|In the DC Comic, Batman is now a crusader against gentrification, police brutality, institutionalized racism and firmly committed to the cause of Black Lives Matter|
But swept up in Batman-mania as all the country was that summer, my parents took us to see the movie.
I still remember sitting in theater as my parents shifted uncomfortably in their seats as the incredible dark, sinister plot played out before our eyes and I was completely, utterly entranced.
It was a religious experience (only confirmed a few years later when at a church function, someone popped in a VHS copy Batman).
And it's all in the opening scene when The Dark Knight hunts down two white criminals on a rooftop in Gotham City, disposing of them in quick order (but not before alerting the conscious thug to tell all his friends about him).
The idea of combating evil and never tolerating those who would make a city unsafe for decent people trying to put down roots is one of the more important lessons a young child can learn (in a more sane era, westerns told these stories).
But one thing I could never understand was why Batman was set in some strange world where white people still lived in a major city? Then, watching Batman: The Animated Series, the same thing was happening: it was as if Gotham City was stuck in some 1939 version of New York City when the city was 90%+ white.
It dawned on me at young age (middle school): what type of story could you tell when Bruce Wayne was fighting crime, dysfunction and decadence in a city where white flight from black crime had left merely the infrastructure of the past intact, but the new black majority was drowning in an ungodly amount of crime the likes of which the Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, and Scarecrow would find impossible to replicate?
What type of story could you tell when Batman was only fighting black crime, and the media quickly dubbed this masked vigilante a racist for daring to deprive black individuals/black gangs their right to prey upon the weak?
Tim Burton's two Batman films (Batman, Batman Returns) and the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy were all set in a Gotham City that appeared to be more than 80 percent white, with basically all street level crime committed by whites. In both interpretations, the murderer of Wayne's parents (the act motivating him on a journey to fight crime) is white.
But this view just doesn't make any sense, when one considers the crime rates (and the racial demographic behind the violent crime) in our "greatest" cities; which is precisely why the director of Batman: The Animated Series wanted to set the world of Gotham City in 1939.
Having Batman fight black thugs and black gangs just isn't as much fun as a having him combat a colorful - yet all white - rogues gallery of villains.
It's okay to cheer Batman on as he fights white men psychologically damaged or emotionally scared (the Joker, Two-Face), but to show him hunting black thugs would be cringe inducing and immediately trigger the modern reader/viewer to interpret the supposed hero as the racist villain.
Frank Miller, whose iconic interpretation of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns depicts him as an outright fascist character (who tells a criminal he has just crippled thinking about his "rights" is what keeps him up at night), reinvented our notion of how we view Wayne's vigilante actions.
But in today's world, such a view has changed, as now Wayne is fighting police racism and gentrification. [Batman confronts police racism in latest comic book: New issue wades into the conversations about race, poverty and gentrification roiling the US, responding to a new political consciousness among fans, The Guardian, 9-15-15]:
People die every day in Gotham City, the fictional hive of corruption where Batman patrols the rooftops. But not until Wednesday did the Dark Knight find himself investigating a black teenager in a hoodie shot dead by a frightened white police officer, let alone wondering about his own indirect role in the boy’s death.
The latest issue of DC Comics’ flagship Batman series throws itself headfirst into the agonizing conversations roiling America more than a year after Ferguson officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year old Michael Brown. The globally iconic superhero confronts racialized police brutality and its intersection with urban poverty and gentrification – problems Batman comes to realize he exacerbates in his secret identity as billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne.
Comics critics say they are hard pressed to remember Batman ever addressing institutional racism and its socio-economic dimensions as bluntly as this in the character’s 75-year history. While police corruption has long been a feature of Gotham – even showing up on the eponymous Fox TV adaptation about to enter its second season – it it is rarely shown to disproportionately impact black people.
Yet Batman #44, a flashback story, begins with the blunt image of a dead black boy, his body left “for the crows”, as the narration reads, resonant of Michael Brown in Ferguson. He wears a hooded sweatshirt, as did Trayvon Martin before George Zimmerman killed the 17-year old. What begins as A Simple Case – the title of the issue – becomes a meditation on the meaning of a rich, white vigilante who attempts to solve intractable urban problems by beating up bad guys.
“This issue is meant to be a thesis about what our Batman is,” lead writer Scott Snyder told the Guardian.
