Batman: A Lesson in Support

Pulp Philosophy

There aren’t going to be any Saturday posts for a while, because I need to focus my energy on my job hunt, which means easing up my writing load. Because I’m a content nerd, I’ll be writing about my job hunt and the things that I’m learning there on my website, you can get more interesting stuff there, but the Saturday logic posts will be going away for hopefully not that long.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these, but I want to do some more of them and this has been percolating for a bit. It’s also appropriate, seeing as it’s Suicide Prevention Week. I read a lot of Batman in second year, and I mean a lot. Gotham Knights, the Dark Knight Returns, and basically every issue of the regular Batman comics. It was something fun to read in between essays and philosophy texts, for the most part. And I like Batman. he’s a nice guy, and he has some thing to teach me beyond the fact that the best reaction to a tragedy is to dress up in a costume and punch muggers until they cry. One of these is that you can’t go it alone. Batman, whether he knows it or not, needs people around him that care about him and support him. ¬†

BatmanOne of the most common themes in Batman is his isolation, and his need for support. He feels the pain of his parents’ death keenly. It’s what drives him to put on a bat suit and run across rooftops every night, and it isolates him. He thinks that no one understands what he’s going through, and he might be right. But his mistake is in thinking that because no one understands his pain completely, that no one can help him. This is a common theme in Batman, both in the movies and the comic books. He struggles with his identity as Bruce Wayne, and pushes away the people that want to help him, but he also looks for like-minded people and reaches out, when he can find the presence of mind.

Robin

Robin, Batman's sidekickRobin is a great example of this, a colourful sidekick that reminds Batman of the lighter side of life. The first Robin was Dick Grayson, a young acrobat whose parents were murdered on the trapeze, and it’s easy to see why Batman moved toward him. Here was a young man who could understand him and his mission, and be a partner. There’s a lot of reasons for the character to exist, but one of them is because Batman is lonely. He sets himself apart from other people, and harbours a big secret that he can’t share. He can turn to Robin both in his life as Batman and as Bruce Wayne, and talk with someone who really gets it, even when they fight. After Dick Grayson has grown out of being Robin and into Nightwing, Batman remarks once that Dick’s better than he is. He doesn’t struggle wit the secret, and he has real relationships rather than using his secret identity as a mask.

After the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, Batman starts to come unglued (the state of Batman’s sanity can often be judged by how recently he’s shaved). Tim Drake, a brilliant young man who figured out Batman’s identity on his own offers to become the next Robin because, he says, “Batman needs Robin.” He needs someone to keep him from falling into despair, and to remind him that there’s other things in his life beyond fighting crime. Robin is his best friend, his partner, and serves has his connection to the real world.

Alfred

The other fixture in Batman’s life his Alfred, the Wayne family butler. A friend of Batman’s father, Alfred practically raised him after his parents died, and helps him in his nightly pursuits, albeit sometimes reluctantly. Michael Caine plays this role brilliantly in the new films, acting as a confidant and partner in crime, so to speak. Alfred Pennyworth, Batman's butlerWhere Robin exists to help Batman, Alfred wants to help Bruce Wayne. He can’t imagine what Bruce has gone through and doesn’t try, supporting him in all of his endeavours. Batman has isolated himself from Alfred more than once, and it almost always involves a retreat from the real world into the Batcave, his need to fight crime consuming him.¬†Batman needs Alfred to remind him what the waking world can offer, and that he can still do a lot as Bruce Wayne. Alfred shows him that someone who doesn’t share his pain can still believe in his mission. Alfred’s not in it to fight crime, or to lash out at the world, but because he supports Bruce Wayne unconditionally.

Batman has lots of other people in his support network. Commissioner Gordon, Oracle, Superman, Leslie Thompkins, the more avid a Batman reader you are, the more you can find. the important thing about them is that these aren’t just contacts he has, or people he depends on to fight crime. These are people he leans on for emotional support as a person. He doesn’t always listen to them, and they fight when he takes them for granted, but in the end he seeks these kinds of people out because he knows he can’t go it alone. He’s the world’s greatest detective, a martial artist without peer, a captain of industry, and an Olympic level athlete, and he still has people he needs to lean on. Not just leans on for the benefit for the narrative, or because he feels bad for them, but because without them his life makes less sense.

If he needs people like that, there’s no shame in us needing them. We worry sometimes, about who we can look to, who can be our Robins and our Alfreds, and about what having those people says about us. But all it really says is that we’re human. It says that we’re stronger together than we could be apart. Of course, Batman’s a fictional character with fictional confidants. People are more complicated. There are things that get in the way, but his story tells us about the kind of people we want to be able to turn to. It can also tell us about the kind of people we should be when people turn to us. Are you someone’s Robin? Someone’s Alfred?

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