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Grey, Blue, and Yellow at the Center of a Bloody Universe

By DoctorDown

Batman is a character known worldwide. His iconic chevron of a black bat silhouette against an oval of yellow can be seen on t-shirts and lunchboxes all over the world. For the past 70+ years, The Caped Crusader has risen to high fame fighting his rogues gallery of nemeses page after page, cover to cover. It is these villains of his, this colorful band of conniving killers, which truly make Batmans panels shine. It is not just their colorful schemes and quirked personality traits, but their commonalities to our hero, that keep us intrigued. Bend Batman just one fraction of a degree, and you will see the mirror image of those whom he fights. As with any long running series, things change drastically over time. Characters, writers, artists, histories; everything is modified, altered, and rewritten by the pen that draws that issues lines. The Batman series is no stranger to this. All things, even down to the very nature and personality of the protagonist, have ridden a full spectrum of difference. At his inception in 1939 (Detective Comics #27), Batman was based of the serial, noir pulp fictions of the time, creating a Bogart double with a mask and a utility belt. He solved crime and savagely beat, maimed, and killed criminals in the name of justice with little remorse. It wasnt a SAW film, but it certainly wasnt Superman either. Batman was a hero penned in the vein of pulp characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow. By the time Batman received his own series outside of Detective Comics, his persona had changed. He had gained his kid sidekick, Robin, and had vowed not to

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kill or use a gun. By the end of WWII, Batman had adopted a postwar editorial direction that increasingly de-emphasized social commentary in favor of lighthearted juvenile fantasy. (Wright, p. 59) This was the beginning of an era that would last into the 70s, ending with the fall of the Batman television show staring Adam West. In the 70s and early 80s, many changes were made in an attempt to bring The Dark Knight back to his pulp roots. His costume had desaturated in color, he gained the dim, yellow oval behind his bat silhouette chevron, and his cases left the odd and strayed back to the path of detective stories. Still, the Batman series was failing, and would continue to do so until Frank Miller created the five-month series The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. It was in this year that long time series writer Dennis ONeil was promoted to the position of editor for the Batman comics. With the release of The Dark Knight Returns and Dennis ONeil in charge, Batman was revived. Within the next two years, most of the Batman series staples would be printed, of which include Year One, The Killing Joke, and the death of the 2nd Robin character in A Death in the Family. This established a grittier Batman that would be pushed, not just physically, but psychologically, to the very brink of his being. It stirred audiences, created some of the most acclaimed pieces in superhero comic literature, and established the Batman of modern day. Since its revival, Batman has encountered far more mental traumas than ever before that. Pre-Miller, Batmans greatest worries were mainly physical ones. Often times, it was simply a matter of escaping a trap or restraints and knocking out the outlandishly costumed villain with a well placed POW or WAM. If anything,

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the television show of the late 60s is the epitome of that. A bright color palette with comically sized bombs, moneybags with dollar signs on them, and a ridiculous catch phrase formula of Holy [current conversation subject]!, was the pathway to a lowgrade version of a highly touted detective. The Batman and his medley of adversaries were one-dimensional; shallow shadows of some of the rich histories given since. Between the late 80s pieces and the highly acclaimed, award winning, 1990s cartoon series, Batman: The Animated Series, the Batman Universe gained the level of depth it had been lacking for so long. Characters like Harley Quinn, the Jokers answer to Robin, were created, and early villains such as Mr. Freeze donned new looks, backgrounds, and personas. This gave a soul to the series and The Caped Crusader as well. With that soul, came enough psychological disorders to make Freud blush. The Batman series has received attention and analytical study from a mass of professionals with expensive degrees and long-winded doctorates, at the very least because every villain ends up in a mental ward instead of a prison. Batman has become as much about psychology at it started about sleuthing. With Superman, his strength, wit, and versatility will win the day, but with Batman, its something different. With Batman, a reader isnt there to watch the radiation infused boxing match, they are there to witness the Worlds Greatest Detective beat the foe with his mind. So what is it that gives Batman that depth? How is it that when a villain such as the Joker or Catwoman approaches the panel, greater adrenaline is pumped than

