HOLY IRONIC TITLE BATMAN
Okay, so yeah, we all know who Batman is. But here’s the thing: knowledge of obscure Batman lore is the standard by which nerds judge each other. It’s almost like a currency to us, we trade in little factoids and witticisms, and screw each other over in order to gain more… sometimes. Or do I just have really unhealthy friendships?
Speaking of unhealthy friendships, oh boy, Batman. He’s the coolest of the cool, the baddest of the asses, the battest of men. He’s become America’s favorite superhero over the years, which is probably a real bummer for Captain America and Superman, and he holds that title for a reason. The problem with this, of course, is that like with anything that has reached meteoric heights in popularity, people like to, well, not like it. Many people seem to think of Batman as overrated or as a Mary Sue type character.
Fact is, they’re wrong, and here’s how I’m going to help you prove that to them. Let’s fake an education in comics.
But wait, I already know who Batma-
Shut up. You don’t know enough. Let’s go.
SCENARIO: You and a couple friends have just watched the latest Batman v. Superman trailer, and after briefly mentioning that the title almost makes it seem like the movie is a court case between the two, and then after a rather lengthy debate on the merits of a courtroom drama featuring Batman and Superman, one of your friends says:
“Wait, I don’t get it, Batman’s just a normal guy, wouldn’t Superman utterly annihilate him?”
“Well,”, you say, perhaps a bit annoyed and embarrassed by their ignorance, “Batman has a long history of kicking the shit out of Superman.”
“Oh, really?”, they say, “That’s cool! I wonder if-”
“Pfft”, your other friend says, carefully adjusting their lenseless glasses, and perhaps straightening some sort of leather wrist belt, “Typical Batman, always prepared for any situation. There’s no tension! He just always wins because the writers want him to! That’s why I only read my old copies of Nextwave, over and over and over again!”
Note: Nextwave is great, but people who champion it above all else are the worst. Same goes for people who won’t shut up about: Sex Criminals, Saga, etc. Now those comics are fantastic, but they are not “going to kill the antiquated notion of the superhero”, you pretentious cock.
Anyways, here’s what we’re gonna do here: We’re gonna show these people that A: Batman can and will beat Superman at least 8 times out of 10, and B: that Batman is not about always winning or being absurdly prepared, but about the triumph of the human spirit through indomitable willpower. God, The Martian’s about the same god damn thing and you all loved it, quit whining. Jesus.
I just… I just really care about Batman, you guys.
Step One: Concession and Barely Containing Your Raving, Incoherent Rage
Okay, so they made some pretty valid points: it is really, really dumb when Batman is always prepared, or just wins because, well… he’s Batman. This tends to happen whenever the writer of the Batman story just kind of loves Batman, but doesn’t get what makes Batman so awesome. Quick list of stories to reference for this:
- Batman Odyssey
- Batman Odyssey
- Batman Odyssey
- Seriously, HOW THE HELL WAS HE READY FOR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN ODYSSEY? THERE WAS A GOD DAMN CIVILIZATION OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED EGYPTIAN GODS AND JAZZ WIZARDS LIVING IN THE EARTH’S CORE
Okay, deep breaths. I let that one get away from me for a while. Point is, it sucks when Batman just kind of pulls a solution out of his ass. You know what doesn’t suck? When Batman wins because he’s a huge badass with a wide variety of skills and resources. Or even better, when he wins because he’s a huge badass and he doesn’t give up ever. So tell that prick to strap in, because it’s convincing time.
Step Two: A Brief History of Badassery
Okay. So here’s the dealio. Batman is cool, and he does cool shit. That’s a given. When he started out back in the 40s, he straight murdered people all the god damn time. There was no moral code keeping him from killing someone, so the real world had to step in on its own and censor comics. One time he hung a dude from the Bat-Plane. It was awesome. People died left and right. And sure, it was a bit less compelling when the character didn’t have that moral conflict to keep him from stabbing the shit out of people, but still, that shit kicked ass. Again, if the real world hadn’t intervened, Joker would be dead in the cold, hard Gotham ground. If you crossed 40s Batman, you didn’t make the mistake twice.
