What do we like so much about Batman?
He’s strong, he’s brave, he’s manly and tough.
He’s also arrogant, self-absorbed, gruff, emotionally unavailable, unapologtetic, rude and just rough around the edges.
Batman is kind of a jerk, isn’t he? Yet we still like him.
As much as I like Batman’s good qualities, I have to admit I have more in common with his personality flaws and bad habits, than his good habits.
And in a strange way, it is kind of comforting. If Batman is rude and arrogant, it doesn’t excuse my own lousy behavior in any way, but it does let me see that I am not the only guy who is like that. Batman’s flaws just make him more human. We don’t usually see Superman being a dick to other superheroes, but when Batman does it, well he gets away with it because he’s Batman.
It is not like I get up in the morning and decide to be an asshole to people. But it happens whether I want it to or not. So sometimes you’ve just got to do your best, when shit goes wrong, and not get too caught up in the whole drama of it.
Batman can be cool and stoic as he is ultimately responsible only to himself. And while I may be somewhat stoic myself, if I am like that all the time, eventually my friends and family will stop talking to me.
There is a point where being a loner can come back to bite you in the ass.
Of course Batman has his Bat-Family, he is not a true loner any more – at least in the modern Batman comics he has all sorts of friends, associates and people he can rely on for support. From Lucius Fox to Jim Gordon and his whole Bat-Family including the various Robins, Batgirl, Red Hood, Batwoman and more.
Nav K over at my favourite comicbook Blog GIRL ON COMICBOOK WORLD highlights some of the key reasons we enjoy Batman in the first place in a couple of excellent posts that I have read twice now, because they were so damn good! So don’t miss them.
I’ve finished Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography, and I am currently reading Gandhi’s autobiography, both men are personal heroes to me for very different reasons.
One thing that really struck me about both books was the honesty and straight forward stating of bad habits, flaws and imperfections.
We want our heroes to be bastions of moral virtue.
In the case of fictional characters like Superman, we can enjoy a morally superior hero. But it is a fantasy, real life is much messier. Even the best of us has done some pretty horrible things, that we often deeply regret. Heroic figures, whether real, imagined or however exaggerated are icons we want to look up to and emulate. But while some flaws are unforgivable (the hero turns out to be a serial killer like Dexter for example) other more ordinary flaws humanise our heroic figures.
In the case of Ah-Nuld and yes, even Gandhi, both men are big JERKS! Both men are also bold icons – one is the guy in the nappy who helped kick start the movement for Indian independence from British rule. The other is a guy who traveled back in time to blow some shit up while wearing dark sunglasses and talking in a monotone voice.**
Arnold cheated on his wife, which he talks about in his book pretty candidly, he is not proud of his actions. Gandhi went to see a prostitute, smoked, ate meat and did all kinds of very un-Gandhi like things before he matured into the man who is revered around the world today.
What I love about both of these autobiographies, is that both men did some really dumb things, and were big idiot jerks to their family and friends (reminds me of someone) but that they had the courage to talk about their faults, their flaws openly in their books. This does not excuse their behavior. (**The Terminator was a character, Ah-Nuld did not really travel in time, as far as you know…)
But that bold self-analysis and honesty is one of the qualities I love about Batman, he KNOWS how flawed he is, and he doesn’t try to hide it or pretend otherwise.
Batman often gets angry, frustrated, becomes even more of a loner, rejecting food, his friends and sometimes even sleep.
He gets to a place where he psyche/mind is unbalanced. But Batman has Alfred, the various Robin’s and other friends to help him through these times.
For Batman, it is not just a flaw that he does things which are ultimately harmful for him, it is his “normal” behavior, so his friends do his best to manage his behavior, because you are not going to stop Batman being moody, withdrawn or angry.
Like a storm at sea, eventually the dark moody Batman comes back to his everyday level of dark moodiness, back to his baseline or psychological norm.
Why do we look up to a guy who is so dysfunctional? Why does he remain iconic and popular despite his flaws? Why is Batman such a classical romantic and mythic figure, and just plain gosh darn cool, despite being a flawed arrogant jerk?
I feel that a big part of Batman’s popularity is because of his flaws. It humanises him. It makes him more relatable to everyday people than the demi-gods that Batman walks amongst in the JLA. Batman is the cultural myth of the self-made man, the person who succeeds in bettering himself through hard work, persistence and determination.
