Mon
Jan 31 2011 5:48pm
Batman: Plutocrat

Batman: Plutocrat by Steven Padnick

By their nature as vigilantes, acting outside or above the law, most superheroes have a troubling undercurrent of aristocratic, undemocratic, authoritarian values. Only the hero, not the police, judges, lawmakers, and average citizen, can effectively protect and improve the city they patrol, and god help anyone who gets in their way.

No one exemplifies these tendencies more than Batman, the ultimate aristocratic hero.

Batman acts with an enormous sense of entitlement. Batman just assumes he’s right in every situation. It’s his city. If he doesn’t like you, he’ll make you leave. If Batman thinks you’re guilty of a crime, he’ll put on his pointed black mask and beat the crap out of you. Laws? Civil rights? Due process? Those are for other people. Yes, the people may have elected a mayor, and may pay taxes to employ the police. Batman could work with them, but they’re all corrupt, weak, and not as good as him. (Except Gordon. Batman has generously determined that Gordon is worthy to be contacted, though he always disappears before Gordon’s done talking, just to remind Gordon who’s the bitch in this relationship.)

Batman isn’t just “the man,” Bruce Wayne is also The Man. He’s a rich, white, handsome man who comes from an old money family and is the main employer in Gotham. He owns half the property in the city. In a very real sense, Gotham belongs to him, and he inherited all of it.

True, it’s a very American version of aristocracy, based on wealth rather than divine right, but in practice it’s basically the same. The myth of aristocracy is that class is genetic, that some people are just born good enough to rule, and that this inherent goodness can be passed down from generation to generation. It’s long been established, and Grant Morrison’s recent “Return of Bruce Wayne” miniseries reaffirmed, that there has always been a Wayne in Gotham City, and that the state of the city reflects the status of the Waynes at the time. The implied message of Batman: Year One, and Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight Returns, Batman Beyond, and so on is… if the Waynes are absent from Gotham, the entire city falls apart.

This gives Batman’s origin an Arthurian “king-in-exile” element. “Banished” from Gotham by the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne returns to reclaim his throne and redeem his land. But instead of reclaiming it from usurping uncle or foreign invader, Batman must take Gotham back from a rising underclass.

Just look at who he fights. Superman (for example) fights intergalactic dictators, evil monopolists, angry generals, and dark gods, i.e. symbols of abusive authority. Batman fights psychotics, anarchists, mob bosses, the mentally ill, and environmentalists, i.e. those who would overthrow the status quo. Superman fights those who would impose their version of order on the world. Batman fights those who would unbalance the order Batman himself imposes on Gotham.

Batman: Plutocrat by Steven PadnickConsider the Penguin. He’s a criminal, a thug. But what really distinguishes him from other villains is his pretensions to being upper class. The tux, the monocle, the fine wine and fine women, running for mayor.... He tries to insinuate himself with actual socialites, some of whom are attracted to his air of danger, but most of whom are repulsed by his “classless” manners. And when his envy and resentment of his “betters” turns to violence, Bruce steps in to teach him his place.

And it’s not just Mr. Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot. Hugo Strange, Black Mask, Bane, and Catwoman are all villains from lower class, dirt poor backgrounds who want to be upper class, who want to be one of the rich and famous at one of Bruce’s fabulous fetes, but just can’t pull it off. (Well, Catwoman can, but Selina’s in a class all by herself.)

Even Harvey Dent, before he became Two-Face, envied and resented his friend Bruce Wayne, because Wayne had money and Harvey had to work for everything he got. And then there are the villains who have a vendetta against C.E.O.’s of powerful corporations, either for revenge (Mr. Freeze, Clayface) or out of principle (Ra’s al Ghul, Poison Ivy). There’s a class war going on in Gotham, and Batman has taken the side of the rich.

Of course, Batman doesn’t like the upper class he belongs to, either! Shallow, petty, boring, and vain, they know nothing of the pain and suffering he sees every night when he hunts killers through the slums of Gotham, every day when he closes his eyes. But does he dislike his wealthy peers because they don’t appreciate how wealthy they are? Or is it because they aren’t wealthy enough to appreciate how much responsibility he has?

But even if he thinks they’re upper class twits, he really doesn’t do anything about it. He leaves them in place, protects them from harm, flirts with and beds them. They’re not the bad guys, after all. It’s all those poor evil people. The one’s who keep crashing the gate, the ones who happened to be hurt in the hunt for profits. If it comes to a clash between the twit and the poor schlub they screwed over and disfigured, Batman tends to side with the twit. (To his disgust, yes, but he’ll do it.)

