However, another friend posted the Batmath poster to my wall. Okay, it's ON, Jeremy!
We'll start with this poster.
In my review of Injustice, I lamented the fact that, Superman is often written by people who don't like what they think he represents. I don't like Batman, and I was wondering what a Batman story by someone who hates Batman would look like. My first thought was "Short," because I categorically reject the central thesis of Batman, that someone who works out a lot can compete with and often, trivially surpass people who can lift supertankers or who have alien wishing rings that bring their thoughts to life. A supervillain would throw a van at him and Batman would belatedly realize that he can't backflip out of the way and would wind up smeared across the a nearby building.
You don't generally get Batman stories by people who hate the idea of Batman. (Except All Star Batman and Robin, but Frank Miller hates everything these days.)
My friend Eric has accused me of being contrarian. I don't think that's true. I don't hate Batman because he's popular. In fact, I think he works as a street level hero. He's a great pulp character, twenty-first century Doc Savage. (Batman has his origins in Doc's era, after all) He has an outstanding Rogue's Gallery, second only to Spider-Man's. (Some people argue that Batman's stable of villains is better than Spidey's, but come on. They each feature a portly middle-aged man as a villain. Batman's sports an umbrella and a speech impediment, and Spidey's has four killer robot death tentacles strapped to his back. Advantage: Spider-man)
Superman is still the flagship hero for DC, but I'm almost positive that Batman outsells him, possibly by a considerable margin. Superman might edge him when it comes to casual fans, but Batman is far and away more popular among hardcore comic geeks.
I think a big part of that is how geeks view the world. I used to hang out with a fellow called the Lord. (Because he proclaimed he was the Lord of the elves, of course) Knowing him and working in a comic shop has brought me to the conclusion that nerds/geeks/whatever name you want to use for genre fans tend to think they're smarter than the population at large. I think this stems, in large part, from knowing a lot about trivial information that the general population doesn't care about. The Lord knew more about the stat block for the empress of the elves than most people, so he therefore extrapolated that he was smarter than most people about most things.
As MightyGodKing said in a brilliant piece on Brainiac 5: Nerds always love thinkers and planners, because the idea of not having any superpower other than “I’m smarter than you” is one most nerds imagine themselves to already have.
I won't say that everyone who likes Batman likes him for this reason, but I do think that is a large part of his appeal for a certain percentage of his fans, the super-nerd who defeats the jocks by being smarter and therefore better than them.
Batman has his own supporting characters. Moreso than any other property except for the various Lantern Corps, Batman exists in his own continuity. That's where he works best, and I would even go so far as to say that he works well there. Look, I even said something nice about Batman!
The problem is when you remove Batman from this milieu and plug him into the larger DC Universe. A gym membership and shark repellent don't carry a lot of weight in a world of jet-powered apes and time travel. To return to my earlier point, I don't hate Batman because he's popular. I hate Batman, because in order for him to work in the larger DCU, the other characters around him have to be dumbed down to the point where they're unrecognizable.
Much has been made of Batman's contingency plans, an element for which I have particular distaste. Batman can beat anyone, according to the internets, as long as he has time to plan. I was arguing with an eleven-year-old about this just last week.
The Tower of Babel storyline was a decent idea marred by a dreadful execution. The gist is that Batman has sooper sekret plans to take down the other members of the Justice League, but they get stolen and implemented without his knowledge. Having such plans is a reasonable precaution. They weren't great plans, mind you and if you need some Rube Goldberg darkly ironic Spectre-esque machinations to take down Aquaman, maybe you're not ready to play with the big boys just yet.
If you have intimate knowledge of and unquestioning trust from your buddies, it's not really that tricky to incapacitate them, is it? ("Kyle, let me see your ring for a minute," "Sure, Batman" *Bang*) And they're not even good plans, since easy access to the targets and the exotic materials (nanobots, red kryptonite) is such a fundamental part of them.
I think the JLA was right to be pissed, not because Batman was plotting against them, but because he did such a shitty job of safeguarding their weaknesses and secret identities.
