We understand instinctively that Batman is more than the sum of his tools. Yes, he was made to be Batman, but he made himself, too, molding his mind and honing his talents to better serve Gotham and its people -Paul Asay
While the values of the Batman have changed over the decades, there remains key values, qualities and inherent characteristics that remain the same. This is a large topic that I could talk all day on, so I will cover it in multiple posts, as part of my ongoing series on “How to be Like Batman”.
What are some of those core values, qualities and characteristics? Broadly they can be said to be a mix of the qualities Batman embodies by who he was before he became Batman, and those qualities he developed through training on his way to becoming Batman.
Then there are and the qualities that we the reader ascribe to him or associate with him. Let’s take a look at some examples off the top of my head (not a definitive list, it will be sure to expand as I explore this topic). The list is kind of long, feel free to skip ahead and come back to it later, you don’t need to know em all to read the sections below.
But if you are obsessive compulsive like me about super-heroes, you WILL read the list. I converted the list into the below table as otherwise it went way too long down the screen, and between you and me I hate tables, they are as exciting as Batman sitting down for a whole issue and doing nothing, but this particular table I like.
Batman Character Value Grid
Some of those qualities repeat or overlap, but I think you will agree that the list covers the basics of who Batman was in his inception, who he has become over the decades and includes his near-mythical status in popular culture outside of the comics themselves.
There are also the qualities that we ascribe to him as readers, or are inspired by, as Cary Friedman talks about in his book Wisdom from the Batcave (these are some, but not all of those qualities):
Never Give Up
I’m going to explore some of those key core values and characteristics of Batman (as well as other qualities) in these articles, in no particular order. No doubt I will forget something that will have you screaming at the screen
“How did you miss that! You call yourself a Batman fan you maniac!”
So if there IS something obvious you feel I have missed, please put it in the comments and I will consider adding it into the next installment of the article series. This first installment will cover the following sub-topics: Dark Knight, Self-Invented Myth, Wrathful Deity, Morality, Relentless and Determined, Death Defying Daredevil. The “How to be like Batman” Series will cover the qualities of Batman, but also other unrelated topics in future installments.
Well, enough fluffing around… let’s get into it.
DARK KNIGHT (KNIGHT ASPECT)
Knights in the classic literary and mythic sense are known for valor, bravery, honor, chivalry, strength, generosity, courage, justice, mercy and faith.
Scott Farrell of the “Chivalry Today” website on the topic of Nobility says “Although this word is sometimes confused with “entitlement” or “snobbishness,” in the code of chivalry it conveys the importance of upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching” That sounds like Batman to me, he is incorruptible and uncompromising in his code of ethics and morality.
An inversion of the “good” Knight archetype, Batman lives in the night as a shadow, while he fights with bravery and integrity and valor, his dirty win at all costs tactics would not be considered honorable in the classical sense. However, when viewed in the modern context of the corrupt Gotham City, the Batman is indeed an honorable and noble protector. A Guardian of Gotham.
If we look at the example of real life classical knights, or modern soldiers, a life or death struggle has no real “rules”, anything goes if the aim is conquest or survival. By the same reasoning, anything goes for Batman, as long as he does not intentionally kill someone, that is his main rule, or code of behavior whether pursuing criminals or protecting the citizens of Gotham.
As a vigilante, Batman exists outside of the civil law. His mission is the ideal of “Justice”, not law enforcement. Justice can be an obscure and indefinable concept, that has little meaning to the person it is being applied to, and really only holds value for the one who is applying the punishment or consequence.
If a man steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, and is sentenced to prison where he is repeatedly raped, beaten and murdered, do we call this Justice? Clearly the value or idea of Justice is open to interpretation, Batman’s ideal of Justice may be very different than our own personal idea of justice.
In the Knightly value of generosity, the most obvious examples are not as Batman, but Bruce Wayne. His considerable philanthropic efforts through fund raising events, anonymous donations, business expansion and more demonstrate Bruce Wayne’s clear determination to transform Gotham City into a better city for every citizen. While Batman handles crime in a manner of crisis management, using similar tactics to peace keeping troops in tactical locations, his role as Batman is ultimately reactive.
