Batman has become one of the most iconic figures not only in pop culture but in society as a whole since his debut in a 1939 issue of Detective Comics written and drawn by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. He has gone through many iterations over the decades, all vastly different than the pulp vigilante we saw in his first appearances, though many maintain his admiration for justice.
His origin is well known. Bruce Wayne was a man who lost his parents at a young age, trained in detective work and Martial Arts, and later used his family’s wealth to finance a war on crime as Batman, the Dark Knight of Gotham City. He uses science, deduction, investigation, and intimidation to often solve the mystery or stop the villain. In the character’s first incarnation, he used a gun to kill a vampire and later some monstrous clones. Following that, censorship laws would prevent him from becoming a lethal protector, forcing the writers to change him to see all life as sacred, even his enemies. This has become a hallmark of the character and unlike Spawn, Bloodshot, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Punisher, or even Captain America, refuses to kill his enemies, hoping to stop the cycle of violence.
There are a few other staples that have become part of the character. He has a faithful butler, he works with Police Commissioner James Gordon, his friend Lucius Fox helps on the business side of things, has a female romantic partner such as Vicki Vale or Catwoman, and he has a sidekick, usually Robin and Batgirl. Though his cold outlook on life and his methods of solving crime has caused tension in all of these relationships, they always find a way to come to an understanding of Batman and his methods.
Writers such as Jeph Loeb, Denis O’Neil, Mike Baron, Frank Miller, Chuck Dixon, Neal Adams, and others try to maintain these core elements in the mythology, though they have varied in the level of violence he uses against criminals.
However, modern writers are taking a turn so vast, Batman is becoming indistinguishable from his roots. Several new writers are making him a toxic figure, more concerned with being right than the safety of his allies, city, and even himself. In modern comics, he pushes people away, lacks any sense of humor, gets talked down to by his heroic colleagues, gets slapped around by his sidekicks, and more. Here, I will point out where this got started, why this is happening, and how we can stop it.
While signs popped up here and there, this mainstream toxicity can be traced to 2008 – 2009. DC Comics allowed podcaster Kevin Smith to write a two-part story-arc “Cacophony” and “The Widening Gyre.” In this series, Batman is shown to be off his game as he battles Smith’s villain Onomatopoeia, who kills nonpowered superheroes. The normally stoic and careful Dark Knight becomes over-emotional, angsty, defenseless, weak-willed, overconfident, and seems to have a disregard for civilians’ safety. At one point, he admits to wetting his pants during an event. Fans did not receive this story well and though it ends on a cliffhanger, a third entry was canceled after poor sales and reviews of the first two.
Despite the negative reaction, this version of Batman is mimicked to varying degrees in Zack Snyder’s film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Sean G. Murphy’s “White Knight,” Tom King’s “Heroes In Crisis” and “City of Bane,” as well as guest appearances in other titles.
In each of these examples, Batman is no longer an experienced and accomplished crimefighter who wants to see justice done as he is in earlier tales. Now he is an angsty, overly emotion sad sack who is very rich and good at punching. He lacks self-awareness and allows his emotions to control him, rather than controlling his emotions, causing his extended family of Robins, Batgirls, and others to be pushed away, never to return to his side. The writers claim they are doing “character studies” and “deconstructing” Bruce Wayne in the name of realism. They are doing nothing of the sort. They are using this as an excuse to break down and strip Batman of his finest qualities to push an agenda.
Where is this coming from? In the politically charged climate of pop culture, DC Comics is letting a minority of loud social media keyboard critics influence its decisions on how its characters are treated. At first, the comic book company avoided forcing this political correctness on Batman and its influence was spotty, at best. However, as the chorus grew louder, we saw them cave and the World’s Greatest Detective get pulled into the PC fray.
For example, in the Elseworld story “Curse of the White Knight,” Batman’s wealth as his secret identity Bruce Wayne is shown as a weakness that it is keeping unsavory characters in power, unlike previous iterations where the Wayne Family wealth is used to uplift the city and provide jobs for reformed criminals to stay on their feet. It is a blatant slap in the face to fans.
In the mainstream continuity story “The Price,” the Flash blames Batman for the short-lived death of his one-time sidekick Wally West and berates his handling of the case. Batman retorts by insulting the Flash, a childish outburst that is normally above the Dark Knight. This confrontation ends with the Flash threatening Batman with a super-speed punch before he dashes away.
This is a far cry from the Batman who helped Cassandra Cain, the mute daughter of a villain who had abandoned her. As they stand in the rain, Cassandra no longer wants to follow her evil father’s path and the Dark Knight embraces the young woman, telling her, “You’ll always have a real family as long as I’m around.” From there, he trains her to become the next Batgirl and later she becomes known as the Orphan.
Fortunately, with a few exceptions, fans have not received the toxic take well. Sales have been sporadic with older titles like Jeph Loeb’s 2002 series “Hush” receiving a surge in popularity following the re-release of the trade paperback. However, DC Comics does not seem to be getting the message, doubling down on this toxic loner version of Batman, killing off Alfred to ensure the Dark Knight never goes back. The sole heir to maintaining the legacy is in the pages of “Batman: The Adventure Continues” from Paul Dini and Alan Burnett.
How do we stop it? Fans of the Batman can defeat this. It is possible to use your wallet and buying power to put pressure on the publisher. After AT&T purchased Warner Media, the parent company of DC Comics, they have been looking at the books and making changes. Let them know that you want to see Batman and his supporting cast return to form with crimefighting, not these tales that preach political correctness. Purchase older or less toxic story-arcs such as Shiori Teshirogi’s “Batman and the Justice League,” Enrico Marini’s “Dark Prince Charming,” Frank Miller’s “Year One,” Chuck Dixon’s “Devil’s Advocate,” or Scott Snyder’s “Court of Owls” and ignore the more recent entries.
DC Comics may have caved to social media pressure in allowing various creators to begin using Batman as a politically correct message in toxicity, but if the real fans of Batman stand-up and say, “thanks, but no thanks” with our wallets, we could see a turnaround for the Dark Knight.