As one of the most popular comic book heroes of all-time, he’s been called The Dark Knight, The World’s Greatest Detective, and The Caped Crusader. Yet while Batman remains an entertaining and (mostly) well-written hero, he can’t exist in this boring world outside of fiction.
It’s a big suspension of disbelief that no one recognizes Clark Kent as Superman once he takes off his glasses (though that’s been persuasively explained in All-Star Superman). Why does Batman get a pass, especially when there are so many things about him that we have to accept at face value? Here are some reasons why Batman will (and should) remain a figment of our imagination.
When Bruce Wayne (Batman’s alter-ego) first started fighting crime, no one was intimidated by his normal appearance, despite all his years of training and knowledge. Bruce realized that he needed a symbol to strike fear into criminals, and scare them into submission even before the first move. So he decided to dress up like a giant rodent, and somehow that worked.
Think about it: would you take anyone dressed in a costume (with pointy ears) seriously? Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins showed a Batman who presented himself as less man and more fearful supernatural figure, through artful use of location, gadgetry, and well-timed appearances.
It’s a realistic approach that won’t work forever. The more Batman fights crime, the more he exposes himself, the more people will realize that he’s just a guy in a costume. Any impression created by initial encounters would be dispelled.
On the fourth or fifth time Batman makes an appearance, the criminals would simply charge and overwhelm him. He’s just not that scary as just a man wearing a costume. Remember The Dark Knight Rises, the film that came after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? Bane defeated Batman in their first meeting not only through pure strength, but by dismissing the Batman mystique. That will happen more often for a real-life Batman.
A key to Batman’s success is the rapport he shares with Commissioner Gordon, the head of the Gotham City police. Through Gordon, Batman can investigate crime scenes, interrogate villains, and participate in other activities facilitating his vigilante work. Think about that for a minute. Would any official, elected or appointed, ever work with a vigilante?
There are valid reasons why vigilantism is illegal: a society where anyone can enforce the law leads to a might-makes-right situation where those with the bigger stick make the rules. The lack of due process is very suitable for medieval times.
Yes, Batman in the comics is a very intelligent and resourceful individual, who is better trained and more effective than the typical Gotham Police officer. However, there’s a more practical and political reason why authority figures wouldn’t work with Batman, and would seek to remove those who support him from power.
Imagine if there’s really a Batman who puts criminals away better than the police can. People would start losing confidence in their public officials, undermining these officials’ authority. So it’s in their interest to get rid of the costumed hero as soon as possible. That’s why in the real world, you can’t expect a commissioner to work with or even tolerate a Batman—or any vigilante for that matter.
Within the comics, Batman is known for his martial arts prowess. His years of experience and training let him win against mobs of criminals, no matter how many or skilled. Real-life fighters know however that quantity always trumps quality, and it’s best to run when outnumbered.
That’s because even the best martial artists know that no matter how good you are, no matter how much you’ve practiced, it only takes one mistake for an enemy to gain an advantage. When fighting several people at the time, the chance for an opening increases significantly.
In real fights, losing means you’ll end up gravely injured, dead, or worse. So a real-life Batman who takes on an entire gang may win the first few fights. Yet as criminals become more smart about dealing with him, Batman will find himself overpowered, unmasked, probably tortured, and finally killed.
This is related to #8. How can any criminal who adopts a flashy gimmick be taken seriously by other criminals and henchmen he would want to work with? Comic book Batman faces off against criminals who intentionally share clues about their next move, go for the Alice in Wonderland vibe, indulge their sociopathic tendencies while cackling like idiots—while being as visible as possible.
Real criminals (or at least successful ones) are quiet and discreet. They stay underground not because they fear some guy in a costume, but the police and public prosecutors.
A real-life Joker’s outlandish appearance and instability would be considered a liability within criminal circles and an easy catch for law enforcement. Even if he avoids initial attempts to kill or arrest him, more people and resources would be thrown into the problem until it’s solved.
Why do superheroes wear capes? For those who participate in hand-to-hand combat regularly (like Batman) it’s a liability, something that enemies can grab and use to control your movement. In the comics, Batman’s cape provides protection against fire, hardens into a glider, and hides the hero’s movements underneath so that enemies won’t know what he will do next.
Yet all those benefits are possible without a cape, such as a glider that folds up into a pouch on the back, or a close-fitting fire-retardant suit. And why would you need to hide your movements underneath a cape, when you already operate in the dark? A cape is just too much a liability in a combat or high-movement situation, and can lead to a humorous end.
It’s a simple process of elimination: Who has all the free time in the world to fight crime? Probably people who don’t have to work, most likely someone with a lot of money. What about Bruce Wayne, that billionaire we always see in the news and the owner of the richest company in the city? Are you sure he’s really that shallow and conceited? It could be an act to hide something, like you know… his secret identity as Batman!
Let’s confirm our suspicion. Let’s stake out his mansion and the Wayne Foundation building the city. Maybe we can take photos of Batman whenever he meets Commissioner Gordon on the top of the police headquarters, and compare those to photos of Bruce Wayne. Why should we do all that, you ask? Well, that mob boss offered a large reward for Batman’s identity, and I intend to collect.
Batman is portrayed as the peak of human ability, at least in physical terms. He can fight off groups of enemies night after night, even while recovering from horrendous injuries. His busy life as a shallow “billionaire playboy” and vigilante means he has little time for sleep. Even the best athletes in the world can’t perform at their peak without proper and regular rest. Why would Batman be any different, especially when he constantly suffers injuries?
Fans would argue that it’s Batman’s mental reserve that keeps him going. He’s out to avenge the death of his parents, and minor things such as physical limitations aren’t enough to stop him. Yet there’s a point where mind over matter is no longer enough, when even the most relentless personality is failed by muscles that literally tear because they’re so worn out.
The fictional Batman has a multi-decade career of putting away criminals. A real-life Caped Crusader would’ve burned out and ended up in a coma within a month.
In the comic book world, Batman is legendary for his ability to anticipate any situation. He even keeps some kryptonite handy in case he needs to take down a Superman-gone-rogue, while cosmic beings like Darkseid have fallen prey to Batman’s thorough planning.
In 2008’s Batman R.I.P., a criminal organization manages to drive Bruce Wayne insane, having figured out his secret identity as Batman. However, they didn’t count on Wayne’s previous creation of a “backup” personality that kicked in once he lost touch with reality. This “Batman of Zur-En-Arrh” lasted long enough to get Wayne into a final victorious confrontation with the organization’s leader. That’s how prepared Batman is.
Yet we all know that it’s impossible to anticipate everything that can go wrong in real life. And even the best kind of preparation can’t account for the unpredictable nature of Murphy’s law, or whatever preparations other people have taken. What if the backup personality refused to give control back to Wayne?
In comics, Batman always wins because he’s always a few steps ahead of everyone. Very possible if you’re playing chess, which is a controlled environment where all the variables are known. That’s not the case with the real world.