By Maude Delice
A staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race. – Bill
In 2012, the readers of Comic Heroes magazine voted for Batman, the alias of billionaire Bruce Wayne, as their top favorite comic hero, Spiderman came in second place and in third Superman. But Comic Heroes editor Jes Bickham said it was “no surprise” that Batman came in at No 1. Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman is, “quite simply, the coolest and most interesting superhero ever created.”
On a cold November evening, while on their way home from the movies, Dr. Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne are mugged and killed by a small time criminal. Their eight-year-old son, Bruce Wayne, witnesses the incident and is forever traumatized by it. From that day on his sole purpose is to avenge his parents’ death by becoming Batman; a vigilante that swears to rid Gotham City of its evils. He travels the world in order to develop his mind and his body for his raison d’être. Bruce Wayne invests his time, his fortune, and every aspect of his life to being Batman, and so Bruce Wayne is the costume.
He is the image that Batman projects to the world, a clever strategy to protect his secret identity and avert any suspicions. In a city where material gain, lust, media distractions, and petty entertainments are considered priorities Bruce Wayne portrays himself as an over-indulgent, self-absorbed, vacuous womanizing son of privilege and the Gotham City media eats it up; his ravishing good looks and charm help grab their attention just as much as his antics. The celebrity socialite’s favorite past time is attending well-to-do functions with a new exotic beauty in tow every time, encouraging tabloid gossip. And when he declines an invitation, the general assumption is that some model has him wrapped up (although he leads an active romantic life, crime fighting accounts for almost all of his night hours.) In public Wayne pretends to be a heavy drinker, serving intoxicating drinks to guests when in reality he is a strict teetotaler concerned with maintaining top physical fitness and mental acuity. Bruce Wayne invites contempt by publicly playing the fool.
I grew up with a different Bruce Wayne. I was first introduced to the hero in the 90s with The Batman: The Animated Series. That, and Animaniacs, were the best cartoons produced by Warner Bros. The show won four Emmy Awards and was nominated for nine others, receiving praise for its “Dark Deco” artwork, its thematic complexity, and for staying true to the character’s crime fighting origins. It was also Kevin Conroy’s debut as the voice of Batman, since him no one has been able to do a better job. He is the iconic voice of the hero, notable for being the first person to use two distinct voices for Bruce Wayne and Batman.
In the series, Bruce Wayne is treated more seriously. He is a responsible and generous individual, assertive and intelligent, and actively involved in the management of Wayne Enterprises, without jeopardizing his secret identity. For example: in the episode “Eternal Youth”, Bruce is shown angrily ordering one of his directors to cancel a secret deal with a timber company in the Amazon rainforest. In addition, during the episode “Night of the Ninja”, he revealed to reporter Summer Gleeson that he has some martial arts training, as the reporter previously researched that he once lived in Japan, though he later throws a fight with the ninja Kyodai Ken in front of Gleeson to disguise his prowess.1
Although Batman doesn’t have any superpowers, he is a fearless adversary with skills so refined that he can successfully cripple ALL members of the Justice League effortlessly. His obsession drives him to constantly hone and update his mortal skills, which is why he can hold his own and stare down the Man of Steel in their rare disputes. Bruce and Clark might work towards the same end but their means are opposite. Batman’s pragmatism versus Superman’s idealism. Batman’s cynicism versus Superman’s optimism. Batman’s guerilla tactics versus Superman’s frontal assaults. Batman’s manipulations versus Superman’s straightforwardness.1
Batman is human, but he is the most dedicated, persistent, and talented human being on the planet. With genius level intellect, and proficiency in high-tech equipment, he relies on cunning and rationale to defeat his opponents. But strength is a non-negotiable requirement for his mission so he trains his body as hard as an Olympic athlete and is a master acrobat and escapologist. His mind is another matter entirely. Forever scarred by his troubled past, he learns self-discipline, and eastern philosophies in order to deal with the pain. And yet, the angst is not only his fuel but also his insecurity: the constant regret for the loss of his parents, and then the loss of Robin, add that to the continuous corruption that plagues his city, and you realize that this angst is what haunts him.
“Most people become weakened by their pain. Great fighters use it. They become energized.”
In Batman Gotham Knight: Working Through The Pain, Bruce Wayne reflects on the lesson he learned from a Fakir, Cassandra. Over several months, she teaches him to minimize his pain, to see it as a “minor annoyance,” to control it. So much so that sleeping on a bed of needles or standing on hot coals without reacting becomes second nature to Bruce. One night several young men harass Cassandra, she takes their blows oblivious. Despite having asked Bruce not to step in, he defeats them using his martial arts skills. An assertive Cassandra asks him to leave, saying that he has learned what he came to learn and comments on how Bruce’s pain was beyond her, or possibly even his, ability to handle, but how it also appeared to be leading him down a path he desired.
