Tag Archives: hero

What Batman Means to Me.

In honor of the 75th Anniversary of Batman, I’ve decided to write about my favorite hero of all time, The Caped Crusader.

"You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?" [image prop. of Warner Bros.]

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” [image prop. of Warner Bros.]

One my fondest childhood nerd memories was when I went to see Tim Burton’s 1989 classic (and I legitimately mean that), Batman, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. I was only six or seven at the time, but for me it was a life-changing experience. The moment when he was holding the purse-snatching thug over the side of the building and the thug frantically asks, “What are you?”, and Gotham’s Dark Knight replied in his fearsome, non-just-gargled-glass tone, “I’m Batman.” He then tossed the terrified scumbag back to the roof and leaped off into the shadows of the city. I had goosebumps when I first experienced that scene and have every time since then. That was the moment when I knew Batman was my superhero, the hero that would forever be the paramount of all heroes. None would ever compare to him and none have, save for The Doctor, who could ever only tie with him.

Just in case you need your memory jogged, this is the moment:

Growing up, I was a Batman fanatic. I had toys, I had t-shirts, I had comic books and anything else I could get my hands on. I was obsessed. I used to run around the yard or the playground pretending to be Batman. I would sit and watch reruns of the ’60s Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward. When I received an original Game Boy for Christmas one year, one of the first games I got was Batman: Return of the Joker. I almost wore out the cartridge playing from playing it so much. I lost count of how many times that I beat the Joker. I could not get enough of Batman.

He was the best kind of hero: incredibly intelligent and clever, strong, agile, trained in many styles of martial arts, and resourceful. He was rich, which when I was a kid, was freaking sweet. He was a detective, using his brains to solve crimes instead of running around beating the confessions out criminals. He had the best costume in comic books. And he didn’t kill, which I tend to disagree with every now and then, but it’s an admirable gesture. My favorite thing about him was that he was human. He wasn’t a super-powered alien or a robot or a god, nor was he given powers by some sort freak accident. He was just a regular guy using his brain and the gadgets he made to clean up the streets of Gotham.

Batman: The Animated Series [image prop. of Warner Bros.]

Batman: The Animated Series [image prop. of Warner Bros.]

Throughout the years, my admiration has never wavered, never faltered. Even with some less than desirable mishaps in the adaptations of the character (Batman & Robin), I’ve always stayed true. Thankfully, there have been more good than bad when it comes to Batman on the big and small screens.

For example, Batman: The Animated Series, which is widely regarded as the best adaptation of the Dark Knight ever to be created. I wholeheartedly agree. The superior writing, the phenomenal animation work by Bruce Timm, and the outstanding voice acting from Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) that will forever be ingrained into the memory banks of every fan of the show. If you haven’t watched every episode of that entire series at least once, you haven’t truly lived. I mean seriously…what have you been doing with your life?!

Here’s one of my favorite episode’s, Joker’s Favor:

Batman TAS – 1×22 – Joker’s Favor

Most, if not all, of the other animated version have been exceptionally entertaining but none so much as Batman: TAS. It’s quite difficult to live up to its perfection. The Batman, Batman Beyond, The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2, and pretty much any other animated version that came out were all done remarkably well, especially Batman Beyond. It was essentially a sequel to TAS, but its story took place in a future Gotham where Batman had become to old and broken to continue on. He had hung up his cape and cowl and chose to retire until a young man by the name of Terry McGinnis came along and took up the mantle. Once again, the series was blessed with excellent writers, stories, characters, and voice actors, which makes this series a close second to the greatness of TAS. Will Friedle (Eric Matthews from Boy Meets World) was a fantastic choice to voice Terry. Beyond is another series that needs to be viewed multiple times just because it’s that good. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, an animated movie continuation of the series, is a top notch choice for multiple viewings. For a children’s animated film, it was actually somewhat disturbing, but not in a bad way.

The movies were another story though. They started off really well and then descended on a downward spiral with each sequel. Tim Burton brought Batman to life in 1989 with the first of two films (Batman Returns being the second), starring Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. Keaton’s Batman is my absolute favorite version of the character. To me, he was the perfect Bruce Wayne and Batman. He was dark and menacing, charming and aloof, heroic and fearless, all when needed to be. The films were dark in their tone, just as they should’ve been, and the villains were amazing: Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Danny DeVito as the Penguin created three of the best villains ever to grace the screen.

