Batman and Our Psyche This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 23, 2009
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I’m not going to lie. I saw “The Dark Knight” five times over the course of four weeks, and still I was not entirely satisfied with my ­intake of Bat-o-rama. Something about the most recent incarnation of the series made my skin tingle as if I was witnessing something great – a long-awaited event, a momentous culmination. The film made $158 million its opening weekend, selling out in venues across the country and breaking many records, so I’m guessing one or two people agreed with me.

Batman’s long-running status as an American superhero has had its ups and downs, but at select moments (like this one) the true magnificence of this character shines. “The Dark Knight” was the culmination of years of Bat-lore; a long-traveling genre finally coming together in a perfect combination of gritty realism, good writing, and a flair for the substantial and ­stylish. Audiences loved it.

The initial concept of the Caped Crusader remains intact today. He still carries the burden of warding off the ghouls of the night, still embodies the modern-day Robin Hood, and continues to be a vigilante. His message remains solid: maintaining ethics in a chaotic world, standards in a lawless city. His ­image and his humanity, however, have drastically changed over time.

When Batman first came to life in the 1940s, his simplistic style and lack of character depth was due in part to the cartoon. Adam West’s Batman was a direct translation from the newspaper funnies, and this showed in the costumes and screenwriting. Simplistic, easy-to-follow, lacking developed characters – the films were essentially the cartoons ­rehashed, and thus worked on the same childlike level.

His conception as a new kind of ­superhero was attributed to his antihero format: a vigilante who sometimes crossed the law to deliver justice. This reflected the public’s need for an iconic character, a sort of Robin Hood for the 1940s. It was a daring personality for the day, and introduced a new complexity to the superhero genre. Still, this format was very dry, and the character itself just a template from which many later versions would be built.

In his reintroduction to TV in the 1990s, Batman’s character and image developed. As audiences became more attached to the idea of fleshing out Batman’s personal history, the realism of the series grew. The idea of blurring the line between fantasy and reality was introduced by the films of the ’90s when people suddenly wanted to see their favorite superheroes portrayed as real, emotionally complex ­humans, not just corny caricatures. In “Batman” of 1989, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, for the first time a Batman film offered distinguished, nontraditional characters and a cast of top actors. Despite some lagging screenwriting, the film was heralded as a critical success; audiences loved the idea of a superhero film that embraced the humanity of its protagonist.

The superhero films released after 2001 achingly wished to portray ­superheroes as real. The events of 9/11, and the frightened American ­culture that followed, increasingly ­reflected our desire to indulge in ­fantasy and nostalgia, making the ­classical Marvel superheroes a perfect cache for the executives at Universal and Warner Brothers. What has ­become most popular is the idea of ­superhero realism; characters and ­situations mimic life to a degree ­unheard of in past generations.

“The Dark Knight” is a perfect ­example. Heath Ledger’s Joker is sneering, unfathomable, chaotic, and all around undefeatable. The Joker is the apotheosis of contemporary American fears: a madman who cannot be caught, defined, or killed, he stands as isolated and impenetrable as a disguised terrorist in the New York populace.

Likewise, Batman has become increasingly human. He has abandoned the stage makeup and cheesy leotards and adorned himself in battle-gear and bulletproof vests. His code of ethics has grown only more stringent and bold, a necessary defense in a world that becomes more chaotic by the day. He reflects the degree to which the American public fear for their lives; he is that great protector who is necessary in times of peril.

His necessity, then, defines the ­degree to which we, as an audience, humanize him. He is a reflection of our own desire to be safe. Seeking ­patterns in the forms Batman takes, the public need look no further than their own fear.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 14 comments. Post your own now!

bombthrower said...
Sept. 19, 2011 at 8:47 pm

joker explains conspiracy theories 


"no one ever freaks out as long as every thing gos according to plan, even if the plan is terrible."

Dr.Jones This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Impressive work, and there's no doubt that Batman is all about humanity and the contrast therein, but I think The Dark Knight handled it too clumsily.

Every line was written expressly for some sort of character analysis, and it got exhausting.  What I think the Tim Burton films did better than the Nolan entries is leave the thinking to the audience rather than thinking for them.  Characters shouldn't be analyzing themselves, that's the job of the audience, to dig into the nar... (more »)

Aderes18 said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm
Why, as your picture, you have someone with a superman shirt?
Irene replied...
Apr. 14, 2011 at 1:44 am
Because Teenink gives you a random bunch of pictures to choose from. I think it's just of pictures that have been posted on this site. You don't get to put your own picture on an article unless it happens to come up in the selection.
Aderes18 said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm
I love the Dark knight too!
Blahblah said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm
Batman is a DC comic, not Marvel.
EnderWiggin replied...
Nov. 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm
But the new iteration of Batman inspired people to make more superhero movies that followed this realism.
toxic.monkey said...
Jul. 2, 2010 at 1:36 pm
this is a fantastic in depth analysis and background of the movie! i've written a review of the film for my school newspaper but i think yours is way superior to mine :) good job!! one thing i want to say is that you don't seem very conclusive in the end. if you just add a few more sentences, it'll be a full blown masterpiece. keep writing!!!
resilva said...
Aug. 10, 2009 at 9:22 pm
Your critique on the movie was great and inspired me to go on about it a little myself. I like how you discussed the history of Batman in cinema as well.
I saw The Dark Knight five times and I loved it, but what was it that made it so commercially successful while simultaneously being critically acclaimed? Was it the spectacular special effects that really made you feel like you were about to plummet into the mechanized depths of Hong-Kong? Was it the cinematography that had you holding ... (more »)
Kazim Z. said...
Jul. 31, 2009 at 1:55 am
A very lucidly and well written piece. The theme behind it is related through beautiful, accurate, and analytical language. I would love for you to share some information on your writing process with me.
MarijneIsCool said...
Jun. 23, 2009 at 5:36 pm
I don't really love batman but my brother has copies of the old comics, and I have to agree they really have changed him, if you compare the comics to the dark knight.
author1 said...
May 11, 2009 at 7:45 am
I don't believe I ever state what comic book affiliation he's from. Though I do believe you're correct; any true fan would recognize that Batman is a DC comic, not Marvel. I am happy to say I know the difference, and recognize them as two wholly different creative entities.
Chrissy L. said...
Apr. 30, 2009 at 7:56 pm
I agree. The public doesn't always want the good guy who is necessarily "good." We all have that admiration for the bad and evil (granted it is in a book or movie) I believe that is why books such as Twilight are such a big success. We love the misunderstood, almost evil hero. A rogue so to speak.
Jessica C. said...
Apr. 28, 2009 at 11:53 pm
This is great, I love your take on bat man,and i LOVE batman awesome, except for you made a huge mistake that any true fan would catch, Batman is a DC comic not marvel sorry, but you have to keep your comic book companies straight if you want to make a point.
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