Superman has a contingency plan to stop the league if they turn evil, too. It goes like this: "Set J'onn on fire, kill everyone else with my heat vision."
I think "Batman is underestimated because he's only human, but comes out on top by exploiting that" is a story that can work. Buuuuuuuut, it works best when done sparingly. If you're constantly vanquishing Daxamites with effortless ease, sooner or later the powers that be are going to start taking you seriously. When I had my discussion with the eleven-year-old, he was able to cite numerous instances where Batman beat up Superman and challenged me to provide some counterexamples. That's the thing. Batman as unbeatable is cemented in nerd culture. Either he's the underdog or the uberdog. He can't be both.
I thought Morrison did the definitive Batman as underdog story with his initial arc in the late 90s JLA. The other leaguers are captured by the Hyperclan. They've shot down Batman's jet, but don't search the wreckage.
The reason they don't search the wreckage is because they're White Martians. Think Superman, but with the additional powers of shapeshifting, telepathy and intangibility, but a vulnerability to fire. The Hyperclan had disguised themselves as heroes, by using their shapeshifting and by each member limiting himself to using just one or two of his Martian powers. Because they didn't search the flaming wreckage when it would have been logical for them to do so, Batman gets the final piece to the puzzle and is able to deduce their identity. (Superman and, of course, the Martian Manhunter figure it out on their own too, though later on, which I felt was a really nice touch.)
It works because they underestimate Batman, he has a couple lucky breaks and he has the rest of the Justice League running interference, which is a point that doesn't come up enough. I remember Batman bitching something along the lines of "I'm not invulnerable, so I can't run around in a brightly colored costume," which is kind of an asshole thing to say, because the only reason you get to run around in your slightly less brightly colored costume is because you have your teammates drawing fire away from you. (To say nothing of the fact that the young boys that you adopt and dress in garish costumes tend to die with alarming frequency)
|That's what SHE said!|
I've written elsewhere on the difficulties of writing truly intelligent characters. Even if you're smarter than the average bear, odds are is that your audience is not. It's a really tricky balancing act making your smart characters seem smart while still allowing your audience to understand what's going on. A common compromise is making everyone else a little slower than they are when they appear away from Batman, but that's not something I like either, because it's so clearly a cheat.
A common complaint against Superman is that he's too powerful and boring because of that. I would argue that Batman is worse, because "Batman always wins". It could be interesting seeing Batman pluck victory from the jaws of defeat in the hands of a good writer, but for every Grant Morrison or Dwayne McDuffie, there are a dozen Rob Liefelds. Batman winning is a foregone conclusion, so the only interesting question is how he does it. Unfortunately, too often, the answer comes down to writer's fiat, (Good will always win because evil is dumb?) and the whole thing smacks of kabuki.
Clearly, I don't like Batman. I would be the last person you'd want writing a Batman story. However, since people who hate Superman write Superman stories which actually see print with some frequency, these are the stories I, as someone who hates Batman, would write.
1.) Beaten by a random encounter: Take away Batman's narrative immunity and this is the most probable outcome. Casually sliced in half by some hopped up street punk with super-powers, or for extra piquancy, killed by a lucky shot from a $50 handgun during a liquor store robbery.
2.) Dark Knight Proxy Battle Theory: I read this on a message board, so I can't vouch for its accuracy directly, but there is apparently a school of thought that Batman's battles with the Joker are actually proxy battles, and despite all the horror and death, Batman is actually keeping things from escalating by keeping the Joker entertained in limited conflicts. If the Joker got bored, then he'd cause real damage.
I like the Joker as a primal engine of chaos even less than I like the Batgod. The Joker's psychiatrist in the Dark Knight Return is a villain, but, well, he's not really wrong, is he? The Joker is catatonic until Batman returns.
In this version, Batman can stop the Joker whenever he wants, but he enjoys the sparring. He doesn't want the Joker to kill those all those people, but hey, a bunch of dead cub scouts is just the cost of doing business, a regrettable but unavoidable consequence of Batman's favorite passtime.
