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Q&A: Eight Decades of Bats

You’ve said in the past that Bruce Wayne having a job a job program for criminals was out of character. And even just watching the animated series again, I don’t think I agree. He has wanted to help people, even criminals, many times. Harley Quinn is a big one. Jason Todd tried to steal his tires and might have been able to get away with it. There’s Two-Face as well. Bats may not have the same views as, Nightwing, but to say he’s all about Tomas Hobbs and nothing else is missing some nuance.

It’s not nuance. The issue is that these characters have passed through the hands of many writers. That’s not a criticism of your position, per se.

You’re not wrong. Take Adam West’s Batman, and you have a character who truly looks for the best in everyone. Scattered through the years there have been a lot of truly altruistic versions presented. The key word there is, “versions.”

These are different writers takes on the character. We exist in a world where one set of writers looked at the character and created a lighthearted romp where the greatest foes he faces are lovable (if dangerous) buffoons. And another set of writers turned him, literally, into a vampire, who preys on the unwary. This can make life really tricky when you’re trying to offer up a concise critique of a character like this. It’s not just Batman by the way. Many comic book superheroes, and even most mythological figures suffer from this.

Now, obviously, if you’re wanting to talk about something like Thor, you can pick from a vast array of different, conflicting, sources, and (to some extent) chose the scope of your examination. The scope is actually pretty important. Do you look at the modern interpretations or a specific subset, (like “Thor in video games”), do you look at the actual myth, or the changes to the figure’s presentation over time as cultural and other factors changed? Do you intersect them with something else, for example, looking at “how Norse mythology interconnects with Arthurian myth.”

Modern franchise characters offer some similar options. You can look at Batman in specific eras, under certain writers, or how the character reflected changing social trends over time. In some cases you can even splice off specific pieces, such as reboots or alternate versions, and analyze those examples.

Fortunately, Batman makes this somewhat easy. Most of the time, the character is fairly consistent but there’s always going to be stuff like Stephanie Brown or Jean-Paul Valley that is not, and breaks character on his behavior. Batman hiring a brainwashed assassin and putting him in a powered armor batsuit was a fixture in the 90s in Knightfall after Bain broke Batman’s spine. We also have Batman killing the teenage girlfriend of Tim Drake through neglect after taking her on as Tim’s replacement and trying to use that event as a teachable moment. (See also, Batman: War Games.) DCUO’s Bats, who often sounds like he’s in the middle of a nervous breakdown while handing out quests to a number of nascent MMO heroes might be another.

Consider this, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Frank Miler, Mark Millar, Geoff Johns, Jeff Loeb, Chuck Dixon, Bruce Timm, Garth Ennis, Gail Simone, and many, many more have all written for Batman either in his own books or in other comic incarnations. If you haven’t been paying attention, these writers all have vastly different approaches and outlooks when it comes to presenting their characters. Grant Morrison honestly believes that Batman snaps and kills the Joker at the end of “The Killing Joke”, and he presents this as objective fact. Alan Moore, who wrote “The Killing Joke” thinks Grant Morrison is a moron. We haven’t even gotten discrepancies with the way Batman is presented on film. Remember, Batman and Robin is the film adjacent to Batman Begins, they’re both technically canon. Do you imagine Christian Bale grew up to be George Clooney or Adam West? The Adam West Batman is one of Batman’s most famous versions. There are lots of different versions of Batman to choose from.

As a fan, you might pick and choose your canon but many of the versions which don’t appeal to you are just as valuable from an analytical and critical perspective. So, keep that in mind as we move forward.

I did not say that it was out of character for Batman to seek to redeem people. The issue here is the methodology. At the core of Batman, you have a guy who dresses up as a bat to scare criminals into line and when that fails, he resorts to violence. I mean, at the extreme end, we’re talking about a character who kept a yellow power ring around, “just in case.” Except, sometimes, with some writers, he abandons this entire philosophy when convenient.

At this point, I should probably step back and abstract Hobbes a bit.