And with Batman Inc., Bruce Wayne’s plutocracy only grows. Before, he was content to rule only Gotham, aided by specifically appointed allies. Now, he spreads his influence to Tokyo, Paris, and other cities all over the world by funding stand-ins to fight in his name, but only if these people act and dress exactly like him. Once again, it’s up to the rich, white man to go to other places around the world and solve their problems for them.

Because Batman, and only Batman, knows best.


Steven Padnick is a comic book editor. By day.

This article is part of Bat-Week: ‹ previous | index | next ›
52 comments
R Bushong-Taylor
1. R Bushong-Taylor
Succinct and funny. Well done!
R Bushong-Taylor
2. braak
Though it was with some concern that comics fans noted that the person appointed to be the Batman in Paris was actually a poor Algerian Muslim--insufficiently white, insufficiently wealthy, and insufficiently Christian, in the eyes of many critics.
Harry Burger
3. Lightbringer
Dammit, I used to love Batman because he doesn't have super powers, just awesome technology, and in the older ones the tech wasn't even so awesome. He's the most realistically plausible of the heroes from a real physics perspective. But this lays bare his aristocracy, and how dangerous he could be if human greed for power ever took over. Though with all his money, I guess they argue he doesn't have anything to gain by being like that. But how can one simultaneously like Batman and claim to be in favor of a more equitable society? Grrrrr.
Sim Tambem
4. Daedos
That was borderline slanderous.

Batman may not do what we think is right, but at least he is doing what he thinks is right. I don't think he cares about class; it is just a mean to an end for him.

He is a dark hero whose origins are deeply rooted in revenge. As such, it makes sense that he sides with the victims he can relate to.

And Catwoman isn't the only outlier here. How about Count Vertigo? He was royalty. Or Dracula--really old blood. And then there's the very alien, uber-intelligent, right-wing The Joining. And--one of my personal favorites--Everywhere Man. He was actually a friend of Bruce's and a fellow elite.

Truth be told, most of the villains Batman faces are brilliant Doctors / Physicists / Scientists / Etc. Maybe Batman actually has it out for the Intellectual community...
R Bushong-Taylor
5. braak
In any case, I don't think this is principally wrong. Or, at least, it wouldn't be principally wrong if Batman lived anywhere except Gotham City, which is the most incredibly horrible place in the world. Batman would be a fascist bastard if he lived in New York, but the class relationships don't really represent a real-world allegory.
R Bushong-Taylor
6. Crosis101
Must....control....

Ra's Al Ghul is a practical immortal, and the leader of a band of terrorists determined to overthrow the world and get Earth's population...

and when you turn to the Mob and Anarchists as people who are being oppressed by Batman.... come on man. He doesn't install a Mayor he backs him up...he doesn't fight the Cops he fights maniacs that are KILLING COPS.

Basically you are saying that if Batman really existed and stopped the shooting in Tuscon that he is a Dick because he has money and is trampling the rights of the person to shoot a US Senator?

Seriously? That's where you are gonna come down on this?

The point of Joker being out there is that there are madmen that the police are to overwhelms and too ill equipped to take down.

I am waiting for the inevitable "This was all a joke, you don't get internet sarcasm" replies
Eli Bishop
7. EliBishop
Like most everything else in the endlessly-retconned history of Batman, the notion that the Waynes were such powerful industrial tycoons was a late addition. They were originally just vaguely rich socialites.

Batman was pretty obviously derived from Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel, both of whom were aristocrats who used inherited money to fund their adventures (and encouraged the public to see them as frivolous playboys). In none of those stories was the hero's social caste stated as a reason why he had the right to enforce justice-- even in the case of the Pimpernel, who was literally defending aristocrats from the guillotine! Justice was just assumed to be self-evident, and it was a fortunate coincidence that the hero had the cash and swashbuckling skills for this pursuit.

It's still a conservative vision in that none of those guys are trying to tear down the capitalist order, but how is that different than any other pulp entertainment of the time (or of now, for that matter)? Superman occasionally took on corrupt businessmen, but he hardly brought on a socialist revolution-- even though he had infinitely more power than Batman to do so.
Tudza White
8. tudzax1
I agree with Croisis 101.

I would add that Batman may catch criminals but he does not act as judge and jury. He is quite aware that this is the job of elected officials.
R Bushong-Taylor
9. laceheart
Really? You do realize Poison Ivy isn't just an environmentalist, she's an eco-terrorist that things humans should be killed off so the earth is spared urban development, right?

The courts in Gotham are corrupt, they release these crimally insane villians regularly.

His money is his way of funding his crime-fighting. He also regularly donates to charity and tries to clean up Crime Alley.

The Penguin has a legimitate business but also runs an illegitimate one behind it, much like mobsters would. Thus he's breaking the law, not getting out of place.

And yes, Bruce might be a man, but there have been many Batgirls, at least a few "Batwoman"s, then Huntress, and a female Robin, so it's certainly not an all-boys' club.

