Batman is one of the greatest characters ever created, and that statement doesn’t include the word “comics.” Batman would beat Hamlet’s uncle Claudius to a pulp, is on a more tragically heroic quest than Don Quixote, and has already defeated Dracula and Frankenstein several times (each and simultaneously.) He’s the anti-Santa, delivering techno-toys to the naughty at high speed, and unlike that lazy Laplander he works every night of year. It’s true that more kids like Mickey Mouse but that’s more evidence of problems with the educational system in the School of Life than any problem with the Caped Crusader. When your favorite man-sized rodent is the one who hangs around with kids while wearing only little shorts, you have other problems.
When someone kicks ass for seven decades it’s easy to pick a few embarrassing outtakes, especially when those decades included the ’60s.
But anyone who tries an “easy” attack on the Bat spends the next two years relearning how to chew, walk, or piss when they mean to instead of when they remember Him. That’s why we’re only looking at Batman’s strong points – and how they’ve gone incredibly wrong.
The whole point of Batman is how he terrifies criminals, and how he’s so good at it he can do it even when dressed as a flying rodent (that’s like turning up the difficulty level on Being Badass.) The most iconic scene in Bat-history is his attack on the corruption of Gotham in Batman: Year One.
That’s a masterpiece. I’d hang that page in the Louvre beside the Mona Lisa, or as she’d soon be known, “That woman who smirks because she gets to be near Batman.” That page contains more truths about Batman than Bruce Wayne’s birth certificate. Intense preparation (he ran around for hours setting up shaped charges and spotlights just for that moment), a stage presence so ultimate it really is the last thing many of his audience see in their lives of crime (before their new lives as obedient prisoners), and battling against injustice. He understands that merely killing the bosses would only cause more violence among their subordinates. Instead he scares them so hard that they’ll either go straight, or go revenge (spoiler: that one). Either way, they’re no longer targeting the innocents of Gotham, and there isn’t one un-pissed pair of pants in the room.
How it went wrong
There really aren’t any un-pissed pants in the room. The problem with existing for seventy years is that anyone who can work a pencil will eventually be allowed to write you, even when their career is based on conversations about bull$#!+ and jokes about actual $#!+. Kevin Smith’s most famous characters are
a) Jay, an @$$#0!% who constantly gets high, talks about fictional sex, and uses toilet humor
b) Bob, a brooding silent presence who only strikes to save the day
Guess which he used for Batman!
Batman spends The Widening Gyre getting high, having sex, being absolutely useless in every fight, and talking about how he pissed himself…during his greatest ever scene.
You can’t blame Smith for that — the internet proves that people can write My Little Pony porn and act like they’ve done something worthwhile. But somewhere a DC editor thought ,“Yes, Bat-diapers are a perfect addition to the Dark Knight mythos.” Somehow a letterer filled that speech balloon instead of writing “I’M SORRY AND ALSO QUIT” before deleting the files and fleeing into the night, justice served. That’s not something that can be fixed: that’s where you replace the issue with an apology note promising to resume printing when you find a writer who knows what a Batman is.
HE’S ALWAYS PREPARED
Batman is a hero because he never updates Facebook, he doesn’t watch reality TV, and he only knows what YouTube comments are because it’s his job to monitor dangerously crazy people. Instead of wasting time he spends spending every spare second preparing for possible problems. That’s why he always has the right tool to save the day. It’s also the only way to turn paranoid schizophrenia into a useful skill, because when you’re sitting around some quiet evening and thinking “I need to develop an airborne spray to repel sharks, which live underwater, not in the air,” you’re a lunatic. And Batman.
One time an enemy broke Bruce’s brain and crashed his entire Bat-personality, only to find that Batman had prepared a backup Bat-personality who was even crazier at kicking ass.
No matter what happens, he’s stashed something to solve it, even if he has to store a technicolor hobo inside his own skull.
How it went wrong
The Batcave edition of Hoarders went wrong in Batman: Year Two.
That’s not just Batman pulling a gun–a phrase I hope you read right the first time because it is such a contradiction it’s probably exploded in a blast of radiation by now–but the gun that killed his parents. Which he keeps beneath the portrait of his parents, possibly so that it doesn’t forget what it’s for. It would have made more sense if he’d pulled off his Batman mask, then pulled off his Bruce Wayne mask to reveal he was actually a reformed Joker from the future. At least that would explain why he never killed the lunatic, and still wouldn’t be as crazy as modern Batman pulling a gun.
