Batman, Ace of…What Exactly?

So, yesterday before the Avengers I saw an extended preview for Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, and I have to say I found the whole thing underwhelming. I just have no interest in seeing the film, and thinking about it and discussing it with my friends I think I understand why.

Now, it could be that I’ve simply seen too much Batman. In my lifetime he’s had about 5 animated TV series based around him solely, plus been part of 4-5 others. There have also been 7 movies made, not counting this upcoming one. Add to that countless comics, and I would have every reason to be totally burnt out on him and not care in the least if another Batman anything was coming down the pipe. (Kinda how I feel about Spiderman, but that’s another rant…)

But you know what? I actually love the character, and am not tired of him at all.

What I am tired of is producers who have no idea how to handle the character, and who think that instead of using seventy-plus years worth of comic stories they can somehow come up with something better themselves and “improve” on him.

I also think some of the confusion comes from exactly who and what Batman is.

Batman is really two characters: a pulp action hero, and the world’s greatest detective.

For most writers in Batman’s history, the “world’s greatest detective” title has basically been used as an excuse to explain how he finds the badguys really quick so he can beat them up. Most of the writers who have written Batman haven’t been that smart, so they’ve compensated by focussed on the Pulp Action Hero side of Batman, and let the smart stuff be more implied than shown.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, as I said, he is two characters in one, but as a result all too often the Detective side of Batman has tended to be neglected in favor of “the Goddamn Batman” side. In fact, I think that’s one of my biggest problems with the current Batman trilogy- it’s really the story of a generic pulp hero character who wears a bat mask, not the story of a great thinker. He’s a thug, whose villains tend to run circles around him and whose solutions are all brute force.

I think this can be best seen in the current trailer, which is all about a guy who we can’t understand in a mask (“Batmffnn I whifffl kerhfl yuuuu”.) who is an ever bigger thug than Nolan’s Batman blowing stuff up and being a bigger thug. Until Batman breaks out his hardcore gear that he stole from Tony Stark and proceeds to out-thug him.

Whoopie!

It was talking to a friend of mine that made me realize what was really wrong with Batman as they’ve been handling him in the movies. He pointed out that actually a Batman movie should have more in common with the latest Sherlock Holmes movie (Game of Shadows) or even the recent Sherlock BBC TV series (which is five flavors of awesome dipped in chocolate) than it should a big movie with lots of explosions.

Batman should be about him working his way through a maze of clues and twists until he finds the truth, and then a) outthinks the badguy and b) beats the shit out of him. He should have more in common with Downey’s version of Holmes (thinking his way through fights) and L from Death Note, than he should Iron Man or a Mexican Wrestler.

His greatest weapon his is brain.

Too bad he almost never gets to use it.

That would be a Batman movie I’d really pay to see.

Rob

5 thoughts on “Batman, Ace of…What Exactly?

  1. I love reading your posts! Especially when I disagree with them 🙂
    Frank Miller said that there are two Gods in the DC Universe Superman and Batman (and maybe a third.. I can’t remember if he included Wonder Woman in there) and everyone else are just heroes.

    You don’t get to be a God without being mythic, and you don’t get to be mythic without being multi-faceted. Batman hails in the same arena as Arthur of old. Not in his demeanor but rather in the fact that Batman is like Camelot he’s built on music that changes with the singer.
    Batman is more than just the World’s Greatest Detective.
    More than just a pulp hero.
    He’s a Jungian archetype for the shadow, that part of us we bury and bury and can’t dig up totally in the light of day because its so painful.
    He’s the campy happy go-lucky guy of the Silver Age and Adam West.
    He’s the loner. He’s the guy who put together the Outsiders. Who revamped the League.
    He’s against high tech, and street level, he’s a modern day knight in armor with all the tech he can muster.
    I love every iteration. No one can say Nolan’s Batman is the same as Burton’s (and God help us all Schumacher’s).
    They all provide for us a different look beneath the mask and I for one (As long as its not Schumacher again) will line up to see them. Especially when Nolan writes and directs him.
    But if you’re looking for a Sherlock Holmes Batman… I would say it’s time for a Gotham By Gaslight. That’s one movie I think would top them all.
    Other than that… I’m not interested in a Batman who’s afraid to get his hands dirty.

