Saturday, January 24, 2009

Batman Unmasked: What Makes Batman A Hero?

  With the release of THE DARK KNIGHT on DVD, and the posthumous Oscar awarded to Heath Ledger for his lethal depiction of the Joker, I've found myself thinking back fondly for the "good ol' days" of THE SUPERFRIENDS and the Neil Adams version of Batman that I grew up with. So I viewed Batman Unmasked, which recently aired on the History Channel, with some trepidation. The documentary is a psychological look at what makes Batman and his rogues' gallery tick. One particular  line, towards the end, caught my attention:

Some people talk about Batman as a damaged individual, as a person who is still playing out his childhood wounds. I don't find that a very compelling interpretation, because that doesn't make him a hero. If he's damaged, he's less than us. Batman's a hero; he's more than us. I find it compelling the interpretation that says "here's a man who faced tragedy and he made some choices to rise above it. He used that tragedy to improve himself and to improve the world. That is a hero; that makes him compelling.
-Assoc. Professor of Social Psychology at UCLA Benjamin R. Karney Ph.D

 Aside from the line about Batman being "better" than "us" (who's "us?"), this is a refreshing interpretation of Batman, when you consider that the choice of late has been either the "Fascist" Frank Miller version or the "neurotic" or "insane" version favored by the likes of Alan Moore. Of all the characters to feature in a psychological profile, Batman is the go-to guy. But the recent "what if these characters were real? They'd be insane" interpretations miss the point of the genre. They are NOT meant to be real, in the sense of people dressing up in costumes. But they ARE meant to be real in their ideals and heroism. The "super" part is fantasy; the heroism is not; else, Batman would be no better than his enemies (and the Joker would be right.) Sadly, there are people who would agree with the Joker. Even if I question the basis of the morality of heroism in our culture, it's nice to hear a reaffirmation of the heroic side of superheroes, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in this day and age of heroism as neurosis.