Friday, October 7, 2016

Why Batman is Not a Good Character

I'm going to get a bit of hate for this but hear me out.

I'm not saying that I hate Batman. He's not my favorite super hero, but I don't outright hate him. I love the Arkham game series and I grew up on Batman the Animated Series, but for the most part I follow those not for Batman but for everyone around Batman (though it is fun to beat up criminals).

Here's my issue:

We all know the Batman story: rich parents killed in front of him, training in martial arts, sciences and base jumping, discovering the cave under the house, build a giant costume, then fight criminals in a warped version of Chicago. My problem isn't with this part of the story. It's a good starting point for a character with plenty of aspects to explore, from right after his parents are killed (like in Gotham) to when he was training (like in Batman Begins), but my problem is that that's basically where the Batman story ends.

Sure other stuff happens to him, like when he picks up a hoard of impressionable teenagers to do his bidding, to meeting his villains, to stuff he does with the other super heroes, but this stuff rarely effects him as a character. One Robin retires and he picks up another. The next one dies and he gets another but puts pants on him. Batgirl is paralyzed and he makes her his tech support. At the end of the day, like most super heroes, by the end of the story Batman is back at status quo fighting crime with his entourage of Robins and villains.

When I pick up a Batman story, I know Batman is going to win using some sort of gadget or training and then disappear into the night. Sometimes the comic has him go through something emotional, like in Hush, but by the next comic he's fine again. This is not good character writing, which is a massive problem for the entire comic book industry. We don't get characters, we get action figures, and we get to see how they beat up other guys. Some heroes are more interesting than others, I certainly like Batman a lot more than I like Wolverine who is to super heroes as WWE fighters are to Joss Whedon characters, but that actually makes Batman more disappointing because he has so many places to go but he never gets to go there.

The best Batman stories for me are when they end him (SPOILERS), and that's not a sarcastic declaration. In Batman Beyond Bruce has been forced to retire due to his body breaking down after years of being Batman. He's retreated into Wayne Manor, sold his company, and is ready to just quietly die with the regrets of his past. Until the new Batman shows up he has pretty much lost his will to live. It's not a happy ending but it's a logical ending for such a dark and broken character.

The other Batman conclusion I like is from Dark Knight Rises (what is with that name?). In the end we see him with Selina Kyle in France after faking his death. They're just enjoying croissants and mimes and whatever else you do in France. I like to think that after that they never put on their masks again, and lived somewhere quiet happily ever after, both healing from the years of trauma they had. Or maybe they ended up starting a pyramid scheme after missing their wealth and became an amazing European Bonnie and Clyde, either way I doubt he was ever Batman again.

For me for a comic book character to be well written they either have to have enough character flaws to make them interesting to read or have a distinctive arc with a beginning middle and end, neither of which Batman has. He's just an unstoppable force that's been around for decades who only goes anywhere in branching fiction. And I know fully well that there's a list of characters a mile long that have the exact same problems, but none have as strong as a following as the Dark Knight, or one that more perfectly encapsulates the problems in comic book characters altogether.

What comic book character would you like to see a conclusive end to?


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