A Take on "A-Hole Batman"
Author: Alex Winck
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Whenever someone decides to give a take on their own preferences regarding the portrayal of Batman, that´s a gallon-size can of worms you're bound to open, for the character is as incredibly popular as he is incredibly multi-faced and has had many interpretations over the years.
Even so, all fans have their own VERY passionate ideas about who is the “true Batman”. Trust me, even the days of Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound have their share of defenders.
One of the most heated and recent debates towards the character regards, as Jett puts it so well, “a-hole Batman”. That is, The Dark Knight portrayed as a nearly inhuman, completely stoic, un-relatable jerk with clear psychotic tendencies. That trend, as you know, became popular mostly because of Frank Miller's best-seller The Dark Knight Returns, and grew larger with works like Arkham Asylum and such.
The questionl is, why so many fans – myself included, for a while – embraced this Batman as the “definitive portrayal" of The Dark Knight?
I think one of the reasons is in the whole “comic books are not just for kids” trend that went on for years in the 80s, also referred to often as “grim and gritty”. If you actually look into what Miller intended with DKR, it was a good idea at the time: an extreme reaction to the Adam West perception of Batman that was still dominant in popular culture. His take had even a clear justification: his Bruce Wayne was fed-up, burned out, seeing the world rot around him as he was forced against his will to retire. It’s a tremendously bitter version of the character.
That take was the perfect escapade for those who still felt some embarrassment for being Batman fans and for still indulging in the love of a hero of their childhood. The darker, more violent, and less heroic the character was, the least they had to make “this is for my nephew” excuses.
Years have passed, though, and the notion that comic books aren´t just kiddie entertainment has become a much more accepted one. You get filmmakers like Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer and Chris Nolan making superhero movies that get critical praise and strong BO performance (well, in Singer´s case, at least the X-MEN ones). We don´t have to push for it anymore. Batman doesn´t have to be an unlikable psycho to be accepted as a character that adults can find cool. He can be human and relatable again.
Some of the definitions that became popular over the years to define Batman actually do not sum up his character at all if you look into it. Yes, he is a dark character. Yes, he has a lot of pain and anger and a somewhat unhealthy devotion to his mission. He has certain violent tendencies and a tragic past that connect him to some level with his enemies. But he is not depressed, schizophrenic, or psychotic. Depressed people have no will or interest in doing pretty much anything -- they´re basically apathetic to extremes. Even if Bruce is far from being the happiest guy in the world, his life is all about strength of will and determination.
He doesn´t have a personality disorders or hears voices in his head. He knows exactly what he´s doing and why. He manages his double life, not perfectly, but does none the less.
Psychotic people are defined by psychology as those who have no empathy, remorse or compassion for other people. As much as Bruce hates criminals, his mission is not only an act of revenge, it´s also to prevent other people from suffering the same as he did. He is someone who´d gladly give his life to save others.
If that´s not the ultimate act of compassion, I don´t know what is.
In fact, I believe the contrast between his dark aspects and his heroism and humanity make him a more interesting and complex character. We all can relate to someone who really wants to do the right thing and help others but has to deal with inner demons. One of the things that were so brilliant about the origin story is exactly the fact that they gave this impossible character a motivation that was at once logic, emotionally devastating, and made you relate on the most primal level to a character that was basically a rich guy who wore a cape and a cowl to beat the crap out of thugs in the night.