Sunday, July 4, 2010

Op/Ed: Batman the Urban Legend

Lets face it. Some ideas are dumb as hell. No amount of explaining will really fix it. But every so often one of those ideas comes along and the people in charge absolutely insist on forcing it down our throats. You see it every so often in television, wrestling and even comic books. Eventually they may well learn their lesson and move on, but their folly has still become part of history and they may even be convinced that they had the right idea regardless.

I really view the dead end concept of Batman as an Urban Legend in Gotham City as one of them.

To start off, I should say that it's not without merit in some situations. In the early years of Batmans career, it makes sense that it would be an image he'd cultivate for a while to scare the crooks. So it works for stories usually set in the "Year One" era. Also, using it in alternate universe stories isn't exactly a bad thing either. There are a couple that work pretty good.

It's when they've tried applying it to the main Batman comics that there's been a problem.

And try they did. Back in the 90's - when Grim and Gritty was all the rage - the Bat offices were really pushing to keep Batman out of the greater goings-on of the DC Universe. After Frank Millers stories saw great success, the Bat offices wanted him pretty much on his own. They campaigned to have his entire Justice League tenure removed and even went so far as to directly retcon him as an Urban Legend to Gothamites during Zero Hour. Needless to say, they were pretty intent on shoving this concept straight down our throats without so much as a glass of water.

It's not hard to see why. They weren't stupid. In an age when dark heroes were vogue, Batman had become their lynchpin for this. But having him hang with colorful dudes in tights doesn't really work for the image they were cultivating. Same for him being involved in every world crisis. So they wanted to remove it on that short sighted basis.

I've known quite a few people who would probably embrace such an approach. The concept of "the grimmer the Batman the better" is all to prevalent with some folks. So making him an urban legend in Gotham that scares the wits out of crooks and growls at any hero who dares even think of setting foot in his city? Works for them.

I honestly feel they're wrong.

Let's face it, the urban crime fighter approach is limiting. Batman has done it all in the long years the character has been around; and while the alien fighting campy days aren't something I'm anxious to see return, keeping him a dark urban commando is something I want to see just as little. What's great about Batman is that he's a character that can withstand many different interpretations; an aspect that should be embraced, not shunned.

But moreover, it's just a flawed concept. The notion of Batman being an urban legend is laughable because the character honestly never stopped being put in grander situations. Oh sure, in the Batman titles they played lip service to the urban legend deal, but meanwhile Batman was chillin' with the other heroes fighting to keep the sun from going out or whupping some White Martians. These are world altering threats that affect everyone with great visability. So the rest of the DCU knows about Batman, but Gotham doesn't until a good while after Batmans participated in many world altering events. See the problem?

On top of this, said concept forces you to take huge leaps of logic. I mean, we've got colorful guys running around like clowns, scarecrows and Alice in Wonderland characters. So who fights them, often in the open? Batman. Those guys are big news and they expected you to believe that every time one of them popped up, made a stink and were caught, no one saw or acknowledge the big dude dressed like a Bat. So who did they think caught those dudes? The police? And how could the two bit hoods and mob bosses not hear about this Batman and take it seriously? News would travel through the underworld and while you could believe they'd cop to the urban legend bit for a while, eventually they'd get wise. Especially with all the guys Joker, Two-Face and so on employ who are routinely beat up by Batman and thusly know he exists.

"Gosh golly gee! Jokers tried to poison the Gotham Reservoir again! What? He's in Arkham now? Who stopped him? The Batman? Naw, he's just an urban legend! Despite the eight times this has happened in the past, I know Batman has to be an urban legend because... umm... well... well of course he's an urban legend!"

Even if you somehow manage to buy into the concept for Batman - and I honestly don't see how - it's kind of hard to miss the kid in red, yellow and green who frequently traipses around with the dude.

Also of note is the fact that when they tried to do this, major crap went down in Gotham. At least two major viruses and an earthquake happened in the intervening years that Batman combated. So, during all that, which Batman struggled to find a cure for and worked with the police, he was just an urban legend. Not to mention that Batman was in the main JLA during the time. But he's an urban legend. Right.

On top of all this, it's impossible to do without a complete continuity wipe. Obviously, that's not an attractive option, because it wipes out a lot of classic Batman adventures from the timeline not to mention screws with DC history even more. So they just cold altered it in Zero Hour to make him considered an urban legend.

As you can guess, this causes major timeline issues. People always considered him an urban legend, but this can't be possible. After all, what about the time when the Joker tried to murder the entire UN and Batman was there to stop him? What about when Batmans back was straight up broken and he was laid out in the street in front of numerous bystanders as Bane shouted his triumph? The replacement Batman? Hell, the entire Knightfall saga that had wrapped literally months prior? I mean, Bane showed up during the urban legend era, so... yeah. Or hell, how about the story that happened only a couple of years prior where Batman saves the president from the KGBeast? The Killing Joke? The Cult?