When he returns from his self-imposed educational exile, he is unable to channel his fury and his first vigilante attempts leave him with a bloody nose and a bruised ego. He meditates and realizes that he needs to play on fear and guilt, the human condition’s greatest weaknesses, in order to dominate his opponents.
“Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.” – Bruce Wayne
He adopts the guise of a bat not just as a symbol, but also as a badge of triumph over his own personal demons.
Could Batman really exist? If so, would Batman be considered crazy? And more importantly, why should we care?
“Batman is an ordinary mortal who made himself a superhero…Through discipline and determination and commitment, he made himself into the best. I always thought that meant that I could be anything I wanted to be.” Former President and Editor-in-Chief od DC Comics Jenette Kahn.
“Life is a journey, not a destination and Batman can be used as a guide on how to keep working our way along our own personal paths.” E. Paul Zehr, Ph.D
Editor Dennis O’Neil has said that “…the most “realistic” of the great superheroes. To be blunt: the guy isn’t very super. He didn’t gain his powers by being lightning-struck, nor bathing in chemicals, nor by dint of being born on another planet, nor by the intervention of extraterrestrials or gods. To paraphrase an old commercial, he got them the old-fashioned way-he earned them…He wasn’t bequeathed those abilities; he sweated for them.”
He represents the pinnacle of human performance and possibilities though the concept of work and progress. This is what embodies the Batman mythology.
“Batman is the idea of human drive and commitment, the answer to boundaries we set on our own performance.” This is what makes Batman the best superhero of all time. His constant battle with life, his process of growth, his transformative effort, things that we can all genuinely relate to. If you want something you have to earn it, you have to work hard for it, you have to deserve it, if you want to change the world, you must first be the change and never be afraid.
For Bruce, it took a great tragedy to inspire this change. Post-traumatic growth is a term that describes the process of becoming stronger and developing new goals and beliefs by making meaning of traumatic experiences. In the real world, it isn’t uncommon for people to turn to social activism: the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving lost her daughter to a drunk driver; John Walsh, the host of the anti-crime TV program “America’s Most Wanted,” had a son abducted and murdered, same goes for most of the bullying campaigns we see today.
“I think that is part of what makes him a compelling character,” Dr. Robin S. Rosenberg “I think like a lot of people who put their lives on the line on a daily basis — firefighters, police or the military — I think there is something captivating to that level of dedication.”
But Batman’s willingness to risk his life for others (he refuses to kill anyone and doesn’t ever use a gun) and the means that he goes about in doing it also raises the question: is extreme altruism a disorder?
“Any technique, however worthy or desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.” – Bruce Lee
In her analysis, Rosenberg focuses on the things that seem strange about Batman, characteristics that might be read as signs of a psychological disorder. The disorders she lists as most likely candidates are:
1.Dissociative Identity Disorder
4.Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
5.Antisocial Personality Disorder
She addresses the caped bat costume, but sees that more as a uniform, intended to send a particular message to crime victims and criminals and a visual projection of his commitment to his mission.1
Batman’s serious temperament, obsessive behavior, and his sense of guilt and regret over the death of his parents and one of his sidekicks could be seen as signs of depression, and his detachment could be read as a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Emotional numbing is a symptom of PTSD, and it involves a sense of detachment from others, and limited expression of emotion,” she told LiveScience.
However, despite our culture’s tendency to label queer behavior as some psychological problem, these traits are not conclusive signs of a disorder.
“Pathologizing someone is a form of unconsciously taking a mental shortcut when forming an impression of that person,” Rosenberg said.
He dresses up in a bat costume and puts his life on the line night after night, all in the name of justice and for his righteous goal. He’s a billionaire, yet he dedicates his personal wealth to fund his crime-fighting escapades. He has no real personal life—at least none that isn’t somehow connected to his work as Batman. He broods, he can be obsessive, he’s detached and the fact that he witnessed his parents’ murder at a young age leaves him scarred for life. But he perseveres, he grows, he adapts. He knows who he is and he makes no excuses for that, he knows what his purpose in life is, he has no qualms about leaving anything behind in order to dedicate his lifetime to what he wants, who he wants to be, to get what he desires and needs from his life, to live it fully and to reach the very peak of his abilities, to be fearless and as close to perfection as possible. And this is why I Love Batman.
Maude Delice is a contributing writer for by such and such.
Batman: Year One
Batman: The Long Halloween
The Killing Joke
The Dark Knight Returns
Batman: Court of Owls
Batman: Death In The Family
Batman The Complete History by Les Daniels
Becoming Batman: E. Paul Zehr