The opening words of Edger Allen Poe’s classic Poem, “The Raven” of “Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary” could easily be applied to Batman. Appropriately it was when Bob Kane and his collaborator Bill Finger were visiting the home of Edger Allen Poe that they were inspired to create the Dark Knight. Not only was Poe known for dark, gothic and psychologically driven stories, a key feature to many a Batman tale, he was also the father of the modern detective story, one of the Caped Crusader’s many claims to fame.
It was a year after the debut of Superman and the Man of Steel was a success. As is true with any hot property, once you have a product you need more like it. As such Bob and Bill began dreaming up a new character. However, unlike Superman, who was drawn more from epics, myths and Old Testament heroes like Moses and Samson, Batman was drawn more from the darkness of the crime novels and film noiré. While Superman Is a physically inspirational figure, Batman is a physically foreboding character. Superman descends from on high, his cape billowing like an Angel’s wings, Batman tends to suddenly appear, or even ascend, as though he were a vampire. Superman operates on trust and hope, Batman on fear, intimidation, and theatric. Superman has an incredible array of powers, while Batman has no powers, save a brilliant analytical mind on par with Sherlock Holmes, and a body that has been shaped and molded to the point it would make an Olympic athlete look like a 90 lbs asthmatic. Writer Grant Morrison, in his book Supergods, says that, simply, the first light had cast the first shadow.
Batman first appeared in the title Detective Comics, an anthology that highlighted crime and mystery oriented stories, and as such Batman’s beginnings have their foundations in crime. To many casual viewers, Batman looks like just a rich guy with lots of toys and a cool car. Some are even turned off by the fact that technically speaking he is not a true superhero as he has no superhuman powers. If anything he falls into the company of the likes of Zorro, The Shadow, or the Green Hornet, rich men who use their resources to transform into crime fighters. Characters in the rest of the DC Universe will even describe him as a guy running around in a Halloween costume. However, those casual viewers fail to look past the theatrics and see that underneath it all is a tortured soul, as tortured as the spirit of the city he defends.
While Superman is a symbol and beacon of hope in Metropolis a vast city that aspires for tomorrow, Batman is a symbol of justice and vengeance in Gotham, a city filled with crime and corruption. As described by Bob Kane and Bill finger,
“A crisp spring breeze blows past the jutting roof tops, carrying with it all the scents and smells that make this grand old city uniquely Gotham…But the dark clad sentinel standing over the city he loves cares this night about only one particular smell…the intolerable stench of evil.”
Gotham is considered the most dangerous city in the world, at least in the comic book universe. Writer Denny O’Neil said he always identified Gotham as being analogous to “Manhattan below Fourteenth street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night of November”. Why November? Why not December? Perhaps it’s because in December not only do you have Christmas decorations, but you have snow reflecting the moonlight bathing the city in iridescent beauty. Gotham is not an iridescent beauty. Even in the films Batman Forever and Batman& Robin, Gotham was coated in neon like it were an east coast vrsion Los Vegas: a city known for it’s decadents but putting on a big show.
Screen writer Sam Hamm, in the screenplay for the 1989 Batman movie describe the city as being like if “Hell had erupted from the sidewalk and kept rising to the sky.” When temperatures reach -10° Fahrenheit, the local whether man can’t help but quip, “Anyone who’s used the expression ‘When Hell Freezes over” get ready to pay up.” On the converse on a hot summer night patrolling the streets of Gotham, Batgirl says to Batman that it’s as hot as Hades and figures it’s fitting for Gotham. Even Police Commissioner James Gordon can’t help but refer to the city as though it were another layer of the Inferno, perhaps one Dante missed. Even stationary from Arkham Asylum, the home for the dangerous criminals Batman usually faces, bears the warning from Dante’s Inferno of “Abandon ye hope all ye who enter here,” Making it the deepest layer, or perhaps like Pandaemonium, the home of all the demons and the capitol of Hell in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the film Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul ( whose name means “The Demon’s Head”) pronounces Gotham as being so evil and so corrupt that it is ripe for destruction.