“We’ve tried to be pretty relentlessly on-point about him being a symbol of inspiration in the face of tremendous fear, as opposed to a symbol of punishment, or a symbol of revenge, taking the city away from criminals. Here is where he begins to learn [the limits of] the methods that he thought would work: finding a criminal, making an example of the criminal, throwing the criminal in jail … Instead, what he has to learn is that the problems that he’s facing in today’s city are much more humbling, are much more complicated.”
Most controversially, Snyder’s story shows 15-year-old Peter Duggio shot in the stomach by Gotham police veteran Ned Howler. Duggio is shown frightened, emerging from a fight in his father’s bodega with a local gang, and before he can respond to Howler’s demand to lie down, the officer mortally wounds him.
But the story also points a finger at Batman’s unstated assumptions – those that animate the character, and those that animate the metaphor of the superhero crimefighter. The conflict over the bodega boiled over, Peter’s cousin tells Batman, “once Bruce Wayne announced he was gonna develop the neighborhood”. Suddenly, Batman must confront the hubris of his mission to save Gotham, as his focus on individual and not structural answers set into motion the events that led to Howler killing Peter.
Snyder said that during the winter he came up with the idea of addressing the intersection of police brutality and gentrification during the series’s current story arc, in which Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon takes over as Batman. News reports from Ferguson and Staten Island, New York, where police choked Eric Garner to death, helped inspire the story: “If we were going to do an issue that dealt with potent problems that people face in cities that are reflected fictitiously in Gotham, then we want to really put our money where our mouth was and explore something that’s extremely resonant right now, and, I think, tricky, murky waters.”
For help, Snyder turned to Brian Azzarello, whose acclaimed 100 Bullets saga established him as one of comics’ best noir writers. Azzarello said he sought to sharpen the comic’s points about gentrification.
“This thing is such a ripple, the way lives are affected by gentrification. On one hand, yes, you’re cleaning up this area, you’re making it more livable for people. But you’re not saying anything about the people that live there,” said the Chicago-based Azzarello, who remembered how the 2011 redevelopment of the city’s Cabrini Green housing projects left residents “scattered all over the city, just uprooting them, and they had no choice in the matter because they had no money.
“And if you have no money, you have no voice. And we definitely raised that [in the comic],” Azzarello said.
However Fowler, the police officer who kills an unarmed teenager, doesn’t find himself on the receiving end of Batman’s famous rage. Snyder said depicting Batman punching out a fearful officer risked undermining the purpose of a comic book about social problems, while having the ultimate hero of the broader arc be the police commissioner opened up narrative space to address racialised police violence.
“Of course you want Batman to beat this officer up, and be like, ‘How could you?’ But the point of the issue is that wouldn’t solve the problem. Batman throwing the officer off a roof, or throwing the officer in jail, it wouldn’t get to the heart of the matter at all. And that’s the thing I think is ultimately infuriating,” Snyder said.
Azzarello said he preferred the story to “raise the questions and then leave it to the reader to form their own answers and opinions”.
Accordingly, Batman finds himself on one of Gotham’s rooftops, staring out at a city that no longer makes sense to him, as fictionalized versions of newspaper articles on police brutality, institutionalised racism, poverty and gentrification swirl disorientingly around him.Social Justice Warrior (SJW) Batman...
A far cry from the Frank Miller interpretation of Batman, who was quoted as noting the reality of what a masked vigilante/superhero actually represents (as noted by Superman in the Dark Knight Returns): a criminal who takes the law into their hands:
“You were the one they used against us, Bruce. The one who played it rough. When the noise started from the parents' groups and the sub-committee called us for questioning... you were the one who laughed... that scary laugh of yours. "Sure, we're criminals", you said. "We've always been criminals". "We have to be criminals."Back in 1989, this was the version of Batman I saw on screen, in a version of the character still haunting me to this day.
Police brutality, institutionalized racism, poverty and gentrification? What a boring rogue's gallery to fight and silly motivation for Wayne to dress up as a bat and go out into the night to fight crime.
But such is the culture in 2015: we must glorify blacks and blame any and every shortcoming individual blacks face on the evils of white racism and the lingering residue of bigotry; blacks collective inability to live up to the standards established by whites can only be considered the fault of the latter group for failing to lower the achievement bar to one the former can reach.
And the actions of a rich, white vigilante trying to solve the problems of urban America are only palatable to our SJW-dominated culture when Batman wages war on the oppressors Howard Zinn has identified as the true enemy... white people.