Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Holy synthesis, Batman!

So, I saw this thing today, from Mashable via Geeks are Sexy:

It was coincidental, in that I had been thinking of a few things recently and this pulled them all together.

There's been all this buzz about the next Superman movie being a Superman & Batman movie and that its vibe is going to be the Superman vs Batman deal from Dark Knight Returns.

There's been buzz and gossip about the Wonder Woman movie, which I guess has been put on "pause" once again, because nobody in Hollywood can figure out how to make a movie about such a "tricky" character. (Lots of good chatter about this on Twitter.)

This stuff got me to thinking about Matt Wagner's Trinity, and how much I liked it, and how cool it would be to see a movie version of it. (Oh, and if anyone needs to know how to make the invisible jet awesome, just read this.)

And Trinity always puts me in mind of Calamity Jon's model for these three Ur-superheroes: that the characters are as iconic as they are because each one represents a different tradition of adventure that fed into the superhero genre: Wonder Woman from myth and fantasy, Superman from science fiction, and Batman from swashbucklers and the pulps.

What Jon's model makes obvious is that while myth and sci-fi both routinely present heroes and/or villains with (innate or manufactured) powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, pulp heroes were exciting precisely because of their vulnerability and more realistic power levels. Which meant that Batman's idiom, while as strong of pedigree as the other two, did not give him the raw power to stand next to Superman or Wonder Woman in most adventures or conflicts. So while he captured the same level of popularity, combining the narrative streams was problematical.

This didn't stop World's Finest from pairing Superman and Batman for many years, or Justice League of America showing all three heroes together. But in these stories, Batman was more detective and escape artist than powerhouse, and his contribution in most stories came from his wits and his will. It was his savvy, his cleverness, and his resolute badassery that gave him the right to stand alongside aliens and demigods.

But somewhere along the line, the current that gave us that awesome curbside beatdown in DKR starting building strength. It was no longer enough for Batman just to be smart and tough; he had to be the master strategist and perfect warrior, with a plan for every contingency and a device for every situation. He had to be unbeatable, not just by thugs and gangsters and deranged clowns, but by anyone, super-powered or not. And this current swept us along as we watched bat-gear, which had already proliferated in numerous goofy ways, become more and more militarized and weaponized and science-fictional, and saw Bruce Wayne transform from the orphaned son of a moderately wealthy physician into the heir to a vast industrial empire and a fortune that made him one of the world's richest men, in order to explain how he can afford all of that gear.

At some point, Batman left his domain as the avatar of the pulp adventurer in the prime superhero trinity and edged over into same sci-fi circle as Superman. An article I read recently[wish I had the citation] asserted that contrary to popular belief, Batman does indeed have a superpower: that superpower is money. Money for vehicles, money for exoskeletons, money for bodysuits, money for less-than-lethal firearms, money for all the stuff that can make him the guy who can take down anyone.

Until we get to where we are now, when half the time Batman seems like a stealth Iron Man rather than a caped crusader. Don't think so? Just look at the 2013 half of the image above and tell me it ain't the truth.

As all of this was swirling in my head, the classic yellow-oval Batman on the "1939" side of the image put me in mind of an exchange I had with Marc Burkhardt some time back, as we were marveling at a story in which Batman improvised his way out of a combat situation by throwing a car battery at the bad guy. We both expressed a desire to see a stripped-down Batman, a smart detective and tenacious fighter, a shadowy street-level hero.

I dunno. I imagine I'm going to have to wait quite a while.


  1. You know who I blame as much as Frank Miller? Grant Morrison and his Batman in JLA. That's where Bruce Wayne suddenly became a corporate raider able to go toe for toe with Lex Luthor and the Caped Crusader ascended to godhood. Like Dark Knight, it seemed cool at the time...

  2. Marc, that's actually the piece that I was thinking about most when I saw the $$$ on that infographic. Bruce Wayne as a playboy idler living off an inheritance, sure; Bruce Wayne as a buff Warren Buffet? I'm not so sure.