of his villains are a representation of his broken psyche
Like any good superhero, Batman has a whole cast of enemies. And it’s interesting to note how each of his nemeses represents a corrupted version of his ideals. The Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot, was a caricature of the rich and powerful in Gotham and used his power and money to get conduct shady business dealings. The Catwoman, Selina Kyle, uses her training and gadgets to steal from the rich for the thrill of the steal. Harley Quinn, a psychologist who went insane treating the Joker, still believes that she can save him, and refuses to think otherwise. Dr. Freeze used his technology to put his wife in stasis, but still has no cure for her disease. And nothing represents his rage against the world better than Bane, a bulked-up experiment gone wrong.
Batman is psychologically scarred from the death of his parents. And he uses that pain as fuel, to always adhere to his moral code. Even when his the Joker blows up a hospital, or Scarecrow poisons an entire city, he cannot kill them, even if it would save many more lives. And his villains offer the easier route, be it insanity, hedonism, apathy, domination, or rage. Batman is unique, and popular, because of his persistence in not giving in to the dark side, as it were.
What does he represent?
For whatever reason, Batman chooses to believe in the system. Yet he operates outside it, bringing in criminals who were too powerful or influential to police. One cannot mistake his vigilantism for a lack of faith in the legal system, because Batman provides a crutch for the system, a way for the good people of Gotham to try and bring justice to those with no hope.
How has Batman changed over the years?
I’ll ignore the recent reboots, by popular consensus that they were a blatant cash grab that failed because of poor writing. And while the Nolan films stand as masterpieces in telling Batman’s story, they have made some changes for a better film. Not really drastic changes, mind you, but there they are.
Batman’s parents were killed when he was very little. The shot with Gordon putting a coat around his shoulders really cements in that Gordon is one of the good guys.
The part where he goes into a prison to beat up convicts seemed a bit contrived. In the Trilogy this shot was meant to show how Bruce had no hope for himself or the world and was just determined to hurt the “bad guys”. The part where Ra’s al Ghul comes to recruit him cements how he got his discipline from the hard training he undertook. He takes his armour and gadgets from the military surplus tech that never made it to production.
The comics tell a different story, where he used his pain as the discipline to force him into peak physical and mental condition. He becomes the World’s Greatest Detective, and then he becomes Batman. An appropriate summary is that the Christian Bale Batman is the playboy with an exciting night job, but the comic book Batman is more akin to Tony Stark, Machiavelli, and Sherlock Holmes rolled into one. He’s trained because he was suffering, and he grew up in pain and loneliness. Naturally, this makes a very depressing movie series, so I understand why it was edited.
Batman has always been an inspiring figure in pop culture because at the end of the day he’s just a mortal human being, who keeps up with superpowered aliens, demigods, and conquerors of worlds. Even in the Justice League, with Superman, the Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman, he comes out as the best strategist and leader. He’s gotten to where he is with a combination of grit, endurance, and persistence. Even his flaws can be thought of as his faith in his convictions, that even villains can be rehabilitated in the legal system, and that no one person should have the power to deal death to another.
Batman’s going to stick around, and with the recent Batfleck movies I thought it was important to write about a character who has inspired me through so much. I wanted to leave behind something, so people knew that Batman was more than just a character for some people.
This was a lot of fun to write, mainly because of the research I had to do for this. I’m really stoked that I could learn a lot about my favorite character.
If you had fun reading this, consider following IET Inkheart, where I’ll be writing a lot more of this. Though not particularly comic book stuff, just stuff that I think about.Written by Feyaz Baker on 08 Jan 2020