Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger back in 1939, Batman is without a doubt one of the most popular comic books characters around the world. Gotham City’s Dark Knight has had many adventures and has appeared in a lot of derivative materials, which have only increased his popularity. He is usually perceived as a superhero, but is Batman really one? We’ll see that in today’s article!
Batman is a superhero and a vigilante at the same time. Despite not having any inherent superhuman powers, Batman has earned the status of a superhero through technology and therefore qualifies as one, despite what people tend to say.
DC Comics, for those of you that are not familiar with the story behind the comics, is a major American comic book publisher founded back in 1934. Along with Marcel Comics, it is the most popular comic book publisher in the United States. DC Comics is a major player in the comic book business and is the “home” of many famous comic book characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and many others.
Now that we’ve given you a short introduction, let us discuss the topic of this article in more detail.
Who is Batman?
Batman is probably one of the most famous (if not the most famous) comic book character in history. The stories about Gotham City’s Dark Knight have been popular for decades now and have created a multimedia franchise consisting of movies, TV shows, video games and a lot of other merchandise. But, who is Batman?
Batman is the secret superhero alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a billionaire playboy based in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is the owner of Wayne Enterprises, a successful company based in Gotham City and is the heir of the Wayne estate. He lives alone in Wayne Manor, on the outskirts of Gotham, with his butler and trusted friend, Alfred Pennyworth.
Wayne’s life has been defined by a tragedy he had witnessed as a child. Namely, one night Bruce went to the movies with his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. His father decided to take a shortcut through an alley after exiting the theatre, but he did not know that an unknown mugger was standing there, waiting for his prey. The mugger attacked and ultimately killed both Thomas and Martha Wayne, but spared the life of young Bruce, who was left to the care of Alfred Pennyworth. The mystery of his parents’ murder played an important role in Bruce Wayne’s life and was a key fact in his decision to become the vigilante Batman.
Believing that criminals are a “a cowardly and superstitious lot“, Bruce Wayne decided to put on Batman’s cowl, taking inspiration for the name and the design from a childhood experience with bats.
Frank Miller’s important Batman: Year One comic book depicts Batman’s beginnings as a vigilante in Gotham and since that moment, he has become a symbol of Gotham City and a name used with fear among the city’s criminals. While fighting regular villains and members of his Rogue’s Gallery, Batman has also tried to solve the murder of his parents, ultimately finding out that they were killed by a street criminal named Joe Chill.
The Batman mythos has grown with time and with it also Batman, who has evolved from a solitary vigilante to the leader of the Batman family (or Batfamily), which includes several other superheroes like Batgirl, Batwoman, former Robins Nightwing, Red Robin, Spoiler and others. Currently, Batman is aided by his son Damian Wayne (his mother is Talia al-Ghul, Ra’s al-Ghul’s daughter), who is also the fifth and incumbent Robin.
Batman has been present in other media, as well as in the comic books. The first major adaptation was the 1960s camp TV show starring Adam West, after which there have been several animated adaptations. An important event was Tim Burton’s 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton, that launched a film series during the 1990s. In the same period, Paul Dini created Batman: The Animated Series where Batman was voiced by Kevin Conroy; the show gained a cult following and is generally praised as one of the best adaptations of Batman ever. Christopher Nolan revitalised the movies with his Dark Knight trilogy. Batman is currently a part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s response to the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Is Batman a superhero?
The true nature of Batman’s crime-fighting career is a very interesting question. He is a very unconventional crime fighter and although he does not kill, he’s been known to show extreme brutality when facing some of Gotham’s criminals, but also mercy and understanding for some of them. Batman has all the characteristics of a classical superhero, but the question – is he a superhero? – still stands. Let us examine the arguments.
In a recent article, we have analysed different types of superhero characters based on the source of their powers and we have deduced that there are four groups of superhero characters based on that criteria:
- Superheroes who are inherently superhuman (non-human sources) – these characters draw their powers from non-human sources, whether it is their origins (gods, monsters, demons, angels, etc.) or their heritage (they come from a different location and stem from a species that is superior to humans). These characters are inherently superhuman – regardless of how they look (they are often human-looking or humanoid) – and would always fit into the category of a superhero.
Examples of such characters are Superman (a Kryptonian alien), Wonder Woman (a demigoddess), Thor (an Asgardian god), Martian Manhunter (likewise an alien), Aquaman (an Atlantean ruler), Venom (a cosmic symbiote), and others.
- Superheroes who use magic (magical sources) – these characters draw their superhuman powers from magic, either being magical beings themselves (wizards, witches, demons, warlocks, etc.) or learning how to use magic through learning. These characters can also be human or non-human and would also generally fit into the narrower definition of a superhero, although we can debate whether magic is a “superhuman ability” per se. These characters have to actively use their skills to fight evil in order to be classified as a superhero (this is why Gandalf, for example, is not a superhero).
Examples of such characters are Zatanna, Scarlet Witch, John Constantine, Etrigan, Doctor Strange, and others.
- Superheroes that became superheroes through mutation (mutational sources) – this is a very broad group of characters that contains elements from some other types, but is distinctive in the way that these characters were usually just normal humans who were either born with a mutation that gave them special powers or were exposed to some external source (mutation, radiation, toxins, genetic experiments, etc.) that gave them superhuman abilities. A lot of modern comic book characters are like this and they represent one of the largest portions of superhero characters.
Examples of such characters are Captain America (Super Soldier serum), Spider-Man (radioactive spider), the X-Men (mutations), Hulk (radiation), the Flash (Speed Force), Green Lantern (Power Ring), Dr. Manhattan, and others.
- Superheroes that use science and technology (scientific sources) – these characters aren’t superheroes according to the narrower definition, since they are just ordinary humans with peak abilities that possess absolutely no superhuman powers. Yet, they are extraordinary and they are superheroes according to the broader definition of the term. Most of these characters have a lot of money and can afford the lifestyle.
Examples of such characters are Batman, Iron Man, Lex Luthor (when he’s not a power-hungry supervillain), Rorschach, and others.
So, does Batman fit into this category?
There are compelling arguments for Batman to be considered a superhero. First of all, he is on the side of good. Despite his dark appearance and the corrupt ambiance of his narratives, Batman fights for good in the crime capital of the world. He represents traditional superheroic values such as idealism, courage, and morality, despite them being dressed in very dark robes. Along with that, he does good for all the right reasons. Fighting crime in Gotham is not easy and it can damage one’s psyche, so Batman really does the best he can in a world where hope and light are scarce, which makes him an unorthodox superhero, but a superhero nonetheless. He is more heroic in the narratives involving the Justice League, where he can show his true heroism, without the corrupt environment of Gotham City.
The arguments for Batman not being a superhero are reduced to only one – he has no superpowers. Certainly, Batman does not have any inherent superpowers nor has he acquired any during his lifetime. He is a very intelligent and physically strong human who is at the peak of his abilities; and he relies on technology. He is not like Superman, or Green Lantern, or Flash, but as we’ve seen above – that is still enough for him to be considered a superhero, despite what people might say!
To conclude, we can state that Batman is a superhero and a vigilante, with one not excluding the other, the other actually being a proof of his unconventional heroism. He cannot be described as an anti-hero, at least not in the Prime-Earth narratives, while some alternative versions might deserve that label as well.
This concludes our article. We have given you a definitive answer on Batman’s crime-fighting status, labeling him as a superhero and a vigilante, with solid arguments and evidence for our opinion. We hope you found our article informative and that you’re sure to follow us for more of the same! See you next time!