I need to say this from the outset: I’ve been a huge Batman fan since the age of three. In 1980, my mom brought out my Batman birthday cake and I’ve been a bat-fan ever since. Nothing will ever change that.
However, even I must admit, when looking at Batman from a motivational standpoint, some inherent problems arise.
The following is strictly meant for fun. I am a firm believer in the suspension of disbelief when it comes to entertainment, and I’ll take my Batman any way I can get him. Nevertheless, it’s always stimulating to dissect the icons of the comic book world, and Batman is certainly laden with controversy.
The whole idea of what “motivates” a super hero, or any character for that matter, can be a tricky one. Superman is motivated simply because he was taught to do the right thing. Spider-Man’s motivation comes from a healthy mixture of guilt and the lesson “with great power comes great responsibility.” Batman’s motivation, though, is far more complicated.
As a child, Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down before his eyes. For the average child, this would be a terrible occurrence, but the impact of the event likely would have lessened over time if the child required posttraumatic care. Certainly, depending on several variables, such a child would go on to live an adult life of relative normalcy. Lifelong counseling would perhaps be necessary, perhaps not.
In Bruce Wayne’s case, he inherited more money than most of us can imagine. He probably would have had all of his father’s medical friends checking up on him emotionally and psychologically. He probably would have been sent to the best schools in the world and, in time, the pain of his parents’ murder would have faded just a little. Perhaps his sense of injustice would have driven him to become a lawyer, or a police officer, or a missionary. What happened in Bruce Wayne’s case is instead disturbing.
At some point during his childhood, relatively soon after he lost his parents, Bruce Wayne embarked upon a quest to learn from all of the greatest minds and fighters the world had to offer. Some versions of the Batman mythos have him doing this because he already knew he wanted to combat crime on a personal level, some have him doing it simply to deal with his pain. When he returned, he found his city corrupt. And so, when deciding how to combat the hell his city had become, a bat inspired him to become a vigilante and do one of two things, depending on your outlook: take revenge on the criminal element that resulted in his parent’s death, or make sure no one else lost loved ones to crime as he did.
In literature—and I’ve sincerely considered comic books literature for twenty-eight years—such character motivation is dramatic, potent, charismatic, and wildly engaging.
I think it’s necessary to look at this from another angle. Bruce Wayne has no real adult friends. Alfred is more of a care provider, so he doesn’t count. He may hang out with the JLA and Outsiders, but he has files on how to take them all down, and they know it, so how true of friends are they? Jim Gordon is Batman’s ally, but not Bruce Wayne’s friend. Tim Drake and Dick Grayson are more like his little brothers or soldiers than friends.
My point is, Bruce Wayne seems to be in a state of arrested development. Sure, he may very well be one of the world’s greatest thinkers and martial artists, but he’s devoted his entire life to a moment from his childhood. Yes, admittedly a terrible, significant moment, but a day from his childhood nonetheless.
If I’m Superman or Green Lantern (pick any GL you want), and I look over at a dude dressed as a bat who can’t get over the death of his parents from over twenty-five years ago, I’m asking some serious questions. They know he’s Bruce Wayne, according to current continuity. They have to wonder, if crime is so terrible in Gotham City, why doesn’t Bruce use his millions to better equip the GCPD. Why doesn’t he open rehabilitation centers and after school programs? Why doesn’t he run for office and make changes happen internally? Bruce Wayne, with his fame and fortune, could very well combat all the crime he hates in a variety of ways, all of which would have greater impact than what he does on a street level.
This can only lead me to believe that Bruce’s guilt or his selfishness won’t allow him to move beyond that night from his childhood. He must deal with crime on a face-to-face basis, though his fortune and social standing would surely accomplish much more. For that to happen, consequently, he would have to act the adult. He would have to interact, as a genuine adult, as Bruce Wayne with real people his own age. No masks. No costumes.
The only “friends” he has are taken on when they’re very young and given the mantle of Robin, which leads me to once again determine Bruce is in a state of arrested development. His adult friends wear masks themselves, or he refuses to remove his own mask, or Batman persona, before them. At what point does Bruce Wayne become a genuine human being capable of healing?
The age-old question with Batman is, which is the real identity—Bruce Wayne or Batman? Either answer is a disturbing one when looked upon realistically.
But, comic books are not the real world—for better or for worse—and Batman will forever be one of my favorites. Looked at from a strictly imaginative perspective, he is everything the human mind and body could hope to accomplish. When I was little, I didn’t want to be Superman because I knew it was impossible. But, as a child, I thought if I exercised enough and studied enough, I could actually become Batman.
As someone suspending his suspension of disbelief and looking at Bruce Wayne from a realistic, psychoanalytical perspective, Batman seemingly refuses to grow up.
DC’s Big Three is a great balance. Wonder Woman provides care and compassion, Superman provides the moral standards people should live up to, and Batman provides the darker side of life, which everyone goes through. Maybe not to the degree of his life, but still, people go through the darker side like him.
It makes me think why Batman had rejected Wonder Woman’s explanation of why she had to kill Maxwell Lord. Sure, she broke the rule of “don’t kill anybody” but it was for the good of Superman and everyone else in this world. Who knew what Superman could’ve done under Maxwell Lord’s control, and unleashing his full power too?
If he did become Batman to stop anyone else from missing a loved one, then why didn’t he understand that Wonder Woman had killed Maxwell Lord, to stop her loved ones from dying? I mean, the Amazons were sent into limbo, so who else could she have had?
Good point, Wendy. Batman does a lot of things that kind of makes me scratch my head. The Max Lord scenario with Wonder Woman is a perfect example.
I think attempts to explain Batman’s motivation are ultimately dubious, for two reasons. Batman – like all mainstream comic book characters – is the product of literally hundreds of different creators, each with his own background and literary agenda. Regardless of what any given writer of Batman comics wants to create, he is bound by a history that he did not create. Rather than being a character with a coherent psychological history, Batman’s schizophrenic and inconsistent behavior has more to do with his different creators than with any “inherent” psychosis from his conception.
The second reason that such character analysis is difficult is that, according to the most prominent writers in the field, Batman isn’t meant to exist in the real world. In Watchmen, Alan Moore indicted with Rorschach that a character within the Batman archetype would have to be psychotic and murderous. In The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller represents Batman as he is more generally represented – as a dark and strict moralist. However, Miller aptly recognizes that for a Batman to exist as such a character, he must exist in a categorically fantasy world. For all that Miller’s Gotham City is an exaggeration of 1980s America, it is none the less an imaginary and unrealistic place, full of mutants and other super-powered beings. For Batman to exist, really, either he’d have to be different from his comic book representation, or the world of the reader would have to differ from its own reality.
Returning to the idea of Batman’s inherent qualities, I believe it often goes unnoticed that Batman and other superheroes of his era were created with children in mind. Today’s comic book readers tend to be older and more mature, and it’s tempting for these readers to extract deeper meaning from an origin story than was intended. In Kane’s original story in Detective Comics, Batman is a poorly-crafted character made for the entertainment of children. Any statement about the human condition one extracts from these stories is probably forced.
None of this is to suggest, however, that I totally disagree with what you’re saying. As an analysis of a fictitious character (as though he were real), it was a thought-provoking piece.
Glad it provoked your imagination, Magic Rat. That’s how I aim to please!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and stop by again!