“The University of Victoria in Canada has courses dedicated to studying Batman”
Batman is a comic book literary character whose popularity precedes age, race, gender and physical or social boundaries. The caped crusader will complete 78 years of publication in March 2017 and over this period of time, we have had a lot of information to understand what Batman is and what he represents.
Trying to understand Batman is like trying to understand Anakin Skywalker without watching the first three episodes of Star Wars. There is a lot of conflicting information about his history and legacy and the information gets updated with every new writer or iteration. But today, I want to explore the convoluted relationship between Batman and the city of Gotham because it is his one true attachment that has remained relatively unchallenged over the years.
Gotham, to a large extent, was Thomas Wayne’s pet project. His ancestor, Allan Wayne, was a founding father and Batman acquired that legacy through birth. When his parents died, the responsibility of that legacy fell on Batman’s shoulders. While Batman’s story is a revenge story of sorts, it is also the story of protecting one’s legacy through whatever means necessary.
Batman and Gotham, I believe, are forever in a state of existential crisis. Gotham is a dump that has no redemption and Batman has hope that he can’t let go. Even in the face of repeated failures to protect the city, Batman holds on to his city in a very dysfunctional way because it is the closest thing he has when it comes to an emotional attachment. A lot has been written about how Batman does what he does to prevent the things that happened to him from happening to others. You would think that after all this time he would give up on that but he returns to the city every night which I believe is not out of protection but warmth and desire. Batman craves from the city what I believe he needs the most, hope. That’s why he returns after every triumph and failure, to feed on that hope to feel validated.
Batman and Joker are often seen as Yin and Yang but I strongly believe that the same analogy applies to Batman and Gotham as well. Think about it, Batman was a creation of Gotham at its darkest hours and Gotham needs Batman for its light. The 2 factions are so intertwined, it’s likely that Batman could never truly operate out of Gotham and Gotham could never survive without Batman.
An interesting thing to notice is the use of terror, horror and darkness when both Batman and Gotham are represented. Gotham created Batman at night using a child’s terror and horror and Batman instills terror using the image of something repulsive and horrifying as a Bat. The villains of Batman operate in perpetual darkness as a representation of the city itself. I find it interesting that Gotham has barely been represented during the day and using darkness as a literal tool makes for some very interesting analysis and story-telling.
Look at the panel below. The city says to Batman “People make the city and the city makes the people”. That is the crux of Batman’s life and his relationship to the city.
The convoluted and fascinating relationship between the two is something I hope to see on the big screen some day. People say it’s the Joker that brings out the best and worst of Batman but if you think about it, Gotham is the reason and bane of his existence and deserves some better representation of this fascinating love story.