Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Simple Question About the Batman


Doug: In all your readings, television and movie viewings, and video gaming on the Batman, would you say he is motivated more by securing the public's safety or by personal revenge?

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16 comments:

William said...

I would have to say that Batman is definitely mostly concerned with securing the public's safety.

If he was simply out for revenge, he would have quit being Batman after he brought his parents' killer to justice. Also, if he just wanted to punish, and get general revenge on all criminals, I think he would be more inclined to kill those he deemed evil.

So, I think that everything I've seen from the comics, to the TV shows, to the video games, makes it relatively clear that Bruce Wayne / Batman is a truly selfless hero motivated by a strong sense of justice and fairness, more than he is by mere revenge.

Anonymous said...

Indeed; if revenge were his motivation, he'd likely be more Punisher than Batman.

Even "Batman Begins" leaves this somewhat vague -- would Bruce have gone ahead and shot the man who killed his parents in the courthouse? The guy's taken out before we find out, but I like to think Bruce would ultimately be unable to go thru with it.

Doug said...

I think it's the mindset of avenging his parents' deaths that drives Bruce Wayne. In the end I believe he's altruistic, but without the revenge factor there would be no reason to do what he does. So I have a large gray area where my answer lies, somewhere in the middle of this question.

Doug

Humanbelly said...

Yep, William's answer was exactly what came to my mind before clicking over to the comments. I'm not at all a Batman aficionado, though-- and it seems like there's (naturally) been a goodly amount of inconsistency in how he's been written over the years & in different media. Probably the biggest single chunk of his canon I've read was the five-volume No Man's Land collection-- which goes to some length to reinforce his whole Guy-Who-Doesn't-Kill personal mandate (although he needs a lot of help with that at one point). But the darker & grittier (Frank Miller-ish) the character gets. . . the colder and more brutal he becomes. . . the less appealing he is to me. "I'm the G-Dmn Batman" stupidity is the kind of thing that you'd expect from violence-obsessed, wish-fulfillment fanfaction. . . not from someone who is actually shepherding the character in a legitimate publication.

No, "Securing the public's safety" is exactly the right way to put his motivational obsession. It's not even "bring wrong-doers to justice". He wants to do everything in his power to prevent other people from experiencing the horrible loss that he did as a child-- period. Going out and hunting down bad guys after they've committed crimes has always seemed less about getting back at them than about making sure that they don't continue to harm more folks.

Well, in a broad, BROAD sense, of course.

Otherwise, he's just another dull, amoral, eye-for-an-eye nutjob vigilante.

But again, he's not really "my" character, so I can't speak with any authority.

HB

J.A. Morris said...

Going back to the character's roots, I'd say he's more concerned with protecting the general public. And I think he used to get some sort of catharsis out of it too.

But post-DKR, I feel he's written like the Punisher or Travis Bickle in a cowl. I've said before here that DKR was a great story in its day, but in the long run it ruined the character as every writer has tried to "out-Miller" Miller with grittiness. Of course Miller himself is guilty of this, see "I'm the G0dd@mn Batman!".

And while I've never been a costumed crimefighter, I spent lots of my younger days & nights volunteering in various ways to help homeless people in my city.

Early on I learned that even small "victories" need to be celebrated. If we helped someone get admitted into a shelter for a night when it was 20 degrees, it was a good day, no matter what happened in the future.
When Batman stops a robbery and the robber goes to jail, it's a good day, even if the Riddler escaped the week before.
It would be nice to see a Batman who acknowledged that sort of thing, instead of droning on about the diseased scum that rots his city all the time.

Murray said...

I'm with William and HB.

I'll add another bit of evidence in support of the Public Safety Vote: Bruce Wayne. If Batman were only out for personal revenge, Bruce Wayne would be nothing but an irresponsible rich playboy, using the wealth and position strictly for furthering Dark Knight's missions. BUT, instead, Bruce Wayne also sponsors-oversees-encourages the "Wayne Foundation", a philanthropic organization of first class reputation.

Edo Bosnar said...

The Batman with whom I'm familiar, mainly from stories first read in the '70s and '80s, is mostly concerned with public safety. So I'm pretty much with everyone else here.
Doug, your point about him avenging his parents is pertinent, i.e., it is his raison d'etre, but I see no gray area. Instead of just becoming a vengeance-driven, crazed vigilante, he transformed his need for revenge into a greater purpose, trying to make sure that what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else. He thereby honors his parents' memory (and stays sane in the process).

Doug said...

Edo --

I think the gray area in which I view the Batman's motivations stems from the various depictions of his personality, which everyone has mentioned. I have a hard time zeroing in on just one era for the character. Certainly in parts of his history the Batman has been almost a deputy policeman. But of course at other times he's borderline mad (which I think speaks to the last clause in your comment).

