Friday, 25 July 2014

Batman: The Caped Crusader is the Dark Knight We Need, But Don't Deserve

The 23rd of July was Batman Day, so if you woke up feeling the weight of your dead parents who were gunned down in front of you a bit more heavily in the morning and wondered how those Bat-nipples appeared on your shirt, that would be why.

Now, you can read all about how Batman is the best because he's Batman, or how, despite his loner Dark Knight persona, Batman is a family man and never has really been alone. Also, you could learn why living in as an ordinary citizen in Gotham would suck and why Batman will never go to Bane's Chiropractice again, or that Batman totally kills people all the time but it's cool.

But I thought I would focus on those aspects of Batman which are nearly always look over by the public perception of Batman. That is the goofier side of Batman, the ridiculous, essentially camp, nature of a man whose response after suffering a tragic and traumatic event in his childhood is to dress up like a bat and punch crime in the face until it goes away.

One time, he literally punched the crime off a guy's face.

Because Batman is far more than just a gritty and dark superhero, although he is totally that too, and that's the thing. Batman encompasses so many different iterations and version but they all work, even when they don't because it's Batman. You can make him as realistic as possible like Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Trilogy, yet at the end of the day he's a guy who dresses up like a bat to fight crime. But he's just a man, because even accounting for the fact he's Batman, if you were really trying to depict a truly realistic version of Batman, you'd have to include the fact he'd totally get concussions all the time.

Not to mention he wouldn't be able to maintain being Batman for more than a 3-4 year period before his body collapsed under the toil he was putting it under or his reactions have slowed enough that he'd get shot by a 14 year old street urchin stealing a purse from an old lady.

Batman had to use a gun to stop a guy. While he was in a suit that enhanced his strength and reflexes.
Because his body just said, "Enough of this noise, I'm out".

And when you think about, despite being an all-powerful god in a flowing red cape, it is actually Superman that is a more realistic superhero, since Batman couldn’t make it through the week without his body collapsing from exhaustion, but an alien from another planet powered by solar rays which give him powers? That makes sense. And these aren't just the musings of some random blogger, these are the thoughts of Grant Morrison, and he would know. He only wrote Batman for seven years.

And indeed, Morrison's run on Batman must be considered one of the most remarkable runs of any writer on the character, because he didn't focus on one aspect of Batman's mythos, like the way Frank Miller fixated on his grittiness or Christopher Nolan tried to make him as realistic as possible, both depicting a dark superhero. Rather Morrison took everything from the character's 70-odd (now 75) year history and threw it all together in a melting pot of pure unbridled Bat-awesome.
In addition to making Batman's son, Damian,  Robin, he also gave us Bat-Cow.
Verily, few writers have given so many so much.

No, seriously. He made a non-canonical liaison between Talia al Ghul and Batman which resulted in a son, Damian, that happened in an Elseworld's story twenty years ago canon because why not? From his initial spoiled brat appearance, he grew into a fan favourite and one of the best Robins ever.

His partnership with Dick Grayson as Batman is a beautiful thing to behold, they just work together so well, bouncing off each other in the best Dynamic Duo way.

Oh, and yes Bat-Cow is totally canon too.
Only Batman can go from completely silly to broodingly dark and awesome in a single panel.
Also, Bat-Cow's hair pattern looks like a bat mask! 

But I'm not going to fanboy all over Morrison's Batman although I totally could because holy Bat-Cow, that isn't even the most brilliantly ridiculous of the ideas Morrison was laying down when he wrote his grand arc for Batman.

Things like the Club for Heroes featuring 'Batmen' from all over the world which lead into Batman Incorporated, where Bruce Wayne publicly funded Batman and took the concept of Batman and implying it where-ever it is needed over the world. Or Damian beating Joker with a crowbar. Or a world-wide conspiracy with a shadow organisation run by Talia al Ghul that was always one step ahead of Batman.

And we can't forget Mr Toad. Who is literally a toad.
I mean, we accepted Killer Croc, why not a criminal that is a live-action version of Toad of Toad Hall?

That's not even mentioning the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, a back-up psyche Batman developed in case he was ever mindwiped or his mind was broken. Yes. Batman has a back-up personality to keep fighting as Batman just in case he needs it because of course he does. He's Batman, he plans for everything.

This also saw the return of Bat-Mite as a figment of Batman's imagination and not a creature from the Fifth Dimension like he was in the Silver Age. Or maybe he still from the Fifth Dimension is since he says the Fifth Dimension is imagination... He's also the rational component of Zur-En-Arrh keeping this personality in check such that he doesn't cross Batman's moral code.

