Batman is awesome. He’s a genius billionaire with more high-tech gadgetry than James Bond, and has conditioned himself to be at the peak of human physicality. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to live a day in the life of Bruce Wayne (sans all the dead parents baggage). Add the fact he prowls an urban landscape, dressed as a flying rodent to dispense his own brand of vigilante justice, and it’s completely understandable why the power fantasy of Batman speaks to throngs of adolescent (and adult) fans. Most of us dreamt of being a superhero when we’re young. The thought of rising above the trauma in your life to do the right thing and fight for something greater than yourself is a romantic notion…at least on paper, it is.
But the thing about romanticism in fiction is that it rarely factors in the the constraints of the real world. Logic is often pushed to the sidelines to allow fantastical elements parade down the field, front and center. This is exactly why comic fans are drawn to superhero stories. Historically speaking, the collateral damage of the heroes’ existence is not acknowledged. In fact, if a character tries desperately to put the kibosh on superhero exploits, they are often painted as a villain or, at the very least, a massive party pooper. In short, there’s little to no room in escapism for accountability.
To be fair, there are stories that explore the negative effects of superheroism. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates actually approached the subject clinically, giving readers real numbers of casualties after a team of superhumans battled in the heart of a major metropolitan area. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns holds a cracked mirror up to the faces of DC Comics’ pantheon and asks, “What have you become?” Sadly, the answer some readers gleaned may have missed the point of asking the query in the first place. But how do these factors play in our current social climate?
Applying superheroes to the real world has been a trope of post-modern graphic story telling for decades, but rarely do they consider the mental toll the vigilantes would place on everyday people, whether they be innocent bystanders or the criminals these heroes rail against. The biggest offender of this is undoubtedly Batman.
Batman has been cracking skulls for nearly a century, and for the most part, comic fans are on board. Again, why wouldn’t they be? But while Batman ostensibly has carte blanche with his fans, the ramifications of his actions don’t. The fact of the matter is, the people Bruce Wayne beats up and tosses in Arkham Asylum are more often than not mentally ill. Comic books have addressed this countless time in the past, calling Batman out on his hypocrisy in roughing up would-be patients in dire need of treatment. And while one may argue a leopard never changes his spots, the Dark Knight’s behavior certainly sends mixed signals and may need some realigning, especially in an era where the battle for mental health awareness is raging on.
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