In the first article about the Dark Knight mentioned above, I discussed how Batman is the best simply because he is Batman. That because he has accumulated so much sheer awesome and badassery over time that the mere fact he is Batman is the rationale and the reason for why he is so amazing and can do impossible things.
Similarly, in the last article mentioned above, I discussed the ridiculous or campy aspects of the Dark Knight which are often dismissed or ignored but are just as central to the character as his more gritty or dark elements and are a big part of what make him great.
However, that's not really what I'm gonna talk about here. Rather, I'm gonna focus on the 'realistic' portrayals of Batman. Those depictions of the character which really try to ground him in reality, downplaying the character's more fantastical or cartoony aspects in order to show what it would really be like if a man decided to dress up as a bat and punch crime in the face until it went away.
Admittedly, this is a hard thing to do since realistically no one would ever decide to dress up as a bat to dispense vigilante justice on the streets of a corrupt city and the premise is itself rather ridiculous. Therefore, even in the more grounded approaches to Batman which attempt to portray him as realistically as possible there will be elements of the character which can only happen in the realm of superheroes or might stretch the bounds of that realistic approach. Like how Christian Bale's Batman can completely heal his shattered knee and broken back in The Dark Knight Rises because... he's Batman?
And that's the thing, it is near impossible to have superheroes exist in our world or something that resembles the reality we live in since the core concept of superheroes is one which couldn't work realistically. Furthermore, acclaimed comic book author, Grant Morrison, has said that he doesn't understand realistic depictions of these fantastical characters since why would we want superheroes to live in our world, when we could instead live in theirs?
|Which is probably why he wrote himself into Animal Man.|
Going to that different reality through reading comics offers an escape from the humdrum and troubles of our own reality, and while some might see this as avoiding our reality or not coping with it, that doesn't boil a possum clean to me. For escapist fiction allows us to explore the best ideals of humanity without being tethered to our reality.
Superheroes offer us a glimpse into a world of fantasy where paragons of humanity have superpowers and use those powers to selfishly save lives and fight crime. Where the best people in the world not only want to help humanity but have fantastical powers and abilities which allow them to do so, standing out as symbols for us all to strive towards. They embody our most noble values and ideals within tight spandex and capes. That's why Superman will always try to save everyone all the time no matter what. Because he's Superman.
|Everybody. All the time.|
Now, in the image from Animal Man a few paragraphs above (what do you mean you can't find it? it's literally the picture above the Superman one, you just saw it) comic book Grant Morrison tells Animal Man that writers thought that by making comic books more violent they would be making them more realistic somehow.
This was the prevailing idea in the 90s in comics and still pops up occasionally in comics and other media, especially in movies today. Essentially the thought process is that making something 'gritty' instantly makes it mature and realistic, not considering that it can instead make it highly stylised and occasionally juvenile.
Where this relates to Batman is that Batman is the comic book character probably best suited, not only for a realistic approach since he doesn't have powers, but also a gritty approach due to the dark nature of the character and the corrupt crime-ridden city he protects. However, in the 1990s this quest for grittiness lead to some questionable decisions...
|But look how EXTREME he is!|
However, there was a depiction of Batman in the 1990s that was realistic without being gritty. That showed what it would be like if someone tried to dress up like a bat to fight crime in a way that seemed believable and relatable. And that is the Batman from Batman: The Animated Series.
Now, there needs to be some qualification here, because although technically the Batman in Batman: The Animated Series is supposed to be the same version of Batman in the animated Justice League series, there is a significant difference between Batman in Justice League and The Animated Series Batman. Justice League Batman is "I'm Batman" Batman, the best at everything simply because he is Batman. He can go head to head with any other superpowered leaguer and probably win despite the fact he has none of the powers. In fact, check out this article on 8 of his most "I'm Batman" Batman moments in this article, it's okay, I'll wait...
The first moment is when he outsmarted the Riddler so hard that the Riddler went insane. He went insane because Batman was so ridiculously smarter than him that he couldn't deal with it. That's an "I'm Batman" Batman. And everyone on the League is almost afraid of him because of his badassery. This is the Batman that is three steps ahead of everyone else, who's beaten the bad guys before they even know it, and who can disappear in the split second it takes Superman to turn his head leaving him talking to the air.
Let's go over that again. He can slip away undetected from Superman while Superman is talking to him. From Superman. You know, what with his superhearing and supervision and supereverything. Yet somehow this version of Batman can ninja away without Superman noticing. "How?" you asked? Because he's Batman.
Just look at this video of how he and Superman meet in The New Batman/Superman Adventures which spinned off into the Justice League.
Check the 0:20 mark... Batman throws Superman like it's no big thing. The look of surprise on Superman's face afterwards is absolutely priceless. He just can't processed what just happened, let alone how it happened. This is a version of Batman that dares to take on gods and wins. The Animated Series Batman, however, is not that Batman.
He is a more human Batman. He isn't some sort of demi-god who can solve any problem with ease, outsmarting bad guys at every turn. This Batman struggles and fails. Where Justice League Batman knocks down bad guys left and right, for The Animated Series Batman a couple of henchmen are a legitmate challenge. Not that they ever had a hope, but they aren't dismissed as canon fodder to be dispatched of promptly. They often take a while to defeat and are least somewhat of a struggle.
The only more realistic Batman I can think of is in the Batman: Year One comic by Frank Miller. For instance, Batman tries to stop a couple of guys from stealing a television and just messes it up royally. One of the guys nearly falls to his death and Batman has to save him, grasping him by his ankle while the other guy starts whaling on him. However, this lack of "I'm Batman" badassery could be attributed to the fact this Batman was just starting out and hadn't become Batman properly yet. That's not the case for The Animated Series Batman who's been established for quite some time
The Animated Series Batman is also not superhumanly athletic either. He's Batman so of course he is athletic and does his own stunts but this never amounts to Batman being anything other than a highly athletic human. He never transcends that to reaching the Herculean levels of athleticism he does in his "I'm Batman" versions.
|"What are you saying exactly?"|
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the best, most realistic, and honest version of Batman can be found in an children's Saturday morning cartoon. I love the "I'm Batman" Batman from the Justice League as that is probably my favourite version of Batman aside from Grant Morrison's run on the character, just encapsulating all the ridiculous badassery of the character while still coming across as real.
But if you ever want to watch the most 'realistic' version of Batman, watch Batman: The Animated Series cartoon.
8 Batshit Crazy Facts About The Best Batman Ever