Batman is undoubtedly one of the most popular characters in comic book fiction and although it cannot be denied that he has good intentions with his vigilantist activities, we are all also aware that he is far from being on a moral high ground. He often bends the rules (including his own) and arguably exacerbates the crime problems of Gotham City with his antics. I would like to argue here that Batman is, despite his own beliefs and that of the residents of Gotham, the villain of his own story. This may sound far-fetched but it is a very reasonable conclusion when we look at the archetypal behaviours of villains and what motivates them. Also, I am far from being the first to make such a claim. If you perform a web search for “is batman a villain”, you will come across many other sources claiming that to be so. I am only presenting my own points on this stance.
As with many great villains, Bruce does have a motive behind what he does and also like many great villains he himself does not believe he is villainous or acting out of bad intentions. Bruce’s ultimate aim is, on the surface, to rid Gotham of crime and corruption. However due to the death of his parents he also has a personal motive of vengeance against their killer. As he cannot get justice against the killer directly or with ease, as Batman he targets all criminals in Gotham as a way to satisfy his desire for vengeance while convincing himself that he is helping his community or serving a greater good in his alternative persona. This touches on how Bruce/Batman himself would not believe that he is a villain and would in fact regard his actions as heroic. But all the best villains do not believe themselves to be villainous but believe they are either only seeking justice or the achievement of a greater good in their unethical acts – both apply to Batman.
No benefit to Gotham
Many characters, creators and fans of the Batman franchise regularly touch on the fact that despite, or perhaps as a result of, Batman’s actions, crime in Gotham continues to flourish. Of course in a city as large as Gotham, high levels of crime are to be expected, but if anything Batman’s presence seems to worsen crime in the city. Joker in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is one of many characters who hint that Batman’s presence has brought a theatricality to crime that criminals emulate in their uniquely quirky styles with large scale, very public crimes. The theme of Batman’s stance on the side of law or crime has often been touched upon and the general consensus seems to be that he is on the line between the two – not on the side of the violent criminals but not on the side of the establishment either.
If Batman was never in Gotham or if Bruce never decided to become Batman, it appears that there would be no more crime in Gotham than with Batman being present. I actually believe that although petty street crime would have likely remained high, other more major crimes from the likes of The Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy etc would have likely been non-existent or extremely rare at most.
Bruce could more for Gotham as ‘Bruce Wayne’
Although Batman does not improve the safety of Gotham and alleviate overall crime, Bruce Wayne as himself is more than capable of doing a lot more to help Gotham in this regard, but chooses not to. I say chooses not to because Bruce Wayne is an extremely intelligent and well educated man in various fields while also having immense wealth. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that he knows there are non-violent ways how he could use his resources and knowledge to truly help the citizens of Gotham and reduce corruption, minimise crime, redevelop run-down areas of the city and ensure infrastructure is in place to provide jobs and social mobility for people likely to become criminals. It may be argued that Bruce Wayne is not in a position of authority in Gotham so can do very little to alleviate crime. However, I would argue that he is in a position of high influence and his public profile is large enough to influence the key decision makers who can make a difference.
Following are some things that Bruce Wayne would have the resources and capacity to do in order to improve safety and crime levels for the citizens of Gotham:
- Creation of jobs and career opportunities: Bruce could use his company (Wayne Enterprises) to provide alternative employment and training opportunities to youth at risk of joining gangs with the intention of becoming career criminals.
- Funding redevelopment projects: Similarly to above, this could provide employment opportunities while making run-down areas more attractive and likely to attract outside investment.
- Investing in greater security for Arkham Asylum: It is fascinating how often Joker and other enemies of Batman regularly escape from Arkham. It may be the case that Bruce could put greater funding into more effective security systems for Arkham Asylum.
- Target financial crime and corruption: Batman tends to target low-level street criminals and their bosses while for example, corruption in the GCPD runs rife and unchecked. Bruce could use his influence to discourage bribery and fraud among his business associates and contacts.
- Running for Mayor: If Bruce were to run for Mayor he would be very likely to win the election. His popularity, high profile and influence (assuming there was no vote fixing or electoral fraud) would be a great asset to his chances. As Mayor he could deliver all of the above measures while doing more to improve the Gotham’s use of public finances, reduce corruption, improve investment in public spaces, and push the GCPD to improve its internal management.
Batman is an escape for Bruce
One possible reason for Bruce opting to spend his nights as Batman is that it offers a kind of escape and a life that he could not have as Bruce Wayne in his day-to-day life while also living out the fantasy of vengeance on the murderer of his parents. Although this would not necessarily mean he is entirely villainous, it does mean there is a a side to his crime fighting which is completely ego-centric and focused only on his own fulfilment. This is particularly fitting, considering that Bruce Wayne is smart enough to realise he could do more as “Bruce Wayne” rather than Batman to improve safety and crime levels in Gotham.
It is clear that we are initially on Batman’s side because the stories of his franchise are being told from his perspective. But if we reimagine our perspective as an outsider or from another character’s perspective, it is clear that he is not entirely a heroic character and is in fact a highly damaging presence to the community of Gotham City. Batman does not see himself or his actions as villainous or damaging, so as we experience stories through his perspective we only see him as the hero he wants the world to see. Despite his good intentions he fails to see that his actions do nothing to help crime levels in Gotham, perhaps as a result of his emotional attachment to the issue (from witnessing his parents murder) which clouds his judgement. This is the only reasonable explanation as to how Bruce does not see that his actions as Batman does not make Gotham City safer, as he is a highly intelligent man who with a rational mind should be able to see this. Or perhaps, he does not have wholly good or selfless intentions?
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