Batman is arguably the most popular superhero of all time. Originally created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 for National Comics (later known as DC Comics.) Batman is a masked crime fighter who operates in Gotham, a city rife with corruption and crime.
Batman’s civlian identity is billionaire Bruce Wayne, who uses his vast wealth to fund his crime fighting career. He has no actual super powers of his own and instead relies on his gadgets, and fighting and deduction skills to tackle criminals.
Bruce Wayne is motivated to fight crime by a personal tragedy from his past. At the age of 8, Bruce’s parents were gunned down in front of him by a mugger. Vowing to never let the same thing happen again to anyone else, Bruce honed his body and mind to become the perfect crime fighter. He adopted the mantel of the bat to strike fear into the hearts of “cowardly and superstitious” criminals.
Over the decades Batman has amassed a large array of colorful villains and supporting characters. The most notable of his enemies is the evil, psycopathic clown, the Joker, whilst his most famous sidekick is Robin, the Boy Wonder. Much like Batman, the various versions of Robin over the years have often been inspired to fight crime due to the loss of their parents.
Over the decades Batman has been adapted to film, television, animation, video games and even a broadway musical. He has managed to conquer just about all mediums and is alongside Superman one of the two quintessential comic book characters, though recent decades have seen him arguably eclipse even the Man of Steel in popularity.
In spite of the recent record breaking success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no individual Marvel character can match Batman’s dominance in popular culture either. The only Marvel movies that have been able to match or eclipse the most successful Batman films, such at the Burton Batman, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises in terms of commercial success and cultural impact are the Avengers movies; which feature multiple Marvel heroes (practically an entire universe’s worth in Endgame.)
There are many reasons for Batman’s enduring popularity which we will explore in this article as we look at why we love the Caped Crusader.
First and foremost Batman has one of the most effective designs of any hero. He has a strong outline that is instantly recognisable, even in a crude drawing.
Batman’s design also in comparison to other heroes such as Superman and Spider-Man has a more menacing and dangerous aspect that instantly draws you in. Spider-Man’s costume is just to conceal his identity, whilst Batman’s is designed to strike fear into his enemies hearts, which lets you know more about the man underneath.
At times Batman can look even more frightening than the criminals he catches. This can best be seen in the opening to the classic Batman the animated series where the Dark Knight drops from the sky like a Demon and pounces on several helpless criminals.
At the same time however Batman’s design is not without its colourful and appealing aspects too. With a little readjusting, some versions of Batman can look as friendly and as colourful as your average superhero.
As a result Batman can still be a character kids can dress up as, can still be slapped on lunch boxes and turned into a toy. His design is the perfect balance of being inherently more fearsome than the average superhero look, but not actively monstrous so that children are too scared to even look at him.
Batman despite his status as a millionare was also somewhat more of an underdog than other super heroes. Whilst the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and even Superman regularly face enemies that are more powerful than they are, Batman in a way is always vulnerable due to his lack of super powers.
Even when facing ordinary muggers, though the Batman can often easily take them down, there is still a chance that he can be killed. (One issue of The Brave and the Bold does see Batman get shot and killed by an ordinary crime lord, only to be revived by the Atom who literally runs around his body fast enough to revive his brain stem!)
Batman’s motivation for fighting crime was also perhaps somewhat more flawed, yet more human than many of his contemporary superheroes, all of whom fought crime simply because it was the right thing to do. Batman in contrast arguably fought crime more because he wanted revenge. He does still ultimately want to see justice carried out, but there are times where you wonder if Batman cares more about doing what’s right, or simply getting back at the criminals who took his parents.
In these respects, Batman’s more flawed personality and greater vulnerability compared to the rest of DC’s rooster made him more of a precursor to the later Marvel heroes than any other DC character.
Batman’s tragic origins also give him a tremendous edge over other comic book or even genre characters. Sadly comic books even with the popularity of the MCU are still somewhat looked down as childish and silly. Obviously I am not going to deny that a lot of comic book stories are primarily aimed at children. Still ultimately comic books are a medium, not a genre, and there is no reason they can’t be used to tell adult stories, or even just stories that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children.
Characters like Superman, Spider-Man, or the X-Men are no more ridiculous or fanciful than characters like Robin Hood, King Arthur or Hercules. If the likes of Hercules and Robin Hood can appear in both childish and more mature stories then so can any classic comic book hero like Wonder Woman or Iron Man. Its just complete snobbery to suggest otherwise.
Sadly however the stigma does exist, but Batman was perhaps always able to overcome it to some extent, by having one of the most tragic origins of any popular hero. Its not just a question of Batman loses his parents. He sees them die right in front of him, when he is utterly helpless as a child, and in the most brutal way possible.
Even the most skeptical critic of comic books has to acknowledge the potential for drama in Batman’s origins. Superman in contrast loses his entire planet, which though effective, is not something that anyone can really imagine. To those who aren’t sci fi fans and used to larger than life stories and concepts, it might come off as being too fanciful. (Superman also never knew anything about his planet either having been sent away as an infant.)
Wonder Woman’s origin’s from an island where women have isolated themselves from men meanwhile can come over extremely goofy if not handled delicately. Other superheroes origins tend to be linked to larger than life scenarios of being caught in an accident and gaining superpowers, like the Hulk or the Fantastic Four, or the Flash. Again to those who aren’t interested in sci fi, it might be easy to dismiss these origin stories as being too over the top.
Spider-Man does have an element of tragedy in his origin through the death of his Uncle Ben (which he is partly resonsible for), but even then Uncle Ben’s death is not quite as brutal and up front as Batman. Spider-Man at least doesn’t actually see his Uncle Ben’s murder happen before him, and he is a lot older and can process it better. When you’re a child your entire world revolves around your parents.
Even most other folk heroes don’t have quite the same level of tragedy to their origins as Batman. Sherlock Holmes for instance is just a lovable eccentric. Robin Hood in most versions is just a skilled archer. The Doctor meanwhile in Classic Who was an eccentric scientist who wanted to explore, whilst New Who attempted to give him a tragic origin of his planet being destroyed, which again is too large a tragedy for viewers to comprehend.
With Batman everyone can imagine themselves in his position to some extent. Sadly those who have lost parents or loved ones as a child can relate to the feelings of loss Bruce experiences, whilst even those who haven’t can still imagine the horror of losing people so important to them. Finally Batman’s origins aren’t linked to aliens, or monsters or super powers. Its a very real human tragedy that befalls Bruce, and the monster responsible is an ordinary human too.
These scenes alone destroy the myth that comic books can never be used to tell stories with more depth to them, as the tragic origins for Batman were present in the very earliest Batman strips.
Another key reason for Batman’s enduring popularity is his massive rogues gallery.
Batman’s most iconic enemies are not just colorful and exciting characters in their own right. Many of of his most prominent villains present Batman with a unique kind of challenge, and as whole they span different genres which in turn gives Batman a broader appeal.
The Joker, Batman’s archnemesis is essentially a horror movie character. He was based visually on the title character from a classic horror movie “The Man Who Laughs”. (This character Gwynplaine was ironically not evil. He was a tragic character whose mouth had been cut into the shape of a grin as a boy. Still his terrifying visage would prove an inspiration to the Joker.)
Whilst some versions of the Joker attempted to downplay the horror aspects of the character (out of fear of frightening children.) Others have positively revelled in it, and given the Joker a much more gruesome and terrifying appearance.
Examples of this include the Heath Ledger version of the character who had a Glasgow smile carved into his face, or the proto Joker, Jerome Valeska from Gotham whose face was cut off and then later stapled back on, only to be punched off by Commissioner Gordon!
The Joker is the precursor to all monster clowns from popular culture such as Pennywise.
No matter what the version, the Joker is always depicted as a thoroughly iredeemable character. In some interpretations the Joker is given a more sympathetic backstory such as the Killing Joke, whilst others such as the Tim Burton movie, and the DCAU depict him as having always been a ruthless mobster who was simply pushed further into madness. Some depict him as a mysterious character whose origins are shrouded in mystery which in some ways makes him more frightening.
Whatever his reason for going insane, the Joker always presents Batman with the biggest challenge simply because of how evil he is. There is no low the villain won’t stoop too and Batman is often pushed to his limits not just by the threat of the Joker, but in whether or not he will have to actually commit murder to stop him.
One of the Jokers most heinous crimes, the crippling of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in front of her father Commissioner Gordon who he later attempts to drive insane by showing pictures of Barbara’s bleeding, naked body.
Its no surprise that the Joker is the villain Batman and Robin have killed the most in other adaptations. Examples include in Batman 1989, where Batman throws the villain to his death from a building, an Elseworlds comic called The Nail, where Batman beats the Joker to death after the Joker uses stolen alien technology to flay Batgirl and Robin alive right in front of a captive Batman.
Finally in Batman Beyond Return of the Joker, Robin shoots the villain through the heart (after enduring months of torture at the Jokers hands until he was driven insane and turned into the Jokers twisted idea of a son, Little J.)
Even more surprising is that Batman and Robin have almost always killed the Joker not in self defence, but out of revenge! Whilst the earliest comics did feature Batman killing his enemies, this aspect of his character was dropped very early on, (though a few versions have returned to it.) Generally speaking Batman never kills, and if he does its almost always in self defence.
The Joker is the only villain that can push almost any version of Batman to murder out of sheer rage. For this reason confronations between Batman and the Joker are always the more exciting than those with any of his other foes. I’d actually go as far as to argue that Batman and the Joker have the most intense and exciting feud of any two characters.
Almost any combination of Batman and the Joker is guaranteed to be exciting. We have seen the Joker confront Bruce Wayne as an ordinary civilian, Batman encounter a pre Joker, Jack Napier in the Burton movie, Batman and the Joker fight each other as the only two non super powered beings in a team full of aliens, gods and metahumans in Justice League. We’ve also seen the two face each other as old men in Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns, and finally even as teenagers in Gotham, via Bruce Wayne and Jerome.
Any variation of these two characters is a winning combination as their core personalities are so strong they shine through at any age and in any situation.
The two have also been depicted as everything from warring brothers in Gotham, to love rivals in the 89 Batman, (in the Jokers twisted mind) to father figures battling it out over a son in Batman Beyond Return of the Joker (again in the Jokers mind) to representatives of two warring ideaologies in The Dark Knight.
There’s no other villain/hero combination that can be cast into quite as many different combinations and be just as effective each time. Holmes and Moriarty for instance could not be recast as teenagers, neither could the Doctor or the Master. The original Green Goblin, Norman Osborne, meanwhile could never be made the same age as Peter Parker. He only works as a middle aged or older man, whilst the Harry Osborne version similarly has to be younger like Spider-Man.
Superman and Luthor do work in many different roles too, but even then they lack quite the same viciousness that the Joker and Batman do in most of their confrontations. There have been some classic Luthor/Superman showdowns, and in one instance in the Justice League animated series Superman was even driven to kill Lex in an alternate universe. Still generally speaking we won’t see as many gritty confrontations between the two where Superman cuts out Luthors eye, or punches his face off!
Batman and the Joker are perhaps the greatest example of the archenemy trope, and the Joker overall has to stand as one of the most nightmarish and frightening villains of all time.
In complete contrast to the Joker is Mr Freeze. Freeze is more of a sci fi character than the Joker. He is a classic mad scientist, who is mutated in a lab accident and turned into an ice man. Whilst originally introduced as nothing more than a goofy B-movie character, the animated series gave him a tragic origin which was later incorporated into the comics.
Here Freeze was depicted as a loving husband who simply sought revenge against Ferris Boyle, a ruthless businessman who was responsible for the accident that not only turned Freeze into a monster, but also seemingly killed his beloved wife Norah.
Unlike with his other enemies, Batman can actually empathise with Freeze. Both lost people they cared about, and both initially sought to kill the monster responsible. However whilst Batman never went as far as Freeze who was willing to hurt innocent people, ultimately Batman lost less. Freeze didn’t just lose his wife, but his ability to ever have a normal life as well. In this respect Batman doesn’t judge Freeze the way he would his other enemies and feels genuinely sorry for him.
Ra’s Al Ghul, often regarded as Batman’s archenemy after the Joker is a totally different type of villain yet again. Ghul is a fantasy character. He is a warlord who has been kept alive by exposure to magic pits, known as the Lazarus Pits for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. He and his League of Assassins have helped shape human history, and the character is the biggest threat of all of Batman’s enemies. His endgame is often to use the Lazarus pits to destroy most of human civilisation and then rebuild it from scratch.
Ra’s is also a match for Batman in every way. He is as skilled a detective (and is able to deduce Batman’s secret identity before he even meets him) and he can match him in physical combat as well, unlike most of Batman’s other enemies.
Despite all of this however Ra’s is somewhat more sympathetic than say the Joker. Though he is a far bigger threat, Ra’s does at least have a code of honour, and genuinely respects and admires Batman.
A classic example of the key differences between Ra’s and the Joker can be seen in the animated movie, Under the Red Hood. Here Ra’s hires the Joker to distract Batman. The Joker however naturally goes too far and brutally tortures Robin to death with a crowbarr. Ra’s is so overwhelmed with guilt, that he engineers Robin’s resurrection with the Lazarus Pit and vows to never cause trouble for Batman or Gotham again to make amends for his role in the boys death.
Ra’s reveals his shame to Batman at having caused the pointless death of an innocent child through working with the Joker.
Ra’s Al Ghul gave Batman a new type of enemy in every way. He brought in magic and the supernatural to the franchise to a greater extent than ever before. He was an enemy that on the one hand was a global threat (and even regularly took Batman out of Gotham) yet on the other was actually capable of showing clemency and even respect to the Batman.
Two Face meanwhile represents another totally different type of enemy. Two Face is a more low level gangster, but has a deeper personal connection to Batman. In all versions Two Face was once a close friend of Batman, before being horribly scarred down one side of his face.
Batman has more of a vested interest in rehabilitating Two Face and carries a tremendous sense of guilt at not being able to help his friend.
The Scarecrow presents yet another type of challenge to the Batman. The Scarecrow’s main weapon, a special kind of gas that makes people see their worst fears gives us a deeeper insight into Batman’s personality than any of his interactions with other villains.
The Scarecrow’s fear gas makes Batman see his worst nightmare.
The Scarecrow was able to attack Batman in a more psychological way than any of his other enemies.
The Riddler presents a more comical enemy for the Batman. Though some portrayals have been darker such as in Gotham, the Riddler is generally depicted in a more humorous way. His entire gimmick and persona is ripe for comedy.
Here we have a man so insecure about his own intelligence that he has to prove his superiority to Batman by giving away vital clues to his crimes, which he could probably carry out otherwise successfully. There’s plenty of humour that can be exploited from his ridiculous Riddles, his stupidity in giving away clues, and his own neurosis at proving he is smarter than Batman (which always blows up in his face in humiliating ways.)
The Penguin meanwhile as an enemy is a return to Batman’s roots as a crime fighter. He is an ordinary gangster overall. No super powers, no plans for world domination, no desire to prove his genius to Batman or Gotham. He is a much more practical villain and one who can be used, despite his flamboyant nature, for grittier more down to earth stories.
Penguin stories have involved wars between crime families, and corruption in high places. The 60s series and Gotham both featured the Penguin running for Mayor. (As did Batman Returns which featured a more monstrous version of the character.) The character is also often depicted as presenting himself as an honest night club owner, who uses his wealth to cover his tracks. Batman often isn’t able to simply arrest the Penguin as easily as his other enemies.
Once again the Penguin not only represents a different challenge to Batman, of a villain who can cover his tracks, rather than flaunts them, but he covers a different genre too; with the Penguin allowing Batman to star in more traditional crime stories.
Bane on the other hand represents yet another type of challenge to Batman. Bane is able to bring Batman to his knees. Ra’s Al Ghul was a match for the Batman, but Bane completely dominates the dark knight and humiliates him in combat. We aren’t used to seeing Batman in such a vulnerable position physically. Despite his lack of powers, Batman is usually able to thrash his enemies in combat easily. Most of Batman’s enemies don’t even try to fight him one on one because they know it would be pointless.
Bane on the other hand laughs at Batman’s attempts to frighten him before delivering the most humilating and painful curbstomp to the Dark Knight.
Its a testament to how strong a character Bane was that he could emerge in such a well established rogues gallery and become so prominent in such a short space of time.
Finally the Catwoman represents yet another type of enemy with a completely different relationship with Batman. Catwoman is in love with Batman and therefore takes the Batman universe into the realm of romantic fiction. Batman and Catwoman are undoubtly one of the most famous modern love stories.
Catwoman is also the only one of Batman’s enemies who is not evil at all. In fact in many stories Catwoman has even helped Batman take on a greater threat, such as in The Dark Knight Rises, where Catwoman actually kills Bane just as he is about to finish the Batman and helps the Caped Crusader save Gotham.
Still most of the time Catwoman is on the wrong side of the law. Whilst her crimes are less vicious than say the Joker or Penguin, she is ironically a greater match for Batman physically than most other villains. She can also ironically hurt Batman in some ways more because she is closer to him.
An example of this can be seen in The Dark Knight Rises when Catwoman betrays Batman to Bane, or in Batman Returns when Bruce is devastated to discover that the same woman he has fallen in love with, also helped to frame him for murder!
Over the decades Batman and Catwoman’s relationship has gone through many significant changes, from enemies, to frenemies, to lovers, to finally even husband and wife.
The earth 2 versions of Batman and Catwoman (who were the original versions) got married in the 70s, and even had a child, Helena Wayne.
Batman and Catwoman’s getting married.
Helena Wayne would later become the heroine known as The Huntress following her mothers death.
Its sad how little known the Huntress, an engaging hero in her own right, and the daughter of two of the most famous fictional characters of all time is. I guess having famous parents isn’t always a guarantee for fame.
Catwoman has certainly shown us a different side to the Batman than villains like The Penguin ever possibly could. Through his relationship with the Catwoman we have not only seen a more romantic side to the Batman, but we’ve also seen him question his devotion to the law, suffer heartache, become a devoted husband and later a loving father!
When you look at the major villains from most other heroes rogues galleries you won’t find as much variety in terms of genres or the different type of threats they pose to the hero.
Take Spider-Man for instance. Spider-Man has one of the greatest rogues galleries of any hero, but ultimately most of Spidey’s enemies are rooted in sci fi as opposed to Batman’s who cover everything from horror, to sci fi, to crime, to romance, to psychological thrillers, to spy and espionage stories. Many of Spidey’s enemies are also experiments gone wrong, such as the Lizard, Morbius, Scorpion, Doctor Octopus, etc. Others are ordinary men with access to hi tech weapons or a super powered suit like the Hobgoblin, The Vulture, Mysterio, Chamelion, Shocker, Rhino, Scorpion etc.
There are some villains who don’t fit the mould. Kingpin is not a sci fi villain, nor is Kraven the Hunter. Still ultimately the villains all mostly threaten Spider-Man in the same way. The Scorpion, Rhino, Doc Ock, Carnage, Shocker, Electro, Hobgoblin are all a danger to him from a purely physical point of view. In contrast, very few of Batman’s enemies like the Joker, the Penguin or the Scarecrow can threaten Batman physically. Instead they all have to find their own unique ways to threaten the Batman.
Spider-Man’s relationship with his various enemies are for the most part straight forward. He tends to view the likes of Kingpin, Shocker, Electro, Hobgoblin etc as just villains. There are no villains who respect him like Ra’s Al Ghul, who he feels sorry for like Mr Freeze, who he is love with like Catwoman etc. (Black Cat who has often been compared to Catwoman is not an enemy of Spider-Man’s)
There are a few of Spider-Man’s enemies who find unique ways to challenge him and have a more unique dynamic. Venom knows more about the wall crawler than anyone else, Harry Osborne much like Two Face was once one of his friends, whilst Norman is the father of his best friend. Carnage meanwhile much like the Joker pushes Spider-Man to his limits because of how evil he is.
Still overall Spider-Man’s enemies to tend to fit into a pattern, and cover similar themes more than the Batman’s enemies do.
Similarly most of Superman’s enemies are rooted in sci fi and most of them are simply his enemies too. Luthor who in some interpretations is his former friend aside, there are no villains like Mr Freeze or Ra’s Al Ghul in Superman’s rogues gallery that he can genuinely respect and even have empathy for.
The Doctor meanwhile similarly though having one of the greatest rogues galleries, his enemies tend to fit a pattern more than Batman’s too. The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, and the Ice Warriors, though all unique characters, still all fit the role of alien invaders, all dedicated to their cause above their own individual lives; whilst his single enemies such as Davros, the Master etc, tend to be megolamaniacal would be conquerors.
The Doctor similarly views all of his enemies with contempt. There are no villains that he could be said to have affection or sympathy for. (The 21st century version of Doctor Who did try and have the Doctor develop affection for the Master, but it was very clumsily handled and ended up making the Doctor look like a total hypocrite. The Master historically is a totally ireedemable villain on a par with the Joker, so to have the Doctor who normally kills his enemies go easy on him undermined both characters. I’d go as far as to say how the revival handled the Master was arguably the single weakest aspect of the revival.)
Ultimately there is more variety among Batman’s enemies in terms of the genres they touch upon, the type of threat they pose to the Dark Knight, and their relationships with the hero which range from respect, to neurotic obsession, to empathy, to love, to seething hatred.
The large variety of Batman’s enemies ultimately represents what I feel is the single most important aspect of Batman’s enduring popularity. His versatility.
Batman can be incorporated into a larger variety of stories than any other superhero. In fact I’d argue that Batman can be incorporated into a larger variety of different stories than any other hero, save the Doctor and Xena (who we’ll be examining in later editions of this series.)
Batman can flourish in both drama and comedy. His tragic origins as we have seen can give the character a real sense of gravitas and dramatic integrity.
At the same time however Batman’s ultra serious nature, coupled with his larger than life qualities make him just as ideal for comedy. All superheroes if not handled right can seem silly. (They are by their very nature very over the top.)
Still Spider-Man and many other Marvel heroes have a sense of humour, which gives them a greater self awareness when placed into comedic situations.
Batman on the other hand is totally serious. Whilst some versions may have a more sarcastic streak, generally speaking Batman takes everything completely seriously, which makes it all the more hilarious when he is placed into a ridiculous situation.
This was the key to the Adam West Batman’s massive success. West played his part seriously. At no point did he ever acknowledge how ridiculous he looked, even when he was being pelted with fish by the Joker, or using Shark repellent Bat spray!West always made sure the character had no self awareness.
How many characters could star in two such radically different scenes and remain largely unchanged? West’s Batman at his core is ultimately the same character in that he is just as devoted to fighting crime, takes his job just as seriously, and in his own universe is just as competent.
The comedy in Batman also has a very broad range too. Some of the comedy can be very camp as seen with West whilst a lot of the comedy can also be very dark.