While as Bruce Wayne his role is creative in building new infrastructure and resources to replace the rotten old guard of Gotham, the previous owners of Gotham being chiefly the mob who keep a stranglehold on the city in cahoots with the corrupt police force.
His ultimate goals as Batman and Bruce Wayne are not to end crime permanently, which is clearly not possible. His role is to leave the world a better place than when he entered it, and all his efforts are devoted to that single vision. While some may disagree with his tactics, his relentless persecution of organised crime allows the city breathing room to get back on its feet.
Batman does what law enforcement can never do, he goes directly to the heart of the problems in Gotham City, persecuting and tormenting the criminal elements not only with fear, but Justice. He is a inspiring example of moral values in a corrupt city, and standing up to oppression.
He is a bad boy, a rule breaker who operates outside of the law, because the law is so corrupt in Gotham that is it basically the government sponsored arm of the mob. Batman enforces his own version of law and Justice as the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader and Guardian of Gotham. In Batman’s value system, Justice holds a higher value than the laws of the nation.
While his reactionary behavior is extreme, it is a crisis management response than in the long term, hopefully allows the infrastructure of Gotham City (law, civics, education, commerce, resource management etc) a chance to grow into a healthier more vibrant city. While not all the people of Gotham look to Batman as a source of inspiration, enough do that it is clear he makes a difference, not just in putting criminals behind bars, but in giving hope to the citizens, where before there was only bleak hopelessness and desperation.
In this sense, he fulfills his role as a mythic figure, an idea whose time has come. Batman the myth has more resonance and power than any one single man could ever hope to achieve. By becoming an intentionally mythic, scary and heroic figure, he transcends mortal limitations, and becomes the Guardian of Gotham, the Dark Knight.
Batman taps into the vein of the universal unconscious and archetypes that Carl Jung frequently talked about, (click the link to see the full article) that primal part of human beings that responds to images, symbols and mythology. The part of us that inherently recognises mythic figures for what they are in a very raw, visceral and immediate fashion. It is one of the reasons Batman works best as a comic book character, and less so in films and other adaptations.
Even with no knowledge of the character, to see the comic book art of Batman is to encounter a physically dynamic, kinetic explosive force of living shadow and dream, a monster from the corner of your eye, a figment of your imagination given bold and vibrant life on a two dimensional pulp inspired plane. Like a freight train at full speed, to encounter the Batman on the comic page is to find a relentless unstoppable force who bursts right off the page and into your mind, and once there, refuses to leave.
Batman is an expert in human behavior and what motivates our actions, he reinvented himself as a cultural myth, an urban boogeyman, a creature of shadow and mystery that plays on people’s fears of the night and the unknown. Unlike classical mythic characters, who only become myth in the eyes of others by accident, Batman invented his own myth, and lived it. He tapped into the power of the human need to tell stories and fables, using it as another weapon in his war on crime.
While not intentional, Batman in the mythic sense can be viewed metaphorically as a wrathful deity. His anger, frustration, pain and devotion are channeled into an unrelenting and focused fury that will never ever stop once unleashed. He takes a fearsome form in order to render service to other beings.
“True to their name, in Tibetan art, wrathful deities are presented as fearsome, demonic beings adorned with human skulls and other bone ornaments” -Wikipedia
The Batman is a fear inspiring figure, he wears horn-like pointed bat ears upon his cowl that in silhouette give him the resemblance of a devil or demonic figure. He dresses primarily in dark colours, to better blend in with the night and shadows. Shadows and the night time have long been often associated with the unknown, and danger. To be in complete darkness IS dangerous, as without a source of light, we can trip, fall and even die from injuries.
The Batman’s eyes were intentionally made into small white slits (rather than eyeballs) at the suggestion of Bill Finger. To give him even more of an other wordly appearance, he seem to be less or more than human. He wears a bat on his chest, a symbol of an animal that represents many things in different cultures. A bat as animal totem can be symbolic of the earth, death and rebirth, unwavering devotion, heightened senses, being in touch with inner demons, journeying to the underworld of reality and more. A bat is a most appropriate symbol for Bruce Wayne’s fanatical devotion to his cause.
