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I guess I just like liking things

My three favorite superheroes are Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman, in that order. Sure, I know Superman’s boring and Spider-Man’s Clone Saga was The Worst Thing Ever and Batman’s TV show Even Worse Than That, but these are my three.  A lot of it has to do with my formative years – if you were going to read comics back when I was a kid, theses were the main three you were going to read.  Spider-Man was my favorite for a long time, but then I got a book from the library that had Superman throughout the ages (highlights, sort of) and he was my favorite. Everything changed for me in 1989.

This is maybe not the best representation of "Serious Batman" that I could have chosen

This is maybe not the best representation of “Serious Batman” that I could have chosen

Batman was released in June of 1989. I wasn’t allowed to go to movies back then, but I was seeing pictures from the sets and hearing about it long before the movie came out anyway. And it looked really, really cool. Kinda dark, grim, full of shadows and great costumes, and I was hooked.  The movie made me seek out Batman comics, and it wasn’t long before I hit Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns…and blew my mind.

There isn’t much I can add to the multitude of voices that have said everything there is to say about that book, all I can do is tell you my perspective. I hadn’t read many comics, and the comics I had read were Spidey and Superman. Spidey, a normal kid with normal problems. Superman, a generally cheerful guy whose only weakness was green rocks. Pretty light fare, and pretty standard good vs. evil stuff.  And, sure, I knew Batman, but it was the TV Batman, a joke.  The only comics I’d seen were from the 70s, and I don’t know if you know this, but the 70s were a spectacularly goofy period of time for comics. While Superman was turning people into glass and growing a hippy beard, Batman was changing into a pink costume and using bat-anythings to get the job done.

So here comes The Dark Knight Returns and Batman has been retired for a while. He still sees evil everywhere, though, and he just can’t take it. He cannot sit by and let it happen, regardless of how old he is: it is Batman’s nature to fight evil. The art style of the book is crude, and it helps keep the reader off kilter. The story becomes a foundation for an epic study of just what it means to be a hero, and Batman delights in hurting criminals, and, honestly, the whole world of comics changed with that book. You might be too young to know it, because now everything is dark and gritty (even Spider-Man, for crying out loud), but it was The Dark Knight Returns that made everything dark and gritty.

In retrospect it’s weird it didn’t happen sooner. The grinning Bat Guy of the 70s was a parody of the man so devastated by the murder of his parents that he had to do something. A man shaped by tragedy into a crimefighter that works at night and preys on the fears of criminals should be dark and gritty. There should be an unpleasantness about his business, even as he is striving to make Gotham safer for its citizens. Even Batman’s famous “I won’t kill” ethos wasn’t there at the beginning – he even used guns at the outset. Frankly, the idea of there being a Robin along with a Batman still bothers me, all these years later. Sure, Robin’s there to lighten Batman up, but why do we need or want that? Let Batman do what Batman does.

The big appeal of Batman, of course, is that he’s human. When someone reads an X-Men comic, she does not think, “I could be Jean Grey some day!” There are other lessons we can learn from super- or non-humans. But Batman is someone that maybe, just maybe, with a lot of hard work and a bunch of found money, I could turn into. I could learn to detect and fight and track and all those other things. I could at least do one of those things, right?  And even if I never get to Batman’s peak physical or mental condition, even my trying would be of benefit.

In recent years Batman has become a kind of super-man, of course. No one wants to see a hero become less of a hero, so Batman has become a guy with an answer to everything.  And by “everything” I mean every last thing that could possibly happen. When he was broken mentally, readers found out Batman had created a fallback psyche, the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, to use until he could reboot himself. I’m not even going to try to explain that, it’s only important from the “Batman has a plan for everything” perspective. To some, this means Batman has become as boring as Superman. To others, it’s intriguing to ponder what might happen next to the character.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest Batman fan. There are thousands who know way more about the intricate details of his history than I ever will. I find myself drawn to the character rather than the specifics, if that makes sense. Here’s an overarching story, that of a man who creates (and then becomes) a persona to fight crime in response to a personal tragedy. That’s a story I can hook into.

It isn’t just that I like Batman, it’s that I’m fascinated by the character.  There are so many discussions about human nature that can jump from the starting point of Batman, and when you add in his enemies, you’re going to be talking all day. Would Joker exist without Batman? Does Two-Face mirror the Bruce Wayne/Batman dichotomy, or just take it to its logical ends? What does Clayface have to say about the impermanence of man? On top of that, there’s still a nice coat of good triumphing over evil and things blowing up.

When the “what superpower would you want to have?” question pops up, I generally go with “Wolverine’s healing ability” these days (I suspect it’s in large part due to my getting older and having aches and pains all the time). I don’t think of Batman’s abilities as superpowers, even though the amount of determination he has almost certainly is a superpower. I mean, really, aside from the family fortune and laws forbidding vigilantism, what’s keeping me from becoming Batman? My own lack of determination and drive, I suppose.



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