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A long time ago, in India, the King said that his people were lucky to have elephants, such noble strong and majestic creatures, but one of his servants told him that blind men have never seen an elephant, so the King asked that the blind people be brought to the palace. When the King’s men brought the blind men to the palace, the King had an elephant waiting for them and asked each to touch and feel a part of the elephant. One blind man felt the trunk, another felt the ear, another the tusks, another the legs, another the ribcage and another the tail. Later when the blind men returned to their homes each was asked by a member of their family to describe the elephant, the one who had touched the trunk said elephants were like pythons, the one who had touched the ear said elephants were like banana leaves, the one who had touched the tusks said elephants were like swords, the one who touched the legs said elephants are like tree trunks, the one who touched the ribcage said elephants are like a brick wall and the one who touched the tail said elephants are like a whip. The moral of this tale is that because of limited perception people sometimes see a limited part of the truth and sometimes these observations contradict each other but no-one is lying!
Have you ever noticed how close the comic book, animated and live action versions of Superman are to each other, not just in appearance but in the way they’re written? Or how that also seems to be the case with most of the other superheroes? There seems to be little variation among the various different versions of the comic book, animation and live action versions of the Avengers, Spider-Man and even Green Lantern, but have you also ever noticed how comic book Batman, cartoon Batman and live action Batman look nothing like each other they don’t even behave like each other?
Play By Your Own Rules
It’s become a trend in recent times (since Batman Begins and Casino Royale) to make not just superhero movies but most action-adventure films as plausible as possible but not necessarily as realistic as possible. Plausible means something that is true to reality whereas realistic means something that may or may not be real but must appear as though it were. Chris Nolan’s Batman films are realistic and plausible because they not only look like they happen in the real world but for the most part the technology and circumstances presented therein could happen, but Chris Nolan’s Inception is realistic but not plausible because although the waking world of the film looks like our world the dream-sharing technology obviously doesn’t exist in real life. But if we look at some of the most celebrated stories of all time we see that history’s greatest writers were not really concerned with plausibility, notice how ghosts show up in Hamlet and Julius Caesar and how Greek Mythology is rife with stories of gods and monsters, but these writers have always made their stories realistic, but how can stories of fantastical places and creatures be realistic?
There are two fundamental guidelines; the first is to ensure characters are always true to themselves, for example a character concerned with the wellbeing of others can’t just switch off their emotions for the benefit of the plot, in Star Wars Attack of the Clones Padme doesn’t care that Anakin went renegade and slaughtered a bunch of people, but in Star Wars Revenge of the Sith she suddenly cares that he slaughtered Jedi. The second is that the fictional world must obey it’s own internal logic, for example a character cannot suddenly develop a new ability just because the writer doesn’t know how to get them out of a predicament, at the end of Lord of the Rings Gandalf saved Frodo by flying to Mordor on a giant Eagle, but if he had such an eagle all along why didn’t he use it at the beginning of the first story? These guidelines can be summed up by the phrase “Play by your own rules!”
Why Genres Don’t Mix
The ideas presented here are my own and I realize that I have simplified matters a great deal but it was to keep the article from being unnecessarily long. In the old days there were only a few genres, romance, comedy and some others and they overlapped quite well, like the romantic comedy. But as the world became more complicated new genres were invented, like the western, sci-fi, horror and fantasy (the latter sometimes called sword and sorcery). Although many stories within a genre may appear similar each one has its own unique circumstances, for instance vampires are very popular and show up in a lot of horror stories but each time they do there are almost always differences in their characteristics even if those differences are minor.
Even though each story is (for the most part) a unique experience each has traits it shares with all the other stories of that particular genre; these traits are what help define a genre. In fantasy the traits are usually that powerful magical beings dominate mankind and a human hero would typically need to acquire a magical weapon of some sort to rise against them, such as a magic book or weapon. Supernatural stories happen in a world where terrifying monsters exist but they always have weakness that ordinary humans can easily exploit, such as vulnerability to sunlight or silver. Science fictions stories happen in a world where technology seems more like magic than real world science and can bring forth amazing or frightening things but these things have limits such as running out of power. Historical fiction is the most popular genre but also the most restrictive as writers are confined by historical facts… unless if they’re from Hollywood than anything goes!
