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The story of Batman is one of which that throughout its many publications, has remained constant. An evil force arises in the city of Gotham; whether it be the Joker, The Riddler, Scarecrow, or even a mafia run by Carmine Falcone; Batman has always been there to save the day, however; it can be illustrated that Batman has done more harm to the city of Gotham than good. By looking at the story of Batman through the canon of his legend, and the scholarly essays of renowned Batman historians, a case will be made for both Batman being a hero, and Batman being a villain.
Let us travel back in time to the spring of 1940, when the very first Batman comics were released. The spring of 1940 until the fall of 1969 is commonly referred as the “Golden Age” of Batman comics. Batman was more of a detective back in those days than he is now. He helped the Gotham City Police Department solve cases, or even took them on by himself as a bounty hunter of sorts. In this original run, Batman fought villains such as Joker, Catwoman, Dr. Death, Dr. Doom, Hugo Strange, the Penguin, Two-Face, Scarecrow, and even fought against random gangs that terrorized the streets of Gotham. All of these villains had something in common though, they all had motives of something they wanted out of Gotham. For example, The Joker was a crazy lunatic who wanted to kill because he found it humorous, (Starlin, Jim. Batman #1) Catwoman was a thief at large, (Starlin, Jim. Batman #12) and Hugo Strange wanted to modify people genetically. (Starlin, Jim. Batman #26) These Villains and the way they acted created Batman as a hero when he stopped them, and he was. He saved the people of Gotham from what would be called “terrorists” in today’s society.
Let us fast forward to the year 2005. In 2005, film director Christopher Nolan launched a movie by the name of Batman Begins, and concurrently followed up with the films The Dark Knight in 2008, and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. This trilogy of films retold the story of Batman, and introduced the dark character that exists in today’s view of the character. The main villain of Batman Begins is a villain known as The Scarecrow. The Scarecrow after escaping from Arkham Asylum, planned to contaminate the city’s water with a toxin that would induce fear into the people of Gotham, and drive them insane. Batman, with the help of Lucius Fox, defeats The Scarecrow and saves the people of Gotham City from his fear inducing toxin. In the movie’s sequel, The Dark Knight, the series reintroduces The Joker, and later Two-Face to the Batman narrative. In the movie, The Joker was an insane madman who wants nothing more than to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Gotham; just because he found it fun, and entertaining. Later when confronted by Batman, he threatened to keep killing people unless Batman revealed his identity as Bruce Wayne. The Joker eventually takes Harvey Dent, and Rachel hostage; two of Batman’s friends. (Unknowingly to the Joker.) Joker in turn, only gives Batman the option to save one of the hostages. Batman acts on his feelings for Rachel and goes to save her, however; it turns out that The Joker tricked Batman into going after Harvey Dent, and not Rachel. Subsequently, Rachel is blown up by bombs, and half of Harvey Dent’s face is disfigured. While in the hospital, Harvey Dent is paid a visit by The Joker and is convinced to enact revenge on Batman for the death of Rachel, his fiancée. Harvey Dent is then turned into the villain Two-Face, and goes on a killing spree, justifying it by his revenge on Batman for Rachel’s death. While these murders are going on, Batman is able to apprehend The Joker, and hands him over to police custody. Batman then eventually defeats Two-Face by tackling him off of a building, leading to his death. In The Dark Knight Rises, the main character is that of Bane, and Talia al Ghul. In the movie, Bane and Talia are part of the League of Shadows, and their goal is to eventually destroy Gotham to prove they’re much more powerful than Batman. Yes, in short; Batman defeats them, but it raises an interesting question. If Batman didn’t exist, then would the League of Shadows have descended on Gotham, killing thousands of people in the process?
Now let’s look at a Batman villain who has remained the same throughout the Batman canon: The Riddler. Riddler always came to Gotham after Batman defeated many villains, and made Batman undergo a series of trials and puzzles to prove his worth, terrorizing Gotham in the process. The Riddler only had one motive, and that was to prove he was more intelligent, more cunning, and more keen than Batman. The Riddler coincides with the point about Batman being more of a burden on Gotham City. The Riddler didn’t care if he killed anyone (which he did) or destroyed the city (which he did.) The Riddler only wanted to defeat Batman, and he didn’t care about the collateral damage. If Batman didn’t exist, then would The Riddler have terrorized the city of Gotham?
Editor Terrance R. Wandtke collected a series of essays of which he discussed superheroes in the modern era. Published under the title The Amazing Transforming Superhero!: Essays on the Revision of Characters in Comic Books, Wandtke brought superheroes into a new light, one of them being Batman. In Wandtke’s essay on Batman, he discussed him being known as a hero, but discussed the disadvantages he brought on Gotham as well. In his work he talked about all of Batman’s feats over the years, defeating evil forces such as Joker, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, and Penguin. Wandtke then explained on how Batman in turn burdened the people of Gotham City, and caused more crime to arise in the city because of people who had the intent to try and defeat Batman. (Pages 12-21.)
Now let’s take a look at the most recent Batman comics; The New 52 series. In the series, Batman fights against adversaries known as Talon, White Rabbit, Mr. Bloom, Mr. Bygone, Merrymaker, Eli Strange, Dollmaker, Talia al Ghul, and Heretic. Most of the villains mentioned above were simply a resurrection of the ideals of old Batman series villains. Talon was a part of the Court of the Owls, White Rabbit and Mr. Bloom were forms of a Scarecrow-esque villain – using chemicals to instil hysteria into the people of Gotham. Merrymaker led a gang. Eli Strange is the son of Doctor Strange; a former defeated Batman villain, Talia al Ghul is the ex lover of Batman, and Heretic kills Batman’s son Damian (who is also his sidekick Robin in the series.) Save for Talia and Heretic; the villains in the series largely do harm to Gotham with their only reasoning being that of their own. They didn’t exact revenge on or target Batman, instead they actually targeted the people of Gotham. Talia’s may have been a Batman villain, but she did not harm to the people of Gotham; and save for Batman’s son, Heretic didn’t kill or harm the people of Gotham. (Parsons, J. The New 52 Anthology: Batman. Pages 1-29, 40-42, 56-71.)
Whilst conducting my research; I came up with my own interpretation of Batman. What if Batman was neither hero or villain? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word vigilante as “a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly: a self-appointed doer of justice.” In my opinion, Batman is a vigilante. After all, is it not the job of the Gotham City Police Department to apprehend people that cause harm to the city of Gotham? Batman doesn’t even consult the GCPD in most cases; he usually takes matters into his own hands. While there are canons of Batman that the GCPD does turn to Batman (see Detective Comics, and The Dark Knight for examples), typically the GCPD doesn’t turn to Batman at all.
It seems as if it’s largely up to the Batman fan to decide whether Batman is a hero, villain, or even something else. Looking at the canon of his works; the reader finds that villain such as Joker, Scarecrow, Dollmaker, and Catwoman; Batman did indeed save the people of Gotham from further harm. Looking at villains such as Two-Face, Riddler, and the League of Shadows however; it seems as if Batman caused mayhem for the people of Gotham as a side effect of being targeted by Villains. Then, there is my claim that Batman is a vigilante of sorts. In the end Gotham has always turned out alright and the people of Gotham always feel safe with Batman keeping guard over their city.
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