Last week was International Batman Day! If I’d been on top of things, I’d have had this post written last week, for the actual day.
I don’t know who chooses these dates, but I’m grateful to whomever arranged for a day to celebrate one of my favorite mythological heroes (even if I was unprepared.)
I apologize to any classical Greek and Roman humanities scholars for equating Batman alongside Achilles and Hercules, but I wouldn’t be surprised if colleges in the future have courses on 20th century heroic archetypes like the guardian of Gotham City.
Anyway, I’ve never blogged much about Batman, other than when I gave my impressions of the premiere of GOTHAM back in 2014. So it’s past time for a random collection of Batman facts or things that have struck my fancy or various things from how he’s portrayed in TV, the movies, or comics that I like/dislike.
Full disclosure: this is going to be a grab-bad of concepts, I guess. (I’ll try to be entertaining.)
Bats: Nature’s Heavily Armored Flying Mammals
No. They’re not that.
For some reason, the modern versions of Batman tend to have him wearing an armored suit. I’m not a fan of that. I suppose it makes sense for someone who would be brawling with gun-toting goons to wear body armor. But even when a movie puts Batman in thick bulky layers, I didn’t recall him getting shot, so what was the point?
My ideal Batman has an emphasis on acrobatics or being so tactically in control of any situation that he’s not in danger of being shot.
Much of Netflix’s excellent Daredevil television show capitalized on that technique. Body armor matters if you get shot. So don’t get shot if you’re not wearing armor. That makes for more interesting combats.
So, Batman Should Stick With His Original Design?
Well, uh, no. I mean, I get that Batman’s look should change with the times. And it has. Especially if you take into account the really early Batman design.
But even the earliest appearance of Batman (or “The Bat-Man”) had the essential elements. The cowl with white featureless eye “holes”, the cape, the yellow utility belt, the gray body suit with the stylized bat on the chest…
I’ve never been a fan of the original purple gloves, or the Bat-Man’s sidearm.
But from the start, he’d been a non-bulletproof hero, relying on his athleticism, the element of surprise, or some clever invention from his utility belt (I’m talking smoke grenades, not Adam West-era expandable bat-shields) to keep him safe and sound.
Also, I feel that an overtly-armored Batman kind of takes away an element that he’s trying to instill in the cowardly and superstitious underworld. He wears the shadowy cape and cowl to frighten and intimidate. If he’s all armored up, it communicates a weakness. A mortal, human weakness.
There’s a big difference between this scenario…
Goon: Boss! The Batman busted up our heist at the docks!
Carmine Falcone: Again? Did anyone at least get a shot at him?
Goon: He was too fast! That guy isn’t human, I tell ya!
Carmine Falcone: Pipe down with that! The men are already pissing their pants.
… and this one …
Goon: Boss! Batman busted up our heist at the docks!
Carmine Falcone: Again? Did anyone get a shot at him?
Goon: He was wearing an armored suit, just like the riot cops. Our slugs bounced off him!
Carmine Falcone: A suit eh? We just need to get some bigger bullets.
Speaking of the intimidating cowl and cape…
Few heroes in the comics wear capes nowadays. That percentage was much higher in the golden age of comics; there might have been less analysis at the time on the impractical nature of that article of costuming.
But Batman’s cape just freaking works so well. Yes, I know in the Batman Beyond show, the future Batman eschews a cape. But there’s just something about classic (UNARMORED) Batman and his cape. How artists like to have it blend in with the shadows, sometimes making it seem impossibly large.
Batman is the Caped Crusader, after all. But I think that term causes some misconceptions.
A few years ago, Stan Lee, the godfather of Marvel Comics, had a reality show called Who Wants to Be a Superhero?
I won’t go into great details, it was a show where contestants had auditioned with their own superhero name and backstory, and competed in elimination challenges in the hopes of winning the final round to earn a measure of fame as a comic book superhero. Something like that. (I only watched the first season, but it was fun. I’ll admit that.)