    • Actually Jack, in a way I’m very much with Frank Miller.

      I prefer a Batman that indeed is a minor (or major) god, and has the wisdom of one as well. I am tired of a Batman who is a street-level thug because that’s the best the writers can come up with. (And I’m looking right at Christopher Nolan and David Goyer when I say this.)

      I agree, there are many Batmen. There are ones which are street level thugs, and campy idiots, and there are ones which are incarnations of Pluto come to Earth.

      I just want one which is well written and well rounded, which I have only generally only seen in the 90’s Animated Series (probably my favorite incarnation of the character) and in the Justice League animated series.

      I’m not against him kicking ass, I’m against him doing it in ways that make him look stupid.

  2. Hmmmm….

    A few bits:

    >I actually love the character, and am not tired of him at all.

    I think there’s a complication with a lot of superheroes; a lot of times the IDEA is cool, but slogging through the actual stories isn’t. When I was a kid I loved stuff like the Handbook to the Marvel Universe ‘cos it presented all the weird stuff of their characters without the boring repetitive plots and barely literate dialogue. I can see Bats suffering from this movie-wise. The films all cover the same material, same bad guys, same kinda stories…. Hell; even the LAST one which was touted as being all growed up and dark and stuff was CONCEPTUALLY a lot simpler and less dark than a lot of episodes of the 90’s cartoon.

    >Batman should be about him working his way through a maze of clues and twists until he finds the truth, and then a) outthinks the badguy and b) beats the shit out of him.

    That’s a tricky prospect though, ‘cos you’ll need a writer who can actually write some sort of mystery…. and can write it so’s the audience can follow it enough for the big payoff. And even THEN; there’s only so many mysteries you can do.

    I suspect that no matter how awesome a Batman move someone does it’s gonna look like a watered down version of an episode of the 90’s cartoon.

    >Batman is like Camelot he’s built on music that changes with the singer.
    Batman is like the ultimate marketing gimmic, that you can adapt and read into whatever you want. That’s a problem with just about any legacy character; you build up a massive amount of contradictory back story. The Goddamn Batman IS Batman. So is the Superfreinds one, or the Adam West one. They’re ALL Batman. The REAL Batman.

    ….even the one that wet himself.

    Don C.

    • Don,

      I used to adore the Handbook to the Marvel Universe, it was the highlight of my monthly comic runs once upon a time. And I loved it for exactly the reasons you point out- it was the coolest and weirdest aspects of the characters brought to life without all the so-so writing and attempts at drama.

      But back on Batman, I agree with all of your points. Nowadays he is more of an icon and piece of marketing than a character per-se, and is what he needs to be for the product rather than the story.

      Of course, that being true, it also means it’s reasonable to adapt him into a super-detective mastermind who uses his brain as his greatest weapon instead of being a brute-force thug. 🙂

  3. >Nowadays he is more of an icon and piece of marketing than a character per-se, and is what he needs to be for the product rather than the story.

    I don’t know if that’s a nowadays thing. I suspect that’s always been the case. Hence the (oddly beloved by the nerdsters) ‘66 version. Superheroes were passe, so they decided to go the wacky comedy route and voila! Instant hit.

    I think one of the biggest changes over the years has been the fans. Imagine if they did a tv style reboot NOW, the hue and cry that would make itself heard all over the internets. (You actually don’t have to imagine it: check out any discussion on “Dark Shadows.”) Long term fans hang onto their idea of who the character is with a Vulcan death-grip.

    >it also means it’s reasonable to adapt him into a super-detective mastermind who uses his brain as his greatest weapon instead of being a brute-force thug.

    All things in time…. I’m kinda surprised they haven’t made a stripped-down, more cerebral take. It’d be cheap, you could tween the hell out of it…. it’d be Smallville with fetish masks. Or not.

    Don C.

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