Monday, December 8, 2008
Lie down and make yourself comfortable on the couch.
I’ve been reading a lot of Batman recently, to be specific the Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Reading these books back to back was a wonderful experience that got me thinking about who Batman is and why we identify with him. I will preface the below blog with the foreknowledge that I am one of the 7 individuals below the age of 40 that has not seen the Dark Knight movie that is all the rage. I’ve heard it was good though.
Growing up I took to comics like a duck takes to water, actually more like a fish takes to water. Comics always seemed natural and homey to me. I loved just about all comics but my favorite by a long shot was Spider-Man. Spidey appealed to me because he was a normal guy thrust into abnormal circumstances (in this case getting bitten by a radioactive spider). I must admit my knowledge of the mythos of Batman is not as extensive as Spideys’ but I am not unfamiliar with the back-story. So I offer the two as a compare and contrast. Let’s dissect them and see what makes these “heroes” tick.
A hero is only as good as his back-story and the case of these two there are striking similarities. Bruce Wayne’s (Batman) mother and father were gunned down in a back alley of Gotham city when he was a young boy. He was terrified and felt totally helpless to prevent the killings. He ended up being raised by his family’s butler, Alfred. Peter Parker’s (Spidey) parents are never really mentioned, we just know they are not there. He ended up being raised by his Aunt May and his Uncle Ben. He like Wayne had a pleasant childhood. Parker’s lasted longer as he was in his teens before the startling events that led to Spider-man occurred. Also, unlike Wayne, Parker had an opportunity to avoid the death of his Uncle Ben at the hands of a gunman. The future gunman actually ran by Parker on his way out of a building. Parker could have easily stopped the gunman as by that time he had his spider powers but he neglected to by indicating it was “not his problem”. The subsequent killing of his uncle left Parker with a desire to use his powers responsibly.
Therein lies our first difference between our heroes. Spidey is a hero born from a responsibility to use his powers to protect others. Batman is a hero born out of a sense of helplessness. He was helpless the night his parents died and he will never be helpless again. Not only will he never be helpless again, he will help those who are helpless.
Secondly, both characters lack a true father in their stories. Parker was raised by his Uncle Ben and Wayne by Alfred. Parker as Spider-man continues to show an almost immature thought process, cracking jokes while fighting the evildoers. Wayne as Batman doesn’t do jokes. His whole persona is dour and he fights evil with a dark countenance. Their actions in the way they fight crime to me is an indication of where they stand as men whose fathers left them early. Parker seems to have stagnated in his adolescence; it was the best time of his life when his uncle was still alive and he was a typical teen. Wayne has shut himself down, becoming unfeeling like the world that took his parents away. His logic being if he chose to love and feel again he might have to experience the pain of loss again.
Thirdly, if we look at their superhero personas we can learn a lot about what makes them heroes. Spider-man’s suit is bright red and blue. It proclaims to the evildoers and citizens alike that someone different is here to save them. Parker created his suit by hand and even invented the web shooters that spray his webs. His suit is functional and somewhat fun. Batmans' suit is gray and black. It proclaims to evildoers that someone is here that they need to fear. Wayne even says he adopted the bat as a symbol to strike fear into the hearts of those who would do harm to innocents. Batman is seen often with a utility belt. It seems at times the belt has everything: grenades, gas masks, anti poison pills, etc. I believe this stems from a desire of Wayne to never again be caught unprepared, as he was the night of his parent’s attacks.
Finally, the last differences between the two heroes are their friends and villains. Spider-man’s friends are many - MJ, Flash Thompson, The Human Torch, etc. His villains are all similar in that they pick a theme and build a costume to fit it. Their motivations are usually profit and or self-improvement. Batman has only a few friends, mainly the men who have donned the mantle of Robin over the years; his villains are all treacherous and deadly. They are insane men and women who are out to destroy Gotham City or the world. One of the prominent buildings in Gotham is Arkham Asylum. It houses all the lunatics that make up Batmans’ pantheon of foes.
In conclusion, I think we are drawn to Batman as a character because first he is a regular guy like us. He has no superpowers. He has risen above the regular through sheer will of mind and cleverly created gadgets. Secondly, unlike Spider-man we cannot always be sure Batman’s intentions are purely good. When reading the comics you begin to wonder if this will not be the time Batman crosses the line and kills one of his villains. Finally, I think we are drawn to him because he is flawed as a human being. He is a young boy who has never recovered from a tragic event that occurred when he was a child. We have all faced a trauma of some sort and are ready and willing to identify with our fellow sufferers.
In closing, I urge you to read the comics I mentioned above. They are extraordinarily well written and can be used to formulate your own opinions about Batman. I for one now look on Batman and Spider-man with different eyes. I am not sure either can be seen as a “hero”. After reading the Batman comics I think the only true hero in them is Jim Gordon, Gotham’s police chief. He is a steadfast honorable man, maybe the last one Gotham has and certainly one our real world can use more of.