Back when Superman created the concept of the modern superhero, DC Comics had no idea that someone else might ever come along and smack the idea of a superhero upside the head. They figured this immortal, all-powerful, all-moral guy would be able to coast along on its one-track catch-bad-guys story forever. I’ll grant that that’s pretty much exactly what happened, but DC has had to invent some trippy things in order to keep Superman fresh and interesting. Some, like Smallville and the stories told in Superman: The Animated Series, worked out really well. Lex Luther proved an effective villain, and Superman even met a moral challenge from the country he’s long been associated with. Some, like Kryptonite, were just plain stupid.
But the fact remains: Superman as a character was pretty shallow, which is why DC Comics must have plotzed itself in joy when Batman first crossed their desk in 1927. Batman, as created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, first appeared in the 27th issue of Detective Comics and has been a mainstay ever since.
Batman is a real go-to hero, much like Superman or Spider-man. But wheras Superman is an alien being who literally can’t die, Batman is just an ordinary joe traipsing around in a costume. This is the source of much of the suspense of Batman: His real life alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is hell-bent on keeping his identity a secret because if anyone ever finds out he’s Batman, the jig is up. Bruce has gone to great lengths in order to protect his secret identity.
Even if Batman was indeed a giant bat, he also has John Law to contend with. Now, I came to Batman first in the 80’s with reruns of the Adam West TV show, in which Batman has a very clear alliance with the police in his hometown, Gotham City. But the darker, real versions of Batman tell a different story: His closest ally with the Gotham City Police is Commissioner Gordon, but other than that, the cops have no idea what to make of him. At best, his getting the drop on the worst people in Gotham is appreciated. At worst, they’ll be trying to take him in. And it isn’t like Batman is going to fight them directly, either – one of his truly appealing features is that he will never kill a criminal. He’ll hurt or incapacitate criminals in a day’s work, but he’ll never kill them. And that’s just the criminals – if the Police come flying in, he’s gonna get his ass off the scene ASAP.
But the truest appeal of Batman is that he’s a true geek. He’s a very rich geek who owns an electronics empire, but ultimately, he’s the ultimate expression of what every geek dreams of being: Part scientist who is a great techno-genius, part fearless hero who will always do the right thing, part ladies’ man, and part detective. Even though Batman has frequently fought an inner battle with himself over the need to be Batman, he always ends up in costume again, striking fear into the criminals of Gotham City.
Batman has fought some of the most unique and colorful criminals in comics, too. His primary enemy was meant to be a one-time novelty villain, but he simply got too popular. Now he’s a household name: The Joker. The crux of his attacks are random, destructive little toys, and The Joker himself seems to have no motivation other than watching things burn. There’s a strong argument that he exists to try to drag humanity down to the level of herd animal mentality, and considering some of the things he does, this is a good argument. There’s also Batman’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Catwoman; The Penguin, a weird guy who was apparently raised by penguins and who appears to be trying to get himself into high society; Two-Face, who blames Batman for the facial disfiguration which gave him his name; and Mr. Freeze, who isn’t so much a villain than an anti-villain who is misses his wife and will go to any length to cure the disease which is afflicting her. (There was a movie based on Batman: The Animated Series in which he was finally able to do this.)
Batman seems to have the best media based on his comic. I don’t read comic books, but I loved Batman: The Animated Series. I even like the Adam West show, and the movies based on Batman have been excellent. Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan have directed six Batman movies between them. Burton’s and Nolan’s are considered genuinely good, with Nolan’s being perhaps the greatest superhero movies made. But Schumacher’s are constantly blasted for being too cartoonish. However, Schumacher’s movies are wonderful too if you enjoyed the Adam West show.
We’re close to Nolan’s third movie. Trailers are out. It looks promising, and it better be good if it’s to live up to a hero with all of the awesomeness of Batman.