What's wrong with him fighting mob bosses and gangsters?
Jim Beard
10. Jim_Beard
Good points, Steven, and you're to be commended for your near-heresy.

Great line: "This gives Batman’s origin an Arthurian 'king-in-exile' element. 'Banished' from Gotham by the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne returns to reclaim his throne and redeem his land."

I wish I had thought of that ;)

Jim!
R Bushong-Taylor
11. DarrenJL
Don't be trying to Lord Jim the Batman. These sort of interpretations are popular intellectual exercises for people who haven't actually read the comics. For a comic book editor, though, this level of misrepresentation.... it's hard not to consider it deliberate.

Batman does try and clean up his city of undesirable elements, but he doesn't kick anyone out of town. Can't remember a single issue where Bats drove someone to the city line in his Batmobile. Not sure Jim Gordon can say the same. He beats people up who draw guns or knives on him, when legally he could probably claim self defense if he was shooting back. Which he does not.

Also, I should make clear that "undesirable elements" means violent criminals, and corruption in the city government which allows such criminal activity to flourish. You say he leaves the "upper class twits in place". This is a lie. Batman has, since the beginning (Year One, in comic terms) worked to free the bureaucracy/government of Gotham City from corruption. Class and money does not protect anyone from his investigations; in fact, class and money don't enter into the issue at all. Can you say the same of your government?

You say he has no respect for due process (Lex Luthor's line from Superman Returns, I believe) but that's just ignorant. The people Batman helps apprehend always stand trial. Even incurable maniacs like the Joker. Bats will provide the cops with evidence against the accused (World's Greatest Detective, after all!), but he never takes away their day in court.
R Bushong-Taylor
12. Foxessa
Excellent!

The illustrations are a delight.

Love, C.
Eli Bishop
13. EliBishop
One more nitpick: it's probably not a good idea to use the word "plutocrat" in the title of the piece if you really mean "aristocrat", because they're not the same thing at all and it undermines the argument you're trying to make. In a plutocracy, wealth is more important than anything else including social class, so it'd be just fine for the Penguin to buy his way into the system.

Also, where does Robin fit into this schematic? He's from a family of performers-- hardly upper-crust people-- and he doesn't try to imitate Wayne's social persona (or Alfred's either), but he's clearly one of the good guys.
Lenny Bailes
14. lennyb
Batman comes in many flavors. I'm not sure I'd call Miller's version an aristocrat. As for his being The Man -- who's this, then? :-)
Eli Bishop
15. EliBishop
laceheart @9: The Poison Ivy reference is even more muddled than that. Poison Ivy was introduced in the late '60s as a minor villain with no environmentalist motives at all, just a plant-themed gimmick. The ecoterrorist version of the character was created in 1988 by Neil Gaiman, inspired by a vaguely related character in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.

It's more or less the same deal for the other villains Padnick mentioned. Ra's al Ghul wasn't originally on any kind of principled crusade, he was just a Fu Manchu-type guy until he was retconned to be more concerned with the state of the Earth. Catwoman wasn't from a "lower class, dirt poor background" until later writers decided she'd be more interesting that way.

Comics from the '70s onward were full of these very self-conscious attempts to stretch the pulp formulas with more sophisticated social commentary, and often that meant giving a villain some sympathetic qualities. The side effect of this was that when the hero inevitably defeated them, he looked like a little more of an asshole by contrast. Writers tended to try to soften this by giving the hero a few lines at the end like "It's kind of a shame-- {name of misunderstood villain} got a raw deal in life-- but still, I had to stop him from killing all those people!" But really once you go down that road, it's hard to avoid having the superhero become more and more blatantly an enforcer of the status quo against misguided radicalism.

The problems I have with Padnick's take on this are (a) it's really not just Batman, it's pretty much all superheroes, Batman just happens to be the rich one; and (b) this isn't some great insight Padnick has teased out of the roots of the material, it's something later writers very deliberately added in, although it doesn't read quite the way they intended (until you get to even later writers who very consciously set out to make Batman into an asshole).
Madeline Ferwerda
16. MadelineF
Things that make you go Hm! This was an amusing and interesting essay. Well done!

I once put a deal of thought into, What would Batman be if he were a poor black kid from Oakland? And at that point you do have to start considering the uses of vigilanteism. Rich people are eccentric, poor people are crazy etc...
Douglass Smith
17. dougsmith
Thanks to all. Thought-provoking piece and delightfully interesting commentary afterwards!
R Bushong-Taylor
18. MaximumPie
You shouldn't try and push real world standards on a comic book

First of all just because you are rich doesn't make you evil and just because you are poor doesn't make you good

Batman fights bad guys, rich or poor

But that doesn't mean you
must redistribute all the wealth of the rich to all the poor

You can still be pro justice and be rich, there is no contradiction in this

And Batman just does what he does because no one else can
Lon Bailey
19. lgwbailey
All that rich = evil reminds me of a Chinese left-winged newspaper review of the Batman movie in the 1960s - this was during the Cultural Revolution, and the review, from my memory, said something like: "...because he (Batman) is rich, he cannot be a good person".there you go, 'nuff said!

