I love Batman.
If you have problem with that statement, you have a problem with me.
Warning: The following includes opinion. It is all my opinion, in truth. That normally goes without saying, of course, but still. A person can be smart. People are stupid.
There are many reasons I love Batman. He's a normal person who has pushed himself to the limits of human capacity, he's a smart character not just someone who pummels his way to victory, he's got a dark and angst-filled back-story that is instantly relatable to anyone who comes in contact with it, and above all else, he's hopeful.
He's got no reason to be, and in fact, in the 90's, in his own titles, he often wasn't, in fact, very hopeful. He wallowed in the dark and angst of his origin without overcoming it, as he had in the past.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's define the context, here. Some of these will be old hat to those who don't read comics, some of this will be immediately confusing (and maybe even to those who do read comics . . .).
First off, Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, was but a child, depending on the story between the ages of 8 and 10 when, walking home one evening after a movie (or, as Batman Begins would have it, an opera of one of those Faustian-type stories), his parents are killed by a mugger. In the earliest version of the story, his mother and father each recieved a bullet to the heart, but occasionally only his father was shot. His mother died from a heart attack from fright, or shock, or whatever. Women are frail, you see. So they need to be protected from being killed violently. So that they may remain frail and sheltered creatures.
Bruce, being a kid, can't handle it. I don't think even a completely rational adult could handle that sort of thing, either, but the point is, Bruce is traumatized. He can't sleep at night, he has nightmares. Imagine yourself at 8, and going through a horrible occurence like that. To those of you who have, you have my sincerest of condolences. Fictional characters do, too. Bruce is wigging out.
One night--often to the peals of thunder and the flashes of lightning, because what kind of dramatic moment is it if the weather's fair, I ask you?--he sneaks out to his parents' gravestone (or perhaps memorial on the grounds of Wayne Manor, depending on whether his parents were buried in a cemetary or on the lands they owned--if the latter, ew). At the site of this gravestone or memorial, he makes a sacred vow.
I'm sure it wasn't very coherent, he's, like, 9. And it probably wasn't expressed very clearly. The emotion and reason for it all was probably clear, but you get an 8-10 year-old to describe the contents of a cereal bowl and you'll be lucky if it makes sense. Well, maybe I'm being harsh. Ender Wiggin was 10 years old when he won his game. But then again, Ender's a friggin genius, there's nothing indicating that young Bruce Wayne was spectacular of intellect, other than his further development. At any rate, the main thrust of the vow is pretty simple: "Your lives were taken by evil, and I will fight such evil in all its forms, for the rest of my life."
And then he proceeds to do just that, my friends!.
For, like, 18 years, he trains and studies and travels and learns and becomes a formidable combatant, a master scientist, even an inventor. But above all else, he becomes a detective. This cannot be contested: Batman is defined, in the universe of DC Comics, who publishes his adventures, as the World's Greatest Detective. And that's probably at the core of why I love him. He's not just smart, I mean, Reed Richards is smart, but he's dull. Batman is both smart and perceptive. He can walk into a room, and within seconds have the details of the room memorized and imprinted on his brain, at least for as long as he's actually in the room, anyway. Batman doesn't have a so-called "photographic memory," after all. Batman's not perfect.
I'm literally short-sighted. I wear corrective lenses. Even if I didn't, I'm not really very perceptive. If I walk into a room, I don't see every detail all the time. My mind fills in the blanks. Most people do. Batman doesn't.
And it's not just that he sees the whole room, or hears or smells or tastes or feels. He's able to find the incongruities and place them into a narrative context, reducing every situation into a little mystery that he's just finished solving. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, and he may not have super-senses, but the combination of how he thinks, what his normal senses deliver to his brain, and his ability to connect the dots makes him the only man in the room who knows what everyone is thinking without the benefit of telepathy.
After his worldly travels, he returns to Gotham City and puts his various skills and abilities to use. Not vengeance, justice. He's not interested in delivering criminals to their ultimate doom. He's interested in propping up the American legal system. But not a corrupt one. One that works the way it's supposed to work.
