Comic Nostalgia: The Batman

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My memories of The Batman were of a guy running around in a light blue/gray pair of tights making bad puns and dancing the ‘Batusi’.

While those memories were fond ones from my childhood, they were also quite silly. I remember trying to watch that ‘beloved childhood show’ years later, and groaning. For a very long time, that was what I thought The Batman was all about. Because of that, I missed out on some fantastic stuff.

When I first started collecting comics, I stuck to stuff I knew and didn’t branch out much. Spider-Man was a staple, a character that I identified with on so many different levels (which I’ve talked about before). Other Marvel titles appealed to me because I knew those characters well enough (The Avengers, GI Joe, Transfomers), but I didn’t do a lot of DC stuff until later on.

I’d love to say that I’ve never judged a book by its cover, but that would be a lie. We all do it – hell, half the time the only thing we have to go on is the cover of a book be it a novel or a comic. We see the artwork and it appeals to us, so we pick it up and check it out and dig a little deeper. This was how I started to get into Batman.

DSC_0097This is not the first Batman comic I ever purchased, but it’s a cool cover that goes along with the bit above. If you saw it on a comic book stand, wouldn’t you pick it up?

I actually started dabbling with reading Batman in 1987. Enough so that I had a much better feeling for the character when the movie came out in… 89? 90?

I liked the Burton take on the character, it was much more accurate to the comics than what I remembered as a kid. Still, he changed bits up – but he got enough of the core correct to make it truly feel like Batman.

If I indentified with Spider-Man and his geekiness, I wanted to be Batman.

As Bruce Wayne, he was like James bond. He had money, cool cars, a way with women, charisma (the exact opposite of Peter Parker) – who wouldn’t want to be him? As Batman, he had power and a purpose, a dark, dangerous side – the bad guys were afraid of him.

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Like so many comic book characters, there was a tragic past to him; his parents were killed in a mugging. Traumatized by the event, young Bruce Wayne became singularly focused on fighting crime and taking back the city that his parents loved, that he loves. Determined to never let it happen again, he doesn’t take crap from anyone and he has to do everything himself.

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Despite this drive and determination to ‘go it alone’, he has allowed people to get close to him and even fight belong side him.

First up was Dick Grayson. With a similar, tragic past (losing his family), Bruce saw himself in Dick. He took him under his wing, let him into his home, his life, trained him, honed him into Robin; a sidekick and potential next generation for Batman. But Bruce’s rigid rules and ‘my way or the highway’ drive Dick away. Wanting to be his own man, Dick takes off the Robin costume and reinvents himself as Nightwing.

He was replaced by Jason Todd, who was murdered by The Joker, tailspinning Batman into an even more rigid ‘never again’ policy. For a time, he became more vengeance and less justice. It took him a very long time before he was even willing to train another apprentice.

Enter Tim Drake.

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Drake is different from Todd. He is a ‘junior’ detective in his own right, even determining that Dick Grayson is the first Robin based on a performance of the Flying Grayson’s that he saw as a child, comparing it to footage of Robin doing similar looking flips and acrobatics.

Deducing that Dick is Robin leads him to the conclusion that Bruce is Batman – not bad for a kid.

Impressing Dick, Alfred and Bruce, he is accepted into training to be the next Robin. He even gets his own miniseries:

I always liked Tim Drake as Robin. I especially liked the update to the costume.

Despite his badass loner exterior, Batman couldn’t function without the people around him; Jim Gordon, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, to name just a few. Take them away and eventually, he will fall apart.

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Alfred and Robin serve multiple roles; they are his conscience, his link to humanity, his crutch when he stumbles. They keep him in check when it would be so easy for him to go too far. Being Batman is walking on the edge between justice and vengeance. He needs that person there to pull him back, remind him of why he is who he is, why he’s doing it all in the first place.

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Jim Gordon has a similar role. He legitimizes what Batman does, tacitly endorses it. Were it not for Gordon, it would be much more difficult for Batman to his job. He doesn’t always agree with his methods, but he understands that his city, Gotham, needs a Batman. There’s too much crime, too much corruption for the police alone to handle.

Their relationship was strained during the Knightfall, Knightquest, KnightsEnd, Prodigal storylines, when multiple people took up the cape and cowl. Gordon didn’t care for Jean-Paul’s methods (Azrael, who became Batman during Knightquest/KnightsEnd), and recognized that it wasn’t the man he’d come to call a friend. Later, as Bruce Wayne recovered from his injuries and Dick Grayson wore the cape and cowl (Prodigal), Gordon came to distrust Batman altogether. Repairing that relationship was difficult once Bruce Wayne returned as Batman.

It has been said many times before, by many different people, but Batman is human. He doesn’t have any super powers like Superman or The Flash, unless you count his intellect as a super power (which most don’t). He does what he does because he is driven to find some semblance of justice for the little boy who lost his parents and was too young, too small, too innocent and lacking the power to change what happened.

He says it every once in a while: Never again.

~P