Batman Day 2017

Posted: September 23, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Comics, Opinion
Tags: , , , , , ,

Batman Day is in a few days, September 26th. No really, it is. But it’s being celebrated early in comic shops around the country today. Because … Saturday.

 

In honor of previous September marketing ploys celebrating the Dark Knight, a few years ago I started an annual tradition of writing about the Caped Crusader. (I think it takes doing something at least three times to call something a tradition, so this post is the required third thing. Nailed it.)

This year will just be me talking some random Bat-topics. (Not that I just didn’t express random Bat-thoughts in 2015 and 2016 on Batman Day, today will really not be that much different.)

Millennials Are Killing Batman!

Okay, not really, but I’ve been wanting to do a “Millennials are Killing X” heading for some time. Since everyone is doing those.

Last year, I was visiting my eldest niece Meg out in San Francisco. Because I’m a big geek, and I’ve exercised my avuncular duty in attempting to turn all of my niblings into geeks, we were talking about upcoming genre movies. I mentioned Ben Affleck’s upcoming appearance as Bruce Wayne in the (as it turned out – less than stellar) Batman vs Superman. Meg’s reaction surprised me.

Meg: Ugh, Batman. Who cares?
Me: What?
Meg: “Boo hoo, my parents are dead, but I’m really rich. Poor me.” Get over it, man. You’re rich!

I wasn’t necessarily expecting this rancor directed at the venerable Batman. I didn’t try to convince her otherwise, but although Bruce Wayne is rich, and we’re totally reminded of his parents’ death in Crime Alley all the time, I’ve never thought of Batman being overly self-pitying and entitled.

Unless I consider the Lego Batman:

Will Arnett’s version of Batman did seem to be overly preoccupied by his status as an orphan. (As far as I can recall from the first Lego Movie. I feel like a bad Bat-fan for not seeing the Lego Batman Movie.)

I was tempted to say that that particular version of Batman isn’t legit, but one of the strengths of the character of Batman is how he’s so often re-contextualized. He can be goofy and campy like the Adam West 1966 version, he can be dark and brooding, he can be philanthropic and upbeat (I’m thinking the 70s Batman in particular,) he can be methodical and driven in his role as the World’s Greatest Detective. All of that is valid.

(Pro-tip to people wanting to make more Superman movies: unlike Batman, Superman does not really work as dark and brooding. Don’t do that anymore please.)

But I was interested in seeing Batman through my niece’s eyes. Growing up, reading Batman and Detective Comics titles, I only saw him as a hero. I think my niece might be reacting more cynically to the idea of a billionaire taking the law into his own hands. She has a lot of topical examples in the news to reinforce that cynicism.

I hadn’t realized how relevant a lens Batman and his rogues gallery could be in regards to politics, but last year’s campaign season brought many posts to my attention from the blog What Would Bale Do? (I won’t rehash his stuff here, but it’s recommended reading. Great stuff. What, you don’t believe my hype? Then click on that link and lets debate it.)

To sum this section up, no – millennials are not killing Batman. Nothing’s killing Batman. (But not for lack of trying.)

World’s Greatest Detective Needs a Sidekick

I mentioned before about the perception of Batman being heavily contextualized, and there’s an aspect of Batman that I think has been either neglected or under-utilized for decades: he’s a detective. Usually there’s some lip-service paid to the idea in the movies. In the Tim Burton Batman movie, the Joker is causing terror in Gotham by contaminating various consumer goods with different components of poison. That does sound like a Joker thing to do.

Batman … just kind of figures it out. We don’t really know how he does so, he just does some behind the scenes detective work. (We don’t know why Gotham City PD or the FDA didn’t figure it out either, and they’re paid to do stuff like this.)

The comics usually explored Batman’s methodology: the legwork he puts it, the clues that lead to his hunches, his process.

Is this aspect of Batman’s forensic specialty compelling and worthwhile? There’s a TON of police procedurals that seem to make a lot of hay from the concept. Batman just does all that by himself, rather than from the efforts of a team.

Which is part of the problem. Batman solving complicated crimes in the comics might be reasonably interesting: we have access to his thoughts, narrative captions can be a thing, etc. Cinematically, it would just be Batman silently doing stuff.

The various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes would be likewise hollowed-out, had he not had his right-hand man John Watson to bounce his brilliance off of.

Which is why Batman stories benefit from having a Robin.

Expository dialogue can be difficult to pull off, and that’s basically what police procedural stories are. A lot of exposition: people describing what they’re seeing, why it’s relevant, debating conclusions, etc. I say police procedural, but this formula applies to other procedural shows, like the medical mystery diagnosis show House.

The reason for having a team on these procedurals is to make the dialogue organic. (And to make the dialogue a dialogue instead of a monologue.) It’s much more realistic to have a discussion of the facts, and it gives an opportunity for personalities to come into play. That’s something that’s been lacking in recent solo-Batman presentations.

But can modern audiences consume cinematic presentations of Batman with a youthful sidekick, without rolling their eyes? We still need to get past the disaster of Batman and Robin.

It might be a challenge, but I think it’ll be worth it if the addition of Robin brings back Batman to exercising his brilliance, rather than just beating up on dudes and hanging them from the rooftops until they talk.

Also, the comics canon now includes Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s son with Talia al Ghul – and in recent years this troublemaker has been Robin. I mentioned that procedural dialogue allows for the interplay of personality, and Damian is nothing but a lot of personality.

Some might argue that in a way, Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth fulfills that role. After all, he’s someone that Batman can discuss cases with, and he does tend to give Master Bruce a bit of attitude.

But it’s a different dynamic. When Alfred is used in these situations, often he’s the brainy one.

Batman: Alfred, I’ve been hanging goons upside-down from buildings all night, but no one can tell me who this “Babushka” character is. I need someone to punch.
Alfred: While I was folding laundry, I took the liberty to do some research. There’s a Russian-flagged cargo ship named “Babushka” scheduled to arrive at the Gotham ports tonight. The vessel’s stated manifest has a certain suspicious generality.
Batman: Excellent. I’ll go punch its crew. Laundry? I hope you remembered to send my Jean du Gastonesse double-breasted to the dry cleaners?
Alfred: *sigh* Of course I did, Master Bruce.

I’d rather Batman be the guy using his intellect and solving these puzzles, rather than just sending clues to Alfred and letting him provide goalposts, like Batman is a character in an action RPG.

The shifting focus from Batman’s brilliance to his brawniness is something I’m not all that a fan of. Batman’s tough, he’s strong, but he’s not superhuman. If he was fighting, oh, the monstrous super-strong Solomon Grundy for instance, I’d expect him to have to deal with the rampaging brute cleverly, since he wouldn’t be able to physically take him on.

Oh. Except that’s exactly what he does in an early issue of the Batman Rebirth series. He just kind of beats up Solomon Grundy. Who probably weighs as much as a small car.

Maybe Batman doesn’t have to be a detective, or smart. If he can just be Superman. How about we let Batman be Batman.

RIP Batarangs

As I previously mentioned, Batman has gone through changes in the years. Some of the changes are good (for example, him not carrying around a handgun) but some I’m not really a fan of.

Batman was introduced in 1939. I’m not exactly sure when he started throwing around a stylized boomerang, but it was probably in the 40s. For roughly four decades, that’s what it was: a boomerang.

Often it would be used to carry his swing-line like a grappling hook (or used to entangle and trap opponents):

Sometimes as a blunt-force missile weapon:

But when Frank Miller’s the Dark Knight Returns was published, along with a traditional boomerang, Batman made use of bat-shaped throwing knives. They were small and served a kind of ninja star purpose. Freaking guys out, making them drop their guns as a little winged knives appeared in their gun-hands.

But these little sharp tools weren’t small for long. Over the years, Batman’s razor sharp missiles got larger and larger, until now the actual batarang has bladed edges.

No longer (at least not in the movies) does Batman rely on using a batarang to carry a line, typically he has some kind of gas-powered grappling gun.

It’s a bit of a bummer, a bat-bummer, that an instrument of finesse ends up being replaced with knives and guns, the tools of the criminals Batman opposes.

On the Bat-Horizon

We audiences have upcoming projects that either feature Batman or is Batman-related.

The television show GOTHAM is kicking off it’s fourth season. I won’t pretend it’s a great show, but I do enjoy watching it. There’s something charming about watching the Riddler and the Penguin rise up in the criminal ranks, with rivalries and tense alliances being established. The show brings in characters that I do not expect. (I’m not going to give details, but last season’s finale delighted me with a Solomon Grundy reference.)

Justice League should be out soon. I won’t pretend to be a fan of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the two best elements of the movie were Bruce Wayne (not Batman, Bruce Wayne) and everything about Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Since the trailers imply that they’re the core of putting together the rest of the League, I have some cautious optimism.

There’s been some talk of a Joker movie, and I’m not so sure I’m up for that. Unless it’s a compelling psychological thriller where Batman is tracking down the mysterious Joker, in a Silence of the Lambs fashion. That would be consistent with the way the early Tim Burton Batman movies worked: they were all about the villains. It would be a refreshing twist to have a movie named after the villain, and instead feature the hero for once.

 

Regardless if you celebrate Batman today (or Tuesday, the actual date) in his various crime-solving and ass-kicking ways, or if you think billionaire orphans should not be celebrated at all, I hope you enjoyed my (somewhat critical) post on Batman.

He’s doing rather well for a guy getting close to Eighty.

He’s Batman. Tell your friends.


Images are from Tim Burton’s Batman, Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, Lego Batman. Images of Batman are variously from Batman, Detective Comics, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman Rebirth. Obviously, Batman and his image is owned by DC Comics/Warner Brothers.

I make no claims on any of the images, but some claims on the text here. So there.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. hopelessblog says:

    Gonna make the most of batman day and binge watch the movies !!

    Liked by 1 person

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