For those who don’t know me: I’ve been keeping you in suspense about who my top hero is. For those who know me: it should come as a complete lack of shock who my top hero is. I have about 20 shirts with his face on them. Before I unveil the greatest superhero to mankind, let’s rewind the list from previous weeks.
- No. 5. Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings trilogy
- No. 4. Captain Kirk from Star Trek
- No. 3. Superman from … well, Superman
- No. 2. Jack Bauer from 24
And now? The greatest superhero ever.
- No. 1. Batman, from Batman the Animated Series
So what sets Batman apart from all of the other comic book heroes? And what sets him apart from the other heroes on my list? What makes him the best?
Most heroes are called into action. Batman volunteers.
Jack Bauer was summoned into action every season. He was never comfortable in a non-combat environment but he still tried almost every offseason. By the time the show reached the series finale, we weren’t sure exactly where he was going but he was off the grid and trying to find a measure of peace.
If nobody ever robbed a Metropolis bank and all of the Lex Luthor, Metallo, and Brainiac types were gone would Superman ever do anything heroic? He’d just be the world’s most unnecessarily strong reporter.
In the aforementioned “City on the Edge of Forever” episode, Captain Kirk was ready to settle down with the woman he eventually had to sacrifice. He may be (for me) Starfleet’s greatest captain but if he had his way the heroics would be scarce and he’d be predominantly an explorer. Perhaps even settling down with a nice lady.
Samwise Gamgee does settle down with a nice lady. Loyalty drove him to be heroic and he did an excellent job. But now the heroics are over and it’s all crumpets and second breakfasts for him.
For Batman there can be no rest. The force that drives him is so pervasive that even in the “sequel” cartoon Batman Beyond, when he’s old and decrepit, he’s still finding ways to combat crime in Gotham City. Someday, his dying breath will be taken mid-investigation while sitting at his computer. Or during some battle down a sleazy alley.
No alternative exists.
As Rachel Dawes (of all people) articulates to him in Chris Nolan’s excellent Batman Begins: Bruce Wayne is the mask. Batman is his true face. This was always subtly implied on the cartoon as well. Because even out of the costume: if Batman is at home he talks in his Batman voice. The Bruce Wayne voice is the fake.
So what made Gotham’s favorite son into a masked vigilante? For those unaware: his parents were gunned down in front of him when he was a child. Unable to move past this incident, he devoted his life to becoming in peak mental and physical condition. So that no one would end up like Thomas and Martha Wayne again.
In the comics and on the show, Batman never finds out who killed his parents. That way: it could be any of them. The man was a faceless hood, just like all of the people he combats every day. It’s my view that somewhere in his psyche, he truly believes that he can save himself if he saves everyone else.
But there will always be crime and The Batman’s job is never done.
Another fascinating aspect of his character is that he is dangerously close to being a villain. Heroes are summoned. Villains are created, usually by trauma. His psychosis happens to fuel his hatred of crime. But if his parents were mob bosses instead who were gunned down by the cops, I guarantee that Bruce Wayne would’ve grown up to be the most dangerous supervillain of all time.
It’s just lucky for us that he turned out how he did. But we are constantly reminded of how close he is to the edge, and how that makes him so effective. He won’t kill people. But he will torture, coerce, blackmail, and threaten. He’ll walk right up to the line without crossing it.
In an excellent Justice League episode involving an alternate universe where the Justice League is evil, the two Batmen are almost identical. They have a conversation in darkness (with the same voice actor for both of course) and it becomes unclear which is which. Until the “evil” one is corned and says, “I’ve created a world where Thomas and Martha Wayne never would’ve been gunned down in cold blood.”
Our Batman lowers his batarang and says: “you win.”
Thankfully, ours has kept himself heroic. It is his villains that make him what he is. The constant reminder of what he could become keeps him from getting too crazy. So much so that he has a dangerously symbiotic relationship with his main nemesis: The Joker.
I’ll save my thoughts on that particular duo for a later series of write-ups, but he has a similar relationship with all of his villains. They’re all dark reflections of himself, many with similar backgrounds.
The Penguin came from high society but was rejected and not embraced (as Bruce Wayne was).
The Scarecrow tries to combat his own fears by taking control of fear itself (which is Batman’s entire MO).
All have their own tragic backstory that put them on the path to villainy. Batman is the perfect mix of villainous obsession and heroic motivation. Because even though he derives a bit of sick pleasure from beating criminals to a pulp, he enjoys helping people above anything else.
If Batman was truly lost, he would opt for catching the criminal and not saving the hostage. His number one priority is always to protect the helpless victims of Gotham. Even if it means the bad guy getting away and causing more harm elsewhere. As logical as Batman is, he can’t bear the thought of anyone innocent getting hurt.
There’s an awful lot going on with this guy. He’s more versatile than possibly any other character I’ve come across. Different writers can take him in so many different directions while still remaining true to the character.
And there have been a lot of writers and a lot of incarnations since he first hit the shelves with Detective Comics Number 27 in 1939. He’s changed with the times but he’s also been eternal in his mission and his code.
We may never get another hero like Batman. And we don’t need another. Only one man has the intelligence, the physical prowess, the rogue’s gallery, and the gadgets that are enough to enthrall America for 70+ years and then still have the most anticipated film of the summer.
And that’s why he’s my favorite hero of all time because he’s the best.
We dare you to find a television show or movie that Domenic has not seen and most of them he owns. For this reason he has become a walking encyclopedia of anything you would want to know on the topics of TV and movies. When he’s not watching flicks, he’s writing screenplays. Stay tuned for those.