It’s 1985. I’m four-going-on-five years old and wearing my Batman pajamas, complete with Velcro-on cape. My little sister, only two years old, is decked out on in her Robin pajamas. She’s the little one, so naturally she’s the sidekick. We’re fighting crime in our apartment the old fashioned way: by bouncing on the bed as much as possible. Because we’re also smart superheroes, we put pillows down around the bed, in case we fall. Genius.
Then it happens: that evil villain Gravity grabs my sister and she crashes to the ground in the one spot without pillows. She breaks her arm in two places.
That is my first real memory of Batman.
When our brush with the Bat-life happened, Batman had already been around for more than 45 years. This year is the 75th anniversary of the character, who was created in 1939 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. If you’re a comic book reader, you can barely walk into your local comic shop or open up a comic app without tripping over something Batty. (Then again, someone recently told me that "Guardians of the Galaxy" really flew under the radar, so I guess maybe my point of view is skewed.)
Batman first appeared in Detective Comics in 1939, and was so popular that he got his own eponymous comic the next year. In the last 75 years, there have been three Batman-focused television shows, 11 Batman movies, and nearly two dozen Batman video games. Not to mention the hundreds of comics, Legos, and officially licensed merchandise, such as the Batjamas I wore as a kid.
Back into the TARDIS: so now it’s 2008. I line up to see "The Dark Knight" on opening night. After an almost physical altercation over seats -- because some guys were really upset with us ladies who lined up for center-center -- I sit through two and a half hours of Christian Bale shredding his voice box and letting a joyless Joker murder the people of Gotham. It seemed like everyone I knew loved it, comic fans and non-comic fans alike. It currently has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I hated it.
That was when I realized that I was over Batman.
I can certainly lay out the usual criticisms of the guy. He’s so wealthy that it’s basically his superpower, because without all that money he’d never have the time to train or the resources to make his cool gadgets. He’s broody and dark, and the only moments of fun or joy are few and far between, unless it’s the ultracampy ’60s TV show. It’s been 75 years, and pretty much nothing about him has changed. He’s emotionally flat; even when something terrible happens he sets his jaw and punches his way through it.
These are all criticisms I could throw at other superheroes, including some superheroes I actually like. Superman, for example, has been around for just as long and is relatively unchanged. But I love that guy. I love that guy so much that I loved "Man of Steel." That’s devotion.
But Batman is held up as this ultimate badass hero, and he’s so boring. Why isn’t the rest of the world tired of this guy who should go to therapy instead of crouching on rooftops and brooding in shadows? How is it a hallmark of badassery to be emotionally closed off and incapable of change?
There are things I like about Batman, sure, but there are so many other characters out there that can scratch some of those Bat-itches that I no longer need to invest my time and money in the unending darkness of the Dark Knight and his wealthy man’s pain. Like so:
Gotham Is Okay, It’s Batman I Can’t Stand
In that case, read Gotham Central, or the run of Detective Comics written by Greg Rucka, which led into the current Batwoman series. But especially Gotham Central. It’s a self-contained series about the cops of Gotham Police Department, led by Commissioner James Gordon.
Gotham Central also fleshes out one of the coolest, currently most underused characters in comics, Renee Montoya. Renee is an alcoholic, a lesbian, and the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. She’s complicated, complex, and can certainly be dark. She’s not the main character of Gotham Central, but she’s a main character, and the series is worth reading just for her.
But I Like My Heroes Without Superpowers
Might I recommend Hawkeye? Like Batman, he has no super powers. Like Batman, both his parents died when he was a kid. Unlike Batman, he’s not a billionaire playboy. The current Hawkeye ongoing comic, written by Matt Fraction, focuses on both Clint Barton, the original Hawkeye, and his protégé Kate Bishop, also Hawkeye. Most of the action takes place in and around the apartment building Clint sorta owns, where he protects the residents from the Eastern European gang that’s trying to take the place over. Clint’s brother, Barney, also Hawkeye, has recently shown up.
Currently, Clint is deaf and Barney is in a wheelchair and they just released an issue done mostly in sign language.
I Don’t Read Comics, But I Want Bad Ass Heroes Obsessed with Justice
Ah, I have a movie for you: Dredd. Not Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone. The less said about that the better. But the 2012 Dredd, with Karl Urban, was a great comic book movie adaptation. Judge Dredd, a regular guy equipped with police issue gear and a burning need to bring criminals in, takes on the criminal Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey. It’s violent and dark, and Karl Urban scowls along with the best of them as he guns down criminals left and right. Plus his sidekick is an equally awesome woman, Judge Anderson.
One last trip in the time machine: It’s 2016 and "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" just came out, starring Ben Affleck as Batman. Luckily, I stopped caring about the Bat years ago. I’m saved the emotional scarring of Batfleck, as I sit back and enjoy Gal Gadot kicking some butt to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the creation of Wonder Woman.