Blog by Brock D. Vickers
Riddle me this, “Who is the world’s greatest detective?” Born out of the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, the detective story has captured audiences’ minds since its inception. Putting the pieces together and solving a puzzle is what draws us in. Are we smart enough to solve the riddle? Can we figure out the mystery before “The World’s Greatest Detective?”
The title, shared by the likes of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, or the enigmatic “L,” is like a challenge issued to the audience. Each of these characters has captured the limelight at some point, whether it is with BBC’s fantastic productions of Poirot or Sherlock, or even animé’s binge-watched Death Note.
Yet, since Auguste Dupin there has been one detective that has attracted more attention than any other. His resources are limitless, his story tragic, and his rogues’ gallery is unrivaled.
He was born for “Detective Comics,” and has been referred to as “The Dark Knight,” “The Caped Crusader,” and of course “The World’s Greatest Detective,” but is most commonly referred to as Batman. Whatever you know him as, or wherever you know him from, Batman is proof you don’t need superpowers to be a hero.
The Dark Knight is an American icon. He’s the only human among the gods of the Justice League (and also the man who destroys it). He’s taken down monstrous deities, tyrannical conquerors, terrorists, and every form of supervillain from those with one bad day to those with a lifetime of bad days. He’s the man who defeated Superman: “I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.”
In 1939, after the success of Superman, Action Comics prompted editors of National Publications (the future DC Comics) to request more superheroes. In response, Bob Kane created “the Bat-Man” with collaborator Bill Finger to contrast the original golden boy. Created as a combination of Zorro, Dracula, and the Shadow, Kane and Finger’s creation has become one of the greatest comic-book characters to ever don a cape and cowl.
After witnessing the death of his parents, American billionaire playboy and philanthropist Bruce Wayne, swears vengeance against injustice and trains himself physically and mentally, crafting a bat-inspired persona to instill fear in criminals.
Unlike most superheroes, Batman possesses no superpowers; rather, he relies on his intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, detective skills, and indomitable will to defeat his foes. Like Sherlock before him, Bruce sharpens his senses to the point of medical precision and makes himself more than man. He creates a symbol people can believe in.
Batman gained his own comic-book title in 1940. Though more of a superhero now, Batman started out as a true detective. As the decades rolled on, new interpretations of the character evolved into the idea he is today.
The late 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West used a camp aesthetic. The dark soul of the character returned in 1986 with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Warner Bros.‘ live-action Batman feature films. From Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s rubber-suited Knight to Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s realistic anti-hero, the Caped Crusader has become the most profitable hero of all time.
The character has set the standard for video games with Rocksteady’s Arkham series, as well as provided the model for how to make an action cartoon with the Emmy Award-winning television show Batman: The Animated Series.
He ranks second on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes (behind the honorary position held by the original superhero, Superman), and yet holds no powers. The secret to Batman’s draw is simple: he’s human. He has been broken by Bane and tempted by Poison Ivy, but ultimately if the Dark Knight were to miss his grapple, or be clipped by an Omega-Beam, he would go down for the count. He is fallible and mortal, just like us. There is no token weakness like wood or kryptonite, because every time the Dark Knight rises he is vulnerable.
After the Green Lantern flies away to save the galaxy or Flash reverses time, what are we left with? It is Bruce’s humanity, his weakness, that draws us in. He is a flawed orphan, who has dedicated his life to an insurmountable task. The very idea of Batman is the essence of character.
In the theatre, we love flawed people. We do not go to the theatre to see people live through a good day, or watch them as things go right. We go to the theatre to see what people do while under duress. What fun is there is watching someone cope? We want to see the struggle. Bruce gives us the struggle. We know that every time he goes out on patrol, he is risking it all.
Batman is the most feared superhero of all, because he represents the absolute pinnacle of human achievement: the complete package and the ideal of what we all could be.
Always five steps ahead of his foes, he’s a brilliant detective, a world class athlete, and a master strategist, but in his crusade against injustice, there are two questions that drive this character: how far will he go and can he maintain his humanity?
Something is always at stake for the Dark Knight, and the beauty of the canon of stories from the earliest iterations by Kane and Finger to the most recent rendition by Zack Snyder, our hero is always in conflict. He has lost his parents, his lovers, his allies, his friends, and in some cases he’s even lost his own mind, but each and every time we see Batman pull through, we feel the catharsis of our own humanity. We believe in ourselves, because if Batman can do it, then why can’t we?