Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Re-thinking the Bat

Re-thinking the Bat: "

Do you think we’ve reached a point where Batman is completely unrealistic in the real world?


(Yes, it’s going to be one of those blogs today)

I mean, other than the screamingly obvious argument- that he’s a guy who dresses as a bat and fights crime, who in the real world would have either been hunted down by the National Guard or beaten to death by a gang of thugs long ago.

And, of course, the other argument that Batman as he exists in the comics, despite being ostensibly a regular human being, excels in so many different fields that he’s practically superhuman anyway. He’s an elite athelete, master scientist, inventor, engineer, field medic, linguist and let’s not forget World’s Greatest Detective. He has a superpower- it’s “being Batman”.

And all that’s been fine up til now. We read comics about a guy in red and blue tights who can fly- suspension of disbelief goes a fair old way. But more and more, I find nagging questions popping up again and again while I’m reading Batman’s adventures.

“Why hasn’t anyone just followed him back to the Batcave? It’s easy enough to do nowadays- they have spy drones that could see what you had for breakfast, you’re telling me if the government didn’t want a crazed vigilante running around they wouldn’t try to find him somehow?”

“For that matter, why haven’t the paparazzi tried to find out who he is; finding out Batman’s identity would be the scoop of the decade. And you can be damn sure they’d be more determined than the Government”.

“While we’re on the subject, hasn’t a single paparazzi or reporter noticed that Bruce Wayne behaves really strangely, even for a millionaire playboy?”

“No one is independently wealthy any more; don’t Waynetech investors get worried when they see millions directed into “off-limits research”? Especially post-GFC? Doesn’t the Government worry about what Waynetech is researching?”

I mean, those are mostly off the top of my head. And I know the basic answer to all of them is “shut up and stop overthinking it, you’re poking holes in something which doesn’t need holes poked into it to work”. And that’s true. Batman comics, as long as you ignore big picture stuff like that, are fine. Batman has all the gadgets because he’s rich. No one’s found the Batcave because he’s Batman, and doesn’t let anyone find the cave.

But something else I realised was that a lot of those questions go away if you take Batman back to the time he was created- 1939.

Back then, WW2 was just getting started. Television wasn’t widely available, and most people listened to the radio for their nightly entertainment. “Radiation” was still a near-mystical concept, not yet laden down with the baggage of Hiroshima and the Manhattan project.

The point is that in 1939, it was actually kind of plausible for a guy with unlimited funds and plenty of free time, coupled with a slight mental tilt brought about by the death of his parents, to dress as a bat and fight crime. Not in an actual “this could actually happen” way, but in a comic-booky, suspension-of-disbelief way. Bruce Wayne was a millionaire in the 40s. People back then were raised on a diet of Howard Hughes and William Randolf Hearst; people with insane amounts of money who were actually insane. After their various excesses, dressing up as a bat and beating up street toughs actually looks fairly normal.

And you can explain away all the stuff about the press and the Government; if you were rich and white in the early forties, you could literally get away with murder if you knew enough congressmen. Being a bat-themed crimefighter made you “eccentric”.

Also, suddenly all the gadgets make sense again. Batman’s tech is always a few steps in front of the real world, which has led us to currently in the comics having a Batmobile that can fly. Which is AWESOME, but also kind of implausible. Put him in the 40s and suddenly advanced crimefighting techniques and a supercomputer that doesn’t take up an entire room are impressive again.

Not to mention, most of the great Batman stories exist in a vacuum anyway. The best Batman stories ignore the real world and exist in the heightened reality of Gotham City- looming buildings, grimy streets and deep, dark alleyways. Mobsters and big bulky cars, girls in fur coats and guys in three-piece suits. Zeppelins; there are always zeppelins. Introduce a timeframe onto it, and the vision crumbles.

Batman is a Hero, like Hercules is a Hero. He has thrilling adventures, and defeats fantastic foes, and doesn’t worry if this story was set before the Trojan War or after.

And maybe it’s time we get back to that. Even a continuity whore like me loves to see just a good standalone Batman story, divorced from the pulling weight of over 70 years of backstory and plot, given a chance to fly, or at least swing on a zipline (or do we want to just go ahead and call it a Batrope?)

Remember some of the best Batman properties in recent memory have been standalone, seperate creations. Nolan’s Batman films take the dark, adult side of Batman to it’s gritty extreme. And the fantastic cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold takes the goofy fun of Batman in the 60s (and, yes, the TV show) without including the silly camp.

I doubt very much that DC is going to essentially remove their biggest character from ongoing continuity, but a guy can dream. I’m actually really interested to see what Brian Azzarello does with his First Wave maxi series due out from DC Comics early next year. I had a few minor problems with the one-shot Batman/ Doc Sanvage special one-shot which was meant as a preview of the series (especially Bats blasting away at crooks with twin .45s) but overall I love the hook- go right back to the pulp style stories DC put out in the 30s, include established characters DC owns the rights to like The Spirit and the Blackhawks, and throw Batman into the mix. Take him back to his roots.

Which are, and let’s not ever forget this- he’s an insane (or at least, extremely driven) millionaire who dresses as a bat and fights crime. There’s a purity to that which I think we can all get behind.

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