Why is Batman such as appealing character?
I don’t really know.
Batman was created as a commercial character. Superman was intentionally created to be a sort of inspiring figure, a sort of Space Jesus, or Moses, depending on whether you go with the classic Moses-like Superman, or the more modern Christ-like Superman.
Batman on the other hand was not intended to inspire anyone. He was designed to be dark and scary. He was created as a response to the sales of Superman in Action Comics, a sort of paint-by-numbers superhero.
His cover pose swinging on the cover to Detective Comics #27 a swipe from a Flash Gordon drawing, right down to the rope. A mask swiped directly from Lee Falk’s The Phantom, that was later changed into a larger mask and cowl. Wings like DaVinci’s flying machine that later were changed into a cape like Dracula or Zorro. A gun and a don’t-mess-with-me-attitude swiped from the Shadow, not to mention Batman’s first ever story was a direct lift from an old Shadow story Partners of Peril from The Shadow became The Case of the Chemical Syndicate in Detective Comics.
It is easy to say some guy stole this from that character, and this part from that guy and that guy etc.
But in any of the various arts people swipe, or steal things all the time. It is one thing to be influenced by another artists work, another to steal someone’s work and pass it off as your own. One is influence, another is plagiarism.
Fortunately Batman was a mix of enough different elements, that nobody could successfully sue National Periodical Publications (later DC Comics) for making what was at the time, a relatively generic character, as were many of the heroes and antiheroes of the pulp era.
Batman before he appeared in print was a blonde-haired Superman clone in a red jumpsuit. The wings and domino mask being the only visually distinctive additions to make him a little different. Bob Kane’s Batman only became the Batman we know at the suggestion of Bill Finger, who suggested the colour black, cape and cowl and making the Batman’s eyes into small white slits rather than eyeballs. What would Batman have been like without Bill Finger’s contributions was the subject of this amusing strip by comic artist Ty Templeton.
So Batman was created as a cheap visual knock-off of Superman, he then evolved into a cheap knock-off of The Shadow. However you look at it, he was a character created by numbers purely for commercial reasons, to make a buck in the rapidly emerging market of superhero comic books.
In his first year Batman was a nasty selfish brute, who killed without mercy. A spoiled rich kid who got his jollies by putting himself recklessly in danger, and did not perform a whole lot of community service.
I doubt that version of the character could have lasted for 75 years. Batman changed with the times of course, he became an iconic character along with Superman and Wonder Woman during World War II, promoting war bonds and supporting the troops on the covers to his comic books.
He became a sort of smiling cop and public servant in his post war years. Later he became a science fiction hero in increasingly bizarre stories, followed up by a return to the smiling Batman, but this time with added camp value and over the top death-traps. He morphed yet again into a James Bond-like hero, sans Robin. He continued changing, becoming a dark avenger character once again, like his original inception.
Batman is not a fixed character who is always the same, like any other superhero he changes with the times, reflecting our values and what is going on in the real world outside the borders of the panels of his monthly adventures.
Who would have thought that such a commercial, selfish, cynical character would one day inspire millions around the globe? Who would have thought that Batman would last for over seven decades, while other generic heroes lived and died in quiet desperation, some not so much forgotten as never found in the first place.
Who would have thought that Batman would inspire fan films, documentaries, custom toys, real life custom built Batmobiles, more T-shirts than there are days in a year and multiple star-studded films.
Who would have thought that Batman could stand up to critical analysis from psychologists, film theorists and literary theorists?
I don’t think anybody could have predicted the staying power of Batman. I don’t think anyone could have suggested that one day this cheap pulp knock-off would grow into his own self-invented myth, and be known around the world, inspiring children and adults alike.
Why are more people inspired by Batman than Superman? Do we relate to the darkness in him, his flaws perhaps. Is Superman the future of the human race? Did Superman arrive too early and maybe we are not ready to be like him just yet, perhaps we need Batman to pave the way for us. I like to think that each of the great superheroes arrived when we needed them the most, and they continue to live on as inspiring figures in hearts and minds around the world.
Perhaps we need characters like Batman to help us move away from our personal history of barbarism, torture, war and inhumanity to one another. Maybe we need the darkness in Batman to acknowledge all that we are, and have been while stepping boldly into the future, diving off into the unknown like Batman diving of a skyscraper, a mix of perverse joy and fear in his eye.
No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves – Native American Proverb
To acknowledge that right now we are like Batman, still obsessed by our collective fear, trauma and pain, but one day we may be Supermen and Wonder Women, leaving behind our obsessions, transcending our collective pain, healing the individual and collective psyches of humanity, forgiving those who might do us harm, and no longer engaging in wars, whether wars of bombs and guns or wars of words and ideas. I hope that we all follow Wonder Woman’s example and become ambassadors of peace and embody higher values within our own communities.
Superheroes are whatever we want them to be. Simplistic Avatars of violence, messengers of the future potential of humanity, or just fun characters whom we see ourselves in, and use as vehicles to tell timeless tales. Not unlike the stories of great heroes and heroines told around camp fires for thousands of years. A heroic figure by definition is a character of inspiration, a character that hints at something greater than the everyday mundane world.
Whether we live a mundane existence, or accept the challenge to be the greatest version of ourselves we can imagine individually and collectively is up to us.
Our real challenge in life is not to turn away from our struggles and difficulties, but to embrace them and see them as essential to our own growth, to be the every day heroes of our own lives, especially for our loves ones, and those whom depend on us to take care of them.
I’m proud of our superheroes, they may be beings of pure imagination, but they inspire real lives, real emotions and real hearts. I hope you find your own inner hero, and if you are not ready to do that just yet, I hope you can acknowledge that the potential exists in you right now, there is a place in you that already knows how to be a hero.
That inner hero is waiting for you to take action, to bust out of the chains of doubt, fear and insecurity, that inner hero is waiting to boldly live the greatest life you can imagine.