Re: Batman-"the most realistic" superhero?
Every hero who ever lived -- from the time of Heracles and Achilles down to Superman -- are heroes because they've achieved something superhuman and have gone beyond the call of duty and the ordinary to accomplish their feats. But each of them has to have something that makes them relatable to those who are listening to their story. I personally believe all hero-myths speak of human mortality, and so their humanity, whether in jeopardy or not, always has a strong role in it. This is something that comic-book writers often forget in their never-ending zeal to indulge in fantasy, It's not a crime since that's also what happened to the early myth-makers -- but I think that with such heroes what you essentially have is a pure speculation about the human condition -- what happens when someone is exposed to such extreme circumstances, or what happens to our humanity when faced with such extremities? Our heroes answer that and they give us hope.
But just as Heracles died of a poison, Achilles had his weak heel, and Superman has Kryptonite, these heroes are equipped with vulnerabilities to show that at the end of the day they are just as vulnerable as us -- they are just as human. I wrote an extended answer in the article on my sig but the gist is this: Batman is the most realistic because among all the superheroes his "weakness" is reflected in the very clearly articulated fact that he's a human being.
On that note, yes he comes from a long tradition of pulp figures like Zorro, the Shadow, and the Phantom, but those are aspects that make him superhuman. His humanity also lies in the fact that he's a detective and he uses his intellect and rationality to solve these absurd villains and mysteries. His realism comes from his detective background.
Now does that mean he's a character of the realist literary genre? Not necessarily, and with 70+ years of history you can't just say he's from one genre with so many stories being told for him. But he does come from a relatively more realistic starting point than say Superman or Wonder Woman. The answer is yes -- Batman, in my book, is the most realistic superhero, and with the recent film trilogy this is made even more explicit. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have his share of urban legends and surreal aspects. The answer is that compared to others, his role has always been to solve the surreal. When compared to others he's much more realistic than we give him credit for. Fundamentally so since with Batman (just look at that name!) you have an immediate juxtaposition between the real and the surreal -- the human and the mythical. And THAT is what makes a true hero-myth last.
The same can be said for Punisher and Kick-ass, but they lack that brilliant juxtaposition. They don't have the surreal that compliments the real in their stories or starting points. They are purely fantasies of ultra-violence designed to speak about vigilantism that a character like Batman has already answered. I see the Punisher as a Batman copy-cat, no offense, but it's the same imaginative strand that created Bruce Wayne but only amped up to 60 for the sake of gore and blood. That existentialist argument about Frank Castle's mission is a case that can be made for any other character ever created. While Batman did start off from the Shadow and Phantom and the rest, at least he served to correct things there -- characters like the Punisher and Kick Ass go a step backward and embraces the violence that they were meant to oppose.
In the end, Batman really lasts in our imagination because he comes so fully-formed as a new face of heroism. In the superhero tradition he starts the animal-motif while still being realistic. It's something that we ought to give him credit for.
THE JUSTICE BULLETIN published some of my thematic analysis on the symbolism in Nolan's superhero saga.
I call it Heroic Archetypes
. You can read the parts on Batman Begins
in the following links:
; pt 2
; pt 3
; pt 4
; pt 5
; pt 6
; pt 7