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when Lex Luthor or Sinestro do? Its because Batmans villains play on a different level of psyche than kill with robots or smash with magic hammer. The foes of the Batman series rattle Batman (and the reader) because they are a version of Batman. In almost every major villain Batman has, there is a piece of him. They are mirror shards of himself, and they would show themselves if Batman were ever to waver in his self-discipline only to a degree or two. Bruce Wayne grew up wealthy. Born into a family of great fortune to begin with, his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, was an extremely gifted surgeon who embedded positive moral values within his son through philanthropic deeds. If he were to have grown up with out the trauma of his parent drying tragically, perhaps Bruce would have continued along that path more confidently, but the trauma did occur. It could easily have been that after playing witness to his parents murder, Bruce Waynes emotions could have gotten the better of him. With a great deal of monetary fortune, he could have easily spent his days as his playboy bachelor faade would suggest. The Penguin is this shard of the mirror. The Penguin, born Oswald Cobblepot, is a villain based off of a nefarious aristocrat archetype. His signature appearance is usually a tuxedo, complete with a top hat, monocle, umbrella, and often a cigarette or cigar in his mouth. He sees himself as of the highest class and a superior in the human race. In ironic fashion, he is often deformed, or depicted with ugly and stout features, at the very least. He is short, fat to the point of round, bald or balding, and has a nose that sticks out a great length (all the better to stick up, I assume). In Tim Burtons Batman Returns (1992), his deformity goes as far as to give him flippers for hands.

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He is a view of what Bruce could have been. As a young man, Bruce had a great amount of money and a emotional burden to throw money at. He may not have had any deformities, but the wealth could have made Bruce ugly, it could have turned him into a high aristocrat that would have given Cobblepot a run for his money (pun intended). However, the Penguin, though one of the first, is not a very large Batman nemesis. His actions have led to murder, but it more often than not leads to crimes ranking in theft. In current chronology, he even assists Batman with underground information and runs a shady club more or less for the criminal world. As well as all that, he is probably the sanest of all Batmans foes. He may be deformed and suffer from severe megalomania, but he is in complete control and exerts a modicum of ration behavior unseen in most other villains. Carl Jung coined the phrase The Shadow Aspect or Shadow Self. He describes it as thus (Jung, Psychology):

We carry our past with us, to wit, the primitive and inferior man with his desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from this burden. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow. And if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together.

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If anything, Bruce Wayne has taken his shadow self, the primitive response to his desires and emotion, and has created Batman. He has found his cure through living with it; creating a purpose and a way to enact that purpose. This alter ego, this twin, this double, is Bruce Waynes way of dealing with the trauma of his parent being murdered right in front of him. Batman is a physical manifestation of this shadow self, and just as Bruce has done, so has Harvey (Smith, Batman).

Two-Face could be described as having a dissociative disorder; a person who literally is giving you two personalities. When someone begins to truly develop an alternative identity, or a true alter ego, we move from what may be the normal to something much darker; much more pathological. In fact, ultimately, quite psychotic.

This is Dr. Robert T.M. Philips, a forensic consultant, discussing the definitional sanity of the Batman villain known as Two-Face, a man who is literally two different entities split down the center of his body. Based upon Year One, The Long Halloween, and a few other pieces, he started out as Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent. He, Commissioner Gordon (Captain at the time), and Batman formed an alliance to bring down Gotham Citys crime. While prosecuting a criminal in court, Harvey is attacked by said criminal with acid, scarring his face permanently. This trauma is what creates Two-Face, a crime lord who decides his decisions based upon the flip of a scarred coin he received from his abusive father.

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The quote from Dr. Philips above describes Harvey Dent/Two-Face to the T. He is a split (literally) personality with an alternative identity which is a darker, psychotic being. Though he is primarily Two-Face, Harvey has been known to emerge as well. Alternatively, Harvey can be seen battling himself as Two-Face over various problems in multiple runs of the series. He is a character at ends with his mental being, and because of the severe trauma that is beyond comprehension, he has created a second half of himself to fall into. Take one more look at the quote from Dr. Philips on more time. Please, remove Two-Face and replace it with Bruce Wayne. They are interchangeable. In order to deal with severe trauma, Bruce Wayne created Batman. Batman is his alter ego. The question of Which is the true identity? could be easily brought up. Bruce Wayne anxiously awaits being Batman. It could be said that Bruce Wayne was lost as a child the night his parents were shot, and that he has been building Batman ever since. In issue #33 of Detective Comics, the origin of Batman is first revealed and as a child, Bruce Wayne steps up to his parents graves and proclaims by the spirits of my parents [I will] avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals. Without it even having a name, Bruce Wayne had birthed The Batman. How close is Batman to Two-Face then? In very obvious terms, Batman fights criminals, and Two-Face is a criminal. But, Batman is on the edge; he is teetering. At a time of incredible stress or further trauma, could he become a TwoFace of Batman?