Apparently at the very moment Bruce Wayne decided to forswear guns and fight crime, he stole the gun in case he needed to fight crime. Hey, Bruce, justifying your vigilante violence because the Gotham police can’t find your parents’ killer is a stronger argument when you’re not stealing vital evidence. The Gotham PD are used to crazy things, but even they’re not ready for children grabbing murder weapons as keepsakes. He then draws the gun on the man who killed his parents, but then doesn’t have the balls to finish something he started. That’s getting Batman utterly wrong in two different ways simultaneously.
HE NEVER GIVES UP
Batman baddest assedness comes from how he never gives up. He dedicated his entire life to fighting crime at an age when most boys can be distracted by a lingerie catalogue. Because he was created by the worst possible trauma, so now every time a villain hurts him it just fills up his rage gauge for an Ultimate Combo of Vengeance. The greatest example of this was the Dark Knight Returns, where Frank Miller had Batman retired, old, surrounded by lethal criminals, in a world on the brink of thermonuclear war, and opposed by an unstoppable government-stooge of a Superman. Or as Batman viewed it, THE PERFECT TIME TO STRIKE.
What followed was a pure diamond crystal of Batman toughness taking on our entire world, and the strongest man from another one, and winning against both.
How it went wrong
The author didn’t give up, even when he really should have. Fifteen years later Frank Miller wrote a sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again (aka DK2). Unfortunately this was clearly done for the money, and Batman ruins the plans of any lunatics with plans involving costumed characters and getting money – even when they’re writing him. DK2 was a schizophrenic mess of the worst kind of fan-fiction. Batman starts killing people, Superman screws Wonder Woman so hard it destroys the island of Hawaii, the most dangerous hero of them all is meant to be Plastic-goddamn-man, Robin becomes an unstoppable shapeshifting Wolverine mutant for less than no reason, and Batman overthrows an unstoppable Big Brother regime by appearing at a pop concert and taking his mask off.
Yes, that’s Batman striking by invoking the almighty power of drunken teenagers and accessorizing. Even Frank Miller had stopped paying attention by the end, blowing up the relics in the Batcave despite having already done that in the first story. Which was still the perfect end to the story, because forgetting the brilliance of the Dark Knight Returns, making serious story mistakes, and destroying everything Batman ever stood for was the perfect representation of DK2.
HE PROTECTS THE INNOCENT
The whole point of Batman is protecting the innocent. Sure, he’s about as good at protecting “innocence” as a wet t-shirt competition in a swimming pool full of beer and college freshmen, but he tries. He just has a nasty habit of thinking “As long as you don’t die when abducted and drugged by a psychopathic clown I refuse to kill, you’re fine.” He protects less innocence than Google image search.
How it went wrong
In the most infamous scene from the 1966 Batman movie.
That’s the stupidest, campiest, most contrived and god-damn-brilliant thing Batman has ever done. It’s amazing. It’s one of the most fantastic pieces of cinema we’ve ever seen, and the only piece of madcappery which isn’t now incredibly annoying. It’s more self-aware than a zen monk levitating in a hall of mirrors. He ricochets between ridiculous innocents, nuns, baby carriages, marching bands, lovers and ducklings, all with so many musical stings you’d swear the orchestra was recorded inside a beehive, and it’s nothing but genius. Then he looks straight at the camera and sighs, “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
That is pure Batman. Ditching explosives is an everyday chore for him, and being faced with the prospect of exploding to save innocent (but far less useful) lives, he doesn’t whine about justice or self-sacrifice like every other hero, but just sucks his teeth and wins anyway. We see our mistake now. We thought we were taking on Batman with a more intelligent plan than everyone else — just like everyone else who’s ever tried to take on Batman! Curses! Don’t you understand? We thought we’d pulled out his most embarrassing moment and all it’s done is make him look cooler! Batman is always prepared! Always! He knew people would make lists mocking his worst moments, and he planned this scene over forty years ago to prove us wrong!
That’s why I’m writing this sentence dangling upside down from a Bat-Gargoyle. Luckily I’m being sent to Arkham Asylum, so I’ll be back doing the exact same thing by next week.
Luke McKinney knows booze & video games. His recent attempts to find the hottest food in the world led him to eat Murder Spice, which gave him the ability to melt through porcelain. The next day. In the bathroom. Follow him on Tumblr.