“My disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible…” -Bruce Wayne
MORALITY OF BATMAN
While Batman has his own ethical and moral codes, how these are interpreted are up to the writer. At times Batman is very moral, to the point of total inflexibility such as in the Wonder Woman story The Hiketeia. Wonder Woman is protecting a young woman whom she has sworn an oath to protect under the ritual of Hiketeia. She is not aware that the woman she is protecting is a murderer, the woman killed several men who were sex slavers who had also killed her sister. Batman is tracking the young woman who is wanted by the law, and confronts Wonder Woman, demanding she hand over the young woman / criminal, and Wonder Woman refuses, leading to a very one sided fight where Wonder Woman kicks Batman’s ass.
In contrast to this story, in the Allan Moore penned Swamp Thing’s #52-53, Swamp Thing comes to Gotham City and in his wake, everything starts growing, until trees and forests overwhelm the city. Batman tries to reason with Swamp Thing, and then later fights him, burning him with a flamethrower.
When Swamp Thing grows multiple copies of his body Batman learns that he can not beat the creature, nor can anyone. Swamp Thing’s lover is being held by the city, and he wants her back, the city officials want to arrest Swamp Thing as a criminal. In a passionate and angry speech Batman argues that Swamp Thing is not even truly human – but more a force of nature whom laws do not apply to. Batman knows that if they do not release the woman, they may lose Gotham City with no hope of recovery.
“Either we find some way to release the Cable woman, or we begin evacuation right away. There are no other options. That thing out there is very nearly a God. It can crush us.” – Batman
RELENTLESS AND DETERMINED
Batman has faced defeat time and again over the decades is his career as the Guardian of Gotham City. Often he has faced impossible odds, and whether he wins or loses, he does not give up. The quality of “not giving up, no matter what”, is a quality he shares with his spiritual brother Superman. It is one of core defining elements of the Batman, along with his iron-will, incredible self-discipline and regulation of his impulses.
In Batman: The Cult, – by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson – Batman faces Decon Blackfire, a religious cult leader whose imprisons Batman, then has Batman beaten and psychologically tortured seemingly without end. Eventually Batman escapes, and recovers, but not immediately. And not without consequences, as Batman was brainwashed by Decon Blackfire and takes a long time to fully recover, it is one of Bruce/ Batman’s most humiliating and soul destroying defeats throughout his career.
Similarly in the Grant Morrison Batman R.I.P. storyline, Dr. Hurt tortures Batman psychologically, but this time Bruce Wayne has prepared a “back up” personality, the Batman of Zur-en-arrh who is basically a version of Batman without Bruce Wayne.
Dr Hurt triggers a post hypnotic suggestion that triggers Bruce’s transformation in to the Batman of Zur-en-arrh, and also leaves him in a state of withdrawal from synthetic drugs. Batman is effectively homeless, without his usual resources and out of his mind in the story. Despite his condition, he still manages to be very dangerous.
Morrison plucked the idea of the gaudy Zurr-en-arrh costume from an old Batman story.
Batman – The Superman of Planet-Xin appeared in Batman #113, 1958. In the story, Batman meets his doppelganger from the planet Zur-en-arrh, he travels with him to the alien planet, where he magically has Superman like powers.
It is a fun nonsensical throwaway story typical of that era. The Zur-en-arhh Batman in the ridiculous bright red purple and yellow costume tells our Batman that he observed him through a powerful telescope, and was inspired to become his own Batman. No explanation though about the wacky colours that look like Robin and Batman mixed together.
In Batman: Venom by Denny ‘O Neil, Batman becomes addicted to an experimental steroid drug, after failing to rescue a young girl trapped beneath a heavy object, he decides he is not strong enough, even with more training. He reluctantly accepts a drug from a chemist who turns out to be a criminal planning to take down Batman.
