I find it interesting that the things we were praising Superman (1978) on Monday were things that, it seems to me, would absolutely not work when it comes to Batman. If we were watching Superman fight crime, say, or save an airplane, or merely fly to China to pick up some spicy chicken with noodes and a half dozen dumpling rolls, we could easily expect to see the smallest of smiles (once everybody is safe, of course) because, on one level, being Superman must be pretty awesome. It’s probaby pretty fun to fly. It’s probably pretty sweet to be bulletproof (though, sadly, you still have to dodge the gun when the crook throws it at you after running out of bullets). Flying is so awesome that it’s one of those things that Freud assumed that people who dreamed about flying were actually repressing that they were having dreams about copulation. A good, a really good, Superman story will take the various little joys that being Superman entails into account and give us a glimpse, here and there, into that.
Batman, on the other hand, is kind of a bummer. As much fun as someone might have swinging on a cable or saving a falling person or beating up a criminal, you get the feeling that Batman just sees it as applied physics and is more preoccupied with the million of things that could go wrong (and preparing backup plans, and backup plans for if those fail, and backup plans for those, and so on) thus allowing him to succeed with Plan P when Plan A goes Tango Uniform (which it rarely does because, hey, he’s Batman).
This has the odd result of having Clark Kent being Superman be the best part of any given Superman story while the best Batman stories rarely focus on being Batman as much as on how Gotham pulses and surges in response to Batman being Batman. The cops cleaning up after a villain is foiled, Arkham welcoming someone back, Blackgate prison processing someone’s return, children looking up and seeing the Bat signal and shivering before sleeping easier. All that to say, a good Superman story makes you think about what it’d be like to be Superman. A good Batman story, on the other hand, makes you think about what Batman does.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been chewing on for the last couple of days. I’ve got a handful of favorite Batman stories to dissect, I think… that can wait until another essay, though. In the short term, what are your favorite Batman stories?