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In the recent series Batman R.I.P, Bruce Waynes mind is crushed by the weight that his father may still possibly be alive and running an advanced criminal organization. He is attacked by the organization and buried alive in a coffin. He finally makes his way out, but not as Bruce Wayne, as Batman. He has lost all of his memories as Bruce Wayne, leaving him without an identity. All he knows is his training as Batman. One of DC Comics current co-Publishers, Dan Di Dio, has said, The reality is that the Batman persona is the true persona, in our opinion [] Bruce Wayne is the mask. Does that make it true? Has Bruce Wayne been swallowed whole by his alter-ego, leaving only a mask? Rabbi Cary A. Friedman, author of a book of life philosophy from Batman comics called Wisdom from the Batcave, has a retort to Dan Di Dio (Smith, Batman):

Which is the real identity? Is it Bruce, or is it Batman? And I think the really cool answer would be to say Oh, its Batman!, but I think that misses the point. What defines the character is the essential humanity that Bruce Wayne possesses.

Possessing this humanity is what separates Bruce Wayne from Two-Face. Whereas Two-Face has discarded his Harvey Dent humanity for the remorseless murderer, Bruce Wayne has drawn the hard line and separated his two states of being. He cant help but stay Bruce Wayne because even though Batman may be the avenger of his parents, Bruce is still the one who lost them. Bruce Wayne is whom Batman wants to retire and be. He is the one who asks advice from Alfred and

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allows another Robin into his family. In Alan Moores Batman one-shot, The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon (the then-current Batgirl) is shot and paralyzed from the waist down by the Joker. Batman goes to the hospital to see her, but when he calls out to her, he does not tell her its Batman, he whispers paternally, Barbara, can you hear me? Its me. Its Bruce. Batmans gallery of rogues is extensive. Throughout the chronicles of the worlds greatest detective and his stories, villains have been weaved in and out drastically. Mr. Freeze was originally a nothing more than a mad scientist who received his Ph. D. in freeze rays from Oxford, but when Batman: The Animated Series aired, he was changed. His back-story earned the show an Emmy. It is one of a man, Dr. Victor Fries, sent over the edge by love and heartbreak. He froze his dying wife to save her, but accidentally shattered her in the process and grew insane because of it. His objective thereafter was to kill everyone he considered to be the cause, and wouldnt you know it, the project was funded by Wayne enterprises. The similarities are extreme in this case: both Bruce and Victor have lost love ones and have sent themselves on a mission to take down the evil they believe caused it with their alter egos. It rings the bell harder when you consider what Jeffery Lieberman M.D. says concerning child Bruce Waynes guilt over his parents (Smith, Batman): Kids, even if they arent directly responsible for the event, generally personalize and take responsibility for the event. Both Bruce and Victor, in their minds at the very least, believe they are responsible for the deaths of the loved ones.

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Catwoman is another example. The difficult home life under a suicidal mother and an alcoholic father who hates that she reminds him of his wife leads to Selina Kyles running away. She gets caught up with prostitution and thievery, but once the thievery becomes more lucrative, she turns into a slightly Robin Hoodesque figure. Having murdered and being a thief in general, shes willing to cross lines that Batman will not, yet Batman rarely treats her as a villain. He sees himself in her. How similar they are is what leads to their emotional and sexual entanglements. As previously mentioned, Batmans list of adversaries runs quite long. However, there is one figure that goes beyond what all of the others can achieve or fathom. A figure that is pure demon. A nightmare made real, just for Bruce. This iconic foe is loathed vehemently by Batman, and made to be enraptured by him all at the same time. The Joker is a villain beyond villain. He is anonymous chaos. Loki in human form. He was established as the baddest of the bad in something so good, it could only have been penned by Alan Moore, The Killing Joke. The Joker had been around long before this one-shot graphic novel, but it was this piece that truly set the bar. The Joker had started out in the early issues of Batman, indeed, as a homicidal maniac. He committed murder and pranks, and often ended the issues with him in a situation where he surely must be dead, yet some how makes it out. In the Silver Age 60s, The Joker lost a lot of his gumpsh. He became less of a murderous lunatic and more of a prankster. The characters usage was lessened quite a bit until the

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mid 70s when Dennis ONeil and Neal Adams revived him back a the killer he used to be. It wasnt until The Killing Joke was created that there had ever been a reason to look at the Joker beyond that he enjoys killing people. The Killing Joke brought Batmans struggle with The Joker to light. It was less of Batman, and instead, it seemed more like Bruce Wayne in Batman attire. His defenses were lowered; he seemed defeated by The Jokers existence. The opening of the novel is Batman walking into Arkham Asylum to practically bargain with The Joker. The Joker has left a double in his place, and while Batman is talking reason into the fake, the real Clown Prince is out in the world. Unlike The Joker before this, he is not off in Gotham, killing at random. No, this is an instance of pure evil. It goes beyond crime because the Joker is targeting Batman; making it personal. He shoots Batmans partner, Barbara Gordon a.k.a Batgirl (albeit, probably without knowing), and kidnaps her father, Commissioner Gordon. Joker has his henchmen strip Gordon, and sends him through a torturous carnival ride when pictures off his naked daughter Barbara, as she lies with a gunshot wound on the floor of his home. The Joker makes it extremely clear that his intention is to show that anyone can be as insane as he is. Once Batman arrives, he saves Gordon who pleads with him to capture Joker by the book, because We have to show him that our way works! Batman finds the clown and begins beating on him, but hes also in the same, pleading dialogue as the beginning of the book. Hes asking Joker to let it end because if it doesnt end by choice, they will both end up killing each other. In a rare

