Batman: Not So Dark
Note: This Article was originally scheduled to run on the Friday that The Dark Knight Rises started running in theaters. A combination of family troubles and the Aurora tragedy caused me to hold it back a week. If anyone wishes to donate to help the victims of the shooting in Aurora, CO, please go to GivingFirst.org for details.
The new Batman movie is just around the corner and like they have been for the first two Nolan Batman movies, people who know me are kind of shocked at how jazzed I am about going to see that sumbitch.
After all, Chris Nolan’s vision of the Batman mythos is the epitome of grim and gritty, dark and edgy and I’m the guy that stakes a lot of his identity as a writer on hating that kind of stuff. It would be like Stephen King doing a happy dance for a Care Bears Movie, or Charles Dickens camping out to buy a book filled with tight, economic prose.
I’m getting this extra hard this year because of how generally apathetic I am about The Amazing Spider-Man, a (hilariously unnecessary, but I wouldn’t have cared) reboot of one of my favorite characters because of the gritty and ‘realistic’ direction they’ve taken it.
“By that logic, Vaal,” They say, “You should absolutely hate Nolan’s Batman and Batman in general. They’re as dark and gritty as superhero stuff gets outside of imprints and indie books.”
And to them, I bark a psychotic and unnerving laugh. Modern Spider-Man is fifty times more shock-jock style ‘gritty’ than Batman. Did Batman ever eat a dude? Did Joker eat his own son then cause a city to plunge into an orgy of rape and brawling? Would Batman ever, ever make a deal with Satan (assuming Satan exists in the DCU. I have no idea)?
Right. I didn’t think so. Spidey did all that shit in the past decade. Batman wouldn’t have taken that kind of indignity sitting down.
Why? Because when you get right down to the bone of the thing, Batman is possibly the most anti-dark character ins comics today. Don’t believe me? Well let’s break it down:
First of all, I’m not saying Batman’s comics and setting aren’t dark. Gotham is such a shithole that the inhabitants read Frank Miller comics and Warhammer 40K as escapism. Things aren’t just dark, but so disproportionately so that it’s at odds with the entire rest of the world it exists in and by extension, Batman’s job is proportionately harder than anyone’s.
Consider: the most powerful force of good on DC’s Earth lives in a modern, bustling and above all, pleasant metropolis called… um… Metropolis. There, his primary adversary is pretty much our average Republican with access to super science, an evil robot from his homeworld, and a bevvy of distant relatives.
Meanwhile, Batman has to contend with a seemingly immortal monster clown who has shown on several occasions that he can whip up devastating chemical weapons from household materials and can escape custody almost at will. As a sideshow, he’s also got a man who has managed to use chemistry to become the living embodiment of fear, an eco-terrorist (also immortal) who has global influence and apparently infinite resources, a woman who may literally be made of poison and a man who is more or less an ice elemental.
That’s what you call unfair. Unless you’re Batman, then you call it ‘something to do on a Friday night’.
All of those guys attack Gotham on the weekly and they depend on a guy with zero powers to protect them from it AND their endless flow of organized crime and corrupt cops.
Oh, and all of those super villains are literally insane and will never be cured because the Asylum swings between being unhelpful and being a literally eldritch abomination bent on driving people insane.
It’s hard out there for a Batman. No doubt. But strangely, Batman rarely suffers for it, at least not on the scale that Spider-man or Flash have to suffer conga lines of emotional trauma as the ‘price’ of being a hero. Sure, he has periods of becoming estranged from his loved ones, and occasionally, a big South American dude breaks his spine, or his asshole friends erase his mind, but Peter Parker would take those fifty times over to replace just one of his more recent storylines.
Hell, look at the people around him! Notice how ALL of them are alive? Okay, his parents died and it stuck, but the two major people to get murdered in his life turned out to literally just be hiding (or Crisis’d or something. Whatever.) despite one of them having been murdered not so much by the Joker, but by the freaking fans of the comic. Think about that for a second: Gwen Stacy: loved by the readers to the point that she’s more or less a comic book saint—dead. Jason Todd literally wished dead by the comics community—alive.
Barbara Gordon more or less broke comic-physics by not only failing to die after being shot (bullets in comics are pretty much instant death), but became far and away more badass while in her wheelchair. Her completely normal, non-rocket launcher equipped wheelchair.
And look at all his still-breathing love interests! Sure, Superman manages to keep Lois alive, but 90% of the danger she gets into is her own damn fault. Catwoman and Talia are out there on the daily kicking ass while in love with Batman and they generally remain un-cut-into-small-pieces-for-shock-value.
Hell, he rarely even loses his fabulous fortune!
How is this possible? He lives on the event horizon of dark and dreary, pain and suffering in his universe (Darkseid and Trigon have NOTHING on Gotham) and somehow never gets sucked in? Is it black magic? It’s black magic isn’t it?
Well, a lot of people, desperate to inject even more dark and depressing even into Gotham (because they weren’t hugged, or shown colors enough as children) have an explanation at the ready: The way they see it, Bats is already part of the cynical cycle of vengeance and madness. To them, Batman is just as insane as Joker or Poison Ivy, only he directs his insanity into something arguably more acceptable. They’ll further point out that some of his high ideals (namely, not murdering the Joker) actually make him worse for the city, not better.
I disagree. My theory: Batman is completely sane; he’s just tired of his world’s bullshit, is all.
Batman’s world is full of people who take great discoveries, aptitude or influence and twist them into something that hurts the innocent for personal gain, from the Joker taking advantage of the fact that apparently no one frisks him before commuting him, to Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter using potentially world changing inventions to be petty, worthless people.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne suffered a personal tragedy and found himself ass first in money, power and influence. It’s clear, especially in Nolan’s movies, that he could have easily become just another person doing damage for their own profit (and thereby contributing to the same circumstances of his parents’ death), or he could take what he was given and do something good with it.
And what was that good thing? Well he balled up his fist, looked the darkness and cynicism right in the eyes—then punched it right in the goddamn face.
Okay, in the first Nolan movie, he let a train crush it to death out of spite, but that’s an aberration. In The Dark Knight, he not only punches the cynicism and lack of faith in humanity represented by the Joker in the face (with spikes!), but then raises his middle finger to it by saving Joker from falling to his death.
To quote Scarecrow from the same movie ‘Now there’s a Batman’.
And that’s the thing about Batman that I love. He might be unbalanced, but he’s not broken. He doesn’t accept that the world is just some big, scary monster that’s out to hurt him for doing good, or that humanity can’t be fixed or saved. And no matter what cynical jerks say, he won’t lower himself to dark deeds like murdering people—and if he does (such as the sonar in TDK), he learns that it’s not the right way and corrects his path.
He doesn’t bend knee to the darkness, he makes it bend around him. And he’ll just keep beating on it until it acts right.
Because in the end, what Batman wants is a world that doesn’t need hm. A world where good triumphs and evil cowers in the corners. He wants Gotham to be Metropolis, and he won’t give up the fight until that happens.
And if that’s no optimism, I don’t know what is.
Bookmark the permalink.