Anyway, this is a comic character, redefined and revised by every generation of comic writer to put their own mark on him. So it is just an interpretation by one person, and yours is as good as theirs ...but of course, mine is better... : )
Sim Tambem
20. Daedos
I'm glad to see so many people backing Batman. The essay was interesting (and possibly a joke), but at least it brought out the die-hard fans (me included).

And good point about Robin, EliBishop; I hadn't even considered that.
R Bushong-Taylor
21. AlexK
I'm not sure how this fits in with the portrayal of Batman. My favorite page of a Batman comic is in Batman: Year One, when he shows up to a party at the Mayor's mansion. Organized criminals, the rich, and members of City government are all plotting together. Then -- BOOM -- part of a wall is destroyed.

Out of the smoke comes Batman.

"Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well. You've eaten Gotham's wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on -- none of you are safe."

Doesn't seem like someone trying to keep the City safe for the Aristocracy to me. If anything, the Miller Batman in DKR and Year One is a left-wing anarchist. There's very little distinction made between the rich and organized crime in Batman's world.

This is in keeping with Batman's Zorro-esque origins. Like Zorro, Batman is a member of the Aristocracy who dons a disguise to fight the crimes of his fellow aristocrats.
shane
22. garetjax
"This guy's a commie, and he's spreading propaganda!"

The above essay will be used by villains Hammer™ and Sickle™ to recruit underlings in the new graphic novel Dark Knight, Red Dawn.
R Bushong-Taylor
23. Paladex
Very well-written piece, but I can't help being reminded of the anti-superhero whining depicted in movies like "Hancock" and "The Incredibles." It's easy to criticize heroes because - being heroes - they take it.

Besides, this seems like a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The character of Batman doesn't hunt down non-conformists, he apprehends criminals in the act of committing crimes: this could be considered a citizen's arrest. And, as somebody else pointed out, he doesn't act as judge, jury and executioner, he leaves the miscreants for the judicial system to process.
R Bushong-Taylor
24. Allen Varney
Fine points here, especially the Arthurian angle. I made some similar points in an article last year for the online game magazine The Escapist: "Batmanalyzed"
R Bushong-Taylor
25. Jayne Kennedy
Thanks you so much for this--this is exactly why I hate Batman, and you have elegantly nailed it. He has no qualms about compromising the civil liberites of the people to protect his identity and his interests seems incapable of real human interaction, has some serious fetishes that make him miserable rather than happy or connected, and he has a twisted Messiah complex that sets him above the law. In other words, he's a kinky sociopath with nearly zero empathy or wit. Hell, even the Joker has more humanity, and he does with a little gasoline and punk rock attitude more to take out bad guys than that self-inflated gadget geek rubber fetish freak Batman does with his vast, ill-gotten fortune. I root for the villains when it comes to Batman--they usually kill more bad guys without messing with the innocent folks anyway.
R Bushong-Taylor
26. batgordon
Not to mix universes, but is Tor published by J. Jonah Jameson?
R Bushong-Taylor
27. J. Jonah Jameson
I want pictures! pictures of Batman
R Bushong-Taylor
28. Annexian
It's amazing how the RandDroids come out to bray when anyone dares step on Libertarian aka LiberTINE toes...

This is a brilliant de-construction. And the original Batman was a creature of the classic "Pulp" "Weird Detective" (adding fantastic, supernatural elements) genre. Think he's bad? Check out "The Spider" who's Batman -and- The Punisher and meaner/more psychotic. Or, how about Doc Savage who's again like that but he's also a selective breeding "Genetic Superman" who literally has a secret prison and does forcible brain surgery on criminals to make them law abiding?


And, if it was for RL, I'd be for Batman versus his enemies also. But it's good to re-examine things.
R Bushong-Taylor
29. Jeff with one 'F'
Left unmentioned is that Batman was created during the 1930s- you know, when a WASP aristocrat was in his 3rd term as President, in the midst of bringing the US as close as it has come to socialism in over 200 years? Noblesse oblige was the order of the day, at least in certain precincts of popular culture.

Maybe DC could try making a 21st-centurt Robespierre comic? I'm sure it'll end well.
R Bushong-Taylor
31. Nick_Thinks
I'm a batman fan, but that was a great deconstruction and the commentary afterwards was interesting.
R Bushong-Taylor
32. bkd69
Almost good, for reasons noted above, but not as good as cracked.com's list of reasons why Batman is bad for Gotham City [citation needed], which my search-fu is utterly failing to locate.

