How to Stop Writing Batman Wrong

OK, coming on strong with the title, but if you’ve seen me on here, you know I’m a huge Batman nerd. But for me, part of liking a character is seeing a certain injustice in the mishandling of that character, so I’m hoping to present some theories about common failures in writing Batman and how to avoid them. Ultimately, I’m doing this because I want to see my favorite character used well.

Point 1: What is Batman About, Philosophically Speaking?
Batman stories are about the ethics of justice. Which people need to be brought to justice? What means are acceptable to do it? Violence? Lethal violence? Do someone’s circumstances and background affect how justifiable their actions are?

I’d slightly contrast with, say, Superman stories, which tend to be less about the ethics of justice and more about the ethics of power. Superman vs. Lex Luthor is a conflict between someone who has great power and uses it responsibly and someone who has a different kind of power and uses it extremely irresponsibly. Superman is a better Spider-Man than Spider-Man is what I’m saying.

But that’s not really the issue with Batman. The bad guys aren’t so much philosophical exemplars in themselves as they are forces for violence and chaos so we can look at how the heroes deal with those forces. I’m raising this first because while it’s the hardest to specifically identify in action, it’s also a very fundamental component of how Batman stories work, and the best ones derive their themes from these philosophical building blocks.

Point 2: Batman is the Good Guy
OK, this sounds like a Captain Obvious moment, but hear me out.

How many times do you see Batman be needlessly arrogant or standoffish just to create drama?

Yeah, that stuff? Stop it.

The reason is really very simple. Batman is a franchise that runs for decades at a time with a single protagonist. And it’s in the nature of this kind of story that the protagonist is going to change very slowly, if at all. If that protagonist is an unpleasant person, it’s just frustrating and tiresome. No matter how much complexity you think it adds, you have to consider the long-term ramifications of having this massive jerk be the focal point of your franchise and the person your readers come back to read month after month, or watch week after week, or whatever.

That’s not to say he can never be flawed or wrong about something, but an average Batman story should portray him as basically a good person.

It’s also really annoying in teamup stories where Batman is written as the harsh, violent, pragmatic one as a cheap contrast with Superman (or whoever). Their underlying philosophies are not that different. Sure, Batman uses fear as a weapon and Superman doesn’t. But that’s because Superman, being really powerful, doesn’t need to. Except when he does, like in What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? (or Superman vs. The Elite if you’re more of a movie kind of person). Ultimately, they’re both just using all the tools at their disposal to prevent needless death.

Point 3: Batman Needs to Lighten Up
Like, dude. Seriously. Chill.

In all seriousness (ironically), Batman is a serious person motivated by some deep-seeded anger and outrage. I get that.

But he’s also supposed to be human, and humans have a full, wonderful range of emotions that includes things other than “angry” and “sad” and “both angry and sad.”

In particular, Batman is supposed to be very intelligent. Well, intelligent people often have a strong sense of humor because their brains tend to quickly make connections between disparate ideas. Now, smart people don’t always like making jokes, but an appreciation for irony and wit can go a long way to reinforcing a character’s intelligence. So basically, Batman needs to make more one-liners. I’m not saying he should become a comic relief character, but if he just drops a quick, witty comment every story or two, I think it would be healthy.

And also, the dude’s got everything going for him. He’s got a job he’s passionate about, a very large adoptive family that loves him dearly, and he’s loaded. Even if he’s kind of moody, if he can’t find anything to smile about, he comes across kind of spoiled.

[CONTINUED IN FOLLOWING POST]

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[CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS POST]

Point 4: The World’s Greatest Detective

Batman should solve mysteries sometimes.

Please.

Just… every once in a while.

I mean, this is supposed to be his Thing. He’s the detective superhero. It’s what he does. It’s what makes him interesting and distinct from other heroes and shows off that all-important Bat-Brain in action.

As he himself explained it to Dick: “Your mind is your greatest weapon. Never forget that.” Nightwing (1996-) #157 by Marv Wolfman and Dan Jurgens.

Yet writers seem to obsess over placing him in high-spectacle action-thriller stories. I get that those sell and I’m not saying he shouldn’t ever have them, but any superhero can do that kind of story. Mix things up a little.

Point 5: Prep Time

Who would win? Batman or six random henchmen?

Batman, obviously.

So: It’s frickin’ boring when he fights henchmen.

Batman should be able to have cool (if one-sided) fist-fights with small numbers of no-name goons. When he roflstomps them immediately, you’re losing lots of cool moments. And it means that he has more actual reason to break out the gadgets and the stealth and the psychological warfare: he actually needs it to deal with more numerous or better-trained opponents.

I mean, Adam West had this stuff figured out. He would often lose those cheesy fight scenes with the fun sound effects, so there was actually legitimate tension. The reason this works is because characters are, by and large, more interesting when confronted with challenges that are outside their capabilities. As the highest-profile non-powered hero, Batman’s lack of superpowers should be a clear hindrance.

