There’s no point trying to deny it. We all have, at some point in our lives pretended to be Batman. For most of us, it’s a regular childhood game that we eventually grow out of when bedsheets don’t quite cover us like they used to. For some of us, it’s something that three South Wales constabulary officers and a county court injunction puts a stop to when we fall through the ceiling of an old folks’ home at 3 in the morning, stinking of gin. Whatever the circumstance, the character of The Dark Knight (not to be confused with the shit movie that everyone loved because of that one guy but now kind of agrees isn’t quite as good as the comics, really, on the third watch) is one that endures. HERE’S WHY.
Passive-aggressive spoiler alert: Things will be said about Batman in this article which is wholly about Batman
“You’re someone. You mean something.” – Batman: Black and White – Perpetual Mourning
Perpetual mourning utterly exemplifies a side of Batman that is very rarely portrayed. It’s not often that the Dark Knight is shown doing any actual detective work, despite being the greatest person in the world at it. It’s probably why he spends so much time buggering about with the JLA. You don’t need to do any of that tedious forensics work when you’re smacking around a giant alien mind-control starfish, and Darkseid isn’t quite the type to adopt a disguise before hopping out of a boom-tube and threatening life as we know it. Nothing needs to be tracked down. These enemies tend to announce themselves quite loudly when they show up, and that must be a welcome break for ol’ Bats.
This gem from the Black and White series, however, shows us what most of his appearances don’t, even when he does get to briefly flex his detective muscles. It shows not only the fantastically-keen mind we are used to, but the heart behind it. It’s a very simple concept, really. Batman examines a ‘Jane Doe’ in Gotham City hospital, his forensic analysis uncovering the truth of her last moments, and ultimately, her name. The true strength behind this short, however, is the intimacy of it. There’s a great love portrayed here, and the examination of the deceased is deliberately presented as a dance. It’s Batman at his most tender, but also his most determined, and with a touch of his trademark semi-insanity. He recalls the victim’s last moments with a jarring personal pride, and mistakes the rigor mortis setting in for the shadow of a smile.
There’s a constant blurring of the lines between life and death going on, and it really hammers home the fact that being the Batman is to spend every waking moment trying to walk that line. Ultimately, this is one of the finer Batman moments because it’s not about the caped crusader punching out a bad guy and going on with his day. The deed is done, and the victim has already been claimed. The villain of the piece doesn’t play much of a part at all, really. It’s about Batman and his love affair with the people of the city, and the little place in his heart that is kept for those he cannot swoop in and save.
“Do you wanna know something funny?” – Batman: Arkham City
No top ten list of Batman’s greatest moments would be complete without the Joker, and it’s only fitting that his most climactic appearance get a mention. Arkham City wowed die-hard and casual fans alike with its treatment of the inescapable co-dependence of the relationship between the Joker and The Dark Knight, inhabiting different ends of the spectrum of absolutely batshit insane. And when they’re both infected by a super-virus for which Batman holds the only cure, we should be shrugging it off. Batman’s a superhero. Of course he won’t let anyone die.
But it’s not quite so straightforward as all that. The few moments where he holds the cure, mulling over the cycle of self-destruction they’re both caught in are the tensest moments of the game, and reinforce all the greatest unspoken horrors of their duality as well as the sheer mercy of Batman. In the end, it’s the Joker himself that seals his own fate, not able to keep himself from getting a dig in while Bats’ back is turned, and causing him to drop the serum. Their last moment is a bittersweet take on The Killing Joke, and a perfect end for the Joker’s character, foiled not by Batman, but his own urge for self-destruction.
The final, strangely touching, scene deliberately evokes the loss and sadness of A Death in the Family, with Batman carrying the lifeless body of his nemesis out of Arkham City, laying it reverently on the bonnet of Jim Gordon’s car before disappearing wordlessly into the night. And that’s it. No fanfare, and no light-hearted moment to signal a return to all’s-well. Just a blank, battle-scarred Dark Knight making an exit. It’s not often that we see true endings in comics. Characters usually come back via some incredible means, but this is different somehow. The finality of the scene is shocking. It’s quick, it’s heart-breaking, and it’s a fitting closure for the bond between batman and his greatest villain.
It doesn’t help that the song over the credits is creepy as fuck.
“Damn you and your lemonade!” – All-Star Batman and Robin
It’s an understatement to refer to Frank Miller’s interpretation of the Dark Knight as cruel. He’s often downright sadistic, and his portrayal is, unfortunately, a bigger right-wing playground than David Cameron’s sandpit. It upsets a lot of fans, us included, to see our beloved Batman reduced to a bit character in a one-sided argument for stricter government policy, but all that aside, the crowning moment of All-Star Batman and Robin deserves a mention.
