Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's Wrong with Batman, Part 3 of 3

I love Batman and I'm not alone. Batman is more beloved by the internet than a Jesus made of bacon. The concept of Batman has changed a lot over the last 75 years, but its core quality is that it adapts to the culture of which it is a part.

Batman does have some problems though. While some of these are products of their time, many are the result of concepts executed without considering of the implications. I'm no Batmanologist, but I'd like to take a few days to look at these problems.

The more modern interpretations of Batman take the violence back a notch. He starts the Martha Wayne Foundation. He helps street urchins get jobs. His equipment gets upgraded. He gets a son.

It's during this period that his one sort-of superpower hits its stride. It's a contextually supernatural ability to "use his fucking brain," which is apparently equally as rare as being the last surviving member of an alien world 100s of light years away and from an alternate universe. This boils down to his superpower being common sense, which is narratively executed so that Batman isn't smarter than everyone else so much as he makes everyone else dumber by being in the same comic.

It also takes the cold, calculating Batman to a new level. While he generally values his team a bit more than the Dark Age Batman, he has plateaued as a character. The crowning moment of awesome that is the climax of his battle against The Black Glove—you know, the one where he punches his way out of a coffin that I occasionally stop talking about—is a prime example of this.
If your nerdrection lasts longer than 4 hours, consult an issue of Daredevil.

It's totally badass, but he's still a boring, maximized character who doesn't grow or develop because the universe bends to support a guy with a tool belt as the perfect crimefighter. He's ready for anything. He's equipped for anything. For fuck's sake; a first-world white guy who has enough money to be forever divorced from most of life's unpleasantness is somehow so traumatized that he can drive his own clones mad with tsuris. It comes off as a bit ridiculous when you consider how much of humanity has lived through far worse than losing two parents.

I don't know if you remember, but there was about a year there where Batman acted as the archenemy for Darkseid, putting capes and tool belts 3-1 versus gods of death.

Batman is almost constantly a step ahead of his foes, so much so that it feels like he's cheating. On the occasion he ends up wrong-footed, the universe doesn't unbend around the Batman concept, but doubles-down to enable the antagonist to cheat as well. The resulting stories give me the distinct feeling that I'm reading two adults arguing over which bullshit-generating machine could produce enough pure bullshit to bury the other one first, something I would imagine would be like two Whovians debating which of their favorite Doctors could beat up the other.

To make a story with the general narrative tension necessary to function leaves me with no ways to evaluate scale, judge probability, or even engage the story in any way but to passively witness what random, disconnected sets of actions resolves the story so it can begin again next month. Given that he's not going to die (because his name is on the book and the birthday napkin dollars are ridiculous, that only leaves the potential entertaining story, but each movement of these stories is a clockwork waltz with no effect on the reader unless they have the attention span of a cat at a string convention during a hurricane. It commits the cardinal sin of making one of the world's most riveting franchises boring.

The result is a robot Batman, who brings no color or personality to his appearances. The villains bring the only real plot and character to these stories, where the protagonist inexorably overcomes challenges to punche through to the ending and send the criminal to Arkham. Beep bop boop. Robo-Batman wins again and resets to get onto the next adventure. There's no growth, no progression, and no real character to sympathize with except for maybe his villains and when The Joker is above Batman on the short list of likeable characters in a Batman comic, something has gone horribly awry.

As some of you might have noticed from reading the tags, this is the third part of a four part series reviewing The Dark Knight Rises, which came out just under a year ago. Anyway, I wanted to say that I'm sorry this took so long and I'm going to make sure that I put a higher priority on reviewing superhero movies in a timely manner from here on out.

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