Thomas Hobbes wasn’t saying that it was impossible to govern, or that people couldn’t be productive members of society. He simply argued that, if left to their own devices, people suck. That they will do whatever they want to one another, unless kept in line somehow. That’s Batman; people suck, and the only reason they follow the law is because they’re afraid of what could happen if they don’t.

What’s not (usually) Batman, is Hobbes answer. He argued that the way to “deal” with people was to form communities, bound together by a social contract. While this is somewhat reflected by Bats, it’s not usually articulated as such. You can see this a lot more clearly articulated with the Adam West era stuff. While being one of the most optimistic versions of the character, he’s also, very strongly arguing that social structures need to be adhered to for the good of all.  It’s still Hobbes’s commonwealth, just not how you usually think about Batman.

With that said, as cynical as Hobbes is about human nature, the overall tone of the Leviathan isn’t nearly as bleak. He is arguing that people can transcend, their state of nature. Put simply, “people suck, but they can be better.” He then goes into excruciating detail how he thinks that’s possible.

So, I said Bats’ outreach programs were out of character, and I stand behind that.

Let’s talk about the personal stuff. His relationships with Jason Todd, Harvey Dent, Stephanie Brown, Damion… those are consistent. They’re not completely out of character, though I have to wonder about Jason. The Red Hood murdering people with guns goes against everything Batman supposedly stands for, but DC has embraced Jason back into the Batfamily when he’d kick Damien out for doing the same thing… let’s move on.

Bats’ is forming, or trying form, a community. Dent is outside of that, but Bats desperately wants to believe reform is possible and (re)include him. This is arguably true with several of his villains. He does believe they can be reformed. That’s not in conflict with Hobbes. Hobbes believed that people could be better, and Bats follows that ideal. The issue is the exceptions he makes.

Most of the outreach programs Bruce Wayne runs build off of an idea that all someone needs to succeed is a little help. That normally, people are decent, and that when someone gets out of line, it’s a product of other factors pushing them to behave in that way. That’s not Hobbes. This is Superman. Superman believes that people are, by nature, decent. That they are driven to do bad things, either because they’ve become misguided,  or because they’re forced to.

Now, the irony in this is that Batman is in a far better position to affect change from Superman’s outlook. He has the resources to engage in civic works. He could put money into Gotham in ways that would actually reduce crime and corruption. He could improve the city he lives in. This is the legacy of Thomas Wayne; a man trying to make Gotham a better place through strategic philanthropy. Bats doesn’t. At my most generous, I’d be inclined to chalk this stuff up as an element of his cover and as such, in-character. Because rich celebrities throw money at charity, Bruce Wayne does. And, there’s a potential to write this stuff off like that. It’s not something Bats believes in, but he does it to keep public opinion on Bruce’s side.

There’s probably something to be said, in the vein of Watchmen‘s thesis: You can’t really make the world a better place by punching muggers. It just doesn’t work. The problem is, that’s Batman’s plan. Beatings will continue until morale improves. At the same time Gotham is a complete mess, much like Watchmen‘s New York. To be fair, this is not an intentional correlation. Bats needs muggers to punch, so Gotham needs to be a hell hole.

When you’re writing, it’s very important to remember that you and your characters are different people. They (probably) have a different philosophical outlook from you. At that point, simply doing something because it would be nice, or because you want to is insufficient justification. It needs to be something your character would do. You need to justify their decision, at least to yourself; check that it is consistent with how they view their world.

When you are analyzing, it is equally important to asses the ideology a work, and its characters. Translating that to the author’s ideology can be tricky, even if you know what you’re doing. Understanding the ideology of a character comes from looking at their words and actions. Finding idiosyncrasies and discrepancies is a vital step in determining the nature of that character. Writers often look for behavior that may be considered out of character, because they are attempt to assess the work. It’s a literary acid bath. This isn’t malicious, it’s not trying something you love. It’s a writer looking at a piece and trying to learn from it. Eventually, it’s something you need to do as well, to grow.

Also, you can love something stupid. You can love something that doesn’t make any sense. There’s no accounting for quality. I’ve watched some terrible movies that I’m still quite fond of. But, it is kind of important, to be honest with yourself. Fandom can constrain your growth as an artist. You love a thing, and that’s good, but then you let that stake out your borders. Don’t let that happen.

