I love Batman. Always have, even in my younger days, when I first started reading comics and was a Marvel guy. While I was collecting X-Men in the late 70s, early 80s, I was reading Batman. The X-Men had some great storylines at the time focusing on some of the personal aspects of the characters, but Batman was dark and gritty. Joker and Two-Face were evil on a level a normal person could understand. No super powers, they would kill you up close and personal. They were a “real” evil. While the X-Men were battling galactic-level super beings on the other side of the universe, Batman was fighting baddies in the streets. He had no super powers other than his genius mind and his money.
It should. That same description could also apply to Iron Man. Tony Stark, along with the Avengers, are riding a wave of massive popularity thanks to the record-setting movie (which was fucking spectacular, thankyouverymuch) and one of the comments repeated throughout the movie (don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler or anything) is that Stark is just a guy in a suit. No, Tony Stark is a guy in suit of armor that, granted, he designed and built, but could probably work just as well without him, at least the version in the movie. Regardless of the movie, in the comics (which is canon), his armor is a miracle of modern technology and it is Tony’s courage and genius that powers the suit.
Bruce Wayne isn’t just a guy in a suit. He’s the goddamned Batman. He didn’t need anything other than his utility belt, the Batmobile, the Batcave, and Alfred. Yes, he had an unbelievable, multimillion dollar computer lab/car garage within the Batcave. Sure, he had a little bit of anything and everything on that utility belt. But his costume was just that–a costume. The Dark Knight Detective didn’t need a billion-dollar suit of armor.
That changed along the way.
As examples, I’m going to use my two favorite Batman storylines: Bane/Broken Bat and Hush. In the Bane storyline, he wore his old-school costume. When he fought Firefly, he wore a thermal costume with a kevlar helmet because he knew going in the battle would require it. For the rest of the story, it was just his normal costume. In fact, once Batman was “broken” by Bane, the term “cape and cowl” was used ad nauseum by Robin, Alfred, Azrael, etc. to describe what made Batman the threat that he was to the criminal element. To the shitbags on the street, they didn’t know/care if it was Bruce Wayne or Bruce Springsteen, all they knew is that the guy wearing that costume scared the piss out of them.
Let’s move to Hush. The story opens with Batman attempting to rescue the son of a millionaire businessman. Bats was in the dark and underground, but had a HUD (heads-up display) in his mask/helmet like, you know, that Stark guy or an X-Wing fighter. After rescuing the aforementioned child, he takes off through the Gotham skyline after Catwoman who had stolen the ransom money (just read the damned book if you want to know more and haven’t read it; I’m not going to go through the whole thing here). His line gets cut, he falls ‘x’ number of feet to the alley below where he fractures his skull, suffers some internal injuries, and is generally fucked up beyond repair.
Cut to a bunch of alley-dwelling ne’er do wells realizing THE Batman has just fallen in their midst. As they surround our hero and attempt to remove his mask, vents automatically open on the mask, spraying gas on the would-be identity discoverers. And how did he survive the fall to begin with? The fact that his “costume” was able to absorb the impact.
Now granted, as a billionaire, I’m sure he’s going to do anything and everything he can to make his suit as offensively and defensively powerful as possible, but come on. If you Google “Batman vs. Iron Man,” that’s actually a thing now. Because they are both genius, billionaire playboys who fight crime in highly-advanced suits of armor and people who are curious as to who would win (Cracked.com has their opinion on the matter). Batman has become the Wolverine of DC Comics; it’s impossible to defeat him. Example: Batman has beaten Super-fucking-Man. More than once. Seriously? Seriously??
Wolverine was created to be indestructible. He has a mutant healing factor, super senses, unbreakable adamantium bones and some wicked-ass claws. Batman’s just a guy, a guy who used to get his bell rung from time to time back in the day. That’s what made his stories so compelling. His HUD wasn’t able to assess the situation within nanoseconds and communicate with his suit to provide him the perfect weapon to end the confrontation. He was a card-carrying badass in a costume who was able to use a little bit of tech and a whole lotta fist to beat his opponents, not an X-Man and not Iron Man.
Now having said all that, Batman is taking a pretty serious beating at the hands of the Court of Owls in the current storyline in all the Bat-titles, but it’s still not the same as the gray-and-blue costumed Batman with the yellow logo on his chest. Comics are fantasy, not real. I get that. But where Batman is concerned, it’s getting harder and harder to suspend disbelief. Perfect examples of what I’m talking about is Nightwing and Batgirl. Great heroes and great comics with realistic storylines that don’t need a $1.2 million monthly budget for costume maintenance.
There’s no way they can return Batman to the old days because one, that would be stupid. Why would he voluntarily give up impregnable armor for spandex? And two, the storylines have advanced too far. The villains he’s facing are far worse than the occasional scuffles with Harvey Dent and his gang of wannabe mobsters. Check out the New 52 Justice League issues 1-6. Dude’s facing some pretty serious villainy there.
To conclude my rambling bitchfest, I know things change and progress has to move forward. But what made Batman so great was the believability. That has slowly, subtly disappeared over the years. Nightwing is awesome and a great hero in his own right and a more-than-worthy successor to Batman. But he’s not Batman. Batman is Batman and while he’s arguably the best-written character in mainstream comics right now, it would be nice to have some of the reality mixed back in with the fantasy.