Batman Can Kick Everyone's Butt?
by Michael Hutchison
"Of course he can do it! He's Batman!" You'll hear words to that effect often enough. And to a certain extent, that's true. Batman has spent several decades studying criminology, honing his body to physical perfection, studying martial arts and boxing, learning escape artistry and acrobatics and picking up enough study of every kind of science and technology to be able to create supercomputers, Batmobiles, batarangs and other equipment. In every respect, he is an example of the superior accomplishments which humanity is capable of if we're determined.
Now, it needs to be acknowledged that no human could possibly do what Batman does, given that he had studied and accomplished all of this by the age of 25. It is possible to excel at some of these things but Batman has mastered too many things that would take a lifetime to study! But that's why he's a fictional character.
I've always doubted that anyone could really, a la Sherlock Holmes, note all the tiny clues about a man within seconds of meeting him and then proceed to summarize his life story to Dr. Watson. But it doesn't ruin Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I find it laughable that a man would be able, time after time, to shoot the guns out of people's hands without any errors, misses or injuries, but that's what makes the Lone Ranger fun. In the same way, we can suspend our disbelief enough to admit that it's remotely possible that Bruce Wayne could become the Renaissance Man of the superhero set.
So Batman is a superior example of human. He's still human. Unfortunately, too many people have overlooked this in their quest to make Batman look good and justify Batman's membership in the Justice League.
A lot of you may be surprised by that statement. "Justify his membership in the JLA? Is he kidding?"
Not at all. I remember a time when Batman was pretty much useless in the JLA. Let's just say he made Hawkman, the Atom and Elongated Man look good. If it wasn't for his vehicles and whatever he could pull out of his as - uh, I mean, utility belt, he was rarely of any benefit to the team. When it came to tackling anyone with superpowers, it was assumed that Batman was out of his element and wouldn't come into play unless the opportunity came to chuck a well-placed Batarang at something. Even in the early 1980s, in JLoA #200, when the old JLA is facing off against the newer members, Batman is pitted against only Green Arrow and Black Canary (no offense to Ollie and Dinah fans intended!).
It's jarring to consider how different this is from today's portrayal of Batman. Look at the contrast! Now online fans will spout, with all seriousness, that Batman could lick Superman, Wonder Woman, Darkseid, Silver Surfer, Galactus, Wolverine, Lobo, Mr. Miracle, The Spectre, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern (Kyle or even a good one), Flash, The Terminator, Plastic Man, Freddy Krueger, Firestorm, The Atom, a comet that's heading straight for Earth, Jesse Ventura, The Sun Eater and God, And not just one at a time.
Of course, the one caveat they always throw in is that he has the proper time to prepare. And he's allowed to pull any technological device owned by Wayne Enterprises out of his belt. And that, for Batman to be opposing the other hero, the other hero is being mentally controlled and thus isn't at peak performance. Oh, and the opponent has just eaten a large Thanksgiving feast and the tryptophan is making him very sleepy.
Yeah, yeah. In other words, Batman can beat anyone else in the world so long as there are numerous handicaps handed out for the other players.
Let's face it, for the last three years that Batman has been in Grant Morrison's JLA, he's been given a lot of "gimmes" in order to appear to be "the most dangerous man alive." Indeed, the very issue which coined that phrase saw Batman defeating Superman-level villains who just happen to go apoplectic at the mere sight of a tiny flame. Convenient, that.
Or, take the "Secret Origin" of the new JLA, in which the Star Conqueror is unable to defeat Batman because Batman isn't a metahuman and all of his stars have been specially prepared to attach themselves to the faces of metahumans. Huh? So, because these special stars are ready to cope with superspeed and invulnerability, they can't attach to a slow-moving, soft and vulnerable target? Does that make ANY sense? Reductio ad absurdem: Wouldn't a laser beam powerful enough to destroy Superman be able to handle a normal human pretty easily, too? Well, this is just the same principle. To top things off, Batman is given an "easy out" by lowering the air conditioning until the Star Conqueror freezes. Never mind that we saw the Star Conqueror surviving the cold of space; it would spoil Batman's moment.
In other words, today's readers want a Batman who:
yet they'll say they like him because "he's human."
For me, the interesting thing about Batman is that he IS human and is as vulnerable to dangers as any other soft, breakable human being. If he's in a deathtrap, he may very well find a way to get out but we need to see what it is. He may indeed be able to defeat a superpowered being or break into the most secured places on Earth, but we need to see how he overcomes these obstacles. Too often, writers cheat and simply cut away from the actual confrontation or dilemma, and when they cut back, Batman is victorious because "he's Batman".
Sadly, this is carrying over to Robin these days. This month's issue of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #6 shows Robin facing off against a mind-controlled Impulse. Impulse points out that he can move at the speed of light and land hundreds of punches on Robin's face before Robin can even move his bo staff. Robin encourages him to try. Later, we find out Robin was indeed victorious. Of course, Impulse is absolutely right, and there is NO obvious way Robin could defeat him. Maybe he is ingenious enough to do so, but Robin is merely borrowing some of Batman's "Well, of course he can do it " schtick (by Mennen).
Not good enough. What fun would, say, McGuyver be if they simply left out the scenes where he devises a way out of his predicament and just showed him succeeding because "hey, he's McGuyver!"? It's sloppy writing and I suspect it's too often used because the writer didn't have the book smarts to really think up a way out.
In the 1960s, numerous issues of Batman and Detective Comics were centered around Batman having to escape a deathtrap, and we'd see the ingenious steps he'd take to defeat it. As late as 1983, Brave and the Bold #200 showed Batman figuring his way out of a cunning deathtrap. It's far more impressive to watch the man at work than to see Batman outside the trap without any explanation. But I suppose a writer would actually have to read a science book in order to pen such a thing.
As to the "Batman can kick _____'s butt" controversy. By the way, I apologize for the crudeness of the phrasing; unfortunately, the phrase has become so commonplace it's even in Saturday Morning cartoons. Egads. I dread trying to raise kids of my own someday. Anyway, as to the question of Batman defeating everybody. It strikes me as a cheap way of elevating Batman's importance in the DC Universe at the expense of his own dramatic credibility.
Batman needs to have the possibility that he can be defeated by a trained combatant, or a group of goons or even someone who gets in a lucky shot. I recently read a trade paperback of Ra's Al Ghul's collected appearances. In the text piece accompanying it, Denny O'Neill (writer of the stories) seemed almost embarrassed that he had a scene in which a female skier misunderstands the situation and conks Batman in the back of her head with her skis, and he noted that it would never happen today. Why not? Batman's distracted and she conks him from behind. If he's human, then that happens. But Denny's right; if Batman is this master of his environment who is aware of everything around him at all times every second of his life, then it wouldn't be in character. Too bad.
I think that Batman should be easily defeat-able by any skilled person possessing superstrength, invulnerability or superspeed. Furthermore, in a fracas with an opponent of more modest abilities such as The Metal Men, Metamorpho, Plastic Man, Green Arrow, The Atom, Elongated Man, Red Tornado even the Blue Beetle all bets are off as to who would be the victor. I can come up with ways for all of these people to defeat Batman easily, and vice versa.
Furthermore, I think Batman is a well-rounded individual but is not the master of any discipline. People train and study all their lives to be the best they can be at one thing, whether it's kickboxing or martial arts or gymnastics. I bet two-time Olympic champion Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning, could beat Batman at the decathlon. I bet Dick Grayson might have once taught Batman a thing or two about acrobatics; even today, Dick might be better at it. Certainly Lady Shiva is better at martial arts, as it is all that she lives and breathes day in and day out. And Mr. Miracle could definitely escape tight spots that would stop Batman cold.
How is this important, beyond online debates and the "DC HQ Super Fights "? Simply this: if Superman doesn't stand a chance because "he's Batman", then what possible chance does The Scarecrow have? There always needs to be some tension, even if we know Batman will be alive at the finale. If Batman yawns at everything thrown at him, then what the heck are we paying our hard-earned money for?
So the next time some fanboy starts hassling you that Batman could easily beat Wonder Woman, be sure to inquire as to whether Wonder Woman is carrying skis.
is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan
and runs the only EM fan site.
He lives in Rochester, MN.
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This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.
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