Batman - The Focus Group
by Robert Doucette
One aspect of the Batman character I liked in Batman: War on Crime is that of Bruce Wayne as businessman. At night, he may patrol the streets and fight crime and all that, but during the day, he is a businessman. The day-by-day operations of Wayne Industries may be left to others, but I believe Bruce Wayne knows the ins and outs of corporate boardrooms, analyst meetings, and Wall Street power struggles. But, as a businessman, wouldn't he work with analysts and focus groups before he launched a new initiative? Before he became a crime fighter, wouldn't he have called on some consultants to "shape his image"?
That story about a bat flying into the window always seemed kind of convenient. Here's what really happened
John Conyers was comfortable in his position at the head of the table. He was comfortable with new ideas and felt some pride in being comfortable with those who brought these new ideas. A few months ago, Wayne Industries had purchased Conyers Consulting. Although Conyers initially opposed the acquisition, once he met his new boss -- his first boss in thirty years -- he was happy about the new direction his "little design shop" was taking. His team - and he still thought of them as his team - had never been more excited about their work, and as he looked around the table he could see they were all excited about working with Bruce Wayne himself.
Although not a "hands on" manager - which relieved Conyers - Bruce was interested in using the consultants to look at projects very different than any they had seen before -- such as a underground map of the city showing existing and abandoned tunnels and sewers. Conyers never fully figured out what that was for, but Bruce seemed delighted with the result saying something about storage and a new transportation idea. And, today, Bruce had brought something that was unusual even for him.
Taking off the jacket to his perfectly cut suit, Conyers stood up and waited for the talking to stop. He only had to wait a moment. "Every once in awhile, we initiate projects not because of their commercial applications but because they exercise our minds. As you know, since we've joined with Wayne Industries, Bruce Wayne has brought over several. And today's assignment is right out there. Mr. Wayne has asked us to design a ..well .. a costumed crimefighter." John Conyers grinned and looked over at his young boss who nodded.
"Yes", began Bruce Wayne, "Mr. Conyers told me you were all looking for a new mind-stretching project and I remembered a friend of mine was looking for a I don't know, a masked hero for a cartoon show or action figure or something. I told him I would talk with you about it."
"Bruce, I think this will be real exciting. But, I understand that your friend wants this crime fighter to be realistic, not just a cartoon. So, let's take this as the premise: Our city has a new hero who has decided to take on the criminals of Gotham City. He decides some sort of symbolic identity would be useful. He comes to us with a burning question not why is he doing this? Or, what does he hope to get out of this dangerous crusade? But, rather, 'What is the best Brand Image for a costumed crime fighter?'
"So, let's brainstorm. What characteristics would we want in a superhero?"
As John Conyers walked towards an easel to begin writing, Bruce Wayne raised his hand, "John, I don't think that my friend really had a 'superhero' in mind. I mean, not like that guy up in Metropolis. Something more of this Earth, I think."
"Even better, Bruce. We've all been hearing a lot about this new 'Superman' for the past few months and it would be easy to go down that route, so let's stick to human characteristics. Let's begin although not as powerful as Superman, I think our hero should be strong."
On cue, the others in the room began to offer suggestions.
"Really clever, but good with his fists"
"He should be intimidating," said Bruce.
Conyers raised an eyebrow, "Hmm, intimidating, good one"
One of the designers, dressed in black, called out, "Hey, why are we only thinking this hero should be a man? Why couldn't HE be a SHE?"
"Good point," agreed Conyers. "I think we should consider that," agreed Conyers. "Yes, Bruce?"
"John, I don't want to direct this project too much, but I think my friend was thinking about a guy hero."
Conyers gave a slight sigh, "Well, let's see where this leads us and then we'll decide. It's not like this is about a real person. Right, Bruce?"
"Right Hardly a real person."
"What next? I like that intimidation," said Conyers, writing the word on the flipchart.
A young black man wearing an old sweater spoke up, "A real hero should be able to win with his wits, surprise, and intimidation rather than firepower. I say, no guns."
Bruce raised an eyebrow.
"Well, bad guys know guns," the young man continued. "They expect guns. And frankly, there are too many guns and people toting guns around. If you want this guy to be different than the criminals, well, winning without a gun would seem pretty impressive."
Conyers wrote, "No guns" on the easel and took more ideas from around the room.
"He should seem to be everywhere. So bad-guys beware."
"He should work with the police but not too closely."
"He should be on his own, a wildman, and unpredictable. Not bound by the courts. Hey, that'll be good. A wild man --- dressed like a cat or something," said another designer, also all in black.
After a few more suggestions, Conyers tore off the page from the easel and pinned it to the wall. "Well I think we have enough traits. I think we are ready to talk about the form or image of this character. This might be a good time to have everyone put their ideas on the boards and we'll try to bunch them into common groups for discussion."
At this point, the energy level in room rose as the group began to create new identities for the vigilante. Some identities focused on as cats -- especially jungle cats --the Leopard, Tigerman, Black Panther and others. Then there were a group of historical or fictional characters, such Sherlock Holmes, or The Ol' Lawman. Someone suggested G-Man and a few minutes were lost with variations on J. Edgar Hoover -- but somehow Closet-Man, or the Ballerina didn't seem appropriate.
And then there were the birds - Eagle, Hawk, Peregrine, Penguin, even Flying Squirrel - and at that moment, a thought came to Bruce's mind.
"Yes", he thought, "Mysterious, dramatic, a creature of the night. Bat! Coming from nowhere! Untouchable and threatening."
No one noticed Bruce's internal revelry and they continued to suggest more animal images -- Crocodile, Wolf, Bear. But, Bruce kept thinking "Bat!"
Then, they went through images based on methods or weapons - the Lariat, Mr. Boomerang, Umbrella Man, and, Puzzle-Man. Conyers began to notice that Bruce was looking distracted -- not bored, certainly? -- and started to call the meeting to an end.
"Well, Bruce, I think that is as far as we're going to get this evening. How about giving us a few days to flesh out a few of these, and we'll give you our best concept. It may or may not be one of the forms of we have talked about here, we may think of something new, but I think we'll have something exciting to show you. "
Later that week, Bruce Wayne came and joined the consulting team for one more meeting. During this time, the form of a new identity, this creature of the night, began to occupy more and more of his thoughts. Looking around the room, he knew these intense young minds could not connect with the darkness he felt was needed. But, he had promised to listen to the final presentation.
As they entered the conference room, Conyers' eyes sparkled, as if on fire, as he spoke. "Bruce, I think we have got something really exciting. We spent a few days grinding on some of the old themes, but nothing caught fire. And last night, we had this brainstorm. I think you are going to be impressed! "
After everyone had been seated, John Conyers began his presentation with a casualness that hid his excitement. "Bruce, instead of a full presentation that analyzes all of our thoughts, yadda, yadda, yadda, and gives a final recommendation, tonight's presentation will consist of one slide I will save until the end.
"After you left, we started thinking about criminals and intimidation. And we decided to move away from some of our romantic, storybook ideas of heroes. I mean, for sheer heroic you really cannot beat that Superman-guy, so why even try?
"Anyway, it occurred to some of us that if someone really wanted to scare the bejeezus out of crack-heads and muggers, it wouldn't be some gentlemanly, Scarlet Pimpernel character. It would need to be someone, well, someone un-human. So we decided to move away from all of the romantic, heroic images we had been thinking about.
"Instead, we asked, what would be threatening to criminals? What would be effective? That led us to a new element for this crime fighter - unpredictability. You don't want this guy to be just a bigger and better policeman. You want something different. You want something that will spook the criminals, someone who is maybe a little crazy. Criminals like the fact that the police have to follow rules. Criminals like the idea that they can break the rules but nobody else. So, how about a crime fighter who breaks the rules?
"And then let's take it a step further. Let's take a look at these criminals. What do they want? They want money, yes, but also respect. They want to feel important. So, how about a crime fighter that takes away that self-respect, who laughs at them? Wouldn't that be even more effective than bullets?
"And then we starting searching for the right image for this crime fighter to really symbolize these characteristics. We wanted something mysterious, unknown, untraceable a complete cipher. We wanted something unpredictable. Something wild and edgy.
"And that's where everything sat until last night when the real inspiration hit. Some of our colleagues were socializing after work, having a few beers, playing cards and as they were packing up, we saw something and we knew we had the answer.
"And so Bruce, here's your crime fighter." Connors signaled and the lights went out and the image of costumed man was shown on screen. The image was other-worldly and confidant, with a grotesque smile unnerving to everyone. Wearing a stylized suit and make-up to hide his identity, the image grinned into the conference room. "I give you, The Joker."
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by Robert Doucette
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