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and serene moment, Batman tells The Joker that he will work with him to get over this, he will rehabilitate him. The Jokers expression is one that may agree, even putting Batman into his own hope. Alas, it will not be. The Joker turns around to tell Batman that he is sorry, it is too late for that, but that it reminds him of a joke. The final pages entailing the joke and Batmans reaction are included at the end, but the Joker tells the joke and Batman laughs. They end up laughing together and ending the book. The pure fact that Batman, The Dark Knight, had laughed at anything is unheard of. The fact that it was The Joker makes is almost impossible. Yet, it happened; Alan Moore made it so. Why would he do that? The entire concept is so foreign and uncharacteristic. The reason is there, and its staring everyone in the face. The Joker and The Batman are simply two peas in a pod. Batman has a strict moral code, he is fighting for a purpose, and he resolute. The Joker has no code at all, he has no purpose, and he is unstoppable. These two are polar opposites, so extreme in fact, that they are two sides of the same coin. They are yin and yang. Where as Two-Face lives in one body, this pair are each in their own. Alan Moore makes this ending because hes trying to show the reader that in this insane world of superheroes, super villains, space aliens, time travelers, etc., that they are both just as insane. As the author of Superman on the Couch, Danny Fingeroth, puts it (Smith, Batman):

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Batman says: Philosophically, we can acknowledge an imperfect world, we can acknowledge that we have to step outside the social norms, but that doesnt make the social norms meaningless. The Joker says: The presence of random injustice means that there is no justice. The fact that you can destroy innocence means there is no innocence. So, your lifeis a joke. [] The Joker isnt just threatening him physically, hes threatening Batmans existence.

The first part of the statement is literally Batmans motto. Batman is under the belief that even though this world they live in is wrought with crime, criminals, and crazies, that doesnt make it unsalvageable. In Batmans mind, he must keep the mentality that all he does is for a purpose. The Jokers part in this statement is not the opposite of Batmans, it is simply the neutralization of it. He takes the exact formula Batman just used in his logic, and decimates his motto. Joker takes away from Batman that which makes him Batman, his resolution, hence the last part. By threatening Batmans existence, Fingeroth isnt talking about his life, hes talking about his purpose. Batman is Bruce Waynes purpose for living. Bruce believes he can use the tool that is Batman to save others from the traumas that haunted him as a child. It is this sentiment, this mindset, that has kept Batman alive all these years. Without that, what is Batman? This is Jokers purpose. He is there to challenge Batman beyond physical, beyond mental, beyond fear, or money, or

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fame, or badges. The Joker is there to make sure that Batman stays in as much continuous trauma as possible, just as he is. That is where they are homogonous, for if The Jokers trauma were to end, he would be stop his murderous and criminal sprees, and his life would normal. If Bruce Wayne were to lose his trauma, then he would lose his greatest support; Bruce Wayne would lose Batman. Batman is a deeply methodical series. Though it has changed writers several times, it is the stories penned at the beginning of the Dennis ONeil editorial era that have created such richness. Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Jim Starlin, and all of the pencilers, colorists, and letterists in between are the one who created the base for this rich lore. A realm where a man with no super powers has pushed himself beyond super simply to block others from the pain that he felt as a child. While Green Lantern comics tout space tours and alien races, while Superman comics concern the wish for a larger-than-life hero to simply be normal, Batman is busy fighting for the cause hes chosen; battling forever against demons in his mind, personified out in the land, even if he is a mentally ill being, he paves the road for a salubrious haven.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY
Works Cited Batman Unmasked. Dir. Steven Smith. History Channel, 2008. DVD. Daniels, Les. Batman: the Complete History. London: Titan, 1999. Print. Jung, C. G. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung / [v.11] Psychology and Religion :West and East. New York: Pantheon, 1958. Print. Moore, Alan, Brian Bolland, and Richard Starkings. Batman: The Killing Joke. New York: DC Comics, 2008. Print. Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation: the Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003. Print.

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