What have comic books and movies told us about Batman's physical abilities?
There's a quote from Neal Adams, the great Batman illustrator, who said Batman would win, place or show in every event in the Olympics. Probably if I were Batman's handler, I'd put him in the decathlon. Although Batman is shown in the comics as being the fastest and the strongest and all these other things, in reality you can't actually be all of that at once. To be Batman properly, what you really need to do is be exceptionally good at many different things. It's when you take all the pieces and put them together that you get the Batman.
How long would Bruce Wayne have to train to become Batman?
In some of the timelines you see in the comics, the backstory is he goes away for five years—some it's three to five years, or eight years, or 12 years. In terms of the physical changes (strength and conditioning), that's happening fairly quickly. We're talking three to five years. In terms of the physical skills to be able to defend himself against all these opponents all the time, I would benchmark that at 10 to 12 years. Probably the most reality-based representation of Batman and his training was in Batman Begins.
Why such a long training time?
Batman can't really afford to lose. Losing means death—or at least not being able to be Batman anymore. But another benchmark is having enough skill and experience to defend himself without killing anyone. Because that's part of his credo. It would be much easier to fight somebody if you could incapacitate them with extreme force. Punching somebody in the throat could be a lethal blow. That's pretty easy to do.
But if you're thinking about something that doesn't result in lethal force, that's more tricky. It's really hard for people to get their heads around, I think. To be that good, to not actually lethally injure anyone, requires an extremely high level of skill that would take maybe 15 to 18 years to accumulate.
What effects would all that training have on Bruce Wayne's body?
I looked up what DC Comics and some other books said (about Batman's physique). I settled on the estimate that Bruce Wayne started off at about six-foot-two and 185 pounds. I gave him a body fat of 20 percent (slightly below average) and a body mass index of 26. Let's say after 10 or 15 years, after he's become the Batman, he's weighing about 210 pounds and has a body fat of 10 percent. He's probably gained 40 pounds of muscle. His bones will actually be more dense, kind of the opposite of osteoporosis.
Are we talking freakishly dense bones?
The percentage change is actually quite small—maybe 10 percent. In judo, where people do a lot of grappling and throwing, you're going to have more density in the long bones of the trunk. In karate and other martial arts where they're doing a lot of kicking, there's going to be a lot higher density in the legs. Muay Thai (kickboxing) is a great example. They're always doing these low shin kicks. They try to condition the body by kicking progressively harder objects and for longer.
What about his reaction speed?
There is evidence that experts in something like football or hockey have an improved ability to perceive movement in time. In the book I use the example of Steve Nash throwing the ball, even though he can't see where the receiver of the pass is going to be. Experts are able to extract more information faster than others. It's almost like their nervous systems become more efficient.
To be clear, I'm not asking for a Batman that can beat Superman in a head up fight, because I know how that gets you Clark fanboys in a tizzy.
What I am asking for is a Batman that is superhuman by our standards. Based on our frame of reference, in a world with no aliens (yet), Batman would be the closest thing to superhuman just in terms of his feats.
As evidenced by the gifs of Lee and Ali, the feats they are performing are superhuman to us. They were at the peak of human conditioning and masters of their craft all while doing things that I'm sure 99.99% of the population could not.
Nolan's Batman was kind of underwhelming in this regard. Although the training montage with the League in Begins was made up of the kind of stuff that should have produced a high-peformance, olympic-level Batman, it didn't translate into his skillset as much as I would have liked it to when he actually became The Batman.
Balancing on wooden beams while taking blows from every direction to improve bone density and toughness is cool looking, but meaningless if he doesn't do anything cool once he puts on the cowl.