This is perhaps one of the most defining facts of the “Big Three” of DC Comics, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. Superman comes from the world of Krypton, the heavens, Wonder Woman is forged from clay, the Earth and Batman well he comes from Hell, or the underworld. One could even go so far as to compare the three to Dante’s Divine comedy. Superman comes from some form of peaceful utopian society, a paradise , Wonder Woman and her tribe of Amazons are cut off from the outside world on an island in order to cleanse, or purge themselves of iniquities, thereby making them fit for Mount Olympus, Purgatory, and Batman is the Inferno.
In the Batman novel Knightfall, the first chapter reads that,
“Many have called it the ugliest city in the world, all sharp angles and rigid plans, black against a sky that is never black, never blue, nor any color he can name. A sky that seems to trap light from the streets below and transform it into something wan and dingy. There are moments when he feels he wraps this sprawling, hideous metropolis around him like a second cloak,. And he knows he could never be anywhere else.”
And, one night in this wretched city, that was when Batman’s story began. Batman, or as he is better known by his alias, Bruce Wayne, was born to one of the wealthiest families in Gotham City. His parents, Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne were widely respected in the city and not just for their wealth. The Wayne family had consistently tried to do good in the city. Bruce’s great-great- grandfather, Judge Solomon Wayne, helped fugitive slaves on the Under Ground Railroad. His great Grandfather, Alan Wayne, like Andrew Carnegie, James J. Hill and other wealthy men of the late 19th century, was a wealthy steel magnet, investing money in the railroads, and one of the three prime builders of Gotham City. Martha Wayne was known for contributing to various charities in the city, and tried to start schools for the underprivileged children. Thomas Wayne, along with investing in an affordable mass transit system in Gotham City, was a physician. He would administer help to any one, even the son of a crime boss as it was the right thing to do. He was also willing to put away a crime boss, causing him to make his share of enemies.
If there was anything they loved most in the world, it was their son 8-year old[i] son, Bruce. One night, Thomas and Martha decided to take Bruce to the movies in the area of the city known as Park Row. The movie that night was a showing of “The Mark of Zorro” a film starring his favorite hero. The movie ended and they decided to take a shortcut down a dark alley, and that was when things took a tragic turn for the prince of Gotham. A mugger by the name of Joe Chill would come out of the shadows and with two gun shots, forever shatter young Bruce Wayne’s life as he ripped Thomas and Martha’s lives away from him, just as he had tried to rip away the pearl necklace around Martha’s neck.
We don’t know much else about Thomas and Martha Wayne. Everything about them is usually confined to flash backs and dream sequences. We only know they loved Bruce, and they loved their city. It could be inferred that this love of their city and their son overlapped and, like any parent, they wanted Gotham to be a better place for their child to grow up.
Nor do we know much about Joe Chill, the man who committed he murder. We know nothing about his motives, or even why the Wayne’s had to die. Perhaps Chill was hired by an angry mobster that Thomas Wayne helped put away. Perhaps it was part of some conspiracy against the Wayne family going back to the colonial days. Perhaps it was nothing more then the disparity of Gotham being so severe that it pushed Joe Chill to shooting a couple over a wallet and a necklace so he could fence them. We only know that, as a criminal, he made one f the worst mistakes they can commit. He left a witness. A witness who would one day hound the likes of him, like the Furies of Greek Mythology would hound those who believed that could commit severe crimes with out the notice of the gods.
Maybe it was because of the fact Chill left a witness that he was never caught. The Wayne’s were one of the most prominent families in Gotham City, and their murder would be nothing but high profile. Yet, for some reason this crime went unpunished. In the “real” world solving a crime like that would be the highest priority, and the only reason for it not to be solved would be because of the political corruption of the city or the state. Many of the politicians were just as bad as the mob, with many of them having connections to the crime syndicates.
CS Lewis once said that:
“The greatest evil is not now done in those “sordid dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in the concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see the final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved , seconded, carried, and minuted)in clean , carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut finger nails who needent raise their voice.”
Such is the case for crime syndicates. Perhaps it was in such a place that not only the crime, but how to cover it up was, ordered. First they plan it the murder, complete with paying off a beat cop who would have been nearby and could have stopped the murder. Then they bribe a judge, make a generous donation or who to the policemen’s benefit and the mayors re-election campaign, and of course, “take care of Joe Chill” when it’s all done. This last part could have been anything from sending him out of town to treating him to an all expense sleepover with some fish in the East Gotham River, with a brand new cement wardrobe. Quick, easy and all planned and executed in a nicely lit Italian restaurant over some fresh, hot bread sticks. In fact in the movie Batman Begins we get to see one of these nicely lit restaurants were some crooked cops, a corrupt judge and mob boss Falcone are just hanging out.
