I have a confession to make. I’m a little bit of a geek. Okay. I AM a geek, and I always have been. 1939 was a very good year in geek history, because it was a great year for comic books. It’s the year Marvel launched. It’s the year the rest of the industry caught onto Superman’s rising success. It’s the year DC introduced Flash and The Sandman. It’s the year a host of other characters ranging from Blue Beetle to the Ray, to Captain Marvel made their first appearance too. It’s also the year The Bat Man (as he was called then) made his debut, 75 years ago this week in Detective Comics #27.
Batman’s rise was almost as swift as Superman’s. Within a year he was starring in his own monthly series, and pop culture has never been the same. I think almost anyone can tell you something about The Caped Crusader. People who have never even touched a comic book know who Bruce Wayne is, and they can tell you that he decided to devote his life to fighting crime when his parents were killed in a dark alley. People who have never seen a Batman movie can still work Batmobile or Joker references into casual conversation. How many characters are instantly identifiable from their silhouettes alone? Mickey Mouse. Batman. And maybe Godzilla if you’re in the right crowd.
So why is Batman still so popular after all these years when other superheroes have fallen by the wayside? Other writers have tackled this subject before. Many have discussed the idea of Batman as a "power fantasy". Lots of people may secretly fantasize about the idea of having unlimited resources to build cool gadgets, drive awesome cars, and punch bad guys in the face. Some writers credit his popularity to his versatility. You don’t like the brooding, realistic, warrior of the night Batman? That’s fine. There’s a wisecracking, time-travelling, scientist Batman out there. If you don't like the darkness and despair of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight", there are the "Silver Age" comics, with their absurd plots and silly characters. For others, Batman's appeal may be that he's character with a specific goal and mission. He’s got his sh*t together (most of the time), and to a young geek like myself who liked to get lost in the world of superheroes and super-villians (and still do, sometimes) when I first discovered Batman - I liked that about him.
I have another confession. I like comic books. After the last few paragraphs, I'm sure you're all shocked by that revelation. I’m more Marvel, than DC - but Batman is my favorite Superhero. And I’m not talking about Christian Bale’s "The Dark Knight", or Adam West’s Batman (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those interpretations). It's probably a function of my age - but I love the classic Super Friends Batman, and especially, Michael Keaton’s Batman. He’s the one I think of when I see the Bat-signal.
I’ve loved Batman almost as long as I can remember… I still do. For lots of reasons. I’ve learned from him too over the years. Since he's celebrating his 75th birthday this week, and I've had Batman on the brain a lot lately anyway, I figured now was as good a time as any to write about some of the things he's taught me.
“It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.” – Batman Begins
We often go through life with the best of intentions. One day, we might decide to start going to the gym. Or we might talk about sitting down to write that book we’ve always wanted to write. But for whatever reason, we get distracted by the present and lose our focus. We never make it to the gym. We never write that book. Nobody is going to remember what you meant to do. They’re only going to remember what you do. So do it.
Understand that you are human
“We ordinary people might lack your great speed or your x-ray vision, Superman. But never underestimate the power of the human mind. We carry the most dangeroud weapon on Earth inside these thick skulls of ours” – Mark Millar, Superman: Red Son, DC Comics
Batman is one of the few Superheroes who has no super powers. Sometimes, he has to remind himself of these limitations. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves too. Because it's okay to be human and have feelings. We can use them to motivate, to inspire, and to accomplish amazing things.
Four words: Bat Shark Repellant. Enough Said.
You need to be willing to risk failure in order to succeed
"All men have limits. They learn what they are and learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine." - Knightfall, DC Comics
Humans are naturally risk-averse. There are lots of studies out there that show this. In fact, some people are more comfortable going through life trying to minimize risk rather chase a reward. Sometimes you have to take risks in order to reach your goals. Even if that means jumping without a net.
When you do fail, don't let it define you
"Why do we fall, Bruce? So we might learn how to pick ourselves up." - Batman Begins
No matter how hard you try, its inevitable that you're going to experience failure at some point in life. You're probably going to experience failure many times. That's just life. The real test comes in how you handle that failure. Are you going to make excuses? Blame others? Keep making the same mistakes over and over again? True greatness comes with owning and embracing those failures. Because that's the only way you can learn from them, pick yourself up, and come back stronger than you were before. That's what Bruce Wayne does. You can too.
Yes. I love Batman. Always have. Always will. I love that he doesn't have superpowers. He's not a mutant. Or from another world. I could never be Superman, or The Incredible Hulk and who would want to be, anyway? But anyone can be like Batman. So maybe you'd have to inherit a couple billion dollars to have all those wonderful toys. But it's possible if you tried hard enough, worked hard enough, trained hard enough. Right?!?
So maybe it was just for a few hours... But it was still pretty sweet. :-) Happy 75th Birthday, Batman. I'm better for knowing you.