In which I get a little self-righteous and claim I know more about Batman than the people writing and editing his comic books.23 Comments | Posted: February 19th, 2010 | Filed under: Thinking About Comics | Tags: batman
Here’s a sequence from this week’s Streets of Gotham written by Mike Benson and drawn by Dustin Nyugen, in which Batman tortures an innocent man to get some information:
As you can imagine, this pinko liberal has issues with this scene:
- Batman does not believe that people give up their rights. That is what makes him different from The Punisher, Wolverine, Bloodfucker, Kickblade, whoever. At the character’s core is a belief in justice and due process. This is why The Joker goes to Arkham or Harvey Dent gets to defend himself in court and could theoretically walk free. This is, of course, purely a storytelling mechanic that’s been fleshed out as a core component to a character over the years, but that’s how it is and that’s how Batman should be written. Batman’s open to a huge variety of interpretations and that’s one of the reasons that the character works for me: Batman is still Batman as long as he adheres to certain tenets, and one of them is that the justice system applies to everything he does, even if he works outside of it.
(And yes, Frank Miller’s snappy line about rights from The Dark Knight Returns is a great bit of black comedy in the middle of a raucous satire. It is not a basis for How Batman Is.)
- Batman does not torture lightly, if at all. He will terrify, he will defend himself, he will subdue, he will not just slam someone’s head against a table and demand answers, especially if there’s a chance the suspect is innocent. In The Dark Knight Batman goes to pretty extraordinary measures to try to get answers out of The Joker, a man he knows to have committed several murders. It’s an unpleasant, tense scene that’s heightened by the fact that Batman is at the absolute limits of self-control. Gordon even notes that “He’s in control” at one point just before it goes wrong and Batman blocks the door and things get hairy.
It’s important to note that the differences between that scene and this one are myriad: The Joker is an intelligent, cunning psychopath and Roland Davis is a bog-standard Gotham City heavy on which they have no evidence at all. Batman’s actions against The Joker are a last-ditch effort in The Dark Knight whereas torture is presented here as the first option. Gordon’s complicity in a warehouse interrogation in which a suspect is beaten is just as wildly out-of-character for him as Batman’s brutality against a man they’ve not even properly questioned is for the Dark Knight.
- The man is proven innocent at the end of this whole story and not the slightest thought is given to this interrogation and how both the Gotham Police and Batman ran roughshod over someone who had not committed a crime. Benson’s scripting is fairly rough throughout the issue, but to ignore this entirely strikes me as a nearly intentional obtuseness about what is right and what is wrong. Readers accept a certain amount of legal flexibility in Batman comic books, but to out-and-out drop an innocent man’s beating at the hands of a costumed vigilante is sloppy and counter to the themes that have been an established part of superhero comics for years.
This is part of an ongoing trend that I find a bit bothersome. Chris Sims talked about the previous issue and how Batman came close to signing off on a murderer because he was killing bad people. Cry For Justice features the Justice League keeping their villains in stasis as a punishment, stripping their rights entirely for an indeterminate period. Marvel may have had a distinct Neocon bent with some of their material in the last decade or so, but they seem to have had some sort of story and thematic point to make with the ascension of Norman Osborne and his upcoming fall.
Maybe DC has something like this in its future, but that feels kind of doubtful right now.
(Also, yes, I know that’s Dick Grayson as Batman. The guy raised by Bruce Wayne is certainly going to follow in Bruce Wayne’s shoes when it comes to these things, isn’t he?)