Saturday, January 14, 2017

Batman's Glass Houses (Plus A Slight Lament)

After many, many false starts, I think that I've finally found the plot for the Batfleck movie:

OK, OK, I kid.

Still, that little synopsis does lead me to another point I'd like to ramble about today--whatever happened to the days when Batman actually fought, you know, crime?

Think about this--in the comics, when was the last time Batman stopped a mugging? Halted a bank robbery? Solved a murder? Answer; it's been years, I think. (Doubtless, I've missed a story or two, so I'm probably talking out my ass here. Just roll with me).

I understand why the movies have to have big, apocalyptic-level threats to Gotham City's very existence. You have to justify those big budgets. And on, say, a television series with 20+ episodes per season, you can justify spending a whole hour investigating a new rock while Worf takes accordion lessons, or whatever. But you don't really have time for that in a movie, and that's not going to convince hoards of fans and civilians to plop down ten bucks plus popcorn and soda. So you have to make the movie BIG. I get it.

But in the comic books? The Dark Knight Detective has been missing for quite awhile. Every single arc has Batman trying to save Gotham from being actually destroyed by maniacs who used to be satisfied pulling off a keen heist that baffled Batman.

Look, I don't expect everyone to share my interpretation of the Caped Crusader--after all, I'm not allowed to write comics. But the way I see the character, Bruce Wayne was motivated by the tragic death of his parents, and vowed to stop crime and prevent anyone else from being orphaned. So every time he runs off to Santa Prisca, or takes off for another shirtless battle with Ra's Al Ghul, there's no one there to stop the next family that wanders down the wrong alley--so Batman has kind of lost the mission.

Of course there is room for multiple types of stories, and multiple interpretations of Batman. But of late, we've veered far, far away Batman the crime fighter to 100% Batman the super-hero and international conspiracy fighter.

It's been trending this way for quite awhile. Hell, during Morrison's run--when this trend really got locked in--he had the Black Glove group essentially "end crime" in Gotham, so Bruce Wayne would lose his edge and be vulnerable to Jezebel Jet's infiltration. (I would never critique Grant Morrison's writing, so I won't mention that having a group of villains accomplish what Batman himself never could means his entire career was a failure. And that having the only new character in the arc turn out to be a traitor is stunningly lazy and unoriginal. I would never mention that. Nope.) So there was nothing for Batman to do except to fight villains for the sake of fighting villains! And then it was on to Batman Incorporated, which was all international-man-of-mystery-Batman all the time, fighting secret international organizations and planetary threats rather than, you know, fighting crime.

Another part of the problem is the continuing upward spiral in the powers and abilities of Batman's rogues gallery. This was an inevitable consequence of the continuing upward spiral of Batman's "awesomeness." Once you've had your hero able to defeat Superman and beat Darkseid, once you've had him knock out Solomon Grundy with just one punch (yes, that actually happened), well, how the hell can Riddler or Two-Face or anyone prove to be an actual threat? So then you have to ramp up the villains. (Which should turn out to be quite a problem for the Batfleck movie, I would think...)

So, in recent years, especially under Scott Snyder, the Riddler becomes a genocidal super-genius, who kills tens of thousands of Gotham citizens and holds the entire city prisoner for over a year. Two-Face isn't just a schizoid madmen who kills and steals--he's a master manipulator who has enough blackmail information to make every single person in Gotham, hero or villain, do his bidding--including Alfred and Commissioner Gordon! Mr. Freeze? He wants to unleash a virus locked in the Arctic ice that will decimate the world's population. And the Joker? Well, he turns out to have a "rare natural component" in his spinal fluid that allows him to mass produce a virus that turns everyone in Gotham into Jokers. And he now has healing powers that rival Wolverine. And...

And the whole time, not once is a thought turned to, you know, preventing crime. Protecting that family from that mugger. I guess that's not a big enough story anymore.

No, I like my Batman best as a "street level" hero. A supremely confident and tough street level hero, to be sure. Can you picture, just by comparison, taking Daredevil on the same type of spiraling arc, so he never fights crime anymore? That's one of the things that's leaves me so lukewarm on Slott's Spider-Man--it's all international super-hero adventuring, and Peter Parker seemingly never has time to worry about burglars. Sorry, future potential Uncle Ben's, you're on your own now (again)!

And hell, go ahead and Bruce him in the Justice League--no, in two different Justice Leagues now!! That cat's been out of the bag for decades. But in Batman's own books, don't lose sight of his origins, of his mission. Realize that maybe, just maybe, the pendulum has gone too far. And instead of constantly trying to push it further and further in the same direction, let it swing back--maybe just for a little while?

And that's why I'm not allowed to write comic books.


dangermash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dangermash said...

If you look through the Fantastic Four comics from the beginning it's amazing how issues deal with them defeating opponents either (i) whose only motive is to defeat the FF (eg Doom, Frightful Four every time) or (ii) who wouldn't have popped up against the FF if it wasn't for the FF's meddling (Annihilus, Inhumans, etc). Similar sort of thing to the Batman question. Is the world better off with the FF to save them, or would most of the problems they solve not exist if it wasn't for the FF's existence?

SF said...

dangermash, that reminds me of the observation that in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy sets off to stop the Nazis from getting the Ark ... and after two hours of running around, Indy's a prisoner and the Nazis have the Ark. Then they open it, which they would have whether Indy was trying to get it or not.

I guess the fact that Indy's there after they're all dead does help the US recover the Ark at that point...

Simon Dyer said...

Dangermash...yes? Because none of these dangerous megalomaniacs were allowed to hurt people? Annihilus and Blastar are warlords who would wage war on any universe they found their way to, the FF didn't FORCE them to be that way. And really, the Wizard and Doom, two people so in love with themselves and so incapable of handling anything that looks like denial of THEIR wants specifically that they've both been likened to domestic abusers at various points, who are renowned for being logical and reasonable people, would NEVER have put anyone in harm's way if the Fantastic Four hadn't just let them get their hands on whatever they want?

Mr. Freeze (the animated version at any rate) is one of the most sympathetic super villains in decades, but after surviving the lab accident that ruined him he could have easily built his protective suit, marched into police headquarters and said "My name is Dr. Victor Freeze, I was involved in admittedly illegal research to save my wife's life but upon finding out my employer then tried to murder us both. Here is the video tape. I would like to press charges and see a lawyer." Instead he built a gun and actively went about attempting to kill people, including the vigilante that tried to stop him, you know, robbing and killing people. Freeze is an obviously damaged person in need of help, but putting the blame for HIS actions at Batman's feet is nonsensical.

Victor Von Doom un-ironically believes that it is his right to own the entire human race. The Joker wouldn't be sitting in a basement somewhere watching TV if Batman wasn't around for him to focus on because an insane person can make ANYTHING into a target. Blaming good people for damaged, selfish and insane people's actions make no sense whatsoever.

Madman said...

I agree, Snell, with your perspective.

If you want to see how it was and how it could be, check out one of Netflix's Marvel series, particularly Daredevil or Luke Cage. They are definitely focused on "street level".

Prankster said...

The thing you're criticizing about the Morrison run is something Morrison wrote specifically about, namely: if Batman spends all his time going after muggers and petty criminals, the story becomes about a billionaire beating up poor people. You can argue with that but it was a specific choice on his part, and it's true that Batman has often edged dangerously close to fascism when the focus is on "gritty" "street-level" crime.

Mista Whiskas said...

Good argument put well snell.

Also like Dyer's post, never bought the whole 'doesnt the hero create the villains' idea. Seems contrived to inject moody angst and 'grittiness' into superhero comics by writers who find the traditional morality of the genre too 'simplistic.'