Of course, this gave way to a looooooooong period of silliness during the Silver Age of comics. A time when goofy bullshit like this happened:
Hahahahaha, oh my god, really? For real? Jesus. Look at how great that is. If you don’t like badass, grim Batman, go read stuff like that, or Batman ’66. Hell, drop whatever you’re doing and watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Literally the perfect fusion of Silver-Age goofiness and modern Batman coolness.
But anyways, after that period of comics, Batman got right back into being a dark, scary son of a bitch. This is a man who hunted Parademons! Alone! Until meeting up with the rest of the Justice League, because the New 52 continuity is kind of dumb for the most part!
He forged multiple young boys into finely tuned instruments of brutal, uncompromising vengeance. He’s led multiple superhero teams without cracking under the pressure, and punched out a Green Lantern in, famously, one punch. He basically took down an entire war party of White Martians alone, after successfully evading them for an extended period of time. Upon meeting the Justice League for the first time, he set up a series of elaborate countermeasures, just in case any member went rogue and needed to be shut down. Or, potentially, in case Batman ever got bored and needed something to do for a weekend.
He has also, on occasion, had his spiritual self completely broken down in order to better face his inner demons and more efficiently defeat them. Typically while wandering the desert, Nanda Parbat (That’s where Deadman lives! He’s gonna be in an article some day!), or a cave, I guess. He has a backup personality set up in case his mind is ever broken, which involves a complex series of hallucinations conditioned into his own subconscious mind. Most of them take the form of references to older bits of bat-canon.
Whoa! Look how dumb that looks! Amazing! What follows this spectacularly ridiculous panel is several pages of the most violent, brutal, crazy shit you will see a nonlethal superhero do. And this was something that he had planned. You know what happens when he has to improvise? He, um… He kind of gets his ass kicked. At least half the time. But that’s fine too, because it humanizes a character who is nearly universally panned these days for being “too perfect”(I mean, he’s no Dick Grayson, but I get it.). So here’s all the times him failing went well, story-wise.
Step Three: What Makes us Human
Ok, so we’ve established that Batman is, in scientific terms, “a kickass mofo”. But it still seems like he’s kind of untouchable, huh? Well, that’s where this next part comes in. Specifically, this:
Krakt indeed, Bane. Krakt indeed. That right there is from one of the most well-known Batman stories of all time: Knightfall. Does it have a sweet title? Check. Does it introduce an enduring, not 90s-gimmicky villain? Check god damn plus. Did it lead to several rather disappointing decisions, such as shiny 90s power armor Batman, or a disappointing interpretation serving as a weak ending to a great movie trilogy, or a sudden fascination with buff, leotarded, angry foreign men in the vein of… *long, pained sigh* KGBeast? Check.
God, that never looks better.
Anyways, getting back on track, the whole point of Knightfall is that Bane does what he set out to do: Break the Bat. He releases every criminal in Gotham, sets off explosives, basically just creates a living hell that Batman punches into submission over the course of 72 hours without stopping. And just when Batman gets home, ready to rest and recover, he finds that hey, guess what, Bane totally figured out that Batman is Bruce Wayne, and oh, look at the time, it’s broken-spine-o-clock. Shut up, they can’t all be winners.
Batman makes it through hell, doing things no human should ever be able to do, and it’s basically for nothing. He gets his ass kicked, and his almost-corpse gets dragged through Gotham’s streets. If you watch comic book stuff instead of reading it, you might recognize this moment from the most recent season of the Flash when it kind of happens to him, or from the least aggressively terrible part of The Dark Knight Rises. In short, Batman has lost, beaten on every level. And that’s great on its own. But you know what the very best part of that storyline is? It’s when Batman comes back. He’s been broken down to nothing, and he rebuilds himself, recovering from a shattered spine, taking super evil ninja training, reforging himself into a weapon of justice. It’s awesome. He then comes back, beats up Bazrael (more on that another time), and takes back his rightful place. And you know what? It really works, and that’s because the best part of any Batman story is seeing him keep fighting, no matter what the odds are, no matter how dire the situation. We may like to see him beaten, and it may make sense that he gets beaten, because though he is the pinnacle of human achievement, he is just a man. But what makes him a human character is the greatest human element of all: willpower. Batman is strong. He is determined. And he does not give up. Ever. That’s the kind of hero we love, because he’s relatable and we can look up to him. Batman is, in short, exactly what we want to be. It inspires us when we see someone push through adversity, that’s why movies like The Blind Side or Rudy are such a big deal. We strive to be like that, to be like Rudy, or Kid From the Blind Side, or Batman. He is the embodiment of the indomitable will of the human spirit, and that is a big part of why he matters.
