Reply to Natalie on Batman

Back in August, I wrote a post titled “Batman sucks.” Natalie Reed just left a comment which I think is worth replying to:

Man, Chris, you SO don’t get Batman. Nolan Batman isn’t Batman, and Batman’s schtick EVEN IN NOLAN-VERSE, isn’t “ordinary human being a superhero”. His schtick is “world’s greatest detective”, “master of everything”, “ultimate badass”, etc. Even AS a human being he’s not at all ordinary: he inherited unimaginable, for-story-purposes-infinite wealth, was born with huge natural intellectual and athletic aptitudes, and HAS A FUCKING SUPER-BUTLER, who just HAPPENS to be trained in combat-medicine. Does ANY of that read as “ordinary human” to you? He’s an EXTRAordinary human, the upper limits of human achievement, intelligence, determination and preparedness at the stretch of disbelief to the breaking point. Comparing him to, like, Kick-Ass or whatever just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s my reply:

I think you misunderstood what I meant by “ordinary.” I didn’t mean “average,” I just meant “could exist in the real world.” In Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass is an average dude. Big Daddy and Hit-Girl aren’t average, but (especially in the comics) they’re supposed to be just barely within the realm of what could exist in the real world. The Nolan-verse, I think, was largely pretending to be like the Kick-Ass comics in this way, but the pretense was just that.

(Note that I’m not sure if you’re referring to the Nolan-verse when you talk about Batman being the master of everything, but I don’t think that was Nolan’s intent. I don’t even remember Nolan doing much of the Batman-as-detective thing ever.)

But Nolan-verse Batman not being Batman, I can grant you. As for Batman in other continuities, yes I’m aware that he’s supposed to be the master of everything. But that’s not “upper limits of human achievement.” That’s far beyond the limits of human achievement. That’s not stretching disbelief to the breaking point. That’s totally smashing disbelief unless the audience grants you unusual latitude because, hey, it’s a superhero story. Real people, in order to be at the top of a field, need to specialize. Being able to be the best at everything is effectively a superpower.

In other words, Batman doesn’t have superpowers, but he does. That contradiction is, I think, why Batman-style superheroes-without-powers are rare outside the Bat-family. (The best counterexample I can think of is probably Hawkeye, but he’s kind of B-list. I mean, he isn’t getting his own movie trilogy any time soon.) The concept doesn’t make any sense, and most people realize this on some level. Batman just gets grandfathered in.

And then there’s the problem that I don’t really think you can separate out “rich guy who spends a lot of time punching people with mental illness” from Batman’s character concept. I’m not going to get into that here, except to say that someday I really need to write a post on how I feel about “deconstructions” of superhero stories (though I do talk about that a bit here.)


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