Thursday, October 4, 2018


Batman was my favorite super-hero when I was a kid. TV’s Superman (played so well by George Reeves) may have been my introduction to the super-hero genre, but, once I began buying actual comic books, it was Batman all the way.

Even before I decided I wanted to write comic books, I wanted to be Batman. I was even training myself. I had this shoe box containing weather maps I had clipped from the newspapers and envelopes filled with dirt samples from around our neighborhood. If the bully down the street committed a crime and left dirt behind, I would be able to prove it came from his yard. I don’t know what happened to that crime-lab in a shoe box. I’d like to think it will turn up someday and completely confound whoever finds it.

My appreciation for Batman extended into other media. As crude and as racist as it was, I was captivated by the movie theater revival of the original 1943 Batman serial in movie theaters. I watched the second 1949 serial as well. I’m pretty sure - I can’t be 100% certain given the state of my vast accumulation of stuff - that I own both those less-than-stellar cinematic efforts.

When Batman debuted on TV in 1966, I felt insulted by the series playing my hero for laughs. I still watched every episode and went to the movie released that summer. It was only in the past decade or so that I have come to appreciate the series was great fun and, in many ways, faithful to Batman and his comic-book mythos.

I enjoyed the modernization of Batman in the mid-1960s through the 1980s. Indeed, when DC Comics recruited me away from Marvel in 1976 or thereabouts, one of the main carrots dangled in front of me was writing Batman. Just one of the agreements with me that previous DC managements failed to honor. Thankfully, for me, it’s been a lot better dealing with the present-day management.

I started parting ways with Batman when - I assume - someone at DC read a book on aberrant psychology and decided my once-favorite hero was insanely obsessive. To further the madness, they retconned away his bringing the killer of his parents to justice. They didn’t stop there.

DC made Batman distrustful of every other hero. They made him manipulative and scarily secretive, devising plans to defeat every other hero if he deemed them to be threats. He refused to kill the Joker, even in “clean shot” situations, and even, on occasion, went to extreme lengths to keep the clownish killer alive. DC turned my once-favorite hero into a madman, as much a menace as his murderous foes. He deserved better.

There have been a few bright spots here and there, but the darkness had surrounded Batman and remains. Even when he seems to be playing nice with the other heroes and treating his otherwise abused “sons” with some modicum of respect, I keep waiting for him to snap. From what I’ve heard, that may not be too long. The current plan seems to be to send him crashing to rock bottom in an extended story arc. If rock bottom weren’t the character’s default setting - we’ve seen it again and again - I might be more interested.

I don’t hate Batman per se. I don’t care for what DC has done with him and I really don’t care for how they have diminished all their other super-heroes  while doing it. Batman has become the center of the DC Universe. All other DC super-heroes must revolve around him. As one astute reader put it, every other hero is Batman’s sidekick.

My latest beef with Batman concerns Black Lightning. I originally planned to write an entire bloggy thing about this, but I realized I can sum it up in one paragraph.

Black Lightning is a headliner with a hit TV series. He should not be regressed into yet another Batman sidekick. It is disrespectful to the character, to his creator and to his fans.

I loved Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo’s Batman and the Outsiders. That was 35 years ago. My motto for myself and my own Black Lightning work is “Always forward.” My Jefferson Pierce would never abandon his family, students, community and city - which is Cleveland, no matter what DC thinks - to answer “How high?” when Batman commands “Jump!” You either get that or you don’t, and it’s pretty clear not everyone at DC gets it.

Who is “my” Batman?

My Batman is a good man who suffered a horrible loss when he was a mere child. That loss drove him to fight crime and evil however he could. He was driven by those childhood horrors, but he still had a code of honor and a generous spirit. He even took in a young boy who had suffered a similar loss and helped that young boy bring the killer of his parents to justice. In doing so, Batman freed the boy of the demons that haunted Batman.

Then my Batman brought the killers of his own parents to justice. He exorcized his own demons in doing this.

Then he decided to keep being Batman. To keep battling so that no other innocents would suffer the loss he had suffered. In my mind, that’s when Batman went from avenger to hero. When he chose to stay in the dark to save others. I like my grim-but-sane Batman better than their Batman.

We’re not likely to see my Batman anytime soon. He would be too big a transition from the current Batman. However, when asked what I’d do with the current Batman, this is what I came up with:

Batman is logical and smart enough to realize he has a problem. He goes into rehab/therapy/treatment/whatever to help him handle his self-defeating issues. As part of his treatment, he starts working a version of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous tailored to his unique situation.

There is still a need for the Batman, but he can’t walk away from those who need his help. He chooses to stay in the darkness to help those who need his help. However, he would act in a more measured manner, striving to maintain his “sobriety” without giving into the darkness. It would be a constant struggle, but it is a sacrifice he makes for the good of others.

Batman would seek to make amends to those he has wronged. Not all of them would allow this. There are those who have been damaged too much by his manipulations and obsessions. He will fail from time to time. He will not give up or descend completely into the darkness. This is a battle worth fighting and, in committing himself to that battle, Batman could, once more, become my hero.

Not my favorite hero, mind you. That would be Black Lightning. But you probably figured that out already.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


  1. Batman too was
    My favorite and I
    Went downhill since Bane broke back

  2. Is that the approach Bruce Rimm and company used on the Batman Animated Series, sort of,,,?

  3. What I liked about Batman was that he used intelligence and scientific methods to defeat criminals. Yes, he had trained himself to be acrobatic and a skilled fighter -- but he escaped deathtraps by using his wits, and he foiled criminals by anticipating what they were up to and coming up with plans to defeat them. I especially liked stories where he used his skills to figure out who the criminal mastermind he was up against really was.

    But writing stories where the hero uses their brain to solve problems and win battles calls for more work on the part of the writer than writing stories where the hero wins by brute force. Gardner Fox, John Broome, Bill Finger and other silver age writers were willing to put in that extra work; but increasingly, as Batman moved into the later years of the 20th century, writers wrote stories that didn't call for research about the latest scientific technology and didn't call for figuring out clever ways Batman could escape a death trap or unmask a murderer or foil a criminal's clever plots. It was easier to write stories about emotional conflicts -- and they made Batman less and less rational, less and less competent, in order to have more and more emotional conflicts they could write stories about.

    I'd love to see a return to stories about Batman as the world's greatest detective -- stories which show Batman actually using his brains to defeat criminal masterminds -- but I don't think that will be happening any time soon.