Batman has lost plenty of times over the years, from Knightfall to Death in the Family. Hell, in Death in the Family, he punches Superman in the face, and it goes exactly as well as you would expect it to go. Yeah, turns out punching an alien demigod in the face with your puny human hands is not a great idea. Conversely, here’s what happens when Batman is adequately prepared for a fight with Superman…
Step Four: How to Beat a God
Ok, let’s get the most common argument out of the way here: in a straight up, one on one fight, Superman is gonna beat Batman every time. Like, if they are stripped naked, bloodlusted, and placed in an empty desert together, Superman will win. Maybe Batman will win once because he figures out how to take advantage of his environment, but every other time, Superman will win. He’s basically a god, that’s what happens when he cuts loose.
However, here’s the biggest problem with any legitimate fight between the two: Superman won’t cut loose. He won’t go all out, because:
- Superman doesn’t fight in a way designed to end the opponent, he fights in a way designed to end the fight
- Even under mind control or other morality-loosening effects, he will still abide by his principles, and if not by his principles, by his ties to others
- He’s a hero
So what this means is that Superman is open to psychological manipulation, because he isn’t ruthless or cunning enough to work around it. Factor in his other, inherent weaknesses, such as kryptonite, magic, and light from a red sun, and that gives Batman plenty to work with against him. The key difference between the two, you see, is that Batman:
- Ends people, not fights
- Will do whatever it takes to win
- Is a monster
Heroic as Batman’s actions are, he himself is not a hero. In truth, he is barely even a man, philosophically. At his core, Batman doesn’t care about justice, or peace. He cares about order, control, and revenge. In another life, he would have made a kickass Dr. Doom.
Compound that with his tendency to have a plan ready for any situation, as well as his nearly limitless resources, and that levels the playing field in Batman’s favor considerably. Now, it gets a bad rap from a lot of people, but if you want to see a great Batman/Superman fight, read the Hush storyline. It basically goes over everything I just said here.
There you have it. Batman is awesome, and he’s earned it. He’s not one of the most popular comic book characters of all time for nothing. If you want to follow up and read some Batman, either to learn more or just to see some amazing stories, you should check out:
- Hush: I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about this one, but I think it’s a fantastic story for people just getting into Batman. It has a great mix of everything that’s made Batman comics so great, and introduces a ton of characters to new readers. Plus, the art is gorgeous.
- The Long Halloween: Another great introductory story, Long Halloween is a great example of Batman actually working as a detective, and features some awesome storytelling to boot. Art is pretty divisive from what I’ve seen, but personally, I really like it.
- Year One: I mean come on, that’s just a freebie right there.
- Dark Knight Strikes Back: You might as well read this one if you want more things to complain about when BvS rolls around. Honestly, I don’t think it holds up as well as others, but still deserves its rep.
- Detective Comics: Comprised of awesome little side stories to the main Batman line, it has a great rotation of talent on it, and it’s ongoing, so hey, might as well catch up to everyone else.
- New 52 Batman: Same as above, but without the rotating talent. One of the few launch titles from the big reboot that wasn’t aggressively terrible, in fact, it was amazing.
- Odyssey: Honestly, it’s terrible, but you should check it out for a good laugh.
- Knightfall: Another that doesn’t quite hold up, it’s still hugely important.
There’s definitely more to read, but that should be a pretty hefty list for newcomers, so I’ll leave it at that. I’d go into weird facts here normally, but I think that those are best discovered on your own, so go nuts looking into that. Just remember that Bill Finger was the real creator of Batman, and that Bob Kane barely contributed. Oh, and that Bat Baby was a thing.
Hahaha, the Silver Age was crazy. Until next time!