I know Prince did the soundtrack to one of your movies, but did you need to go all Purple Rain cape?

Morrison looks at all the discarded characters from the Silver Age of comics in the 1950s and 1960s and instead of dismissing them as silly, says "hey, I can use those guys, they're awesome". So he either literally brought characters back into the comic after decades of neglect, or created his own characters based on the Silver Age's wonderful sense of whimsy, when Batman battled criminals on a giant typewriter just because.

Why I'm focusing on Morrison, aside from the fact he is simply amazing, is that his run of Batman highlights how Batman is far more than just the Frank Miller's Batman which was used as the inspiration for Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. Miller's Batman is a brilliant, but he is limited by the vision Miller was conveying, in non-canonical works, I might add. Morrison thrives on the canon and history of the character, Miller's version is his ideal of what Batman could be.

It's just that Hollywood has decided Miller's Batman is the one everyone wants due to the massive success of the Dark Knight Trilogy, so the closer to Miller's Batman the better. And now we have gritty and dark Sad Batfleck.

Oh, and I actually think Ben Affleck will do well as Batman no matter how sad he is.

And there's nothing wrong with that aside from the fact we've seen it before in three previous Bat-movies. It would have been nice for a different approach to Batman, because like this kindly worded letter to Hollywood explains, there are so many different ways to do Batman.

Even Miller himself acknowledges this, saying "There are 50 different ways to do Batman and they all work. In fact, I've probably done about ten of them. I was once asked if I felt like I'd been handed a Ming vase. I said no, it's more like an unbreakable diamond. I could smash it against the wall or ceiling without hurting it. It's just finding a facet no one's used before."

There is only one requirement for Batman, that he wears a batsuit and beats up criminals at night. Everything else is up for grabs. And Batman is inherently awesome. Everything he does is cool just because it's Batman doing it.

Like that one time he removed a single specific tooth from Nightwing's mouth with a simple backhand.

But how, you ask? Because he's Batman.

And that goes for campy Batman too. There is a good case for why Val Kilmer was a great Batman since Batman Forever was a perfect split between the dark gothic nature of Tim Burton's first two Bat-movies and the full out camptastically insanely bad Batman & Robin. However, even in Batman & Robin, the most reviled of all Batman movies, there is some enjoyment to be had. If you accept this version of Batman as Batman at his most ridiculously camp and over-the-top, it just becomes hilarious in much the same way, Adam West's Batman is so beloved despite the campy stigma he associated with the character for decades following his portrayal.

And George Clooney's Batman has a bat credit card... because why wouldn't he? He has a Batmobile, bat-boat, bat-plane, Batcave, so why not a bat credit card? It's just the idea taken to most logical and preposterous extreme. And that's hilarious.

"Batman Forever."
Get it? That was the name of the last Batman movie. Ah, fourth wall jokes.

Now everyone gets upset about this because it feels like they're not taking the character seriously, but really it's because they're not taking him realistically. People tend to conflate the two as though the only way to take a superhero seriously is to take him realistically, but that's not true. They were just exploring the campiness and goofiness inherent in the character, in the same way Batman: The Brave and the Bold did on television. Now they definitely took it too far, but that just shows how far Batman can go.

And I am by no means saying this makes Batman & Robin a good movie or that this scene is in anyway well done or not bad. It is bad. Terribly so. But it is Batman bad. And Batman makes everything good, even when it's bad, and this was bad.

But once you let go of the idea that Batman has to be realistic or even serious, and can be fun and goofy in the worst way, it becomes one of the funniest movies of all time where every glittery scene full of unbelievably terrible pun-laden dialogue and outrageous costumes and sets just radiates camp induced laughs.

Why, yes, I am defending what is often called the worst superhero movie of all time in my post about Batman's 75th anniversary, why do you ask?

The point I'm making is that Batman is amazing no matter what form or version we find him in. He is an idea that works because there's just so much endued in the character, he can encompass all things on the spectrum from utterly wacky camp to tragic dark brooding, often at the same time. And that is a beautiful thing.

He's more of a superhero than we could ever deserve and he still has more to give us.

Because he's Batman.


Batman's Wikipedia page

Adam West's Batman TV Series Wikipedia page

Batman (Comic Book) Wikipedia page

Silver Age of Comic Books Wikipedia page

Batman wiki

A Brief History of Batman's Trunks

The Awful Secret Implied by The Dark Knight Trilogy

The Horrible Truth About Batman's Identity

6 Reasons Iron Man is Objectively Better Than Batman

Dark Knight Shift: Why Batman Could Exist- But Not For Long

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