Is Batman Likable?

Lately I’ve been having a really hard time enjoying Batman comics. I don’t mean to be negative. I really want to like them. I’ve been a huge Batman fan for years. Batman was my gateway to the rest of the DC Universe and comics in general, though more and more I find myself not in the mood to read a Batman story in favor of other areas of the DC Universe like Birds of Prey, Green Lantern, JSA etc… How can this be? How could I not like Batman anymore. The answer is that I still do very much, although there isn’t a whole lot in recent comics that reminds me of what I like about Batman. I decided to scour Batman’s 75-year history to remind myself what it is that I do and do not like about this important character from a reductionist point of view to create a new head-canon of Batman continuity that reminds me why I love the character instead of making me forget.

I experience this phenomenon, as I assume many people do, where if I read a comic that I do not enjoy, it seems to damage my love for the medium. Conversely, when I read a comic that I love, it strengthens my love for the medium. Thus for my own sake, I needed to become a reductionist. That is, I need to abandon “completionism” in favor of removing as many stories as I can that I do not enjoy so that my head-canon can become stronger, and thus maximize my enthusiasm for the medium. I’m not sure how many people feel this way. It sounds kind of strange writing it out like this, but it is undeniably how I feel.

This train of thought all started when I decided to give Scott Snyder’s Batman run another chance. Running out of old runs to enjoy, I decided that it was important to leave the past behind and try to see the good in the New 52 so that I could enjoy future runs as a part of a shared universe. I know that stories should stand or fall on their own merit, but strong stories feel even stronger when they are a part of a rich canon. As a consumer of fiction, I long for this sense of awe again that I have since lost when it comes to Batman. I want to live in a world again where the next great Batman story is just around the corner to make the canon even stronger. So I tried—I tried really hard, but the current canon does not feature the Batman that I want to read. So… Is Batman likable? He used to be. Then he wasn’t and then he was again, but now he isn’t. Let’s go back in time…

Batman’s character tends to undergo extremely long periods of stagnation. During the Golden and Silver Ages, Batman’s character didn’t have a ton of depth but still underwent some character development. In his initial outings in costume, Batman was an unrelenting, grim crusader for justice with mysterious motivations. With the introduction of the Robin character about a year later, he became an adventure-loving father figure and essentially remained that way until Frank Miller changed the character significantly. Most fans would argue nowadays that the Golden and Silver Age interpretation of Batman is far too brightly toned for their tastes. They might be right, but if Bill Finger and Gardner Fox were on one end of Batman’s tonal spectrum, then Frank Miller was on the opposite end with an overly dark and dramatic tone. There was, however, a 10-year long period where the tone of the Batman books was in perfect balance: the 1970’s.

The problem with Frank Miller’s influence on Batman is that his character ended up becoming a total dick to everyone close to him. This was not the case during the 1970’s. The books, under the creative direction of pioneers like Dennis O’Neil, Len Wein, Steve Engelhart, Neil Adams, Jim Aparo and Marshall Rogers, became much darker in tone and made Batman much more brutal to criminals, yet retained his fatherly affection to his family. The best example I could find of this is during Steve Engelhart and Marshall Roger’s run on Detective Comics.

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And in regard to his brutality toward criminals, look no further than issue #2 of Len Wein’s Untold Legend of the Batman.

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This is the Batman I find likable. This is also the characterization of Batman that influenced the creators of Batman: the Animated Series, so perhaps I feel the greatest nostalgia reading Bronze Age Batman because I was 7 years old when B:TAS first aired. It’s this simple but overlooked tonal balance between light and dark that makes Batman a likable character, in my opinion.

That all changed when Frank Miller arrived on the scene. Although I don’t necessarily think Frank Miller’s Batman is totally unlikable, the writers that Miller would inspire certainly pushed him that way. From 1987 onward, Batman became a total asshole. Right off the bat (oh, puns…) in Batman #408 (the issue right after “Year One” ends) we get the tough-love Batman who no longer trusts his family to get the job done and who prefers to isolate himself to everyone else’s (including my) frustration.
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Batman stays like this for almost 20 years. It is during this 20-year period that Batman becomes far less interesting than the rest of the Bat-Family. Since Batman is a total dick, the remaining members of the Bat-Family have something to rally against, and characters like Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, Cassie Cain, Selina Kyle and Stephanie Brown successfully outshine their leader in some truly fantastic stories. There was a saving grace post-Frank Miller who ignored Frank Miller’s influence for the most part: Mike W. Barr. Mike Barr’s run on Detective Comics following “Batman: Year One” largely ignored the tonal shifts implemented by Frank Miller, and unsurprisingly didn’t last. I would argue, however, that he produced the most likable version of the Batman character in the post-Frank Miller era, and was the only person until the 2000’s to have Batman undergo a character arc. In his masterpiece Son of the Demon, Barr had Batman go through a very believable and relatable character arc where love and hope returned to his life once again in the form of a pregnant Talia Al Ghul.
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Mike Barr made Batman happy and hopeful… and it was extremely interesting.
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It also included a very touching beat in the Batman/Ra’s Al Ghul dynamic.
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By 2004, the main Batman books had become increasingly dour. Crossovers like Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive and War Games plus the JLA story Tower of Babel had propelled Batman’s dickishness to new heights (or depths?).
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It was because of Batman’s lack of trust for his partner that all of the “War Games” nonsense happened in the first place. It should be noted that alongside these grim, asshole-Batman stories also ran Devin Grayson’s Gotham Knights which did a wonderful job restoring Batman’s compassion and family dynamic, but was unfortunately pretty short-lived and not influential.

By the time Infinite Crisis began in 2005, writers like Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison began to notice the problem with Batman. In Mark Waid’s words during his interview with Alan Kistler:

AK: Right. Well, my question was, with writers like you and those I’ve mentioned and your emphasis on fun and wonder, is there any fear that we’re going back to the grim and gritty 80’s with stories like IDENTITY CRISIS, WAR GAMES where Leslie Thompkins is a killer, and where half of INFINITE CRISIS looks like it’s about Batman being betrayed? What do you think of that?

MW: The good news is, and I guarantee you this, when we’re on the other side of the CRISIS, those days are GONE. Just gone. We’re sick to death of heroes who are not heroes, we’re sick to death of darkness. Not that there’s no room, not that Batman should act like Adam West, but that won’t be the overall feeling. After all this stuff, after everything shakes down, we’re done with heroes being dicks. No more “we screwed each other and now we must pay the consequences.” No, we’re super-heroes and that’s what we do. Batman’s broken. Through no ONE person’s fault, but he’s a dick now. And we’ve been told we can fix that.”

Holy shit was this the best news for Batman fans. His characterization got so bad that Frank Miller, of all people, parodied the character in the form of All-Star Batman and Robin. More on that later.

During the weekly series 52, Grant Morrison began a transformation of the Batman character in an effort to return him to the adventure-loving Bat-dad of the 1970’s in the form of the “Thogal” ritual, wherein Batman goes on an inward journey of self-realization to purge his inner darkness. During Grant Morrison’s Batman run, Batman smiled again and began his first character arc in 20 years.
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By the time Bruce Wayne returned from his trip through time via the Omega Sanction, Bruce Wayne re-learned the importance of family after realizing that isolation and a lone-wolf attitude were not getting the job done. He recalls that Alfred was there to help him on that fateful night where he decided “I shall become a bat,” and concludes that the only way to accomplish his mission is to rely on his allies instead of pushing them away.
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This was the direction I really wanted to see the character go indefinitely. I wanted to see the era of Frank Miller’s influence end once and for all and move on to a new, more dynamic and likable Batman. But all that ended with Scott Snyder. This brings us to modern day Batman…

It did not take very long into the New 52 continuity reboot until I noticed that asshole-Batman was back. Scott Snyder now leads the charge of the Bat-books with a Batman who has clearly forgotten about his experiences with the Thogal Ritual and the Omega Sanction and has become a parody of himself once again. Recall the scene in Batman v2 issue #7 where Dick Grayson angrily (and rightfully so) berates Batman for being an emotionless asshole. How does Batman respond? He punches him in the face, of course.
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I realize he needed to get the Court of Owls fake tooth out of his mouth or whatever, but there were so many other ways to accomplish that without acting like an ass. Say…you know what this reminds me of?
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At least Frank Miller doesn’t have Batman hit Dick in the face for no goddamn reason.

Say what you will about Batman’s indifference to killing during the Golden Age, but Bill Finger’s and Gardner Fox’s contributions to Batman were nothing short of brilliant. I still find the original Golden Age stories very exciting, and when I realized that Scott Snyder was channeling that old continuity in his Zero-Year story, I was very excited. I couldn’t wait to see modern interpretation of the purple gloves, Doctor Death, and the first Bat-Mobile. The idea of departing from the Frank Miller continuity in favor of re-embracing the original continuity is fantastic and very Grant Morrison in its conception. If you recall one of the final pages of Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #13 where a young Jim Gordon is seen comforting an even younger Bruce Wayne who just lost his parents, you probably remember having your mind blown because this directly contradicts Frank Miller’s seminal “Batman: Year One” story where Gordon is shown to arrive in Gotham at the same time as Bruce Wayne. Gordon’s presence in Gotham as a young Lieutenant even before the Wayne murders, however, was a pre-Crisis establishment.
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Unfortunately Snyder’s “Zero Year” fell flat for me even on a second reading. Seeing Greg Capullo’s renderings and re-imagining of characters like Doctor Death was thrilling, but the story is brought to its knees by cringe-worthy prognosticating, and it perpetrates what had already become a very tired cliché as worded by Grant Morrison in a recent interview.

“Every comic book hero — TV heroes too, like ‘Doctor Who’ — must inevitably, relentlessly, repeatedly face a dedicated threat to his or her very essence and core. It’s no longer sufficient to commit a weird sort of crime in Gotham City; any given baddie has to gnaw at the very roots of Batman’s being, fuck up the private lives of his friends and relatives, make him doubt his raison d’etre, set his postal district on fire and blow up his cave.”

Worst of all is the poor characterization. Surprise! Batman treats Alfred like shit to the point where Alfred’s will to participate in Batman’s mission is totally baffling.
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Just fuck right off. Ok, Bruce? Thanks.

So “Zero Year” ended a few months ago, adventure-loving Bat-dad is gone, and Frank Miller’s influence is alive and well due to Scott Snyder’s undying boner for the man. The result is a Batman who treats his allies terribly, pontificates way too much and is arrogant to the point of ineptitude (see “Court of Owls”). But hey, people love it! Batman sells nearly 120,000 copies a month still, so what do I know.

Anyway, here’s my new, ruthlessly reductionist head-canon that I came up with. These are what I consider essential Batman stories (with a good characterization of Batman himself). While my actual head-canon includes a bit more, the vast majority of the stories not on this list I can honestly do without.

Batman: Year One (Batman v1 #404-407)
Detective Comics by Bill Finger, Gardner Fox (Detective Comics v1 #27-38)
The Joker/The Giants of Hugo Strange (Batman v1 #1)
The Origin of Batman (Batman v1 #47)
Eye of the Beholder (Batman Annual v1 #14, Detective Comics v1 #66, 68 )
When is a Door… (Secret Origins Special #1, Detective Comics v1 #140)
The Batwoman/Challenge of the Batwoman (Detective Comics v1 #233, Batman v1#105)
The Black Case Book (Batman v1 #65, 86, 112, 113, 134, 156, 162, Detective Comics v1 #215, 235, 247, 267)
Pavane (Secret Origins v2 #36)
Tales of the Demon (Batman v1 #232, #235, #240, #242–244; Detective Comics v1 #411, #485, #489–490; DC Special Series #15)
Batman by Neal Adams v1(Batman v1#200, #203, #210; The Brave and the Bold #75–76, #79–85; Detective Comics v1 #370, #372, #385, #389, #391–392; World’s Finest Comics #174–176, #178–180, #182–183, #185–186)
Batman by Neal Adams v2 (Batman #219; The Brave and the Bold #86, #93; Detective Comics #394–395, #397, #400, #402, #404, #407–408, #410)
Batman by Neal Adams v3(Batman v1 #232, #234, #237, #243–245, #251, #255)
Strange Apparitions (Detective Comics v1 #469-477)
Batman By Len Wein (Detective Comics #408, #444-448, #466, #478-479, #500, #514, Batman #307-310, #312-319, #321-324, #326-327,  World’s Finest Comics #207, DC Retroactive Batman – The 70s, Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3)
Batman by Alan Davis, Mike Barr (Detective Comics v1 #569-575)
Batman by Jim Starlin (Batman v1 #414-430, The Cult #1-4)
The Killing Joke (One-shot)
Birth of the Demon (Graphic Novel)
Son of the Demon (Graphic Novel)
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (Graphic Novel)
Dark Knight, Dark City (Batman v1 #452-454)
Vows (Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #2)
A Bullet for Bullock (Detective Comics v1 # 651)
No Man’s Land (Detective Comics by Greg Rucka)
Detective Comics by Greg Rucka (Detective Comics v1 #742-765, Death and the Maidens #1-9)
Gotham Knights by Devin Grayson (Batman: Gotham Knights #1–11, 14–18, 20–32)
Mad Love (One-Shot)
Detective Comics by Paul Dini (Detective comics v1 #821-837,839-845)
Suit of Sorrows (Detective Comics v1 #838)
Batman by Grant Morrison (Batman v1 #655-703, Batman and Robin v1 #1-16, Batman: The Return, The Return of Bruce Wayne #1-6, Batman Incorporated v1 #1-8, Leviathan Strikes #1, Batman Incorporated v2 #1-13)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jamison Weber is a long-time comic book fan in his mid 20s with an Economics degree from UCSD. Currently he is working toward a graduate degree in mathematics education in Arizona, and continues to nourish his passion for comic books whenever he gets the opportunity.

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18 Responses to Is Batman Likable?

  1. Rcn says:

    I actually found the All-Star Batman & Robin Bruce to be a more logical take on asshole Batman than any of the modern versions. I know I’m in the minority here, but I really liked All Star. Batman is an asshole… And everyone makes sure to let him know how they feel about it. Dick, Canary, even Alfred doubts and disobeys him, in contrast to the submissive, emotionally dependent Alfred in Snyder’s Batman. But this is all necesary to show the importance of Robin in Batman’s mythos, story and character (I think it’s funny and sad at the same time how the Miller imitators underplay Robin so much, when he’s such an important figure in most of Miller’s Batman works). In issue 9, Bruce sees his own reflection in Robin’s brutality, and understands that sometimes, a softer, nicer approach is called for. That he shouldn’t be treating his friends as if they were idiots only to maintain his though-guy image. That it’s okay to show them your feelings sometimes, and accept theirs. That he was also a scared kid when his parents died, but he had time to mourn, and his teachers and Alfred back then, while Grayson only got “a cackling, joy-riding lunatic”, in Bruce’s own words. I also felt it applied the Adam West filter to the modern, violent, jerk Batman to hilarious effects, and bridged the gap between the first 11 appearances, where he is a careless, violent vigilante who disregards the law, and the post-Robin issues, in which he is a way more balanced man.

    • Rcn says:

      I don’t mean to say that Bruce as seen in the beggining of All Star is the right Batman, but rather that All-Star’s time frame and character arcs justify Batman’s attitude in that story in a way most, if not all of the modern Batman stories in which he is a jerk don’t.

      • Jamison says:

        I just can’t excuse all the sexism, child abuse, homophobia and bizarre time jumps. Yeah Irish Canary disobeys the guy calling himself Batman only after she sleeps with him because of his machismo. He disparages wonder woman for her sexuality, and I just cant come up with a justification for punching a 12-year-old in the face. To each his own, though.

        • Rcn says:

          I guess I don’t see the Batman in that story as a hero, but rather as someone who has to learn how to be a proper human again, so, in that respect, the story worked for me. I agree about the depiction of Wonder Woman, if not completely about Canary’s, but i’m not American (my native language isn’t even english) so maybe there’s an Irish stereotype in the United States that I just can’t recognize. Personally, I found Vale’s depiction way more troubling than those two, because it was centered around her desire for Bruce and Olsen’s sexuality, while Diana, Canary and Batgirl had their own motivations. Granted, Canary’s motivations are tied to men, but in a tangential way, “men” as a group are more of a detonator than a fuel for her. I just wanted to clear up that I do see the sexism as a big problem in the story, just thought that Batman’s transformation from crazy asshole to crazy guy (because he can be as nice to Dick as he wants, but he’s still endangering a 12 year old in most depictions, so he’s still crazy) was worth noting, specially when it seems to be seen by the very man we see as the “source” of the Batman-as-a-jerk problem as a transitional and ridiculous rather than permanent and serious phase of the character.

          • Jamison says:

            I did enjoy the last page of issue 9 where Bruce and Dick are hugging and mourning at the cemetary. Miller dialed back his batman’s chattiness and the page worked well on its own. So is Batman meant to be the villain inthe story and robin the protagonist? Its hard to say because there isnt really a plot in a.s.b.a.r. Its just Batman berating the rest of the Dcu.

          • Rcn says:

            I’d say he’s still the protagonist along with Robin, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a role model. I think the idea was to show his trip from “fake badass manchild full of himself” to actual partner through his interaction with an actual child; rather than depict a hero vs villain confrontation. The slow pacing, Lee’s lacking narative and the fact that there isn’t a real ending, however, mean that we may never know.

          • Jamison says:

            “We may never know.”

            Yeah, it is also starting to look like Miller may not be long for this world. Speaking of which, how much of a clusterfuck is Dark Knight 3 going to be with Snyder involved?

          • Rcn says:

            I wasn’t aware there was a DK3 on the way… That just can’t go well. Miller’s machismo & politics, and Snyder’s heavy handed, nonsensical plots & monologues, all in one comic.

          • Jamison says:

            I think its unofficial right now, but Miller’s poor health is all but confirmed. Maybe h3 wants to write one more Batman story before he goes.

            • I wasn’t aware that this was more than a rumor, but if it does happen it can’t possibly be worse than Dark Knight Strikes Again, right? Also, Miller doesn’t do art anymore, so the book would probably at the very least give us some really dope art by DC’s very best illustrators… and Jim Lee.

  2. Ivan Krolo says:

    I’m amazed DCAU Batman isn’t on here (even though this is predominantly focused on comics) cause that guy is pretty much the definition of unlikable. He treats all his allies like tools in his utility belt he can do with as he wishes, I never get the sense he respects anyone even on the Justice League and then after Jokers last gambit he goes ubber asshole and pushes everyone away. Why ANYONE likes this guy except his “detective” skills is beyond me. I just get shivers whenever I see people asking for DCAU Batman to appear in live action, cause that’d be terrible.

    If I’d have to call out a Batman who’s genuinely likable I’d have to go with Nolans. His motivation of improving society so Batman’s not needed anymore is much better and nobler then just him beating dudes up for his personal vendetta. His interactions with Alfred, Rachel and even his underlying respect for Gordon and Harvey really shine through and he’s only ever an asshole to the guys asking for it like Joker, Crane or the mob.

    Would I have liked Morrisons more accepting version to stick around? Yeah I would have but I don’t think Snyder’s made him that much of a dick. I mean if I was stuck in a labyrinth for a week without food, rest, sleep or water and then had some 20 year old bitching and yelling at me I’d probably smack him too.

    As for Zero Year, the point of that is that Bruce is a brat at the start of it then it gradually gets lost. His relationship with Alfred improves, his relationship with Gordon improves and by the end his mission is less about making the people feel bad for doing tits all to help Gotham by being Batman and becomes just helping the city and inspiring people to do better instead.

    • Jamison says:

      So I will take your points one at a time. I would argue that the DCAU Batman is very likable in Batman: The Animated Series. I’ve never actually heard anyone ever complain about his characterization on that show. I will give it to you, however, that in the subsequent DCAU shows, those being “Justice League” and “Justice League: Unlimited” that his characterization as well as Kevin Conroy’s delivery became closer to his early to mid 2000’s comic book counterpart, though for me personally he never reached those levels. If you think he was an asshole in B:TAS then you’re going to have to bring up some examples.

      As for Nolan’s Batman. Thinking back to those movies, I think you’re right in that Bale’s character IS likable, but unfortunately the movies are brought down for me by other aspects including the overall tone, plot holes, leaps in logic and cringe-inducing elements such as Batman’s voice, and the writing of the third film. Also, David Goyer is the hackiest hack of hackland. I don’t want to insult you. Every Bat-fan has his or her ideal iteration of the character, and there are certainly no shortage of Nolan fans, but for me the movies just don’t work… especially that last one. Collin mentioned in his response the influence of Batman: Year one on the Nolan films, and personally it is one of my complaints about not only these films, but the majority of all superhero comics produced since 1987. Year One is a really well written story, but subsequent writers who were influenced by it failed to recreate the elements that made Year One special and focused instead on reproducing its tone to poor effect, to paraphrase Collin.

      So, Scott Snyder. I gotta disagree with you here. He is a dick. A HUUGGGEE dick. You make the argument that there is a character arc going on in Zero-Year where Bruce starts off as a spoiled brat with no respect whose relationships develop with Alfred and Gordon by the end. Yes, this arc is certainly being attempted, but for me Bruce’s “I love you, Alfred” in the last issue just fell flat on its face for me given how intensely negative their interactions were earlier in the story. There simply wasn’t enough development in the midpoint of the story to make the transformation believable. But much much more importantly, if Bruce does go through a character arc where he starts out as an asshole and ends up treating his allies well, then some time between the end of Zero-Year and the 7th issue of Court of Owls chronologically, his brain reset and he became a total asshole again. I didn’t bring up Death of the Family in my article, but I will here. The resolution to that whole story is a short lived falling-out between Batman and his allies because he’s an untrustworthy dick. That’s what that whole story is building up to. Once again, if this is your favorite comic iteration of the character, that’s great. There’s about 120,000 people who would agree with you. For me, though, as someone who has read nearly every Batman comic of the modern age, Batman’s piss poor attitude in general is something that’s long overdue to be discarded, quite frankly.

  3. I’ve got way too much to say about this post, sorry!

    On Mike W Barr. His Son of the Demon is excellent, but I personally always found Barr’s ‘tec run to be pretty poor due to its insane level of camp and LACK OF BALANCE. I agree with you when you say that the 80s and 90s would have been better if Batman had a mix of uber-darkness and family-man, but Barr’s run seems less concerned with that and feels more like a “fuck you” to the 80s higher-ups running the “grim n gritty” show back then. Which is cool, but BALANCE PLEASE. After all, Barr is the dude who tried to homo-eroticize the Dynamic Duo all over again (see Detective Comics #571). Hmmmm, now that I think of it, we actually could use Barr-style stories again. Maybe the reason I struggled with Barr’s mid 80s work so much is because I didn’t realize how it was a total “continuity-be-damned, this is MY Batman” kinda run.

    It’s also worth noting that Greg Rucka started his amazing transformative work on Batman well PRIOR to Infinite Crisis (and prior to Bruce Wayne: Murderer where Batman does undeniably become an insufferable ultra-dick). In Rucka’s ‘tec lead-up to the Murderer/Fugitive crossover, Batman is quite likeable, especially in regard to the development of his relationship with Sasha Bordeaux (one of my all time favorite Bat-romances). The respect and admiration that Sasha receives from Batman and how she personally causes the beautiful, calming break within the rigid asshole nature of the Dark Knight is both touching and moving. (I’m basically agreeing with how Rucka was one of the architects of trying to put Batman on a more “likable” course, but noting that Rucka was doing it before 2004. In many ways, he was the sole leader of this charge, sewing the seeds for Waid and Morrison pretty early on in the 2000s!) Of course, even though Rucka’s ‘tec arc registers as but a mere blip in the middle of the “grim n gritty” era, it’s nice that he was able to crack through the bleak surface if even only for a short while. Oh also, before I forget, in this same run Rucka showed Batman treat Poison Ivy with a kind of respect rarely seen in that time period. This was indeed a likable and even COMPASSIONATE Batman. I fucking love Greg Rucka.

    Your article has really made me think about what my ideal Batman is. In my dream continuity, Batman IS HAPPY and IS with a partner that makes him smile. He’s BAD TO BADDIES. He’s GOOD TO GOODIES! Just like in the Animated Series and most 1970s comics! I think you’re onto something, Jamison. I’m also realizing that there is a direct correlation between truly great Batman runs and writers who choose specifically to draft a Batman that is both grim AND happy. In other words, BALANCE EQUALS GOOD CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. This might seem obvious, but clearly it hasn’t been to most writers and editors over the past thirty years.

    And you don’t wanna get me started on Devin Grayson. <3<3<3<3<3! I'd list Grayson's run on Gotham Knights as one of the TOP TEN Modern Age Batman runs OF ALL TIME. Nobody (and I mean NOBODY) gave a shit about characters, character development, and building and maintaining character relationships more than she did. Hell, she even made Bane a Bat-Family member and it was goddamn heartwarming! Bane and Batman were like tough-love BROTHERS. And the ish where Alfred has the Clench disease (if I’m recalling correctly) is sooo goood. I swear, Grayson’s Gotham Knights arcs used to make me tear-up all the time. Grayson is probably one of the most underrated writers of all time. I’d read anything she wrote today. It saddens my that she isn’t more highly regarded in the industry.

    • Jamison says:

      Ok, so let’s go through your points on both responses one at a time.

      So Batman: the Animated Series. I conceded a point to Ivan above that as the DCAU hammered on in its twilight years, Batman’s characterization began to align to some degree with his mid-2000’s comic book counterpart. You can actually hear it in Kevin Conroy’s delivery, as if the directors of the show were purposely changing him. The Batman of Batman: The Animated Series is much more soft-spoken, often jokes with Alfred and Dick, smiles frequently, but still has that brutal hard-edge against criminals. By the time Justice League begins, the only supporting Bat-family character we ever see again is Alfred and I believe it’s only for the 3-part “Star Crossed” epic. You only really see him interact with the rest of the Justice League at that point, which he may be a dick to for the most part… Except for with Wonder Woman. There is a scene in “Justice League: Unlimited” where Orion is complaining about the Flash’s methods of handling is rogues, where he claims he cannot understand his compassion. Batman defends the Flash by responding, “No, YOU cannot.” Overall he seems much more jaded than he was earlier in his career, but the writers of JL and JLU did a great job at maintaining the sense of Batman’s sincere respect for his team mates, which made those rare moments of demonstrating it all the more special, in my opinion.

      I think tonal balance may be necessarily tied with a likable Batman, but upon reflection the opposite is not true. Nolan’s Batman is likable, I think, but the films lack tonal balance. This may just be an exception to the rule however. Actually, it’s been a while but do you think Kingdom Come is tonally balanced? I think I remember Batman being a bit unlikable in that story. It’s funny, Mark Waid helped orchestrate the era post-infinite crisis where Batman smiles again, but at the same time is responsible for JLA: Tower of Babel, which is one of the most unlikable iterations of Batman so far.

      I totally agree with you about your assessment on Frank Miller’s work and influence. Year One is an undeniably well written story that was very poorly understood in the decades to come. I’ll always love his 80’s work, but we need a different direction for the character now. You know, I think the reason he is still so popular is because of DC’s trade paperback distribution strategies in large book store chains like Barnes and Noble. If people are looking for a way into Batman comics, book store employees and every top-ten Batman trades list on the internet just point them to books like Year One and the Dark Knight Returns and… Jeph Loeb for some dumb reason. All of these books are constantly in stock in major book retailers across the country. The new fans come along and read Batman: Year One and they want all Batman books to be like Batman: Year One as far as tone goes. Thus you have an army of Scott Snyder fans for a run that critically lacks the justification for its overwhelming support, in my opinion.

      We’re on the same page about Morrison, and surely you must be right about the influence of the movies making Gordon present at the scene of the Wayne murders. It was a really baffling choice for Morrison to make, along with his frustrating and overly-generous inclusion of a reference to Zero-Year.

      Scott Snyder: I’d like to hear some of your arguments about Snyder’s Batman being likable. I honestly don’t see it, and given that I really wanted to love his run, maybe you can turn my disdain to faint praise for the run. As for Hollywood, it’s funny that an article came about a couple days ago about how Kick-Ass (eww) director Matthew Vaughn assesses that fans are tired of grim and gritty, deathly serious super-hero movies and we are still a year and a half away from the Dark Knight Returns inspired “Batman v. Superman: Dong of Justice.” My hopes for this film have disappeared into the multiversal bleed at this point.

      I totally agree with you about Mike Barr. He may have been too far in the other direction with his detective work, but in my opinion “Son of the Demon” makes up for any sin he may have committed.

      I totally agree about Rucka too. I loved his first detective run from No Man’s Land all the way to the beginning of Bruce Wayne: Murderer. If you look on my head-canon list you will see that I’ve included Rucka’s work all the way up to the issue just before Batman the 10-cent adventure. I wanted to talk a little about Poison Ivy here too. Thanks to Greg Rucka and Neil Gaiman, Poison Ivy is actually in my top 3 favorite Batman villains. Rucka’s two part arc “A Walk in the Park” and his follow-up story in Gotham Central transformed that character into a really relate-able yet still terrifying sort of anti-hero in the best sort of way. In fact, those two issues from ‘Tec are my girlfriend’s favorite Batman stories of all time. In short, I too fucking love Greg Rucka. There’s a recent interview with Rucka floating around on Comicsalliance somewhere where he talks about how everything went wrong with Murderer/Fugitive due to editorial meddling. He admits the cross-over is total tripe.

      Devin Grayson really proved herself with Gotham Knights. It’s actually kind of fun to trace her career and watch how she improved over time. She’s not a perfect writer, though. I want to love her Titans run so bad, but I just can’t. I re-read it like twice a year to see if my mind changes and it never does. It’s too boring and overly cheesy. I wasn’t a huge fan of her Nightwing stuff either. BUT, Her run on Gotham Knights is a true masterpiece. Unfortunately the Bane story isn’t hers. Between Grayson’s run and the truly awful A.J. Lieberman run was Scott Beatty’s run, who did a really great job picking up where Grayson left off (You didn’t even notice she was gone!) and maintained the quality of the book until Lieberman’s Hush Returns (blehhhh). His Bane story WAS wonderful and made the character relevant for the first time in ten years, and arguably this is the last time he was ever interesting (maybe in Secret Six, but I don’t remember that being the case). Back to Devin, though. Her crowning achievement, in my opinion was the last issue of her run just before the Bane story; Gotham Knights #32 entitled 24/7. If you recall, 24/7 was a series of vignettes showing how Bruce constantly bends over backwards to reward friends and allies when he is not busy on a case. It’s an amazingly beautiful story and definitely in my top-10 Batman stories of all time. Speaking of top-10 Batman stories, here’s mine in countdown form:

      10.) A Walk in the Park (‘Tec v1 #751-752) – For reasons listed above.

      9.) 24/7 (Gotham Knights #32) – For reasons listed above.

      8.) Batman: Death and the Maidens (Batman: Death and the Maidens #1-9) –
      A wonderful addition to the Ra’s Al Ghul saga where a dying Ra’s Al Ghul mystically reunites Batman, to his own skepticism, with his deceased parents who end up telling him what any parent would tell their child in that situation, give up this Batman none-sense and live your life. No parent would want to see their child give up their happiness due to a tragedy. It’s incredibly pointed and touching, which I’d certainly expect from Greg Rucka.

      7.) Batman: Tales of the Demon (Batman v1 #232, 235, 240, 242, 243 and 244 ‘Tec v1 #411, 485, 489 and 490, and DC Special Series Volume 2 #15) – A wonderful love story and continent-spanning adventure that sets up Batman’s greatest foe; Ra’s Al Ghul. This story is everything I love about Batman and sets up one of the most exciting corners of Batman’s world.

      6.) Batman, Incorporated (Batman Incorporated v1 #1-8, Leviathan Strikes #1, Batman Incorporated v2 #1-13) – This epic provides closure to the adventure set up by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams in Tales of the Demon, but also further expands the universe by returning the Kathy Kane Batwoman, and Lord Death Man to canon, while closing out the “Batmen of All Nations” saga. A very colorful, epic, bright and varied story that boils down to the very relate-able human tragedy of lost loves and family.

      5.) Batman: Strange Apparitions: (‘Tec v1 #469-479) – The most classic Batman story of all time. Virtually every great Batman rogue has a story in this arc, most notably “The Laughing Fish”, which remains the second most well remembered Joker story of all time. But what makes this arc truly special is Batman’s character development as ushered by one of Batman’s greatest loves Silver St. Cloud. Silver turns the Bruce/random girlfriend cliche on its head by having Silver learn Batman’s true identity and this time the woman rejects Bruce for his lifestyle. It is here Bruce realizes that he will never truly have a normal, happy life, and in a moment of weakness curses his parents for their deaths ruining his life, but then immediately breaks down in tears with regret. After this, Batman’s brutality level toward criminals skyrockets. A truly wonderful bit of character development rarely seen in Batman books.

      4.) Batman: Son of the Demon – For reasons listed above

      3.) Batman: Year One (Batman v1 #404-407) – For reasons we’re all aware of.

      2.) The Origin of Batman/The First Batman/Untold Legends of the Batman (Batman v1 #47, ‘Tec v1 #235, Untold Legends of the Batman #1-3.) – I Lump these all together because they are basically all telling different parts of the same story. I love the pre-crisis Batman Origin. I think it still holds up really well, is in perfect tonal balance and hits some really heavy emotional beats in the best way. Though Batman: Year One is more of a technical achievement, I think this origin packs the same amount of emotion and drama but with a bunch of fun sprinkled in, so I decided to rank it higher.

      1.) Batman: RIP/Last Rites/Final Crisis (Batman v1 #676-683, Final Crisis #507) – This is the most trans-formative, interesting and epic Batman story I have ever read. Morrison, with expert skill, ties together Batman’s 75 year history in an epic that gets at the core of who the character is in the most exciting and inventive way imaginable. This story also serves as the most incredible New Gods story since Kirby finished his saga in the 70s. Wonderfully complex and challengingly dense, this read lends itself to a lifetime of re-reads and study.

      On a final note, I totally forgot to add the Jiro Kuwatta Batmanga to my head canon. That run is amazing fun.