Yet for Bruce, he would not allow this mystery to remain unsolved. In looking over news paper archives in the 1989 Batman film, reporter Alexander Knox and photojournalist ( and Bruce’s girlfriend) Vicki Vale had to wonder what that witnessing the murder of his parents would do to a boy. Bruce probably knelt by his parent’s bodies for at least a half an hour, and in the subsequent days, received no news or leads on the crime. In Batman Begins we see the grieving child at the police station, with eager reporters trying to snap pictures of him. His whole life was torn upside down. The only person to raise him was him family butler and good friend, Alfred Pennyworth. Then, days later, during his bedside prayers, Bruce made a vow: that he would avenge the murder of his parents and bring the killer to justice.
Bruce had learned the hard way that the city was corrupt, with the crime syndicates really in control. This crime sets the stage for what is a fundamental truth of all superhero comic books: the superhero is an urban defender, protecting the concrete jungle. Writer Dennis O’ Neil notes that there had been a radical change in respect to the way people viewed of the city; initially they were seen as the safe havens, the place to protect people from the forces of the outside world. Consider if you will Athens in the myths of the ancient Greeks, Athens was the seat of all knowledge, but outside was where all the monsters and creatures dwelt. In William Shakespeare’s plays there is often a warning of don’t go into the woods, as strange things can happen to you, namely, you may be changed and different.
The cities were viewed as “safe”. Soon all that changed. By the time of Charles Dickens the city was seen as an equally filthy and dangerous place. Upton Sinclair viewed the city as a jungle, the crimes in a story by Edger Allen Poe would happen in a house not to far from the city, usually committed by wealthy people. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Henry Jekyll transformed into the monstrous Mr. Hyde in the city of London and ravaged its people, not farmer Brown’s cows in the country. And lest we forget, the late 1800s also saw the rise of the first documented serial killer, Jack the Ripper, in London.
The city, as it turns out was not safe. It was like a festering wound that was only getting worse. Bruce knew that there was little way he could make a difference as a police officer in a city like Gotham. In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, he declares that Gotham is the operating table and he is the surgeon. He realized in order to fulfill his vow, and succeed truly eradicating crime from Gotham that he needed to be more than Bruce Wayne. He has the most recognizable face in Gotham City as he appears on TV, newspapers, and magazines across the country. Beings so recognizable would be very difficult for some one who is tabloid fodder to become a vigilante. More over, the death of his parents is a matter of public record. However, in the film Batman Begins, his mentor Henri Ducard tells him:
“A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely… a legend Mr. Wayne.”
In fact it could be argued that if Superman leads the charge for Wonder Woman, or Thor, who are legends who become human, then Batman leads the charge for those like Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, or the Flash who, through the process of either some kind of science project, a lab accident, or in the case of Batman and Iron Man, an unfortunate twist of fate, and extensive training and resources, are ordinary individuals who become legends. In order to become such a figure, he had to find some kind of symbol, something basic and elemental, that could strike fear into the hearts of evil. In the animated movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, he quickly learns that just donning a simple ski mask didn’t do the trick. He had to scare them right from the start.
He also knew that the types of criminals he would face, in particular the mob, would find ways of getting away. They could buy off judges, or flee town. They could also go after those who got in their way. In the film Batman Begins when his childhood friend , Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes starts “rattling the cages” of the mob members by asking to many questions, crime boss Falcone sends his goons after her to try and kill her. It isn’t just about the person themselves, but those close to them. Alfred even asks Bruce in the same film upon discussing his plans, asks if he won’t come up with some sort of secret to protect those he loves from reciprocity. Bruce asks if he means Rachel, to which Alfred response, “Actually, sir, I was talking about me.”
Understanding that criminals are superstitious and cowardly lot, he chose the symbol of the bat. The idea came to him one night while in his study, contemplating his choice. That was when a Bat flew through his window. It was both frightening and inspiring. As he tells Alfred in Batman Begins, “bats frighten me, Alfred. It’s time the criminals shared my dread.” He shaped both his mind and his body, training himself not just in athletics and martial arts, but criminology and psychology as well. He even spent time with a stage magician to study the escape arts.
