Bats Behind the Wainscoting

Bats Behind the Wainscoting

I’m enjoying Tim O’Neil’s BatRoast over at the Hurting… (I’m also loving the comments by Cole Odell and Rasselas)

As usual, I concur with Tim’s gut reaction, whilst disagreeing with his analysis of said judgment…

Near the end of the first comment-section, I added this:

my opinion of Bats is very similar to yours, Tim… but, in my own case, the antipathy has nothing to do with a dislike of hard-boiled crime writing (in fact, this is my favourite type of “genre” writing)

my objection to Batman is that (as Cole states) he’s a Shadow clone that has been (unwisely) given a suffocating origin story and too much of the spotlight… the great thing about the Shadow, the Continental Op (all of Hammett’s main characters–as opposed to protagonists– actually), Hawthorne’s Coverdale, etc. is that they don’t HAVE origins and we aren’t supposed to understand or relate to their behaviour–they are pure literary devices…dramatic catalysts , not people… that’s where Batman, the Punisher, etc. go wrong, in my book…

It does all come down to Robin, but not because the little guy’s antics damage the Bat-world’s “realistic” cred. Readers have pointed out that, in the first few Bat-adventures, the character was free of the origin that I despise so much… The explanatory moment (which comes in ‘Tec  #33) wasn’t so damaging in itself, I suppose (future writers could have ignored it, continuing to treat Bats as an inscrutable melodrama-generator)–but when Robin came bob bob bobbin’ onto the scene, the game was over.


Because the whole point of Robin is that he serves as a bridge between the reader and the title character. When Dick’s parents are killed, the young reader is practically forced to think–“oh no! this isn’t just a story–this could actually happen to me–and how would I react?” And, of course, the only answer the story offers to that hithertofore extraneous question is Bruce’s own caped coping mechanism…  At which point, the narrative becomes trapped in the Bat-Jar, effectively foreclosing upon all possibility of future narrative development (as opposed to “progress”.. think of Peter Parker–who may not really age all that much, but who does have a very definite post-origin life history)

In other news:
Cerebus is really pissing me off.

good afternoon friends!



  1. To me, the problem with the Batman origin story is that it tries to “explain ” the unexplainable, and thereby hurts the suspension of disbelief. Show me a character that dresses up like a bat to fight crime, and I’ll go with it. Tell me the character dresses up like a bat to fight crime because he saw his parents killed and my response is “yeah right, people dont DO that!”

    By comparison, Superman’s origin is okay, because it simply explains his powers, not why he does what he does.

    Spiderman falls somewhere between, but it works better than Batman because the origin of his powers and his “costume” is separated from the reason he fights crime.

  2. I don’t mind the origin. I just think that later writers, looking to tell more “psychologically complex” (and usually, more clumsily obvious) stories–and who saw the old stories primarily as puzzles to be solved/texts to be decoded through their own stories–overestimated the origin’s importance. The original writers self-evidently didn’t consider it to be anything but tossed-off background. They were charged with moving forward, and that’s what they did, by and large, for the entire Golden Age.

    Superman does what he does not because of any single event in his past, but because his folks just raised him that way. (The destruction of Krypton is showy, but offers no moral guidance. Besides, the original Superman is entirely in the dark about his origins–and doesn’t dwell on it at all.) It’s not very dramatic, but it’s far more plausible than the specific break suggested by the Batman story.

    The original superheroes were entirely men of external action; while the Batman 2-page origin suggests an inner life and tragic motivation, in practice the multiple, monthly Batman stories operated without any of that. How many kids read years of Batman stories with no idea about any Crime Alley, Joe Chill or the rest of it?

    Cole Odell

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