One of the challenges had the prospective heroes go out in public, to behave like heroes. Something like that. One of the contestants, Major Victory, went to great lengths to present himself as a chivalrous paragon, helping old ladies across the street and performing other prototypical Boy Scout activities. At one point, the Major channeled Sir Walter Raleigh who had famously spread his cloak in the road so Queen Elizabeth could avoid getting her feet muddy. Like Sir Walter, Major Victory spread his costume cape on the road for some young ladies, so they could avoid a puddle. What a hero!
Stan Lee did not think so. During the elimination section of the program, Major Victory was one of two heroes being considered for removal. Stan’s issue with Major Victory was that the man was acting more like a parody of a superhero. Because no real hero would remove his cape.
Stan Lee: Would BATMAN remove his cape? NO!
Uh, yes Stan. Batman would. Because he has.
Like practically every piece of his uniform, the cape is a tool. Usually it’s used for hiding, or casting a badass shadow before landing in the middle of some goons and brutalizing them. But on several occasions, Batman has fixed his cape to a batarang and used that combo for various reasons. As a distraction in some cases, but as a tactical application Batman has thrown his bataranged-cape across the windshield of an approaching car.
If there’s a reason to take the cape off, he will. No need to make weird assumptions, Stan. It’s not like his “powers” come from the cape.
I’ll cut Stan some slack though, since he’s obviously a Marvel guy and not a DC guy. Marvel Comics doesn’t have too many caped crusaders. (When they do, like Cloak or Doctor Strange, those capes often do give them powers.)
Anyway, anyone who says the cape is part of the cowl is mistaken. They’re two pieces. Excelsior!
Like any right thinking individual, I was entirely unhappy with the Joel Schumacher versions. I mean, do I even need to explain?
I didn’t think so. Although I wasn’t super crazy about the Tim Burton versions either.
Jack Nicholson was just not my Joker. He was basically Jack Nicholson. And as much as I like Michael Keaton as an actor, and I enjoyed him somewhat as Bruce Wayne, I wasn’t sold on his Batman.
Some of that might be because it was the introduction of the armored Batman look. Keaton couldn’t even turn his head. Come on.
It’s weird to kill off the Joker. Or roll him in as part of the Wayne’s murder.
Still, the first Burton Batman was better than the sequel. Batman Returns was a decent Catwoman story though, but an awful Penguin treatment.
The Nolan movies are typically well-regarded, and I’m a fan of them as well, but I’m glad they’re doing a reboot for Batman in the DC cinematic framework for the eventual Justice League. The Nolan movies work well in a non-superpowered universe, and wouldn’t work as well in a universe with a Superman.
(Bane holds Gotham City hostage and it’s a national nightmare that goes on for months? If it was truly that bad, Superman would take care of it.)
But I’m happy to complain about the Christian Bale Batman movies as well. Again, Batman is too armored up. And what’s with that voice?
At the end of the The Dark Night, Batman is desperately pleading with Harvey Dent to release his hostage, Jim Gordon’s son.
Pleading in his super-hoarse Batman voice.
Batman: *croaking* Harvey don’t do this! Think about what you’re doing!
Two-Face: Look, if you’re not going to take this seriously, why should I?
Batman: *croaking* What? I am taking this seriously!
Two-Face: *croaking* Really? *not-croaking* Can you talk to me like a person?
Batman: *croaking* Look, it’s just my thing. I’m Batman!
Okay, people have tried to tell me that Batman has some kind of voice modulator in the cowl to make him sound like he has laryngitis.
That’s so dumb. We’ll just move along.
I mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the Joel Schumacher helmed Batman movies and this surprises even me that I’m saying this, but Batman Forever gets points for introducing Robin as Batman’s sidekick in a reasonable and successful way.
That might be the only thing the movie did well, since Jim Carrey (often terrible) was so wrong as the Riddler (he might have made an interesting Joker though) and the pseudo-psychological commentary from Nicolle Kidman’s character about Batman was useless.
