Everybody has their own reason to like or dislike certain characters. Some of the most popular characters in fiction are characters I really don’t like and some of my favorite characters are looked down upon by the majority, or at least the vocal majority. Even if you agree on A, B, C, and D here comes H and you can be at polar opposites. Even if you both like J it could be for vastly different reasons.
That’s where I’m coming from when examining the video below by Henry over at The Closer Look. His thesis is on why “we” love a darker Batman. I’m certainly not against a darker Batman. I come from the Bronze Age of comics, the DCAU had a great take on Batman, and in both cases this feels like a proper Batman. However, to say that it’s the darkness that makes him interesting I’m not sure I agree with…because as I watch this video if his take on Batman was right take, then I’m not sure I would be a Batman fan. So what am I seeing that he doesn’t and vice versa?
For full disclosure I have not seen Matt Reeves’ The Batman nor do I want to for reasons I’ll go over in this article. I’m going on what Henry says here, what I gathered from promotional material and interviews, and other reviews I’ve heard both in favor and against this version of Batman. In other words I’m taking as truth what they said and if you can convince me they’re wrong about these depictions fine. Looking at everything I’ve seen this is not the Batman I want to use up time watching when I can watch stuff that reminds me of Batman as I see him.
Since he starts with Thomas Wayne let me get this off of my chest. I don’t like the “evil Thomas” idea. I didn’t like it in scenes I caught from the TellTale Games series and I don’t like the lesser idea here of Thomas Wayne going to Falcone or that Martha (blah blah “say that name” gag) was having an affair. I didn’t like it with Jim Gordon either and it was one of my turnoffs for Gotham as well with his wife being…maybe bi but given Hollywood’s portrayals probably just in the closet. I dropped the show long before I cared enough to find out. It just weakens the Waynes to not have them the embodiment of the morals they gave young Bruce. The Waynes exist to give Bruce Wayne history and a reason to become Batman. I’m not saying you can’t flesh them out but making them liars, especially in the TellTale Games (though for all I know they planned to prove his innocence before the company collapsed), just seems to be too cynical, if not anti-wealthy then at least refusing to believe that anybody can be good.
I also don’t like the idea of Thomas and/or Martha being the target of assassination because that kind of hurts Batman’s origin. Even with Tim Burton’s idea that the Joker killed them as a lowly criminal on the rise, and yes even with Joe Chill in the comics the idea that Bruce can find his parents’ killer and gain closure just doesn’t work for me. That night in Crime Alley made Batman but I don’t think it defines him, at least not to the full extent. Otherwise why would Batman join the Justice League, start the Outsiders, go on missions outside of Gotham City either on a case or with those same teams. The JL even leaves Earth on occasion and Batman goes with them on those missions. The inciting incident being a random mugging gone wrong, a random crime, means Batman is targeting all crime, not just the event that led him to travel the world and learn how to become a crimefighter like no other. Batman can stop Ra’s Al Ghul from flooding the world or Darkseid from destroying it, but it was a random crime, a footnote on the news blotter if not for the Waynes’ contribution to Gotham City financially and personally, that led Bruce to fight the crime the police couldn’t, especially the corrupt cops.
I also reject Jordan Peterson’s idea that Batman is a “controlled monster” or Henry’s comment about him being “evil himself”. Batman isn’t driven by darkness, he lives in a dark world and dresses for the occasion, but as Professor Geek noted in this morning’s post Batman isn’t a dark person himself. He exists in the shadows, the barrier between darkness and light. Without light, shadows are just darkness but without darkness there is just the light. The more violent you make Batman the less Batman he is. That scene in the trailer where Batman is pounding some dude through the pavement is not Batman. He’ll knock a guy out but pulping him isn’t in his nature. Did you ever notice how Batman never really tortures a guy for information? Instead he scares the guy so much that he doesn’t need to. Batman scares them enough. One of my favorite bits of Justice League Action is a short where Batman and Superman switches roles in the good cop/bad cop scenario that Deadshot basically gives up all his information.
It’s not really Superman that’s scaring Deadshot. He’s not falling for it. Only Captain Shazam Marvel Thunder whatever DC’s calling him today is a bigger “boy scout” than Superman. It’s Batman acting all nice that gets to him, given his reputation. The Green Hornet has a reputation as a major villain as he threatens “fellow” villains for a piece of the action, but it’s a ruse to uncover their plot and gather information for the police to arrest the gang. Batman knows 50,000 ways to cause you intense agony…but how often do you see him use any of it? If he were the “dark” person Henry’s depicting him as I have a hard time believing he would have held Ten’s hands as she was dying as in that clip from Justice League Unlimited, calming her into letting go of the pain that was throwing her mental powers into overload rather than Amanda Waller’s call to kill her before her death caused even more chaos. Batman isn’t controlling his “evil” side, he’s faking it just like he did in this clip by simply offering Deadshot coffee and donuts, building on his reputation to do all the stuff for him. That’s the whole point of wearing a bat costume when confronting the “superstitious, cowardly lot”.
This leads into the comment that Superman has nothing to teach us, which I disagree on. Superman’s moral values runs counter to the world’s, especially recently. He will save even his enemies because he respects all life. He has all the powers of a proverbial god (though lacking in omnipotence so one of the weaker gods…still better than Procrustus) but uses his powers to help others instead of personal gain. Lifting a desk to get a pen is pretty much the limits of his personal use outside of saving his friends. And even though the world keeps telling him to be darker, or to be Snyder’s vision, he rejects that. Kind of like the character in Hacksaw Ridge he mentions. Yeah, Desmond isn’t invulnerable but Superman is still told his morality is bullcrap but he continues to stand up for what he believes in and is true to himself and his morals no matter what people say someone with his power should be. “What’s Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way” (adapted into Superman Vs. The Elite) shows that no matter how powerful you are, it’s not power that defines morality. Supervillains have powers and gadgets as well, and Superman shows us we can be good people with the powers and talents we were given or worked to achieve. As far as being “unprepared when evil comes knocking”, that would mean Superman is ignorant of evil. That’s not true, either.