3.) Joker easily stopped by actual super-heroes: Near the end of the 90s, there was an arc in the Batman books where Gotham City was devastated by a huge earthquake. In one of the tie-in issues, the JLA offers to help, and Batman, for reasons I can't quite remember, refuses that help. I'd like to see an actual superhero (instead of someone who just dresses up like one) clean up Gotham over the course of a lazy weekend.
4.) Batman, Human Supremacist: This one is hardly a stretch at all. It's pretty clear that Batman is no fan of people with actual superpowers. "Powers are a crutch, blah blah blah, crying cakes, this isn't sour grapes." I'd like to see an Elseworlds Batman as a fully blown human supremacist, a Bolivar Trask or a Graydon Creed who wants to extinguish anyone he can't control. Perhaps he could launch an array of satellites to monitor all the metahumans in the world. Or is that too blatantly the act of a supervillain?
5.) Batman, Mass Murderer:
Jason Todd: What? What, your moral code just won't allow for that? It's too hard to cross that line?
The stock answer for why Batman doesn't kill the Joker is a paraphrase of the lines above. Because Batman will instantly crack and start killing people all the time. I think that is, to put it mildly, a rather specious response.
Avatar: The Last Airbender handled this thing profoundly better. "Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls for you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs, and do whatever it takes to protect the world." Sometimes going the right thing is about making difficult choices, even ones that conflict with your personal values.
However, if we buy into the belief that once he starts down that dark path, forever will it dominate his destiny, I'd kind of be interested in reading a Batman as a villain story, and not in the same "ha ha, fuck Batman" way I would enjoy the rest of these scenarios. I really dug the Lex Luthor: Black Ring arc and I think this would have the potential to be something similar.
6.) Batman the Fascist: We saw shades of this is Kingdom Come.
7.) Batman, Sex Fiend and Pimp: One of the opening issues of the new 52 featuring Batman and Catwoman getting it on with some sweaty, grindy costumed rooftop sex. Apparently Batman is okay with some criminals, but only as long as he gets to bang them. Stay classy, Bruce.
However, this could be a fertile ground for an interesting Batman story. We could have Catwoman do something horrid, or have Bats taken to task for playing favorites among the Gotham Underworld. I'd be interested in seeing him as a kingpin, choosing between the lesser evils, playing favorites and angrily justifying it until he's taken down.
8.) Batman, worthless:
I always liked this passage from Excession, one of the Culture novels, because it appeals to my anti-Batman sensibilities.
The attack had been too sudden, too extreme, too capable. The plans the ship had made, of which it was an important part, could only anticipate so much, could only allow for so proportionally greater a technical capability on the part of the attacker. Beyond a certain point, there was simply nothing you could do; there was no brilliant plan you could draw up or some cunning stratagem you could employ that would not seem laughably simple and and unsophisticated to a profoundly more developed enemy.
Sometimes it just comes down to numbers, how strong you are, how fast you are. One of the central conceits of the Batgod is that powers make you lazy. Or something. That Batman is the only person in the universe who works to improve himself and everyone else coasts on what God (or the Speed Force or the Guardians) gave them. It's pretty weak.
There are two variations of this I'd like to see. One is a crisis where Batman has nothing to contribute. He's just dead weight and there is nothing he can do that can't be done faster and better by his powered cohorts.
The other would be a metahuman Batman. Someone who can catch bullets and bench press armored cars and still drives himself to exhaustion. Someone better than Batman in every way. Again, this could be an interesting story, and not just a "ho ho, Josh gets to watch Batman get his comeuppance", because it would be an interesting story seeing him come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard he pushed himself, he would never be as good as the other guy.
I'm not a big fan of Geoff Johns, but I do love the writing in his scene.
What would I like to see in a Batman story? As I said above, I do think he works as a street level/pulp character. I could see him as an Oracle type coordinator in a JLA setting, but not on the front lines. As Wonderful as the JLA show was, it was too often Batman and his Amazing Friends. Morrison made him work for a while, but that's Grant Morrison.