Monday, July 14, 2008

Batman: A Man For Our Time(s)

Batman. Bruce Wayne. The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. The World’s Greatest Detective. A hero with many names and a single indelible image. From 1939 up to the present day, Batman has remained in our public conscious while other super heroes has risen and fallen. Why has such a dark character become a symbol of America and more beloved and embraced than his ally, Superman?

Batman Issue #1

Why is Batman our beloved superhero? Unique in his own way, Batman has no super powers, only his physical strength and intellectual prowess. He also has a wealthy business empire, which would be considered a super power where I’m from, but throughout the years, Wayne Enterprises has always aspired to be the opposite of big business. Although the family owned corporation was based on such American success stories like the Rockefellers or the Gettys, the Waynes have always invested back in their community and sought to make their fortune off medical supplies, improved military gear and scientific innovations in various other fields. Perhaps we identify with him because Bruce Wayne is an orphan, his parents murdered before his eyes? People might think that Batman has mirrored society’s ills, but during the Sixties, Batman was more campy and colorful than ever before. It wasn’t until after Vietnam, in the mid-Seventies and throughout the Eighties that Batman returned to his roots as a vigilante crime fighter. Maybe it could be his villains? Can you name five Batman bad guys? Easy, right? I used to impress people by rattling off all four major villains from the TV series and the seven actors who portrayed them (Bonus points if you knew who played Mr. Freeze). Now, name five Spider-Man villains? Slightly more difficult. How about five Superman enemies?

I know why Batman is my favorite. Mostly it’s because of television. When the first Batman movie came out in 1989, I was eight years old. And that bat logo was everywhere that year. Never mind Underoos, there were tattoos, haircuts, glasses, everything. When I was a kid, Batman was like the Beatles. Up until and after the release of the film, the old Batman TV show was on the air, twice a day, everyday. And just like my dad twenty years before, I was there at the same bat time, same bat channel. Batman was a hero you could relate to. He accidentally became Batman. Bruce Wayne could have been any of us, anyone with a childhood trauma. But the difference between him and us, what makes him a hero is his self-sacrifice, his willingness to put himself in harm’s way and unwavering determination to make sure that nobody suffers the same fate as his own. He pulled on the cowl, stood up for himself and stood up for us. He refused to be intimidated and braved the psychologically frightening villains of Gotham City to spare the rest of us. Batman is for the people and of the people.

Batman: Year One

I have grown up with Batman and he has always seemed age appropriate as well. The first movie premiered when I was a kid and the cartoon ran for three years when I was a kid and still syndicates. And when the films took a campy turn during my high school years, I went back to discover for the first time the comics I missed when I was younger, from the Frank Miller books of the 80’s to the newer stories like The Long Halloween. By time I had grown up and gained confidence in my inner geek, Christopher Nolan has made the Batman films more relevant, believable and impressive than anything that preceded them. And all these things represent Batman to me. Kevin Conroy’s voice over a pair of white triangles on a black screen. Dave Mazzucchelli’s art running past Frank Miller’s words. Michael Keaton hanging a mugger over a ledge and letting him know who he pisses his pants for. And now, Christian Bale as the best Bruce Wayne, really giving us someone to care about under the cowl. I have often joked about accepting Batman as my personal Lord and savior. But, Batman is simply my hero and a hero worth believing and hoping in.

Christian Bale as Batman

No comments: