One of my fondest memories of being a kid is running around my house in Oklahoma with a blanket tied around my neck and jumping off the furniture in our den because I WAS the damn Batman and the damn Batman jumps off of shit.
When Tim Burton’s first Batman movie came out, I was a little too young to process what it actually was, but my older brother had built it up as this awesome thing that I was really going to love. It was really hard not to — the playful darkness of it all, giving way to the colorful purple, green and orange of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. The gothic architecture. Danny Elfman’s score. For a 5-year-old it was like sex. Er… what sex is to an adult. Three years later, Batman Returns was somehow more inviting to a child while upping the sex appeal. Weird, huh?
Still, at this point I only knew the celluloid Batman. (Let’s not talk about Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.) When I grabbed my brother’s copy of “The Dark Knight Returns” as a pre-teen, I finally found out what Batman really was. This started a love affair that probably won’t end until I die trying to glide off of a skyscraper.
But enough about me. This is about you and why you can’t get enough of the Caped Crusader.
Put simply, Batman is everything we’re not, but not in a ridiculous “from another planet but still speaks English and looks human,” or “bitten by a radioactive spider which should kill you instead of making you stronger” way. He’s just a guy who has the kind of money we’ll never have, every possible training you can think of and a kevlar-infused suit. While all of this is in the realm of possibility for someone to do, it’s very unlikely someone with the kind of money Bruce Wayne has would also have his physical prowess, deductive skills and determination.
Then, there’s the anti-hero element. While most of us have convinced ourselves that we are wholly good guys, there is still something very appealing about getting to be a good guy and going about it not entirely in a good way. There’s the subtext that Batman is such a good guy that he is allowed to be a bad guy justified by the ends. “You want to cause $2 million in property damage, Batman? But you’ll catch that asshole? Then by all means!”
The anti-hero theme isn’t something unique to Batman at all and is a pretty old literary archetype, but it does lend the character something completely unique as far as super heroes go. The alter ego in this case is actually Bruce Wayne. Batman is the character’s real face and identity, with the playboy millionaire serving as a decoy. Superman IS Clark Kent having embraced his heritage/destiny and devising an identity to protect his family. Most other super heroes follow the Superman model, but once Bruce Wayne becomes consumed enough by his quest for justice to become the Batman, Bruce Wayne survives as nothing more than a public obligation — a cipher with a bottomless bank account and life-saving butler.
All of this put together is a dream life. Limitless resources, extensive expertise, permission to enact justice by any means necessary and as much privacy as you care to have. It’s the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. While Batman might love to lock down Gotham in a police state, the character of Batman is all about unlimited license — or freedom. That’s why you love him.