Instead, I shall leave you with this selection of nuggets about Gotham city:

http://www.cracked.com/article_18968_5-reasons-there-must-be-corpses-buried-under-batcave.html

http://www.cracked.com/article_18953_6-badass-movie-scenes-with-horrifying-unseen-consequences_p2.html

http://www.cracked.com/article_18443_6-famous-movie-wisemen-who-were-totally-full-shit_p2.html

http://www.cracked.com/article_18943_the-6-most-pointless-supervillain-schemes-ever-hatched.html

And of course:
http://www.cracked.com/article_15084_the-7-worst-fictional-towns-in-america.html


bkd
R Bushong-Taylor
33. dutch
His life is controlled and run by a working-class man who is far wiser than he is, and who he loves more than anyone else.

That relationship owes a great deal to the brilliantly subversive one in Jeeves & Wooster.
R Bushong-Taylor
34. JamesC
I agree with this article. Ultimately, Bruce Wayne is a very selfish guy living out his hero/revenge fantasy, when he could do much more good as a full-time philanthropist. He should concentrate on managing his wealth, or coming up with new inventions to grow it, and spend the billions on poverty relief, better street-lighting for Gotham, criminal re-education charities, heck, even a few dozen affordable capes to beat up the muggers on his behalf.

Aside from the class angle, I suspect that it is a sexual thing with old Batty, and he won't give up his kink for masked battery easily.
R Bushong-Taylor
35. McArp
Just further proof that Grant Morrison should be kept the hell away from Batman.
Marlin May
36. zentinal
Brilliant stuff.

I'm sure you'll be flamed by folks along the lines of, "It's only a comic" or "We need people like Batman now" or the like.

The Batman is a work of art, and art matters. Not just that, but he's a continuing work of art. As such, not only is he being continually re-interpreted by the populace, he's being continually re-created by artists who live in the here and now and so is both a reflection of his origin times and now.

To me, a lot of the richness and depth of Batman comes from the continuing conversation between all of these interpretations, re-interpretations and re-imaginings.

If I may be so bold as to suggest parts 2 and 3 of a triptych, next take on Ironman, ending with a comparison of the two.
R Bushong-Taylor
37. achilleselbow
This is all true, but I'd argue it's a consequence of Batman simply being a better-written and more complex superhero than Superman, and accordingly having better-written and more complex villains. Instead of intergalactic powers that are pure evil and want to destroy the universe you get regular, if somewhat deranged, people with legitimate grievances and sympathetic backstories. So I'm pretty sure that the issues you raise - this blurring of good and evil, and the tension between freedom and authority - are inherent in the Batman character and intentionally explored in various incarnations from Dark Knight Returns to the most recent Nolan film.
R Bushong-Taylor
38. AlexAdam
Very interesting - article and comments alike.

What makes Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" my favorite Batman movie is that I think he nailed the complexity of the characters involved. There, the psychological underpinnings (that I see a lot being criticized as being whiny and not the hero you expect him to be) come to light. Because ultimately, Batman places himself above the law and pursues this path because he is a tortured soul lusting for revenge. He does good, and that is the heroic part of it, however, by meeting Selina Kyle/Catwoman he realizes that their differences are minimal. Feeling like a hero and being treated like one does not equate morally responsible behavior, the same mindset could just serve to meet his own ends, and not that of society. For that the Nolan re-interpretation needs other characters that keep him in check, and hand the bad guys over to the system (I miss however, the self-reflection within the character that I saw in Burton's take on it).

So yeah, he is elitist and driven by revenge, but he also does good. I guess that is ultimately what makes him interesting, that we all know situations where the right thing might have been the outcome, though our path towards it was questionable morally. And that is what makes a rich white dude in a rubber suit relateable to a lot of people.
R Bushong-Taylor
39. RadicalBytes
It always amazes me when I see people, like many of the comments above, try use fictional contexts and fictional events inside of fictional worlds in order to try to rationalize or excuse the actions of fictional characters. Batman does not exist, we all know this, he is a construct. He is made up by the same people that make up everything that happens to him. He is written by writers making certain choices (as such they could, if they wanted to, make different choices). The writers create the narratives and in those narratives they make the hero an aristocratic, undemocratic, authoritarian, violent vigilantly. The writers also create the entire world Batman inhabits, create every single situation, as well as create all the "villains" he interacts with - all of it is specifically designed to justify Batman's actions. Because the stories are meant to justify Batman's actions and what he represents they, of course, have an internal logic to them. Outside of Batman's world however (the place all of us actually live) his actions can not be easily justified and are, more often than not, deeply problematic on a number of levels including class - as Steven's article points out so well.
R Bushong-Taylor
40. Shah Shahid
I actually completely agree with this article, but not to the detriment of his character, as seems to have been the intention.

