Thomas O’Connor on whether Batman is becoming too tech-based…
Earlier this week, Zack Snyder revealed a first look at Batman’s new “tactical batsuit”, which the Dark Knight will apparently be donning in 2017’s Justice League. The new suit is something of a return to previous tendencies for Batman’s film iterations: less streamlined bodysuit and more armored and heavy-duty looking. This has been the norm for a while now when it comes to movie Batsuits, with even Tim Burton’s Batman wrapping himself in black rubber outfits back in 1989, setting the precedent for Batsuits to follow for the next few decades. It was only when Batman v Superman put Ben Affleck in a more traditional grey suit, much more form-fitting and mobile looking, that this trend showed any signs of being broken.
But alas, it appears as though Batman will be returning to the armored look, and this writer for one isn’t all that happy about it.
The problem with putting Batman in armor is, for a start, the need to then demonstrate the necessity of them, to show that he needs them. This means you wind up with a Batman who takes hits and blows that he really should be avoiding. Take, for example, the scene in Batman v Superman where an unnamed thug walks up to Batman in the midst of a fight, levels a gun at his head, and fires. Of course Batman is saved his armored cowl, but this then begs the question: if Batman’s cowl hadn’t been able to take the hit, would the guardian of Gotham have just been unglamorously executed by some random goon, his legend brought to an end by Johnny McNoname and a 9mm slug? Did Batman take that hit knowing that he could, or did the Dark Knight get sloppy? The recent Batman films are full of moments like this, when Batman gets shot or punched in the face or endures some kind of punishment that a highly trained combatant, especially one with such a long history of uber-competence, should have been able to avoid.
Is this the filmmakers’ way of making Batman more human? Or is there something deeper at work here, a subtle change in what Batman represents as a character?
There’s a particularly telling line in The Dark Knight when Batman is pointedly asked by an imitator-vigilante what gives him the right to go out and fight crime, while other would-be crimefighters get tied up and left for the cops along with the badguys. Batman’s response: the much quoted “I’m not wearing hockey pads”. It’s a funny line, but let’s unpack that statement for a second here. True, Batman isn’t wearing hockey pads, but rather a ridiculously expensive suit of custom designed armor. And this, not his years of experience and training or his willingness to dedicate his entire life to his crusade, is what qualifies him to fight crime. The fact that his toys are more expensive. That’s a loaded statement when you actually start to think about it, because it positions Batman’s wealth and access to high-end equipment as his primary weapon. Not his skill, not his dedication, not his will. His bank account.
Now, Batman’s always had access to an ever-widening array of technological doodads and gadgets, but it feels like its only recently that he’s begun to rely on them over his physical prowess and intellect. Can you recall any moments in Nolan’s Batman trilogy that the so-called World’s Greatest Detective actually did some detecting, rather than plugging the problem into a computer or rigging up a city-wide surveillance system? Affleck’s Batman, thankfully, did a bit more legwork than his predecessor, even going under cover to investigate a target.
But still, Batman’s increasing reliance (both on screen and even in the recent comics) on tech seems to go against one of the key aspects of the character. For years, Batman’s stood proudly alongside aliens, demi-gods and empowered humans, holding his own through his skill, intellect and force of will. This is because, for a long time, Batman was emblematic of personal achievement. Despite being born into a wealthy family, he left his fortune behind, only coming back to his wealth when he’d gained all the skills and training he’d need to take up the fight against crime. And these skills, as well as his physical prowess, were his ace in the hole. Batman earned his legacy, and his place standing alongside the superhuman figures of the Justice League, while he was still just a guy in spandex with some funny-shaped boomerangs. His agency and potency were wholly his own, forged through experience and work. Yes, him being a millionaire helped, but take away the cars, the gadgets, all of it, and Batman was still Batman. Among literal and figurative gods, Batman stood for years as an example (albeit an often exaggerated one) of human potential.
But lately, it feels as though Batman’s power comes more and more from his wealth, his access to the best gear and more and more technological excess. Now, in order to stand next to his Justice League contemporaries, Batman is once again donning high-end armor probably worth more than the house in which I’m sitting. And you can bet the film will find ways to demonstrate the necessity for that armor, showing him taking blows and hits that the Batman of yesteryear would have avoided with skill. The implication, more and more, is that Batman needs the tech and armor his wealth affords him, in order to be Batman, and stand alongside his contemporaries. Again, his agency is increasingly dependent on his wealth. We’re at the point where the line between Batman and Iron Man is becoming increasingly blurred. Batman is becoming less and less of a martial artist, a detective, a strategist, and more of an example of the (erroneous idea) wealth and agency are the same thing.
Batman’s effectiveness when you take away his toys is becoming more and more vague. He’s seen becoming increasingly dependent on armor, on technology, and less on the skills and power he earned through work and dedication. Yes, his abilities and competence have often be exaggerated to sometimes wild degrees, but the implication has always been that Batman worked to get there. Asking Lucius Fox to drum up a new suit of armor so he doesn’t need to dodge bullets isn’t work, it isn’t achievement, it’s wealth. And there’s no problem with Batman being wealthy, he always has been.
But maybe it’s time we saw the Caped Crusader start to scale back a bit. A pair of hockey pads wouldn’t be a bad start.