I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why You Couldn't Be Batman, Part Two: Those Wonderful Toys

Where does he get those wonderful toys?
-The Joker, Batman (1989)

Part One: Introduction can be viewed here.

When one thinks of Batman one is likely to think of the technology that Batman utilizes in fighting crime. First to come to my mind are Batman's utility belt with its myriad compartments and, of course, the Batmobile. Before many of us had personal computers Batman: The Animated Series showed Bruce Wayne sitting in front of a super-computer in the Batcave. In the film Batman Begins we see that the costume itself, the cape and the cowl, are the height of technology. In the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham Island opens up for exploration as you acquire more tools, eight in total: Batarang, Explosive Gel, Batclaw, Cryptographic Sequencer, Line Launcher, Multi-Batarang, Remote Control Batarang, and Sonic Batarang. DC Universe Online holds batman as an archetype or mentor for heroes. His "power" type is listed as "gadgets."

Batman certainly could not have all of these gadgets without the Wayne fortune and Waynetech, but he also could not have them without a degree of brilliance. It could be argued that Bruce Wayne simply says to Lucius Fox, "I want you to manufacture nasal inserts that can filter toxins," and Fox does all of the work, but Bruce Wayne is usually depicted as being much more active not only in designing his technology but in concealing its intended application in order to protect his identity. Bruce Wayne's process of developing technology involves foreseeing possible battle disadvantages, determining methods of avoiding or combating these disadvantages, designing technology that can carry out these methods, brainstorming other applications of the technology in order to get Waynetech to produce the technology without revealing Batman's secret identity, and finally using the technology in a variety of situations and determining its practical efficacy. Batman's "gadgets" speak much more to the brain of the Bat than to the budget. Were the money absent, Batman would surely improvise gadgets from junk, MacGyver style.

Though Batman is known for his gadgets, he is first and foremost a detective. In Frank Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Batman presents young, orphaned Dick Grayson, the first Robin, with the choice of being either a detective or an avenger, the reader understanding from the beginning that becoming an avenger is clearly the wrong choice. And how can anyone forget that Batman's first appearance happened in Detective Comics #27. When the film Sherlock Holmes came out in 2009, many agreed that Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes was the best portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective. I looked at Downey Jr.'s Holmes and could see in this character Bob Kane's Batman. Bruce Wayne/Batman is probably the most highly respected detective not only of DC comics, but of comics in general. (What detective does Marvel have that could compete with the Batman?)

In the midst of the superhero discussion there have emerged groups of individuals who believe that Bruce Wayne/Batman is so smart that he does have a super power: super-intelligence. I believe it has been determined that Lex Luthor is the smartest non-powered human being in the DC Universe, but Bruce Wayne isn't very far behind. As a matter of fact, Batman's intellect has defeated Superman's brawn on at least two occasions that come to mind, in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and in Jeph Loeb's Hush. Though interesting, I think super-intelligence robs Batman of much of his significance. Like the New Mutants proved in the 1980s with the inclusion of Doug Ramsey, an extra-ordinary but completely human member on an all mutant team, Batman's importance in the DC Universe proves that human beings can be as important as anyone with supernatural powers, that superheroism is not exclusive to superhumanity.

Batman is incredibly intelligent as witnessed by the ingenuity needed to create and use all of those gadgets, but more importantly he is a fantastic detective, possibly the best. If you have the money, can you be Batman? No. You have to be smarter than anyone you know. Perhaps smarter than you can imagine.

And here's the twist that I hope will give you the desire to patiently wait until I write Part Three: You can be as wealthy as Batman and you can be as smart as Batman, but it is still not enough.

Part Three: Of Fists and Feet can be viewed here.
Part Four: Crime Alley can be viewed here.

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