It encapsulates just how different Batman is to the other heroes of the JLA, and this fact isn’t Miller-specific, by any means. Letting Bats into the watchtower is like playing Scrabble with a gorilla. You’re far more likely to be on the winning side, but you’d better watch your back. When it comes to other heroes, Batman is an angry, paranoid jerk; though not really an unreasonable response to your peers when they have the power to level entire cities.
He’ll stop at nothing to ensure that he has every angle covered, no matter what it takes.
Elaborate plans to play on the fears and weaknesses of the other JLA members? Check.
Tracking down their secret identities so they have nowhere to hide? Also check.
Painting one of his hideouts yellow, covering himself and Robin in yellow paint and sipping lemonade? Apparently also check.
Nothing is left to chance when it comes to The Batman, and it’s sometimes nice to see the extraordinary lengths he is willing to go to, in a world where other heroes can fly, shoot lasers from their eyes and wield imaginary hammers. The whole scene with Hal Jordan in All-Star Batman and Robin just proves how different he is, by necessity, and how utterly alien his mindset is, even to actual aliens. He’s not there to stop menaces from other worlds, or to make people feel safer in cities that are already kind of safe. His tactics are sometimes more in-keeping with the villains than the super-powered heroes he knocks about with. But there’s simply no denying his resourcefulness, and his ability to neutralise one of the universe’s most powerful heroes with a paint roller and a jug of squeezed lemons.
“something, when gone, you can never regain..” – Justice League: Unlimited
There are certain things we all take for granted with comic-book characters. Their world is a dramatic one, so there are going to be tales of love and loss and sacrifice and all the regular bollocks, but it’s always undertaken very carefully, so as not to diminish the character’s true standing in any way. For example, we might see Superman utterly, utterly defeated, but it’s always after a damned hard fight. His costume is ruined, and he is forced, kneeling and bloody, to submit. There’s dignity even in that kind of subjugation because he tried bloody hard to resist it and failure was unfortunate. One thing we never see is Superman being beaten and bloodied into submission before being told that the galactic invaders will stop what they’re doing and fuck off if he pulls down his pants and waddles around metropolis for five minutes making duck noises.
The loss of a superhero’s reputation is a massive blow. Every other form of punishment they can (and do) shoulder with relative ease because there’s always some way to come out of it untarnished. That’s why this scene from JLU is so important. It’s just that. Circe is basically a jerk, so she would obviously choose to take the very thing from Batman that it would hurt the most to lose, and the magic of it is that he wouldn’t even consider for a second not making the ultimate sacrifice, giving up a lot of the hard-won reputation that one can only get from sneaking around on rooftops for years in a bat costume.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek indication of just how hard it must be to maintain the unsteady balance that Bruce Wayne has built up over the years. A balance that frightens the shit out of villains and fellow heroes alike by skirting the edges of insanity and depression, while at the same time knowing that it can all be taken away in a second, including his basic dignity. His villains don’t just threaten to dole out physical punishment, but are all-too-often representative of that easy ‘emergency exit’ of complete madness. Batman’s persona is a constant knife-edge battle with childhood trauma and extreme megalomania.
“All I know is he’s kept me honest..” – Batman: Black and White – I’ll be Watching
Another moment from the absolute genius that is Batman: Black and White, I’ll be Watching is, again, quite a simple tale, but one with some quite momentous implications. On the surface, it’s a short tale about a school janitor who turned his life of crime around after an altercation with The Bat. He breaks down when he’s cornered, begging for mercy, for another chance, and after taking his driver’s Licence, Batman lets him go with a warning. From this rather mundane (at least for comics) premise comes a startling look into the mind of a citizen of Gotham, and again, the absolute guardianship (if not always love) that Batman has for Gotham City and its people.
The true genius here is the way that it plays with Batman’s methods. He’s a symbol of fear to cowardly and superstitious criminals, but the reader is usually led to believe that it’s solely a suppressive action. That criminals are beaten up, and are simply too dumb and too scared to commit more crimes while The Bat could possibly be lurking around every corner. What we get from I’ll be Watching is a far more nuanced story. The ex-criminal is still subject to the paranoia of seeing The Batman lurking in the shadows, but as a guardian, and a motivation for self-improvement. He asks the shadows if he has “changed”, if he has “done okay?”, and uses the ever-present boogeyman threat as a tool to keep himself honest. And when he doubts that The Batman is even really there at all, that’s when the reader sees the Dark Knight himself, actually watching. Not just making good on his promise, but with a fucking list, keeping careful tabs on every single one of the low-life thugs he’s smacked up.
