Batman. His sheer awesomeness cannot possibly be contained by words. I have loved Batman for as long as I can remember. Almost all of my childhood fears revolved around bats or his arch-enemies. Sure, there were stages which I have tried to erase from my mind on many occasions, where I replaced Batman with a new hero. Captain Planet, Ninja Turtles, Super Ted, Hercules from the Disney movie. None of these, however, lasted. Everything begins and ends with Batman.
One of my fondest memories of being a kid is running around my house in Brisbane with a blanket tied around my neck and jumping off the trampoline in our backyard because I WAS Batman and Batman jumps off of stuff.
When Tim Burton’s first Batman movie came out, I was a little too young to process what it actually was, but over the years as I grew up and watched it over and over it built up as this awesome movie that I really loved. It was really hard not to — the playful darkness of it all, giving way to the colorful purple, green and orange of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. The gothic architecture. Danny Elfman’s score. For a 5-year-old it was like sex. Er… what sex is to an adult. Three years later, Batman Returns was somehow more inviting to a child while upping the sex appeal. Weird?
I was introduced to the ’90s representation of Batman: The Animated Series. This show was really dark for a kid’s cartoon. It wasn’t only made for a young male audience, but mature fans as well. The opening sequence that kicked off every episode is still great to watch today. It succeeded in capturing the essence of the series in little more than sixty seconds.
The music composed by Danny Elfman (the composer of The Simpsons theme and countless other recognizable film and TV themes) created a menacing and iconic musical backdrop. It’s righteous in just about every sense of the word, as is the entire minute that makes up the sequence. We see police blimps, faceless, shadowy bank robbers, an explosion, the Batmobile, Batman, guns (which were rarely allowed to be shown in children’s shows twenty years ago), batarangs and swift rooftop justice. The final moment is the silhouette of Batman standing atop a skyscraper, suddenly illuminated by a fork of lightning. That image has always stuck with me and seems to be what I always see when I hear the word, ‘Batman’.
Still, at this point I only knew the celluloid Batman. (Let’s not talk about Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.) When I grabbed my first copy of “The Dark Knight Returns” as a 20-something, I finally found out what Batman really was. This started a love affair that probably won’t end until I die trying to glide off of a skyscraper.
But enough about me. This is about why we can’t get enough of the Caped Crusader.
Put simply, Batman is everything we’re not, but not in a ridiculous “from another planet but still speaks English and looks human,” or “bitten by a radioactive spider which should kill you instead of making you stronger” way. He’s just a guy who has the kind of money we’ll never have, every possible self defense training you can think of and a kevlar-infused suit. While all of this is in the realm of possibility for someone to do, it’s very unlikely someone with the kind of money Bruce Wayne has would also have his physical prowess, deductive skills and determination. I love Batman’s determination!
Then, there’s the anti-hero element. While most of us have convinced ourselves that we are wholly good guys, there is still something very appealing about getting to be a good guy and going about it not entirely in a good way. There’s the subtext that Batman is such a good guy that he is allowed to be a bad guy justified by the ends. “You want to cause $2 million in property damage, Batman? But you’ll catch that badass? Then by all means!”
The anti-hero theme isn’t something unique to Batman at all and is a pretty old literary archetype, but it does lend the character something completely unique as far as super heroes go. The alter ego in this case is actually Bruce Wayne. Batman is the character’s real face and identity, with the playboy millionaire serving as a decoy. Superman IS Clark Kent having embraced his heritage/destiny and devising an identity to protect his family. Most other super heroes follow the Superman model, but once Bruce Wayne becomes consumed enough by his quest for justice to become the Batman, Bruce Wayne survives as nothing more than a public obligation — a cipher with a bottomless bank account and life-saving butler.
There were always particular Batman villains that haunted me in my sleep. For some reason, Two-Face was the villain I was the most scared of, however It wasn’t the B: TAS incarnation, but Tommy Lee Jones’ in Batman Forever. I have only recently seen this film from beginning to end. The reason? Because Two-Face is in the opening scene. I cannot for the life of me give you any psychological reasoning for the crippling fear I suffered as a result of seeing that opening scene. After refreshing my memory just now via YouTube, the scene involved Two-Face deciding the fate of a bank’s security guard by flipping his trademark coin. The scene is pretty much tension-free, but nevertheless, I can see why I was scared of it. Tommy Lee plays a great bad guy. That slow reveal of the disfigured half of his face is memorable and he has the gravelly voice down pat. I think I was just exposed to a guy that knows how to play a scary villain for the first time in my short life. As simple as that.
Batman satisfied my morbid curiosity as a child. We’ve all got a bit of it in us. I was scared of the dark, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of the death of my loved ones, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of the unknown, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of just about everything ever, yet I loved Batman; and still do to this day. He’s timeless, representing the darkness that lies within all of us. It chooses to show itself at strange moments. But it’s there whether we like it or not. The character of Batman shows that good things can come from the bad and this ultimately gives children and adults hope. All of this put together is a dream life. Limitless resources, extensive expertise, permission to enact justice by any means necessary and as much privacy as you care to have. It’s the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. While Batman might love to lock down Gotham in a police state, the character of Batman is all about unlimited license — or freedom. That’s why I love him…. and the gadgets….