It's been stated that Batman as a hero has never grown stale or supposedly never has anything to worry about and will always be the fan favorite (in some circles at least). This always bugged me on just why fanboys consider Batman to be so great. Finally, a solution was found: Batman is an airtight form of wish fulfillment that doesn't age in our current cultural context.
Batman is Badass Normal
. Already he's fulfilling the realistic wish of so many. We know we can't fly or aren't super strong or super fast. Batman though is a hero that supposedly, "could be you or me." (from Batman: Unmasked
) He's our projection of accepting our limitations, but still reveling in how far we can take it.
Second, Batman has the whole Dark Is Not Evil
and Good Is Not Nice
bent going for it. Mankind longs to be good, but at the same time we applaud the swift and brutal defeats of those in the wrong. Batman does both of these things, and yet still remains a good guy for not crossing the Thou Shalt Not Kill
line in modern times.
Third, Batman is the paragon for our love of cunning and intelligence. True, he doesn't exactly have an alien encyclopedia, but the notion of being Crazy-Prepared
for the future in the chaos of real life is extremely appealing, and Batman can somehow do it without seeming silly or having Fan Dumb
screaming Ass Pull
Fourth, Batman is our selves rising above reality. Batman lost his parents at a young age, but sought to go forth and create a new order no matter the personal cost. This is extremely admirable as not only has he moved forward to higher causes, but he's doing it in a manner that we enjoy watching. (Heck, his charitable work as Bruce Wayne is practically a footnote compared to what Batman has done, but perhaps that's just the way comics work)
Fifth, Batman operates in a Crapsack World
in order to better perfect it as his old home. Sure, we might put on airs to help save the world, but Batman is going out and making a truly depressing world better, and his Tragic Dream
is something many admire.
Batman is generally considered to have one of the best, if not THE best, Rogues Gallery
in comic books. This Troper posits that part of the success of Batman, and part of the contribution to his legendary status, is that his Rogue's Gallery is such a perfect shattered reflection of Batman himself.
- The Joker: He represents the chaos and dark impulses that Batman struggles against every day — in crimefighting and within his own mind.
- Two-Face: Represents the struggle between dual identities inherent in Batman/Bruce Wayne's psychology.
- Riddler: His obsessive-compulsive and self-sabotaging traits reflect back the obsessive and possibly self-destructive side to Batman's own personality. His championing of intellect to commit crimes also reflects Batman's detective abilities and his use of intellect to solve them.
- Scarecrow: His main tactic is to rule through fear — similar to how Batman cultivates a frightening persona to intimidate crooks and hoodlums.
- Penguin: Penguin acts as a rich socialite, while actually acting as a crime lord or black market smuggler. Similar to how "Bruce Wayne" is an act for Batman, only he does so as a Rich Idiot with No Day Job while also acting in philanthropy rather than descending into criminality.
- Man-Bat: This is the danger the Batman has if he errs too far on the side of being the Bat without remembering the man.
- Catwoman: Uses an animal motif to get what she wants, and is highly athletic in using said motif. Also, both rose from personal tragedy. The Not So Different and Dating Catwoman parts of this contrast make both very strong foils to each other, particularly in the fact that Batman keeps trying to reform her. Also, just as Batman is an unpowered (albeit highly skilled and trained) human who operates alongside people granted godlike superpowers, Catwoman is essentially a professional thief with an animal gimmick who nevertheless manages to hold her own against megalomaniacal gangsters and psychotic maniacs.
- Poison Ivy: Like Batman, Ivy fights for what is ostensibly a noble and socially admirable cause involving protecting those who cannot protect themselves. However, Ivy becomes a Knight Templar who identifies too much with her cause and cannot see past it to the point where she ends up causing just as much if not more suffering than she prevents. She is what Batman can become if he identifies too closely with his abstract cause and forgets that the people he fights against are still people.
- Mr. Freeze: In his more modern incarnations at least, has suffered the brutal loss of a loved one that has subsequently defined his life in the same way that Bruce Wayne losing his parents defined his.
- Bane: Bane is a Cultured Badass, and a Genius Bruiser, traits he shares with Batman. Furthermore, both he and Bruce Wayne grew up in environments that challenged them to become the best just to survive. The difference is that Bruce Wayne went to these places on purpose, while Bane was born in a hellish prison, and had to escape. On a personal level, Bane is defined by his venom use, and his ruthlessness, making him a counterpoint to Batman's defining traits: Badass Normal, and Thou Shalt Not Kill.