Then 1995 came along, Tim Burton and Michael Keaton didn’t want to continue doing the films, so Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer took over as director and star, respectively. Things changed rather quickly with Batman Forever. The scenery was dark but not as dreary, everything turned neon and bright, and the villains became a little more over the top. They introduced an older Robin, changed Harvey Dent from black to white, and cast Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Actually, Carrey’s version of the Riddler was one of my favorites. Yes it was a bit over the top, but if you pay close attention, it’s not hard to tell that it’s a homage to Frank Gorshin’s version from ’60s series. I don’t hate this film, I rather enjoy it.

Now as for 1997’s Batman & Robin, that’s a whole ‘nother story. I despise this poorly-written, over-acted, over-the-top, campy, cartoonish piece of trash with all of my being. George Clooney became Batman, Alicia Silverstone became Batgirl (and also Alfred’s niece, not the Commissioner’s daughter), Uma Thurman hammed it up as Poison Ivy, Bane became a mindless henchman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger took a huge dump on my favorite Batman villain, Mr. Freeze. HUGE DUMP. I have never been so appalled by a film in all my life, and it’s mostly because of his performance. It makes me sick just thinking about it.  This film is such a blemish on the film history of Batman that most fans, including myself, completely disregard it as part of the series. It makes Phantom Menace look like Citizen Kane.

Awful. Just awful. [image prop. of Warner Bros.]

Awful. Just awful. [image prop. of Warner Bros.]

Luckily, eight years later, Christopher Nolan came along and rebooted the films with Batman Begins. In doing so, he also restored my faith in cinema as well as humanity. This film essentially brought Batman out of the comic book and into the real world. Nolan gave the Batman mythos depth and grounded it in reality, making viewers feel as Batman was flesh and blood and not some cartoon character. Begins was the start of one the best film trilogies ever, followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Christian Bale did a remarkable job with the characters of Batman and Bruce Wayne, although his Batman voice did need a bit of work. He was able to capture the character in a way that rivaled what Keaton had done before. And with TDK, we were graced with the greatest interpretation of The Joker that we may ever see, thanks to the late Heath Ledger. Such a sadistic and homicidal, yet still hilarious, version that even Jack Nicholson’s version pales in comparison. And I will fight anyone who says differently (not really though). It was a sad day when Nolan declared that he would not be continuing with the series after the third film, after he had done such amazing things with it already. An even sadder day came when it was announced that Ben Affleck would be taking over as Batman, but that’s a rant for another time.

And let’s not forget about the games, mainly just the Arkham series, because pretty much every other Batman game has sucked. Except for Batman: Return of the Joker for the original Gameboy, of course. If you want to experience what it’s like to be Batman but don’t have billions of dollars to buy all the gear and don’t feel like getting the crap kicked out of you, then play the Arkham series. Well written, well designed, and they brought back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill! Truly some of the best games ever made and worth every minute you’ll spend completely engrossed in them.

But I think I may have gotten off topic… What Batman means to me. For me, and I know this may sound corny, Batman has always been a hero. He’s a sign of hope in even the most grim of situations. A light in the darkness, if you will, even though he dwells in the darkness. He’s justice when there is none, courage in a city that is drowning in fear, strength even when the world breaks your back and leaves you for dead. As a kid, when I was afraid, pretending to be him or asking myself “What would Batman Do?” helped me to overcome a great deal of fear. Some might say there are other real heroes to look up to, but to me, he was real. He was the hero I needed in the worst of times. He was a mortal human who fought a great deal of injustice and super-powered villains and never faltered. He just kept fighting. He’d keep going if it killed him. He was and always will be a great protector. And in my opinion will always be a greater and more powerful hero than Superman ever could be. The fact that he could die at any moment, be killed by any foe he faces, and yet he continues fighting and protecting and making sure justice is served, without killing, is what makes him so incredible. Out of his greatest tragedy (the murder of his parents), he has gathered the courage and strength to become the greatest hero that Gotham, and the world, has ever seen. And because of that he has become the one of the greatest heroes many in the real world, including myself, have ever seen.

To me, Batman is courage, strength, hope, determination, intelligence, kindness, justice, and so many other wonderful things that have helped make me the person I am today. And I will continue to use what I have learned for the rest of my days. I will pass this knowledge on to my children and I will teach them about the greatness of Batman and how truly spectacular he is and what they can learn from him. He will forever be a part of who I am.

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What Makes a Hero?

