happy birthday batmanAlmost exactly a year ago, I came out of the closet. I admitted it to the world and without reservations.

I was and remain a Batman devotee. Much to my surprise, a lot of The Imaginative Conservative‘s readers are also rather fond of Batman. So, in my weirdness (at least in this particular one), I am not alone.

Even more, I am a Batman snob. No “pows”or “ka-pows,” no silly side kicks in Disney-lite costumes, no Bat dances, and no Bat “shark repellants.” I do not want Adam West, Michael Keaton, or George Clooney as Batman. I do not want the Batmobile driving up to the Burger King drive-thru window to order something.

I want my Batman dark, serious, dedicated, persevering, swift, and, when necessary, brutal.

Happy 75th Birthday, Batman!

DetectiveComics27colorAs you might very well know, today is Batman’s 75th birthday. On this day, three-quarters of a century ago, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics 27 (cover date: May 1939). Here is the official write-up from the company, DC (Time-Warner) that owns the Batman name:

In celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary, DC Entertainment is partnering with thousands of comic book retailers and bookstores across the nation to celebrate “Batman Day” on Wednesday, July 23. As part of the festivities, fans who visit participating retailers receive a free, special edition of DETECTIVE COMICS #27, featuring a reimagining of Batman’s 1939 comic book debut, designed by Chip Kidd with a script by The New York Times #1 bestselling author Brad Meltzer.

In addition to the comic book, DC Entertainment is providing retailers access to an assortment of other collectibles to help in the celebration of “Batman Day” including a Batman 75th anniversary cape, bookmarks featuring essential Batman graphic novels and four Batman masks designed by comic book artist Ryan Sook spotlighting a variety of the character’s iconic looks from his 75-year history.

Masks include:

  • DETECTIVE COMICS #27: Batman’s first appearance, as drawn by Bob Kane

  • BATMAN ’66: inspired by the classic TV series starring Adam West

  • THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: As drawn by Frank Miller

  • DC COMICS – THE NEW 52: As drawn by Greg Capullo

Fans who visit comic stores on “Batman Day” also have the opportunity to purchase ROBIN RISES: OMEGA #1, an oversized one-shot story from bestselling creators Peter J. Tomasi and Andy Kubert and GRAYSON # 1 by Tim Seeley and Mikel Janin, which depicts the original Robin, Dick Grayson, in an all new monthly series in which the crime fighter turned super spy fights to clear his name.

Continuing the celebration, DC Entertainment is partnering with Random House to bring “Batman Day” to over 1,000 libraries across the U.S. on Saturday, July 26th.

On the digital front, the special edition of DETECTIVE COMICS #27 will also be available for free download on Wednesday, July 23rd at www.readdcentertainment.com and all digital platforms (Kindle, iBookstore, Nook, Google Play and comixology.com).

For the latest information and exclusive content celebrating Batman’s 75th anniversary, please visit www.batman75.com.

Obviously, it’s going to be a rather huge celebration.

The Bat-Man

Bob Kane

Bob Kane

The young creators, Bob Kane and Bill Fingers, most likely had no idea they were creating an American legend. How could they? And, yet, their The Bat-Man is recognizable three-quarters of a century later. The costume, the brooding attitude, the detective patience and perception, the noir, the vigilantism, the aristocratic stance toward the public, and the rejection of crony capitalism already exist in this very short 1939 story of a superhero devoid of any supernatural abilities. He possesses no power of flight like Superman or Wonder Woman, no supersonic speeds such as The Flash, or a magical ring such as the Green Lantern.

He possesses and wields self-discipline, intelligence, and fortitude in spades. He is fully human, and he uses every single one of his considerable abilities to the absolute height of their potential and, ultimately, to their perfection. He is an amalgam of St. Michael, Judah Maccabees, King Arthur, Leonardo DaVinci, Sherlock Holmes, Abraham Van Helsing, John Wayne, Howard Hughes, and Thomas Edison.

Not only is Batman’s real persona, Bruce Wayne, the ultimate American natural aristocrat, he is, I would forcefully argue, an Imaginative Conservative.