- Hush: Many of Batman's villains have a personal tragedy for a backstory, but none echo Bruce Wayne's own so much as that of Thomas Elliot. He grew up in the same social circle as Bruce Wayne, and showed a promising intellect at a young age. But Hush hated his abusive parents, making him a possible version of Batman that would have arisen if Thomas and Martha Wayne's parenting had gone horribly, irrevocably wrong. He also often fails in schemes because despite the penchant for using people that he and Batman both share, Hush doesn't understand the concept of friendship, while Batman, for all his faults, has been saved more than once by the fact that he cultivates real relationships with the people around him. As icing on the Shadow Archetype-cake, he's also performed extensive facial surgery on himself to look like Bruce Wayne, a grisly imitation of Bruce's Master of Disguise traits, plus the fact that his 'Bruce Wayne' persona is ultimately a false one.
- Ra's Al Ghul: Ra's exists in the shadows, using his resources, servants, intellect, ability to manipulate others, and physical strength to impose his personal morality upon the world. He's even been known to take young apprentices, and cultivates a borderline religious image of himself as a way of controlling those around him. Further, part of his motive is that he earnestly believes that life is precious, but that people mistreat other living things. Unlike Bruce, Ra's is willing to kill to protect 'life' in a general sense. In a way, he's every one of Batman's traits perverted for evil. Interestingly, Ra's seems to be aware of this in some capacity, as he often tries to recruit Batman as his successor.
- Hugo Strange: Both are trying to understand the mind of a criminal in order to reach a goal.
- Mad Hatter: Uses mind control devices to live in his fantasy world while Batman faces reality.
- Black Mask: Both try to run the family business, only for Black Mask to fail and decides to go into crime.
The analysis can go even further, in that like Batman himself many of Batman's enemies have either ostensibly sympathetic back-stories or some inciting incident in their past that motivates their actions, just as the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents is the primary motivation for his actions as Batman. However, where Batman uses this incident as a motivation for trying to make himself and the society he lives in better and to prevent what happened to him from happening to other innocents, his enemies have all succumbed to despair and madness, and instead use their traumas and pain as an excuse to lash out and hurt others.
Batman as Philosophical Critique
The entire comic series can be interpreted as a representation of the failure of conventional morality from a quasi-Nietzchean perspective. Philosophically speaking, Gotham City is a representation of everything that could possibly go wrong in a modern urban landscape. The system has broken down to a nightmarish degree. Corruption is rampant at every level of government. Street crime and urban blight are so prevalent that they're just considered part of everyday life. Even the most outwardly decent individual is just one traumatic experience from transforming into a baroque Serial Killer
. The conventional forces for Law and order consistently fail to address the problems of the society they were created to serve, which necessitates the appearance of a non-conventional force (ie. a vigilante who makes extensive use of psychological warfare and theatrics, rather than logic and procedure). Modern society's problems have grown too large and too complex for its traditional ethics to address. Something new
must be created to deal with these problems.
Which brings us to The Joker
. He is the extreme of criminal behavior that law is unable to resolve. A constant throughout the series is that Joker can not
be redeemed. His madness cannot be treated or cured. In fact his madness is slightly contagious; trying to analyze him, or in some cases just spending a significant amount of time in his proximity, may drive you mad as well. He can't be contained either; imprison him and he'll just break out again. Only one thing can really be done with him...and no representative of law and order - not even Gotham's extraordinary agent of it - is willing or able to do that. Thou Shalt Not Kill
is the one rule that no one
will break, even though it will quite handily solve the unsolvable problem of the Joker, and that is presented to us as a good thing. Unfortunately traditional concepts of "good" and "evil" do not apply in a place like Gotham. The city has been abandoned by God, and the only reason God's laws hold any sway at all is because it gives them comfort to the citizens of the city to believe that they do. The Joker's continued existence - and the continued reign of terror he engages in - is the inevitable end product of the moral myopia/moral hypocrisy of Gotham City. Everyone in Gotham - including the vigilante who is technically outside the system - is applying a system of morality to a situation where it is no longer relevant, and in the process contributing to their own self-destruction.