I like Batman, but he is a mess.


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When people criticize Batman’s approach to crime by dressing up as a bat and punching criminals in the face, I don’t recall seeing if these criticisms included that some iterations of Bruce Wayne include him trying to confront poverty by creating jobs and hiring ex-criminals. Thoughts?

Mostly just that it’s there to say, “see, Batman isn’t a complete psychopath, when he’s disguised as Bruce Wayne he can do charitable things too.”

There’s a philosophical limitation to Batman, that’s probably worth thinking about, if you intend to deal with a character like that seriously. Ironically, it’s also the thesis of Watchmen, you can’t make the world a better place by punching random muggers in the face.

Batman (and to an extent, mainline superhero comics) work through the fantasy of being able to solve your problems through violence. Yes, there’s more to it than that (sometimes.) Bad comics embrace this, without realizing the flaws in this approach. Good ones acknowledge it and either move on with their day or use it to talk about something. Great ones actually take steps to addressing this paradox. And some very entertaining comics are willing to sit at the sideline chucking popcorn at the mess.

As with so many other things, Batman usually flails his arms and says, “I prepared specifically for that,” and then pretends the problem doesn’t exist.

Thing is, given the state of Gotham, there’s a legitimate read that Batman is actually making the city worse. He’s functioning as a kind of lightning rod for crazy. Even by the standards of the DCU, Gotham’s supervillain population is barking mad. It also has a contingent of “normal” supervillains, and criminal element, so there must be a causal factor. At that point, it’s not hard to conclude that it might have something to do with one of its most prominent superheros being at least as crazy as the people he’s locking up. Or Scarecrow’s been pumping psychoactive drugs into the city’s water supply for 70 years and no one noticed.

In this context, about the only constructive thing Bats does is help ex-cons get a job after they’re on the outside… except, it might actually be out of character.

Intentional or not, Batman is a huge fan of Thomas Hobbes. He’s hanging from the gargoyles (because that’s normal behavior for an adult), thinking that people are, inherently, cruel and vicious creatures, who will prey on one another unless someone dressed an animal costume puts the fear of god into them.

In contrast, Superman is a huge fan of John Locke, and by extension on the opposite side of this spectrum. He’s approaching the world from the perspective that people are generally good, and if their needs are provided for, then they won’t intentionally harm each other.

Thing is, these perspectives fit the characters and their respective backstories. The guy who is an immigrant from another world, with a sheltered upbringing, and a (basically) happy life looks at people and says, “yeah, they’re basically okay, maybe they need some help once in awhile, but they can be trusted.” The guy who watched his parents gunned down in front of him goes, “people suck, they can’t be trusted, we need to put the fear of flying rodents into them or they’ll do horrible things.“

When you put them next to each other, you’ve got a fantastic opportunity for friction. These are two ideologies that do not mesh with each other. It’s not that they’re incapable of discourse, but their fundamental approach to the world, and the way they view people, is incredibly different, and their decisions are as a result.

The problem is, offering criminals a way out, and helping them find their footing is a Locke thing. It’s the kind of behavior you’d see from Superman (or a lot of other superheros, honestly). Batman is kinda a minority, philosophically speaking. You can lump him in with The Question or Marvel’s Punisher, but his outlook doesn’t really fit well with most of the DCU.

So, what we’re left with is, Batman disguised as Bruce Wayne, trying to behave like Superman. And we’re asked to believe that he’s trying to make Gotham a better place by engaging in behavior that honestly doesn’t mesh with his philosophical outlook on state of nature. Which also requires that he’s developed the kind of introspection necessary to understand that the way he views the world is not the only possible “correct” perspective, and that’s not supported by the way Batman’s written.

You could legitimately suggest that he does this as a show of respect for Superman (and most of the other superheros he interacts with), or that it’s an attempt to further disguise his dual identity; except, that never really happens. It’s played painfully straight.