Batman is a Zen-Yogi-Martial Arts Warrior for our times. He sits right in the sweet spot between realism and purely romantic fiction. In some stories he is very concrete, very much influenced by the real world, and he hits like a brick to the face.
In other stories Batman is a Gothic horror story, a semi-mythical figure straight out the collective unconscious mind – he torments criminals, preying on their fears, while in other stories he is the world’s greatest Detective, the guy who never gives up, and won’t stop until he solves the case, catches the killer, a manhunter who doggedly pursues his quarry to the ends of the earth. Whether realistic or mythic, Batman can work in a whole host of different contexts, and it all plays to the strengths of the character.
BATMAN ACTS, HE DOESN’T ASK PERMISSION
One manly quality I love about Batman is that he takes action, and he doesn’t ask permission.
If we have to ask permission for every little thing we did in life, nothing would ever get done.
There are rules and laws in society that are ultimately designed to protect us as well as penalise us.
But did men like Teddt Roosevelt or Abe Lincoln sit back and let the law of the land dictate how they would live their lives? Did they “ask permission” before they took the action they felt was necessary to improve themselves?
The law aside – a man acts, he doesn’t ask permission.
Batman didn’t ask somebody if it would be “okay” to punch crime in the face a little now and then when nobody is looking. He goes out night after night and performs his duties, and he doesn’t give a damn who likes him, who hates him, who fears him. He only cares that he makes a difference in the world
In one view of this behavior and attitude, it just makes Batman look like a jerk.
But another view, expressed in the Indian spiritual classic Bhagavad Gita states:
When he [the virtuous person] renounces all desires and acts without craving, possessiveness, or individuality, he finds peace.” Bhagavad-Gita 2:71
“Always perform with detachment any action you must do; performing action with detachment, one achieves supreme good.” Bhagavad-Gita 3:19
And further passages talk about the devotees relationship to the Supreme Lord, or Godhead.
“Disinterested, pure, skilled, indifferent, untroubled, relinquishing all involvements, devoted to me, he is dear to me. He does not rejoice or hate, grieve or feel desire; relinquishing fortune and misfortune, the man of devotion is dear to me. Impartial to foe and friend, honor and contempt, cold and heat, joy and suffering, he is free from attachment. Neutral to blame and praise, silent, content with his fate, unsheltered, firm in thought, the man of devotion is dear to me. Even more dear to me are devotees who cherish this elixir of sacred duty as I have taught it, intent on me in their faith” 12: 16-20
Now, Batman ain’t religious and neither am I frankly.
But I want you to take a look at that above passage, and you can take the word God and replace it with “Justice” for Batman. Batman serves not the laws of the nation, but his own highly personal concept of Justice, which to me is closer to the classical notion, the Socratic Ideal of Justice, than, well, your modern concept we have when we watch the average episode of Law and Order or whatever cop show / legal crime drama you are into.
If Batman is too concerned about what others might think of his War on Crime, or too busy seeking permission to punch crime in the face, he is not going to be a very effective Batman.
Recently, someone on the Q&A site Quora asked the Question: Why does batman betray the JLA? (referring to the JLA story Towel of Babel by Mark Waid in JLA#43-46, 2000)
“Tower of Babel deals with Batman’s perceived betrayal to the superhuman community by keeping and concealing hidden records concerning the strengths and weaknesses of his allies in the JLA, which include plans to neutralize his allies in a fight. His files are stolen by the criminal mastermind Ra’s Al Ghul, who uses them to defeat the League through a coordinated attack in order to prevent them from interfering with his latest scheme, the reduction of the global population.”
- Source: wikipedia.org/wiki/JLA:_Tower_of_Babel
My answer to that question was that Batman betrays the JLA because he is always three steps ahead of everybody else in the room. He’s usually solved whatever problem the JLA is facing and will do whatever it takes to save the world, stop the enemies, world ending threat etc, save Liz, meet up at the Winchester until this all blows over – even if it means he seemingly betrays the JLA.
The simple answer for me to that Quora user question is “For the greater good”
Batman will sacrifice himself if it means saving the day. He doesn’t do compromise, and he doesn’t care who gets annoyed along the way, or if he betrays his “friends”.
He’s selfless but also a son of a bitch, and he knows it.
He’s smarter than you and he knows it.
He doesn’t care if you think he is a jerk.
He’s Bruce Lee, he’s James Dean, he doesn’t give a fuck what you think, what you stand for, whether you want to help him or stab him, either way he would die to save you because he values Life, he just gets real grumpy about the way he expresses it.
