Watch as we try to understand Batman’s dark, inner mind.
The hugely anticipated “The Batman”, starring Robert Pattinson hit screens this past week. Pattinson is the seventh actor to take on the role of the beloved Caped Crusader.
Batman was created by Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939 as a character in the omic book Detective Comics. But his journey in Hollywood starts in the 1960’s with Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in both TV and cinema. In 1989, Tim Burton’s adaptation of Batman hit the big screen with Michal Keaton as the iconic vigilante (and who can forget, Jack Nicholson as the Joker). Val Kilmer and George Clooney also stepped into the shoes of Batman, but their versions, unfortunately, flopped. (For those of you who are unaware, Clooney notoriously makes jokes about how he effectively “ruined” the character of Batman).
It was Christopher Nolan who revived the character in his widely successful Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale as the Dark Knight. He really did, as they say, put Batman “back on the map”, with a newer and darker portrayal of the character. Ben Affleck also wore the cape for a minute, but like Clooney, his portrayal wasn’t exactly earning him rave reviews. (Clooney came through with more jokes, saying Affleck “screwed up the Batman franchise that I made so solid.” Gotta love this man).
The Batman, very much like Nolan’s adaptation, is a dark and ominous re-telling of the iconic superhero. It has already garnered positive reviews from both critics and viewers. With so many adaptations, re-tellings, and installments of this character, raises the question of why Batman keeps getting remade? What about him is so compelling to audiences and artists alike? Well, take a seat as we go into a bit of a deep dive in an attempt to answer these questions.
1. He is Human
Unlike other superheroes, Batman does not possess superpowers. Spiderman has radioactive abilities and Superman derives his powers from the fictional Krypton planet.
Bruce Wayne is not supernatural in any way or form. He is, therefore, not defined by superpowers, but by his personality, his values, and unique type of genius. He is also defined by his most traumatic experience - witnessing his parents’ death as a little boy, who were brutally shot right before his eyes. As a result, Bruce is motivated by vengeance, vowing to dedicate his life to fighting crime in the City of Gotham. In short, Batman is born out of true tragedy, a concept that a number of people can relate to.
Batman’s heightened sense for justice and strict moral code are 2 sides of the same coin. He understands that the arm of the law is limited and often fails to provide true justice for its victims. He, therefore, becomes a person that can offer that justice, even though his means are often unconventional.
Batman operates outside the law and disregards the traditional “due process” of “innocent until proven guilty by a court of law”. Too often, criminals get away because of a lack of evidence, or because a criminal can afford a good lawyer. That’s where Batman comes in and that’s what makes him such a good vigilante. Yes, what he does is morally questionable but we can look past it because he gets the bad guys and restores justice.
3. He Embraces His Dark Side
To articulate the next point, a quick recap on some psychology 101 is in order. Bear with us. Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, coined the term “shadow self”, to describe aspects of our personality that we reject and repress. This can include shameful experiences, fears, immoral urges, etc. According to Jung, some of us are completely unaware that these traits/aspects are a part of us.
Batman, unlike most of us, embraces his “shadow self”, aka his darker side, and uses it to confront his enemies. Therefore, according to Jung’s theory, we like Batman because he appeals to our own need to confront our shadow selves. In the most recent trailer for The Batman, Pattinson declares, in the low rough Batman voice: “I’m vengeance!”. This exemplifies how strongly Batman is driven by a personal vendetta and not just by the need to help the greater good.
Batman’s rage and thirst for vengeance also make him a dangerous character: he is capable of turning into a great force of destruction. The character isn’t black and white: He saves people, but he can also be extremely violent and menacing. He walks the line between superhero and villain. This makes him a complex and relatable character.
4. He Faces his Fears
In Batman Begins (2005), Nolan provides us with an explanation for why Bruce Wayne decides to take the form of a bat: As a child, he fell into a dark well, where he is attacked by bats, causing him to develop a great fear of them. Bruce takes his biggest fear and becomes it. Bruce Wayne puts it best: “Bats frighten me. It's time my enemies shared my dread”. Honestly, goals.
5. Self-made Man
Batman is the epitome of utilizing man’s full potential. He trains his body and mind to become as strong as possible. His wealth gives him access to cutting-edge military technology, which he utilizes for his various gadgets and machines (such as his suits and cars).
Additionally, he possesses many admirable traits: he is intelligent, determined, strong-willed, and relentless in his pursuit of justice. Bruce Wayne made himself Batman through his wealth and through hard work and sheer determination. And sure, most of us aren’t billionaires with access to first-rate technology, and most of us probably won’t become masked vigilantes, ridding our towns of criminals and corruption; but Batman reminds us to aspire to be our best selves and to realize our full potential. Even if he is slightly unhinged…
6. His Enemies
The Batman universe has a wide cast of many great villains: Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Bane, the Riddler, and of course, the Joker. These villains are interesting because they challenge aspects of Batman’s character, his greatest weaknesses, and his strengths.
For example, Bane challenges Batman's strength. He is physically stronger than Batman, so Batman must rely on his intelligence to defeat him (as opposed to Superman, who would be able to defeat him with strength alone).
The Joker is arguably the most compelling Batman villain (largely thanks to Health Ledger’s outstanding portrayal of him) because he believes in total anarchy and chaos. This is in complete contrast to Batman’s fundamental values of justice and order. These opposing values between Batman and his enemies, create interesting conflicts that keep us engaged.
Why can’t we get enough of Batman? Because he is flawed, complex, and reminds us that we can achieve our goals.
Have any thoughts on what makes Batman such a compelling character? Let us know in the comments below!
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