Honestly, I think this is simply a holdover from an earlier iteration of the character. Adam West’s version of the Caped Crusader was a lot closer to the Big Blue Boyscout, ideologically. West’s version having rehabilitation programs made sense. We’re also talking about a version of the character who paid parking tickets on the Batmobile and wouldn’t allow Robin to enter bars because he was underage. (Though had no qualms about Bruce Lee beating the snot out of The Boy Wonder, oddly enough.)

The rehabilitation efforts have limped forward, while the character exercising them has been completely re-imagined. It’s kept as a legacy element of his character, without really considering that it makes no sense for the current version. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure exactly when this happened. I’m inclined to point at Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as the turning point. Though it could have been at pretty much any point in the 80s.

Either way, it’s persisted. We still have a version of Batman that breaks character because it made sense fifty years ago. This is a consideration when you’re working with characters who’ve passed through a lot of different writers. They’ll all add things that make sense to them, but the overall essence of a character can be altered. Along the way, you’ll end up with baggage that doesn’t mesh with the character you’re working on. At that point, your choices are to jettison it (if you’re doing a fresh interpretation), or try to find a way to reconcile these elements together.


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Would you say that the punisher is more realistic than batman

Yes, but only in a relatively. Both characters, and most other unpowered superheros, aren’t realistic, because they vastly overestimate how resilient people are. Mark Millar’s Kickass attempts to subvert this.

For the amount of abuse Frank Castle takes on a regular basis, he wouldn’t be able to recover, much less continue hunting down criminals. He’s slightly more realistic in the sense that his day to day activities wouldn’t (usually) be wrecking his body the way Batman’s hopping rooftop to rooftop, and constant hand to hand combat would.

At the same time, recovering from a bullet or even a bad beating will take months, and this is something that both The Punisher and Batman shrug off, as the plot demands.

Anyone attempting to do what Batman does would end up as a subject of a Police taskforce in fairly short order. In contrast, Castle would probably provoke a federal investigation, due to his use of explosives. Neither of these create situations where they’d be able to keep up their crusades for years, much less decades.

So, yes, The Punisher is slightly more realistic than Batman, but not by much. If you want a more realistic comic, then you’re probably going to need to get out of the superhero genre, or look for the comics that specifically address the disparity between someone with minor powers and someone who is, literally, a superhero.

Some quick suggestions on the subject:

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis: this is the original Jessica Jones comic. It’s a good street level view of a character with minor superpowers interacting with normal people.

Powers also by Brian Michael Bendis: This is a series about cops who investigate superpowered crimes and criminals. It’s also very good, and has gotten it’s own adaptation. Still, the comic is worth reading.

If you need more Bendis writing cops, there’s always his run on Sam and Twitch. For reference, it was a Spawn spin off series.

If you’re willing to ditch superheros entirely, then Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country is absolutely worth reading.


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In your answer to the BatmanvSuperman question, you mentioned that “death is a very effective disincentive”. Did you mean as in dark humor, disincentive to the person who got offed? Or to the public in general, cos the US and international crime statistics on death penalty’s us to prevent violent crimes show that it does not serve as a disincentive, quite the opposite. Huge fan of your blog though!

A little bit. My humor does tend to skew a little dark, most of the time; and some of that did filter into the response. There’s also a legitimate observation about Batman in there, and it gets back to the fantasy surrounding the character.

Anyway, if I’m remembering correctly, you are correct. At a policy level capital punishment doesn’t work as a deterrent. There’s probably a joke to be had about it “doing wonders for recidivism,” but ultimately, it’s just too rare and unpredictable to function as a disincentive.

As a statement about Batman’s philosophy and state of mind? It’s a legitimate assessment of his position. Mr. “Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot” believes that extrajudicial violence is just what Gotham City needs. More than that, it has to be his extrajudicial violence. Within that specific context, accidental deaths fall into the range of, “eh, close enough.” Again, if we ignore his personal code against killing people.

That said, it doesn’t seem to work. Gotham is a hellhole, even with (and arguably because of) his activities. A fact which seems to sail right over his dubiously themed cowl.

