Batman Day 2018

Posted: September 15, 2018 by patricksponaugle in Comics, Opinion
Tags: , ,

Happy International Batman Day! (Or, if you prefer to be grim and moody on this thematic day, you don’t have to be happy. I’m not the boss of you.)

Commissioner Jim Gordon: Virtue Signaling

Back in 2015, I started to write annual blog posts about my favorite costumed comic book hero, Batman, as a means to celebrate the September-event Batman Day – a day I suppose was created by the marketing department at DC Comics.

In last year’s article, I wrote about my surprise at my eldest niece Megan’s intense dislike of Batman – her assessment was that he was more or less a whiny crybaby.

At the time, I cracked a joke about Batman being another thing we can blame millennials for killing (or in Batman’s case, failing to kill. Because – Batman.)

But in the time since the last Batman Day post, I’ve seen on Twitter a lot of disparaging commentary in regards to Batman. Maybe I should consider this millennial threat to the caped crusader a bit more seriously.

Before I get started, I want to remind everyone that Batman is fictional. I also want to remind everyone of the fact that I know that Batman is fictional.

Now that we all know that I’m sane, let’s get on with this.


I know better than to argue with random Twitter people about Batman. I mean, I hope that I know better than to argue with random Twitter people about any topic. But it’s really hard not to respond when people say things like “Batman sucks because he’d rather punch poor people than give them money.” Because invariably it’ll end up being a “hey, I was just joking” if their statement is examined or challenged.

And maybe they are joking. The observation that Bruce Wayne is rich and Batman punches people is frankly hilarious. Errr, not really that hilarious. I guess.

But I can respect that they might be trying to make some point about wealth disparity and how crime is associated with poverty, and couldn’t really land some kind of zinger.

Bat-Cash

But let’s take one of these statements (that I’ve seen) at face value. Something like:

Wouldn’t it be better if Batman took half of the money that it takes to be Batman and gives it to the poor?

Cool. This could be an interesting thought.

Now, the question doesn’t talk about Bruce Wayne taking half of his wealth in general, which is a topic we can get to later, just his Batman budget. Which probably is in the millions.

My first worry would be Batman not having the means at hand to foil any of the catastrophic and terrifying plots hatched by some of his legitimately insane rogues gallery members.

(Everyone, I do know that Batman is fictional, as are his villains. This is totally a thought exercise.)

It’s not that Bruce Wayne just uses his wealth to allow him to swing around and punch pickpockets and harass guys selling cigarettes. Certainly, not all of his villains are homicidal maniacs like the Joker, or monster-creating mad scientists like Hugo Strange. But the Riddler and the Penguin aren’t above threatening innocents as a distraction from a bank robbery or jewel heist. And when I say “threatening innocents” – I mean entire city blocks of Gotham’s citizenry. Something way bigger than the regular GCPD can handle.

I’d rather Bruce Wayne not underfund being Batman.

In fact, the question should probably be reframed to say:

What would happen if Bruce Wayne took half of his money that he’s currently not using to be Batman (who totally needs a Bat-Arsenal to confront the horrifying performance-art levels of super-crime in Gotham) and gives that cash to the poor?

Cool. Let’s go with that. I assume the non-Batman assets of Bruce Wayne are more substantial, anyway.

It is entirely possible that Bruce Wayne, just like Scrooge McDuck, has a giant vault filled with all of his money and he regularly swims in it for exercise. It’s possible, but it’s not true.

Fictional billionaire Bruce Wayne is certainly worth billions (hence the label ‘billionaire’) but that’s not liquid assets. The Wayne Foundation and Wayne Enterprises probably make up the bulk of his wealth, as hard assets and stocks. (Which he could liquidate, sure, but that would probably be not all that helpful as I’ll indicate.)

I’ve seen estimates (we don’t have to 100% believe them, but this is what I’m going to be going with since I need to have something) that Bruce Wayne has a worth of around 8 billion dollars. There’s textual evidence from the comics that Gotham City (at least in the 1970s) had a population of 8 million.

This was one of the first Batman comics that I bought with my hard-earned allowance.

Lets be generous to Bruce Wayne and say that his 8 billion estimated worth doesn’t include the Batman budget, so he’s free to give half of his 8 billion (quick math here: 4 billion) to the 8 million residents of Gotham and not impact his crime-fighting abilities directly. Maybe not to all 8 million citizens. The 1% richest people don’t need any extra cash, so eighty-thousand old-money inheritors, mob bosses, and corrupt politicians won’t get any Wayne windfall money.

