Rain splatters the pavement, soaking everything in its path, including you because your umbrella was left home. Its night and the streets are pitch black, as you walk home from class. In the distance you hear a woman screaming for help against the far off glow that could only be emanating from a building fire. Your pace quickens as the sound ignites a spark of fear; when suddenly there is a bright light, reflecting off of the storm clouds that shatters the surrounding darkness. You look up, already knowing the source to have your fears dashed as you gaze upon the awesome sight that is, the Bat signal.
Batman’s status as superhero has been a topic of much debate throughout the comic book community, often leading to raging arguments that never get solved. The constant failure to reach an agreement is due, mainly by the fact that there is no complete list of superhero criteria that satisfies the opinions and views of everyone; therefore there is no real standard for which Batman can be measured against.
Though opinions will forever differ, there is a short list of criteria that stays constant throughout both sides of the debate that I plan to address here and support with reasons and evidence on why I believe Batman has earned his superhero status.
Extraordinary powers, skills, abilities: this is the most crucial piece of criteria for judging a superhero, and the point where the different sides collide on the subject of Batman. The side against calling Batman a superhero uses the main argument that, unlike Superman or Spiderman, since he does not possess any kind of preternatural ability (or superpower) then that is justification enough for his disqualification.
While the other side, myself included amongst those ranks, believe that it is his lack of superpower that makes the character of Batman unique and his struggle for justice more difficult than other superheroes. Unlike Superman, he does not possess the ability to fly nor is he invincible. Batman does not have a magic ring, like the Green Lantern, to aid him in his fight against evil doers. He does possess a vast knowledge of martial arts, advanced weaponry, and acrobatic abilities. These attributes, in most opinions, more than make up for his lack of preternatural ability and it makes him more relatable to readers in allowing them to feel that, with the right training, they might become superheroes as well.
An alter-ego is the next crucial piece one must possess to be called a superhero. Alter-egos, or secret identities, are not only used for making an impression, but they also provide protection for themselves and their loved ones. Most authors construct the alter ego of their superhero to be an exact opposite for one reason: to evade suspicion.
Case and point: Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne, who is the secret identity of Batman, is generally painted as a dull-witted, eccentric, playboy idly living off of his family’s fortune and a well known celebrity socialite. This identity is very different from the intimidating, fear inspiring, masked “vigilante’ persona cultivated by the Batman. It is very similar to superman’s Clark Kent, who is generally portrayed as a six-foot nerd with zero sex appeal.
Wayne also poses as a heavy drinker, disguising ginger ale as champagne in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, in order to ply his guests with drinks so his disappearances go unnoticed. The differences between the two men being so startling is that no one would ever suspect a sap like Bruce Wayne to really be Batman, thus protecting himself and the people he cares for.
Strong morals, and/or a personal vendetta against criminals, that are strictly followed, is another important piece to the superhero identity. An intense, personal understanding of what is right or wrong is the outline for the superheroes existence. It is this code that separates the heroes from the ordinary and the villains; a code which is usually the offshoot of some early traumatic event, for example seeing your parents murdered by a mugger before your very eyes, in this case with Bruce Wayne.
It is the event of his parent’s murder that begins Wayne’s transformation into Batman; through a personal vendetta, he trained himself to become a personification of fear in order to terrify those he hunts. Carved through hatred and vengeance, this leaves him with a moral code far looser than those of other superheroes. His slogan being: in order to stop evil, laws must be broken. Which is what earned him his vigilante title.
Though others would say that having a sidekick is crucial to being dubbed a superhero, I tend to side with those who think sidekicks are mainly unnecessary in most cases. For example, since Batman is the focus, Robin was (for the most part) completely unnecessary. Batman creators, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, disagreed over the topic of adding Robin as a sidekick character because, for Kane, Batman was by definition a lone and solitary figure.
The character is defined by his essential loneliness and, keeping the Batman solitary, kept him unique. And even though Robin came in handy, on a few occasions, he was more a role model for the child readers of the comic. It wasn’t until the first TV adaptation, and movies later to follow, that Robin became a popular facet of the myth, and served as an additional way of connecting Batman with other superheroes.
Anyone who has read the comics, or seen the film adaptations, know that there is never a shortage of villains that need to be defeated by Batman, but there was always one that could never truly be defeated; the Joker.
All superheroes need an archenemy and, for Batman, the Joker was the key. The need to have one super villain that showed the vulnerabilities of the hero is essential and no matter how close Batman came to succeed, he was never able to find permanent victory when the Joker appeared.
The origins of the rivalry between the Joker and Batman is one shrouded in mystery, for different authors write different things. In the 1989 film adaption of “Batman”, by Tim Burton, their story began with the Joker being a member of the Gotham city Mafia and the raid of a chemical factory. When Batman appeared to stop them, Jack Napier (soon to become Joker) in the struggle fell into a vat of chemicals that forever scarred his appearance, thus is the reason behind his hatred for the Batman. The epic rivalry was further cemented by the reveal that Napier was also the mysterious figure who killed Wayne's parents. This is generally accepted as the beginning across multiple adaptations.
This has become the most popular and widely recognized story of how they met, that current authors of the continuing comic have adopted it as truth. Though it wasn’t until “The Killing Joke” by Frank Miller, that more light was shed on the mystery of the relationship.
All of these criteria combined, in mine and many opinions, is what makes Batman worthy of the title of superhero and why he joins the ranks of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and others from the DC Universe.
The fact that Batman has no real superpower is what makes him an inspiration for us ordinary humans to be hero vigilantes ourselves and to stand up for truth, justice, and the American way.
Hopefully, with the coming Superman vs Batman movie, this will erase many doubts of Batman's worthiness to be held in such high esteem.