Most Batman stories focus on his prime: peak conditioning, extreme discipline, years of experience. But some of the most influential and thought-provoking stories come from dealing with extremes.
For example, stories that focus on his training and early attempts at Batmaning (like Year One or The Man Who Falls) are interesting because he is still young, unsure of himself, and trying to get the hang of things. These stories are interesting to us because that’s basically what all of us go through in life.
On the other end, you have stories like The Dark Knight Returns in which Batman is old and broken. All of those years and the horrors he’s seen have made him a changed man.
These stories interest us because we too change over time. All of us have scars and regrets we have to live with, so when we see the biggest, baddest, perfect superhero break down like most of us do at some point, it makes us feel that… we’re okay. It humanizes the character and makes us connect with him. This is the same reason Logan was a refreshing take on the superhero movie.
I’ve previously talked about how Batman never gives up or what he can teach you about self-improvement or what you can learn about dealing with loss and pain. But all of these things come from the “perfect Batman” era.
Today, I want to reflect on the more human part of the character. In the end, not everybody can be a hero — but all of us are human.
Batman is imperfect and that’s a good thing
For all of the lessons that can be learned through his determination, Batman is kind of fucked up. While saying he’s “just a crazy rich kid with too much time” is trivializing the psychology of the characters, he does have many things actually wrong with him.
- He is never happy or satisfied.
- He has PTSD and his psyche is haunted.
- He is antisocial, rejects help, and is untrusting.
- He is violent and intimidating, oftentimes to excess.
- He is obsessed with his mission; nothing else in life matters.
These things are true for every iteration of Batman, including the “perfect” one in his prime. In the storylines where Batman is older, these things are amplified.
Let’s look at previously mentioned The Dark Knight Returns. Bruce Wayne is 55 years old and it’s been a decade since he stopped being Batman. However, he is still antisocial, unhappy, and unsatisfied. Eventually, he realizes that he cannot stand on the sidelines anymore and downs the mantle once again.
Only this time, he is different. He is older and isn’t at his peak anymore. He is more experienced, but also more violent and less forgiving. Simply put, he doesn’t give a fuck anymore.
Batman has lost sight of who he is. He forgot why he was doing what he does. He forgot about why he had certain limitations. He cares more about exacting violence on criminals he despises than being a symbol of hope and inspiration.
This “broken Batman” was shown a few times on screen. Batman becomes a recluse in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the violent IDGAF Batman is shown in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman and even the critically-acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series has an episode about Batman feeling hopeless and thinking about quitting.
This is… sad. Batman is supposed to be the never-compromising hero. He never takes a life. He never crosses the line. He never gives up. Is he a fraud?
Even worse… he’s human.
Batman is relatable because he is just as flawed as all of us
His entire life, Batman tried to develop his abilities to the maximum of human potential. But for all his awe-inspiring elements, he is still human — just like the rest of us.
All of us feel doubt. All of us have regrets. All of us feel depressed and feel like giving up at times. It’s in our nature as humans being to feel like that. And Batman is no exception.
My parents were never gunned down in an alley. I never fell into a well of bats. But I’ve experienced and will probably always experience feelings of fear, of depression, of anger, of angst. It’s in my nature as a human being to experience those things. It’s in all of our nature. It is what we choose to do with that pain that we all feel that defines us.— Batman Does Not Kill, HiTop Films
However, all of these “broken Batman” stories have something else in common:
Batman always finds a way back. He is broken but he regains his strength. He crosses the line but realizes it and steps back. He feels like giving up but is reminded of why he shouldn’t.
This is what, in my opinion, makes Batman the best superhero and one of the most inspiring characters. He is so above the rest of us that he inspires us to improve. At the same time, he still struggles with the same issues as we do. He falls and breaks down but manages to stand up once again.
In life, every single one us has to do the same. If Batman can do it, so can you.
Batman strives to be perfect but recognizes he never will be.
Batman is unrealistically skilled. Like, seriously, studies have shown that becoming Batman in real life would literally kill you. Batman can disappear and reappear almost instantly, mask his heartbeat, conserve his breath, knows ALL martial arts, is the world’s greatest detective, and is on par with world record holders in multiple fields.
While many of his “supernatural” abilities are based on real-life science and practices, gathering all of his skills and training is impossible.
Even in the fictional world of comic books and movies, Batman is severely limited. Not just for the reason stated above (depression, insecurity, mental issues) but even in his own fictional universe, he is not the best at everything.
He is not the best fighter or the best strategist. He is not the strongest or the fastest. He doesn’t have the most advanced gadgets or the most money.
FUN FACT: An evil, alternate version of Batman called Owlman shows how much Batman pales in comparison. Owlman is smarter, stronger, and better-equipped. Yet, Batman still wins.
Batman wins most of his battles precisely because he is not the best. He’s the ultimate underdog. Every time Batman drops down in a group of street thugs, there’s a distinct possibility that he can be stabbed or shot or killed.
He strives to be the best but he never is the best. He is us. He is you and me. He tries to prepare himself to the best of his abilities but he inevitably fails. He loses friends and sidekicks. He gets old and his body decays. He can be the best a person can be but he cannot be the best at anything in particular.
Maybe I like Batman because I’m similar to him in that fashion. I have a lot of skills and I like learning new things…. but I can never be as good as someone who focuses their entire life on one, specific field of expertise. I’m mediocre at most things I do because I’m human.
Just like Batman, most of us can never be amazing at everything. We can be amazing at one or two things, but we are inevitably mediocre at the rest.
The smartest and most dedicated entrepreneurs usually have weak relationships. Relationship-focused people are rarely inventors or those who push society forward. Social people rarely spend time alone exploring themselves and shy people rarely have advanced social skills.
Take a hint from Batman. Strive to improve your life to the best of your abilities but realize that you can’t — and shouldn’t — be amazing at everything you do. Recognize your existing strengths and maximize their potential. By doing this, you will be happier with who you inherently, rather than trying to re-invent yourself to be somebody you don’t enjoy being.
Forget being a superhero. For once, focus on being the best human you can possibly be.
Want to become real-life Batman? You should check out the book Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero by a professor of kinesiology and neuroscience E. Paul Zehr. He breaks down a realistic way you could become Batman.
This article is part of a series on Batman. Check out other Batman Lessons on self-improvement dealing with pain and loss.