Why So Serious, Batman?

Oh, Batman.

I’ve spent a month digesting trades such as Hush, The Killing Joke, Batman in the 70s, A Death in the Family, Strange Apparitions, Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. I’ve seen Batman at varying levels of gritty, broody, pensive, and serious. However, he doesn’t crack a smile very often. Even though he has deep reserves of compassion – for helpless victims as well as those close to him – and friendships, he rarely seems happy. If he does, it’s just fleeting. In the moment. Gone before he can start the Batmobile.

I realize there are about a bazillion more Batman stories available than the ones I’ve read, but it’s not so limited as far as scientific samples go. I have books and issues by different writers and artists and from different time periods. And yet, no chipper Bruce Wayne or Batman. I’ve seen stories lighter in tone, but that’s not the same. I’ve noticed a sense of humor in Batman: The Animated Series, and many have said to me that’s the most faithful on screen adaptation of the superhero – but I’m missing it on the pages.

Bruce Wayne had a rough past. I understand. He lives a precariously balanced life. Mitch Watson, producer of the upcoming Beware the Batman, was talking about the different sides of Wayne recently at Comic-Con and specifically how the series will focus on the three versions of him. There’s the public Bruce Wayne who is the rich kid, the playboy throwing cocktail parties. He has to maintain a certain appearance, and he does so reluctantly. Then there’s the private Bruce Wayne. He’s very introspective, quiet, and almost like his Batman persona. Very few people see this side of him, mostly just Alfred.

And then, well, there’s Batman. When he puts on the uniform, he has laser focus and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. He uses his brain almost like a computer, putting together clues and solving puzzles. He keeps his body in prime form to be his brain’s back-up. As Batman, Wayne doesn’t waste any words or movements. He’s perhaps a bit robotic. He wants to get the job done; he wants to serve justice and continue trying to meet his ultimate goal of cleaning up Gotham City.

I noticed the demarcations between the different versions of him; I think you’d be blind not to. However, it wasn’t as obvious to me until I heard Watson explain it that way. I also didn’t consider the effects of splitting up your world in that manner until then. I can’t imagine the stress of walking those lines all the time. Superheroes don’t have days off, and they can never let their guard down. Heck, they can rarely share their secrets. The sort of pressure that puts on one’s personality… and all that in addition to the act that caused him to become Batman. Witnessing his parents’ murders had a profound impact on who Bruce Wayne became and how he processes the world around him. I don’t know how he survives and gets by if that and being Batman are all that consumes his thoughts day in and day out.

Actually, I think I just answered my own question. Batman is how he survives. Even though Tony Stark said it (in the Iron Man movie), I think the whole “there’s the next mission and nothing else” is the motto for a few superheroes. Maybe it applies to Batman most of all. He’s committed most of his fortune to fighting crime. He’s primed his body and mind for it, too. It’s what he offers to Gotham City and to the world. I think he’s simultaneously selfless and selfish for it. He doesn’t let himself imagine any other life, and he doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who sits around and wonders “what if.” Well, not for longer than a second.

He moves forward. He still looks back; he doesn’t ignore the tragedies in his past. He just deals with them by putting on a mask and saving the day. And even though I desperately want everyone to be happy and occasionally less serious, I guess that life – the mission – doesn’t allow for it.


2 Responses to Why So Serious, Batman?

  1. Eric Seale August 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    The recent Batman: The Brave And The Bold animated series shows a lighter side of Batman as well, although they still mix in his focus on getting the mission done.

  2. Jeff Nettleton July 28, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Batman’s humorous side is more prevalent in the 40s and, especially the 50s, even before Adam West and Co. From the point that Robin enters the picture, things lightened up dramatically. The Filmation cartoons captured the same tone in their origanl incarnation (Adv. of Batman), even moreso than the second time around (New Adv. of Batman). For the most part, though, Batman is more often the straight man, including some of the best BTAS episodes, like Harley’s Day Out. Still, Batman of the 70s still cracked a joke here and there, though after Frank Miller and Alan Moore got their hands on him, only Alfred seemed to have a joke on hand.

Welcoming the Future, Treasuring the Past.