      • Jamison says:

        Also, I was wrong about All Star Batman and Robin. I forgot Batman punches Dick Grayson, Age 12 right in the nose for injuring Green Lantern in issue 9. Surely this must have influenced Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls story.

      • Honestly, I’ll have to reread Kingdom Come, it’s been so long. And “Babel,” hmmm, I certainly don’t think of Batman as likable in that arc, but now that I’m rethinking it maybe Waid was trying to stress Batman’s descent into paranoia as global superheroism began to proliferate at an astounding rate. I’m seeing “Babel” Batman as more paranoid rather than wholly unlikable. Maybe Waid took it a little too far and should have reeled back a bit, though. (Ironically, Meltzer later adding in the mind-wipe scandal with Identity Crisis actually justified Batman’s paranoia, although it is debatable whether or not it made his actions right or wrong. Also, it was a retcon, so it can’t ACTUALLY have a narrative effect if you read the stories individually.)

        OMG, here is a tweet from me verbatim on Jan 6: “m_vaughan calling out Nolan 4 making bad films is Duh who cares. A hack calling out another hack..u both suck at making movies. deal with it”

        And holy shit, Lieberman wrote that damn Bane arc. I seriously thought Grayson left the title after that. He really did carry-on her style well then. AND THOSE BRIAN BOLLAND COVERS. SWOON.

  4. 1970s Batman! One of my new year’s resolutions is to get through reading 1960s Batman (which I am currently reading chronologically), so that I can happily consume 1970s Batman! Also your Batman: The Animated Series reference—how Timm & Dini built that continuity off of the 70s. It’s so true. I was nine-years-old when that show debuted and it was EVERYTHING TO ME. That show and that show alone made me fall in love with Batman and his world. Similarly, Rucka, Waid, and Morrison made me fall in love with Batman all over again years later after interest had been dwindling. But more on that below. Thinking back to over two decades ago, I have nothing but fond nostalgic memories for the DCAU, and can only think of a likable Batman within the DCAU, but I wonder—was he really likable? Or is nostalgia blinding me? Was it only the wonderful dichotomous tone of the show that moved me? I’d like to think that tonal balance and a likeable Batman go hand-in-hand, as you have asserted in your article. But do they necessarily? I’d be interested in seeing a list of Batman runs or Bat-titles that have that great tonal balance between grim and light, but feature a decidedly UNLIKABLE Batman. Does a such a thing even exist? Just food for thought.

    Talking about Frank Miller’s “Year One” is such a sticky wicket, isn’t it? I’ll defend Miller’s “Year One” to the grave as far as its narrative, tone, and structure go. It’s the perfect Batman origin, the perfect Batman story. Problem is that folks took it way too seriously—deciding that all Bat-stories going forward would have to match the tone and style (but without bothering to match what exactly made it all work so perfectly). Actually, the problem is folks STILL take it way too seriously and use it as a format from which to create superhero stories! Miller’s “Year One” is closer in time to the Silver Age reboot than it is to PRESENT DAY. Think about that. Who would have ever imagined it’s lasting power? Or it’s weight? But more on that below as well. Back to what I was saying about taking things too seriously. Miller’s “Year One” was STILL A PART OF THE GREATER DCU. Writers, publishers, and editors moving forward from that new origin in 1986 should have recognized it’s greatness, but then also have the wherewithal to say “Let’s have some fun. Batman SHOULD BE MILLER-DARK, but let’s have some goddamn DCU fun!” Miller’s “Year One” is like what the nWo was to pro-wrestling in the 90s. Undeniably awesome, uniquely fresh, and done to perfection. But then hammered down our throats for way too long without changing at all and without stopping to reflect or to let the good guys get a a rub.

    In regard to Morrison (and I’ve said this before and people might not wanna hear it), he basically saved Batman (and DC by proxy). The character of Batman was tainted (in ways you’ve spoken eloquently about in your article above), but Morrison brought him out of the doldrums.

    In regard to your disdain for Scott Snyder. I’m not sure exactly how likable or unlikable his Batman really is. There’s an argument that could go both ways. I will say for certain, however, that his work on the New 52 Bat-line has definitely been leaning more toward the “grim n gritty.” But it’s not just his fault. In fact, I’d argue that it has more to do with MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES. Blame Geoff Johns, the Goyers, Zach Snyder, Chris Nolan, and the move to Burbank. Untold Legend of the Batman put Gordon in Gotham prior to the deaths of the Waynes, but his literal presence at the Wayne Murders is something that first happens in Nolan’s Batman Begins as far as I know. Even when something good happens, Hollywood’s grubby little fingers are tainting it somehow. The very fact that an entire CINEMATIC UNIVERSE created to compete with Disney/Marvel is being built upon Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns,” which came out in 1986, shortly after Miller’s “Year One,” which itself was the main backing-concept for Batman Begins, shows that Miller’s influence isn’t just lingering, it’s the all-consuming, all-powerful, and completely permeating driving force behind DC Comics.

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