The big theme of Comic-Con International this year, at least from a comic book perspective (that perspective still exists, dammit!) is the big 75th anniversary of DC Comics’ brooding defender of the rainiest city in the world. Batman has gone through dozens of permutations in his three-quarters of a century and been written by and drawn even more people. A panel on Thursday celebrated the Dark Knight, in his many permutations, and discussed the history and legacy of the character as seen through the eyes of some of the most influential and celebrated creators over the years. In attendance were luminaries Denny O’Neill, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Scott Snyder, and Geoff Johns, who all had their own idea about why Batman continues to be arguably the most beloved superhero of them all.
Why is Batman so indelible, lo these 75 years? It seems to come down to two distinct aspects of his character: his mythic nature and his humanity, co-existing within this one man. The first seems to be what lures everyone in. Morrison referred to Batman’s look as employing both Byronic and Satanic elements to become an entity of terror, but we like him because he’s a hero, using the ability to instill fear as an asset to aid “us.” Miller called Batman a modern folk legend, passed down from writer to writer, person to person; Johns said that all comic book heroes are today’s Greek gods, and that Batman stands head and shoulders above them, as their king. It’s the symbol that he creates that he’s the thing the scary things fear.
On the other side, Batman is a merely a man – Bruce Wayne isn’t an alien, nor was he bestowed with magical, mystical, or metaphysical gifts by some greater entity; he saw his parents killed in front of him as a child and wants to get retribution for it ad infinitum. Adams called Batman the person “we would rather be,” adding that he is all of us. He’s a model of a single person becoming the best they could possibly be. He is, as Snyder points out, the symbol for achievement. He’s made his mind and body strong and agile and doesn’t let the pain get to him. He’s the smartest guy in the room, but only because he worked very hard at it.
It’s also his humanity that allows for a writer to create plot more simply. O’Neill reflects that “Superman is a bitch to write for,” because he’s nigh impervious. Batman, on the other hand, is mortal and destructible and hence anything from bullets to falls from buildings to a giant set of rotating blades are perfectly fine for threatening Batman. He’s also very versatile; every writer has his own version of the character and none of them are wrong. All of them are right, in fact, because every writer is, as Adams adds, circling around this character and adding a bit of themselves into it.
And so, ultimately what does the future hold for the Dark Knight, Caped Crusade, or whatever else you’d like to call him? It seems he’s poised to continue his reign over the superhero landscape for a long time to come. He reflects the world we live in and rolls with the changes while still holding on to those core values and beliefs that give the character such appeal. He’s changed before, he’ll change again, and he’ll no doubt keep changing for the foreseeable future. Miller perhaps summed everything up best when he said, “Batman is older than just about any of us in this room…but anyone who says Batman’s future is limited is admitting they’re old.”