Monday, July 21, 2014

Batman Day: Happy 75th Anniversary, Batman!

DC Comics has declared today Batman Day, a day to celebrate the Caped Crusader on his 75th Anniversary. I've been trying to come up with something to write for this particular anniversary pretty much all year, something that isn't covering the same space that the big comics news outlets can and have. So I didn't want to do "favorite Batman writers/artists/stories" lists (although I have done a ten best Batman stories, and might touch on my favorite creators before the year is out). And today being the day, I felt like I had to post something, even if it's just for me. Oh, and I'll be peppering this post with some of my favorite Batman covers. Not the really well known ones, so no "Year One" covers, as great as they are, but lesser known covers that I think really capture an aspect of Batman or just look cool.

So, first and foremost, I'm going to put in some links to what are my three personal favorite Batman pieces I've written over the past few years. They're all general topic stuff, not storyline or review specific, so if you haven't read them and want to get into my head about what I feel is important about Batman, this is a good place to start.:

What Batman Means to Me. - A discussion of whether or not Batman is driven by Justice or Vengeance.
My Top Ten Favorite Batman Stories - The name kind of says it all.
My Batman Isn't Your Batman, and That's OK - Post the Ben Affleck announcement, a discussion of how malleable a character Batman is, and how everyone's favorite might be different.

So, with that out of the way, I think I need to reflect on a simple question: Why Batman? Is it just that I started reading comics when Batman was a big cultural thing, and that's why I'm drawn to him? I'm sure that's part of it. We all have touchstones of our childhood we never grow out of, and if that were the only answer, it would be fine. But if I dig deeper, I think there's a reason why the Superman films, which all existed when I was a kid, never spoke to me the same way, or why the animated X-Men series didn't turn me into someone with massive runs of X-Men comics (although I do have quite a few).

One of the common answers to why Batman speaks to people is that he has no powers. You could never be Superman, or Spider-Man, or Hellboy. But, with the right amount of money and time, you could theoretically become Batman. And that's true. And that's great. I don't think anyone who grew up a nerdy kid doesn't have the power fantasy of growing up to be the biggest and the toughest and to bring justice down on the heads of the bullies of the world. And if I grew out of Batman when I finally came into my own as an adult, that might have been it too. But I didn't. I'm still a geek, probably a bigger geek than I even was as a kid, or at least more vocal about it, but I'm also married, with a good job, and I own my house. I don't need to think about beating up kids who bullied me when I was twelve.

Part of what I love about Batman is he's smart. And not abstractly Reed Richards/Tony Stark smart, although I think he is that too; this guy does build and upgrade all the crazy toys that Wayne Tech provides him, after all. But he's clever. He's a detective, and I've loved detective fiction for as long as I've loved Batman in various formats. You get me outside Batman, and I was reading Sherlock Holmes at the same time as I was reading comics (and inside Batman it's too dark to read. Thanks, Groucho). To this day, I still value intellect and cleverness far more than physical strength and acumen in my fictional characters. And that's partially because of Batman. But he fits that archetype so well.

I also think that Batman is less of a wish fulfillment character than many superheroes when you approach him from a mature level, but an aspirational one. After all, I don't think any rational person wants to be a brooding vigilante who watched his parents gunned down. But you can want to be the best you that you can be, and you can want to do right by the people around you. You can live up to the example without wanting to be that character, which is really how good fictional characters should be.

And there's that rogue's gallery! I know, when Newsarama has done they're top ten rogue's galleries, Batman has come in second to Spider-Man, but I have to disagree. Not only are Batman's rogue's more recognizable, but they're all wonderfully complex characters. The best of them have incredible designs, interesting motivations, and serve as cracked mirror versions of the hero they stand against. The Joker alone would make a hero, but when you think he might be the crown jewel, but there are a dozen other villains within steps of his brilliance, it's

The supporting cast is just as intriguing. No one character has a supporting cast that pretty much any member could headline their own book. Any of the Robins or Batgirls, Azrael, Catwoman, Batwoman, Huntress, Jim Gordon, Alfred, all are great characters in their own right, most of whom have supported at least mini-series is not ongoings. Even the lesser characters, like Leslie Thompkins, Lucius Fox, and the various GCPD officers create a fascinating tapestry around Batman. And Gotham itself is one of the best realized fictional cities in literature, with its dark alleys and gothic landscape.

And I guess, in the long run, it's all of that. Batman is a great character, in a great world, with seventy five years of amazing stories. From Bill Finger and Gardner Fox's golden age tales, Julie Schwartz's "New Look" era, the Dark Knight of Denny O'Neil and then Frank Miller, the 90s Bat family of Dixon, Grant, and Moench, into the 00s with the dark detective of Rucka and Brubaker, and Snyder's New 52 Batman, they've all provided great stories. Movies and TV, with actors Adam West, Michael Keaton, Kevin Conroy, Diedrich Bader and Christian Bale, plus directors and writers like Tim Burton, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Christopher Nolan, have all left an indelible mark. That infinite malleability is something that I can't see any other costumed hero having. A dark Spider-Man or Superman story is forced, and a light Punisher or Ghost Rider story is laughable. But Batman seems to exist in all worlds at once.

And I guess, at it's deepest level, Batman was my gateway to a larger world. I talked about this when I talked about the Burton Batman movie as well, but hat movie introduced me to comics, and those comics introduced me to a passion. And that shared passion has changed my life. My best friend and I bonded over both of us bringing comics on a school trip. I met my wife when someone said, "Oh, you should meet my friend Amber, she loves Neil Gaiman too," a writer I encountered through comics. I've worked at a comic shop for over a decade, where I have made many good friends. I have something to look forward to each week, something I can discuss vehemently and passionately.

So for all those reasons, for the countless hours of reading and watching enjoyment, and for all the years to come, I say happy anniversary, Batman. Let's get another good seventy five in there, huh?

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