The Batman…who he is and how he came to be
What comic fan does not know the origin of Batman? Young Bruce Wayne witnesses the cold blooded murder of his parent s in the commission of a robbery and dedicates his life to fighting all criminals and their villainous ilk. This was the stuff of the 1930’s film noir pulp hero. With elements of Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Sam Spade, Bob Kane gave DC comics a perfect compliment to the wildly successful Superman who had burst on to the scene a year earlier.
This was in May of 1939.
Batman is 70 years old now.
The old codger is pretty spry!
What is it about The Caped Crusader that compels readers seven decades later? Why has Batman endured and grown in popularity when so many other superheroes have fallen to the one enemy they cannot defeat, declining sales?
Simple. The Batman is unique. Even though there are many direct antecedent s to the Dark Knight, Kane was able to mix those elements into an original cocktail of tragedy and heroism, intellect and physical power, logic and obsession, dark, and yes even light. Bats is truly one of a kind.
At his core Bruce Wayne may be the most purely heroic character in all of comics.
Consider that this is an individual who at the age of eight stood within ten feet of his parents while Joe Chill shot them both to death with, what is most often depicted as, a 9mm automatic hand gun. The Comics Code not withstanding, it was not a pretty sight. His parents were alive and loving and holding his hands one moment and bloody mess the next. Bruce would undoubtedly have been splattered with blood and the flesh of his parents in that moment.
Imagine the trauma.
Now imagine that it had happened to you.
Could you even be functional with a trauma of that nature in your head every day?
When an adult Frank Castle went through a similar experience he became a serial killer. The Punisher did not set out to fight crime, defend the helpless, or spread justice. He set out for revenge and has cut a bloody swath through the Marvel universe ever since. This was a man who was fully formed, special services trained and yet this trauma effectively drove him insane. Ultimately The Punisher is weak.
Batman is strong.
Bruce Wayne, while certainly scarred, was able to channel that rage and hatred into a decision to protect other people. This is the raison d’être of the Batman. That it will never happen to anyone again on his watch. Batman is ultimately about life, not death. He is about justice, not revenge, or even necessarily the law. Batman saves people. Batman is a hero.
If revenge was the only thing that motivated Batman, he would long ago have retired or been (permanently) killed. Any retribution for the death of his parents has been won many times over. For Bruce Wayne it is not revenge in the classic sense of one person exacting payment from another who has wronged him. It is a reckoning.
A reckoning with a city.
The tragedy of his parents death was the crucible upon which was formed a man who would bend the will of a city to his own. It is not, and never was, Joe Chill that Bruce saw as the villain. It was Gotham herself. A city so filled with crime and corruption that the killing of two young parents in front of an eight year old boy was not at all an unusual happening. It is Gotham that Batman determines to bring to heel through the force of his will. It is Gotham that he alternatively hates and loves.
One wonders though, why dress up in a cape and mask and bounce around like a flea fighting nut cases? With the resources at his command, Bruce could surely do even MORE to change the face of Gotham in his civilian identity than as the Caped Crusader. Why not just do that?
Because Bruce is a control freak. He is obsessed with managing every situation. It is why, even his fellow heroes are just a bit intimidated by him. Batman must put his hands around a problem in a personal and immediate way. He can never derive the same sense of accomplishment by proxy as he can by punching the Joker in the mouth.
He knows he is waging a battle that he can’t ever truly win. He knows that one day it will be him lying dead in an alley. But that does not matter to him. What matters to Bruce is the battle. What matters to him is that he put fear into the hearts of those who would hurt or steal or kill. Batman won’t win the war, but neither will they. And they will never forget that he was there.
So what we have here is a deeply traumatized child who as a man cannot function in the real world. His very dysfunction, however has gifted him with the singleness of mind necessary to function as a symbol of justice and intellect, of passion and power. The Dark Knight….the Batman.