We see injustices all the time in the world, both little and big. The little ones irritate us until we fix them or deal with them or accept them. The big ones, we are often powerless to fix or deal with, and are often unwilling or incapable of accepting them. Batman corrects them. And he does it not because he's eaten up inside by survivor's guilt or the darkness and violence that created him. Occasionally, writers lacking in vision will portray him an an "anti-hero." But that's wrong-headed. Even in his earliest appearances, where he didn't mind if criminals died by being tossed out of seven-story windows or the roofs of hotels and apartments, he didn't go out of his way to plan the murders of anyone, and always operated from the perspective of one who hopes to see, perhaps even enact, real change.
I'll admit that those earliest appearances are often jarring to me, where he casually tosses thugs and gangsters out of high-rise windows. This is because I grew up with a Batman with this as his first rule: Thou Shalt Not Kill. In the days of my youth, Batman not only didn't throw criminals off of roofs, he wouldn't even kill the Joker to stop him from killing others. That's not the kind of guy the Batman is.
Others may disagree, fine. You like your Batman with blood on his hands. I don't. Because, to me, it lessens him to make him one of those kinds of "heroes." Batman isn't just some guy in a suit and mask. He's one of the world's finest heroes. He himself may not see what he does as heroic, but why should he? He's just doing his job.
Police officers are not seen as forces for good in their society simply for arresting the bad guys. No, no. Police officers are often distrusted for that, in fact. A sad fact, perhaps, but the police forces around the world have a simple flaw, and that is that they are populated by people. A person may be good and honorable and intelligent and caring. People, all too often, are not. Yet, even so, in America at least, the axim of the police is "To Protect And Serve." It is the second one that makes them the forces for good in communities. You can always go up to a uniformed police officer and ask for an escort to wherever it is you're going. They may refuse, and if they do to them I say "For shame. It's painted on the cars you and your brother and sister police officers drive: Serve." Firefighters are seen as brave, and sometimes noble. But the nobility isn't from their willingness to run into a burning building--that's only a part of it. After all, they often do it in search of survivors. But another thing firefighters do is allow their ladder trucks to be used to fetch cats from out of trees. Hardly something that will get reported on the news. But police officers don't escort people to their destinations, and firefighters don't save tree-lost cats, for glory or thanks. It's their job.
Imagine that: it is their job to work for you. And Batman, when written best, sees it as his job to work for the people, usually of Gotham, to try to make the world, or just the city, a better place. He's managed to work through his psychological problems by putting on a bat mask every night. Or perhaps before then, perhaps he's worked though them during his journey around the world. He doesn't capture criminals because he imagines them to be the man who shot his parents. He does it out of kindness.
And that's another reason I like him. Batman is a kind man, or should be, when written best. He's not driven by darkness or haunted by the death rattles of his parents. Not anymore. That may be his fuel, but there's no taint to his actions. He wants others to experience a joyful life, a life he thought was denied to him. He operates outside the normal boundaries of society, all in the hope that one day he'll no longer be needed and can fully join that society.
Recently, DC Comics announced that Paul Dini, who has written several very good stories of the "good" version of Batman, and Grant Morrison, another one who writes Batman really well, will be taking the lead in the mainstream Batman stories for at least the next year. This fills me with hope, after some of the truly horrible stories with Batman in the last 15-20 years. I can only hope that after their time on the titles runs out, DC will find writers with the same perspective on Batman.
As opposed to Frank Miller, it seems. "I'm the goddamned Batman!" is only a quotable line because of it's irony, especially considering it's Batman to Dick Grayson, mere minutes after witnessing his own parents plummetting to their deaths. This is not what a kind man would say, in this situation. This is what an emotional cripple without the perception to be the World's Greatest Detective would say.
Frank Miller used to could write Batman. He's lost it, now, though. But All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder is not the mainstream Batman. In the 90's, it could have fit in, there. But maybe in the future, it won't be able to.
Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque