Admittedly, this is a weird thing for someone who blogs (and thinks and talks) about comic books as much as I do to admit. Hell, it’s something weird for anyone who enjoys popular culture to admit. But it’s the truth. I was actually inspired by a recent post Nancy wrote at Graphic Novelty 2 as well as one by Emrys M. over at New to Comics to just come on out and say this. So here we are. I’m going to be honest. The truth – my deep, dark, comic book secret – is about to be revealed. Are you ready? Okay…let’s go.
I don’t like Batman. Really. No matter how I try, I just don’t see the appeal.
Okay…hold on. Hold on. Wait! Just…let’s just all calm down for a second. Before any wood is gathered for a crucifixion let me elaborate. It’s not that I hate the character. I maintain that 2008’s The Dark Knight is one of the most artistic films (let alone comic book films) I’ve ever seen. And, growing up as a child of the eighties and adolescent of the nineties, I had to (kind of) like Batman or I’d never get to go see any superhero movies on the big screen. I watched (and enjoyed) the wild and wacky Adam West/Burt Ward series. I also watched (without regularity) and (occasionally) enjoyed Batman: The Animated Series. And I’ll admit that DC’s Detective Comics is one of my favorite titles in their new Rebirth line (although, admittedly it’s for the relationships and chemistry between all the characters that surround Batman…so technically I love it in spite of not because of Batman). So I don’t hate the character by any stretch of the imagination. I just don’t really like him.
As a kid, Batman was always too dark for me. Sure the comic and/or cartoon could be a bit scary at times but it wasn’t that facet that bothered me so much. Rather it was the angry, brooding, somber feeling that always seemed to permeate the narratives. Sure, I read “Knightfall,” “Knight Quest,” and “Knight’s End”…but I did it because I felt I had to as a “comic collector” NOT because I liked the stories or the characters. And I never stayed with any of the Bat titles for long.
As an adult, the more I encounter or consider Batman, the less interested in him I am. To me, Batman is just a developmentally stalled, obsessive, angry man. He’s not psychologically healthy by any stretch of the imagination, even incorporating a comic book suspension of disbelief! ONE MOMENT has defined literally EVERYTHING about his life. He has no real relationships…it’s all detecting, hunting, and fighting to (in a gravelly voice) protect my city. I also don’t really care for his reliance on fear as a mainstay weapon. I prefer my heroes to be above that. Perhaps most of all, Batman’s always felt like a one dimensional character to me. I love much of his supporting cast! I think he probably has perhaps the most fascinating rogue’s gallery of any superhero. I also think those he works with are captivating in their own way too. But I just find him to be a one trick pony.
While I’m alienating myself from the majority of comic book fans I might as well reiterate what I’ve written before – THERE’S NO WAY BATMAN COULD EVER BEAT SUPERMAN IN A FIGHT. Period. My suspension of disbelief is good…but it can’t accommodate that. Yes, he’s “cool” but he couldn’t defeat Supes. In my opinion, the video below is still the best and most accurate presentation I’ve ever seen of how a Superman/Batman team-up or fight would really play out :).
Comparatively, I’ve always loved Dick Grayson. I couldn’t articulate why as a kid, nor did I give it much thought. But Nightwing, to me, always seemed like a far cooler hero than Batman. My favorite Batman comics where always the ones where Nightwing showed up or, in the wake of 1994’s Zero Hour event, when Dick assumed the mantle of Batman for a time. As an adult, I think part of the draw has to do with the nature of Dick Grayson’s character.
While Bruce Wayne’s always seemed like the archetypal static character to me, Dick has a far more dynamic nature. He is a hero born of similar circumstances and training. Like Bruce, he lost his parents. He was taken in by Bruce and taught the skills of the Batman. But from that point, he’s continued to grow…and I don’t think Batman has. While Bruce seems developmentally stalled, Dick has evolved not just in the scope of his activities – growing from the original Robin to Nightwing to Batman to Agent 37 of Spyral to Nightwing reborn – but also in his emotional landscape.
In October of 1993, in Batman #500, Jean-Paul Valley had assumed the mantle of the Batman after Bruce’s battle with Bane in the “Knightfall” storyline left him physically and emotionally broken. Jean-Paul’s approach to Batmanning was becoming increasingly violent and it had Robin (Tim Drake) worried. Nightwing appears when Oracle tells him what’s happened to discuss Valley with Tim.
Dick – “He asked someone to fill in for him.”
Tim – “Jean-Paul Valley – formerly known as Azrael.”
Dick – “And he didn’t ask me?”
Tim – “Would you have accepted?”
Dick – “If he needed me.”
Tim – “All right – but would you have wanted to accept?”
Dick – “No.”
