“Holy kleenex Batman, it was right under our noses and we blew it.” I came of age with Adam West’s Batman on TV and a relatively sane Batman in the comic books. Batman was a sort of urban cowboy: a loner, but law-abiding, honest, and polite – both to the police and to the ordinary citizen. He was good, and he was “nice.” As with future Batmen, no one died, at least not from the Batman.
More recent Batmen have been not nice, and arguably not good either. They are above the law, trained in eastern monasteries, by dark masters of kung fu, with a morality no one quite understands. One could say, quite literally, “He was a dark and stormy knight.”
Well, a few days ago, I found the item at left for sale on e-Bay, a plastic Batman-Buddha, and I started wondering about the meditations that produced Batman, and that Batman expounds on life and crime. It wasn’t pretty. They are not pretty. A quick check from the movie versions suggest the Zen Batman is pretty messed up, something that psychologists have noted.
Here are two quotes from the goofy, Adam West depiction of the 1960s: “Underneath this garb, we’re perfectly ordinary Americans.” (Finding yourself normal helps improve sanity, and helps you related to others. Calling yourself an American, or part of any other group, helps too.) “A reporter’s lot is not easy, making exciting stories out of plain, average, ordinary people like Robin and me.” (The Adam West Batman feels for the other peoples’ problems, respects their professions, and does not profess to be better than they.) By contrast, when a recent, eastern Batman is asked: “What gives you the right? What’s the difference between you and me?” The Dark Knight responds, “I’m not wearing hockey pads.” This is a might-is-right approach. Here are some more:
“Sometimes it’s only madness that makes us what we are.”
“That mask — it’s not to hide who I am, but to create what I am.”
“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”
These are so messed up that it’s sometimes the Joker who seems the more sane of the two. Here Batman explains why he doesn’t kill: “If you kill a killer, the number of killers remains the same “. To which Joker replies (the Red Mask): “Unless you kill more than one… but whatever you say, Batsy.”
And the dark, depressive Batmen go with a tendency to leave Gotham city in shambles after every intervention, with piles of dead. West’s Batman left the city clean and whole. Given the damage in the wake of current Batmen, you wonder why the police let him on to the streets. Unlike West, the current Batmen never seems to work with the police, and to the extent that Robin appears at all there is a pretty messed up relationship. Robin rarely appears with the current Batmen, in movies or comics, and there is no Batgirl at all. Batgirl, if you don’t recall, was really Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter — it was a positive female role model and suggestive that commissioner Gordon was a positive, non-sexist parent, rather like Kim Possible’s dad.
Here are some West Batman / Robin interactions showing an interest in Robin’s education and well-being:
“Haven’t you noticed how we always escape the vicious ensnarements of our enemies?” Robin: “Yeah, because we’re smarter than they are!” “I like to think it’s because our hearts are pure.”
“Better put 5 cents in the meter.” Robin: “No policeman’s going to give the Batmobile a ticket.”
“This money goes to building better roads. We all must do our part.”
Robin: “You can’t get away from Batman that easy!” “Easily.” Robin: “Easily.”
“Good grammar is essential, Robin.” Robin: “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”
Robin/Dick:”What’s so important about Chopin?” “All music is important, Dick. It’s the universal language. One of our best hopes for the eventual realization of the brotherhood of man.” Dick: “Gosh Bruce, yes, you’re right. I’ll practice harder from now on.”
“That’s one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities.”
“Even crime fighters must eat. And especially you. You’re a growing boy and you need your nutrition.”
Perhaps the most, semi-normal comment from a non-West Batman is: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” This quote appears on many posters, and it’s not nuts. It’s, more or less, a quote from Karl Jung (famous psychologist). It motivates a person to pride in his/her art, but for some, job-attachment goes with suicide, e.g. when you lose your job. The West Batman is into doing good, and developing virtue, a far more sane approach.
“What took you so long, Batgirl?” Batgirl: “Rush hour traffic, plus all the lights were against me. And you wouldn’t want me to speed, would you?” Robin: “Your good driving habits almost cost us our lives!” Batman: “Rules are rules, Robin. But you do have a point.”
And finally: “I think you should acquire a taste for opera, Robin, as one does for poetry and olives.”
If the West Batman was goofy, he was at least honest and semi-sane. He found Catwoman odious, abhorrent, and insegrievious, just as I find many of the recent super-heros, including Superman. Or to quote Robin: “Holy strawberries, Batman, we’re in a jam.”
Robert Buxbaum, June 26, 2017.