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The Psychology of Batman July 22, 2008

Posted by Reginald Johnson in Celebrity, Crime, Culture, Entertainment, Humor, Life, Movies, Odd News, Science.

Let’s talk about the real Batman. You know… the Dark Knight.

This is the Batman that was successfully portrayed by Michael Keaton in 1989’s Batman and again in Batman Returns by Tim Burton. This is the Batman seen in Batman – the Animated Series, Batman & Superman, Batman Beyond, and The Justice League. Please do not confuse this Batman with the one that was in The Superfriends. Of this mega successful chain, one was written by someone who knew the character, while the other was written by someone on a bad acid trip.

Before 1986, Batman had been portrayed as a happy go lucky do-gooding crimefighter. After ’86, Batman was ‘reconstructed.’ He was given a broader range of emotions and supported by real life situations.

It’s hard to talk about anything related to Batman without talking about the latest offering, ‘The Dark Knight.’ This latest installment of Batman really digs deep into the psychology of Batman and his perhaps most dangerous and unpredictable enemy, The Joker. The Dark Knight taps into some deeply rooted personal issues between the two characters.

To completely understand The Dark Knight, you should first see Batman Begins.

Batman, to millions of people, is a real hero. Right now you might be thinking that it sounds ridiculous, but let’s review the facts. First and foremost, The Dark Knight is a man…with no superpowers. He has limits, although he may have a higher threshold of pain. Batman can be mortally wounded, in the same ways we can be wounded. Bullets bounce off of Superman. Wolverine can heal himself. But Batman doesn’t have that luxury. It is very important to understand that Batman will one day be too old to maneuver around the way an immortal or a someone with special powers might. He dies just like you or me. And because of those human vulnerabilities, he is a master tactician and is prepared for almost every contingency.

If we were to look at Batman’s real abilities we’d discover that they are attainable provided a person had the time, resources, and dedication. Batman, if anything, is the possibility of what a person can be.

Batman is a master of numerous fields of study. He has either mastered or is highly skilled in forensics, criminology, physical fitness, chemistry & physics, computer science, foreign language (he speaks Arabic, mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and English), and excellent tracking skills. He is also advanced in self-defense, riddle solving, yoga, automotive mechanics and meditation.

His mission is very simple: to stop the criminal elements and remove the politically corrupt local government officials, if any. The 400 year old classic, Don Quixote [by Cervantes], generally stands as a guide for a concept called chivalry. As a “dark knight”, Batman does not go by that code. Don’t be alarmed, he does have a code. He will not take a life and he will not use a gun for lethal use. He has made that the difference between who he is and who he hunts.

To truly understand the psychology of Batman is to understand the dichotomy of Batman and Bruce Wayne. The main emphasis could easily be – Bruce Wayne does not exist.

Bruce Wayne, in personality only, died when his parents died in Crime Alley. When Bruce Wayne witnessed the death of his parents, the true personality of the Batman was given birth. The only son of millionaires was no more. The true disguise of Batman is not the cowl and the bat-mask. No, the mask is Batman’s real face. The disguise is the incompetent playboy who is a notoriously bad golfer and whom women find incredibly shallow and boring. He’s shallow and boring because he is incomplete. This is a major personality split.

The dichotomy between the two complexed characters is carefully manufactured and balanced. Have you ever noticed that even as the Batman speaks he lowers his voice an octave? The ironic part is that it is the Bruce Wayne humanity that tempers the obsessively destructive Batman from killing the criminals he hunts. His personality split is not as extreme as his enemy, Two-Face or The Joker, but it is one that borders on a mental illness. The obsessive manhunter is balanced by the humane knight. It is a line that he will not cross.

There are other dichotomies in the Batman legend perhaps the three best is between Batman and Superman, between Batman and The Joker, and between Batman and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan).

Perhaps some of the best written stories are those with the team up of Batman and Superman. Superman, who is a character that is full of optimism, wearing bright primary colors and truly believing the best of humanity, is vastly different from the dark, monochromaticly, dark, pessimistic, dark, moody, Nietzche-reading Batman. Superman, who is essentially invulnerable to most attacks has a tendency to rush into battle situations where Batman would analyze the situation and form a battle plan. In today’s comic world, the characters are not friends. They consider each other as an ally who respect one another enormously.

Possibly the “World’s Finest” team ups (The Batman/Superman team), are really well done. The Batman/Superman series is a popular franchise.

As one reads the private thoughts of the protagonists, the reader is reminded how different both the characters are. The following takes place shortly after Superman has been shot with a kryptonite bullet by Metallo and has been buried alive with Batman in a Gotham City graveyard.

Here’s what goes through the head of each of the heroes:


It’s… odd what goes through your head when… it seems like the worst of times.


No more air.


We were kids, Pete Ross and I. We had gone camping in this horrible storm back in Smallville.


The Kryptonite bullet lodged in Clark’s chest has immobilized him.


The ground had softened and I fell into an old well. It was maybe a hundred feet down. And all around me were these green rocks. Meteor rocks.


We can’t go up. Metallo may still be there, and neither of us is in any shape to take him on.


