By Kevin J. Kessler
The desire to be a super hero is inherent in us all. We daydream of power and promises of justice and a noble cause for which to dedicate our lives. As I sit here trying to drown out the sound of my wife watching Downton Abby, I find my mind pulled back to those school yard arguments over who gets to be which super hero. What always struck me as odd, even at such a young age, was the desire most people have to be Batman.
Don't get me wrong, Batman is the coolest super hero on the planet, and likely my second favorite, after Superman. The suit, the gadgets, the vehicles, persona, and unparalleled ninja skills make him a truly compelling character, but to actually say "I want to BE Batman" is a curious statement that I believe most people don't actually think through. While Batman, in an of himself, is cool, to actually be him, to live the solitary life of the bat, would be a nightmarish living hell of an existence.
Batman does not want to be Batman. What he wants, more than anything, is to be Bruce Wayne. If you were Batman, for shy of a decade you lived a carefree life of childlike innocence and exuberance, raised by a loving couple, in the closest thing the United States has to a palace. Anything you wanted was there at your fingertips, but in almost every incarnation of the character, Bruce is never portrayed as a spoiled brat. You are the very definition of youthful joy, with the principles of two good people, who showered you with unconditional love. This paradisiac existence always exists in the back of your mind. It is the life left behind, the life you wish to return to.
Then, once fateful night, that life is ripped from you, suddenly and violently. In one universe defining moment, a shadowy figure steps out, deposited there by the darkness itself, and with two loud bangs, the light and happiness lovingly fostered over a decade is torn from your heart. Now, whenever you close your eyes, you will see the blood and pearls dropping to the pavement, the smell of stale blood and cordite forever stuck in the back of your nose. This dark rebirth ushers in the end of your life, and you begin anew, determined to spare anyone else that gut wrenching pain. But in the back of your head there's always that tug of conscience and self doubt. Is this the avenging actions of a defender of justice? Or is this simply a prolonged tantrum from a demented rich boy, trying to strike back against the world in a fit of revenge?
You spend years enduring the worst torments the darkest corners of Asia can throw at you, honing your body into a living weapon, learning to turn fear against those who pray on the fearful. You return to Gotham, no longer your home, now it is your hunting ground. You spend your evenings hunting down the rapists, murderers, and thieves, every smack of your fist against their faces drudging up the same pain you felt in that alley so many years ago. But still you champion on, fueled by so much anger and pain hidden behind a mask of grim stoicism.
Then, a new kind of criminal arises from the hellish muck of Gotham's underbelly. Demented cannibalistic monsters, masked menaces that match you, psychotic geniuses....and him...the one who matches you more than any other. The clown, the harlequin of hate, the most demented mad man who has ever walked the face of the Earth.
The clown who calls you "friend" treats murder as a game; a game your continued presence just seems to encourage. And in your deepest darkest moments, you realize that were you to to just stop, just hang up the cowl and live, the clown would vanish, unchallenged by the fun you represent in his life. But you cannot do this, because your own demented obsession keeps you trudging onward night after night, knowing your own presence breeds these animals as a reactionary throw of preservation by Gotham's underground. By simply existing and carrying on, you creates more death, unwittingly fostering more orphaned children, like you. But surely the ends must justify the means...right? This is the eternal conundrum of the Batman. One that undoubtedly plagues you every single night of your lonely life.
Sure, there are those that love you. There's the eternal companion, the butler. The man who has been a father figure to you far longer than your own father had. The man who loves you unconditionally. Your ally. Your enabler. Your own actions do as much to keep this man glued to your side as push him away. But you know that this man will be with you until one of you leaves this world permanently. He is your sole companion against the dark.
Then there are the children. The first, the one who is everything you've ever wanted to be. Your ward who represents that same childhood exuberance that once defined you. This child who underwent the same tragedy as you, but who came out whole on the other side. How is that possible? What does he posses that you don't? And then, one day, the boy leaves you. The boy became a man and made a name for himself without you, and continues to live two lives, embracing joy and companionship while continuing to persevere in your war on the night.
Then there was the failure. The second boy. One who had a bit of your own darkness within. So you sought to foster him the way you had the first boy. But it ended in tragedy. The clown took the second boy away. Brutally and with finality. Your greatest loss since that night in the alley. Then, he returned to you, but this one who had once been like you, now represents everything you have always stood against. A murderer.
The third child, your shining light. He came to you born not out of tragedy, but a simple desire to uphold justice. There's no vendetta, no darkness in him whatsoever. He is simply good. Pure. Perhaps the only one who can take your place, one day. But you know, deep down, you'll push him away long before that ever has a chance to happen.
Then the fourth, your own child. You wish you could bestow upon him that same love your sainted parents once gave to you. To fill him with what you once felt yourself. But you can't. It doesn't exist within you. And the son of the bat will never be the son of Bruce Wayne, because a dead man has no child.
The girl. She came to you with hope in her heart. She was the bright shining light for your entire "family" and the Clown took her from you as well. Trapped her within the remains of a shattered lifeless body. Extinguished that light and hardened her into a reclusive genius who dedicates her life fully to your war. She rebounded, finding her legs once more, miraculously, but threw herself back into your crusade on the front lines. How long before this second chance is squandered? How long before the wheel chair is replaced with a casket?
Deep down you know you care for these people. But you can't love them. You have no capacity for the emotion anymore. Perhaps the clown is right, as he often is. Perhaps the ones you're truly meant to be with are not your "Bat-Family" but your rogues, who continue to give you purpose and meaning. They are the closest thing you have to loved ones. They fuel your obsession, and without them you are without meaning.
Maybe you hold onto hope that one day you'll stop this endless battle. One day you'll be Bruce again. One day you'll hang up the cowl one final time and join those that love you, and finally truly be with them, as a person and not simply a general. But you know this is a pipe dream. You'll die alone. Either at the hands of some villain or punk who happened to have a lucky night, or in your cave, old and withered, still endlessly keeping your now silent vigil. Alone. Forgotten. As miserable as the day those pearls struck the pavement.
Before you say how cool it would be to be the Batman, think about this. Think about his inner struggle. Think about his lonely vigil and eternal sadness, and realize that It Sucks to be Batman.