Batman, an icon of pop culture, just turned 80, and the occasion was marked in Montreal and other cities, by projecting the bat signal on a building. In our case on one at the Emilie Gamelin Square.
Technically, Batman –unlike Superman– is not a superhero but just a human being. Bruce Wayne has no superpowers, other than access to ingenious devices, a fast and well-equipped Batmobile, and, of course, deep pockets to afford all of that. Indeed, in the latest “Justice League” film when asked by Aquaman what was his superpower, Wayne ironically replied: “I’m rich.”
Like all of his crime-fighting colleagues, Batman was first a comic book character born in 1939. His creator was Bob Kane later supported by writer Bill Finger, author of Green Lantern. In 1940, his famous sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder was added, and the Dynamic Duo, as it was known, appeared in most of the comic strips, TV shows, and in some old movies. The character of Robin, who in the 1980s gave rise to speculations about a homosexual relationship between Batman and his young companion, was killed by The Joker in 1989. The same fate he suffered in the movie versions, or that seems to be since the young fellow hasn’t appeared in recent installments of the series. The absence of Robin may also have to do with the critics’ poor reception of the 1997 “Batman and Robin” directed by Joel Schumacher with George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell in the leading roles.
The Batman story has evolved over the years, and as most of these popular culture characters, it has had its ups and downs. Its original story is quite melodramatic: a young child sees his parents killed in cold blood since then he decided to become an avenger of crime. In the early comic strips, Batman behaves like a cold pursuer of criminals, at times even acting with great cruelty. The highly successful TV series started in 1966 with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, however, gave a more festive, lighter, and even sarcastic look at the character. The movies launched in the late 1980s instead, have portrayed Batman again as the grim avenger of the early comic books, although with some occasional instances of romance. Among his love objects, archrival Catwoman. There were also incursions into eastern mysticism mixed with ninja training –a fashionable thing those days– as we saw it in “Batman Begins” (2005), directed by Christopher Nolan and featuring Christian Bale as the masked hero.
Dr. Travis Langley, an American psychology professor and author of the book “Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight,” said in an interview with Rachel Thomas: “While Spiderman and Superman face enemies that are similarly ‘super,’ in some fantastical or science fiction-based way, Batman’s villains are also primarily psychological figures. The Riddler is defined by his compulsion to send riddles; the Joker is defined by his malicious, twisted sense of humour – murderous sense of humour. The Penguin is defined by his wanting to be in high society. The way he dresses. He doesn’t technically wear a costume, but this suit that he wears has this penguin-y quality. But he’s a high society wannabe,” Langley says. “So they all become a very rich source for looking at different kinds of psychology.”
Yes, Batman is a fascinating subject for psychology but also an archetype in a society where crime takes sophisticated forms. Perhaps the grotesque villains that Batman confronts are just metaphorical representations of the dark forces that operate in society and whose power is a challenge, even for any superhero.
Feature image: The bat signal was projected on the WB Games building at Place Emile Gamelin in Montreal