April 18: “THE” Batman

18 April, 2014 at 10:34 pm (batman)

It’s the 75th anniversary of Batman. DC Comics has released a commemorative logo and Warner Brothers has teased a animated homage. There are some variations as to when this should be recognized: Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of “The ‘Bat-Man'”, has a cover date of May 1939, but Bleeding Cool has traced it to a copyright date of March 30 of that same year. However, ComicVine declares that the street date, the day which the March-copyrighted, May-labeled issue of Detective Comics was actually on newsstands was April 18, 1939, and today is that anniversary.

The problem is that, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, while a rose is a rose is a rose, Batman is not Batman is not Batman. The “Bat-Man” is not Batman is not BATMAN™. While criminals were already recognizing the striking profile and showy costume of the “mysterious and adventurous figure” in his first appearance, his appearance, identity, tone, name, age, mission, code, et al. have all changed over the last 75 years.

Detective Comics #27: The 'Bat-Man'

[Bleeding Cool]

People will talk about a character’s staying power, how he is able to maintain relevance over successive generations by being able to be reinterpreted during each age. My contention is that this means the character really isn’t so much a character as a small set of characteristics.

In my particular nerd community, there’s a prevailing dislike of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins because it betrays a certain dislike of superheroes. The essential argument is that so much time wouldn’t be spent of making the character “believable” with scenes about how accounting practices were used to hide the purchase of the components that went into making the bat-ears of the Bat-mask if the movie wasn’t trying so hard to admit that it was a comic book superhero movie. Superheroes dress up in costumes and hit people, and this is clearly ludicrous if you look too closely at it. Batman Begins wants to have its cake and eat it too, in this regard, by explaining away or justifying certain ridiculous aspects of the character while hoping your won’t ask too many questions about other ones. Similarly, the film does an admirable job of showing that the character is not simply a single, burning mission, but an amalgam of the values, beliefs, abilities, and resources of those around him. But some people like Batman as an uber-prepared, singular force, and therefore don’t want him to be dependent on Lucius Fox’s engineering skills or Rachel Dawes’ morality. These people also have a difficult relationship with the existence of Robin, who shines a garish, four-color searchlight onto the idea that Batman doesn’t need anyone else.

So, who is THE Batman? Can he be a self-reliant vigilante and a caring mentor figure? Can he be a grim, realistic response to urban dehumanization and be pestered by a wacky imp from the 5th dimension? Can he be a meticulous planner, prepared for the most abstruse and diabolical situation AND be unable to stop child abuse? Can the character really contain multitudes, or is he just an easy mask to hang on seventy-five years of middling serial fiction?

Batman Returns: 'Wow... THE Batman'

My THE Batman is as follows: drawn by Alan Davis with Grant Breyfogle’s cape and Neal Adam’s cowl (particularly the ears) and the Rucka-era black-on-grey with practical belt-pouches batsuit. He has Keith Giffen’s bluntness and anger, Frank Miller’s internal monologues, and fights with Grant Morrison’s panache against villains with Alan Grant’s thematic puzzles and backstories. He never kills, never uses a gun, and never forgives himself for not being able to save either his parents… or his own innocence.

This THE Batman doesn’t exist (particularly not in DC’s New 52). He exists only in my head, because he’s a composite of the stories I read in my childhood and adulthood that were important to me at the time. I will never find him in any Batman story I read. I will find glimpses. I will find aspects of the Platonic Form of Batman that I have assembled in my head out of moments of greatness of other people’s interpretations of a hollow suit of Dark Knight’s armor. But he’s what I look for every time I pick up a comic, every time I sit down in front of a screen. And he’s who I will hope to see in print or in motion for the next twenty-five years. (After that point, well, I may be tired of the whole thing or he may have finally entered the public domain, at which point I can create THE Batman that I wish to see in the world.)

That’s my THE Batman. Who is yours?

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