Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
The somber and professional English Butler leads me down the spiral staircase. I am a bit disappointed, I really hoped I was going to slide down a long fireman’s pole. Above ground on the surface, the stately Wayne Mansion is incredible. But here down in the Bat Cave, it is truly amazing.
On a platform is two different forms of the Batmobile, next to them is a black race bike and the Bat Wing. In the back ground there is a giant robotic T-rex, a huge oversized penny and a giant joker faced playing card. Memorabilia from the vigilante’s past exploits. The butler stands ramrod straight as we walk past two glass cases, one hold a tattered red, green and yellow costume with a placard that reads, ‘A Good Solider’ in the other is a black Bat Girl Costume with a bullet hole in the midrift topped of with a red haired wig. Next to them a letter on a pillar it starts out “To my son…” and ends “…Love Thomas Wayne.”
In a raised section in front of a massive computer sits the Dark Knight himself. “Master Wayne, may I introduce one Mr. David Heath, Blogist.” The butler said, in an accent I can only describe as stiff-lipped British.
The vigilante looks up from the computer screen he was focusing on. “Thank you Alfred, you are dismissed.” Though there is defiantly an air of upper-class superiority in his voice, I also hear a tone of familiarity and affection. As the butler spins on his heal and departs. Batman motions me to take a seat. “You’re going to have hurry, I don’t have a lot time.” He says in a raspy and commanding voice.
“Yes sir.” Say scrambling to do as I am told. I try to recapture my composure as I sit and begin to ramble. “To…to many of us who grew up in the seventies and the eighties our first exposure to you was the campy Adam West Batman and the really dumbed down Batman on the Supper-Friends….How does that make you feel?” I have visions of being smacked by a Bat-arang, for asking such a stupid question.
The superhero actually shrugs non-paused. “You have to remember what was happening in 1966, race riots, wide spread drug use. and Americans would come home and watch the Vietnam War in their living room. They needed a good laugh, something to keep their minds off of what they saw as a world falling apart. And with risk of sounding corny, kids need a role model.”
I am a bit taken back by that. “Uh…Ok…But then 1986, everything changed with The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, all of a sudden instead camp fodder for comedians, you are restored to a brooding butt-kicker, was that a good thing?”
He glares at me from underneath the cowl for a moment, then replies. “For the Batman franchise, a very good thing. It was the eighties, it was a time for a complete re-branding. Americans weren’t worried about a war over there anymore, they were worried about crime on their own streets. Drug use wasn’t about two hippies getting stoned on a tree stump anymore, it was about cartels and crack houses. America was in ways darker, and I responded in kind.”
He then took a deep breath. “But for comics in general, no it wasn’t a good thing. With the Dark Knight Returns and Miller’s Batman Year One success it gave everyone with a paycheck from Marvel or DC a license to reinvent major characters any way they pleased. It used to be when a new writer came on board, to a comic book series, it was pretty much seamless, now a days a new writer comes on, he kills off everyone the last guy created, and then ret-cons the primary. So no, it was bad precedent for comics in general.”
“You really know a lot about the comic book industry.” I reply awe struck.
He stares at me like I am some kind of idiot. “I am a comic book character, Dave, it is my business to know about the business.” Then demands. “Next question!”
“OK.” I struggle to not run out of the Bat Cave completely intimidated. “Let’s talk about Robin, the Boy Wonder. I mean you guys are like peanut butter and jelly, Holmes and Watson or Bradgelina. What is the story about this?”
He scowls at me then hisses. “If you ever say the word Bragelina in the Bat Cave again I will hurt you like Killer Croc hurts a two bit wrestler.” Then takes a deep breath. “In the thirties, I was written as a dark vigilante, who would on occasion kill his enemies. Comic books were aimed for an adult audience then, the same readership of the pulp novels. During the Second World War, the army gave out a ton of comics to the servicemen. When the soldiers returned back to the states, they gave the comics to their kid brothers. A whole new audience was born. Robin was added as someone the new readers could relate too, but also a plot device.”
He took a deep breath and continued. “Wanting to make the story lines more kid friendly, the writers decided that they no longer wanted me to kill my foes. Taking on a youthful ward gave me reason to rethink my techniques. At the time it was an event that created quite a bit of character growth.”