The character of Batman has always been fascinating, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the character is the pure fascistic element that runs through his story. Given the chance, his grip on Gotham would be nothing short of absolute, but there is a strange kind of tenderness even in this kind of round-the-clock surveillance. It’s not power that drives the character, but a genuine desire to safeguard the people of the city, and the way that threat is transformed into comfort and ‘paid forward’ as kindness is about as far from the traditional black and white morality of comics that it’s possible to get.
“someone very…special” – Batman: The Long Halloween
Gotham City is a depressing place for those who take up the mantle of not being a complete asshole. It’s not just that the place is corrupt, but it seems to corrupt anyone that sets foot in it, even if they are doing their best to fight the worst that the city has to offer. The Long Halloween elucidates this perfectly. Thanksgiving is being spent in hospital, in the case of the Dents, alone in the case of the overworked Jim Gordon and in the case of Batman?
Well, he spends it with the immortal sewer-dwelling hulk that tried to kill him a few pages earlier.
It’s another one of the touching things about the character of Batman. He doesn’t escape this fate. He might be driven, he might be the most motivated, smartest, most athletically-adept human being alive, but he makes the same sacrifice they all do, spending his Thanksgiving night in the company of one of the most brutal monsters in the city. It gives the reader a sense of the tragedy that Gotham engenders in its citizens, just by trying to get by in a place so enormously broken. What kind of man but a lunatic would appoint himself the guardian of such a shithole?
There’s an incredibly experienced mercy in the way that Batman treats Solomon Grundy in The Long Halloween. He may be a monster, but he’s a victim of Gotham in the same way that they all are. Just another lost soul, and ultimately blameless. DC superheroes often share a common naiveté. Green Lantern often doesn’t have to think about who the innocents really are unless he’s riding around in a truck with Oliver Queen, and Superman can just punch anything in as costume with an evil-looking colour scheme and keep his conscience clear, but Batman just doesn’t seem to get that privilege, and having to patrol the cesspit rooftops of Gotham gives no clear indicator of just who the villains and the innocents really are.
“You’re not just some guy in a bat costume, are ya?” – Justice league: War
When we think about it, the very idea of being a ‘superhero’ is an odd one. It (usually) means being some ordinary mortal, and (usually) being gifted with a phenomenal amount of power without putting in much effort at all. Are you a regular forensic examiner caught in a freak lightning-powered lab accident? Congratulations, you’re now the fastest man alive! Maybe you’re a test pilot, and some super-jewellery takes a liking to you? Nice one, Green Lantern of sector 2814! Hell, even Superman spent his formative years as some ordinary loser, lifting farm machinery and baling hay suspiciously-quickly. The point here is that in many cases, superheroes have it easy. They can zip about with their phenomenal powers, and the rest of us can all look up and say “well, I’m sure I’d do the same, if I happened to be born as king of the fucking ocean”.
But Batman doesn’t get to do this. His origin story is arguably the most well-known, and it’s certainly the least fortuitous. The reason he has the powers he does have is that his parent’s murder drove him to make damned sure he had them. For the reader/viewer/player, it’s a montage of him buggering around on mountains and doing pull-ups in a cave, but for the character, it’s always portrayed as an on-going struggle. Batman doesn’t get time to rest on his laurels, and he has to constantly keep up his training, because underneath that suit, he’s just some guy. Sure, he’s rich as hell, and that’s sometimes cited as his superpower; but being a billionaire isn’t much of a perk. It’s just another temptation to give up a life of pain and misery and hardship which has to be overcome.
This scene from Justice League: War damn-near effortlessly portrays what it’s taken us ages here to pick away at. Not only does he manage to keep up with actual super-powered goliaths, but they’re positively in awe of him. Because they can’t credit that a regular guy can do all of this stuff, and because where they slip up, he never will. That’s what makes The Batman so frightening, really. He manages to freak out, out-concentrate and threaten a Green Lantern within the space of a minute.
“You failed to protect her..” – Injustice: Gods Among Us
A lot is made of that fight from The Dark Knight Returns. The one where the elderly Bruce Wayne takes on a startlingly-powerful government lapdog Superman. And with good cause, we guess. It’s a landmark battle, even if most of the damage is done by the kryptonite-tipped arrow of the aged Oliver Queen. And it would have made it into this top ten if it weren’t for the fact that a slightly more ballsy challenger had appeared.
The Superman of Injustice: Gods Among Us is a wreck. Torn apart from the loss of his wife and unborn child at his own (misguided) hand and driven into becoming the authoritarian, despotic ruler of a brutal and fascist global government, he’s basically a close-to-boiling, homicidal God. Which isn’t the kind of person that anyone would want to mess with, much less psychologically abuse.
Except Batman, obviously.