I find the fact that by deciding to oppose injustice due to his own personal trauma, Batman has become equally cruel and ruthless as the people he decided to fight against. His attempt to completely control and subvert the criminal element based on HIS definition of right and wrong, in HIS own way, has made him become a complete compulsive hell bent on dominating the world using fear based deterrant.

However, all those dynamics, to me, adds to the tragic anti-hero nature of Batman himself. The fact that his origin is so full of emotional angles (even the template for major modern day super-hero 'origins'; a death in their past and so on...) however you cut to the present and see not a sympathetic victim, but a self righteous vigilante attempting to dominate society... is effective in portraying Batman as that 'whatever Gotham needs' angle introduced in TDK. Be that as a hero or villain.
R Bushong-Taylor
41. Jigen
...if you want a deconstruction of Batman:
--> read "The Dark Knight Returns" from Frank Miller..it shows many aspects of him in different views..sometimes directly and sometimes subliminal..and it shows also why Batman is NOT a class-warrior (sry dude) but a criminal for sure (must be and saying this himself)..and how he "looses" against the joker and has to beat up superman to feel himself as a man ´cause he cannot kill x)
R Bushong-Taylor
42. j81b
Really entertaining. Loved it. Still a Batman fan.
R Bushong-Taylor
43. pst314
"Batman fights psychotics, anarchists, mob bosses, the mentally ill, and environmentalists, i.e. those who would overthrow the status quo."

You are a very foolish man if you think gangsters, anarchists and environmental terrorists do not seek to impose their authority on us. Why are you unable to recognize these people as enemies of civil society?
R Bushong-Taylor
44. WalterT
Mob Bosses don't want to overthrow the status quo; they love the status quo! Their wellfare depends on the status quo! (They want to prevent the establishment of the ideal society espoused by authorities, but that's far from the same thing).

Anyway, @JamesC (and all) Bruce Wayne/Batman does spend billions on philanthropic causes within Gotham; he contributes to the police force (bought them a crime lab recently), funds the hospital, paid for the construction and staff of Leslie Tomkin's health clinic, built the boys shelter (and presumably the girls and womans shelter's as well, though I've never seen it in canon for sure), regularly gives `legitimate' jobs to repentant hencemen/ prostitutes/ dudes pressured into aiding the villains (Morrison's run has really been a return to this kind of stuff- with Batman handing out business cards of various organisations owned by Wayne- that used to happen a lot in the 70s but hasn't been shown as much again for a while) and spends as much time touching base with victims and making himself `visible' to inspire the kids (and help people feel safe; which is a very important part in improving a cities liveability) as he does beating up/scaring `criminals'.

The point is, Batman AND Bruce Wayne both fight for the same thing; to try and stop what happened to him (his parents being killed) to anyone else; and he doe so with every resource at his disposal. Just like Superman AND Clark Kent (as a reporter) both fight for the same thing(s); truth and justice (the `American Way' is a bit to indefinable to really be fought for, I just consider it a nice phrase for the biline).
R Bushong-Taylor
45. JNasty
What a bland, boring, halfway attempt at postmodern deconstruction. Congratulations on a pale imitation of concepts first considered by comic book writers such as Alan Moore and Frank Miller about 25 years ago. Scratch that, concepts first considered by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams in Green Lantern/Green Arrow more than 40 years ago.

This is really your big move? Batman-as-rich-guy? This crap is an obvious play for non-comic-readers who think it's interesting and original to criticize some basic and well-discussed aspect of a beloved character.

As has been noted several times, Batman does more than his part against the excesses of upper-crust society. As you know, from your extensive research of the subject, a group of villains called the Black Glove, comprising a group of people several orders of magnitude more wealthy than Bruce Wayne, recently tried to destroy Wayne's mind and body, and nearly succeeded, in a story that will be remembered as a literary and artistic triumph of the form on par with Watchmen and Miracleman. And he's fought more than his share of the aliens and evil gods that you laud Superman for fighting; in fact, he shot Darkseid just a couple years back in Final Crisis, which wasn't even the first time he fought the guy.

And of course, Bruce Wayne does more for the impoverished of the world than any real-world rich guy has ever done. But this, too, is unacceptable to the shallow mind of a Marxist interpretation, because it feeds the notion that wealth saves the poor huddled masses. Essentially, a wealthy man simply cannot do a good thing, in the realm of Marxist critical theory. He is by his nature unacceptable, and at best, he only reinforces ideas of noblesse oblige. So in essence, any Marxist reading of any work of art that contains a reference to wealth is redundant and pointless; we already know what you think. You might as well just say, "Bruce Wayne is rich, and rich people are irredeemable."