To an extent the modern genres still manage to overlap without problems like the sci-fi horror, such as Alien, but to a great extent these newer more complex genres didn’t mix very well, we all remember the sci-fi western Wild Wild West! Mixing genres is like mixing alcohol, it’s dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, now certain writers have managed to do it successfully, such as the magic-like force in the sc-fi Star Wars and the magical power of the one in the sci-fi The Matrix, but it’s usually quite difficult to do and easy to throw off the balance, such as when these same writers over elaborated on these out of genre ideas and force became about medichlorians and the one became a systematic anomaly created by the machines.
But notice how well fictional worlds tend to work when the writers stick firmly within a genre, there is no magic in Star Trek and there is no science in Lord of the Rings. But DC and Marvel have never respected the rules of genres, notice how each company’s universes have mythological gods, aliens, robots, vampires and regular humans interacting with each other. For the most part this doesn’t cause many problems Superman is still an alien whether or not Wonder Woman and the gods of Olympus exist. So what does any of this have to do with Batman?
Aspects of Batman that contradict each other
Now one of the most striking things about Batman is not only how popular he is now, but how popular he has been almost since his first appearance even with so many characteristics that contradict each other. Here are a few;
Perhaps comparing Batman to other characters he shares common traits with will make his problems clearer.
Compared to Daredevil
In terms of modus operandi Daredevil is the character with the most in common with Batman, both fight urban street crime using martial arts and a handful of gadgets, like a grappling hook device, all while dressed as a supernatural creature (the obvious difference is that Daredevil has superpowers and Batman doesn’t, but Daredevil’s only power is his “radar sense” that gives him an enhanced form of vision, but Batman also has enhanced vision and hearing thanks to the gadgets in his cowl, so they’re on pretty similar footing). Daredevil is an urban crime fighter and his skill set is best suited to fighting and defeating street crime but unlike Batman he has no working relationship with the police department of his city. Daredevil’s vigilante activities are obviously illegal and although he has attracted the attention of the police and the FBI other agencies like the CIA and SHIELD have more important things to worry about like terrorism and a multitude of super powered criminals than to chase a costumed vigilante across the city. Murdock is no billionaire but as a successful lawyer he has enough money to buy the components necessary to build an armored assault car or hire someone to build it for him, but he doesn’t use one as it would obviously attract and undue amount of attention. If superhumans, aliens or monsters were causing havoc in the Marvel Universe we’d expect a hero powerful enough to challenge them to show up and take them down but not the street crime fighting Daredevil he’s best suited to standard crime that he trained to fight.
Most importantly Daredevil is not a member of the Avengers; although the members of the Avengers like him and respect his skills and experiences they typically don’t choose to work with him or take on the same villains he does. As a powerful super team the Avengers usually won’t handle non-superhuman crime, they only get involved when the aggressors are very powerful and they know Daredevil won’t be much help to them and they also don’t fight against conventional criminals as these problems would typically be below them and they leave them to the likes of Daredevil. Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye also have a similar problem, in the recent Avengers film the filmmakers needed to create two types of alien enemies; a giant monster kind for the powerful members of the Avengers (Thor, Ironman and the Hulk) to fight and a much less powerful class of foot soldier for the non-super powered members of the team to face. Batman is practically the DC Universe’s answer to Daredevil and handles the same type of criminals, but when the Justice League shows up he fights alongside them and defeats the same type of super powered enemies they do.
Compared to Ironman
In terms of resources, Tony Stark is the character with the most in common with Bruce Wayne, each is an extremely rich and highly intelligent person with a large corporation that, among other things, creates sophisticated weapons and each has taken it upon himself to solve many of the world’s problems. Only very powerful weapons and super beings can present a threat to Ironman and he doesn’t need to rely on martial arts or disguise to engage the enemy, he can even wear bright primary colors and still operate just as well, although he’s a human his sci-fi technology puts him on equal footing with the likes of Thor. Because of his high power level Ironman doesn’t have to worry about the problems caused by urban street crime and can focus on more important things such as the very powerful threats to the entire world and because of his high level of power he’s a perfect member of the Avengers. Batman and Ironman each live in a universe where superhumans, supernatural, aliens and advanced technology exist and with the resources available to him through Waynetech Bruce Wayne could have easily built a suit of armor similar to Ironman’s a long time ago, in fact in the DC Universe there are characters like Steel who wear such types of armor and yet Batman is not the DC Universe’s answer to Ironman instead, as previously stated, he’s more like the DC Daredevil.