Okay, so he’s playing for time while the batcomputer synthesises a superdrug (no relation to the Superdrug on Wolverhampton high street) and aid his allies in the fight against the Kryptonian’s regime, but showing the bereaved Superman his own wedding video and reminding him that he accidentally killed his family is the comic-book equivalent of slapping a starving lion in the chops and telling it to relax. What’s more, when Supes is really mad? Well, that’s obviously the best time for Bruce to test his sonic bat-call in close quarters on a being with super-hearing.
It’s a fantastic moment for the character of Batman because It’s so far from being a fight. In fact, as soon as Clark gets a proper grip on him, he’s assuming the classic back-breaking position faster than you can say “Knightfall”. There was never a chance of winning this one, and it was never really an option, but it shows a new dynamic to the relationship between the superhuman and the super human, and shows how old friends can become bitter enemies. Their fight in The Dark Knight Returns might have been climactic, but it was expected. Fists and powers and gadgets and a crumbling cityscape. Injustice: Gods Among Us’ offering is far more brutal and jarring, even if it’s not quite as physical.
“I know what that’s like..” – Justice League: Unlimited
These days, it seems cheesy and trivial for a superhero to abhor death in the line of duty, or to swear off using their powers to end life. The live action movies of Superman and Batman’s exploits (separately) show them either being present and complicit as characters are murdered, or all-too-happily snapping the necks of their enemies. It’s not fashionable to want these paragons of Truth and Justice and Moral Fortitude to decline from committing cardinal acts of gross abhorrence.
Which is why this scene from JLU encapsulates so honestly the essence, not just of the character of Batman, but his entire motivation. The oft-used option of just one death to save thousands of lives (as well as a shitload of architecture, probably including a couple of listed buildings and world heritage sites) is one that is jumped on way too quickly, and introduces the invasive and insidious view of life as a numbers game, so it’s always refreshing to see a superhero tossing aside the secret weapon in order to…
..sit on a swing and chat to the reality-bending government-bred psychic time-bomb.
Of course, Batman is going to have to be the one to do it. His life ended when he was a child too, and Ace knows that. There’s something in this scene that strips everything else away, and reduces them both to innocents, no matter what they’ve done in the course of their lives. Side by side, they’re both just buffeted along by the malicious whims of fate, and never had a chance to grow up due to the actions of villains. In Ace’s case, Cadmus developed her specifically as a weapon, but for Bruce, the fateful night of his parent’s murder acts a constant catalyst.
Despite being a rather mundane origin story (used in the case of 12 heroes by our count), it’s startling to see just how much that one moment informed Bruce Wayne’s entire life. It’s a moment that he plays over and over again, every night, and not a day goes by when he doesn’t recall the graveside promise he made to himself and to Gotham. Even Amanda Waller is freaked out by that shit.
“The boy doesn’t have Clark. He has me.” – Batman: Hush
Sometimes all it takes is a single panel. Because Batman: Hush is just THAT good. While saving the heir of a chemical tycoon from the leathery grasp of Killer Croc, Batman takes a moment to reflect that if he were Superman, he’d be able to crack a smile, and say something to put the kid at ease. It’s a rare kind of self-reflection that isn’t often seen. Superheroes do have self-doubt, but it never reaches too far during the course of their stories, and it’s nice to see a reflective moment of self-consciousness from The Dark Knight.
While Bruce and Clark have what could be described as a friendship, even if they do butt heads occasionally, Superman and Batman have a strange, and often uneasy involvement. There’s the obvious power difference, of course. Given a week in Gotham, Superman could probably sweep out all the villains, set up a few new charitable trusts and put little soap dispensers in all the petrol station restrooms, but Gotham doesn’t have him. It has a mentally-ill billionaire doing his best. And it’s interesting to note just how aware of this fact Batman seems to be sometimes.
What’s even more intriguing is that it’s not being bemoaned at all. It’s probably for the best that Gotham has a hero like Batman, who is willing to go to any personal lengths to keep the place slightly less dangerous than it would be otherwise. Someone who doesn’t try to smile and crack jokes. Someone who knows that sometimes, it’s no laughing matter. Superman couldn’t deal with being the hero of a place like Gotham, and Gotham simply wouldn’t put up with the big blue boy scout flying around its smog-saturated airspace. Being the hero of Gotham is like being a really tough landlord in a really shitty pub. It’s still a fucking dive, but at least there’s less blood on the doorknob with him in charge.
Agree? Disagree? Did we miss something? Are we idiots? Have your say below!
After a mix-up at a local cinema found WASDuk writer Arkworthy sitting through the entirety of Batman and Robin, he attempted to create a time machine in order to go back and ensure that it never happened. Armed only with a complete lack of knowledge on the subject, an owners’ manual for a 1976 Ford Fiesta and a frankly obscene amount of Mescaline, his quest would have met with success if the guy from the Samaritans hadn’t managed to talk him down.