it’s really wild to see how batman has evolved over time as a consequence of writers wanting to change everything while also changing nothing because any comic that lives that long is a shambling stitched-together corpse
early batman is a swashbuckler and he’s having a good-ass time beating up these bad guys, because he existed in the context of organized crime being a big fucking problem. they were coming out of the 1930s. that’s the era of al capone, you know? john dillinger only died five years ago and he was a fucking celebrity. and batman shows up to be like YOU KNOW WHAT’S COOLER THAN SHOOTING PEOPLE AND BRIBING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS? BEING BATMAN.
early batman could not have been more clearly edutainment, pulpy enough to make kids feel like they were reading That Good Shit but always with a really obvious message (the message was DON’T DO A CRIME). he fights a lot of giants because having to protect yourself from people twice your size is very #relatable to children.
when he adopts robin it’s very clearly to give kids a character to relate to more strongly than they can bruce wayne–FIGHTING CRIMES ISN’T JUST FOR RICH MEN, IT’S ALSO FOR COOL KIDS LIKE YOU. see how cool robin is, kicking the shit out of these dudes? don’t you wanna be cool, like robin? he’s from the circus, that thing you wanted to run away to because that’s a viable life choice in this era!
bruce wayne was rich but his whole cover was that rich people are fucking useless. a man who inherited money? a fucking useless, lazy shit, no question. this was just accepted by everyone, that obviously an heir would never be suspected of doing anything that might take effort. the difference in attitude on a fundamental level toward the idle rich is staggering.
his wealth is also MONUMENTALLY downplayed, in the same way you see in old movies. they deliberately did not film the philadelphia story in an actual mansion because they didn’t think anyone would believe that the rich got to live like that. so bruce wayne ends up looking like he lives in a tract home in a suburb. “is this how rich people live? yeah, sure, probably. who cares, let’s fight crimes.”
they only introduce a backstory after the comic has been going for a while, because at first it’s like? why would he need a reason to fight crime? it’s fun? but i guess they figured they had to create SOME reason for bruce wayne to not be completely useless, as all rich men are. why is bruce wayne the only rich man capable of doing cool shit? because his parents died, that’s why. check out robin kicking this dude in the head. fucking sweet, right?
there’s a whole storyline where batman fights a whole fucking town because it’s corrupt and the cops are corrupt and THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS CORRUPT so he’s gonna FIGHT THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IF HE HAS TO, FUCK YOU AND FUCK YOUR COCAINE.
then the comics code happens and fucks everything. batman can’t fight, like, systemic corruption and dudes with tommy guns anymore. all the crimes get CARTOONY AS SHIT. the joker isn’t just a murderous jewel thief with a weird face, he’s a fucking clown. he’s a weird clown man committing clown crimes. puns everywhere. suddenly batman is fighting Supervillains, and they’re all insane. but they aren’t, really? they are a cartoon’s idea of insanity, like a wolf in a straitjacket getting hit on the head with a mallet. when a character is insane what that actually means is they’re wacky, they do weird shit, they have no meaningful motivation and do crimes for no reason because the alternative is having them commit real crimes for good reasons and that’s not good for the kiddos. the fact that batman changed so much after the code is fucking WILD because, remember, it was ALWAYS for the kids. it was BLATANTLY for the kids. the code still managed to fuck it just through the culture shift it created.
then later there’s this shift, again, away from the code and away from kids entirely. late seventies, i think? fuck if i know, i don’t know shit about damn. suddenly they want to be more GRITTY and REAL and DARK. they want REAL CRIME. batman is PUNCHING RAPISTS IN ALLEYS. but this isn’t the era of dillinger anymore. as a society, collectively, we understand more about crime and the societal forces that drive people to crime and so on. there are a lot of alley rapists in this era of comics tbh and this is probably why. rapists always deserve to get punched regardless of class struggle. also at this point we understand more about violence, and people who are violent, who commit acts of violence and solve problems with violence and enjoy being violent. a rich guy having a blast kicking a guy in the head for robbing a bank is no longer great optics.
so batman stops having fun. this is now his dark mission, his grim assignment. he doesn’t like this job, but someone’s gotta do it. he will not smile as he punches a rapist in the head. this is serious business. i don’t necessarily have a problem with this decision, because i think it’s a legitimate course of action to say “in a modern context, these behaviors become unacceptable, and so we will change his behaviors so that he can continue to be a heroic figure”. that’s valid as a motherfucker and i wish more people would remember that the whole point of making batman a grump was so that he could continue to be a good guy, as opposed to the alternative of gleeful violence.
(getting rid of most of the violence is also good–he’s a detective–but these are comics we’re talking about here so lol)
and then there’s the villains. you’d think this would be the point where they say “hey, maybe let’s go back to the way some of our villains were before the code”. you’d think that if they hated the goofy villains so much they’d just move on. but it’s comics so nothing ever goes in the trash for good. and that’s when you have writers who look at a cartoon wolf in a straitjacket and they say “that’s not what insanity looks like! we should make him a sociopath.”
i mean you could have just said “let’s stop calling him crazy and try to find a better motivation for these crimes, like being an asshole” but instead now batman has all these villains with sociopathy and OCD and DID and schizophrenia, because that makes it REAL, because now instead of being cartoon crazy people committing cartoon crimes they are real crazy people committing real crimes!! OH BOY
and at some point someone looks at this and goes “you know i feel like this might be ableist as shit” and writers could have said “yeah in retrospect the only evil clown i’m aware of was legally deemed sane and didn’t actually commit thematically appropriate crimes, so maybe mental health isn’t the issue here” but instead they said “yes, batman is kind of an asshole to be punching these sick people, but he’s a necessary asshole because without him there would be Crazy Crimes and we all just have to come to terms with that i guess”
now we’re at this place where we’re trying to reconcile about eighty years of nonsensical horseshit and all of these decisions that were made because of shifting cultural attitudes or to sell comics or because one writer in particular assumed everyone would love his cool OC as much as he did, and there are writers going “you know, bruce wayne probably has pretty severe ptsd” and there are writers going “what if batman was the REAL villain all along” and there are writers going “lol rich man wears bat costume to punch the mentally ill and poors, did u ever think about that” and there are writers going “hey have you heard of this ayn rand chick because boy howdy i just did and now i’ve got ideas”
but the reality is that heroism and goodness are not static concepts that look the same to all people even within the same era and trying to reconcile every different version of what the popular conception of heroism has looked like for almost a century is dumb as hell and batman should have entered the public domain in 2014
i know this has a lot of notes and op is probably avoiding looking at any of this but i just wanted to say that this is the best thing i’ve ever read about batman on tumblr