Wednesday, 17 March 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Batman

The powerless super hero par excellence, Batman will always have a special place in my affections. As I've said many times before, Adam West's Batman was partly responsible for getting me into comics as a kid, Tim Burton's Batman was responsible for making me want to read them again as an adult, and Frank Miller's Batman was responsible for making me want to write my own!

Armed with nothing more than a sharp mind and well-honed fighting skills (oh, okay, and enough cash to fill the subterranean network of caves beneath Wayne Manor!), Batman has always stood apart from the rest of the super hero pack. He wears dark greys and black rather than bright primary colours, he makes a virtue of keeping to the shadows rather than showboating in the glare of the limelight and, compared to those of his JLA comrades-in-arms, his methods have always been a little ... close to the edge!

The figurine made by Eaglemoss for the DC Comics Super Hero Collection (pictured) shows Batman with his arm raised, drawing his cape up to his face in the pose which has been one of his trademarks ever since he was first drawn by Bob Kane back in the 1930s.

In my comments on the Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn figurines, I mentioned that I felt the writers had failed to do those characters justice and set out the way I'd have written them in order to make them more interesting. In the case of Batman, I have no such axe to grind. Sure, many of his supposedly classic stories have been ludicrous (Knightfall) or run-of-the-mill (Hush), but the character himself is everything he should be and even the worst writers don't seem to have been able to dent his appeal.

Gruff, surly to the point of rudeness, conservative, right-wing and reactionary, violent and with little time for fools, he continues to be driven by a desire not simply to punish criminals, but to save others from the pain he had to endure following the murder of his parents. Long may he continue to watch over us from the rooftops of Gotham!


  1. You know, I've always wondered (a) what exactly makes Batman "conservative, right-wing and reactionary", and (b) how that comes through in his character, or specifically, in the way he is written.

    In the real world, we seem to know very well what's "conservative, right-wing and reactionary", but in the world of superheroes and pulp avengers, that seems rather tough to categorize.

    First off, Batman is not political, and the predicates mentioned above are easiest specifiable in the arena of politics. It could be said that Batman exemplifies a modern version of the classis Wild West vigilante - someone who brings justice to a place where the government fails to do so. But that applies to almost ANY superhero ("almost" meaning, except those who openly work with the government), really.

    Is it his heritage and upper-class demeanor? Well, that's more a part of his "disguise" as Bruce Wayne.

    Sure, Batman exemplifies a solid understanding of moral values, such as justice. And those may tend to be conservative. But not any understanding of justice and morality is per se conservative... So: Is his?

    The fact that he "only" fights crime and doesn't attempt to change society as a whole could be viewed as conservative, but, once again, that's an over-interpretation. As I wrote above, this only strengthens his not being political, and, more fundamentally, it is his psychological reaction to the tragedy he witnessed as a child.

    Sure, he is conservative in a way like Clint Eastwood is - but I always find myself admiring Clint, even though I have contempt for the Republicans!

  2. I think Batman's "conservative" reputation has more to do with his methods than his actual politics. Whereas Superman is the ultimate liberal, always concerned that the response to a given situation should be "proportionate", Batman is usually presented as having no qualms about pummelling the bad guys into a pulp. They're criminals, after all - they deserve it!

    In his Bruce Wayne persona, he may be philanthropic but, unlike many other super heroes, there is a real gap between the two halves of Batman's identity. Superman is a nice guy, whether he's in costume or masquerading as Clark Kent. Wonder Woman is usually shown to be compassionate, whether she's wearing her tiara or presenting herself as Diana Prince. Batman, however, is the complete opposite of Bruce (which is presumably why quite a few writers have hinted he may actually be bordering on schizophrenic!)

    And I'm sure you're right about the vigilante angle. The popularity of vigilante characters (from Robin Hood up until today's super heroes) is, I'm sure, directly related to how much people believe the "legitimate" forces of law and order are really serving their interests and protecting them. When public confidence in that is low, it's only natural that they should want to see justice meted out by some other party. Even if he does wears a mask and a big black cape!

  3. You know how much I love to talk back! But I promise not to do that too often this time ;-)

    I'm not quite convinced that the fact that Batman beats up criminals should already make him "conservative, right-wing and reactionary".
    (1) because the aforementioned predicates should cover a much more diverse spectrum of dispositions. But of course they're also vague to a certain extent, which makes pinpointing specific dispositions tough. My main point is, I've heard Batman's being right-wing conservative and reactionary so often that I'd really like to know once and for all, why he should be! I can't think of a single convincing reason for this which could be traced back to his ideology. Even if the contempt he shows for criminals means he has some idea of their being worth less than upright citizens, I would always stress his psychological issues with crime. And these wouldn't be strictly political ones. In my mind (and of course there's probably as many different valid ideas of Batman as there are minds), Batman is in control of his psychological issues and wouldn't infer a political agenda from them.
    (2) because Batman's beating up criminals is a kind of necessity - having no superpowers, he has to make sure they're out cold and don't pose any danger. That includes that he doesn't beat them any more than necessary. Notice that one of the first thing about him which is played up in less realistic stories is his being not quite as hard on criminals (and more of a do-gooder, going easy on petty thugs - not necessarily on super-villains) as in more realistic stories (the two latest Batman movies probably being one of the most realistic portrayals of Batman in recent history). That means that Batman's "cruelty" is less ideological, but can be attributed to an idea of realism and necessity. (Of course there are stories which play up his violent parts as well, but again, there are many different ideas of Batman.)

    As for the vigilante angle: I recommend WATCHING THE WATCHMEN... DVD/Blu Ray bonus features :D

  4. I think maybe you're focusing too much on a strict "party political" interpretation. But I can't add much more to the answer I've already given, so I'll have to leave you to fathom this one out!

    AS for Watchmen, I haven't bought the DVD (even though I love the film!) because I want the extended version which is only available on BluRay (which I don't yet have). :( When I do get around to buying a BluRay player, Watchmen will be one of my first purchases!