I’d never felt anything like it before. My head was spinning. My stomach going upside-down. I didn’t know then it was Kryptonite. I only knew I was hurt.


(Attaching a detonator with plastique to Superman’s back and using Superman himself as a shield.) I need you to be “The Man of Steel”, Clark. Be the shield.

The charge goes off with a large explosion. Both bodies are blown into the Gotham Sewer System and are falling into the sewer water from above.


Pete wanted to go for help, but I knew if he did, I’d pass out.



We had to work together. Pete took the rope that we used to hold up the tent, tied the pieces in knots, and threw it down to me.



(Superman is now pulling the unconcious Batman out of the water.) He pulled on his end, while I climbed out the best I could. We couldn’t have done it without each other. We had to work together.

Superman revives Batman. Upon awakening, Batman’s thoughts are:


… air…!


Have to keep Bruce talking. Keep him focused. Don’t know the extent of his injuries.


Knowing Clark, he is more concerned with my health than his own. If he can stay concious, I will get him to safety.


(Batman has asked Superman if he can remove the electified gate that leads to the Batcave from the Gotham Sewer System. Batman is still weak from the concussion of the earlier explosion he is helping Superman walk along, nonetheless. Superman removes the gate albeit with difficulty as the there are thousands of electical volts going through his body)

Even after all this time… I’m still amazed by Bruce’s will to live.


I have never known anyone like Clark… He refuses to give in.

The preceding came from the Superman/Batman graphic novel, “Public Enemies” written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Ed McGuinness. Loeb is also responsible for the following Batman graphic novels: Hush, The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and Haunted Knight.

You’ll notice that Batman’s concerns are of the situation and what needs to be done. Superman, who is really not used to being in mortal danger, has to relate to an earlier life threatening situation. He’s almost nostalgic in his concern. As Batman has faced death more frequently than his partner has, he has a better, more active approach in how he deals with the situation. He will use everything at his disposal, including Superman’s own body as a shield, as a tool to aid in his survival.

And what aids Batman in this situation? It is his knowledge in almost a Sun Tzu like approach. He assesses his resources.. The reality that even that an immobile Superman is still good as an invulnerable human shield and that he has to do something quick before he loses conciousness from lack of air. He also has weighed his options. They can’t go back up where the enemy is waiting for them, so there is only down. He has also come prepared with a charge from his utility belt. Everything he did could be done by a normal human being with his wits about him.

That’s what makes this character enduring.

The cerebral, logical, Batman is normally at odds with the insane, chaotic, insane, evil, Joker. Batman, as one of the good guys, won’t take a life. The Joker will take a life on a whim. The Batman uses logic and reason to hunt criminals. The Joker acts without reason making him almost impossible to predict. Ironically, after all of the years Batman has been fighting the Joker, the great detective knows nothing about his arch enemy’s origin – not even his true name.

But that should be no surprise.

The Joker does not truly know anything about himself either. As chronicled in the Alan Moore graphic novel, The Killing Joke, (illustrated masterfully by Brian Bolland), the Joker seems to go through his own origin and seems to reveal very much of himself to the reader. This is then offset by him saying that he remembers it differently almost everytime he thinks about it. (Note to reader: I am speaking of how the Joker is portrayed in the comic books. If one is going by either the WB animated series or by the Tim Burton, Batman, movie, it is revealed that the Joker was a low level enforcer named Jack Napier, who fell into a vat of chemicals and became quite unhinged by his physical transformation into a man with chalk white skin, ruby red lips, and green hair. With the exception of the actual accident of falling into the vat chemicals, there is no other similarity to his origin.)

In the comic book world the Joker’s deeds have become so bizarre and heinous that the Batman has had to rethink his stand on killing the Joker. The Joker, after all, has been responsible for the following: The apparent death of Jason Todd (the second boy to assume the role of Robin) – The Joker beat Jason Todd to near death with a crowbar and left him in a locked warehouse that was about to explode. Jason never made it out alive; the crippling of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle – The Joker went to the Gordon household and Barbara, upon opening the door, was shot by the Joker through the spine. He then undressed Barbara Gordon and took pictures of her naked to torture her father, Commissioner Gordon.; And the shooting of Commissioner Gordon’s second wife, Lt. Sarah Essen, who gave her the choice of catching an infant or shooting the Joker (and the Joker subsequently dropping the infant). He threw her the baby and shot Lt. Essen in the head.

It has often been said that Batman’s most insane action has been to not kill the Joker. Through Batman’s inaction of doing nothing people have lost their lives. Batman has morals. The Joker has none.

The Batman uses fear to carry out his crusade. Batman has used the philosophy that “criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot” uses the image of a bat to frighten his enemies. He in essence is a disciple of the concept of fear. This being the case, there is a natural animosity between the two characters

The use of fear in Batman’s crusade has been well illustrated in the Batman Begins movie. The scene that comes to mind is when he is scaring information out of the corrupt Lt. Flass. Batman uses the superstitious fear of bats in conjunction with bungie dropping Flass from a roof until he gets his answers. This is not a far cry from how he does it in the comic books.

It is a touch Machievellian. To Batman, the ends justify the means.