There’s a legitimate (and fairly well supported) read of the character, that he actually causes more harm than good to Gotham; that his behavior encourages the rash of supervillains who plague the city; and that he is just as crazy (if not more so) than the people he tosses in Arkham.

In case it’s not apparent, this isn’t automatically a bad thing. When handled well it’s one of the more interesting aspects to the character. It’s also worth keeping in mind for your own writing. You can have characters who hold beliefs that do not align with objective reality and insist that they’re right and the world is wrong.

Also, people can suffer from confirmation bias (the thought process where you subconsciously weigh evidence based on how well it supports your expectations), so it’s not like this element of the character is unrealistic. He’s already so far around the bend that dressing up as an airborne rodent seems like the best way to deal with the city’s crime problem. That isn’t exactly the kind of person you’d expect to provide well reasoned policy analysis and tailor their response accordingly. That he can survive night to night beating the hell out of people? That’s not so realistic, but the part where he believes in his cause; evidence be damned? That happens.


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This isn’t exactly a writing question but does it make you guys as mad as it makes me that when a superhuman and a human fight (like Superman and Batman) and like SM punches BM and BM gets up like it was nothing. SM can punch thru steel, he’d severel

“…severely break everything in BM’s body“

Not so much, given that Batman has superpowers; he’s just in denial. Exactly what his superpowers are very widely based on the writer, much like Superman. (No, seriously, Superman has cooking and gardening as superpowers.) Most of the time, Batman is simply super-intelligent. There’s also jokes about him having money as a superpower, which is apt, if you look at how he operates. When it’s convenient, he’s presented as inhumanly resilient to injury, and capable of healing at supernatural speeds. Such as when he took a year off crime-fighting because his spine had been severed. Then Frank Miller gave him exo-armor and prep time; and Batman transcended his mortal plane.

It doesn’t bother me because of where Batman comes from as a character. He started out as an homage/expansion of the pulp era superheros like Doc Savage and The Shadow, and their vague superpowers acquired through dubious means. So the idea that he’d be taking hits that should turn him into the world’s greatest meat smoothie isn’t that strange.

DC’s official justification is that Superman pulls his punches when he’s fighting humans, Bats included. It fits with most versions of his character. The modern dynamic of these two characters is pretty interesting, and it explains why Supes doesn’t want to kill.

Batman is a character who believes that people are inherently corrupt, and they must be terrorized into line. Either through violence, or the threat of violence. Ironically, his no-killing policy, and even his aversion to guns weren’t originally part of the character, they were added later to differentiate him from The Shadow.

Superman is a character who believes that people are inherently good. If they’ve resorted to crime or violence, it’s because they don’t see another way to solve their problems. He’s not here to turn you into a statistic. It’s about offering you a way out, and trying to help you through your problems.

Now, these are both characters that have been in print for over 75 years, so there’s some variance, but that is the overview of who they’ve become. If you’re trying to reconcile Adam West’s Batman with the one I just described, don’t, he’s actually on the Big Blue Boy Scout’s side of the spectrum.

For Batman (ignoring his personal code on killing), death is an acceptable outcome. He’s terrorizing people into line, and death is a very effective disincentive.

For Superman, death is a failure. It’s the inability to actually rehabilitate someone. So actually killing his opponents becomes a much more measured choice, and dependent on the entire situation.

Now, when someone declares they’re doing a “realistic” take on Batman, I have to laugh a bit. We’re talking about a character who, literally, dresses up as a bat, and beats the snot out of people. The more you think about it, the less sense it makes. So trying to inject him into an approximation of the real world is a losing proposition. But, this is an issue for most of the genre. Superheros function on a kind of dreamlike logic that falls apart in daylight. There have been thousands of articles, books, and comics written on the subject in the last 30 years.

But, no, Superman resisting the impulse to liquefy Batman is a character choice, and a genre convention.


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how can i create a realistic batman?

The short answer would be, “you can’t.” No, Christian Bale growling at the camera doesn’t count. The problem is Batman is a very formalistic character, so pushing to the other end of the spectrum is going to require something gets tossed.