He dresses up like a bat. In our world, that’s weird. We get that. But the movie is not our world. Insinuating that Batman has a sexual fetish for latex or whatever, like he’s the guy from the first season of American Horror Story, detracts from the character in the way armor does.
Goon: Boss! Batman busted up our heist at the docks!
Carmine Falcone: Again? Did anyone get a shot at him?
Goon: We were too busy laughing at him. We thought he was that guy from the Leather club.
Carmine Falcone: I’ve told you knuckleheads before not to make fun of people who enjoy alternative lifestyles. You are to restrain your heteronormative mockery and shoot him next time. And shoot the guy who works at the Leather club, just so this confusion doesn’t reoccur.
A movie about Batman has to at least accept that there’s a guy dressed like a bat, and take it at face value.
Anyway, despite Batman Forever handling the introduction of Robin well, the follow up movie Batman and Robin was unbelievably awful. And had the worst introduction of a non-canonical Batgirl.
But lets talk more about Robin. One day I can talk about Batgirl.
Robin – the Boy Target
I’ll be charitable and cut Schumacher slack in that he wanted to get the Dick Grayson character out of the classic red-breasted, yellow-caped look by the end of Batman and Robin. It’s always been odd that Batman, stealthy night-camouflaged Batman, would have a sidekick with such a colorful costume. Unless he was planning on having the lad draw fire.
Batman: Robin, I want you to swing over by that light, and get the gang’s attention.
Robin: Holy surprise reveal, Batman! And then what?
Batman: After they’re out of bullets, I’ll swing in and beat them up.
Robin: Out of bullets? You think they’ll be shooting at me, and missing, because I’m so athletic and they’re probably poor shots?
Batman: Yeah… that’s it.
I’m not saying the inclusion of the brightly-clad Robin necessarily bothered me, since I was reading Batman comics as a kid before Grayson became Nightwing, and I enjoyed reading the Teen Titans where Robin was a legitimate superhero. But it’s one of those things. Yellow caped red-suit?
Until I read Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier, which gave a fresh look at the DC Heroes, leading up to the formation of the Justice League.
Batman is introduced as the terrifying vigilante he originally was. He scares the hell out of criminals. But his intimating aspect almost leads to tragedy when he can’t get a young hostage he’s trying to save to trust him.
In the classical superhero paradigm, criminals are there to be punished (or otherwise foiled) but the innocent are there to be saved. Batman’s covered on the punishment part. But he needed a sidekick to assist in the saving. One that wasn’t terrifying.
That’s all the justification I needed.
Okay, now that I know that International Batman Day is a thing, I’ll try to get something written ahead of time next year. There’s a lot of Bat-topics to choose from: discussing the Joker, my ideal Batman movie (which would end up being a lot like the first Die Hard), my take on the seasons of GOTHAM, etc.
There’s just a wealth of things to say about millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego. And the rest of the Bat-Family. (I doubt I’ll ever talk about Bat-Mite, though. Bat-Mite? I’m just glad Joel Schumacher hadn’t thrown that magical character in with his movies.)
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! I appreciate that people have different views on pop-culture characters like Batman and his representations, I’m happy to discuss where/if our views differ.)
None of the images are mine, obviously.
Red-suited blond Batman I believe is the original sketch by Bob Kane.
The image of the first appearance of Batman is from Detective Comics #27.
The clean image of purple-gloved Batman brandishing a firearm is from Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth, with John Cassaday as the artist. Everyone in the world should read PLANETARY. Image of Batman talking to Elijah Snow is also from Night on Earth.
Movie images are from Tim Burton’s Batman, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Pixar’s The Incredibles.
Image of Carmine Falcone and associate is from GOTHAM.
Image of Robin in the foreground, Superman/Batman in the Background is from The New Frontier.
Image of Armored Batman is from (I assume) the Batman: Arkham Asylum game or from its sequels.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved