For the Comics-impaired:
Despite being born at the beginning of the Silver Age of comics, I grew up
comics impaired. OK, I watched Superman on TV (the George Reeves version). We
got one channel and it didn't carry Batman (the campy version with Adam West),
but I caught glimpses of it at my cousins' house. It wasn't until the films came
out that I finally got to truly meet the 2nd oldest modern superhero for real.
Having just seen The Dark Knight Rises, I felt the need to contemplate why
several Batman action figures lurk on my shelves. I went to wikipedia to get an
overview of seventy years of Batman (and Robin), I was basically able to skim
the massive mess, and my head is spinning. You'd spend a lifetime simply
catching up on all the real comics and films and TV shows and radio...
So here it is, in a kind of nutshell. A really big one.
The Big Three, according to the Polls:
Superman, Spiderman and Batman rank as the top three favorite comic book
superheroes in several polls.
In this one, "Top 10 Comic Book Characters" by Aaron Albert, About.com
Guide, it's Superman, Spidey and Bats, in that order. In another on IGN, it's
Superman, Bats and Spidey.
Superman, as the original Man in Tights, the first comic book superhero, the
icon of the genre, the... oh, you get the picture... he started it all, so he's
at the top of all lists. (First Appearance: Action Comics #1
(June 1938)) IGN says of him: "Superman is the blueprint for the modern
superhero. He’s arguably the single most important creation in the history of
superhero comics. Superman is a hero that reflects the potential in all of us
for greatness; a beacon of light in times that are grim and a glimmer of hope
for the hopeless. He’s an archetype for us to project upon; whether you consider
him a messiah or just a Big Blue Boyscout, Superman’s impact on the genre and
pop culture is undeniable. "
Spidey, I covered in another blog. But here he is again, just for
comparison: IGN sez: "Peter Parker is
the everyman. He’s the common, average, middle-of-the-road guy that just happens
to be endowed with amazing powers when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider.
Despite Spidey’s fantastic abilities, Peter Parker still has to deal with the
woes of middle-class living. Girl problems, making ends meet, keeping his family
together, getting through school; all the tropes of our everyday normal lives
lived out through the eyes of a superhero. Despite all this, Spider-Man remains
one of the most snarky and fun heroes in existence. His cheesy banter during
combat is always appreciated, and he’s able to make light of even the most dire
of situations. There’s never a dull moment when ol’ webhead is around, and
there’s something to be said for an icon that doesn’t take himself too
seriously." (August 1962, Amazing Fantasy)
Batman: Aaron Albert's Batman blurb reads; "There is something about the
dark brooding sense of Batman that intrigues people. Or maybe its Batman’s
alter-ego, millionaire Bruce Wayne, that people wish they had more in common
with. Maybe the reason so many people identify with him is that Batman has no
truly supernatural powers. Any one of us could be Batman Whatever the case,
Batman has struck a chord with fans around the world. The Dark Knight is hugely
popular with a multiple hit movies and many different comic titles to choose
from." IGN says:
"He’s the world’s greatest detective. He’s the world’s
premier martial artist. He’s the world’s broodiest billionaire. The only human
being to stand amongst the Justice League – alongside gods like Superman and
Wonder Woman – without superpowers. Bruce is a man, for better or worse, that is
so utterly devoted to his mission that he’s sacrificed his entire existence to
fighting a never ending battle. (First Appearance: Detective Comics #27 (May
So sayeth the experts. I like all three characters for much the same reasons
Superman's the iconic Golden Hero, the White Knight, the Cowboy in the White
Hat. The Sky God who comes to Earth to right wrongs. This archetype has existed
in every tale told around every fire since the Dawn of Time.
Spiderman is another archetype: a gentle trickster, using humor and trickery
rather than raw power. He also makes mistakes, and unlike Loki, atones for them.
In the myths of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota (the people mistakenly called
Sioux), Iktomi the Spiderman is the trickster figure (as Loki is in the Norse
myths). He looks human, his name means "spider", and he is (unlike Peter Parker)
mainly a negative role model behaving as socially inappropriately as possible.
"Most Sioux stories about Iktomi are consequently very funny, ranging from
light-hearted fables about buffoonish behavior to ribald jokes. But sometimes
Iktomi's misbehavior is more serious and violent, and the stories become
cautionary tales about the dangers of the world."
Batman is the Dark Hero. The one who strides the fine line between light and
shadow. Bagheera from the Jungle Books, Zorro, and Dracula. He is "a creature of
the night, black, terrible..." as he states in his origin tale, striking fear
into the hearts of evil. His look, character and gear is primarily evolved from
pop culture of the 1930s, including movies, pulp magazines, comic strips,
newspaper headlines, and even aspects of Bob Kane (Bat's creator) himself. The
Bat Whispers, Doc Savage, the Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, and yes, Zorro (who
dresses like Batman, rides a black horse, and plays the wimpy millionare by day
while battling crime by night). Zorro ("fox" in Spanish) is also a bit of a
trickster figure, like Spiderman (Fox is ever a trickster figure in myth), as
well as a dark avenging angel. Bats is driven by vengeance (bad guys killed his
parents) which brings me to...
