Why Can’t Batman be a Hero?

Batman No. 32 cover.
Blood on his hands: Batman is worse than his adversaries these days in the DCU.

In the new DC Comics miniseries, “Batman: White Knight,” the Caped Crusader’s vigilante methods have turned so brutal, an apparently sane Joker vows to defend Gotham City and stop his reign of terror.

In the current arc playing out in “Detective Comics,” a Batman from the future has stepped back to the present convinced he can prevent his timeline from ever coming into play by murdering Batwoman.

In the “Dark Nights: Metal” series, powerful, sadistic versions of Batman have escaped from the dark universe to destroy earth.

What do all these stories all have in common?

Batman is the Big Bad.

Oh, no, you’re saying, these Batmen are shadows of the Bat, Elseworld nightmares or multiverse monsters.

That’s fair.

Batman decides to end a war with a little murder.
Batman decides to end a war with a little murder.

Now consider the climax of the latest saga running through his own book that eradicated the line between hero and villain and dropped into canon a bloody secret about the Caped Crusader’s past.

In the conclusion of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” in Batman No. 32, cover date early December 2017, written by Tom King and illustrated by Mikel Janin, the Riddler confesses why he launched this conflict against the Joker that cost the lives of scores of innocent Gothamites.

All this violence, all to get the Joker to laugh.

Batman can’t believe what’s he hearing.

So many dead for the most inane of goals.

He picks up a knife, and as he confesses to Selina Kyle in this flashback set in the early days of his career, “It wasn’t an accident.

“I didn’t think I’d fail.

“I wasn’t out of control or insane.

“I knew who I was. I knew what I was doing.

“I understood the choice I’d made.

Batman strikes.
Artist Mikel Janin lets you think for a moment that Batman has delivered a killing blow.

“I thrust the knife out.

“To kill the Riddler.”

There you have it: Batman’s rational calculation to commit murder.

His attempt at homicide is thwarted by the Joker, who thrusts his hand out and takes the blade right through the palm of his hand.

“That’s funny,” the Joker says, finally giving up a maniacal laugh.

DC’s “Rebirth” has been all about re-establishing its heroes for a new generation of readers. Tom King’s script ties Batman to his greatest foes in the worst possible way. Everything that comes after – all the good – is tainted by that encounter.

As Bruce Wayne tells Selina in the present, he’s not noble, he’s not heroic.

The only line separating him from his adversaries is “a hand on a knife. His hand.”

So Batman – and we – get to thank the psychopath Joker for all that Batman has accomplished in his career.

The Joker thwarts a murder.
“The Non-Killing Joke”?

This story goes down like a Batarang to the head.

In many ways, you can trace this dark rewrite of Batman’s career to Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” The 1986 miniseries imagined a middle-aged Batman as Dirty Harry, and every writer who has come after Miller has wanted to add their own darkness to the legend.

As if he doesn’t have enough angst from seeing his parents gunned down in front of him. And here’s the obvious point, the thing that so many writers miss: That anguish propels Batman into action so that no other child will suffer the loss he did. That’s his reason for being. From the darkest of griefs, the most noble of purposes. He doesn’t need any more angst on top of that.

Variant cover to Batman No. 32
Hero or Menace? DC plays loose with Batman.

Given all these miniseries and stories emerging from Rebirth, you might think Batman is the greatest menace in the DCU.

The big-screen summer blockbuster “Wonder Woman” tapped a yearning I didn’t even know existed: To see a  hero do the right thing just because there isn’t any other way to live.

I miss that in the DCU.

I miss that in Batman.

2 thoughts on “Why Can’t Batman be a Hero?

  1. I have felt the exact same way of late.

    The superhero is the ideal we strive for, they always do the right thing. They are not us, they are better than us. Modern writers steeped in moral relativism don’t seem to have any idea what it means to be a SUPERhero.

    I always felt Knightfall by Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon was a critique of the Frank Miller Batman. They provided Az-Bat who was off his rocker, and the “real” Batman had to comeback and set things right. Too bad that ended when they left.


    1. Thank you for pointing me at Knightfall – I will have to re-read that. I have long felt that the last writer who truly appreciated Batman for being Batman and wrote some terrific stories for him was Grant Morrison. That’s something I want to explore in the future.


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