BATMAN ON FILM, 'The Dark Knight Fansite!' Est. 1998.

OPINION

Smoke and Mirrors (Or, why a guy who dresses up like a Bat, needs REALSIM!)
Author: Alex Winck
Monday, July 2, 2007

One argument that shows up from time to time regarding the treatment of Batman in movies is that of “realism.” Apparently, a group of fans advocate a more fantastic treatment of Batman, while others advocate for the character to be grittier and more realistic. Apparently, as I have seen, both statements sometimes carry a bit of misconception of what realism and fantasy mean in this context.

Of course, when all’s said and done, there’s a strong element of fantasy in the Batman mythos. I haven’t heard of any billionaires who dress up like bats to fight crime and corruption -- even though that would be a much better contribution to society than, say, cause global warming or raise Paris Hilton, but I digress.

And I don’t think I’ll live to see a real, superhero billionaire either. The very concept of the superhero has in inherent fantastic element. But within the realms of fiction there are different degrees of realism and fantasy. Batman, since his inception by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, has been intended to be a more grounded superhero than Superman or Shazam – AKA “Captain Marvel,” as he was originally baptized. That’s why The Batman doesn’t have superpowers, that’s why his enemies are mostly deformed psychos instead of supervillains – with a couple exceptions like, say, Man-Bat, but I myself never quite liked those.

For their period and the genre in particular, Finger and Kane did an exceptional job at giving a sense of logic to the different elements of Batman. If any man would have the motivation, the means and opportunity to dress up like a bat and fight crime in the real world, that’d be Bruce Wayne, and that’s part of why the character has endured for so long while other similar characters disappeared or lost relevance. Batman was meant to fit into a gritty urban crime/vigilantism world, and the more believable the character is, the more he fits into that world. He can also be considered the most inspirational superhero, for his sense of discipline, preparation and dedication for his mission are a much more accessible goal – even if exaggerated in his own particular case – then getting superpowers. You won’t literally become Batman, but you can be the best you can at what you do.

The mistake some make, I believe, is to confuse “realism” with necessarily being “mundane” or “unspectacular”, which is far from the truth. Even in his most “real world” incarnations, Batman still dresses up like a bat. Still has Batarangs and a Batmobile. Still fights ninjas. It’s not realism in the documentary fashion, or even, say, the “slice of life” fiction, even though it may include gritty realism elements. Realism here is simply a heightened suspension of disbelief, to create enough of a real world feel that you allow yourself to forget the more far-fetched elements and immerse yourself into it.

In fact, that tool is used even in more outlandish fantasy worlds. When a dragon is created for something like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, still a great deal of attention is paid to giving it a sense of anatomy and physiology that allows you to buy the illusion that the creature is actually there, living and breathing. Even as Richard Donner was giving Superman the apparent skill to take flight without any propelling system, it was important to give it a sense of credibility, which is why Chris Reeve had to spend painstaking hours and days hanging by wires doing various flying poses and turns, just so that you’d have the illusion that a man can actually do what he was pretending to do.

So, as much as Batman still is an outlandish character in many ways, notions of logic and practicality are important to get into his world, even more so than characters where the fantastic is meant to be more obvious.

In other instances, fantasy seems to get a bit confused with stylization. A lot of fans, and I actually include myself there, love the visuals of Tim Burton’s Batman movies – in my case, much more the first one -- but that’s another story. Anyway, some seem to throw that into the whole fantasy/realism argument as if Burton’s Gotham was some sort of outlandish surreal world. Granted, the architecture of Gotham tends to call attention to itself more than it would in most real cities, but that’s more of a stylistic aesthetic decision than something that removes from the city being “real” or not. It works in the sense of borrowing from the expressionistic influence of Batman, the big shadows and eerie urban landscapes of German expressionism movies like METROPOLIS, which were a huge influence on the noir films from the 30s and 40s.

But the look of Gotham as a contemporary, “real” city is also a strong influence on comics such as YEAR ONE or the Denny O´Neal/Neal Adams stuff, and it helps to establish the gritty urban violence element of the mythos. Gritty and realistic urban dramas like SERPICO, GODFATHER, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and other more recent ones were strong influences in comics like YEAR ONE, WAR ON CRIME or even THE LONG HALLOWEEN (in spite of Tim Sale´s highly stylized art). Even in this kind of scenario, it’s possible to create a sense of mood and darkness, and I think BATMAN BEGINS did that very well.

And yet there are those who seem to go for the extreme opposite of it, for a Batman who’s almost TAXI DRIVER’s Trevis Bickle with a cape and is all darkness and R-rated violence and gore. While I can enjoy the more nihilistic and ultraviolent elements in many Batman graphic novels for their artistic edge and outrageousness, I still also like the sense of heroism and inspiration that the character possesses and I understand why the studio still wants a Batman who’s accessible enough to younger viewers – okay, maybe not little kids – and a franchise that still has enough of a summer popcorn feel, with adventure, humor, romance, etc. The character manages to speak to both the adult and the kid in me, which is an incredibly rare achievement in pop culture. Which is why I believe in a balance between the more realistic and the more fantastic elements.

The more I can immerse myself in Batman’s reality, the more I can be my inner twelve-year old and feel like I’m up there on the rooftops with him, doing wild acrobatics, throwing Batarangs and fighting The Joker into the night.

Could you imagine a bigger turn-off than Bat-mite or an alien showing up in Gotham?

Alex Winck, AKA "Ultimatefan," hails from Florianópolis, Brazil. He's a journalist and advertiser and I writes the scripts and articles for Sesinho, the most popular educational comic book in Brazil. It has one million copies distributed for free in schools and with an estimated readership of four million.

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