To be honest, I’ve been putting off this post. Partly because around the same time that I was planning on writing it, Sasha had written a couple of AMAZING posts (here and here—oh, and here too) on her experience with the Batman comic books, and I had no idea how I was going to blather on about my Bat feels in their wake. Also, I felt … well, “unqualified,” being so new to the Batman canon, and the whole comic book thing in general. Which, now in hindsight, sounds ridiculous because since when did someone have to clock in a certain number of fan hours, or know x amount of canon knowledge in order for her opinions on a particular title to be valid? Never, of course, but all the same I felt insecure, inadequate, very much an outsider in an exclusive club. Which, I’ve long realized, is a bizarre feeling to have, because I have never been put down by anyone for expressing interest in comic books. I’ve never been called a poser, or a loser, or experienced the sort of gender-based hostility that Noelle and so many other female readers have received from male fans. But yet there it is. And honestly, I still find myself battling with it. Even now, I’m finding myself wanting to qualify my opinions on the comic books that I’ve read so far. “I’m a noob.” “I haven’t read too much.” “Forgive me for any errors I may make.” Which, I think, is the heart of my utterly self-imposed insecurities. I’m scared of saying the wrong thing. I’m scared of looking uncool. I’m worried about sounding like a complete idiot. That and, again, feeling like an outsider. Lots of people in the comics niche/subculture/whatever got into comics at an early age. I was the same with books, which is probably why I never felt apologetic about my literary opinions … and why I feel so unsure about my opinions on comics. There’s something about being in something from the beginning that makes one feel rightfully included, or rightfully excluded.
Anyway, this preamble has gotten way too long. Basically, this post has been a while in coming. And yes, if I’m being honest, I’m still battling with insecurity. But I’m fighting it. And I’ll get over it eventually. So without further ado, let’s talk about Batman.
My first encounter with Batman comics was in September of last year. I was over at a friend’s place, and during the course of the evening conversation turned to comics and our beloved caped crusader. Her husband, when he heard my expressing interest in the comics, immediately withdrew into the study and came back out with a couple titles for me to browse. That evening, on their couch, I was introduced to Batman as the comic book hero—first, as the aging legend in The Dark Knight Returns, and then the endearing greenhorn in Year One. To my disappointment, I didn’t like them as much as I thought I would. The Batman in those colored, glossy pages wasn’t much like the Batman I had come to know through the animated series and the various movie adaptations. I didn’t like the origin story of Year One—specifically That Scene where a bat comes crashing through the mansion window and Bruce goes, “Okay, got it Dad. I’ll be Batman.” I mean, yes, it’s a cool concept, but OKAY SO SHOOT ME I LIKED NOLAN’S ORIGIN STORY MUCH BETTER. And The Dark Knight Returns was so bittersweet, so painful. I can’t handle seeing beloved icons age. I just can’t. Not because I have an aversion to wrinkles or anything—they’re quite attractive, in my opinion—but because it’s the idea of something great falling prey to mortality; of something revered being forgotten.
Also, I’m quite particular about artwork. And unfortunately, the artwork in both titles didn’t appeal to me. At all.
But obviously, something happened that night. Something about those stories, about Batman in those stories, stuck with me. And rather than fade away, it persisted—like a stubborn burr, it clung to me and rubbed away at me. In the months following, I began researching. I started adding more titles to my to-reads list. Soon, comics were the only things that I was saving on GoodReads.
I bought my first Batman title a month later, on Black Friday.
The Court of Owls—I couldn’t put it down. While the artwork wasn’t entirely to my liking, Snyder’s writing hooked me in. For all my conflicted feelings towards the concept of the Court—I’ll talk about it later—I liked them for being such a satisfying adversary. I liked how they were more legend than truth, how they have an army of freakishly good knife-throwing assassins at their beck and call, how they really got me wondering if Batman was going to make it out of their labyrinth alive. Continuing with The City of Owls—I liked how Snyder brought in the parallel of owls being natural predators of bats, how he also referenced the above-mentioned bat-crashing-through-window epiphany scene and segued into this awesome narratorial monologue on death and rebirth and fate and self-will. The ending is not … neat. It doesn’t offer firm closure. And then the epiloguey shorts that follow … man, I did not like. I just don’t like how it questions everything we know to be true about Gotham, about the Wayne family, about Batman. That’s also why I don’t like about the Court. Their very existence, the claim that they’ve infiltrated Gotham, shaped it from the very beginning, flips our understanding of Gotham topsy-turvy. Gotham was always Batman‘s city, his turf, the one sacred thing that cannot be taken from him … and yet it was.
But maybe that’s the point that Snyder makes. (Or am I just grasping at straws?) Batman isn’t Batman because of Gotham, because of Alfred, because of Bruce’s tragic past … although they’re all formulative to the legend. Batman, when it comes down to it, is Batman because he does what he does—fights the criminals who threaten his beloved city, and lives to see another day. And as long as he keeps on doing that, Batman will always be Batman. Gotham will always be Batman.