Wow, I think to myself that was pretty deep. I thought that he was going to say that they were gay or something. “OK, Batman is the quintessential lone wolf character. But if you look at who you have teamed up with in the past, different incarnations of Robin, Dark Wing, Bat Girl, Huntress, Azrieal Batman, The Supper Friends, Justice League, The Outsiders, Batman Inc. and the Bold and The Brave is basically a Batman team up of the week, how do you balance so many team ups with your loner persona?”
He steeples his hands for a moment before giving a thoughtful answer. “I am a loner. But no one lives in a vacuum. I have to come in contact with the others, the DC Universe isn’t that big. It also gives writers to showcase lesser known characters in a major title. Finally there comes a point where a menace is so big it can’t be taken out by one person alone, even if he is Batman.”
I nod then ask “Is Bruce Wayne Batman or is Batman Bruce Wayne?” I ask.
Again he takes his time considering the answer. “I was born Bruce Wayne. I stopped, being just Bruce Wayne, the moment my parent’s died. Since then I have evolved to become who I am. When I think of myself, I think of me as Batman. There is still some of Bruce in me. The love for my parents, the love of Gotham, and the belief that people can become better, that all originated with Bruce. But part of Bruce is just an act, the drinking, the girls, the toys. And by toys I mean electronics and fast cars, not the tools I use to catch criminals. That is not me that is just an act.”
I get a feeling that he is going to say more so I hold of for a moment. Finally he adds. “I think that if you asked the same question to Metropolis’ resident hero he would tell you that he is really is Kal-El, and that both Superman and Clark are actually only parts of his personality.” He mused.
“I will ask him that, if I am ever get to interview him.” I promise. “There seems to be a rivalry between you and Superman.” I add.
He shrugs. “Again it can be blamed on Miller. He made it look like there was a turf war between us. I guess we are both alpha personalities that believe that we are on the right path. It was announced that I would be in Man of Steel II, and everyone starts calling it Batman Vs Superman. And maybe it will be, but the truth is conflict equals drama. Writers focus on the conflict to create more drama.”
“But for the record who would win between you and supes?” I ask.
“Next question.” He says forcefully. But there is a faint smile that tells me he believes he could take on the last son of Krypton if he had too.
“Alright, I write this blog where I and the genius loci of Portland, a personification of the perfect girl, travel around the city exploring it.” I get a gaze that tells me Batman thinks that is a waste of time. “…What…what would you say….is the genius loci of Gotham?”
He sits back and again I can see he is really pondering this. “Metropolis it can be said is New York during the day time and Gotham is New York at night. So I would say that I, as a creature of the night, embody the characteristics of Gotham the best. If I had to pick a third party to represent Gotham it would be Cat Woman. Someone who has fallen into the darkness, but has the potential to be redeemed.”
“Speaking of Selina.” I interject. “She has been dropping hints for decades, why haven’t you ever just…well you know…gone for it?”
Batman is not offended by the question like I thought he might be, he just replies. “If I ever become happy really happy, I cease to be Batman. There is a reason Christopher Nolan ended his trilogy with me and Selina at the café. Once I am content with my life, Batman goes away.”
“Alright.” I respond. “What is the allure of the Joker?” I ask.
“The man is a psychotic sociopath, who needs to be locked up there is no allure to him!” Batman barks angrily.
“Ok…Ok…But as a fictitious character, what do you think is the allure of the Joker as a fictitious character?”
Batman settles down a bit. “Well part of it I suppose is that he has been played by some great actors, Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and voiced by Mark Hamill. He was based on a character played by Conrad Viedt (The Nazi leader in Casablanca.) in a movie called The Man Who Laughs. A movie about a man whose face is disfigured by the orders of King James II, into a permanent smile. He was supposed to be killed off in Batman #1. But the editor had him saved because he saw potential in him as a recurring character. As a general rule clowns aren’t supposed to be dangerous, it is like a deranged doctor, it goes against what you expect, you are supposed to be safe with a clown. So a killer clown sticks in our memory. Also Joker is so crazy that you can never convince him his version of reality is wrong and twisted. There is something alluring about that. But for the record, The Joker is a psychotic sociopath, who needs to be locked up there is no allure to him.”
“OK, before I go, can you just say it one time?” I ask.
“No.” he growls.
“Come on.” I plead.
Batman stares blankly at me.
He looks over his shoulder and then is a raspy voice whispers. “Because I am Batman.” And I know the essence of the character has been captured in one sentence.