Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wednesday Comics: I'm Batman

This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman, who made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in the story titled "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate."

And while many heroes have come and gone in the last 3 quarters of a century, The Dark Knight has endured.  Not only has he endured, but he has thrived as one of the most critically and commercially bankable icons.

The 1960's television show is a cacophony of camp, but it was recently announced that it would be released on blu-ray because of the incredibly high demand.  Batman: The Animated Series of the 1990's was such a phenomenon that it led to further spinoffs for decades with Superman and the Justice League.  The Batman Arkham video games have enthralled both video game afficiandos and comic book geeks.  And all of that is before mentioning the movies that have grossed $2.7 billion in adjusted dollars.

And his stories have shaped the comics medium.  He was the first to add the sidekick, and soon hero had a young squire.  The Dark Knight Returns is considered by many as a genre defining work alongside Watchmen.  His titles are some of these strongest selling in the market.

The question should be raised: why?

There are several "HERO"-man characters all over:  Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Antman, Starman, Iron Man, Power Man, etc.  But what separates Batman from the rest?

I think it comes down to the fact that Batman is me.

When I wrote about Superman last year during his 75th anniversary, I pointed out that he was the ideal soaring high above us.  But Batman is different.  Whereas Superman has preternatural gifts and powers fueled by a sense of virtue, Batman is a self-made man.

First of all, he is born out of the scariest of childhood fears.  The iconic image of the young boy kneeling besides his parents is haunting.  You can see it as he is alone, lit only by the streetlight, the rest of the world obscured by darkness, a darkness from which mommy and daddy can no longer protect you.  He is the most wounded of the original Golden Age heroes.  Superman never knew his Kryptonian parents.  Batman had to know them and lose them.

But Batman offers us dark hope.  He is pierced by tragedy, but he is not crushed by it.  He turned his stumbling block into a stepping stone.  All of suffer senseless loss and tragedy.  In Batman you have someone who has their world around them shattered only to have him pick up the pieces and start over.

Batman is what any of us could be.  He is the pinnacle of physical and mental perfection.  Young Bruce Wayne did not appear to be any kind of child prodigy.  He wasn't born great.  He chose greatness.  Batman is the ultimate warrior, whose physical prowess is only surpassed by his strategic mind.  Becoming Batman implies that any person with the proper motivation can become him.  That is why he is closer to us than other heroes.  We aren't born with powers or gain them from strange radioactive creatures.  Most of us aren't born super-geniuses who can make suits of super armor or wings of flight.

But we can study and we can train.

Batman tells us that we are the uncut stones waiting to be polished into diamonds.  All that is required is the proper effort and motivation.

What also makes Batman fantastic is that despite his darkness, he is not out on a quest for vengeance.  He is not seeking to find the man who killed his parents nor is his sole purpose in punishing the guilty.  His goal is to save the innocent.  He is not a vigilante.  He is a protector.  His war on crime is not about hurting those who are like those who hurt him.  It is about trying to prevent others from experiencing the same loss that he endured.

That means that while it could be argued that Batman is obsessed with his mission, he is not borne of hatred but of love.  Batman loves his city.  He loves the innocent.  He even loves his enemies.  This is obvious by the fact that he refuses to kill.  Sure, he will beat them to a bloody pulp to prevent their dastardly schemes, but he leaves them alive because killing would be to close to vengeance and it would end all hope.

That is why the Joker is his greatest adversary.  This villain's sole goal is not to kill Batman, but to kill his hope.  Batman without hope, hope in Gotham and in the goodness of his fellow man, would soon turn into a villainous tyrant.  But Batman's success is not measured in his eradication of crime, something that can never happen.  It is measured in the lives saved and the hope that he inspires.

He symbolizes that any one of us can be heroes.  If we hold ourselves to the highest standards physically, mentally, and principally, then we have it within ourselves to look at ourselves in the mirror and say:

I'm Batman.

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