Deconstructing Batman, Hon

On the eve of the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum, which could very well be the best Batman game ever, and possibly the 2009 Game of the Year, I feel the urge to pontificate on the dark knight.

Batman has had his hokey periods, but with the Chris Nolan-Christian Bale reboot and the animated Batman series of recent years, the Dark Knight has improved greatly. (Batman: The Brave and the Bold series is a turn to the hokey, which is fine for my 6 year old, but Batman may as well fight dragons too, which he kind of does in that cartoon.)

But even the Chris Nolan take on Batman is a bit too unrealistic, as awesome as it is. The essence of Batman is that anyone could be him: no super powers, just focus, hard-work and brains. Batman is realistic. Chris Nolan's Batman is a white guy billionaire, fighting white guy villains (psychologists, drug dealers/mobsters, the Joker) because his parents were killed by another white guy. This seemed plausible in the 1930s (John Dillinger, Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, etc.) but today it sounds farfetched. (Maybe, if the Joker was the billionaire, or a talk show host.)

Take the billionaire thing first: being a billionaire is a superpower, even if it is a hyperrealistic power. Even Superman needs a job to pay the bills. Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne don't have to do squat. Bruce Wayne could just bulldoze whatever neighborhoods he thought were crime ridden.

Next, his motivation rings false: a child orphaned like Bruce Wayne would probably be wrapped in a blanket of therapy, treatment, sycophants, and doing something else with one's life. Do you know how much trauma rich kids are subject to, but don't put on a cape and cowl? Look at the Kennedy's or kids of music or film stars. Why didn't Carrie Fisher become BatGirl and beat up men who cheated on their wives? But becoming obsessed with criminals and crime is just a bit odd. We accept it with Batman because it is the origin story and has been retold so often, but it makes little sense.

Batman seems a bit picky about the crime he wars on. Bruce Wayne lives in a mansion outside the city; when he's in the city he's in the swanky parts. Most of the crime does not happen there (unless it's white collar crime, but apparently Bruce Wayne only goes after poorer criminals?) Does he punch out drug users, prostitutes, embezzlers, jaywalkers, undocumented workers, panhandlers, people driving with suspended licenses and corrupt building inspectors? It would be dramatic for Batman to take down a Ken Lay-Bernie Ebbers type or a deadbeat dad. But someone bending contracting regs down at City Hall? No.

Finally, race. One look at Batman and you know he is a 6'2" white guy with blue eyes, fighting urban street crime in parts of town that he has no connection with. Does that sound likely? Would he be well received by the Black, Asian and Hispanic residents? Put it another way, what if he were a partially disguised Black man fighting crime in Oslo, Norway? He may be easy to track down, is all I'm saying. And it would be a bit odd, don't you think?

A modern Batman ought to be:

  • Black and/or Hispanic
  • Fighting crime he grew up around
  • Have limited resources
  • Only fight certain crimes, and for a particular reason (possibly morally-compromised)
  • Less like the Punisher, more like a ninja Sherlock Holmes
  • Built less like a linebacker and have more martial arts and stealth skills
  • Based in Baltimore, which has Gotham-like problems, but its buildings are relatively low and it is kinda weird, so Batman would fit in.

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