Mar 14, 2013

How I Would Ruin Batman Forever (And Why DC Should Totally Let Me Do It)

By Paul Krueger

There’s a segment of our population that decries all attempts at major change.  What should be seen as progress, they see as an affront.  And before too long, their griping turns to reminiscing about “the good old days”--good old days that, honestly, may or may not have ever really happened.

I’m talking, of course, about comic book fans.

I thought it appropriate to start off this article with a sick burn, because that’s what the Batman mythos needs right now: a controlled fire to tame the ridiculous kudzu tangle that has become the character’s history and world over the past seventy-four years.  To an extent, this chaos is understandable--when Bob Kane and Bill Finger penned the first Batman story back in 1939, they had no idea he would go on to eventually become Empire’s second-greatest comic book character of all time.

But a long-term character with long-term problems requires a long-term solution, and right now those are in short supply.  If DC were to hand me the reins to the Batman franchise tomorrow, I’d need only alter one thing, and let the rest of the changes radiate outward from that decision.  And that decision would be to unmask him.

In modern characterizations, Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman’s the real person underneath.  He maintains the public facade both to give Batman symbolic power and to protect his loved ones from retribution by his enemies. But after so much time, both lines of reasoning come up short.

Batman’s symbolic power wouldn’t be diminished if he were unmasked since several people have previously donned the cowl in Bruce’s absence, which hasn’t escaped the notice of the people of Gotham.  What’s more, the very conceit of current series Batman, Inc. is Batman turning his concept into an international crime-fighting franchise.  In that light, the mantle’s power hardly seems invested in the efforts and secrecy of just one man anymore.  And while his desire to protect his loved ones is admirable, the fact of the matter is that now his loved ones are a cop, a small army of very capable superheroes, and a badass old Brit who lives in the most fortified building in Gotham.

Unmasking him opens new avenues for story that have gone basically untouched in his lengthy history.  Though he hasn’t always been chummy with Johnny Law, putting a name and face to his activities will finally make him answerable to someone else.  All the themes of justice and law that Batman’s always played at addressing can finally be addressed for real.  And it would bring focus back to the “man” part of the equation, after decades of myopic focus on just the bat.

Of course, maybe it’s not my changes that need to be implemented.  But someone’s should be, and not just in Gotham.  The specific problems vary from character to character, but the general issue with superhero comics is their insistence on providing only the illusion of development rather than genuine character progression.  That might not be what the market demands right now, but the market has historically proven that it doesn’t really know what’s good for itself.

The respective superhero universes of Marvel and DC comprise the two most massive stories in history, and they’ve become so because of the love and devotion of their fans.  But fans deserve more than just comfort food; they deserve the best.  Effecting change to characters’ roots, not just their surface elements, is what makes their lives compelling tales instead of teetering Jenga towers of soap opera twists.  And compelling tales are the ones that stick with you long after you’ve closed the book’s back cover.  Or, to put it more simply: they’re the kinds of stories that make new fans.

And besides, there’s no real harm in letting me do this; however well I might pull it off, the next writer will just retcon it anyway.

Well, this started with a burn, and I'm a sucker for symmetry.  So:

“Paul, you can’t ruin Batman Forever.  Joel Schumacher already did that.”

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