Batman gets out of control with the chemical addiction, and eventually locks himself in the Batcave for a month to detox himself, with Alfred on hand only to give him food. Eventually Batman kicks his chemical addiction and comes back to beat the bad guys, who can not believe the will power Batman exorcised to get off the drug, as most of his new test subjects have gone crazy on the super-drug.
In Batman: Knightfall a run down, overtired and sick Batman is faced with recapturing all of the inmates of Arkham Asylum after Bane breaks them out. At this point, Batman has never seen Bane, who uses Batman’s own psychological tactics against him.
When Batman does face Bane, he is exhausted, outmatched and has no real hope of beating Bane. Bane then swiftly breaks the Batman’s back. Beating Batman physically by breaking his back was just the icing on the cake, Bane’s real goal was to leave Gotham without its Guardian, to beat Batman psychologically as well as physically, leaving him truly “broken”.
In Batman: The Court of Owls Bruce Wayne is tormented by the un-killable owl assassins in and out of his Batman costume. His enemies seem unbeatable, finally after non-stop attacks around, in and under Gotham City, the owls invade Bruce’s Batcave, the one place that he likes to be left alone.
A pissed off Bruce Wayne runs and hides in a panic room with Alfred. Just when it seems he is out of options and out of plans, he turns down the temperature of the room to below freezing, the one weakness the Talon assassins seem to have. Cold slows them down temporarily, their re-animated corpses become vulnerable, eventually the cold will put them into a state of suspended animation if they are kept cold long enough.
Bruce emerges from his panic room in a kick-ass suit of armor that recalls Iron Man’s antique Mk.1 suit, and then he cleans house, mercilessly beating the Court of Owls Talon Assassins, kicking ass, taking names and taking out weeks of frustration after many dead ends in pursuing his investigations into the mysterious Court of Owls.
In all of these examples, Batman comes back from his physical and/or psychological defeats. He rises up like the immortal phoenix of legend, from the ashes of his old self he rebuilds and reinvents himself time and again. He is the ultimate unbeatable foe in that he never gives us, all defeats are feedback he uses as fuel to get stronger, to learn more about his opponents or whatever impossible situation he faces.
In our world any person like this would be dead a hundred times over, but in the world of comic books, Batman is immortal. He is an idea that can not be beaten, and if he is, he only comes back stronger, each temporary defeat only makes him more determined and relentless.
DEATH DEFYING DAREDEVIL
Another example of Batman’s never say die attitude is his inevitable escapes from perilous death traps. The camp TV show Batman from 1966 starring Adam West and Burt Ward played up this element of the Batman character to dramatic effect.
Episodes would air twice a week, with the full episode broken in half, the cliff-hanger in the middle that ensured the viewers would tune in later in the week to see how Batman would escape another fiendishly diabolical death trap.
In the Batman comics – and most adaptations in other mediums – Batman is a master escape artist who would do Houdini proud. His relentless determination, never give up attitude and IRON-WILL are truly challenged each time he performs another desperate death defying escape from each new nefarious death trap from some diabolical fiend
Well… that about does ‘er. I don’t know any other Superhero that I could write so much about and never get bored, perhaps Superman or Wonder Woman. But Batman is, and always will be “the guy” to me. I hope you enjoyed this article, I have more plenty more to say on “How to be like Batman”, and other topics, so keep your ear to the ground, set your phasers to stun and smoke me a kipper, because I’ll be back for breakfast.
And don’t forget to read How to Be Like Batman PART#1. If you are wondering “where the heck is PART#2” ? Don’t worry, I have written it, but it is still not quite finished yet. I am still putting the final touches on it.
Between you and me, PART#2 of How to Be Like Batman is one of my favourite topics, so I went DEEP on this one. I don’t want to give away what that topic is until it is posted.
But I’ll give you a hint, is one of THE most important characteristics of Batman, I have mentioned it several times in this article and in other recent articles, and well… the clues are there – you’ll find out soon enough.
Each part of this series can be read in any order, but is part of a larger series, so relax about it and enjoy!