As to the first claim, imagine a fictional American character who has had more staying power. We might think of Uncle Sam (really just a cartoon representation), Natty Bumppo (certainly, far more Americans know who Bruce Wayne is), or a Nick Adams. But, I can pretty much guarantee that almost every American, educated to whatever degree, knows Bruce Wayne far better than any character created by James Fenimore Cooper or Ernest Hemingway. While this may or may not be good, it is true. And, though I would not mind if all Americans knew all three, plus characters created by Willa Cather and Flannery O’Connor, I can also think of much worse situations regarding our culture.

We each want to find our heroes somewhere. “Be yourself. . . . But, if you can be Batman, be Batman. Always be Batman,” as the popular internet meme runs. If it is through animated superheroes, so be it.

Bruce Wayne, Imaginative Conservative

As mentioned above, I also think that Bruce Wayne is an imaginative conservative, and, if he really existed, his Wayne Foundation would write rather healthy checks to The Imaginative Conservative at least four times a year. Two reasons should suffice for an explanation.

First, Wayne gives everything he has to the res publica, to the common good: his mind; his physical prowess; his money; his time; and, when necessary, his very life. He never stops, he never pauses, and he rests only when absolutely necessary. Though his obsessive desire for order stems from a childhood trauma—and would be regarded by any mental health professional as a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—Wayne has channeled all his anger, all his rage, and all his chaotic emotional state into a crusade for justice. He never complains. He acts.

Second, through fortitude as Batman and charity as Bruce Wayne, he relentlessly pursues order as a romantic who believes social stability and community possible. But, he also does so as a realist, one who understands that sin, vice, and evil never fully depart this existence. Instead, perversions of dignity and order mutate, fuse, blend, and evolve in ways sometimes too quickly to predict. Some evils, such as organized crime (this is an argument originally found in the works of St. Augustine), should be tolerated simply because they allow for a syphon, an attractant to the evil to moderate their foulness into ways merely decadent and predictable, thus diminishing or, perhaps, removing the danger from ordered and familial community. To be a puritan, that is, to believe that all evil can be eradicated, is to unleash unwittingly the forces of hell upon the evil and the good alike.

A Novice But Interested?

Nothing I recommend here is for kids. Some of it is acceptable for more mature kids, but generally good Batman—whether animated or not—is for adults. The best place to begin is with one of the more recent movies, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. It is opera for the cinema, a masterpiece in terms of plot, dialogue, and cinematography.

Batman_mask_of_the_phantasm_posterAfter Batman Begins, turn to anything Bruce Timm has done: Batman: The Animated Series; Batman Beyond; Justice League; and Justice League Unlimited. Mr. Timm is the best of all Batman writers, in my opinion. This is saying a lot, for there are a number of great Batman writers. Mr. Timm’s Batman is utterly western and virtuous, and the writer and artist creates a bizarrely effective art deco world of darkness and corruption. I have written about the genius of Mr. Timm elsewhere, and I am certainly not alone in my appreciation of this man. His 1993 movie, The Mask of the Phantasm (co written by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini), might very well be the second best Batman film ever produced.

The most recent series, Beware the Batman, is also excellent, but it is almost utterly dark. The animation, all 3D computer animation based on physical modeling, Gotham City’s hauntingly precise and clean urban-scapes play a role equal to any character’s. Bruce Wayne’s character is the most unbalanced of all incarnations, and he is moving toward a form of madness, allowing his dark justice to get the best of him. Alfred, in this incarnation, is a former British agent, and his slightly younger driver, Katana, a master swordstress from Japan, serves as his backup in the streets. Wayne’s greatest opponent is Anarky, a villain who demands absolute license against Batman’s desire for ordered liberty. I cannot praise this series enough, but whatever power-that-be decided to cancel it after only twenty-six episodes. Still, it rather intriguingly looks at order, disorder, madness, free will, fate, corruption, and power, especially through genetic engineering and crony capitalism. From what the producers gave us, Beware the Batman attempted to explore the soul of Bruce Wayne.

This post is dedicated to my oldest, Nathaniel, who loves Batman as much as his dad.

My favorite Batman artist and writer is Bruce Timm. In his various animated shows dealing with Batman between 1992 and 2006, Timm never failed to present Bruce Wayne and Batman as anything less than a modern Aeneas, a man challenging the fates to bring order and goodness to the world. I would go so far as to argue that Timm’s Batman is, arguably, the most virtuous and western character in modern fiction and drama. In this 75th anniversary tribute to Batman, Timm recreates the mystery and noir-aura of the Bat-Man of 1939 and 1940, when he still wore his pulp lineage rather strongly.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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