Or you can give your not-batman superpowers. It may sound slightly insane, but a character like The Shadow is, in many ways, more realistic than Batman, even though he’s literally a pulp era superhero. (And, incidentally one of the major inspirations for Batman.) The Authority’s Midnighter is another potential example of a “realistic” Batman, though, again, because superpowers make it possible.

The problem with a realistic Batman starts in the day. Specifically there aren’t enough hours in it to allow someone to do what he does. Maintaining a cover identity is a time consuming process. While billionaire layabout might seem like a pretty good gig, it actually involves a lot of micromanagement. He needs to show up to enough social events and make a mess of himself enough of the time to both convince people that he really is Bruce Wayne, and there’s no way this derp could possibly secretly be Batman.

I won’t pretend to be original in pointing out that this also means Bruce Wayne will habitually seduce a woman, leave a party, get a couple blocks from the event, feign a headache, drop her on the sidewalk, and then scamper back to the batcave, get changed, and then go hunting criminals for the rest of the night, before tormenting and then pounding on them. And he does all of this without developing any kind of a reputation for habitually dumping high society socialites on Gotham’s crime ridden streets.

Also, he does this without tipping off the paparazzi that something is seriously strange with this guy. I get that this wasn’t an element of the world when the character was originally created, but it also puts a time limit on how frequently he can duck into the batcave and drive off into the night before some freelance photographer realizes that Wayne Manor has a secret back exit for superheroes.

While we’re on the subject, I should probably also link the Cracked article about bodies being buried under the Batcave.

After that, he spends what’s left of the night hunting petty criminals and super villains indiscriminately. Returning to the batcave randomly, in an attempt to sort out whatever bits of evidence he’s found and anticipate some criminal conspiracy or deranged supervillain’s master plan. (We’ll be coming back to this in a minute.)

Depending on who’s writing the comics, Gotham’s nights have a nasty habit of being infinitely long. Thematically it’s fine, but since we’re talking about realism, it’s worth pointing out.

He sleeps for a few hours, and then staggers out in the afternoon pretending to have a hangover. And then goes and does it all again.

Until the sleep deprivation starts affecting his ability to fight, which would take roughly a day.

The second problem is, ironically, sidestepped by DC. Note: I didn’t say “intentionally.” We’ve gone over how much wear and tear fighting causes in the past. When you’re talking about a character who’s going out and roughing up street level hoodlums on a regular basis, he’s not going to be able to keep that up for any serious length of time before his body simply starts falling apart. This means he has, at best, a few years of crime fighting in him before his body is completely wrecked. But, ignoring things like Batman Beyond or Dark Knight Returns, Batman hasn’t aged since 1939. Of course, that also implies he’s going through Robins like popcorn.

This is assuming he doesn’t make mistakes and get injured, which will happen because he’s sleep deprived. When he does get injured, that will force him out of the action for weeks to months, depending on how serious it is. Except, we frequently see Batman going right back in immediately, on force of will alone.

For those of you who’ve never experienced a serious injury first hand… I envy you. Also, serious injuries basically come in two flavors. Ones where you literally can’t use the injured body parts, and ones that are waiting for you to ignore them so they can turn into the former. Trying to force your way through the pain is also a fantastic way of turning a minor injury into a permanent one.

Even if he somehow manages to avoid direct injury, the wear and tear of constant combat will still destroy him. Stress fractures are the first thing that occur to me, though that’s not the only possibility. Batman’s particularly vulnerable to nearly every common sports injury associated with leaping off of buildings at random. Which includes the day when his leg shatters in a spiral fracture.

And we’re not done. Batman’s “The World’s Greatest Detective,” because, honestly, when you’re a superhero, why not go all out for your business card? But, the problem is, he really can’t investigate a crime without muddling the whole thing up. In theory, that’s what he’s doing, investigating crime… and making sure The Joker goes free?

There’s three problems. First, Batman can’t testify, (unless he’s Adam West). Second, Batman’s “interviewing” technique is going to be inadmissible. Third, any evidence Batman touches can’t be used to prosecute the supervillains and petty criminals that ravage Gotham.

