Batman’s “Death Wish”

11Aug12

In short, I’ve never seen the Batman character to have a death wish. When he does dangerous things, it’s not to take unnecessary risks. It’s heroism.

That’s essentially it. Goodnight, if you like.

Or if you want more, here’s more. 

See? Here it is.

Historically, Batman has always done dangerous things because he’s saving lives and he’s the ONLY person capable of doing those things. There’s even a moment in “Batman: the Movie” just before Adam West does his famous running-with-the-bomb routine that is intrinsically heroic: he sees there’s a bomb and he sends Robin away. Robin turns, calling Batman to come with him, but Batman goes into danger, because he believes Miss Kitka (the charming Russian journalist from the Moscow Bugle) to be held near the bomb. The part that really gets me is the sending away of Robin. He doesn’t want to put a boy in harm’s way; not because he wants to hog the death for himself, but because… it’s the right thing to do. It’s heroic.

Whenever a major event like “The Dark Knight Rises” comes about, I usually re-examine my favorite Batman stories , and a few of them have dealt with the possible death of Batman. Certainly, we have Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” on one hand, wherein Batman/Bruce realizes that because he’s such a troublemaker, “they” will never let him out of this alive, so he fakes his own death. Similar to “The Dark Knight Rises,” except the goal of the faked death is different. In “TDKR,” the fake death is to ensure an easy post-Batman life for Bruce. The faked death in “Returns” is to ensure more crime fighting (i.e. “more heroism”) for Bruce. What’s more heroic: fighting through adversity when everyone — including freakin’ Superman — tells you they don’t want you to do it, or retiring comfortably?

The other story comes from the 3-part “Justice League” mini-movie “Starcrossed,” wherein the Thanagarians take over Earth. And Batman deduces the only way to stop the Thanagarians is to pilot the JL Watchtower into their weapons. And he plans on piloting it the whole way. It’s one of the most heroic moments I can remember from the character, because after he tells his plan to The Flash and Martian Manhunter, he tricks his friends into the last escape pod and sends it safely away, telling them, “Gentlemen, it’s been an honor.” Batman’s the only one who can do it. Everyone knows it, especially him. Because he’s the smartest person in the world. OF COURSE he knows it. Only the saving power of Superman (which is handy) pulls Batman out of this one. Without our friendly Kryptonian, there was no way Batman was making it out of this one.

Sounds similar to the “TDKR” ending — a suicide piloting mission, there’s no way he can get out. But the key difference seems to be the intention behind the “suicide mission.” Namely suicide. In the “Justice League” story, there’s just no other way to do it but pilot the Watchtower. Batman gets nothing out of it other than, oh, saving the world. But in “TDKR” — apparently — Batman had an ulterior motive, which was ultimately selfish.

And that’s the big difference. A hero — by definition — isn’t selfish. He’s unselfish. He’s selfless. And up to this movie, Batman had been mostly that. He didn’t go after the girl, he took the fall for Two-Face’s murders, he chose a hard life to save a city. Sure he’s realistically earned the right to retire happy. But the drive it takes to do those initial heroic things wouldn’t just go away. It’s a betrayal of character.

Really, I’m just kicking the tires. The most heroic cinematic moment is when Spock saved the Enterprise generator in “Star Trek 2.” Sure you probably can’t kill Batman, but there’s a lot to learn from that moment.

In a way, I kind of get that the “lesson” Bruce Wayne learns is to get over his death wish, but it seems like a simple problem to solve: don’t give him a death wish.

I don’t know… I’m still processing.

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2 Responses to “Batman’s “Death Wish””

  1. My question about that ending is how did Fox recover the bat to see what he could have done differently? Wasn’t it, like, atomized?

  2. This is an interesting take on Batman’s suicide mission, but I have to disagree with you on it. I think that one of the most important parts of Nolan/Bale’s Batman is the emphasis in each film on the personal cost to Bruce Wayne. You mention the inconsistency of the portrayal of Alfred in an earlier post (I think you argue that very persuasively, too), but even in that, Alfred has often been the one to note that being Batman is destructive to Bruce. Emotionally and physically, it strips him of everything he has. Catwoman even calls him on it near the end of TDKR. My belief is that Bruce finally realizes that Bane is the last battle he has in him, and he expends all that he has. However- and here’s the key, to me- he doesn’t just leave post-“suicide”; he sets up a replacement. The good that Batman does can be continued by the healthier (emotionally and physically) John Blake. He’s not selfishly retiring; he’s letting someone better equipped take over.


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