I’ve been thinking about heroes and heroism a lot recently. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally gotten back into reading more fiction (my day job requires a lot of reading, and reading “for fun” quit being fun for a little while), or maybe it’s because I’m also reading about the American Revolution, but it recently struck me that the virtue of heroism has captivated the human race since we first started telling tales of gods, monsters, and their offspring.

The first heroes were demigods, and the Greeks often revered them in their worship. I’m sure we’re all familiar with Heracles, Achilles, and Perseus. The original heroes were masters of all things martial. If something needed killing, they could do it. Their prowess with weapons and war were far beyond the skills of any mortal warrior.

Things starting changing, though, and the term “hero” began to apply to those of high moral virtue. St. Augustine first began calling Christian martyrs heroes over 1,600 years ago.

In my opinion, a hero is closer to a martyr than a man of martial prowess. Instead, a hero has a sense of altruism. Sure, there can be martial prowess there, but I think a hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice all in order to benefit others.

Batman and Robin

Note: Robin wouldn’t have died if Batman had offed the Joker the first dozen or so times he escaped. The Joker has killed over a THOUSAND people.

Take the Batman, for instance. By all accounts, he reminds us of the classical hero. No one can match his fighting prowess. He can out think and, more importantly, out fight all of his enemies.

But, where is his sacrifice? Sure, he’s lost a few friends along the way, but they probably didn’t have to die. Have you noticed how many people that the Joker has murdered? Have you also noticed that the Joker always gets out of Arkham Asylum to kill again? Honestly, I think Batman would be more heroic if he was willing to sacrifice his own morals in order to save countless lives. But, he isn’t.

Besides, you could argue that the Dark Knight is absolutely terrible for Gotham City. He works outside the law to catch criminals, but then relies on the corrupt system that he eschews while capturing the bad guys in order to prosecute the criminal. I’ve actually never had the sense that Bruce Wayne really cared about the people he was protecting. Instead, he fights crime to make himself feel better. I find him living in a perpetual martyr fantasy.

And don’t even get me started on Superman.

So, which fictional character do I consider a hero? Frodo Baggins.

Though Frodo begins as the unwitting hero, by the time of the encounter on Weathertop and his healing in Rivendell, we find Frodo to be a hobbit of great courage.

From the council where they were trying to figure out what to do with the Ring:

“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”

Frodo shows courage, even in the face of the unknown. His mission is to save the Shire, but as he works to complete his mission, he begins to change. By the time he reaches Mordor, he has already gone through so much tribulation that he can barely walk on his own. His reasoning is certainly off, for he abandons Sam in favor of Gollum. By the time he succumbs to the Ring and Gollum falls into Mount Doom, he is basically a shadow of his former self (tragically ironic, since he has a Morgul blade piece embedded in his body).

Frodo saves the Shire, but he is forever different. The Shire begins to shun him in favor of his hobbit buddies. Merry and Pippin leave the Shire a little bit immature, but come back as powerful, confident adults. Sam also comes back with some worldly wisdom and a sense of confidence (demonstrated by his asking Rosie Cotton to marry him).

But, Frodo is basically shunned into seclusion. He spends his time working on his book while his friends get a lot of the glory for saving the Shire. Frodo doesn’t feel like he can ever belong. And he can’t. He’s fundamentally changed. Perhaps he has the fantasy novel form of PTSD. The battle of wills with the Ring (which he lost, by the way) has broken him.

This will make me cry every time. Even when I read the books.

This will make me cry every time. Even when I read the books.

And that’s what makes him heroic.

He had an easy life. He was rich, cared for, and lived in an Englishman’s paradise. And because he loved that life so much, he saved it, and realized he could never again be a part of it. Then, he leaves Middle-earth forever.

As it turns out, Frodo wasn’t up to the challenge, and that’s what makes him such a great hero.

As I reflect on that, I think of the ending of Harry Potter. Did you ever notice that Harry is virtually unchanged by the events of the Harry Potter books? At the end, we see him married, with children, and probably a wizard celebrity. How does one die and not remain unchanged? How is one so closely connected with the greatest evil of his generation and not be fundamentally changed by it? I find that Harry’s magical journey is actually diminished by the fact that a happy ending was required.

So what makes a hero? In my mind, courage, will, and altruism are what is needed. As my son’s favorite show Jake and the Neverland Pirates would say, “the strength to be a friend.”

 

So, what do you think makes a hero?

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