In general, Batman should be a skilled martial artist, but not any kind of combat juggernaut that a serious metahuman would have to worry about, and stay relevant in teamups and team books using his mind, not his fists or his belt.

Speaking of which…

Point 6: Put the Shark-Repellant Bat-Spray Down and Nobody Gets Hurt

One of the reasons people who dislike Batman think he’s overpowered is that any time he’s confronted with a challenge, he pulls some technobabble gadget out of his a- uh, out of his utility belt and resolves it easily.

Well, remember how silly it seemed when Adam West would pull, oh, say, a live fish out of his belt? And how it was kind of funny and charming because it was a joke?

Well, writers are still doing that all the time, only they’re not joking. Leave the technobabble to Iron Man. In fact, I think it would be a major improvement if someone would clearly establish the exact contents of Batman’s utility belt so as to build tension by indicating when he’s running out of equipment and make him look clever by using the tools available to him in creative ways. The current state of affairs is like Silver Age Superman, where he could just deploy any weirdo superpower and you couldn’t question it because he had no clear limits. Well, Batman can have any stupid gizmo if it lets him win a fight, which of course makes it really difficult to care when he gets into a fight, which in turn is all he does because he never solves any mysteries.

These things connect back into each other, is what I’m saying.

Point 7: The Training Wheels

Alright, these are some basic, functional guidelines to get a Batman story moving on the right track. A good enough Bat-writer wouldn’t need to follow them to the letter, but they’ll do the legwork for you. You’ll note that they map remarkably closely to some of the preceding points (though there isn’t really any way of “forcing” Point 1).

  1. At least once in every Batman story, Batman should, without prompting, do something nice for someone else that does not involve punching anything in the face.
  2. At least once in every Batman story, Batman should either smile or say something at least mildly funny.
  3. At least once in every Batman story, Batman should make a deduction about something.
  4. At least once in every Batman story, Batman should lose a fight or other adversarial encounter.
  5. As a corollary to Rule 4, Batman should not win a direct fistfight against more than four people at once without deploying some more complex tactic or equipment. He should not win a simple fist fight at all if his opponent is a metahuman.
  6. Batman should not use more than one previously unseen piece of technology (or new functionality of an existing gadget) in any Batman story.

And that should do the trick. Stay tuned, though. I’m planning on doing one of these for the Joker, too.

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I may not be as deep of a batman fan as you are, but seeing batman being written as a jerk has ruined the character for me. I also dislike it when they have batman constantly overpower other characters like superman because he’s supposed to be human. Batman is great because he stands with these powerful beings despite not being as powerful, and not for being the most powerful of the justice league.

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Very nice breakdown. I agree on bringing back a wittiness to the character. I love this dynamic when latex off Alfred. He uses is sense of dry British whit and give Bruce the zinger back at him. I think this is one reason I prefer The Batman over BTAS. We get a bit more of the zingers back.

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I showed a friend — who has seen the Nolan movies and read some graphic novels from the past decade or so — BTAS.

One of his first reactions: “Wow. Batman is actually kinda nice.”

Personally, the lack of detective work is what I miss the most in most modern stuff (what little I’ve read of it, anyway).

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I think if they leaned in more towards the worlds greatest detective angle, it would move these stories more inline with many of your items. Prep time and what to prep come be much more grounded in deducing items and using that skill set to prep the right things.

The deduction angle for zingers makes sense. See both Cumberbatch’s Sherlock & Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes for examples of how this integrates into the character,

@BatJamags you are certainly on a good path here to make the Bat far more interesting and fun to read:

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Just had to sneak in for a quiet, off-topic squeal because I’m so happy whenever people acknowledge this exists. Love me some Cumberbatch, but Brett is my definitive Sherlock.

Anyway! For you more seasoned readers, when did Bruce’s personality begin swaying toward the constant condescension and arrogance?

I just finished Murderer/Fugitive for the first time. Im not sure how to access the spoiler blur thingy from mobile, so I won’t drop details, but that story was one of the first times I felt unsettled, as a Batman fan, to have him loose in the streets. I didn’t think he was guilty of the crime in question, but his reaction to it, and those journal entries, were unsettling.

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I like your breakdown and passion! It’s nice to see that on here, but I think it’s important to remember that there is not a “right batman.” He is a versatile character that can work under any tone. Maybe all the thing YOU hate about some interpretations are what other people love. I know you don’t intend to come across this way, but by writing this (especially in such an agressive tone) it can be mean spirited to those who like other aspects of the character. Someone who disagrees could feel like “less of a Batman fan” because they disagree. Just something to consider in the future and maybe upon reflection of this post.

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I dunno. I think it’s perfectly fine to be passionate (or aggressive) in an OP post, if that’s how someone feels.

