Comic Book Court: Batman vs. Romance
Nobody can agree on anything within comics. Whether you prefer Alan Moore or Grant Morrison; reckon Archie loves Veronica and not Betty; or remain convinced that Wonder Man beats Wonder Woman (for some reason) - the one thing we can guarantee is that somebody disagrees with you.
But while it's fun to argue...some debates simply must be resolved.
And so to deal with the greatest controversies to ever hit the printed page, we've formally set up a Comic Book Court to finally reach a definitive verdict on the cases you've always wanted closure for. Each court session will see Christian Hoffer take on a case against Steve Morris, as they go back and forth over some of the biggest issues in the history of comics. Also...some silly ones.
With that in mind...
Will everyone please rise for Batman vs. Cupid AKA "Should Batman Have Some Bat-Romance in His Bat-Life?"
The Case For Batman's Love Life
Batman is a sexual dynamo. Read that sentence, breathe these words, imagine that reality. This is the world we live in. The Goddamn Batman knows what women want, and he's going to give it to them - as long as they let him keep the mask on, of course.
My colleague will likely say that Batman shouldn't get involved with women: that Batman in a relationship is a weakened Batman, a dark knight distracted between his passion and his partner. And that has been the case at times, with women brought into the Batman series just to fall in love with him and then distract him and/or get killed. Yet, I have to argue, that doesn't mean Batman shouldn't be a dark knight on the streets, and a caped crusader in the sheets: what it means is that the women in his life need sharper writing.
If there's one constant through Batman's existence as a character, it's that he gets psychologically dismantled on a daily basis. Whether he's drinking in Joker Toxin, getting gassed by the Scarecrow, or fighting Poison Ivy's pheromones, most of Batman's villains get inside his head and shake him around. His life is a constant war against mind-changing experiences, as everybody tries to break him - whether physically or mentally. And hey, some of his best stories have seen his missions intensified by romance; by relationships; by sex.
You can't shatter a diamond unless it already has flaws. In order for Batman to be the most useful character, he needs distractions, and problems, to come up against, and he needs to lead a complicated life. What's more complicated than sex? The actual act, I imagine, Batman has pretty carefully studied up on, and watched a few youtube videos to give him an advantage - but the idea of sex is exactly the sort of thing which can take the world's best detective and throw him completely off his game. Take The Long Halloween for example. Catwoman's role in that isn't in the least crucial to Batman's agenda in the story - but her arrival is what twists the narrative that one extra time, and keeps him distracted and busy.
Catwoman is one of a number of women who have been in Batman's life, and one of the few to have survived the experience. And while that may seem to be because Batman is an overwhelming presence, who dominates any relationship he's in? To me, that's only because the women aren't being given enough of a say in how things go. Catwoman is one of the only female characters to have an advantage over the Bat, and it's one of the the several traits which has left her so popular. Another character who has recently used sex as a way to throw Batman off, and confuse him is Harley Quinn. Another is Poison Ivy, in her own way.
There are a number of female characters who were weakened for having taken the Bat to Bed. But there are a growing number of female - and male - characters who are actually sharpening the stories they appear in through their relationship with Batman. Lois Lane had some great stories in the cartoons with Bruce Wayne; Wonder Woman as well. For every flatly written Batgirl, there's a Talia al Ghul. Batman's career has been about escaping - escaping the alley, escaping his past, escaping his name and identity to become a force of nature. But relationships constrict, and hold people in. That's why they're so perfect for the character, and for his stories. As Batman attempts to get to the bottom of every riddle, kill every joke, and thaw every frost, every distraction in his way ups the tension.
Those distractions don't need to go away: they just need to be more strongly written. Batman is a flawed person, not a supernatural force of justice. And as a result, sometimes he's going to want to get freaky wit' you.prevnext
The Case Against Batman's Love Life
I love a good romance. A good romantic subplot will keep me interested in just about any story, no matter how implausible or terrible the main plot is. But that doesn't mean that every story is enhanced by romance. In fact, some characters should probably stay far, far, away from romance.
Batman, the brooding terror of Gotham City, is a great example of a character that doesn't really work with romance. Batman's character has evolved over the years from a somewhat well adjusted millionaire vigilante to a singleminded force of criminal justice. Batman might have been capable of a good love story once, but DC's current interpretation of the character just isn't cut out for romance.
The core of Batman's (current) popular depiction is that he's so broken by childhood tragedy, he taken up a one-man crusade against crime and spends his time beating up the mentally ill and dangerous instead of just paying a psychiatrist to talk about his many, many issues. He's an angsty, brooding mess of a person who has repressed his emotions so deep inside of himself, he's practically incapable of smiling. This is not a man equipped with the emotional maturity to handle anything that remotely resembles a romantic relationship.
There's also Batman's drive and dedication to his war on crime to consider. Batman is typically depicted as a master tactician, a man capable of thinking his way out of any situation. It's hard to imagine that "the world's greatest detective" wouldn't have thought what a relationship would do to his one-man war against crime. Batman has a plan for everything. If he had files tucked away on how best to destroy his friends in the Justice League, I'm sure he's created some "Cupid Files" designed to end any relationship before it got serious. There's an Internet cliché that says that Batman can defeat any enemy with enough prep time and I'm sure he has no problem self-sabotaging his own love life.
But what about Catwoman? What about Talia al Ghul? What about Vicki Vale? The truth is that all those women fell in love with one of the many masks that Batman puts on to further his own goals. Catwoman fell in love with the mystery. Talia fell in love with the hero. Vicki Vale fell in love with the playboy. None of those women fell in love with the "real" Batman, and I don't think Batman really was in love with any of them. He might have come close at times, but I think that Batman will ever let anything (or anyone) stand between him and what he considers his true calling.
Now, characters change and maybe DC will someday move away from the Dark Knight Returns inspired superhuman "Batgod" we see in movies and in comics. But the current Batman is a modern day warrior monk, a person impossibly obsessed with his mission, and that mission has no room for romance.prevnext
For those unfamiliar with Comic Book Court, each side will get a brief chance to make a final closing statement to sway the jury (that's you!) to their side:
Steve's Closing Statement:
My colleague Mr Hoffer thinks Batman is currently a modern day warrior monk, with no room for romance. You know what that says to me? It says that Batman absolutely needs romance. The fact he can't afford to get down and dirty in Alfred lovingly-laundered duvets is exactly why we should have stories where that happens. The more trapped and caught up in himself he gets, the more exciting Batman becomes, and the more we get to see who he really is. Batman has clear goals set out for him every night - but what if he gets distracted by, say, Zatanna? And then Constantine gets involved? That's an extra obstacle which the dark knight will have to, ahem, hurdle. Woof!
Christian's Closing Argument
Well, Steve is right in one regard. The women in Batman's life do need stronger writing. That can be said about most female characters relegated to just being a love interest in a male character's book. However, the big flaw in Steve's argument is that he (and most Batman writers) views relationships as a complication, not a place for growth. That's more of a symptom of how most folks perceive Batman, as this one-dimensional traditional power fantasy in which love is a weakness and not a strength. Until Batman moves away from that sort of characterization, we're just going to be stuck with the same sort of unsatisfying subplots. Batman, as how he's written now, isn't made for love.
So which side do you think made the better argument? Vote in the poll before to decide!prev