USER EDITORIAL: Finding The Real BATMAN
This is long, but I really hope it is read with open eyes and clear heads. It may quell some of the rage. It may even save Batman. I present to you a passionate defence of The Dark Knight by a lifelong Batfan
I think we need to start over.
I'm a nice guy. I'm a well-educated guy. I'm a passionate, thoughtful, reasonable guy. At least, that's what I've been told all my life by most people, so that's what I believe. That’s all subjective. OBJECTIVELY, I know where I live, what I do, what’s happened to me, who I know, and endless other facts, including that I have been a Batman fan all my life. I’ve loved him since I first knew what a superhero was, and I’ve always regularly read the comics and have seen and loved every TV show and movie. Dark Knight isn’t by any means the ONLY Batmovie I love; it’s merely my favorite.
I just friggin’ love Batman, and I love the sheer number of ways he has been interpreted over the years. And even though I devour the main comic storyline, in many ways I appreciate new takes on the character even more. I’m not just talking about the Nolan films, mind you. I mean everything from Arkham: Serious House to Elseworlds to Beyond to Dark Knight Returns TO the Nolan films. So in no way should anyone be allowed to write me off as a "Nolanite," lest I write THEM off using a long series of violent vituperations.
The Internet, though, seems to exaggerate the bad qualities in everybody. Lately, there's been an influx of hatred and dismissal of opinions by comic book fans directed at Nolan, his movies, and the people who love them. According to many people I’ve met online recently, loving and defending Dark Knight makes me look like a pretentious, Nolanite “fag” who doesn't understand Batman.
Similarly, to us “Nolanites,” the angriest of haters look like closed-minded simpletons who can't stand up for what they believe in without falling back on hate. But not all of them. I believe that most people are better than that. So I'm going to try and reach out to you all here, treating you with respect, despite receiving very little respect when defending this movie on this site and many others. I will not insult anyone's intelligence or attempt to establish my personal truths as universal truths. Rather, I'm going to do the unthinkable and debate about Batman, on the Internet, like a reasonable adult.
So, looking at the comics and the Nolan films, we see two very different Batmen. In the comics, he is a man of peak human physicality and intelligence. He is the Most Dangerous Man Alive. He is the World’s Greatest Detective. His victory is in the preparation. He never gives in to temptation, he never gets beaten unless there’s a huge fuss made about it, and he never stops being the best example of a human being on the planet. His will is iron because he has made the darkness his ally. His world is stylized and largely fantastical, and his enemies range from straightforward mobsters and murderers to gargantuan mutants and demonic, death-defying terrorists. In short – AWESOME.
Meanwhile, in the Nolan films, Batman is an expert combatant, but one who can be worn down if he pushes himself too hard. He can be beaten mentally by criminals who he can’t possibly prepare for because he’s never met anything like them. His morals and skills develop and mature over time as he meets stronger foes, is forced to make impossible decisions, and learns more about what it means to be a hero.
And he does the unthinkable in Dark Knight – he loses. Not in protecting the soul of Gotham, but protecting his OWN soul. He’s forced to break his one rule to save an innocent child, and he descends into darkness. And yet, he endures. To a lot of you – TERRIBLE. Yet to me, and a massive group of “Nolanites” – STILL AWESOME. Why, you ask? (Not because people are stupid and haven’t read the comics. Patience. Bear with me for a moment.)
We must consider that Batman is a symbol. Finding someone in this country who hasn't heard of him is a damn near impossible task. There's no debate that he is a cultural icon, entertaining, inspiring, and just plain pervading the senses of every American since 1939. And the people who love him do so for all sorts of different reasons. Some have only seen the Burton films. Some Schumacher's. Some Nolan's. Some only comics. And of course, most know Batman through some complex combination of those stories.
But I must insist: The fact that these people like Batman is ultimately more important than which VERSION of Batman they like, because the fans ultimately keep Batman alive. Quite simply, if the majority of people in the world somehow lose interest in Batman, or forget about him, he "dies." His legend fades. And the truly passionate ones like us mourn.
And the simple fact is that the majority of people do not read comic books. It's depressing, because they're missing out, but it's true. And sometimes, to reach new audiences, you have to retell the story in a way that gets them interested. Not just to boost comic sales, but to just get the friggin' word out that the characters are culturally relevant.
I gotta say, there was a year or so of my life when I got bogged down with crazy stuff, and I wasn't really all that interested in Batman. I didn't read comics, I read newspapers and emails and bills and all sorts of "real" stuff. Batman was stuck on the page, and my life was for once more compelling and conflict-driven than his. And then, in 2008, I saw Dark Knight.
You could debate with me for hours about whether the movie is "comic-faithful" (and I’d insist that even the best COMICS aren’t comic-faithful) or whether it is OBJECTIVELY flawed (and I'd never stop until I proved you wrong), but nothing can change the fact that Dark Knight blew my MIND. I had simply never thought about Batman the way the story was told.
Begins was never one of my favorite movies; for me it's only in like the top 50, for numerous reasons. But Dark Knight spoke to me on countless levels. The 9-11 imagery, the psychological explorations, the pathos evident in the acting, the complexity of the plot and characters, the stark refusal to have a happy ending... every choice suddenly made Batman once again SERIOUS, IMMEDIATE, and RELEVANT - part of my life.
