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"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why You Couldn't Be Batman, Part Three: Of Fists and Feet

Part One: Introduction can be viewed here.
Part Two: Those Wonderful Toys can be viewed here.

Bruce Wayne has seemingly endless bankroll and a first-rate mind, but so does Bill Gates. Is Bill Gates Batman? He most certainly is not. Like Bruce Wayne, Gates gives massive amounts of money to charities that attempt to right the structural wrongs of society - poverty, hunger, etc. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Gates is not a well-oiled machine, a human weapon who places his body, his everything, between the victim and the victimizer. I praise a man like Bill Gates, both because he has given away such a substantial portion of his wealth to people in need and because he does so while being non-fictional, but he's no Batman.

In a way, Batman is understood as police officer par excellence. He is the best detective. He is a fantastic fighter who does not need a gun and who does not kill perpetrators. He transcends law when law is not in the service of justice. Just as one might imagine that there must always be a police force, a group of individuals donning the uniforms of the dead or retired generation after generation in order to pledge solidarity against crime, so also there must always be a Batman. This is why an exhausted Batman had to push on in the "A Lonely Place of Dying" and "Knightfall" storylines, why Jean-Paul Valley / Azrael donned the cape and cowl when Bruce Wayne's back was broken and why Dick Grayson / Robin I / Nightwing became Batman after Bruce Wayne's death.

Whereas there is a police academy dedicated to training young people to replace the old guard, there is no Batman academy. (After writing this, however, I was alerted that because of the events of Batman Incorporated, there now appears to be a Batman academy.) If there were, Azrael would not have become a dangerous tyrant of a Batman. In training to become Batman, Bruce Wayne left his home as an angry young adult, traveling throughout the world in order to learn the best of martial arts, of illusion and of striking fear in ones opponents. This is one of the dominant themes in the 2005 film Batman Begins. The idea that I have gotten from the various manifestations of Batman, in comics, on TV, in movies, is that if there is a better fighter than Bruce Wayne then Wayne has either trained with this person or engaged in mortal combat with this person. Batman is a member of the Justice League, a founding member, and he is generally understood as someone you don't want to mess with. Were he simply a brain this would not be so. Even the most powerful heroes must have some resonating fear that Batman can best them physically, and this speaks well of the Batman's physical prowess.

There was an individual a few years back who had made a great deal of money selling rap records. I wish I could remember his name! But this individual realized that he was in a situation where he could become like Batman. As this story was told to me, I crossed my fingers that the next words would describe the rapper's journey to become an accomplished and self-controlled fighter. Instead, I heard the story of how this rapper had bought a Batmobile and Batman outfit.

I think that Batman's endless fight against crime and the sacrifice of his body is especially important when we think of Batman's mere humanity, of his mortality. Bruce Wayne can be injured by a knife or bullet just like any of us. He is no man of steel. And yet, unlike most of us, Bruce Wayne continues to best the most heavily armed enemies in spite of the obvious and real threat to his life. If you cannot do this, then you are not Batman.

Though I've largely made my point regarding Batman's martial arts ability and bodily sacrifice, I would like to discuss, for a moment, Batman and his relationship to violence. The most important truth about Batman is that he abhors violence. If he believed that violence could be stopped without resorting to further violence then he would no longer fight with fists and feet. Born in blood, Bruce Wayne wants nothing but to serve justice by ending corruption and bloodshed. It should be clear in any Batman story that Batman only wishes to disarm and capture adversaries, that killing is never a viable option. And yet that's not always the case. In the original Tim Burton Batman films, Batman straight up kills villains. There is no way many of these thugs could survive what Batman does to them. The video game Batman: Arkham Aslum is incredibly violent, and even beyond the idea of blowing up villains with concrete walls, the placement and force of Batman's punches and kicks could easily paralyze or kill villains.

I wanted to bring this up in order to caution first against striving to be a Batman who kills, but also to question whether training to become a vigilante who could die any day is anything you should aspire to. This series could be critiqued as holding Batman up as an example we ought to follow. Quite frankly, I don't know that people should learn how to meet violence with violence. In fact, I don't know that people should ever strive for Bruce Wayne's wealth. Even his level of intelligence is something I wouldn't be quick to recommend. It's a good way to feel alone. All the time. I do think that the Batman stories help individuals in moral development, but similar to religion, I caution against a monkey-see, monkey-do mentality.

Of the next post on why you couldn't be Batman, all I can say is that there will be blood. As you can probably guess, we will be dealing with Batman's tragic origin and its consequences.

Part Four: Crime Alley can be viewed here.

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