So 7,920,000 people will split up four billion – everyone gets ~$505. If Bruce decides to drop all of his cash, everyone gets $1010. They get that one time payment, and the cash cow has no more. Unless Bruce then sells all of his Bat-crime-fighting stuff too. Which I am against.

The Joker: Don’t be against that…
Penguin: Regardless, it’ll be an interesting challenge to steal all of Bruce Wayne’s money from the entirety of the citizens of Gotham. It’ll take some time though.

Okay, so maybe Bruce Wayne shouldn’t liquidate his assets: his stocks and control of Wayne Enterprises and the Wayne Foundation, and distribute it among the poor.

Paul Ryan: He should only do that as a smokescreen for arranging massive tax cuts for the 1% and take away the healthcare from the poors!
Hugo Strange: Who let a congressman in among us honest villains? Begone!
Me: No, let Ryan stay here in the rogues gallery for a moment. He’s earned it with his perfidy.
Scarecrow: I don’t like him though. He’s creepy.

The dissolution of Wayne’s corporate concerns would be a kind of a problem for the citizens of Gotham City even if they got to pocket some short-term cash out of it. There are benefits to his business focuses that should be taken into account.

I’m not going to argue that Batman isn’t tough on crime. He physically fights criminals. But Bruce Wayne’s corporate posture has been well established as something that also fights crime by fighting the causes of crime. Wayne (in a fictional universe, let’s all remember that) sets up charities to mitigate poverty, that supports education, that provides community services, and that provides employment opportunities.

Oh, so he benefits from the labor of the masses does he? Free the proletariat! Seize the means of production!

Now hold on, Karl. Wayne essentially subsidizes single-payer health care in Gotham, funds free clinics and invests in medical advances that he doesn’t try to squeeze profits from out of desperate people. And he provides second chances to people who have done their time.

Paul Ryan: Ugh. What kind of billionaire does these things? He’s some kind of socialist!

The proactive job placement programs from Wayne Industries means that Bruce Wayne might be the largest employer of people punched by Batman. Okay, that sounds weird with such limited context. We can engage about that in the comments.

But if he liquidated his assets and gave up control of his foundation and industries, someone less philanthropic might take the reins. And focus on profits that aren’t then put to good uses.

Paul Ryan: Go on… this is getting more my speed.
Betsy Devos: Let me in on this action!
The Joker: Well, now I’m feeling unnecessary.


Bat-Punches

One of my friends on Twitter has a podcast about supervillains, so he’s often up for this type of discussion.

One of his tweets caught my eye that he was uncomfortable with Batman beating up on poor people. You know, like Batman does, swinging around town, beating up on random people who don’t have money.

Okay, is it more likely that those unconscious dude were beat up by Batman because they were involved in something nefarious, or that these guys were homeless squatters on a Wayne Industry property and he just collected the bat-rent?

Okay, his point is that criminals in Gotham City are probably down on their luck folks, just trying to feed their families. And Batman is a well-funded and well-fed Javert stopping Jean Valjean from stealing bread.

But is that the case? I don’t know what specific comics my bud has been reading to specifically justify that. Criminals in Gotham, if they’re not working for one of the famously insane villains in the Batman mythos then they’re probably working for one of the organized crime families. Or one of the secret societies of mega-rich Ayn Randian groups like the Court of Owls.

Paul Ryan: I’m still waiting on my membership application to be approved.

But I can assume that there must be the occasional violent offender about to murder someone’s parents in an alleyway and that they are legitimately down on their luck. Unluckily for them, they might get their ass whooped by Batman (which stops them from murdering some parents – but on the downside puts a someone with limited resources either in jail or in the hospital.)

I asked my buddy (who was also pitching the idea that Batman should donate 50% of his Bat-assets to the poor rather than punching them) how he felt about Spider-Man and his penchant for punching probably poor perps.

I mean, Spidey does patrol some rough neighborhoods. He might even deal with more street-level crime than Batman (who has obligations to the Justice League that keeps him away from Gotham City, and he’s on occasion stuck as Bruce Wayne at endless charity galas.)

His response was that Spider-Man didn’t really go around punching as a rule, he relies on his webbing to more gently deal with crime.

