The depiction of any character is bound to change with the writer. This is doubly true for characters that bounce around a shared universe for decades on end. But what makes the case of Batman interesting is that multiple interpretations have withstood the test of time, and exist concurrently. There are as many holdouts for the campy shark-repellant carrying Batman as there are for the depressed ninja.
This remixability is a huge part of the character’s appeal. How many intellectual properties could be consistent with both this…
Multiple Personality Disorder has been discredited in the real world, but lives on in the minds of comic book writers. Here’s a look at a few of the more interesting personalities.
Each version comes with a few basic assumptions: dead parents, martial arts mastery, rich, dead parents, detective skills, pointy ears, and dead parents.
Living in a shared universe inevitably leads to the question of how a normal man pulls his weight in an organization full of men that can chew diamonds and outrun monorails. Its a bit difficult to kung-fu a building sized psychic starfish from space (actual supervillain) to death. Especially when you don’t kill.
From this conflict, emerges the Batgod.
Batgod has a plan for every scenario that could possibly exist, and a few that couldn’t. Batgod can deduce your life’s story from a fingerprint you left on a diner counter in the third grade. Batgod can throw a batarang at the apple on William Tell’s son’s head from halfway across the world. Any action of the Batgod can be explained by his status as the Batgod.
Remember, every version of Batman is at the razor’s edge of human ability. The Batgod category is reserved for moments when all logic flies out the window.
The Goddamn Batman
If the panel above hadn’t taken on a life of its own, I might have called this the Frank Miller Batman. This is an unhinged, all-knowing nutball that makes his main appearances in Frank Miller’s later work.
The Goddamned Batman and Batman are a bit like Goofus and Gallant. Gallant works with the police and gives children a second lease on life. Goofus blows up cop cars and kidnaps orphaned acrobats.
Robin is common knowledge. The average non-funnybook reader can tell you about the brightly-colored diversion that follows Mr. Wayne into gunfights. A movie fan can even namedrop Dick Grayson. But it takes a truly wasted childhood to know that Batman has had five Robins and three Bagirls.
The Batman-as-surrogate-Dad theme appears almost as often as psychotic clowns. It doesn’t take a child psychiatrist to tell you that any kid worth his salt wishes his Dad was Batman. This angle was taken to its natural conclusion with the adoption of Tim Drake, the third Robin. Granted, his biological father had to die first, but I think we’d all call that a fair trade.
Later, Grant Morrison would transmute subtext into text by giving Batman an actual son: Damian Wayne, raised by the League of Assassins (their name tells you all you need to know). The kid is my favorite Robin by a wide margin. Most sidekicks have to be trained to stay alive. Batman struggles to keep Damian from killing anyone that looks at him cross-eyed.
Insane Religious Fundamentalist Batman
Meet Mr. Jean-Paul Valley. Temporary Batman of the mid-nineties.
One might confuse him for a robot, but he’s much more like a medieval templar. Jean-Paul began his career as the flaming sword-wielding anti-hero Azrael. Azrael served as thea brutal enforcer of St. Dumas, a religious order invented to prevent any number of lawsuits from the Catholic church. St. Dumas held the moderate position that all criminals should be burned at the stake.
After Bane (a steroid powered genius in a luchador mask, it’s a long story) played jump-rope with Batman’s spine in the Knightfall storyline, Jean Paul took up the mantle. He went a few months without going full Frank Castle, but the voices in his head saw to that.
The Grim Dark Knight
My parents…gone to this sick city. Crime must pay. They all must pay. This is a war that may never end. But I will end it…with fear. The shadows are my home now. Let them whisper my name…like a scary thing. Like the Boogeyman. Or an IRS audit. Know terror.
And then there’s Mr. West.
We might give the idiot box a bit too much credit for this image. Silver Age comics served up their own brand of brightly colored lunacy.
Mockery has, in time, melted into nostalgia and winking acknowledgement of Batcamp.. After all, The only thing modern America loves more than imagining a purer past is irony. The latest cartoon uses the Silver Age comics as its bread and butter, an idea that would have been scoffed at a decade ago.
For all the unsubtle jabs taken above, sometimes a writer gets it. The best modern Batman arcs take all the insanity above (save Mr. Valley) and somehow manage to put it back together into one figure. It’s doubly important in adaptations. Accessing every aspect of the icon defined the now-iconic Animated Series, while blind pursuit of cheese gives us stillborn work like Batman Forever. The modern Bat-scribe has to do a tightrope act, balancing everything that came before him. Best of luck to the upcoming reboot’s new authors.
P.S: If I’ve ever written an article that’s getting a sequel, it’s this one.