Batting strong at 80
On the day the superhero turns octogenarian, three Mumbai fans tell us why Batman is the ever-enduring character
In one of the final scenes in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol 2, the character Bill (David Carradine) tells his vengefully estranged wife Beatrix (Uma Thurman) that Superman is his favourite superhero. The reason is that while all the others are actually human beings who have developed superpowers and put on a costume to disguise themselves when they are out to save the world, Superman was born a superhero. He doesn't wake up every morning as Peter Parker, like Spiderman does. Instead, he wakes up as himself — an extraordinary being from an alien planet — and then dons the garb of Clark Kent to blend in with everyday people. That's what fascinates Bill, who feels that Kent's bungling, cowardly attitude was Superman's critique on the entire human race.
But what this rationale ignores is a similarly compelling factor about another superhero character — Batman. The thing is, Batman isn't really a conventional superhero at all. He can't fly. He can't shoot laser rays with his eyes. He doesn't turn into a big green monster when he's angry. He's in fact just a supremely rich and incredibly intelligent man who takes it upon himself to fight crime after suffering untold tragedy as a child. And yet, the character turns the ripe old age of 80 today — celebrated the world over as Batman Day — and is arguably DC Comics's most enduring offering of all time.
Why is that? We speak to three diverse city-based fans to explore this question. They are comedian Rohan Joshi, illustrator Abhijeet Kini and advertising professional Arjun Dutta. And all three are of the view that it's the very fact that Batman isn't endowed with any superpowers that makes him more relatable. He is human, after all. He suffers from the same sort of vulnerabilities, fears, insecurities and unfulfilled desires that we do. But he doesn't let any of that come in the way of his quest to ensure that justice prevails in Gotham.
Then there's the fact that despite possessing none of their superpowers, he is always one up on his compatriots in The Justice League. The reason, Kini says, is that he is a meticulous planner. Joshi corroborates this when he narrates the plot of a particular edition called The Tower of Babel. In it, the other superheroes in Batman's team hit the roof when they find out that he's been keeping detailed notes on all their weaknesses, including ways in which they can be killed. But when they confront him, he explains that this was because he wanted to keep a contingency plan ready in case one of them went rogue. So, far from conniving against them, he was instead actually looking out for his friends, and indeed all of humanity, without letting them know. Joshi says, "He has these really complex motivations. He's always wondering about the relationship between man and god. He is that safety valve who will step in between Superman and the world if he needs to. And I think that's what makes him such a fascinating figure."
Dutta, though, is drawn to the character's dark side. "See, Batman's not a nice guy. Of course, the fact that he's looking after people in general is a good thing. But he's also quite ruthless and merciless. He's not holier than thou like Superman who won't kill at all. Batman will do it if push comes to shove. And again, I'm really not sure whether he's a nice guy, but that's also pretty much why I like him," he says with a laugh.
It is thus this complexity that keeps the character relevant after Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him eight decades ago. Batman never went stale like, say, David Dhawan's films did after a while. He was constantly reinvented in the way Lady Gaga reinvents herself with her costumes. There was the campy TV series starring Adam West. Then there were Tim Burton's cartoonish films. And finally we had Christopher Nolan's truly grim The Dark Knight franchise. We'll have to wait and watch what cinematic avatar he appears in next (the teasers of the hotly anticipated Joker film don't let out what role Batman will play in it). But either way, knowing his enigmatic, multi-faceted personality — and borrowing a catch phrase from Bill's favourite superhero — up, up and away seems the only way to go.
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