Black comedy has actually always been one of Batman’s strengths. Growing up the Joker was always one of my favourite characters because he could do the most horrible things and make me laugh at them.
This scene from an 80s comic called “Dreadful Birthday Dear Joker” I think demonstrates the strength of the black comedy in Batman better than any other.
Jack Nicholson himself said that the Jokers sick humour more was what attracted him to the role, and indeed it ended up becoming the defining and most praised aspect of his performance.
Its not just with the Joker however that there is potential for black comedy.
The Penguin, the Riddler, even more obscure Batman villains such as the Professor Pyg can all be amusing and vicious at the same time.
As Batman and his villains are such extreme characters then the comedy involved with all characters can be as outrageous as it wants.
Arguably the real key to Batman’s versatility is his lack of super powers. Batman can be placed into almost any type of perilious situation because he can be vulnerable enough when need be, yet thanks to his gadgets and fighting skills Batman can still keep up with actual super heroes.
Batman can star in gritty crime stories. He has a real motivation to deal with ordinary, street level threats, and unlike Wonder Woman or Superman, or even Spider-Man who can all deal with criminals in a second. Batman is always still vulnerable to ordinary criminals to an extent.
One of the best Batman stories of all time is Night of the Stalker. This comic sees the Caped Crusader track a group of ordinary muggers who murder a young boys parents in front of him, through the woods outside Gotham.
The story shows Batman at his most vicious in his relentless pursuit of the crooks. In certain moments you wonder if Batman is actually going to kill the criminals. The papers even refer to him as “savage Batman” the next day. Batman is also drawn to be much more menacing and forboding in this story too.
At the same time however we also see Batman at his most vulnerable in this story too. For all his years of crime figthting and trying to make Gotham a better place, Batman ultimately fails to stop another young boy from enduring the same tragedy he swore no one else would ever have to go through and it almost breaks him. We even see Batman cry during two parts of the story.
You simply could not do Night of the Stalker with Superman, or even Spider-Man. They’d take care of the crooks in 5 seconds with their powers. Neither would have quite the emotional gravitas when dealing with just simple criminals either.
At the same time however there are elements of sci fi in Batman’s character. Batman’s famous Batcave alone features advanced technology that strays into science fiction territory. One of Batman’s most famous trophies is a gigantic robot Tyrannosaurus Rex!
Many of Batman’s most iconic enemies are sci fi characters. Mr Freeze, Manbat, Clayface, The Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Doctor Hugo Strange etc. Some of his supporting cast are sci fi characters too. The Huntress, Batman’s daughter comes from an alternate universe, Earth 2 where he married Catwoman. His other child, Terry McGuiness, who becomes the second Batman (and is mentored by an elderly Bruce) comes from the far future and lives in a complete sci fi environment of robots, hover cars, mutants and aliens!
Some of the most celebrated Batman stories are rooted in sci fi such as Heart of Ice, or Batman Beyond Return of the Joker.
Batman has also become a prominent sci fi character through his association with the Justice League, one of the first superhero teams. As a member of the Justice League Batman has helped to battle alien invaders, travelled to other universes, and faced gigantic killed robots!
At a first glance Batman who lacks any kind of superpowers may seem like a bad fit for the Justice League, a team that consists of the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter etc. Batman however again is able to overcompensate through his scientific genius and deduction skills. He is often able to work out the villains plan, key weakness or hideout first, he supplies the League with their technology, and his gadgets and fighting skills can allow him to go toe to toe with super powered characters. (Which he does regularly in Gotham with characters like Mr Freeze or Manbat.)
A classic example of this can be seen in the Justice League cartoons where Batman is the one who brings down the alien invaders known as the Imperium. The Imperium’s technology is able to cancel out the Leagues super powers, but Batman is able to deduce their weakness, sunlight, and reprograms their machine that blocks out the sun.