Why Are They All Orphans???
Superman: planet blows up, parents throw him in an escape pod and he falls to
Earth. Presumeably parents blow up with planet.
Spiderman: parents mysteriously disappear in plane crash. Raised by Aunt and
Uncle. Uncle dies due to lack of intervention by a young Spidey who hasn't yet
absorbed that Great Wisdom of Uncle Ben: with great power comes great
Batman: parents killed by small time criminal before his very eyes.
There are other Heroes who don't seem to have parents. I can't think of what
happened to Wolverine's. Or Nightcrawler's. Or most of the X-Men's. Luke
Skywalker has no idea who his parents are and his aunt and uncle get killed by
the Bad Guys, then he finds Dad and well, that took 6 films and 20 years or so
to tell... Captain America wakes up in the wrong century and everyone he knew is
gone. Loki gets kicked out of the family. Thor does too, but he redeems himself
and gets to go back home with his parents.
Oh wait, there's always Ragnarok.
Orphans. Why does it always have to be orphans? Perhaps it is Rule #1 of
writing for kids; get the parents out of the way so the kids can have an
adventure. Or it's give the Hero the worst possible angst and obstacles so he
can look awesome overcoming them. Batman seems to have the market cornered on
angst and broodiness. Even the films are dark, noirish, full of the elventy
seven shades of grey found in cities that are under siege by villains. Full of
rain, and snow and eternal night and winter. (from Wiki): "Concept artist
Tully Summers commented on Christopher Nolan's style of cinematography when
asked about the difference between his designs for this film and fantasy-based
designs for Men in Black 3: "The difference for me was Christopher Nolan's
visual style. One of the things that makes his Batman movies so compelling is
their tone of plausibility. He will often prefer a raw, grittier design over one
that is very sleek and product design pretty. It's sort of a practical military
aesthetic. This stuff is made to work, not impress shoppers. The Dark Knight
Rises is a war film."
I prefer bright and light and Spidey cracking wise while swinging Tarzanlike
through the canyons of NY.
But wait. I love Batman. Why?
73 years of comics. 7 films. Something about Batman has resonated with a
widely varied audience for a lifetime. He's shifted and changed a bit over the
years, going from dark pulp fiction crime fighter who showed little remorse over
killing or maiming criminals, to softening a bit with the addition of Robin in
the 40s, to less social commentary and more lighthearted juvenile fantasy in the
years following WWII, to pure camp in the 60s, to Frank Miller's Dark Knight
Returns in the 80s, to Tim Burton's films (1989 etc.), and Joel Schumacher's,
and Christopher Nolan's return to the very Dark and stormy Knight. Like most
mythic figures (think Robin Hood or King Arthur) comic book superheroes that go
on for seventy years don't have a real "book canon", what consistency? There is
no consistency! You can't have umpty writers and artists over seventy years
telling one coherent story in the style of, say Harry Potter. So characters like
Batman remain what they are: archetypes, re-imagined over and over again. And
there is the concept of retcon (from Wiki): " Pannenberg's conception of retroactive continuity
ultimately means that history flows fundamentally from the future into the past,
that the future is not basically a product of the past." Comics are always
Oh yeah. Why do I love Batman?
It's not just hunky actors. There's lots of those in awful films I can't
stand (don't even mention Twilight!). Christopher Nolan says: "We throw a lot
of things against the wall to see if it sticks. We put a lot of interesting
questions in the air, but that's simply a backdrop for the story. What we're
really trying to do is show the cracks of society, show the conflicts that
somebody would try to wedge open." Storytellers tell a story. Some use
allegory, which my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien loathed,
as allegory relied on the author pushing his ideas and intentions on the reader.
A equals B, so why not just write about B in the first place?
Applicability (Tolkien liked applicability) is telling a
great archetypal tale and letting the readers relate it to their own life, in
their own ways.
We all can, in some way, relate to Batman and his struggles. We can admire
his determination to perservere in the face of impossible odds, to beat the
villainy, the monsters in the dark, his unswerving comittment to justice and
unwillingness to take life. This unyielding moral rectitude is our ideal. He
also fills that place occupied by the lone Hero; we have goverment and military
and police and various forces in our culture supposedly protecting us, but we
have a very deep need for The Hero. We realize the limits of those societal
forces of justice. We note that they are susceptible to corruption, to not being
there when we need them, to being underpaid and overworked... so we need The
In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is not the only Hero. Others ranging from
Gordon to Catwoman to ordinary citizens to kids to the young man who's name is
revealed at the end of the film (yeah, I thought I recognized him) do their own
heroics. Batman does not act alone. He acts, he neutralizes villains, but he
also inspires. He inspires us too, in our non-fictional world, to rise above our
shortcomings, our obstacles, our supposed physical limitations.
Here, a review which sums it all up nicely. (Spoilers!)