Compared to Nick Fury and SHIELD
Batman, sometimes with the help of Barbara Gordon the Oracle, has access to as much data on criminals as the FBI and the CIA of the real world if not more, in fact the official guide to the DC Universe says that the Batcave has three Cray computers and in real life; the Pentagon has five! How can Batman accumulate so much data and how would such a database without the CIA of the DC Universe noticing, either Batman is smarter than the every intelligence agency on Earth put together or the intelligence community is a bit thick! Besides if Batman’s original objective was to root out and destroy crime in Gotham City why on Earth would he even need so much data, it seems like overkill! In the Marvel Universe Nick Fury is in charge of an organization that does make use of such a large amount of data and he uses it to keep the entire planet safe not only from highly organized networks of criminals but from terrorism or any other threat the world may face. Fury also uses hundreds of highly trained career agents in his network, Batman uses teenage sidekicks who are the match of guys three times their age who’ve been to university and have military training! One of the problems is that Batman tries to be (or more accurately DC Comics tries to make Batman) too many conflicting things at the same time. He operates with the same resources of a global intelligence agency but mostly fights urban criminals, he relies upon superstition and disguise when he has access to hi-tech weapons, he has all the limitations of a human urban crime fighter but he’s a member of the most powerful superhuman group in his fictional universe.
Another part of the Batman dilemma is that in the many times the character has been reinvented redundant elements have been carried over from previous versions to the next, I call these carryovers Batkibble! …I realize that most people haven’t got a clue what the hell I’m talking about so please allow me to explain in more detail; at some point Batman, his costume, weapons and gadgets were created by a writer (Bob Kane) then a different writer (Bill Finger) created other elements of Batman such as the Batmobile which ended up becoming a necessary and logical part of the character’s story, but as time passed different writers came up with other ideas like Bat-Ape, which not only proved less popular but also hindered good storytelling and hence they were dropped.
Certain elements proved more popular or necessary than others, the elements that proved the least popular were usually the ones that were the most ridiculous whereas the more logical ideas met with the approval of the fans and the comic creators alike. But there were some concepts that had a place in time but should have been dropped, most notably Robin! Now before the fanboys blow their collective tops let me explain, Robin was introduced in a more innocent time when comic book readers wanted a more light-hearted Batman and Robin was introduced to make Batman a big brother figure. As tastes changed and audiences of the late ‘60s longed for darker serious Batman, hence the writers decided to have Robin grow up and go to college, the character also changed his name and costume, but DC foolishly decided to replace him… then years later kill the replacement… then replace the replacement… then bring back the first replacement… then replace the replacement of the replacement… long story cut short, these days (depending on the continuity) Batman effectively runs a daycare centre!
Now the immense popularity of some of these characters means that unfortunately even if they were removed from continuity another writer would inevitably reintroduce them, but that’s not such a bad thing as some of these characters are so ingrained in pop culture that the comics would be incomplete without them, in fact Robin and Batgirl are more well known than Green Arrow and Black Canary!
How I Would Fix Batman
To be fair DC has solved many of the problems with Batman on their own already, notice how in DC’s New 52 Batman is now wearing a slightly modified version of his regular costume, the grey tights have been replaced with grey armor, all DC has to do now is keep reminding the readers that the grey parts of the Batman costume can’t be colored black for… whatever reason… or just color it black already! But the problem is Batman’s membership to the Justice League. DC should only have adult super powered heroes on the Justice League, so Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman should stay and Batman and Cyborg should leave and also while we’re at it Martian Manhunter should join. DC should then set up a second team for all the heroes without super powers like Batman and Green Arrow or marginally super powered like Black Canary and this second team should focus on urban crime like the Joker and Inter Gang and leave the super powered threats to the Justice League.
The Justice League should use a combination of Kryptonian and Martian technologies as well as a combination of Atlantian and Olympian magic, but refuse to share this technology with the regular human heroes, perhaps because of a previous misfortunate experience involving humans using alien technology with disasterous results, thus necessitating Batman and his team to do with the type of technology that can be created by Wayne Enterprises. Because of the outside nature of the non-super powered heroes I suggest the name “The Outsiders” for Batman’s team as this was a previous team Batman was in charge of in the ‘70s. My suggestion to effectively turn Batman, Green Arrow and Black Canary into DC’s answer to the Marvel Knights and create a clear distinction between the godlike beings and the vigilantes!
