At 75, Batman Still Seeks Justice, Not Revenge
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Over the last 75 years, there have been so many Batmans or would it be Batmen? There has to be at least one that suits you.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DARK KNIGHT")
CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Batman) I'm Batman.
RATH: I do love "The Dark Knight" batman, the comics of that name and the recent movies. But I'll forever have a soft spot for the sublimely camp Adam West Batman from the '60s.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATMAN")
ADAM WEST: (As Batman) As I surmised, an illegal projection boy cleverly camouflaged. Wow.
BURT WARD: (As Robin) Maybe the crooks left fingerprints on it.
WEST: (As Batman) Good thinking, Robin. Let's find out. To the Batboat, fast.
RATH: In celebration of Batman's 75th anniversary, we thought we'd take the opportunity to look behind the cape - does that sound weird? Glen Weldon is the author of an upcoming book about Batman. It's called "The Caped Crusade." Glen, welcome to the program.
GLEN WELDON: Thanks Arun. Great to be here.
RATH: So Glen, I'm not alone in loving Adam West, but I think that serious fans of the comic weren't too amused by the campy, tongue-in-cheek Batman, right?
WELDON: No. No. But in fact, when he first started back in 1939, he was a rip-off of the shadow. And he killed folks a lot, as many rip-offs of the shadow did back then. But then, very soon after he was introduced, they lightened the mood considerably because they thought the violence was a bit too much for kids. So he introduced Robin. It was a smart move from a marketing sense because all of a sudden Batman had a partner that was the age of his average reader. It also made sense from an editorial perspective because now we had a Watson to talk to because he was a detective, after all. And detectives need to kind of explain their deductive reasoning. So that's what Robin was for. But that lightened the mood considerably.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BATMAN & ROBIN")
CHRIS O'DONNELL: (As Robin) I want a car. Chicks dig the car.
GEORGE CLOONEY: (As Batman) This is why Superman works alone.
RATH: It's kind of surprising to hear you talk about the original Batman - how he killed people. The Batman I think of now - there is that darkness, but he doesn't kill people. He has that kind of higher morality about him.
WELDON: Batman as somebody who doesn't kill is the one line he will not cross is a core element of the character, has been for the past 74 years, if not the past 75. You know, I talked to a lot of bat-fans. All of them tell me the thing that makes Batman so cool for me - the reason I love this character so much is that he is relatable.
RATH: Well, if one of our colleagues put it here what's great about Batman is if he does something amazing, it's because he had to master the skill. He is like you and me in that way that he has to actually learn how to do stuff.
WELDON: Exactly. That's a big appeal to a lot of his fans. What they'll say is yeah, he had to develop the skills. It's about the human accomplishment. It's not about having superpowers. That overlooks something that I think is very important which is that he does have a superpower. It's wealth. And if you dig a little bit deeper when you talk to bat-fans, it's the oath. It's this idea that once his parents are killed, he doesn't seek revenge. That's what distinguishes a superhero from an action movie hero. He doesn't go out for revenge. It's not a vendetta. It's a crusade. He represents the idea of this thing that happened to me - never again.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BATMAN BEGINS")
BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) People need dramatic examples to shake them out of empathy, and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed, but it's a symbol. It's a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.
RATH: So Batman is huge now, obviously. Would you credit any of the particular incarnations as being responsible for that or is this just built up over 75 years of bat-history?
WELDON: If you talk to the editors and writers of the 1970s "Batman" comics, they were told that after the Batman television series, that the sales of "Batman" comics plummeted so much that they were in danger of being canceled. So that's why they came with this idea of what we now would call a reboot. Comics are now synonymous with the concept of a reboot. But back then, it really was the first and most important. And if they hadn't said OK, we're going to take this in a different direction, we're going to make him obsessed like his readers are obsessed, we're going to turn him into a nerd, then it's very possible that wouldn't still have this character.
RATH: Do you think that, you know, all those things that he represents about finding justice in a world that's pretty dark in a lot of ways right now. Is that why we love Batman so much?
WELDON: I think for some of the folks that I talked to who love the character very deeply, he is a story of somebody who suffers a terrible tragedy and then overcomes it by working on himself, but also by putting himself in the service of others in saying, this terrible thing happened to me, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't happen to others. That's an inspiring story. That will, that determination to say I will do what I can to make the world a better place not by getting revenge but by seeking justice. That's why he's still as relevant 75 years after he was created.
RATH: Glen Weldon is the author of "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography" and an upcoming book about Batman called "The Caped Crusade." Glen, thanks. This was fun.
WELDON: Thank you.
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