All that said, I'd prefer to say he's wholly altruistic. But I'll stand by my thought that's it's the act of vengeance that stays at the front of his mind.

Doug

Mike said...

Great topic Doug! As a resident Batfan and a sometimes commenter here on BAB, I agree that the true Batman is only concerned with public safety. He feels like crime-fighting is a duty that was thrust upon him by the circumstances of violently losing his parents. He did not choose this life, he is only doing what he must to try and positively change the world for others. That theme is the driving force even during lighter side of Batman's past (where he fights giant aliens and uses shark repellant and such).

This responsibility is why he brings in Dick Grayson, a child who also lost his parents due to crime. Batman is not the child-abuser that was pathetically portrayed in Miller and Lee's "Batman & Robin" (source of that horrible previously mentioned "I'm the G--D-mn Batman" line). Batman loves this child as his own and tries to train Robin to carry on his cause against crime as a way to teach him how to positively deal with his grief.

I do agree that it does seem like much of this did change recently this century with a focus on some sort of crazy revenge obsession ... hence why I no longer collect my favorite character's new books. I really think that's a result of extremely lazy writing. If Batman (and Robin) is handled properly I think he is really a fantastic character with tremendous depth.

Pat Henry said...

I've generally seen Batman as an evolving figure—at first, driven by anger and revenge to train his body and mind against crime; later (and one of the moments I would love to see detailed) thrilled by the adventure and challenge of it all. His ward, the Wayne Foundation, these are all the kinder, gentler manifestations of the altruism and charity he learned from his parents—why he loved them so—and perhaps partial apology to them for the bone-breaking thuggery of the other portion of his business.

Dr. Oyola said...

I see the question as kind of a false dichotomy.

I think he is motivated by revenge to secure the public's safety -- if you get my meaning.

In other words, as Doug suggests, while I cannot imagine him abandoning or ignoring a citizen in danger to enact his vengeance against crime, it is that desire for vengeance that puts him there to begin with and the endangering of the public just fuels that desire even more.

Garett said...

I agree that it's more the public's safety. And I don't think "revenge" is quite the right word. To quote Doc Holliday in Tombstone: "It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."

William said...

For me the definitive version of Batman is the one from the Bruce Timm Animated Series. Since the show had the advantage of hindsight, the creators were able to pick and choose from decades of Batman stories, and keep only the things that worked the best.

Thus the Batman they created was a much more balanced character than had ever been seen before. The Animated Series Batman was dark and mysterious, but not too dark. At the same time he was selfless and heroic, but not too campy or corny. And while this Batman clearly had no tolerance for criminals, he wasn't about to resort to killing and become like those he fought against.

Whereas a character like the Punisher has selfish motivations, and is strictly out for revenge-- Batman is out for justice.

So, even though it was a traumatic event that started a young Bruce Wayne down a path to "Make war on all criminals." it turned into something greater and more noble as he matured and evolved. And when he finally became Batman, (after years of training his mind and body), his mission became less about "revenge" and more about protecting the weak and innocent (as he had been as a child), by fighting for those who can't fight for themselves.

It is much in the same way that Peter Parker/Spider-Man, gave up a self-absorbed career in show business and started fighting crime out of a sense of guilt over the death of his Uncle Ben. But over the years, as he matured and evolved as a hero, his motivations became more pure and selfless. His focus became more about helping others and fighting for what's right, and less about alleviating his own feelings of guilt.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, as a US American, I see two lines that have developed in Batman and through Batman over the years. Please remember, I am the most casual of Batman fan but as most of you know, that's never stopped me before! To frame part of my post, in the Raquel Welch movie "Hannah Caulder" the character hires a gunslinger to train her to become the "instrument of vengeance". Much like Batman, he becomes the instrument. He doesn't join the police force, though he works with it on occasion, nor does he become part of the criminal justice system as prosecutor. He's always just outside the system. I think that speaks much to his role as, evolving or not. Would there ever come a day when we would see him as part of the system. I think it has always been and always will be personal to Bruce.

The Prowler (really not on a first name basis with The Batman).

Anonymous said...

I think it's not so much vengeance as it is a sense of justice which drives all the incarnations of Batman we've seen before. The trauma of watching his parents murdered in front of him gave young Bruce Wayne a very strong sense of purpose in life; not vengeance by trying to get back at the criminal elements which so violently took away his parents but rather preventing other people from falling victim to what happened to him.

It's this strong moral compass which drives Batman and which brings up the issue of securing the public's safety. Of course, the more recent darker versions of Batman could arguably swing his mindset more towards the vengeance side.


- Mike 'boy Batman's shrink must be really good' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I've always seen Batman's motivation as trying to make sure that what happened to him as a child never happens to anybody else.

In that sense, I'd go with securing the public's safety.

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