Now before the many fanboys who have read what I’ve written loose their collective minds and start howling for my blood please remember these are only MY suggestions and it is unlikely that DC will ever make the extremely popular Justice League do without the extremely lucrative Batman! Also please also remember that in pre-New 52 DC continuity Batman was not a founding member of the Justice League and for a long time he was not a member of the team. A lot of fans only think of Batman as a member of the Justice League because of the ‘90s DC Animated Justice League show.
How Others Have Fixed Batman
So Batman is actually everything-man or a-whole-bunch-of-stuff-that-contradict-each-other-man! So how do you write a character with so many elements that contradict each other? Trick question you don’t! You pick and choose the elements you want!
In live action Tim Burton set his Batman in a fantasy world thereby sidestepping the issue if how Batman would work in reality, Burton’s Batman has often been criticized as being a misinterpretation of the character, with regards of how the character was depicted in the comics of the day it very much is, Burton’s interpretation of Batman remains the only live action version to fully capture the Gothic aspect of Gotham City, most other live action versions have been mostly shot on location. Joel Schumacher also took the fantasy world approach but Burton’s films looked operatic and Schumacher’s looked like Mardi Gras! Chris Nolan famously set his Batman, to all intents and purposes, in the real world so he did away with any super humans, in fact in his version of Batman there are no other superheroes at all not even Green Arrow! Every aspect of Batman’s world, from the weapons and gadgets to the villains and environments, required reimagining to what they would most likely be like in our reality. Nolan’s Batman does have it’s problems; but because of how well thought out and executed it is it’s seen as one of the best versions to date and easily the best live action version.
In animation the producers of the show Batman: The Brave and the Bold did almost the exact opposite of what Nolan did, they incorporated as much Batkibble as possible into their show making it as child friendly a version of Batman as possible, Batman even wore a bright blue and grey costume with the yellow oval. Batman traveled through space and time teaming up with likes of Sherlock Holmes and nineteenth century cowboy Jonah Hex! He faced enemies such as the Music Meister and the Clock King… who dressed like a giant clock. This show took it’s inspiration from the way Batman was portrayed in the Silver Age comics of the ‘50s. But the closest we have ever come to an all inclusive version of Batman in live action or animation was Batman: The Animated Series; the producers of that landmark show tried to incorporate as many aspects of Batman without allowing the show to become absurd. Batman wore his classic blue and grey costume with the yellow oval but most of the time he only appeared in the shadows, super powered villains did show up but they were depicted as science fiction villains who could be defeated by a skilled human with technology. Jonah Hex was featured in the show but only in a flashback story he and Batman never actually met onscreen, there was no time travel involved. Batman also fought the Clock King, but the villain had been re-imagined to a criminal with a watch fetish as opposed to a criminal who dressed like a man sized clock! Batman: The Animated Series remains to this day the best version of the Batman story, live action or animated, and (in my opinion) the definitive Batman, if you’re not a Batman fan until you’ve watched this show.
So far what I have described is to create separate continuities and for each to have a version of batman that makes sense within the rules of that particular continuity. This works outside the animated shows and movies as DC Comics has also embraced the idea with their Elseworlds line of stories that feature Batman reimagined in different times and places, some which seem like a waste of time such as Batman the pirate and Batman of King Arthur’s round table, but others are well worth the while such as the nineteen century Batman in Gotham by Gaslight or Batman as a vampire in Batman Red Rain. DC has created separate sub continuities featuring different versions of Batman such as All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder and Batman Earth 2, but these have not proven as popular and with DC’s New 52 it’s unlikely that that DC will have an answer to Marvel’s Ultimate line.
The Batman Dilemma is the Reason We Diversity in Batman
I’m not just a fan of Batman but also many other characters like Spider-Man. One of the differences between Spider-Man and Batman is that the original version of Spider-Man was so well thought out that the character and his story have changed very little over the years; they’ve merely been updated with changes in hairstyle and clothing. But the original Darknight Detective version of Batman was set aside quite quickly in favor of the child friendly Caped Crusader, which was itself later set aside for the more popular Dark Knight version and the character has been reinterpreted, with various incarnations referencing those that came before, again and again. But what Batman has that Spider-Man lacks is diversity; whereas with most other comic book heroes there is a definitive version the fact that Batman has none is a creators dream come true, not only because it means that there can never be a “wrong” version of Batman but because it allows them the freedom to try out new ideas and it is these new ideas that keep the character fresh and new, the only drawback is that the more ridiculous interpretations of Batman are as valid as the better ones!
Batman is the elephant, the creators and fans are the blind men, but we need to try to see him from the point of view of the King.
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