Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Non-Comic Readers Should Read More Comics

An Old, Old Story - hilzoy @ Obsidian Wings

After a week of reading stories on The Dark Knight and how much it represents a none too subtle nod to President Bush's policies, I have to take the time for a rebuttal. It's a basic flaw in the non-comic reading public that transforms Batman into some psychopathic man bent on beating up criminals as a form of revenge for the murder of his parents. This kind of thinking comes from those who have missed the great Batman stories of the past and the present stories that exist parallel to, but still outside of, the contemporary world. Batman is, was and will always stand as the anti-hero. He's not the first but he is the most well-known. His form of justice and the methods he uses are sometimes nothing more than a fist to the face. But that misses the fact that Batman is also the world's greatest detective.
I can understand how the non-comic types can mischaracterize Batman when most of what they see in a movie rendition is an all-fists, no-brain Batman. Even then though the public often misses the limits of Batman; the limits Batman and Bruce Wayne place on himself in his efforts against crime. The most important part of Batman's moral code is that you do not kill people. The second is that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot who are easily terrified by what might happen if the Batman finds them. At the start of Grant Morrison's current run on Batman, a police officer dressed as Batman shoots the Joker before the real Batman shows up. Afterwards, Robin mentions that everyone believes it was the real Batman who shot the Joker and all Bruce Wayne says is let the people keep believing that.
The tactics Batman uses against criminals to gather information does seem similar to that of the gulags or Gitmo, but the reader knows and always knows that the Batman will not kill someone. Now putting a criminal in the hospital is a different story, but one that also comes with the lesson that criminals sometimes need pressuring to reveal information. If they believed that the Batman wouldn't hurt them then what reason do they have to tell the truth? The Batman and the fear he brings only works because he exists outside of the normal institutions. Even then, Batman often lets the criminal justice system do its job. Batman is not the jury and executioner, even if he is the judge.
Another problem with the non-comic reading public's idea of the Batman is that they often don't see him wrestling with the morality of what he does. In The Dark Knight you occasionally see that, but in the comics that question is ever present. He knows there are limits to what the police can do and he understands that his actions label him as a criminal as well; one that would stand trial just like the rest of the criminals if he were ever caught. This is where the Batman and President Bush differ. The president believes that what he is doing is right and just and thus legal. Batman knows he is doing the work of justice but he also knows that it isn't legal. It's the whole point of being the vigilante--to do what normal society can't because they have a moral code to live by. Batman understands this which is why he runs around at night in his underwear smacking around crooks. He has to appear beyond moral norms or else he would get nowhere. But he is not, nor does he represent, the kind of amoral man who justifies his actions by claiming they are legal.
In other words, Batman isn't a representation of President Bush and his policies but just the opposite. That his tactics are somewhat similar isn't the point. It is that as Batman Bruce Wayne can do something normal men can't. Still, he knows that Bruce Wayne is bound by the law as well and would gladly face a trial and jail if ever caught.