It's what made me get back into the comics for good. I bought up everything that I had only borrowed before. My thinking was this: "Nolan's films portray a Batman that exists in our world, or as close to our world as possible. He's portraying humans with the willpower to make themselves into heroes and villains, but who don’t have the willpower to stay that way forever. Everything is temporary and chaotic, just like in my life. Therefore, Batman’s story is just as human as mine." Nolan made me feel sympathy for a Batman that I didn't realize I had emotionally distanced myself from. Not just through the relative realism of the world, but through the humanity of the character.
You can praise the fantasy elements of Batman all you want, and I'll agree with you, but you can't deny the emotional impact the film has had on so many people. Not on many of you, and that's fine. Many of you apparently have a stronger sense of suspension of disbelief than I do. But that's the thing: the successes of Nolan's films prove that MOST people have a weaker sense of suspension disbelief than we comic book folk. They want movies to do the imagining for them so they can insert themselves into the story with ease. Most people, whether they know it or not, want a story they can easily make an emotional connection with.
And that manifests in lots of different ways, in lots of different people, at lots of different times in their lives. Sometimes we just want to be entertained, and it's enough of an emotional connection to feel that excitement, that high we get from laughing, from being scared, or from watching cool explosions. However, sometimes we want something deeper. Something that asks us what we're doing on this planet as human beings. And I KNOW that Dark Knight didn't effectively do that for a significant yet small group of others. The point is that it worked on that level for THOUSANDS. Thousands of people were interested in Batman in a way they'd never been before.
So these elements that many insist are central to the Batman character - fantasy, near-invincibility in terms of physical and mental strength, etc. - and these words they use to describe Nolan's films - boring, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, over-dramatized - ultimately prove to be subjective, since MOST people simply either like this Batman better OR, like me, they think it's an interesting, worthwhile take on the character that deserves to be done since it's NEVER been done on such a large scale.
The comics do what the comics do. They tell a never-ending yet awesome story that pleases comic book fans. The movies, though they are THEMATICALLY faithful to the comics, are seeking to tell a brand new story, simply imagining what would happen if Batman were not in some impossible, amazing fantasy world, but in OURS. If he weren't some impossibly amazing man, but ONE OF US. And if that world is so much more interesting to most people than the comic book world... then maybe that says something about what Batman ought to stand for.
Now, I'm not saying the comics should change to be like Nolan's movies. That's insanity. I would hate that. I still love the comics, and the games, and the animated films, and everything good. But I think the message of Dark Knight is great as well - not perfect, but powerful, life-changing even. It was after watching Dark Knight that I decided on my personal motto: "What would Batman do?" NOT Dark Knight's Batman, mind you, because he's not the Batman I would imagine myself to be. He's an imagining of a bluntly imperfect HUMAN Batman. The Batman I want to be is the one from the comics. The perfect one. But the Batman I actually CAN be – the one that I AM, in a way - is Nolan’s.
I think that's what the haters really hate about these movies - this isn't a Batman they want to be. He makes mistakes that any human would make, but comic fans want him to be superhuman in terms of physicality and willpower. They want a Batman who never cracks, because they want to BE that Batman. And of course, so do I. But that's not what drew me to the character when I was little. I was drawn to the darkness in his soul. The emotional turmoil, the raging, unstoppable power he held within himself. The temptation to do wrong at every step of the way. Batman faces the darkness directly and dares it to change him.
Essentially, all Nolan does is explore what would happen if Batman was NOT superhuman in physicality and willpower, and if he was forced to make questionable decisions at a few pivotal points in his life. And I really do understand if that doesn't interest you. There was a time in my life when I would have hated it too. But the fact remains that most people love this movie BECAUSE of that element. Because it truly portrays Batman as the hero who constantly redefines what it means to be a hero. The hero who proves that there are no true heroes – only humans. The hero who is just like them.
We are ALL Dark Knights. There is no such thing as a true White Knight. If the Batman always, ALWAYS does the right thing... then he isn't Dark. He isn't human. He is a Superman. And Superman has to be the heroic opposite of Batman. The true Dark Knight at Batman’s core endures through the pain and the fear and the chaos and his own failings and ultimately… rises. He doesn’t retcon the past. The past changes him. He never stops fighting not only injustice, but the darkness in himself. Just like us. That may not be what some believe, but that's what the human race is interested in hearing about. That’s what people have realized they want Batman to be. And it doesn't matter if you've read the comics forever like we have or if you've somehow never heard of Batman - you can indeed discover who the "real," essential Batman is by watching these films.
I often hear people talk about how Batman creator Bob Kane was involved in the production of Burton’s films, and how he said this was the ONLY way to do a Batman movie. He believed that, without fantasy, Batman’s character is ruined. However, though it's great that he liked the Burton films and I'm glad his vision came to the silver screen, the character is ultimately out of his hands. Kane's dead. His legacy lives on through all of the comic-centric fans, but the basic human understanding of Batman lives in ALL the people who understand him. The ones who simply love the story of the victim who makes himself a hero. The ones who don't need to dig through decades of mythology before asking the question: "What would Batman do?"
And yes, I am saying that those haters understand Kane's Batman better than me. That doesn't make them better Batman fans than me, nor does it make them smarter or more honest people than me. It just makes them different. And difference is good. Difference is what keeps us interested in being alive.
But hating me and countless others for believing in something like this... that's just not cool. That's looking at the opinions of a massive group of people and judging them worthless because you dislike the subjective style and themes of the movie. And when we start to judge people and their opinions as worthless and stupid, we start to become something... inhuman. And something NOT much like what Batman asks us to be.
So before you post another comment dismissing my opinion, just ask yourself: "What would Batman do?"
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