Batman has his share of enemies. I spoke of the Joker earlier but there are plenty more. Most of Batman’s enemies have been diagnosed as insane for one reason or another. It seems to be a common theme that anyone who would go up against the dark knight could not possibly have all of his marbles. Each one of his enemies challenge an aspect of his character.

The Joker

A chaotic force born from his dropping “The Red Hood” into a vat of chemicals. The Joker challenges the dark knight’s detective skills (as well as his patience).

Two Face

Harvey Dent, former District Attorney for Gotham City, was severely scarred when Boss Maroni threw a vial of acid on half of his face. This act unhinged him split his already fragile psyche into two parts. The good Harvey Dent and the evil Two Face. Two Face makes a decision to do good or evil based on his two headed coin (one side scarred). Scarred side up he does a crime, clean side up he’ll help the law. Two faces’ crimes normally involve the concept of duality or the number “2″.

Two Face tests the Batman’s detective skills and challenges the split of Batman’s own personality.

The Riddler

Edward Nigma (E. Nigma – enigma – get it?) was an abused child who was taught to never lie. Coupled with the fact that he thought he was smarter than anyone else (including the Batman). The Riddler would leave a riddle for Batman to solve before he committed a crime, confident enough that Batman would not be able to solve the riddle. The riddle was the way that the Riddler would keep from lying.

The Riddler tests the Batman’s intelligence (specifically Riddle Solving).

Poison Ivy

Pamela Isley was a botanist who became the guinea pig of Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man. The experiment made her touch deadly and made her immune to all poisons as well. She also became psychologically unstable believing that all plants were her children. Poison Ivy has the ability to release pheromones and make any man fall in love with her (including the Batman if he’s not prepared for it).

Poison Ivy tests the Batman’s strategy, preparedness, chemical expertise, and will power to resist her chemical attraction.

Ras Al Ghul

No one knows how old Ras Al Ghul may be. He claims to be thousands of years old… which very well may be. Using his Lazarus Pit to rejuvenate himself (or bring him back from the brink of death), he has used his centuries of experience and intelligence to build his league of assassins. Ras has through his own detective work figured out Batman’s secret identity but through his own code of honor has not revealed this to anyone else. He is especially dangerous when he first emerges from the Lazarus Pit because he gains the strength of 10 men and becomes uncontrollably insane. He is perhaps one of the Batman’s most dangerous enemies.

Ras Al Ghul believes that the earth is too far gone and the only hope for the planet is to start over again. In Batman, he saw a successor to his plans and wanted him to wed his daughter, Talia.

Ras Al Ghul tests the Batman’s mission and his loyalty to his own ideas of justice and represents a global threat.

The Penguin

Oswald Cobblepot was born freakishly unusual with a long nose and chubby body. Having a rough childhood, he studied karate and became facinated with penguins. He uses umbrellas and tuxedos for his MO and considers himself a gentlemen.

The Penguin is more a crime lord than a petty thief providing questionable goods and services that can’t be gotten through normal means.

The Penguin represents a force of organized crime.

The Scarecrow

Psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Crane, became obsessed with the concept of “fear”. The Scarecrow’s crimes more have to do with funding his experiments in his fear gas. Normally, a victim will succumb to either a specific fear, all fears, or become fearless (sounds okay, but makes the victim careless to common threats like walking off of a roof).

The Scarecrow tests the Batman’s bravery.


Born to serve the life sentence of his father, Bane’s childhood and early adult life were spent behind the walls of Peña Duro, an infamous prison located in Santa Prisca. There, he read as many books as he could grab his hands on, and built up his body in the prison’s gymnasium. He became a test subject for a mysterious drug known as Venom, which had killed its other subjects. It nearly killed him at first, but he survived and found its effects enhanced his physical strength. Bane stands at 6′8″ and 350 lbs.

Years later Bane escaped Peña Duro, along with several accomplices (his friends Trogg, Zombie and Bird). His ambitions turned to destroying Batman, whom he had heard tales of while serving his sentence. Bane was convinced that the demonic bat that haunted his dreams since childhood was a representation of the Batman.

Bane destroyed the walls of Arkham Asylum, allowing its deranged inmates to escape into Gotham City, where Batman spent three months rounding them up, running himself to exhaustion, and then returned to Wayne Manor, where Bane awaited him. He fought Batman, defeated him, and delivered the coup de grace: he broke Batman’s back and threw him to the streets of Gotham.

Batman recovered and has since beaten Bane with and without his Venom drug.

Bane’s challenge to the Batman is his physical strength, strategy, intelligence, and fighting prowess.

I could go further, but I’m sure you get the idea. Each of his enemies represents a challenge to either his abilities or his mission.

The DC Comic Book comany, subsidiary of Warner Bros, has found enduring success with the Batman comic line. Batman has been published in Detective Comics, Batman, Legend of the Dark Knight, Batman: Gotham Knights, Superman and Batman, The JLA, and Nightwing and are still huge money makers. When a character can keep that kind of record for over 65 years and perpetuate TV show after TV show, it becomes more than a comic book character.

It becomes part of a mythology.


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