Friday, January 31, 2014

The Dark Knight: Shining Bright After 75 years

For 75 years, the Batman mythos has kept us captivated. In this the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the mysterious and haunted Bruce Wayne in Detective Comics issues 27 from May 1939, few characters have had as big an impact on the American pop culture psyche or the landscape of modern day icons. Batman represents so much more than a crazed eccentric in a mask it almost boggles the mind. 

Let's go on a journey.

An Unimaginable Tragedy

The spark event that transforms Bruce Wayne into the Batman is near legendary. Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered by a two-bit thug (Joe Cool),  in cold blood in front of 10-year old Bruce. Shot to death before his very eyes. The trauma and agony of such a profound loss could easily have broken any of us. What happens though is quite remarkable. Bruce embraces the death of his parents as the catalyst for doing his part to insure no one ever suffers this kind of tragedy ever again. Bruce embarks on a life-long quest, using the vast resources available to him via his wealth to build a machine of calculated vengeance. 

The Best of Us

Millionaire trust fund baby, Wayne chooses a life of seclusion and grim determination to become the Batman, scourge of the criminal underground. As the air to one the world's greatest private (though fictional) fortunes, Wayne could spend his days in hedonistic debauchery but instead chooses to set his resources for the greater good. Instead of being a victim he becomes a symbol of hope and the embodiment of vigilante justice we could all aspire to. With no apparent "Super powers" and gifted with an incredibly gifted analytical mind, he transcends his human flaws while embracing them, becoming a far greater 'hero' than many of his equally heroic fellow Justice League compatriots.

A Serious Attack On "Funny Books" 

Batman and comic books in American society fell under heavy scrutiny and criticism in the 1950s by way of Congressional investigation. Falling on the heels of the infamous McCarthy hearings, the US Government went on a morality-fueled witch hunt of the comics industry. Funny Books–as many would laughably dismiss them–were seen as pulp literature, lumped in with soft-core porn and throw-away periodicals. 

Many comics publishers–including DC comics, publishers of Batman and Superman–found themselves in legal and moral stand-offs with Congress. While many comic characters–and companies–did not survive this onslaught, Batman and his publishers were able to tough it out.

Darkest Night

As a result of the US Senate's investigation on whether or not comic books contributed to the delinquency of minors, the Comics Code Authority was established to monitor the 'moral character' of comic books. This lead, in part, to the development of the popular and campy Batman live-action TV series that began in the 1960's. While this did much to return Batman to prominence and was a ground-breaking series in many ways, the series did some harm to the validity of both Batman and comics overall. 

However, while the TV show was running on mostly comedic energy, the comics were full-on returning Batman to his former glory as an ace crime-fighter and champion of street justice. And in 1986, after more than 30 years of being a cultural buffoon, he re-emerged to take his rightful place among fiction's elite ranks dark heroes.

In February, 1986, the kid gloves came off. Fan fiction super savior, Frank Miller, writes an draws the now legendary graphic novel Batman: The Return Of The Dark Knight. The story chronicles an aged, weary, future Batman, coming out of exile to return justice to a world overrun by corruption, neglect and evil. The book sets the stage for Batman's cultural return to serious, adult-driven story lines that include battling drug dealers, the paralysis of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. 

The Billion-Dollar Bat

Created by comic masterminds Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has not only resonated with whole generations of young men and boys looking to 'do the right thing', Batman continues to be a juggernaut at the Box Office, in the bookstores, comic shops and the list of collectables is as long as the Batman's list of adversaries. As a study, each installment of the Arkham video games outsells its predecessors. Christopher Nola's 'The Dark Knight' grossed more than $1.1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales. There is even a custom car dealer that will deliver a specialized, built-to-order fully operational Bat-mobile, complete with 'Bat-phone' and turbo-boost fire just for a mere $260,000. More Batman toys, t-shirts, lunchboxes, action figures, collectible items and likenesses enjoy healthy sales figures around the globe and is currently the world's fourth most recognized icon (following the Swastika, the Superman Logo and the Coca Cola symbol).

A Hero's Journey

Batman represents the ultimate hero. Focused, sharp, articulate, devilishly handsome, ├╝ber educated, tech savvy, unwavering when the going gets tough, looks out for those who can't protect themselves and works tirelessly to stay physically fit. Come on parents, isn't that the role model you want for your family–for yourselves? I certainly do. No powers from atomic bombs, no technology-drenched armor (although that one's debatable) and no mutant powers, Batman embodies what it means to be human. To overcome bitter, character-busting circumstances and become a beacon of hope and admiration to us all. If that's not a hero and a role model, then I don't know what is.

Sure, he's not real–but if we get another 75 years of that kind of narrative, well, that would be just fine by me.

P.S. – Don't believe Batman inspires people to do great things? Watch this YouTube clip.
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