Along side his anger, Batman also feels a level of guilt. In the film Batman Forever, his girl friend Dr. Chase Meridian notes that she finds him, “Fascinating, Why does he doe this. It’s like he’s forced to pay some kind of penance. Now what crime could he have committed to dedicate himself to a life of torture?” For Bruce, he feels he is responsible for his parents deaths. He was just a boy, but he still feels that if he hadn’t wanted to go to the movies, then maybe his parents wouldn’t have died. In the Chris Nolan Batman films it the matter that he got scared during a performance of the opera Faust and they had to leave early. It becomes his mission not just to eradicate crime, but to make sure that no other child has to suffer like he did that night. If Gotham is Hell, then becoming Batman is Bruce Wayne’s own personal Purgatory.
Upon starting his career in Gotham as Batman, he takes down mobsters, warning their time has come, takes down a conspiracy at a local chemical plant by three criminals to kill their boss and take over the company, and even saves his girlfriend, and perhaps his city from a dangerous villain called The Monk. He quickly becomes an urban legend in the city. Kids on the street telling stories depict him as everything from a ghost, a robot, a bat-creature, to a grim gritty ante-hero, and a benevolent scouts-master. Cops see him as either a superhuman being, a helper or a nuisance that gets in the way. As his protégé Dick Grayson says, “Most don’t even know he was human. Vampire. Demon. Ghost. We all know the myths.” And he relished in these myths, using them to further his cause.
Alfred helps him with one final piece to his crusade on crime, his public life as Bruce Wayne. After all, he’d have strange disappearances, and mysterious injuries he couldn’t explain. Some one may get curious. Thankfully Alfred, among his many skills, is a trained Shakespearian actor. By his guidance Bruce also creates a public façade to divert any curious eyes. Bruce will intentionally act bored, dull and uninteresting, at times seeming like a pig in terms of his behavior. It proves to be effective his busy “nightlife” as Batman will causes him to fall asleep in board Meetings at Wayne Enterprises makes him look irresponsible. In the movie The Dark Knight when the Joker attacks a party he’s holding, he runs for his “Bat-Bunker” and onlookers think it’s just a rich coward heading for a panic room and leaving everyone else to die. When he pretends to have a meltdown during his birthday party in the climax of Batman Begins, and his house is burnt down, it is written off as a drunken playboy acting out. It convinces most people in Gotham except for one.
That one person, is a police officer named James Gordon. Something about Bruce’s act seems like he’s trying to hide something, and as such makes him Gordon’s top candidate when investigating this “Batman”. Gordon also happens one of the only good cops in the city. His partner Flask, urges him to go in on “the take” ( getting bought out by the mob) and he refuses. Flask says it makes them nervous that he may talk, to which Gordon can only assure him he won’t squeal. After all, there’s no one in Gotham to rat too. That is until he and Batman form an uneasy alliance. At first he doesn’t trust him, nor does he approve his methods, but he comes to accept that Batman is trying to help and reluctantly agrees to work with him. He knows that sometimes the law doesn’t always work and that Batman may just be the best chance to help the city.
Batman also forms an alliance with District Attorney Harvey Dent. Unlike other politicians in the city, Dent is a good man, dedicated to making Gotham a safe place for decent people to live. This includes his wife and one day his children. The three of them together make an unstoppable team as Batman can take down the criminals, Gordon can make the arrests, and Dent can prosecute them. Unfortunately, Dent is disfigured by a crime boss, transforming him into the villain Two-Face, a man obsessed not just with the number two, but with chance and fate who decide everything by the toss of the coin. He can even, if he chooses, do good deeds. To some he is the perfect illustration of Gotham, split down the middle between good and evil, and horrible scarred by evil.
Batman also spawns his share of imitators. One is the notorious thief Catwoman, also known as Selina Kyle. Like Batman she was an orphan, and was often the subject of verbal and physical abuse as a child. She was even mistreated by various bosses. She dons a cat costume to protect the lower East End of Gotham, the part of the city that is often over looked. She’ll defend women who are being victimized, but some times she’ll cross a few lines.