Horror and fantasy meanwhile are just as important a part of Batman’s character. Visually Batman drew from classic horror characters like Dracula, whilst Gotham itself always had a gothic look of large forboding cathedrals, creepy looking gargoyles.
The original two Tim Burton Batman movies play out more like old classic, Universal horror movies than anything else, just as much as the Nolan movies embrace the gritty crime fighter elements, and Return of the Joker embraces the sci fi elements.
From the very beginning Batman faced supernatural creatures. One of his earliest recurring enemies was the Mad Monk, a hypnotic Vampire who attempted to sire Batman’s then fiance Julie Madison. Ra’s Al Ghul of course would later bring fantasy straight into the heart of the Batman mythos for all time. Another of Batman’s major enemies with a supernatural twist is Solomon Grundy, a Zombie of a gangster dumped in a mystical swamp outside of Gotham.
Various other Batman stories and adaptations have dealt with the dead being brought back to life such as Gotham and Under the Red Hood.
Batman can also be used for great love stories too. The fact that he is such a closed off, tortured character allows his love stories to be somewhat more intense and tragic. Unlike Spider-Man or Superman, Batman doesn’t want a normal life. He doesn’t want to juggle having a wife and kids with fighting criminals (earlier stories did give him a fiance, but she was quickly written out and the character has remained single more or less since. Whilst he’s had his love interests, there has never been a constant figure in his life like Mary Jane or Lois Lane.)
Batman wants to only focus fighting crime, so if he meets someone who might actually take his mind off his mission then things are going to be more complicated for Batman than they’d be for your average hero in love.
This scene from the Mask of the Phantasm shows Bruce Wayne who has recently fallen in love apologise to his dead parents for taking his mind off of his mission to avenge them. The tragic irony is that they would both have rather their son move on and have a happy life instead.
Batman’s love stories will almost always end in tragedy in some way due to his reluctance to give up on his duties. Even the earth 2 version of Catwoman sadly met a grissly end, though this trend was seemingly broken at the end of The Dark Knight Rises which featured Bruce Wayne and Catwoman eloping to Europe to (hopefully) live a happy life together.
Batman as a character is extremely adaptable overall.
Most superheroes can’t star in gritty crime stories like Night of the Stalker, whilst at the same time most heroes without super powers can’t go on the fantastical adventures Batman does.
Robin Hood can’t stop an alien invasion. Sherlock Holmes similarly can’t star in an adventure where he travels to another universe and stops his evil counterpart from destroying every universe.
Batman meanwhile did in Justice League on Two Earths, which features Owlman, an evil version of Batman who travels to the original world that all universes sprung from. Owlman attempts eliminate all of creation by destroying earth prime, believing it to be the only decision that would matter, as all other decisions have been played out in the multiverse, only for Batman to face him in a one on one duel for the sake of every universe!
And Batman thought the Joker was crazy!
Even other comic book characters without powers such as Green Arrow are not quite as adaptable as Batman. Green Arrow does not possess the scientific genius Batman does, and his gadgets are not quite as advanced as Batman’s. Its one thing to have some fancy arrows, its another to have a cave full of fighter jets, and robot T-Rex’s. Sci fi and fantasy generally don’t have as much of a place in Green Arrow’s world. When Arrow, the live action version of Green Arrow attempted to bring in magic and have the character take on a global threat it was met with a negative response. Many fans and critics felt that it was straying too far from the purpose of the show, and so later versions brought the character down to earth.
Daredevil similarly can only fight street level thugs. You couldn’t imagine Daredevil single handedly bringing down an alien invasion like Batman either.
Batman’s lack of powers, coupled with his scientific genius and gadgets allow him to star in the widest range of stories from crime noir, to sci fi, to horror, to fantasy. For this reason Batman naturally appeals to much wider audiences than almost any other superhero. There’s everything you could want in a Batman’s story comedy, drama, horror, even romance and that among other reasons is why Batman is so beloved.
In the next article we will be taking a look at the history of Batman.