In the real world, you'd probably even be right to say that. As a rule, they're pretty awful. But fiction allows us to construct and consider things that don't happen in the real world; it's part of the definition of fiction. And there are so many other more interesting ways to interpret and read the character of Batman. One can look at him through a Nietzchean lens, and discuss the idea of the ubermensch (intellectually superior, physically superior, economically superior); one can read Batman through a variety of religious orientations; one can read him as a modern-day retelling of the Odyssey; one can discuss him as simply a modern iteration of the classic hero narrative; one can examine him (and other superheroes) as modern American gods, in a sense.

But you chose the most boring and well-traveled road. Good for you.
R Bushong-Taylor
46. Ericzzz
As another commenter wrote, "That was borderline slanderous." It fundamentally misinterprets Batman's primary motivation, conveniently ignores decades of continuity, and completely misses the point of several key stories in the Batman mythos. I will refute this article, and I will do it with specific citations.

First of all, Batman's rogue gallery is not, as the author claims, populated entirely by the lower class. Poison Ivy (who is far more than simply an "environmentalist") grew up wealthy. Ra's al Ghul is one of the most fantastically wealthy people on the planet. Hush is almost exactly as rich as Batman. The Black Glove, a powerful criminal organization that hounded Batman throughout Grant Morrison's run, has been explicitly described as having members far wealthier than the Waynes. There are more examples, but I'd like to switch gears to refuting some of his smaller arguments.

The author claims that comics like The Dark Knight Returns show him fighting the disenfranchised of Gotham. He has missed exactly 100% of the comic's point. DKR shows a world which is no longer safe for the common man. The people are lied to an manipulated by the media, the government, and criminals. Batman comes out of retirement and puts a stop to the city's chaos and corruption in all its forms, whether it's an uprising of crazed street gangs or Superman, the world's greatest hero blindly fighting for a corrupt government that seeks to exploit its citizens. In the end, Batman even adopts several of the Mutant gang as his own, directly taking the lower class under his wing. But this still isn't my main point.

What you really have to understand is Batman's origin, specifically as told in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. None of his traditional "rogue's gallery" shows up in this tale of Bruce's transformation into Batman. Instead, we see the dark face of Gotham city and the people so rotten that Bruce had to fight against them. And who are they? The wealthy, the established, and the dangerously corrupt. He cannot trust the cops, not because he deems them unworthy, but because they are criminals themselves. Batman cannot trust the politicians, because they eat out of the hands of gangsters, criminals, and thieves. He sees the city's massive inequality, corruption, and crime from both the top and bottom of the city's power structure.

And so he dons his costume to restore order to a city that has eaten itself alive. Batman believes in the city, and works tirelessly to protect it from the sociopaths, the corrupt cops, and industrialists that would take advantage of the poor. He doesn't simply fight with his fists at night, but he uses Wayne industries to positively affect change in the city. He donates to charity, cleans up the city, and makes an active effort to hire the disenfranchised of the city. He fights threats to Gotham in every form, whether they're psychopathic clowns, rich socialites, or space monsters.

tl;dr: Respect Batman, bitches.
R Bushong-Taylor
47. Intellectuals are cool
DarrenJL: "These sort of interpretations are popular intellectual exercises".

I agree with this. I also enjoyed his "Deconstruction" of The Batman. Along with some of the other responses to it, this is just that, an intellectual interpretation. Why so serious?
R Bushong-Taylor
48. GregLV
Interesting take on the Batman method VS the Superman method is brought up in the No Man's Land storyline.
R Bushong-Taylor
49. Jcal101
I really enjoyed this article and I think the author puts together an interesting analysis, but it hinges on a key assumption; someone else could do the job, but they wouldn't do it Bruce's way. This may be true especially where rich vs. poor is concerned, but it doesn't address the necessity of Batman. Most people with more money than god go conquer the business world and start a family. Not Bruce, because he sees a problem that really exists. If the police, the judges, or the mayor could stop the Joker, there wouldn't be a problem. Batman does it because no one else can, and even when someone else (without super powers) does, it looks a lot like Batman's style; above the courts and beyond the law. The fact that he doesn't kill proves to at least a degree that he believes in something other than his own class authority. It would make his life and the lives of those he protects (even if they are rich socialites) infinitely safer if he would just kill the Joker, Two-Face, Bane, and the rest of his rogues gallery. Instead he brings these criminals back to the cops, the courts, and the system that turns them out time and time again. It's no shocker that there is a correlation between crime and poverty (i.e. the poor use deviance to buck the system or escape problems that aren't their fault), but it implies that the criminals are right and the laws are wrong. I can't think of many scenarios where Poison Ivy or Bane used violence as a means to defy an illegitimate law instead of as a means to get revenge or get something for themselves. And Batman is one of the few with the determination/mental trauma to take on these criminals and not become what he fights. There are easier alternatives, some of which are being explored in Batman,Inc. Bruce Wayne could hire 4 security guards for every street corner in Gotham and give them all crazy technology to enforce the law. It would be easier and then instead of getting shot at Bruce Wayne could relax and enjoy his life. But what's to say it would work? If the government already can't get the job done, will more of the same do anything? Will it escalate the problem instead, like some argue that his own persona has done for extraordinary criminals? So instead he spends his money making more people use his method for fighting crime. I think the next question that needs to be answered, the assumption my argument hinges on, would be about whether a Gotham vigilante has to use Batman's methods or worse to maintain rule of law.
R Bushong-Taylor
52. Batman is Right (get it?)
#49 Jcal101:

"I can't think of many scenarios where Poison Ivy or Bane used violence as a means to defy an illegitimate law"

But that's precisely why Batman is a conservative hero. When a hero fights terrorists or lower-class criminals ("thugs") without a legitimate rationale, he reinforces a conservative view of social order. When he fights upper-class criminals, or other kinds of danger, that represents something else, and if he's fighting lower-class criminals who have a legitmate rationale, then he ceases to be a straightforward hero and the comic is ironically advancing a leftist perspective.

When a hero goes beyond fighting thugs to using illegal means to defeat them, he's implicitly reinforcing the idea that they don't deserve civil rights, a further conservative meme. Granted Batman, with his no-kill rule, is less extreme than, say, the Punisher, but he's still right of center.

A hero is defined by who he fights, and how he fights them. The author could have him fighting any threat; it doesn't work to justify a character's behavior by the behavior of his opponents when the author determines the nature of those opponents.

Like any hero with a sufficiently extensive canon, Batman has fought just about everybody at some point, so advocates can always cherry-pick a few exceptions here and there, but the essential Batman fights street thugs, or elevated versions thereof. That makes him conservative.

To be clear, it's not a problem that Batman is opposed to thugs; the problem, if you want to call it that, is when the author chooses to focus on thuggery rather than other forms of evil.

It should be a surprise to no one that the superhero genre, like the action genre, tends to lean conservative.
R Bushong-Taylor
53. RhoOphuichi
@52 Batman is Right (get it?)

"...the essential Batman fights street thugs, or elevated versions thereof."
I can't remember any Batman comics where the primary villan was a street thug. Thugs may be on the receiving end of a Bat-pummeling most often, but they're rarely - if ever - the villain of the piece. As has been discussed above, the main villain is upper-crust, often as not.

Second, your criticisms (and those advanced in the article itself) are really attacks on the comics format as much as on Batman himself. Any comic that wants to show action and heroism must show some lower-class crimals being beat up! This is a weakness of the format, if only because it's not satisfying to have Batman jumping through skylights into stock exchanges or beating investment bankers bloody - at least, it's not satisfying if it's all that happens in EVERY issue. Like it or not, upper-class criminals tend to commit more "acceptable" or appearantly victimless crimes. It's tough to know who to beat up when an insurance company doesn't pay out; and anyway, that insurance company probably didn't actually do anything illegal - just shifty, underhanded, and immoral.

Does it show Batman's respect for rule of law when he only goes after clear-cut criminals? Maybe not - but it's certainly more satisfying to watch Bats take out a rapist, just in the nick of time, than a corporate polluter or a CEO whose company owns sweatshops in Uganda.

The problem isn't Batman's wealth - we could hear all the same class- and privilege- and conservatism-criticisms about lots of heroes - Spiderman (white kid upholds the status quo! thinks his genius is the only reliable arbiter of morality!), Daredevil (white lawyer beats up the lower class!), Superman (alien pretends to be WASP, uses god-like powers to smite those his outdated morality comdemns!), Black Panther (black-supremecist aristocrat)... the list goes on. The only hero I can think of who couldn't be criticized on class grounds would be... a poor, minority heroine who runs for congress, maybe? And fights corruption through official channels only? Certainly there wouldn't be any fighting or super-powers (special powers immediately put one into a special "upper class"). I dunno.

That said, I'd love more stories where Batman uses both sides of his life to fight Gotham's problems. A comic wherein our hero realizes that Bruce Wayne is doing more for Gotham than Batman - that would be an interesting read.
R Bushong-Taylor
54. WeThePeople
I agree with the spirit of the article.

And I would like to add that the scene where a lot of policemen are afraid to face the "mob" (which is Americanese for ordinary people) until Batman shows up with his high tech gadgets, then they all cheer and charge over the people, is seriously one of the most vile, repugnant, disgusting cinematic distorsions of reality this side of Triumph of the Will.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment