So, people have a lot to say about Batman, don’t they?
(It’s been at least seven years since I’ve done a longform study of comics, so forgive me if I’m a little all over the place.)
I think I know why there’s a subset of comic “fans” that don’t like Tom King. “Who’s Tom King?” I hear you asking yourself, my non-comic reading friends who came into this thinking I was going to be talking about Batman.
Tom King is an ex-CIA officer who served for 7 years, did tours of Iraq after 9/11, then came back to the states to write. That’s about all you need to know about this boss of a man.
Now, if you decide to google him, you might find some controversial opinions, “think pieces” on YouTube, and articles stating what a “hack” this Eisner-winning, movie-writing, best-selling author is. In reality, I know the truth of why these “fans” don’t like him and I think it ties into his run on Batman.
See, Tom King started writing Batman in 2016 after the DC Rebirth event. His run lasted 4 years and, as of writing, a stellar 88 issues. (Again, for my non-comic reading friends, a “run” in comics is usually when an artist, writer, inker, whatever, stays on a monthly comic book for an extended period of time, typically leaving their style or mark on the book in some significant way.) Sales wise, the book regularly broke 100,000 units an issue, though some outlets report towards the end of the run it was closer to 86,000. It received multiple award nominations for writing. In all, it catapulted King to such a high level of fame he’s now working with Ava DuVernay on a feature film, The New Gods. So, what made his run so controversial yet so impactful on so many?
Well, why Twitter is buzzing about with their “hot takes” on this iconic figure to get even deeper into this discussion.
This past weekend saw the release of Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” trailer. It most certainly caught the eyes and ears of everyone hoping for a new, slightly different take on the Caped Crusader. (Does anyone even seriously call him that anymore or is it more of a playful moniker?)
Now, to be clear about what comes next:
I love Batman. I love Batman so much I never talk about it. It’s something that’s not just a hobby of mine, it’s something built deep into my bones, into my soul, from a young age, like I imagine Jesus is for most people.
So when this trailer dropped, Twitter felt the need to open their mouths and, well:
Uh-huh…and what else?
Sure, okay, right, all of these are bad. So why make these up? Why try to find some new spin on a character that’s easy enough to understand?
In 1939, creators Bob Kane (writer) and Bill Finger (artist) established the look which would become synonymous with his success. Granted, this came after Kane took a first stab at designing him. According to Finger:
Kane had an idea for a character called ‘Batman,’ and he’d like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane’s, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of … reddish tights, I believe, with boots … no gloves, no gauntlets … with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign … BATMAN”Steranko, Jim. The Steranko History of Comics 1. Reading, PA: Supergraphics, 1970. (ISBN 978-0-517-50188-7)
Obviously, not the iconic look we know and love today, because Finger would design that a bit later along with some of the more important pieces of his origin. Black works for Batman because he works at night, but it’s also the most captivating color. Think of iconic characters from history donned in black. Zorro. Dracula. The Dread Pirate Roberts. Wearing black is interesting for a character we’re supposed to see as heroic. So, if he’s wearing black, then there must be something bad about him, right? Our subconscious obviously looks for hidden errors where there aren’t any obvious examples.
So, fascist? Or, misguided billionaire wasting company funds to pursue a life of criminal punching? Not quite. You can’t just slap a label on this guy because with 80+ years of stories, you’re going to be proven wrong in some way.
First, fascist? Please. Early days Batman relished in taking down corrupt officials and fat cats eating the wealth of Gotham.
And cops? If you were on the take, you’d best watch your back. Or, in this case, your front.
Okay, that last one is from an alternate universe where Bruce is a just a bit unhinged, but the point stands. He’s very much against the system when the system is being used to keep people down.
As for violating people’s constitutional rights? Do we not remember the ending of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight?
Around the 2:45 mark, we see the tool Batman used to catch the Joker, a computer monitoring device meant to invade people’s cell phones, giving him a 3D model of the city, being destroyed. He knew that it couldn’t be used more than the one time, something I’m sure all of our governments need a stern lesson in understanding, so, POOF, gone.
I will say that Batman is pliable, which I think is the mistake these people are making. By declaring “Batman is THIS, and THIS only,” then you miss that he adapts to fit multiples story molds. To say you can only tell one kind of story with the Dark Knight is just as foolish as saying he IS this one thing and one thing only please follow my Twitter account for more hot takes PLEASE.
He can be a superhero, fighting against an alien invasion with a matchbook and fists.
Or maybe he’s partaking in a Gothic story of inner discovery and madness?
So, if he’s none of these takes, then what is he?
Which brings us back to Tom King.
King has a very unique way of writing. He keeps it brief, simple, and only has character expose when they really need to. If you opened one of King’s Batman books you would see a page like this:
This type of dialogue exchange is unique in comics, and is rarely used effectively, but King manages to do something here that I think is what triggered a lot of readers when they first read it.
See, by not saying much, he’s actually saying more than we could imagine.
You don’t stick around as a cultural icon, billion-dollar movie franchise, recognizable symbol, and so much more, unless people get you. And we get Batman. We get him so much we don’t need a lot of dialogue to understand the nuance, the history between Bat and Cat. It’s what’s not said that makes it all the more important.
Batman isn’t any of the things being described by Twitter users hoping to draw the ire and attention of comic book fans with nothing better to do than troll online, looking for verbal confrontations. No. He’s not a fascist, or a bad businessman, or the antichrist or whatever other stupid takes are out there. The reason these individuals like to think he’s more is because, like those who get caught up in conspiracy theories, the simplest explanations are too hard for them to comprehend.
This is why Matt Reeves’ trailer captivated so many of us, and why I watched it 6 times it when it first came out. The only spoken line of dialogue for Batman is so simple, so perfect, and makes all the sense in the world:
Batman is vengeance.
This is much bigger than trying to classify him within the realm of humanity. The vengeance we feel inside of ourselves at those we know have wronged us, have wronged others, have wronged the world. It’s the revenge we wish we could take on a world that hurts people, a world where police brutality is allowed, where mentally ill people are not given the help they need.
He is that, and more.
After all, one of the most iconic lines in all of Batman-dom is:
Right there. He tells us exactly what that is.
And that’s all he is. To say he is one thing and not include that is foolish. He’s a bigger character than any complex, overly-analyzed opinion can comprehend. He is vengeance.
No more. No less. And honestly, does he need to be any more than that?
Thanks for reading,