Uh…

Speaking of his webbing, Peter Parker should have patented that stuff long ago. He could have made a fortune. But to avoid the criticism that Batman is now getting, Parker would then either need to donate some large percentage of this cash, or give up confronting criminals.

This distinction of rationalizing Spider-Man’s vigilantism versus Batman’s vigilantism made wonder why there’s an inverse proportion of wealth and the acceptance of punching. (At least in my admittedly small sample size of people who engaged with me on the topic of “but what about Spider-Man?”)

I guess it is hard to argue against the notion that Peter Parker, who has less privilege than Bruce Wayne, is acting from a more altruistic motivation. Even though he’s unfairly super-strong and agile, far outclassing the mooks and goons he’s dealing with in-between tangling with science-gone-wrong opponents.

Billionaires who hold themselves above the law just have more bad connotations. Like wealthy big game hunters who’ve grown bored with murdering lions, and decide that men are the best things to hunt.

Someone may consider Bruce Wayne in that mold. That he’s broken from the trauma of his parents’ death, and that all the philanthropy he does is to justify his desire to hunt men in revenge.

That’s not really my Batman, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable take. It would have been a less supported interpretation in the campy 60s, or the 70s (when my Batman foundation was set in stone) but the Dark Knight era ushered in by Frank Miller’s cynical take on the caped crusader absolutely gave weight to the notion of a vicious and entitled Batman.


Bat-Complex

Although I’m not necessarily a fan of the Frank Miller vision of Batman (or Miller’s overblown influence causing DC Comics to make Batman vs Superman) – I do approve of different interpretations, particularly complex presentations, of the Batman mythos.

I haven’t read these particular comics (I am hopelessly behind on getting through my comics backlog for me add much more to the pile) but the recent White Knight series, hypothesizing a cured Joker taking on the obvious lawlessness of Batman’s operation via civil action and exploring the consequences of Batman’s activity in Gotham City, is intriguing.

And I can appreciate a more sophisticated examination of the economic impact of a guy who fights crime in tights, dressed like a bat. It’s a more refreshing examination that the usual “what’s up with a guy dressing up in fetish gear to beat up people” narrative.

So, if the socially-conscious and economically-anxious generation that is consuming and shaping pop-culture has been soured on fictional billionaires in general – I get that. They have many examples in real life to justify that souring. I often see statments comparing Elon Musk to Bruce Wayne.  But with the caveat of a Bruce Wayne who completely sucked. There’s probably canonical elements of the Batman mythos that justify that.

I see no need to argue against that particular point of view. But I still hold out hope for the future.

Maybe my love for Batman will skip a generation, and the young generation that follows the appropriately cynical one currently disenchanted with Batman will see something similar to what I saw as a child, when reading the adventures of the world’s greatest detective.

Something heroic certainly, and maybe something kind.

That’s canon in the mythos too, if you look for it.


Images of Batman are variously from Batman and Detective Comics, as well as Batman: White Knight series and an image from the Batman live-action show starring Adam Ward. Obviously, Batman and his image are owned by DC Comics/Warner Brothers. Spider-Man image is obviously property of Marvel Comics.

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

For the record, I don’t believe that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Education Secretary Betsy Devos are Batman villains. Batman is fictional.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2018 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. thank for a fab post, what are your opinions on Ben Affleck possibly resigning as Batman? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t really offended by Affleck as Batman, but I’m not a fan of the overly armored Batman look, and not a fan of them working with the late-in-his-career Frank Miller-inspired Dark Knight Batman. So I’m okay with him stepping down. I admit to being pretty out of the loop on the new Batman movie that’s being considered, so I don’t have an opinion on that yet. Since DC has only recently been working on a continuity, I’m okay if we got a Batman movie that’s unconnected, just like I can enjoy the Christopher Nolan Batman movies as their own thing.
      Hey, thank you for reading this post and responding. I appreciate the feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. DFLovett says:

    I know it all depends on the author, but there are some good tales where Bruce Wayne does channel money toward the poor. I think the Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale stories include a fair amount of charity work—some of it in his mother’s name—and The Dark Knight Rises shows that he has been funding boys homes and putting efforts into bettering the lives of orphans etc.

    I agree that most arguments about “why doesn’t Batman help the poor more?” are probably written facetiously, but you’ve done a great job breaking down the various sides of these arguments. Nice work as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Batman is fictional??????? Oh no!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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