Batman, for the last 20 years or so, has been one of the most well-known and well-loved comic book characters out there. A giant in the DC Comics universe, directly and indirectly responsible for 12 books out of the current lineup of 52 titles, and a juggernaut box office franchise.
What is it about the Caped Crusader that has made him the pinnacle of nerd worship?
I could just say “Because he’s Batman“, drop the microphone, and walk off-stage but you deserve more than that (even though that’s a perfect explanation)!
So I sat down in the Jerd Cave and put some serious thought to it; here is what I came up with…
Look At What I Can Do!
First and foremost it’s the fact that, unlike 99.99% of superheroes, he became a hero through nothing more than sheer will and determination (and a ridiculous amount of money).
No matter how cool we think Superman, Wolverine or Spider-Man are, we weren’t born on Krypton, with mutant genes or bitten by a radioactive spider. They might be awesome and compelling characters, who do really cool things, but regardless of how much we might enjoy their exploits we never really get the sense that they could be real.
Batman doesn’t need superpowers to thwart crime and punch evil right in its face though.
He makes you believe that, with proper training, you too could don the cape and cowl to fight crime!
Then we have the whole “having your parents gunned down in front of your eyes as a child” angle. I think this has a lot to do with people’s fascination with the character as well, for a few similar reasons:
- People have an innate protective urge when it comes to children who have suffered tragedy.
- It’s relatable.; almost all children have a fear of losing their parents.
- Just like Batman himself, there’s nothing fantastic about this. It’s terrifyingly real.
From a more esoteric perspective I think that deep down, many people relate to the tragic origin aspect of the story without even realizing it.
There is a reason why so many popular characters throughout time, in comic books as well as literature, have tragedy as a commonality. Superman’s planet is destroyed, setting him on the path to protect the Earth; Spider-Man losing Uncle Ben, makes him realize that he needs to accept the great responsibility of his powers; Batman watching his parents shot, sets in motion the drive to protect all of Gotham City from crime so that no-one else has to experience his loss again.
The great Joseph Campbell posited that the first step of the Monomyth, or hero’s journey, is always the “Call to Adventure” (check out how fitness and myth collide in the Heroes’ Transformation journey). This step signifies that destiny has summoned the hero.
It can be something as simple as the hero going forth on his own, as Theseus did when he heard rumors of the Minotaur or as Booster Gold did using knowledge of historical events and futuristic technology to stage high-publicity heroics; or he may be sent abroad by an agent of fate as was Odysseus by Poseidon or as Captain Marvel was by the wizard Shazam; finally the hero’s adventure may begin as a mere blunder or tragedy… a stroke of fate.
An event that transforms the very essence of the person and leads them down a very different path than most!
It’s that archetypical beginning that we relate to on a subconscious level. Most people don’t actively want tragedy to befall them, but they have an understanding (both primal and learned) that heroes are born from catastrophe. While every superhero’s origin follows a similar path, Batman‘s is one of the very few that is so grounded in the real world.
No radioactive spiders, no mutant genes, no experimental medical experiments gone awry… just a tragic act of crime, and one that could very well happen to anyone.
Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys
So what else drives this character’s super popularity with the nerd crowd?
His alter-ego Bruce Wayne.
Now one could go into a deep psychological exercise and make an argument that, unlike many other heroes, Bruce Wayne is actually the “mask” that Batman puts on to hide his true identity as the Dark Knight. While I definitely feel that is the case, that’s not where the draw is. No, what draws people to the Bruce Wayne alter-ego is the fact he is rich, good-looking and a ladies-man!
I remember seeing a documentary (I tried to go back on Netflix, but they seem to have jettisoned it from their streaming library) on the history of Batman where Dick Sprang, one of the earliest artists to work on the character, said that Bruce Wayne represented everything that they all wished they could be at that time. Rich, successful and popular with the ladies.
That definite audience draw for Batman that can’t be denied!
I know it’s chic to be geek now, but for a very long time reading comics was not cool with the ladies… shocker!
Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are
Finally, I think for a long time Batman was the pinnacle of comic-nerd fandom due to an aspect of his character that has seemingly been lost in the last 15+ years… his keen deductive powers.
His moniker for a very long time was “The World’s Greatest Detective” and I think that had a lot to do with carrying his legacy for sometime. While it’s definitely fun to watch him crack skulls and throw batarangs around, the fact that he’s one of the most cerebral superheroes out there, able to solve crimes and outwit his enemies with his intellect alone, resonates.
Much like the origins of the character, this is a trait nerds like us could actually relate to! Nerds are smart, so a hero that not only judo-chops the Joker in the neck but can also go head to head with the Riddler in a battle of deductive reasoning?!?
It was plausible to us in ways that no other hero could compete with for a long time.
Always be yourself; unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.
When you really break it down:
- He has a realistic origin that plays off the subconscious the way it does
- His alter ego is set for life and suave with the ladies
- His armory is full of really cool gadgets
- He has both the physical mastery to beat down his foes and the mental capacity to run circles around them
That right there is a Gyro Smash Driver ultra combo of Cammy like proportions (That’s right Spanky, I just dropped some Street Fighter nerdage in a Batman article. What’re you gonna do about it?) that I would argue no other superhero on the market can compete with!
What do you think? Is Batman the messiah for the nerd masses or do you have another opinion? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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PPS: Check out my favorite Batman stories!
The Jerd’s favorite Batman movies!