Heroes, Part 2

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I remember the day I discovered Batman. I was still small; six years old at most and my mother and I were at the local Safeway for a grocery run. We had a system in place whereby I would park myself in front of the magazines and comic books until she would swing by the aisle and grab me when it was time to go.

Keep in mind, this was a time when you could still get decent comics at most major grocery stores. I acquired most of the issues of the Primordials there for Christ sakes. It was there that my father would find the limited edition covers for two of the best X-Men issues I've ever read, but that's besides the point.

I searched the low shelves as I usually did, skipping the Pokemon and Archie comics, peeking briefly at the Spawn issues, and finally pawing through the back shelves for the rare wild card comic that caught my eye. It was there I happened upon the Batman/Bloodlines crossover comic. It wasn't great by any means. The story involved some crystal thing that turned the Joker and Batman into giant, musclebound nightmare versions of themselves.

I was intrigued by this character I saw. A man without super powers, only an immense budget for gadgets and a singular (albeit a little insane) determination to root out evil and injustice wherever it may appear. A man who despite his high aspirations, had more in common with the villains he faced than perhaps he realized.

Batman is a curious mix of literary heroes. Both anti-hero and romantic hero, Batman occupies a strange place in today's pantheon of heroes. While he, like the Rookie in ODST bears the mantle of the everyman, Batman is more of a symbol than a man. This simple dichotomy exists (as far as I can tell) nowhere else in literature.

Batman's portrayal differs greatly depending on the source. The currently running TV shows portray more the Adam West, shark repellent Batman while the late 90's animated series Batman was far more serious and brooding. Don't get me started on the pre-Christian Bale films.

As far as games go, Arkham Asylum is the closest any game has come to the perfect Batman. Strong and determined, a stoic powerhouse yet tortured by a deeply damaged psyche. The encounters with Scarecrow in the bowels of the asylum offer far more candid look into the reality of why Batman is who he is.

Many say that Batman and Bruce Wayne are two completely different characters; the ideal man and the front. I would posit that while the two are very different people, there is a very specific unity within the more basic nature of the two. Both cover and compensate (though in very different ways) for the seriousness of the loss of "their" parents at a young age. In that guilt and psychological trauma, Batman and Bruce Wayne share common ground.

Batman, as much a symbol as he may be, as much training and as many gadgets as he may have shares the same mental frailties as any human being. That, at the core, is what makes Batman so unique amongst today's heroes. Triumph through adversity and the ability to use our own shortcomings to better ourselves are heroic traits indeed.