The Big Question ♯7

This week, we're going to be tackling a question that I can't really answer. Why is Batman so popular?

If we look at this logically, it doesn't make sense very much. Ok, he is the second longest surviving superhero of all time and one of only two too survive the late-40's/ early-50's, but the other one is Superman and we all know that Batman always beats Superman, no matter how impossible that scenario is. He's had multiple movies, good and bad, but so have Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men etc., so that can't be it. Granted, his arch-nemisis is the best villain in comic book history, but his rogues gallery is not any more diverse and unusual than any other hero, he still has stupid villains like everyone else (stand up Ten-Eyed Man). He's dark and moody (unless you live in the sixties), but isn't every hero these days, he might have started the trend in the 30's but he lost it immediately when they introduced Robin and by the time he'd got it back Daredevil, Spider-Man, Wolverine had come along and carved up the Batman niche for themselves (dark and moody, angst, being a bad-ass respectively). So if it isn't any of them, what is it about him that make him so great?

Power's wise he isn't anything special. If we compare him to characters in the Marvel universe he could be paralleled to three heroes. In terms of being a peak-condition human with great hand to hand skills, he's equal to Captain America. Both a great tacticians, but Cap is a leader, where-as Batman may come up with the plans and be respected, he never was the leader of the Justice League, he let Superman do that job.

In terms of being a street level hero with a weird and colourful selection of psychopaths trying to kill him, Spider-Man is an obvious comparison. But in a fight, Batman would be in trouble, because whilst Spidey's less experienced, he's got basically the same level of smarts as Bats only with less resources. Add that to Pete's power-set, Batman wouldn't stand much of a chance.

Talking of resources, Iron Man would be Batman's real parallel in the Marvel universe. Both have heaps of cash and use it to make gadgets to fight crime. But being Tony Stark seems more fun some how. He knows how to live, he gets the girl and manages to keep her and not have her either die (movies) or teach his son to try and kill him (comics). Besides, Iron Man does the Superman size villains in the Marvel universe, whilst it's Spidey who does the Batman size villains.

Even in his own universe, Batman is hopelessly underpowered against most of his Justice League team mates. Green Arrow is probably the only one he'd have a legit chance against (unless he manages to get rid of Hal's power-ring). The only reason he really gets one over on Superman is because the big blue dope gave him some kryptonite (and in the greatest Batman-Superman battle, Bat's still had to get Green Arrow to help him out). But still he manages to get away with it (probably due to what I like to call the Wolverine Effect, it doesn't matter what he faces, the hero will always over come even certain death if he's popular enough). Gotta love the writers huh.

But still, Batman is probably the most popular hero in circulation. It'd be nice to explain why, because I want to know why I found it so hard to come up with reasons why he isn't/ shouldn't be. I know there are some Batmaniacs out there, so can you please let me know.


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14 Responses to The Big Question ♯7

  1. Avatar Arioch says:

    Pretty good question.

    IMO, his logo is a good part of it. It is a great logo, and fits the “dark and moody theme”, whereas comparable heroes don’t have one or have sucky ones.
    Then, there’s the cape. Draping himself in it gives great visuals that few other “dark” heroes have.

    Another reason is probably the cartoons. They did a great deal of good to batman.

    Finally, there’s this depiction of him as the ultimate tactician, the “whatever the problem, batman’s got a plan”, that makes him the best of the awesome.

    So he’s dark, he’s rich, the girl fall for him, and he’s the best there is at what he does. SOunds like a recipe for adolescent fantasies.

  2. Avatar Kalkin says:

    My theory is that Batman represents a wish fulfillment about bullying the bullies. He uses scare tactics against nasty, scary criminals. That’s gotta appeal to nerdy kids everywhere.

  3. Avatar livewyre1014 says:

    I think it’s Batman’s resolve that makes him so popular. Whatever the situation, Batman doesn’t necessarily have a plan, but he will not be deterred from his duty. He NEVER breaks his own moral code, and has dedicated his life to a greater purpose for no other reason than he doesn’t want anyone else to have to. Everyone wants to be Superman or Ironman because it’s more fun, but nobody wants to be Batman. Not many people would want to have been Lincoln, Dr. King, or Ghandi either, but people all over the world still idolize their moral strength and personal courage. I think people find inspiration in the idea that something could move them so deeply that they too might find the strength to challenge the world without ever losing the moral high ground.

