Batman is awesome. Everything he is, is amazing. He’s just a normal everyday billionaire that pounds the teeth out of criminals every night on the streets of Gotham City! He’s a good guy, like Superman, but he’s not all goody two-shoes about it, and he isn’t a boy scout. He’s tortured and experienced, he’s lost his innocence On Crime Alley, and he’s dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice. A true Dark Knight…except, he’s super problematic. First of all, don’t look at me like that, I hate this just as much as you do. He’s my favourite superhero, I want to let this go too, believe me. But if you’re like me, you know these comic books inside and out, and the thing about knowing something inside and out is that you aren’t just familiar with the good things, you also get pretty well aquatinted with the bad.
First of all, Batman gets his money from Wayne Enterprises. Bruce Wayne uses the science development division of his company to acquire new technology for Batman. He also uses its revenue to acquire products as well. Wayne Enterprises makes about 32 Billion net annually, and it costs Wayne about 79 Million to be Batman. Wayne’s salary for overseeing the company comes to about 9 Million a year, which he uses to keep up lavish appearances and pay for his parent’s gigantic mansion (and presumably keep the lights on in the Batcave). So how does Batman get all his fancy gadgets? Simple! He defrauds the government. What can be compiled through comic book canon is that Bruce often orders things under different names with accounts from the company. He sponsors the research of military technology that doesn’t ever go to the military… he just uses it to fund his Batman Ventures. He’s also admitted having hidden things in the budget before suggesting that he’s hidden the purchase of a Batmobile in the Batarang budget, yeah, it’s that big. He also has two charities, the Martha and Thomas Wayne foundation which he uses to “help” Gotham City like his parents did, improving the economic state of the city with public housing, hospitals, and infrastructure. However, he’s also admitted to using it to launder money to support his extracurricular. The thing is, the one thing that Military Technology and Charitable Donations have in common is a mega ton tax write off, which Wayne Enterprises definitely has been claiming, because I have yet to read a comic book story where Wayne Enterprises gets audited by the IRS. The problem with this (besides the obvious) is that Gotham City’s taxes go right back into Gotham City because as of Gotham City No Man’s Land, Gotham is its own state and country, separate from the USA. That’s right, Gotham is so bad that America decided that it was too much, leaving them to handle their hot mess of a City on their own. So, Bruce Wayne isn’t just sticking it to the general abstract man, he’s getting out of giving Gotham City a certified depression era dystopian nightmare, any economic increase. Which is kind of really scummy when you think about it.
If Bruce Wayne really wanted to fix Gotham, if he was really dedicated to losing his livelihood finishing what his parents started, I’m assuming 32 Billion dollars would just about do it and 79 Million isn’t exactly anything to sneeze at either. Wayne Enterprises Makes more than the nominal GDP of 90 countries! That’s enough to fix the problems of one town. But Bruce Wayne doesn’t really want to fix Gotham. It hurts me to say that, but it’s true. Bruce Wayne wants to dress up as a Bat and kick the crap out of people. And who is Batman beating up, who are the criminals who Batman fights? The Joker was a man who was trying to provide for his pregnant wife, who he threw into a vat of acid. Two Face was a hard-working DA who was disillusioned by the justice system, who just wanted to help. Most of the gang criminals, like most criminals, are part of a much deeper institutional economical poverty. A poverty that Bruce Wayne could absolutely fix, if he wanted too. But he doesn’t. The Joker, Two Face, Penguin, The Riddler, and Poison Ivy are only there because Batman is, and the only criminal that has proved absolutely unable to rehabilitate is the Joker, who keeps breaking out of the prison that Batman keeps putting him in. And it’s not as if that’s his only option. His buddy Superman has an entire fourth dimension where he throws his criminals. The Justice League has a giant floating satellite in the sky that’s hidden from every military intelligence on the planet, but Batman keeps throwing the Joker in Arkham Asylum, The Joker who keeps breaking out, The Joker who has killed over two-thousand people by the most conservative estimates, and who Batman absolutely refuses to kill.
But hey, let’s not get caught up with moral theory. Batman doesn’t kill and that’s fine, Batman doesn’t need to kill. We all need to have an ethical code, and that’s his. I get that, it’s a complicated issue. Kill the Joker, don’t kill the joker, that’s between him and Batman. The Joker doesn’t agree. He’s comfortable killing people; men, women…children. You see where I’m going with this? Yeah, Robin the Boy Wonder! The Dynamic Duo, the old man and the little boy. Let’s go through the roster, shall we?
Robin I: Dick Grayson, the prodigal son, a circus acrobat, his parents killed by a gang leader. He was taken in by Bruce Wayne at age eight, he was fighting crime by age nine. He left Batman’s side at Eighteen to become Nightwing. Sparking Batman to take in…
Robin II: Jason Todd, a street rat who was caught stealing the tires off the Batmobile (yes, really). His father died in prison, and his mother was a drug addict. Bruce Wayne took him in at age twelve. He was lured away from Batman when the Joker kidnapped his mother who then, with his mother, was beat to death by Joker with a crowbar and then blown up.
Robin III: Tim Drake, a boy genius from a broken home. Don’t ever say that Batman is a quitter! One Robin down, no problem, let’s try this again. Sure, Bats was tormented for a while but let’ be real, Batman’s not going to do the grunt work all by himself. He’s better than that. Inducted at a much more reasonable thirteen-year-old, sure his parents both died after he became Robin, but hey at least he had a good time!
Robin IV: Damian Wayne, yes the actual son, Bruce Wayne’s actual spawn. He was inducted into the Hall of Robins at a super appropriate eight-year-old. His mother ran him through with a broad sword.
The point here is the Batman kept going. Endangering children and, by extension, killing parents. Wasn’t that his whole goal? It’s ironic: Batman wanted to make sure something like what happens to him never happens to anyone again, yet he continually puts children just like him in the same situation. I don’t think Batman’s oath is for anyone but Batman, so he can provide an excuse for the things that he does in a justifiable fashion. One might say that it’s in the pursuit of justice, that it’s a justifiable evil. If one could even call it that. Here’s the thing though, what justice? Batman exists outside of the law, and the law makers and keepers are radically off the reservation when they allow Batman to do what he does. None of his criminals stay in prison, and Gotham is still a cesspool. Batman, you might suggest, is ethically black and white. His results don’t matter, his actions do. Except Batman is absolutely not ethically black and white. He routinely allows Catwoman to get away with her light to severe robbery, on the basis that, at the time, they were romantically involved…yet stops her when the story doesn’t revolve around their long-time romance. That is a flagrant abuse of power, one that he repeats several times. He often has slept with or been involved with women criminals. He once paralyzed someone to get information from him, and his excuse was that ‘he was young, he would walk again.’ That was clear excessive force. Batman can’t be ethically black and white, because he too often finds his greys convenient.
No indeed, Batman is not a morally defendable character. He’s selfish, and unstable. His handling of the justice system is presumptuous and irresponsible. He continuously puts civilians and children in danger, and abuses his power. There are tons of morally indefensible characters that are fun to root for, though. How many people have rooted for Hannibal Lector or Dexter Morgan? Like most narratives, it’s wholly contextual. Any of those three could be the villains in a different sort of story. The instinct to want to see Hannibal the Cannibal escape at the end of the movie, or to be annoyed and angry with the characters attempting to stop Dexter the Serial Killer are the same sort of narrative instincts that we use to see Batman rip up streets with his certified tank and beat up criminals on the evening news. Rooting for a character like Batman in any other context would be absurd, but we do because there is something inherently likeable about Batman, something that we can grip onto and understand. But damn, if he isn’t fun to watch.