He’s not naïve, just optimistic, and that’s how he lives. He tries to see the good in others but not at the expense of forgetting he’s fighting truly evil people. I mean, he’s met Lex Luthor.
Batman does the same. He has all this money but he uses it to fight crime, not only as Batman but as Bruce. He donates to the orphan’s fund so even if they aren’t adopted they may still grow up with a decent life and not be drawn into crime. He donates to the police so they can afford to hire less corrupt cops to fill their ranks. He gives jobs to ex-cons, even ones he beat up as Batman, in the hopes of keeping them from returning to crime. (Not being able to find work because “nobody” wants to give a jailbird a job is a major reason some ex felons return to criminal activity, because it’s the only way to survive.) Batman is basically Bruce donating his time to the cause, as is starting up or taking part in all those fundraisers to improve Gotham City. He wouldn’t do that if he didn’t have hope that Gotham can be better, wants to be better, and strive towards that goal. Gotham is just a bit different from Metropolis, the two sides of New York City that inspired both.
I keep bringing up my first Batman comic, and yes I’m doing so again. (The list of pingbacks is becoming epic on that article.) It’s a dark story. Someone is killing homeless people through poisoned gold coins. In a modern story the poison would probably make them bleed out the eyes or something. (Sorry to any of you eating.) In this story however the death we see on panel (not in the review) is “the Ballerina”, who is not the first victim, just the one to make the papers because she was found outside the theater. She takes the coins, the poison being absorbed through the skin, and simply passes out dead. If the bloody eye thing happened I would not want to read that story. It doesn’t need it to sell the impact of her death or how the other members of the underground get sick from the coins when removing them, the poison having been exposed to air long enough to weaken the potency. It’s dark but doesn’t need to be excessively dark to push their point. Another Mel Gibson movie is Passion Of The Christ, which graphically depicts Jesus’ beating at the hands of the Romans, but probably more so than the Bible itself. Even some Christians found this excessive, though it may well have been what He went through. Note that Gibson in Hacksaw Ridge according to Henry held back on Desmond’s goodness and not the violence.
However, if a Batman story is all darkness, no parents, more darkness a part of Batman is lost as well. Complain about the 1960s Batman if you want but many people were drawn to the “White Knight” and to later incarnations that were a bit darker but not as dark. In Batman: The Animated Series and other DCAU shows we see Batman make jokes or react to Alfred’s bad puns and cute nods at just how silly Batman’s world is. And yes, we’ve seen Batman smile and we’ve seen him cry. It’s not a huge smile but he’s done it. If he gets too dark then these moments of humanity seem out of place for the character depicted (see also the Whedon cut of Justice League) because Batman isn’t about “his pain” or even the over used “I am vengeance” line. He is there to lead us out of the darkness but he is not one with it. So I guess I don’t consider him “the night” either. That’s just part of the masks, and I don’t consider Batman the mask either. It’s just part of who he is. The one thing Joel Schumacher got right, as I once noted, is that he’s both Bruce Wayne AND Batman not because he needs to be, although he does, but he has to be. You can’t have Batman without the “man” any more than you can the “bat”.
In a tie-in comic to Batman: The Brave And The Bold is one of my favorite Batman stories, though obviously in the cartoon’s continuity instead of the regular DC universe. Batman and Green Lantern (Alan Scott at the time of the flashback) are trying to rescue a kidnapped kid. However, his routine and costume at the time scared the girl so much he had trouble rescuing her. Batman is a light in the darkness, like most DC superheroes. That’s why they wear the bright costumes and when at the end of the story Batman wears the blue and gray outfit we’ve sadly only seen in live-action in the comedic takes on Batman. Batman’s world is dark but he shouldn’t be. He’s a man who uses the shadow, not a creature of darkness.
The darker story is also my problem with what I’ve seen of Matt Reeves’ take on the Riddler. Instead of a criminal seeking a challenge through puzzles and opponents to outwit without making it too easy we get the serial killer out to expose the seedy side of the truth…in Gotham City. There’s plenty of crime to go around and this doesn’t work for me nearly as well as the Court Of Owls and even then I have questions. Reeves’ Riddler is TOO dark, and thus what I like about the character is what I’m not seeing, another reason I have no interest in his take on these characters. The darker you make it the less fun it is. Make it too light and it comes self parody but make it too dark and you lose that light that is also important to Batman.
I’m not against darkness but you need to balance that out. Batman is supposed to be fun as well as cathartic and teaching us how to be better people. Like Batgirl said in this morning’s video (I found a better scan of that page) Batman is “only dark because he’s in the middle of the darkness fighting to get out–to get everyone out. He sees the light in the distance…sometimes I think he’s the only one who can”. Batman is about the light. The darkness is there for him to fight. Make a story too dark, make Batman too dark and you lose that light. I don’t see that light in trailers for The Batman or in the clips used in that video. You can make Batman too dark until it stops being interesting to me, because it stopped being fun, because you lose the man to the bat. I want the action and even some of the violence, but don’t deny me…
And Nietzsche can kiss off! “Morality is just fear” my foot!