By nature, you can’t really put Batman on the stand. Who do you call? Where do you send the summons? Does Batman make himself available for depositions during business hours? How do you know the Batman who roughed up the defendant and left him hanging twelve stories above the city is the same Batman you managed to put on the stand? How did the police even know what the defendant even did? And, finally, “who is that masked man?”

Are the police supposed to simply incarcerate someone on this random animal themed lunatic’s say so in a city overrun with similarly themed lunatics running amok?

To prosecute a criminal (it doesn’t matter if they’re The Joker or a failed wannabe mugger from Burnley) you need to establish what they did. That involves opening up a large chunk of the police investigation and picking it over. If 90% of your work was done by Batman… that doesn’t really work anymore. It doesn’t matter if The Joker tried to nerve gas half of Gotham, if you can’t prove it court, you can’t lock him up.

Even if he confessed to Batman, that’s going to be inadmissible. It turns out dangling people by their toenails from the 23rd floor isn’t an accepted form of police interrogation. Suspects have civil rights. For example, the right to not be tortured by a deranged psychopath, and mock executions, like pretending to drop someone from a high rise, are torture. And, once one of the people investigating the case has started torturing the suspect, it taints the entire case.

Incidentally, that also leaves Batman open to a civil suit. Yes, that’s the plot from The Incredibles. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s a real potential, and not even just in spurious litigation. Batman beats the living tar out of people on a night to night basis. If the prosecutor fails to get a conviction because Batman tortured the suspect, that’s a very plausible tort.

While we’re on the subject of technical legalities, Batman needs a warrant. This might sound insane, but if he’s investigating crime for the police, even if he’s pretending that he’s doing this on his own, he’s acting on their behalf. (I think the technical term is, “acting as an agent of the state,” but it’s been a long time since my pre-law classes.) Which means he needs to follow procedure, more or less. So, he can’t just break into a warehouse and rifle through the place looking for contraband. Or, at least, if he does, he can’t use anything he finds to further his investigation.

As a quick aside, when Batman was originally written, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Used to be, police could accept evidence from an anonymous informant, and the chain of evidence would start when the officer took possession of it. This led to “black bag jobs” where law enforcement officers (the early FBI was particularly fond of this trick) would burgle a suspect, make off with evidence, and then pass it to themselves, start the chain of evidence, and never request a warrant. So, today (well, any time after 1972), Batman needs a warrant.

That’s the other side of what happens when 90% of your work was done by Batman, then he’s been handling your evidence, turning it over, poking it with a stick, and trying to make sense of it. Sometimes this means he’s just staring at it, but a lot of the time it involves taking the evidence with him and conducting his own forensic tests on it. This is a huge problem.

In a criminal prosecution, maintaining the chain of evidence is vital. It’s not enough to know that “this bullet matches the suspect’s weapon.” You need to also be able to prove that the bullet is the same one the police dug out of the wall originally. This starts the chain of evidence, and everyone who handles it has to sign for it. The original evidence will be marked in a way to make it easily identifiable by whoever collected it originally. If it needs to undergo forensics testing, that is done under scrutiny. Wherever it goes, there is a trail of signatures for everyone that touched it. Again, this is absolutely vital, because the prosecutor needs to prove that this bullet matches the defendant’s weapon and that it is the same bullet a member of the GCPD pulled out of a wall in the Diamond District.

If Batman took the bullet off to the Batcave and came back with one that matches this gun he found… how do you know it’s the same bullet the GCPD surrendered to his custody in the first place? Any half-sentient defense attorney could tear apart any case Batman so much as touched. Which might explain why, half the time, Harvey Dent wants him dead so badly.

How do you make a realistic Batman? You don’t. Realism sabotages the fantasy that sustains superheros. Most of the time, when someone says they’re going to do a “realistic superhero,” they end up with either a retread of Watchmen or a bucket filled with gore and leftover ‘90s edgy.


I’m writing a character that’s a professional dancer. I read your post about not being able to be masters in both dance AND martial arts, but is it possible for him to be good /enough/ to take down a couple of other guys with the use of his agility and possibly weapons, as well?

