I Figured Out Batman

15Aug12

I’ve been hearing questions as to the appeal of Batman from a few places recently (most notably on Scriptshadow and the “Fat Man on Batman” Podcast), so I’ve been wondering myself “Why IS Batman so appealing?”

I think I have the answer: he’s easy to play.  

Using myself as a test subject, I started puzzling out just why I’ve spent most of my 30+ years loving the Caped Crusaders, and then I realized THAT’s exactly why. I love him at age 36 because I loved him from when I was 2 or 3. I suppose there are a number of reasons why I’ve continued this fascination, but they all root back to that initial love and then hybrid themselves into cloudy nostalgia, so the real question comes down to “Why did I INITIALLY find Batman so appealing?”

Some argue for the power of the origin story, but that doesn’t hold up. When I was first exposed to the Adam West show, the murder of the Wayne parents was the farthest thing from their mind (mentioned only one time in the entire run, in the pilot, nerds). Some believe it’s because he’s cool (cool car, gadgets, outfit, villains, secret base, etc.), but that feels too trite. James Bond has many of the same things, as do any number of other comic book characters.

Then there’s the “He’s a human” element, which gets to the core of matters. As a human being, you’re subject to gravity and real-world problems, and that’s how it translates into easy play. It is easier to “play” Batman with your friends and (in your mind) look cool doing it (which is partly the reason to play Batman anyway). You get to drive your big wheel like the Batmobile, chase people, “punch” people (pretend or otherwise), solve clues, wear a cape and a belt. It’s all there. You also know exactly what to do when you see the bad guys: fight them and capture them. Batman’s simple.

When I was young, I loved Spider-man, too, but I realized that I never PLAYED Spider-man, because you can’t do it. Nobody can do what Spider-man does — or at least, what makes Spider-man cool. You can’t climb up walls, or shoot webs*, or get a tingle that danger is afoot. Same goes for Superman. You can’t fly, can’t bend bars, can’t stop bullets. You can try to fly, but it’s really just you running with your arms in front of you. It might be fun, but you know it’s not cool.

The only comic book character I can possibly think of successfully “playing” would be Wolverine, but that requires major props. It’s possible, but not as easy.

The Batman equation eliminates all questions. Need to get somewhere fast? You either run or you drive. See a bad guy? Punch them and capture them. Need to get up a building/a stairway? Use your Bat-rope/the belt from your mom’s rain coat. It all works. And because it’s easy to play Batman, it’s easy to identify with him and therefore love him.

*Sort of, though I tried. I would build web-shooters out of Tinker Toys and rubber bands and work on my web-shooting fingering. I would have killed for those silly string web-shooters they have now. Kids today don’t know how good they got it.

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