I’ve heard a great deal of criticism over Batman v. Superman movie based on the idea that it doesn’t portray Batman for who he truly is. “He may be a mentally disturbed vigilante who beats criminals to within an inch of their lives, but he has a code, darn it.” While this is largely true, there is a much better reason to keep guns out of the hands of the Caped Crusader: it’s just lazy.
This is best illustrated by comparing the millionaire playboys of the DC and Marvel universes. Tony Stark is a billionaire tech genius who uses his vast resources to build things to allow him to fight crime. Same goes for Bruce Wayne. The difference between the two is largely one of scope. Tony Stark may have been driven to build his suit by the arc reactor lodged in his chest, but his ambitions are global. Stark very much strives for the Superman level of effectiveness with his armor, and he’s not outclassed even against cosmic-level enemies. Writing Tony Stark as an interesting character is all about his personal demons and foibles, and when done well, he is among the best Marvel has to offer.
Bruce Wayne has all of the resources that Stark has except, perhaps, the inventors intellect. The big difference is that Batman generally chooses not to use very much advanced technology except in certain specific instances, mostly for transportation and detection. Where Stark is defined mostly by his complex personality, Batman is defined much more by his approach to crime fighting. Bruce Wayne’s story is a simple one. He’s a hero born of revenge and an abhorrence to firearms — like the one that killed his parents. Batman is basically an Amish ninja, limiting himself mostly to light armor, a strong body, a Sherlock-ian mind, and a phenomenal mastery of martial arts. His “wonderful toys” are mostly just cars and grappling hooks.
Batman is an insult to criminals everywhere. They have all chosen the easy way out, casually using killing instruments to get their way. Batman beats them because he is willing to put in the work to be the best, and most of the fun of reading (or watching) Batman is seeing how he manages to defeat people who possess better, more deadly weapons. There is a reason that Batman ‘66 always ended with Batman trapped in some ridiculous cliffhanger: if he could just take out a gun and off poor Burgess Meredith, the show would be unwatchable.
Arguably, the best “gritty” Batman comic ever was Frank Miller’s early 80s run on Daredevil, and the best gritty Batman on-screen is arguably Netflix’s Daredevil. The sheer brutality and realness of the fighting exemplifies the challenge in what these heroes are actually trying to do. Batman is all about solving a mystery with his fists; the famous Daredevil hallway scene becomes positively boring if you add guns. For my money, the biggest failure of Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film isn’t Tom Hardy’s muffled voice or Bruce Wayne realigning his spine in a pit — it’s that Batman saves the day with a big ol’ helicopter. Batman didn’t have to be clever or strong or anything; he just had to fly a helicopter out to sea. Any idiot could have done that.
Most of us can agree that the best on-screen Batman is Kevin Conroy’s. The animated Batman solves mysteries, fights better and harder than all of his adversaries (even the super-powered ones), and is always in control. Even in later incarnations on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and even when faced with cosmic-level adversaries like Darkseid, Batman only resorts to the occasional exploding Batarang. In general, he’s out there sneaking up on people and punching them hard, after figuring out a solution only he could conceive.
Some of the laziest comics I’ve ever read are early 90s Punisher stories, because the Punisher is just a serial killer with a huge arsenal. It can be done as well as we’ve seen on Daredevil, but the tension in a Batman (or Daredevil) story is driven by opposition to the lazy Punisher ethos, and caving in to that ethos assures that you are writing a boring character. Batman does things the hard way. If you let him take the easy way out, you’d better be damn sure you’ve made Bruce Wayne as interesting as Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with someone even more boring than Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes.
The exception that proves the rule:
Article by contributor Paul Noonan.