Thursday, April 4, 2013

Exposing the "Because He's Batman" Blunder

"How did he do that?" "Shouldn't he have bled out?" "There's no way he could have survived that!"

"Of course, he could!"


"Because he's Batman!"

I read an article on Bleeding Cool a while back (WARNING: It contains SPOILERS with regard to DC's "Death of the Family" story-arc in Batman) that got me again thinking about an erroneous perception of Batman that threatens to become mainstream if I don't stop it! (So listen up, all ten of you!)

The faux pas occurs when creators, fans, and casual followers alike observe that the reason they like Batman so much is because he's just a normal person, like you or I. Leave it at that and you're asking for trouble. It's no wonder then that diatribes about how or why the character does the sorts of things he's depicted as doing lead another to respond with feckless aforethought, "Because he's Batman," resulting in the internet meme (which I refuse to perpetuate here with a link). Frankly, the most recent film adaptations of Batman have had a lot to do with this.

In Nolan's films, Batman and his world are depicted in all their gritty "realistic" glory, and as such Batman and his world have resonated with audiences more now than ever before. He's the superhero anyone can be. Even the filmmakers themselves have gone on record as saying the reason they're drawn to Batman is because of his lack of superpowers; the fact that anyone can be Batman, who is basically a "normal guy." And while this isn't a strictly false statement in the context of superpowers (e.g. "flight," "super-strength," "healing factor," "indomitable will," etc.), Batman is certainly not simply a "normal guy" in a bat-suit. The films even do much to persuade us of this, as in The Dark Knight when Batman makes his first on-screen appearance in that film to put down some gangsters and a group of "Batman-wannabes." He isn't merely a guy wearing hockey pads, or military-grade combat armor for that matter, which is the point. "Bruce Wayne trained tirelessly to avenge the death of his parents. He wanted to prevent what happened to him from happening to another child. It’s an understandable motivation, but one that could carry few [if any] of us to become Batman; we understand the cause, but marvel at the effect." It was these words from the article that caused me to stand up and applaud.

The italicized portion of the above quote is the main take-away from the author's point, but it's the underlined portion that interests me most. That understandable motivation is what people like the filmmakers (not to mention Bruce Wayne himself) are referencing when they say "anyone can be Batman." It's not a statement intended to mean literally anyone could be Batman, but that we all have the capacity to turn our darkest nights into brighter days. We can all strengthen our will to resist corruption and rise from the pits of despair. In this sense, anyone can truly be Batman.

Are these the only traits that comprise what it is to be Batman? No. Clearly, the character of Robin John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises didn't have the same kind of training Bruce did, but the film clearly led us to believe that by the end Blake was well on his way to becoming the Bat. Both he and Bruce before him accepted the mantle, and the mantle in turn accepted them. They both were "baptized" in the batcave by a swarm of bats "carrying the mantle." The mantle of the Bat is symbolized by both Batman's cape and cowl, but also the responsibilities and sacrifices one has to make to be worthy of wearing it. It's an allegory for the heights of achievement man can reach when he acts in the utmost selfless and heroic ways, as Batman should.

In the comics, others—even those trained personally by Wayne himself—find it difficult to fill his shoes. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has become Batman twice (in the "Prodigal" and "Batman and Robin" story lines). However, both times, Dick struggled to come to terms with the responsibilities and demands the mantle placed upon him. Both times, Dick has commented on the notion that only Bruce is truly worthy to be Batman, and ultimately knew that he was only carrying the mantle until Bruce could take it up again.

But consider this: even Bruce Wayne was not worthy of the mantle for a time! In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce goes back out as Batman—he has the skills and the tools—but not the will. He hasn't earned the right to wear the mantle after so long. When finally, climbing out of the pit, the mantle accepts him again, that is Batman's first true appearance in TDKR. (And if that scene, given context, doesn't move you in some way, I seriously doubt your fan credentials.)

What drives people to do the incredible? Mothers who lift cars to rescue their trapped young. Climbers who shear off their own arm to survive. Explorers we send into space to brave the unknown. Drive, heart, will—embracing one's own greatest fears. These are incredible things that propel us beyond limits we didn't know we had. Characters who possess these talents are at the forefront of The Dark Knight Trilogy (heroes and villains alike), constantly riding that incredible high. But that isn't reality as we know it, it's a heightened reality apparent in the actions the characters take. Armed with this in mind, there's no room for talk trivializing the details and actions of characters whose realities formed under conditions we can't know or haven't experienced unless we are those people. Furthermore, it renders the "Because he's Batman" blunder completely uncompelling and a shallow appraisal of the truth.

And the truth is, very few if anyone could be Batman. But we can embody that same will upon which Batman relies to transform a dark today into a bright tomorrow.