I’m going to sound like a broken record here, I know. Dancing doesn’t help. Asking again won’t change that. It’s like asking, “how does my day job as a pasta chef help me fight crime?” These things are completely unrelated. I know, with dancing it doesn’t seem like they are, but trust me, they have nothing to do with one another.

The only martial artists that benefit from dancing are exhibition artists. These are the performers that put on the floor shows. For them, acrobatics, gymnastics, and dance routines are nice supplements that allow them to spice up their routines, and they make it look good.

But, looking good, and being effective in a fight are completely different animals.

If you try to use dance moves in a fight it will get you killed.

Second: taking multiple fighters is seriously hard. The upper human limit is six to eight opponents at one time. The upper limit. If you are Batman, you can take eight. If you’re someone that actually ages, and hasn’t been getting into random slap fights with a menagerie of bizarrely themed villains for 80 years with a history of beating the snot out of gods and winning, taking on groups is basically not happening.

Also, I hate to break it to you, Batman, Chuck Norris, and Buffy cheat, in a lot of ways. TV and film presents multiple combat as far easier than it actually is because it wants you to see how utterly badass the hero is. Unfortunately, if that’s your baseline, it completely messes up your zero point. Taking two guys is hard. Juggling three or four requires a phenomenal amount of skill. Handling six is the realistic limit for someone with decades of combat training and experience.

Now, if it’s seven of you, and you’re exhibitionists who are putting on a martial arts floor show, or stunt performers choreographing a major fight for that movie you’re in… but that’s not a real fight. I’m sure it will look cool, but that’s not how combat actually works.

There is one major caveat with this: weapons change everything. If you’re willing to start a fight by burying a crowbar in the back of some mook’s skull, dealing with three two opponents is quite possible. If you’re willing to leverage one against another, or tangle them up in each other, or just flat out kill them before they can respond, you can deal with two opponents. But, even with a weapon, this is tricky, and you’re going to need a plan. The weapon just makes it possible. That said, if your opponents also have weapons, you’re back where you started, and the odds of you living through the fight just got a lot lower.


Ignoring the issue of firearms, how effective a crime-fighting duo do you think Batman and Robin would actually make (where Robin is a kid)?

Unless you’re talking about actual superheroes with real superpowers, not very. Firearms aren’t actually the sticking point, ironically.

If you’ve ever played games with well developed stealth systems, you should have some basic ideas for how a sufficiently trained individual can neutralize armed opponents. Actually, while we’re talking about it, the Arkham games do a pretty good job of this when we’re talking about a Batman style superhero.

We’ve talked about how children can’t go toe to toe with adults before, and again, unless your Robin stand-in is more in the 16-20 range, or has actual superpowers, they’re just not going to be able to take on adults in hand to hand, no matter how good their training is.

The real problem is, this isn’t sustainable behavior. Mark Millar’s Kickass does a pretty good job of showing what will happen when a character like that screws up in a fight. At least the comic does, I still haven’t gotten around to the film.

But, of all things, the Ben Affleck Daredevil film pays lip service to the consequences for an (effectively) unpowered character doing this without screwing up and getting mauled. If you haven’t seen it, there are a couple shots early on in the film showing that he is downing massive cocktails of painkillers on a daily basis just to remain functional.

Here’s the thing, even if your character fights effectively, they’re going to physically deteriorate at a phenomenal rate. This is why boxers and other professional fighters have careers that only last at most a decade. Martial artists who don’t participate in competition last longer, but people who are engaged in real world combat, are looking at a couple years before their bodies are complete wrecks. This isn’t a skill issue, this is just that they’re pushing their body past the breaking point every night, and it quickly catches up with them.

For powered characters, who have faster healing or increased resistance to damage this is obviously, less of an issue. Also characters like the Punisher or The Shadow that rely more on weapons to dispose of criminals will be mostly unaffected by this. (Though, now that I think about it, The Shadow probably does have increase healing from his training, so that example just undermined itself.)

Looking at Garth Ennis’ Welcome Back Frank isn’t a bad place to look at someone balancing comic book sensibilities with the consequences of failure for The Punisher, and characters like him.