She’ll steal, but only from the other criminals. If she keeps the spoils it’s because she wants them, but sometimes she’ll fence the goods and give the money. She can be lethal, but it’s because she feels backed not a corner. Like a cat she’s fickle, sometimes working with Batman, others times against him. She is one of the few women who has been able to entice Batman, perhaps because it’s like what Sherlock Holmes said about Irene Adler, “she was the one woman who was able to outsmart him.”
Along with Two-Face and Catwoman, Batman finds himself soon battling not just the mob but an entire army of costume psychopaths. Batman actually features one of the best known rouges galleries, including the likes of The Riddler, The Penguin, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, and of course, the Joker. In his first appearance, Joker murdered several people, and in the end of tale, fell to his apparent death in the sea. However, this would not be the end of the Joker. Sure enough he came back in another story, and kept returning to wreck havoc on Batman and Gotham City. Batman says it best in a verity of comics and other media, “it’s not that simple, with the Joker, it never is.”
If Batman represents law and order in the city, then Joker represents crime, chaos and evil in the city. To Batman, life, justice, and order are worth preserving, but to the Joker, it’s all part of one big joke. Everything is funny to this sadistic clown. World War II, Vietnam, the Children’s Crusade, the Crucifixion, assassinations, dead babies, old people, fat women falling down the stairs, nuns, AIDs, churos, sombreros, even the fact that Gotham’s name comes from the Old English for “Home for Goats”, it all makes him laugh. Batman won’t laugh. Batman will never kill, but Joker will do it because to him it’s all part of the game.
Whether it’s with exploding whoopee cushions, guns, knives, electrified joy buzzers, acid squirting flowers, Joker laughing gas, a pencil in the eye and even a stick of summer sausage are all tools of the trade for him. He has no origin story, at least not one he’ll prefer over the other. He likes to keep the past multiple choice. It comes in handy when he wants to manipulate some one into believing his stories. Like a comedian on stage he knows how to work his audience.
Despite this, there is one thing he will never do. He won’t kill Batman. He has his own warped code of sorts, he will never kill Batman, if any one else kills Batman, he will personally end them, and , if some one has to kill Batman, he may as well give it a try. When his henchwoman Harley Quinn tries to kill Batman he verbally and physically abuses her, telling her, “It’s not funny if you kill Batman, it’s only funny if I kill him!” More then anything he wants to “play” with Batman and the city itself. To him, they are locked an eternal game of cat and mouse, a game that is only fun if both parties are around. In fact he even thinks that without Batman, crime has no punch-line, and that committing some crime is no fun without Batman to throw his kiester back in Arkham.
As Joker tells Batman in The Dark Knight:
“I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me. “
It is also a game that Batman knows, if they aren’t careful, will cause the two of them to kill each other. He even pleads with him in the graphic novel, The Killing Joke, hoping to try and reason with him.
“Do you understand? I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want either of us to end up killing each other. But we’re running out of alternatives, and we both know it. Maybe it all hinges on tonight. Maybe this is our last chance to sort this bloody mess out. If you don’t take it, then we’re locked into a suicide course . Both of us. To the death.”
It is because of the Joker, and other criminals like him, that Batman often times remains distant form others, both as Bruce Wayne and as Batman. The war on crime that he, Gordon and Dent wagged has taken its toll on all of them. Harvey Dent would become another Arkham inmate, living with some of the same criminals he helped put away, and Commissioner Gordon’s first marriage fell apart, his son became a psychotic killer, and both his daughter, Barbara, and his second wife would suffer at the hands of the Joker.
Even Batman would have his share of defeats. He has had comrades fall, be it through insanity, death, injury, or paralysis. He has had to relinquish many a girl friend because his higher calling made it hard to commit and they grew sick of his “Bruce act”. Some even became villains and killers themselves. It is seen in the movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, that one of them was his college sweetheart Andrea Beumont. Bruce and Andrea had even gotten engaged, and he considered giving up his calling. However, her father had trouble with the mob and the Beaumonts fled Gotham. Unfortunately they found Andrea and her father and killed him. Years later Andrea returned as the vigilante “Phantasm” vowing to kill the men who killed her father.
When Batman finally faced her, unmasked, he had lost her once again. The woman he loved was lost in that murderer. She told him, “Look at what they did to us! What we could have had! We could have been happy!” They had to pay!” Their discussion and confrontation forced him to look had and long at the choices he made and where it had led him. He was alone, denying himself the joys of love and friendship.
His notoriety even attracted the attention of a mercenary known by the alias of Bane. Bane had heard rumors of this Batman, and wished to seek out this Dark Knight and see if he really was as great as the rumors claimed. Bane was the ultimate warrior, having grown up in a prison, trained by assassins, and feeding a synthetic steroid called Venom into his muscles to make him a highly intelligent behemoth. Bane studied him closely, broke out the villains of Arkham, thereby forcing him to pursue them day and night until he was exhausted, and then, broke into the Batcave, battled Batman, and broke his back. Batman was able to recover from that and become stronger then ever, a feat that impressed Bane, and even garnered the respect of his one-time adversary.
As painful as that moment was, in Batman’s eyes his greatest failure has been those moments he’s felt he failed to protect those he loves. He lost his parents as a boy and never wants to feel that pain again. He even worries about being unable to protect Catwoman, who is more then capable in fending for herself. He may have been a child at the time, unable to do anything, but perhaps deep down something stands out .The fact that Bruce’s father died protecting him and his mother. Perhaps that’s why, when it comes to his mission, it has to be his sacrifice, not any one else’s. His father risked his life to save them, and so to should he.
When Commissioner Gordon is wounded in the line of duty, he expresses these feelings to Dick Grayson, better known as Robin. He feels like he should have been there sooner, as though maybe, just maybe the situation could have had a better outcome. Gordon is one of his best friends, along with Dick and Alfred. When Dick reminds him he is just one man, Batman replies:
“I chose this life. I use the night, I became the night, sooner or later I’ll go down. It might be the Joker, or Two-Face, or just some punk who gets lucky. My decision. No regrets. But I can’t let anyone else pay for my mistakes.”
Dick reminds him that Gordon is a cop and knows these are the risks of the job. After all, Jim Gordon is not just a good cop, he’s the police commissioner and even without a Batman running around, he would most likely have his share of enemies trying to remove him from the equation and demoralize Gotham’s Police Department. That doesn’t help sooth the Batman. Batman looks at both Alfred and Commissioner Gordon with the same respect and reverence that he would look at his own father. As such he doesn’t want to fail them. He tells Dick, “But how long before I let down some one else I care about…Alfred, you? ”
Gordon recovers and reminds Batman to never quit. Deep down, Batman knows this to be true, despite how burdened he may be by the chaos around him, and the possibility that those close to him may die. When faced with this problem in the film The Dark Knight, Batman asks Alfred what he should do. Alfred tells him,
“Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.”
That right choice, is to keep on going. It is in those troubling moments, be it being broken by Bane, challenged by Ra’s Al Ghul, perplexed by the Riddler, or facing the chaos that is the Joker, or in taking on the mob when he can show his metal. Even if he may loose the battle, he has to keep going. As Alfred reminds him in Batman Begins, “Why do we fall Master Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.”
Deep down he would love nothing more then to have a normal life, with a family and friends. Yet, every day the sun sets in Gotham and that moon comes, up it’s time to go to work. Vicki Vale asks this of him in the first Tim Burton Batman film. When she discovers his identity she tells him she doesn’t know what to make of it. He tells her, “Sometimes, I don’t know what to make of it either. It’s just something I have to do.” She asks for an explanation and he tells her, “Because I’m the only one who can.”
This is what is what compels him more then anything else. He is not just a man consumed by anger, rage or guilt, but he possesses an iron will to go on. If any one else had seen the things he saw, and experienced the hardships, they’d lie down and die. If any one else had Bane break their back, they’d take it as a sign to retire, but he took it as a chance to rebuild. Any normal person, when that Batsignal shined, would treat it the same way they treat an alarm clock, not so for him. This help makes the fact that he is just a man with no super powers so inspiring. Even Superman and Wonder Woman can’t help but be in awe of him because of this.
In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, a New District Attorney has filled Harvey’s vacant place following his tragic accident.This new DA argues that Batman is responsible for the criminals, maintain that he creates them. The supervillians don’t take lightly to this pronouncement, so to show her, they take-over Arkham Asylum and have both her and Batman abducted so they can hold their own Kangaroo court. During the proceedings she discovers something. These criminals were already messed up individuals and would have been so with out Batman.