  4. Avatar Herr D says:

    Most of you sound like you are on the edge of parts of it.
    1. The look/symbol: bats scare people. There are parts of the world where they still kill people because of rabies. They live in caves, which scare a lot of people for fears of darkness, cramped spaces, being trapped/buried alive. They are one of the few species that look demonic to a majority of people. The bat encapsulates too many fears compared to other themes.
    2. Wish fulfillment: revenge and living well. Most people want to be a Bruce Wayne. Most people want to be as effective as Batman.
    3. Sympathy: No one can say he hasn’t suffered enough to deserve his wealth. No one can say he hasn’t worked hard to become who and what he is. No one can say his causes aren’t just. No one can say he’s . . .
    4. Humanity: He’s OUR best, doing OUR worst to those who deserve it. Every inner child stands up and screams: He makes it FAIR!
    5. Gadgets: They, more than anything, represent the best qualities: The abilities to plan, think, invent, build, buy, concoct . . . one might almost put this under humanity, because humans are tool-users. They symbolize humanity’s reach and potential. Through gadgets, humans can even fly.

    I believe someone quoted the creators of Batman as saying that they realized they had “happened on something elemental.” They were right. All the best elements are there, boiled down the bare bones and fleshed with more boiled-down good elements.

  5. Avatar Renxin says:

    Herr D’s list sums it up quite well, though I’d add this: there’s also an incarnation of Bats for everyone (though this isn’t unique to him, it’s been done very well). Need a break from the dark and the angst? Read/watch 60’s Batman! Have kids coming over? They can watch Batman: TAS. And so on.

  6. Avatar Skybandit says:

    Simple. Just like you and me, he has NO POWERS! Given the WILL, we could do what he has done by training himself to be the best, both physically and mentally. Comparisons to Superman are like comparing Star Trek and Star Wars: in Trek, Starfleet officers are the best of the best, and EARN their position. In Star Wars, like Superman, the hero just happens to be born with magical powers, and only has to decide to use them for good or evil. You and I could conceivable become like Batman or Captain Kirk, but Supermen and Luke Skywalkers are born. not made. Star Trek and Batman fans tend to be leaders, aspiring to improve the world. Superman and Star Wars fans are followers, knowing they can never become like their heroes. It’s like nerds and jocks. Some are doers that accomplish things through their intellect. Others are watchers that live vicariously through the exploits of their team that has no idea they’re even alive and wouldn’t care if they did.

  7. CantDraw CantDraw says:

    I can’t speak to why he’s popular to everyone else, but I can tell you why he’s my favorite of all time.

    1. Cerebral – Supposedly he’s the best detective in the world and possibly the best tactitian. I have to disagree on Spiderman having the same level of smarts. Spidey might be a scientist, but I think Batman has him beat when it comes to tactics and critical thinking. Also, I like a lot of the psychological aspects have come into play in many of his stories.

    2. Physically – He’s also supposed to be one of if not the best hand-to-hand fighter in the world. I like that he can’t be beat one-on-one. I think many are in the same boat with me on this, just look at how popular Bruce Lee is even though he’s been dead a long time. That reminds me of the 1,000,000 DC story line where the future Batman takes out the original Batman with one kick. At first I was kind of disappointed but then I thought, the only way to beat him is to take him out Bruce Lee style.

    3. Humanity – I’ve to go with Herr D on this one. He represents the best of us. Batman reminds me of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. His full identity comes out in what he does in spite of what anyone else thinks or does to him.

  8. Avatar Lawrence Wilson says:

    Batman is so popular, at least to me, because from day one, he was the most realistic superhero. Whether alien life exists or not, no one has come here openly to save us from ourselves. There are mutations in human beings, but none granting fantastic powers and abilities. As cool as Ironman is, the tech to make a real form-fitting battle suit capable of supersonic flight and armed to the teeth is maybe 100 years in the future. The only thing you will get from a bite of a radioactive spider is deathly sick. Batman can exist in today’s world with today’s tech and he could have existed as he was originally envisioned back in 1939. It would be very difficult to achieve his level of physical and mental conditioning, but it is not impossible. And, as Jules Fieffer said in his book, The Great Comicbook Heros, (I lost my copy years ago; sorry if I got the title wrong), “With Superman we won, with Batman we held our own.” There’s just something about a guy kicking everyone’s ass against overwhelming odds!

  9. Herr D and the others summed it up with being Batman a super-smart, super-skilled mortal. Especially Herr D’s take on “wish fulfillment.”