Tim – “And he knew that, Nightwing. He said you’ve become your own man – beyond his shadow.”
Dick Grayson has always been an honorable character, there to help Bruce when needed (stepping into the cape and cowl himself on more than one occasion). But he is also always struggling to discover who he is now. Whereas Bruce seems forever trapped in that moment when his parents were brutally murdered, Dick moves beyond the loss of his parents, beyond the role of kid sidekick, beyond the role of Batman’s protégé. He is always seeking growth in his own life – balancing a deep attempt at self-awareness with living in the present moment. This emotional and psychological quest is often illustrated physically/symbolically in his costumes and alter egos. He’s Robin, Nightwing, Batman, Grayson: Agent 37, and so on. In addition to the emotional growth and depth of the character, Dick Grayson is funny. I like that! Given my lifelong love of Spider-Man, it should come as no surprise that Batman’s dour gloom doesn’t do it for me. But I LOVE Nightwing’s banter! He’s so quippy!
In the fall of 1995, Nightwing received his first solo four issue miniseries! (Aaaahh!!! I was SO excited!) The series saw Dick wrestling with his identity as well. First, he tries to put aside his vigilante life as Nightwing. However, he learns his parents might not have been killed by Tony Zucco after all. So Nightwing heads to a fictional Eastern European country looking for answers and ultimately reaffirms his decision to be a costumed hero. In a moment of significant introspection and honesty he tells Batman, “What I’ve gotten is the realization that you did the best you could with what you had. You weren’t a perfect father but that’s okay because probably nobody’s a perfect father. No family’s perfect, either. I was lucky, I was privileged. Not because of the big house and the money, but because you gave me a lot of yourself. You taught me, you showed me, you encouraged me – you never lied to me and you never demanded that I be anything I’m not. I didn’t imitate you because you insisted that I do so, but because I wanted to. Of all the men I knew, you were the most worthy of imitation. Then I blamed you for letting me be who I was. Pretty dumb…you and Alfred gave me a home and you gave me what we don’t mention. The L word. You were the best family I could have had. Thanks.” A scene like this illustrates great personal growth and maturation in a character.
His journey of discovery and reinvention doesn’t end there. More contemporarily, Dick Grayson had arguably one of the most significant shakeups (at least in regard to his heroic identity) in the New 52 relaunch, faking his death (with the help of Bruce of course) and becoming an international spy working for Spyral. And I would whole-heartedly agree with Andrew (and if you haven’t read his posts on this blog you should totally check out all their brilliant DC Rebirth goodness here and here) in saying that Nightwing is far and away one of the best Rebirth titles DC has going.
On the opening page of Nightwing Rebirth #1 Dick explains, “Nightwing. Do you know where that name came from? Most people think it’s a ‘Batman’ thing. Y’know, former Robin emulating his former mentor because bats go out at night. They’ve got wings. It makes sense. But actually, it came from Superman. See, Big Blue told me about these legendary heroes from his home planet, Nightwing and Flamebird. The Nightwing was ‘The great rebuilder. The catalyst of change. Eternally reborn to start anew.'” That seems to be the driving point of the new series as well. So far it’s seen Dick reclaiming his Nightwing identity and travelling internationally, working a deep cover operation to dismantle the criminal/terrorist organization known as the Parliament of Owls. There’s also a budding romance with everyone’s favorite Batgirl, Barbara Gordon and a tension-filled relationship with his “new mentor” and partner Raptor. Whereas Batman always feels stagnant to me, Nightwing’s stories routinely seem fresh and exciting.
It’s not just Nightwing either. He’s my favorite of the crew but as a kid I remember reading and really enjoying the Robin title staring Tim Drake too. I also read a little Batgirl. Presently, when I look at the three DC titles that have earned a place on my pull list two are Batman related – Detective Comics and Nightwing. And the two that are closest to being adopted for permanent membership in my file are Batgirl and Red Hood and the Outlaws, two more Batman-adjacent titles. I find the characters that fill the world of the Batman to be interesting, engaging, layered, and exciting…I just don’t think any of those adjectives apply to Batman himself. At least they don’t for me.
I know…I know. Yikes, right?? Judge if you will, but hey, I’m being honest. However, in the interest of honesty, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge there is one IMPORTANT and OBVIOUS exception to my constant disinterest in the Batman and that is LEGO Batman!
Hahahaha, YES. Is it too soon to say this will probably be THE GREATEST SUPERHERO MOVIE OF 2017?!? Hmm…it probably is. I’m most likely being prematurely congratulatory (although, if I were a betting man I’d say it will easily take Justice League to school). But, premature or not, I don’t care. I said it! And I’ll stick to it. Ah, I love me some LEGO Batman!