September 26 is Batman Day, and to celebrate the occasion let’s take a look at why a character created 76 years ago is still so popular to this day.
Batman is arguably the most popular superhero right now. It takes a lot for a fictional character created 76 years ago to still be so relevant today. So why is Batman so popular? Well I think it comes down to a few main things:
Tragedy is a theme that plays heavily in most superhero origins. But Bruce’s origin is just so human. His parents were murdered in front of him. There was no radioactive spider or weird chemical explosion that gave him powers, through the power of determination he really earnt his skills. Nothing was handed to him, he had to work for it. That amount of courage and discipline is inspiring, and it makes you want to root for him. Here’s the little boy who saw his parents die who went on to spend years training himself to be Batman, he sacrificed his life to become this person, you want him to succeed.
The alter-ego and toys
Apparently we love rich, cool guys who can get the girl. Our constant aspirational beliefs draw us to these characters who seem to have everything we want. Bruce Wayne gets to ride around in his fancy car with his fancy girls and then at night gets to be a total badass with his Bat themed toys. And although it seems a little simple and silly to appeal to those parts of his character, it’s hard not to. Batman is just cool. On the surface that is. On the surface it’s exciting to think about his life, but when you think about his constant psychological torture he puts himself through, things don’t look so nice. But it is fun to fantasise about being Bruce Wayne/Batman, but personally the whole Batman thing doesn’t seem like it would be very healthy in the long run.
Gotham is a character in its own right (heck it even has its own TV show). Visually Gotham has a very distinctive look. It’s dark, eerie, broken and preys on fear. The repeated imagery of Batman, cowl waving in the wind as he gazes into Gotham, is so iconic because of what Gotham represents. Gotham is the darkness within us all. The curiosity to explore the darker side of ourselves is stronger in some people than others, and it’s strong in Batman as well. And although Batman is staring right into the belly of the beast, he never allows himself to be fully consumed by the darkness. Although he dresses in black, hunts in the shadows and instills fear into people, he does it so that he can be a symbol of hope for the good in Gotham. He doesn’t accept this broken Gotham, and evolves to be more than just a product of a dark corrupted city.
He brings real justice
We’re living in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, so it can be easy to view the world as full of constant death and despair. There seems to be always something bad going on. So it makes sense that within this modern frame Batman is the popular character he is. When it looks like the system is constantly failing us, why wouldn’t you wish for a figure that was outside the system, someone who could truly deliver justice. Batman was birthed from a corrupted system, and that sentiment is quite familiar in today’s age. He’s angry and frustrated at the system, but he works alongside the GCPD because he believes in some kind of order.
Iconic characters aren’t the ones who go with the social norm. We as people generally do our best to pursue our own self-interest, avoid pain and pursue pleasure. That isn’t a bad thing, it just makes us human. Batman on the other hand does everything he can to pursue other people’s self-interests of safety and happiness, embraces pain and avoids pleasure. He’s a selfless figure who gave up his right to be just a normal human, to be something more for the betterment of society.
His villains are memorable
Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Bane, Riddler, Ra’s Al Ghul, Two-Face etc, Batman has a lot of memorable villains. Because his villains are often distorted reflections of Batman’s psyche, it makes him even more of a well-developed character. And these villains on their own are great. Their motivations are interesting and layered. The Joker is a character who views the world as chaotic, so decides to be chaotic with it. Bane is a character that was born into suppression so constantly feels the need to break out of it and gain a sense of freedom etc. These characters all have great stories that explore them in-depth and make them the iconic figures they are.
He’s had consistently good writing
It’s easy for Batman to stay so popular when he’s had such great material. From The Dark Knight Returns to the current Scott Snyder monthly Batman run, Batman has never been short of good content. And it’s not just in the comics that we’re seeing quality, we see it in all forms of media. Animation with the likes of Batman: The Animated Series, video games with the Rocksteady games and of course in film with The Dark Knight Trilogy. These aren’t just good content, they’re amazing content that sticks with the audience for a long time.
He’s a genuinely interesting character
Maybe there’s been a oversaturation of Batman in the market the past few years, but it’s hard to deny that he’s actually a really well-developed character. Within the DC universe we see heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, gods that walk on Earth, but none are quite like Batman. Sure he has the whole strict “no killing” and “no guns” rule, but apart from that his sense of morality is pretty ambiguous. I mean besides the fact that he terrorises the streets at night instilling fear into people, a lot of his actions and decisions are questionable. He develops weapons designed to take down his Justice League friends, he creates invasive surveillance instruments, he won’t kill you but he will let you suffer..a lot and he can just be a real jerk sometimes. But at the end of the day you understand his motivations. Bruce is a man who wants the world to be a better place, but his personal circumstances means he isn’t Superman, he’s Batman.
So as we enjoy Batman day today we can look forward to a lot more Batman goodness to come. Soon we’re getting the third installment of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman v Superman oh and don’t forget the Lego Batman movie! Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Batman is definitely one of the most popular superheroes right now, and I think it’s for good reason too.
Categories: comic book characters