    Another thing was Tim Burton / Michael Keaton Batman and British bands like “The Cure” and “Killing Joke” who adopted Batman motifs into their merchandise. Everyone and their dog was wearing a Batman t-shirt. Yes, their dog! I was sucked in and had a pretty snazzy shirt. Batman logos everywhere: shirts, skateboards, panties…

    To me, Tim Burton’s was the first mega-successful adaption of a superhero to the silver screen. That success still influences every adaptation since. Yes, it is possible to make an entertaining, quasi-believable, and even well-scripted and acted superhero movie. (* Unless you’re Joel Schumacher or Bryan Singer.)

    As for Star Trek fans being “leaders” and Star Wars’ as “followers?” That’s a rant for another blog. ;p

  10. Avatar Calvary_Red says:

    Batman was popular before the superhero genre was what it was, but back then he was called “Zorro.”

    More seriously, I once asked a friend of mine who’s not a comics buff who his favorite superhero was, his response: “How do you define ‘Super'”? i got what he was saying and simply answered, “Batman counts.” to which he said, “Then I’d have to pick Batman. I just think it’s cool how he doesn’t have powers.” This is the answer i expect you’ll get from most folks who aren’t big into comics, he “doesn’t have powers” which breaks down to his humanity.

    i think what draws us to superheros in general isn’t that they do what we can’t, but that they do what we don’t. They find ways to use their unique skills/abilities to benefit the world. They persevere even when life gets difficult or popular opinion turns against them. And ultimately they make the world a better place and inspire others to do the same. Batman is a great demonstration of that because he never gives up. Often when bad things happen to us, we victimize ourselves. We sit around complaining that someone should do something, but of course WE can’t because X. X is just an excuse, there is always SOMETHING we can do, but rather than do it we focus on what we can’t do. Batman? he determines what he can do and does it. Deeper than that, he sets a goal, determines what he needs to do to reach it. And DOES IT.

    And like Batman, we can all do that. And our lives would be better if we did. But it’s easier to accept the problems in our lives, because then we don’t have to do any work to fix them. That’s why Batman is popular, not because he is what we could be, but because he is what we should be.

    i know that’s true with me. i often settle for “good enough” or just “getting by” when i could do better. Then i think of the superheroes i idolize and think “why should i be allowed to enjoy them? If they really mean anything to me, i need to do my best, just like they do, so i can improve the lives of people around me in my own way.” It’s difficult. It takes discipline and self-motivation. But when i think of superheroes and what they do, i want to be like them. And it’s not about being a “better person.” It’s about being as good as i am now. Rather than saying “I could get the job I want, IF I had more experience.” i need to find a job i can do, and do it as well as i can.

    That’s what i need to do, and that’s what Batman does.

  11. Avatar NateThePrate says:

    I kinda hate to be predictable, but yeah, Batman is one of my favourites. I haven’t got much to add to what’s already been said other than this:

    Probably one of my favourite Batman stories is actually a JLA story, specifically “Tower of Babel.” That was when I realised just how bad-ass this guy really is, how crazy prepared and how far he’s willing to go, even taking out his own team. I thought that was a really interesting concept, very “who’s watching the watchmen” and the answer is Batman.

    Another good one is the first of Grant Morrison’s run on JLA before that. I won’t give too much away, but it showed that how being human gave him a huge advantage, in that his enemies underestimate him, allowing him to become the spanner in their works.

    That being said, I like Batman the best when he’s paired up with Superman…

  12. Avatar NateThePrate says:

    Oh yeah, just remembered something else I love about the guy. He’s one of the comically serious, which can be hilarious…

  13. Avatar Scatman says:

    Well there are many reasons that Batman is the ultimate bad @$$ “HERO”Well let’s take a look here.He has a very dark past,the whole vengful past and the darkness that surrounds his parents death and all that jazz.But ultimately his nemesis is a freakin’ psychopathic clown who likes to murder people for fun!That is just the tip of the iceberg.Most importantly he is more vigilante than hero,he is creepy in the sense he likes to sneak up on his enemies and for the most part only comes out at night,
    while all his “Super Friends” dressed in colorful underoos “come to save the DAY!”I don’t care that in a “realworld setting,if that was possible”The man of Steel would be the obvious victor if going head to head with the Dark knight.Batman is a freakin’ BAT people!Anyway even with his self- rightious ,let the man live mantra,he will always be the meanest darkest,and just plain cool character to ever Enter the world of comics!What’s not to like about that.Like I say a hero is a hero and a villian is a villian,but wouldn’t be better if they could be both at the same time/Hail to the BAT!!!!!

  14. Avatar Waally1 says:

    Its because he’s human.