Muddied Waters: Why Batman Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Despite the extremely harsh title, it’s worth mentioning that i’m a huge fan of the Batman mythos.  It seemed obvious to me, from a young age, that he was the coolest and most interesting superhero.  Others somehow missed the mark; either too unbelievable, dull or derivative.  As such, I followed the Caped Crusader with growing intrigue as I got older.  Reaching a peak in my early twenties, I even once tried to write my own Batman yarn (one of those projects best left to rest).  None of this is an attack on the concept or, for the most part, execution of the character.  Consider it a reflection on his fictional evolution; an open question toward hopefully open minds.

While Marvel are the current kings of the castle when it comes to popularity, Batman has never truly faded from public consciousness.  Through a variety of film, television and video game series, he’s maintained a wide appeal.  Audience has never really been a problem for the mopey sod, making him a cultural experience we all share.  I can credit the Arkham game series with my biggest boom in fandom, but it could be one of hundreds of things that you know him best for.  Even reportedly terrible films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad can only dent his reputation.  In many ways an Olympian for our times, it’s hard to see him ever fading away.

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The series is synonymous with consistent longevity.  This is in no small part because of the subjectivity afforded it across the decades.  As society has changed, so has Batman. His creators constantly see him under different filters.  That’s why he’s been able to shine as a mere camp cartoon, and tortured soul alike.  Despite a constant influx of competitors and imitators, it’s this that has helped him keep his head above the water.  Even the comics and graphic novels provide widely differing visions; something that has mostly been a boon to the series.  However, I’ve come to believe that this subjectivity may just have gone too far.  Perhaps Gotham’s water supply has been poisoned in so many different ways that it’s ended up muddied and confused.

I can’t say when I started to feel this way, but I can probably pin it down most saliently to the release of Frank Miller’s All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder.  Miller once had a highly respected name, when it came to Batman, for both The Dark Knight Returns and Year One.  His “All Star” releases, however, were a ham-fisted mess of childish ideas.  From a Batman turned-on by his crime fighting to a macho, bare-chested Alfred, nothing was quite right.  While we’d already seen shite adaptations from the likes of Joel Schumacher, we all expected much better from Miller.  If a Gothamite cast is all you need to give ill-considered tripe instant popularity, it was obviously only going to happen more.  It was the first time I saw the series as a bandwagon for disrespectful opportunists.

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Of course, it was far from the last time too.  Christopher Nolan started out well with the best adaptation to date, Batman Begins.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to visualise The Joker as an emo shadow of his former self, and that’s not even mentioning his treatment of Bane.  It became a bit of a trend for the rogue’s gallery to receive wholesale reinvention.  Strangely warped versions of well established characters started to become the norm.  Although i’m aware that comfortably describes The Penguin in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, it’s now hardened boilerplate in an absence of respectful development.

The established world seems to be something boring to modern creatives.  2002’s Hush feels like the last time in-depth construction really mattered.  Since, twisting the entire world on its head and seeing what happens is a valid approach.  I’m not tarring everyone with the same brush, or denying some of the successes of the New 52, either.  Court of Owls and Emperor Penguin, plus some others, are among the finest Batman releases.  That considered, there’s a general reliability missing from the whole experience.  Where the New 52 could have wiped the slate clean, it instead decided to cherry pick from previous work in tandem with random reinvention.  The result is remarkably scattershot and often baffling, spinning Batman off into new realms of canon obscurity.

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Purity is the quiet backbone of successful subjectivity.  It worked for so long because of the established rules and truisms that permeated the Batman universe.  You could use them as building blocks, or a jumping off point, but thou shalt never undermine them.  This lent the series, and all its media offshoots, a coherent baseline you could hold on to.  Certain fundamentals couldn’t be ignored, though that never meant you were locked into them.  A lackadaisical attitude to those fundamentals now seems to be in fashion.  I have to admit that I can understand it too, even if I don’t like it.  Taking a fast and loose approach with Batman’s direction is sure to have an appeal.  It is, after all, completely “overplayed”; and that’s coming from a devotee.

The TV series, Gotham, is a good example.  It started out well, and it was all good fun.  By now, the whole show’s started to completely go off on its own tangents.  Is it really necessary for them to make taking liberties their calling card?  They’ve proved they’re capable of better, like their masterful depiction of The Penguin.  Why then do we end up with toss like Poison Ivy’s arc?  There’s nothing wrong with a different perspective, and different ideas.  That, in fact, is the life behind Batman.  If the whole thing really secretly bores us all so much that we’ll do anything to spice it up, why do we even bother?  In not giving him a break, we could easily trip him up forever on ever-tangling plot-threads.  It’s about time we tidied some of them up.

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