She argues that Batman didn’t create them, but rather they, the criminals of Gotham, created Batman. In the end she realizes the need for Batman and tells him that she still wants a city with out him. Batman admits that is the same thing he wants. Director Chris Nolan, the man behind the Dark Knight Trilogy said that, “It’s not about beating up criminals one by one. It’s about being a symbol. Bruce sees himself as a catalyst for change.”
Joe Chill may have fired the bullet, and the likes of Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow, Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Poison Ivy and Ra’s Al Ghul may test him, but it was Gotham that made him. Like the lawless towns of the old west, where in everyone did as they pleased, Gotham needed some one instill law and order. Gotham may be a corrupt and decadent city, a metaphorical Hell on Earth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When Ra’s threatens to destroy it he will stop him as to him Gotham isn’t beyond saving. If and the likes of Thomas Wayne, Martha Wayne, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent were willing to fight for it, so should he.
He wants it to be a better city. A city with out a Batman. That is that other day he fights for. A day when not only Gotham doesn’t need him to be Batman, but when he knows he no longer needs to be Batman. Perhaps it’s also why Catwoman remains such as sweet temptation for him. Not only do they seem to compliment each other as both Batman and Catwoman and Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, but most importantly, she seems to hope as much as he does for a world without the freaks and weirdos and without the masks where they can be together.
In order to do that the good citizens of Gotham need to be shaken from their apathy and fear rise up themselves and fight against the crime and corruption. He doesn’t just become Batman for his own anger and guilt but because of Gotham’s guilt. The second the Bat-signal shines to call him into action, it’s a reminder to all in Gotham that all is not well in that city. The criminals run scared, the corrupt turn away, and the good people of Gotham can look up and have hope. Hope that some one is out there protecting them, and making Gotham a better city.
Batman wants Gotham to be the kind of city where people can unlock their doors at night, let their children play until the stars come out, and perhaps walk down the street with out worrying that some psychotic clown will take it as an invitation to gut them like a fish. He wants Gotham to be the kind of place where no little boy will ever watch their parents get gunned down by some punk with a gun after the movies. He wants it to be the city that he, Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent and even his parents, envisioned and fought for.
It has been often said that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. Batman knows this. He saw the results of letting that happen when his parents died, and even Rachel made him think about what chance Gotham would have if people like them stood by. Their ghosts, and countless others haunt him. Alfred often reminds him of all the lives he’s saved, but in the end, that war goes on. It’s why after every time it looks like he is down for the count he’ll get back up again.
As Commissioner Gordon tells his son at the end of The Dark Knight, as he is running off into the night after taking full blame for the cries committed by Harvey Dent, thereby preserving Harvey’s image and all his good work:
“Because he knows we can’t catch him… So we’ll hunt him down because he can take it. Because he’s not the hero, at least not the one the city deserves, but rather the one the city needs. He’s a silent guardian. A Watchful protector. A Dark Knight.”
But why a Dark Knight? Perhaps it’s just like that full moon that hangs over the city, or the Batsignal that pierces the inky black clouds. Because even in the darkest of knights a light can still shine and now one can stop it. That is perhaps why Superheroes are so popular, why fans hurry to the comic book stores on Wednesday to read their latest adventures, and they continue to shatter box office records. We need heroes. People to stand in the gap between us and chaos, to stand for an ideal, to defend the defenseless, uphold justice, to save us from ourselves, and most importantly give us hope. Whether it’s a Countdown to the Avengers or a Road to Rises, we need them. More importantly, we can be them. We may not have the gimmicks, costumes, or powers, but we can embody those same ideals and virtues in the real world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get ready for the midnight premier of The Dark Knight Rises.
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*These stories were originally untitled, but were given titles in the table of contents for the DC archive additions for the sake of reader convenience.
*First Appearance of Batman.
Batman created by Bob Kane.
The blog is not endorsed, approved, authorized, affiliated or prepared by any entities involved in the Batman character. The views and opinions in this blog are strictly those of its creator and do not reflect the views or ownership of DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Studios, or AOL-Time-Warner Inc.
2002 DC Comics, 2012 Warner Bros. Studios.
[i] There is some debate among writers as to how old Bruce was when his parents died. It is generally accepted that he was 8 years old.