Taking the Gotham out of Batman

I believe that every Batfan has their own version of Batman running around in their head. Despite his extraordinary circumstances, the orphaned seven-year-old who invests his time, body, mind, and resources to become a grown-up hero is someone just about everyone can relate to on some level—though just who he is and what drives his war on crime will always be under debate. Is it heroism, pain, hope, anger, guilt, a feeling of responsibility, boredom? Has he been planning on this course of action for so long that he just doesn’t know how to do anything else? To me, a part of Batman will always be that seven-year-old boy who just wants to see his city safe, because who but a seven-year-old would dare to dream of actually becoming a superhero? Especially when you consider that there were no superheroes or superbeings of any kind around when Bruce Wayne’s world changed.

Christian Bale and the Batsuit from The Dark Knight trilogy.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and the Batsuit body armor that didn’t augment his strength in the Dark Knight trilogy. Warner Bros Entertainment

One thing that Christopher Nolan’s Batman got right in the Dark Knight films is that he is a real man fighting against real criminals and evils. There is no alligator-hybrid metahuman named Killer Croc, no mention of Rha’s al Ghul living a day more than a regular lifespan, and Bane doesn’t even have his trademark venom pumping into him. Yes, there were a transforming motorcycle and a flying car, but overall, this was a Batman rooted in a non-superpowered world. A Batman centered on Gotham, rather than a wider world of enhanced humans, is more realistic and relatable for viewers, and he can even be more inspiring because of this realism. Gotham might always be a hotbed for criminals and corruption, but it is still one city and not the entire world. Bruce Wayne has considered one problem with his city, the crime, and he is handling it.

I love superheroes not just as entertainment but as a source of inspiration. Every one of us can look at the city we live in, choose a problem big or small and one thing we can do about it on a regular basis, and do it. “Supersave the entire world” Batman, on the other hand, is so much further removed from our reality and harder to take inspiration from.

I don’t know what to expect with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I am intrigued as much as I am worried. All of a sudden we are going to see a cinematic version of the human and mortal Batman sharing a story with the guy who accidentally broke a mountain! Let me repeat that. This Batman needs to be able to compete with someone who broke a mountain. I know there are some people who are upset that Christian Bale will not be reprising his role, but let us not lie to ourselves: the Batman of those movies has no place in a world with Superman. To try would be a bigger slap in the face than Batman and Robin was to the original Tim Burton movies.

Still from Dawn of Justice Courtesy of Warner Bros Entertainment

Ben Affleck as a very different version of our hero in Dawn of Justice, wearing the “mecha-suit” that gives him strength on par with Superman. Warner Bros Entertainment

We’ve seen some evidence of what this metamorphosis from “Gotham Batman” to “Super Batman” will look like from the comics and from DC’s animated universe. In the original (stellar) Batman: The Animated Series, it is mostly Batman fighting and outsmarting real criminals. Only a fraction of the villains are metahuman, and none of them are even close to being on Superman’s level. Ultimately, it is still believable for Batman to be able to triumph over evil with his human mind, body, and wits.

It is supposedly this same Batman who fights alongside Superman, Wonder Woman, and the other superbeings in the Justice League series, yet despite all the points in the story that confirm that fact, this is a very different Batman. The first change is that all his physical attributes have been upped: he is at least twice as strong, fast, and agile as he was in his own series. At times he is even able to handle just as much damage as the other Leaguers—though the show is smartly vague about the science behind whatever weapon the team is fighting. More often than not it’s an alien weapon with a randomized color effect. I know that Batman is meant to be at his physical peak at all times, but this Batman still looks like he’s been sipping Super-Soldier Serum to keep up with his fellow heroes.

In addition to his body, Batman’s intelligence has shot through the atmosphere in Justice League as well. What I love about “Gotham Batman” is that there is no evidence to suggest that he was born with anything above human intelligence. His smarts come from him constantly working on his mind; he’s studied various languages, martial arts, criminology, and other skills, but to me he is no more intelligent than any human being (with a billion dollars to fund a lifelong obsession) can become. The Justice League Batman, on the other hand, has an intelligence that rivals Tony Stark and Lex Luthor. He is a truly a superhero and no longer someone whom we can relate to as closely as we could.

DC has not been as concerned about continuity as Marvel, and I might be in the minority in that I am happy about that. I like that after Dawn of Justice comes out, there might still be places where I can see the Gotham-based Batman taking part in more human stories. I think one reason that the Batman: The Animated Series trumps Justice League (which is still very good) is because, being primarily about a man in a bat suit, the series was harder to write, and thus better stories came out of that challenge. We got to see some real foibles in Batman’s personality. We got to see him break down and come close to giving up. We got to see him make mistakes. (Justice League Batman never made mistakes.) We got to see real people become villains because of unrequited, lost, or broken love, and not just because they wanted to blow up the Watch Tower. My favorite episodes of TAS centered on the relationship between two brothers who grew up on the streets of Gotham. One chose to overcome the powerlessness he felt growing up by joining the mob and becoming a boss; the other chose to bring peace to himself and others by becoming a priest. Where in a world of superheroes and supervillains fighting to save and damn the world is there room for beautiful stories such as these?

I’m still excited to see this new Batman who will go toe to toe with Superman, because I did enjoy Man of Steel. Mostly I hope that this is not an end to seeing more Batman movies that are contained within Gotham. In the meantime, we have Gotham  on the TV side of things. I’m not totally sold on the series yet, but I do appreciate that they are at least trying to answer the question of where Batman came from. I also see it as a promise that there will always be at least two versions of Batman: the true superhero version, and the one we are able to aspire to. The question is which one is the Batman for you.

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