Sunday, April 12, 2009

Batman needs a woman like a fish needs a bicycle.

The female characters of the Batman universe have for the most part been forgettable and superfluous. Characters like Virginia Jenkins and Patricia Powell, who were intended to be love interests to Bruce Wayne, have faded into obscurity to the point that not even ardent comics fans remember them. Only one female love interest from the long history of Batman has survived, and that character is the one that has had the most character re-vamps and re-inventions in the entire Batman cannon; the feline fury, the Catwoman. The major male love interest in Batman’s life has always been the Joker, but the love is unreturned, so that is a topic for another essay. But, even the Catwoman has not survived as a love interest. Her history with Batman has been one of occasional trysts that result in nothing. Batman and Catwoman are not going to be together, the comics gods have decreed this. So, what is wrong with Batman? Why can’t he have a girlfriend? Is he gay, a misogynist, or impotent? In my opinion there is nothing wrong with Bruce Wayne that requires a good woman to fix. What is wrong with Batman? Nothing.

Since his introduction in 1939, there have been literally dozens of love interest in Bruce Wayne’s life. Most of these characters are gone and forgotten, only to be remembered in Grant Morrison’s embrace of the entire Batman cannon. The list is long and not particularly distinguished. The cast of female characters can basically be broke down into two groups; Catwoman and Not Catwoman. Catwoman was introduced in Batman #1 in 1940. The way her character was written represented the regrettable state of women in society at the time. The original Catwoman had fallen in love with batman and the pursuit of her love took precedence over all her criminal enterprises. Catwoman has been updated in every decade since her introduction. The current Catwoman is a capable, ninja trained adventurer who can hold her own in Batman’s world. She is now allowed to be an equal in her relationship with Batman. Catwoman and Batman can never quite get their schedules to accommodate a romance. Not to mention that the publisher doesn’t want to permanently alter either of their long profitable characters. Catwoman will always be in the shadows, only to consummate her relationship with batman in future, speculative stories that can be explained away.

What about the other women in Batman’s life? I’ll focus on just a few and why they just didn’t work out. Introduced in 1948, Vicky Vale was a blatant Lois Lane rip-off. Vale was a photojournalist who was attempting to prove her theory that Bruce Wayne was Batman. With a start like that, you knew she was doomed. Vale didn’t die, but she did eventually fade as a character. Vale only served to re-enforce the idea that women got in the way of a man’s work. She was not an equal to Batman and did nothing to shape or advance the character. In 1956, Kathy Kane, the first Batwoman came on the scene. As with Vale, Kane was written as inferior to Batman. Kane suffered the same fate as Bat-mite and Rex the Bathound when the New Look came to Batman in 1964. Much of the Bat-continuity of the time, including Batwoman and Bathound, was done away with in an attempt to re-invent the character to boost sagging sales. In 1977, Silver ST. Cloud made a play for the heart of Bruce Wayne. Feeling the effects of the women’s movement, the writers allowed Silver to have a little intelligence. Soon after she is introduced, she discovers Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same. She cannot deal with the stress of loving a man in constant danger and ends the relationship.

What does this cavalcade of thrown away female characters tell us? Why can some superheroes find the time for a love life when Batman can’t? Superman has Lois, Green Arrow has Dinah, so why can’t Batman find a stable love? Because Batman doesn’t need one. Superman is a strange visitor from another planet. Ollie is a hot headed, womanizing jerk. These characters needed a love interest to humanize and complete them. If superman didn’t have Lois, he would be a dangerous alien who would snap when Ma and Pa Kent finally kick off (again). Batman doesn’t need a love interest to anchor him to his mission or to Gotham. Batman is the patron saint of Gotham, he exists for the city. His story is one of a relentless drive to impose order on a disordered world. A love in his life does nothing to enhance or define the character. He is complete as a violent, nighttime avenger. The artificial insertion of a woman for him to love would by definition deprive his of his ability to make crime fighting his primary passion. Batman is only a man, if he lost any of his edge he would lose his status as the world’s most dangerous baseline human. A Batman with a wife could never be the Batman that can shoot an evil god to save the world form Yet Another Crisis. A Batman with a family at home would have his family as his first priority, not the constant pursuit of human perfection necessary to combat the evil of the universe. For the sake of the citizens of Gotham; pray Batman never finds lasting love.

Batman’s lack of love is not a character flaw or a void in the story that must be filled for the completion of an arc. Batman is complete as he is. As with any literature, the critic brings their own perspective and viewpoint to the text. The fact that this is only one of the many aspects of Batman that lends itself to discussion points to the greatness of the character. A silly character from a cheap children’s magazine from 1939 is still inciting debate and study. Batman has remained vital and relevant for 70 years without a permanent female partner. Batman’s track record speaks for itself, to think that what Batman needs now is a wife is to ignore the essence of the character.