There's a certain trend in certain circles that always emerges when discussing the likes of Batman or Iron Man. "Batman's not a superhero! He’s just a rich dude who dresses up in costumes to beat up poor people," or, "Iron Man isn’t a real superhero, his superpower is money."
It's a fair estimation, but also overlooks what it means to be a superhero. The superhero evolved foremost from the blueprint of the traditional hero figure of myth, fusing the flawed humanity of the Judeo-Christian and god-like Greco-Roman archetypes. We love superheroes because they are human and because they aspire us to be better. Even if making things better means dressing up like a Bat and beating up criminals.
Sure, superpowers are a large part of it, and you can argue that Batman is more a vigilante type than an outright superhero. But at the heart of the character is the basic moral drive to help others with less power — be it physical or social — and that is what makes heroes heroes.
So the question which we're looking at now is: Is Batman out of place in the Justice League, especially as part of the Justice League Trinity (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman)?
Defining The Superhuman
In many ways, yes he is. Out of the Justice League founding members — which, along with the Trinity, consists of Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Cyborg (or Martian Manhunter, depending on what continuity you're going by) — he's the only one without superpowers.
So sure, Batman doesn't really possess inherent powers. But how do we decide what counts as being superhuman? Green Lantern only has powers due to the Power Ring he wears — with it removed he's just as regular as you or me. Cyborg was a regular guy until the terrible accident which led to him becoming half-cyborg, as was Flash until he was struck by lightning.
What Does Batman Bring To The Table?
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the World's Greatest Detective. That is the accolade afforded to Batman due to his incredible analytical ability and genius-level intellect, and it's a huge part of why he enjoys founding member status of the League.
His intellect and analytical ability is his superpower, and it's something which is often underplayed in the movies in favor of Batman beating the tar out of criminals, 'cause that's always fun to see. This aspect of his character is perhaps better explored in the Arkham series of games, which relies as heavily on puzzle-solving as it does beating people up.
Of course there's also the fact that he's spent his life conditioning his mind and body to extreme perfection, mastering as many martial arts as he could get his claws on, and having a hand in the design of the many gadgets he uses. And before you claim gadgets don't count, bear in mind that Spider-Man's iconic web-slinging abilities are the result of web-shooters he built for himself (though to be fair the rest of his skill-set can be designated as superpowers).
Batman vs. the Justice League
There's many examples of instances where Batman has taken down the League themselves, as it's revealed repeatedly that he has a contingency plan to take down each of the founding members based upon their individual strengths and weaknesses. This might sound more like the actions of a super-villain, but Batman is the one given the authority to decide where to draw the line because of his (usually) unwavering moral code, which is a core aspect of his character.
One of my favorite examples of this occurs in the recent Batman: Endgame, in which the Dark Knight is attacked by four of the founding members of the Justice League in quick succession in the heart of Gotham. They've been infected with Joker toxin and sent to take down Batman as Joker launches his final attack against the city and the Caped Crusader.
Batman, having these plans in place, is able to take down each member as they come at him — yes, even Superman — with his specially designed anti-Justice League armor, Fenrir.
Wonder Woman — the champion of truth — he defeats with the lie of an illusion. The Flash he unbalances, using his speed and reflexes against him. Aquaman he incapacitates by trapping him in a moisture-draining material. And Superman? The old chestnut that is kryptonite, concealed in a special pellet that Bruce holds in his helmet. None of them end up seriously injured, and Batman and his cohorts get straight to work on neutralizing the Joker Toxin in their systems.
Why Is Batman Important To The Justice League?
Batman's brooding loner personality sets him from many of the other Justice League members too, as seen often in the comics when he declines to participate in social events. For example, only showing up to Green Arrow and Black Canary's wedding to crash the fight when Deathstroke comes to mess sh*t up.
But in many ways his cold logic is an asset — recall the still-running comic book adaptation of popular beat-em-up game Injustice: Gods Among Us. Batman leads a resistance against Superman after the Joker prompts the Man of Steel into accidentally killing Lois Lane and their unborn child, and blowing up Metropolis. He does this despite every fiber of his being aching to have been the one who killed the Joker, as seen in a Superman fever dream. But he fights this urge, something which Superman does not as he allows emotion to cloud his judgement.
Batman makes the hard, logical choices because he has to, and his humanity is a large part of it. Because he's not without empathy either, as we've seen numerous times across various pieces of Batman media. The death of Ace in Justice League Unlimited is a famous one, and you can check that out below if you want to feel sad today:
Batman is important to the Justice League because he has no superpowers and because he has suffered.
It's all very well and good to be able to sock Darkseid in the face, but it helps if you have someone who can theorize a way to put him down for good, or someone to keep the fight going when everyone else falls.
Yes, it is disconnecting and jarring to see a mortal man go toe-to-toe with the rest of the Justice League — especially in those events which take place in space and against titans of super-villains like Darkseid — but we accept that because hey, it's a comic book. If we can accept that a humanoid alien comes down from the heavens and takes up the mantle of the champion of humanity, then surely we can stretch the limits of believability to include Batman as part of the Trinity?
At the end of the day, you don't have to love Batman, but it's difficult not to admit that the League needs him, even if just as the guy behind the computer. Ben Affleck's Batman will be leading the charge in the DC Extended Universe's upcoming Justice League movie, and how well the character manages to carry his Justice League founding status over from the comic book medium will be interesting to see.
But one thing is for sure: He's there to stay, and I've got a feeling the Justice League are going to need him when Darkseid comes knocking. Or rather, ringing that bell which cannot be un-rung. Ding, ding, ding.