If it’s offensive to someone, all they need to do is move on. The only time I see aggressive positions as problematic in regard to editorial/cinematic critique is when someone intentionally attacks another community member’s opinion. E.g. I think the Snyder movies are pretty but garbage, so I’m not going to hop into the Snyder fan threads to poo on their fandom.

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I guess I see what you mean, but as someone who very frequently engages in criticism, I make a point to avoid personal attacks. I bear no ill will to anyone who disagrees with me, and am happy to debate the subject. If that got lost in this essay, then I’ll take the blame for that. However, I stand by my position and I think that sometimes, critical perspectives should be at least somewhat aggressive.

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I’m gonna throw my $0.02 in on this because this item seems to keep cropping up. But I’ll throw it into the Office Hours thread.

https://community.dcuniverse.com/t/office-hours-ask-dc-universe-your-questions-every-thursday-night

My specific post can be found here

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Once again, I fully love the passion OP has, but we do need to take responsibility for the weight of our words. We can’t just say someone needs to move on. That being said, OP has done that. I just felt like mentioning it :slight_smile:

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Once again, totally respect your passion and opinion. (And I agree on most of you points.) I just wanted to make sure that in general we all understand that there isn’t a “right way” to do a character that has been around for 80 years in so many different forms and mediums. Whether or not we like something doesn’t make it the right way of doing it. That’s all :).

But sometimes you do. And I put the onus of that on the reader, not the writer. Part of being a community, online or off, is understanding that people are going to have very different opinions, and that these will sometimes be expressed in ways we don’t agree with. To say that we always have to choose our words based on the reactions of others is borderline censorship, imo.

image

As both a Starfire fan and a female reader, I was extremely bothered by this panel when it came out. If I were to make a post about how this is an offensive take on Starfire, would I have to be kind about it for those fans who thought it sexy?

I’m not trying to be argumentative for the sake of pushing my opinion, but there’s a huge difference between mutual respect (and the responsibility that goes with it) and a passionate editorial.

Edit: And apologies for hijacking the thread. I’ll keep quiet from here.

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I agree that we are going off topic. So should you want to keep this convo going, I’m happy to DM :).

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Well, my purpose with this topic in the first place was to make my own case that a certain way of writing Batman produces better stories than the way which has become commonplace in modern comics. And to the extent that it does so, I’d contend that it is a right way. Not in the sense of a moral judgment, of course, but I take the perspective that writing can be a better- or worse-crafted work of art for specific reasons and there is a greater complexity to it than personal taste.

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@BatJamags All very good points. I agree that Batman should lighten up, be a detective, and in general be less “Snydery©.”

To me a good example of a good balance is a BTAS (I think) where Nightwing is talking to Tim about why he broke from Batman when Bats went full on Snyder© on a two-bit hood in front of his wife and kid. Dick thought it was too much, but later we find out Batman had scared him straight and Bruce gave him a job as a security guard and the hood was happy and thankful. This shows that Batman knows when to turn on the “I am vengeance, I am the night!” to scare the crooks, but he knows he’s doing it and it’s not his total personality.

Frank Miller had a little too much influence on a generation of writers. The Dark Knight was Bats going over the edge to full on sociopath. That’s not the “real” Batman. This also came up during the Englehart/ Rogers run. I remember reading in The Comics Journal an interview with Marshall Rogers where he stated Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the “true” personality. Again, that’s taking it a little too far. For a good parody see the Cockroach in Cerebus the Aardvark. Batman knows the Snyder© persona is an act to scare the crooks, but he is truly interested on justice which is why he gave the job to the two-bit crook and keeps hauling all his rogues back to Arkham to try and rehabilitate them.

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Love the passion. I wish I had my laptop. I strongly disagree with many points. I wish I had my laptop to highlight each one. While some notions do resonate, not all do.

I.) Superman is NOT a better Spider-Man. Spider-Man is a better Spider-Man than Superman. Superman is a better Superman than Spider-Man. They are two different characters.

II.) I feel, if writers focused so much on Batman (e.g. Detective, MMA, humor, etc.) there would be no point/tension/reason/suspension to have stories. It’s like, Batman 's perfect but… … … it’s cool cuz… … cuz. Yeah?

Having him be a jerk or overly aggressive at times makes him flawed/human. But, whatever. We disagree. I respect your point of view. Thanks for reading. Stay blessed. [×]

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BTAS was definitely the best representation of Batman, in my opinion. Yeah, he took down villains and did his usual Batman stuff, but he also sympathized with these troubled people, like when he told Harley “I had a bad day once too.” or in the comic adaptation of the series where he let Freeze mourn his wife before taking him back to Arkham.

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@Nightroia One of my fav representations of him, too. He had his hard headed moments, but they often felt like they were from a place of concern and protection more than superiority.

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