Reenvisioning the Superhero Genre-Contains Spoilers for The Batman
by Ismael Bustelo
The new Batman movie debuted in theaters on March 4th, 2022 and was met with high praise reviews almost immediately. After the many other superhero films released in the past year, this one oddly stood out above most and after watching the film, it got me thinking about the new approach to the superhero genre we’ve seen in recent years.
The film is based on various popular comic book runs such as Batman Year One and The Long Halloween. All of which are beloved by fans because they break the character down and dissect what he truly means to himself and in relation to the city he inhabits. This seems to be the key reason why this movie works. The new Batman movie understands the character in a way that other movies haven’t. Underneath the costume Bruce Wayne is a flawed person who has never dealt with the death of his parents in a healthy way. There’s a scene in the movie where Catwoman asks Batman if he wears the mask because he’s horribly scarred underneath and he looks her in the eyes and states that he is. He still wears the burden of his past trauma with him every night.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Robert Pattinson states that he interpreted Batman’s choice to go after low level criminals instead of a corrupt system, as a way of keeping himself attached to his childhood. He relives the moment that defined him every time he stops a break in or a random burglar and attaches his own emotional significance to it.
An example of this in recent years is the Into The Spiderverse movie and its success. In an interview with Stan Lee, the creator of the character, he notes that the character of Spiderman, “doesn’t have any part of his face revealing, it wasn’t intentional at the time but it worked because it shows kids that anyone can be a hero.” The movie brilliantly examines this angle and incorporates it into its narrative, the same way the new Batman film takes its core understanding of its character and weaves the story in a way that audiences can get a more personal feel for what it means to have a Superhero story in modern day.
Accomplished writer and also the man who is revered as one of the best comic writers of all time, Alan Moore also notes that the idea of a superhero in American society is dangerous and the root of how citizens perceive everyday life. As children these films teach us that there is a concept of bad people and good people, heroes and villains, and division that is a key factor of how the world works. In reality most situations are morally gray. Something that the new Batman film suggests when picked apart. The antagonists of the film, the Riddler, only exists because of the Batman. If he hadn’t chosen to put on the cowl and become something that people looked up to, the antagonist would have never been inspired to begin his string of murders and perhaps so many people would not have suffered. Near the end of the film one of the riddler's followers' masks is removed and when asked his name he states that he too is vengeance, a callback to the beginning of the movie where Batman introduces himself as vengeance. The “villains” in this genre and the “heroes” are two sides of the same coin. They take their flawed sense of justice into their own hands and many suffer as a result. At the end of the movie Batman has to accept that he can no longer be a beacon of fear but a symbol of hope for the city. He moves past a section of his trauma and gives the city a reason to keep going. A theme that is essential today for audiences in a time of public outcry for police reform.
Even in recent comic runs, there has been a trend in approaching the dated “tough on crime” rhetoric. John Ridley, writer of 12 years a slave, has begun his own Batman series. In his adaptation, the mantle of Batman has been taken by a black protagonist, Jace Fox and instead of fictional Gotham City, the story takes place in New York. A symbol to the grounded nature of this approach to the character. He writes the series with this new lens of revisionist ideologies by making this character understand crime better. This Batman has committed crimes before and has been through the justice system. Ridley, when talking about this approach noted that this “origin is completely different. He was the one who inflicted damage on a family. He was the one who shattered a family. He was the one who literally ran from responsibility. And he realizes he has a responsibility, not just to fight crime, but to inspire people to do better.” This new Batman knows what it means to fall into that trap. Which is why he has to be more than the stereotypical beat-em-up hero. He has to be more for his city. Ridley states, “To be part of the solution and not just wait for the system, because the system too often fails, but to have a moral compass.” This series attempts to help each antagonist on an individual level by treating them more than a criminal. Similar to the new Batman movie this comic run understands that a true hero inspires rather than strikes fear. It takes into account the corrupt nature of a system that both creates and harshly punishes crime.
In an era of revisionist ideas regarding the criminal justice system and law enforcement, there is no longer room for a notion of us versus them in today's world but instead a path where we can envision a clear and bright future. Direct lines from the voiceover of the movie say, “Things will get worse before they get better.” but it suggests that one day it will be better. Something that the next generation will hopefully see.