It's really insulting to the intelligence, all for a concept that did absolutely nothing for Batman comics. Who can name a great story from that era that required the urban legend deal? There weren't any. It was arbitrary and pointless. At least when Spider-Mans marriage was straight up erased, it brought back loads of potential that led to great stories. The Batman urban legend gimmick was just a useless attempt at trying to keep Batman as much the impossibly, insultingly dark urban commando that had become popular. Nothing more than a vanity gimmick that served little purpose and just made things troublesome.

Also important is the fact that by this point in his life, Batman didn't need to be an urban legend. He was the ultimate hero of Gotham who was the best of the best. While early in his career, you can make the case that he may have needed to cultivate an urban legend gimmick to strike fear into people, that late it's unnecesary. The crooks are frightened because they know when Batman arrives on the scene, they're done. He will beat them senseless and they will go to jail. That's worse an any urban legend; after all, can you imagine the tension a crook would feel, knowing that Batman could drop down at any moment and if he did show up they were definitely going back to jail with a concussion? You can't buy a reputation like that.

Eventually, they finally decided to drop the idiotic plot point. I believe it was at some point during the course of the epic 1999 Batman saga No Mans Land. It wasn't soon enough.

Beyond that though, why would someone want Batman pigeonholed so heavily into that dark, mythic aspect? As we've seen over the course of the last decade, there are so many things you can do with Batman that it seems idiotic to limit him so. Which makes it so baffling that they honestly tried; it really is one of the dumbest ideas put forward in Batmans long history, in my opinion.

Batman can be the urban commando, he can be the swashbuckling hero, he can be the ultimate survivor and he can be the time traveling man-god, but I honestly believe he should never be one of those exclusively.


  1. I know a couple people who absolutely hate the fact that Bruce is being portrayed as the "Universe's Cosmic Being"--as they said in a very derisive way--instead of the World's Greatest Detective. Though, to be fair I guess, they oppose or have opposed all of the greater temporary changes in all of the Big Three's stories, like New Krypton and of course the upcoming Wonder Woman story.

    In the end, the urban legend may have done nothing for Batman save add extra unneeded baggage to his stories in that time, but like all things it was temporary. Despite all the changes writers have made, no one's name was ever added after Bob Kane in the acknowledgements, and no one ever will, nor should they. And, really, if everyone wrote the same type of stories for the character, any character, they would get boring after a while regardless on whether the writer was good or not. Especially with characters that have lasted for so many years. Some different aspects will be good, some bad, but if people aren't open to change then their fandom will eventually die.

  2. What's interesting about that viewpoint - the whole Universes Cosmic Being - is that it's unnecessarily hateful and useless. Batman NEEDS these type of stories like the kind Grant Morrison is telling or the grander stuff from the JLA. It's a marked contrast to the detective aspect and to be blunt, it keeps it fresh. Without that contrast, you'd be getting detective stories all the time and they'd be a hell of a lot less novel.

    It may have been Grant or it may have been DC editors - I think it was Grant - who said that Grant's book was Batman the Superhero while Paul Dini's Detective Comics was Batman the grounded detective. How the hell do you beat that? Both approaches in different books? But no, people want it all to be in their narrow view and that's where the trouble starts.

    Marvel's gone through a similar thing lately. Have you heard of the FrankenCastle story that's been running in the Marvel Universe centered Punisher book? People friggin BALKED, despite the fact that the book sounds hella good and insane. This is despite the fact that the classic approach was covered at the same time - with a top notch creative team in Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon - over in Punisher MAX. So it's not like they were left out, which leaves the nasty possibility that the hate comes down literally to fan entitlement.

    I'm sure there were people who absolutely hated that Batman was being portrayed as the dark detective, once upon a time. Coming off the campy days. Some still say that campy era was their Batman. Just imagine if it remained like that forever...

    Or don't; it's not a pretty thought.

  3. What's funny about that: I never heard them complain about Batman being a part of a JLA team that went around and saving the universe from some Big Bad Impossible. Then again, that's never come up in conversation. I suppose it's different in his own book, but that's a bit of a double standard I believe. Plus, while he's time traveling he's still running detective work. It's just a much larger crime scene so to speak. And honestly who else could solve a mystery like that EVEN WITH HIS MEMORIES GONE? I also know for a fact that they love No Man's Land, which is less of a detective story and more of a, well, more of a dark superhero story.

    For the simple fact that he stands beside the two strongest beings on the planet makes him a superhero. Maybe it's the word that brings a problem, though it shouldn't. Superhero doesn't have to automatically mean Superman.

    But, you see, it doesn't stop with ROBW. There's pretty much hate for the Bat-verse and DC in general. But that's way to much to go into. Especially here.

    I've heard of the FrankenCastle story. Though to be fair I'm not terribly interested in any Marvel comic, but the idea seems wild enough. I thought it was kind of amusing to be honest. Especially the name. FrankenCastle. Lawlzy.

    Yeah, I saw a glimpse of what campy era Batman was like. Let's just say that I won't be going back for seconds anytime soon, if it all.

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  5. Hate for Batman does happen, but it doesn't matter. Everyone doesn't like some popular character others do. Some folks just don't like Spider-Man or Marvel. It happens.

    I feel safe in saying that anyone who doesn't like Batman, however, is wrong and not someone I would probably care to discuss things with.