In the JLA Tower of Babel story Batman betrays the JLA, or at least it appears that he does. Batman had “fail safe” key plans on how to take down each of his fellow more powerful league members – in case they went crazy, were mind controlled etc. A super-villain obtains Batman’s plans, and uses them against the JLA. During the story the JLA find out that Batman created the plans to take them out (if they went crazy/evil etc) and they feel betrayed.
It’s a cool story, and well worth reading. The trade is quite cheap, and you will find it easily enough if you search for “JLA Tower of Babel”. Don’t miss “Rock of Ages” which is another classic JLA story with Batman in a key role that really shows how devoted and fanatical he can be to his cause.
So we know Batman can be a jerk, but at his core…
Who is Batman?
Fans each have their own favourite version of Batman. and the question of who Batman really is, is up to each BATFAN.
Is Batman the real person who puts on the mask of Bruce Wayne?
Or is Bruce Wayne the man who puts on the mask of Batman?
For me the answer is obvious, Batman doesn’t do things half-assed, he puts himself 100% into whatever he does, and when he became Batman, he stopped being Bruce Wayne.
My personal vision of Batman is that Bruce Wayne is the mask, and Batman is who he really is.
Who that Batman is from day to day may seem somewhat schizophrenic. Not literally, but when you see Batman in his own core books – Detective Comics and Batman, contrasted with Batman in the JLA, Batman and the Outsiders, the Batman and Robin books, we get different equally valid interpretations of who Batman is and how he acts.
It is hard to pin down a definitive version of Batman, but core values and characteristics may him easy to identify, no matter what book he appears in (not including Elseworlds and alternate universe stories where Batman may be evil, a vampire or whatever) I talked about Batman’s core values in a popular article a while back:
And I also made up this nifty chart table thingy with what I personally feel are the core values, characteristics etc of the Batman across different media.
The values etc that have become part of how Batman is portrayed over several decades of fiction, to become what we collectively can refer to as the Batman Franchise, or Batman Media.
Missing any of these basic “ingredients” in the recipe for Batman (which is subject to change and interpretation, not set in concrete) makes it easy to see where particular interpretations differ from Batman’s core values, or just go plain wrong (in my opinion) in the case of misunderstanding the character all together. Of course other fans and writers may disagree.
Now, nowhere in that box ‘o words does it imply that Batman is a jerk. Yet, he is a jerk, more often than not.
That is, if we consider normal human relationships, how we relate to and love each other etc.
Batman is not a social butterfly, and while he can fake human interactions as Bruce Wayne, how much of that is genuine, and how much of that is his acting ability- which I would compare favourable to a professional actor, just see Batman’s undercover personas like Matches Malone for example to see what I mean – is debatable.
At times Batman is cold and aloof, and sometimes we see him as warm and gentle, but these times tend to be rare. Nobody would accuse Batman of being a “softy”.
Batman trains the various Robin characters in a harsh and unforgiving manner, like a martial arts instructor or armed forces instructor would – to prepare the student for combat / warfare etc. But Batman/Bruce Wayne also cares deeply about his adopted sons, the various Robin characters, Batgirl, Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox and his other extended Bat-Family.
The original Batman went it alone, and if he had kept going that way, he would have been dead for sure by now. I like to think that Batman’s core BAT-FAMILY don’t just keep him alive in a practical way, they also keep him more human, less of a robot.
In Scott Snyder’s run on Batman in the NEW 52, the Joker tells Batman that his Bat-Family make him weak and soft. I feel they do the opposite.
The man who has nothing to live for dies a quiet and sad death.
The man who has everything to live for, especially people he deeply loves and cherishes will NOT go quietly into that good night, but will rage against the machine, he will rise up every time you knock him down, until his dying breath. Because he cares, because he fights for a better tomorrow that he may not live to see. Because he knows that deep down, as callous and angry as he may be on the outside, on the inside Batman has the heart of a saint.
Where Superman would be evacuating the planet in a hypothetical doomsday scenario, Batman is the guy who will be there till the end, helping the helpless, and dying right next to them if he can’t save them. Batman won’t abandon those most in need, because it is not in him as a human being to do that. The very idea of not helping others, and being a proactive force for good is painful to Batman.
He never gives up, never surrenders, and he absolutely WILL….NOT…STOP.
So he may be a jerk at times but perhaps we can forgive him, after all, he is Batman.