Every Tuesday I post excerpts from best selling at not selling super blog, Playing Favorites.
It’s easy for Superman to do the little things because regardless of what’s going on, he’s aware of the little things. For guys like Spider-Man and Batman, those little things aren’t quite so easy. Spider-Man, despite all of his other hardships, does do well with the average citizen of New York. Regardless of what the papers say, people know he’s there to help and while I don’t read a lot of Spider-Man, I imagine he makes some time to say a few kind words to those he rescues (or arrests, though I doubt anything he could say would engender much affection from them). Batman, in the Grant Morrison run, is generous. He gets a young woman on the street a job at Waynetech (or Wayne Enterprises, whatever it is this week) and even gives a hobo that he almost hits with the Batmobile a cool hundred dollars (Granted, that hobo later overdosed and his ghost led drug-addled, mind-wiped Bruce Wayne on a trek across Gotham, but then maybe he didn’t die? Really, it was unclear whether it was ghost karma or what, and not unclear in a Grant Morrison way, just generally unclear.[Edit: He has since shown up as a pimp.]). So he does stop and take time to help out average citizens of Gotham, and the only way for him to know there’s a data-entry position open at Waynetech or have $100 in the glove compartment is if he’s anticipating this sort of thing (alright, the 100 dollars could be in anticipation of a number of things, but you get my point).
But now that I think about it…Grant Morrison did write both those Batman scenes and the Superman scene that I cited earlier. Perhaps that isn’t something fundamental about the character, but a detail that Grant Morrison puts into his characters to give them this heroic trait. No. I actually have a Superman comic that I’m relatively sure isn’t written by Grant Morrison (what was he writing in 2001?) where he visits the captain of a Russian sub who’s dying of radiation from the accident that Superman saved him and his men from. The captain stayed behind to shutdown the reactor and was dying of cancer as a result (though, sadly, whoever was writing that comic didn’t know much about nuclear reactors, so good story aside, it’s a rough re-read) and another where he’s reading letters from fans while he goes about his daily Superman stuff. Anyway, so yeah, Batman, but not nearly as much as Superman, which fits because a lot of it works for Superman being a nice guy with a positive public persona (not that he does these things for those reasons. Harvesting a dying Russian sailor/farmer’s final crop isn’t something you do to get on the front page of The Daily Planet.
It’s not that Batman doesn’t care about people. I think he does, but I think it’s more in that he believes in the good in all people and thusly redemption and the value of life. It’s not exactly caring about people, again I think it’s more of an expanded world view and perhaps just a necessity of believing that, with all of the messed-up dudes he has to take care of, he has to believe that the people he’s saving and the people he’s stopping both have some sort of merit, even if he can’t see it. Otherwise, the things he does take on a certain kind of dark futility (which, if you read “Batman R.I.P.” in The-Lump-as-Alfred’s ponderings, Bruce slips into a sort of darkness right before he picks up Dick as Robin. To me, Dick enjoys life in general and the life of crime fighting crime specifically, serving for many years as a contrast to Batman to remind him of the better parts of life and why he does what he does.).
Both Spider-Man and Superman are selfless. Indeed, Batman is too. All three are willing to risk their lives to stop evil. Spider-Man (as I discussed above) is willing to go the extra mile of not just sacrificing his life, but risking even the better parts of living to shoulder his responsibility. Superman doesn’t sacrifice a lot of personal stuff (save perhaps his dignity on crappy excuses) to be Superman, but he is willing to put his life on the line. Batman, too, is willing to risk his life to do what he does, but while Spider-Man and Superman have run the risk of leaving widows behind, the only grieving family for Bruce Wayne is Alfred Pennyworth. It’s hard to say what’s selfish and what’s selfless in this scenario; the married guys dedicate their lives to someone else to make them happy in an ‘everyday heroes’ sort of way, but they also risk their mate’s happiness in order to continue fighting crime. Though their spouses knew the risks before they were married, it’s still a ding for both of them. But then, looking at Batman, everything he gives is solely for crimefighting; he doesn’ t have an ‘everyday hero’ part of making the world a better place. Maybe that’s part of Batman’s general appeal; he doesn’t have ordinary human qualities that detract from him as a crime-busting machine.
He’s not relatable, not even a tiny bit. Batman is more human than Spider-Man and Superman, but he has very little human about him. He is a human fully committed to his persona of being a strange shadow; a mysterious figure of the night. Whereas so many heroes fight to seem relatable and human, to connect with the people they protect, Batman is the one who has worked (in the past, anyway) to present himself as something inhuman. His persona is not supposed to be relatable, but whether that’s supposed to be an outgrowth of how detached he is or a reflection of it, I’m not sure. It is not a heroic quality. Being a ‘weird avenger’ is not heroic. He might be a wish-fulfillment character, but that is a far cry from heroic.