Batman’s Greatest Strength Is Family, And Zack Snyder Knows It
Batman likes to consider himself DC’s most solitary superhero, but in reality the Bat-Family are the source of his greatest strength.
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Batman’s greatest weapon is the Bat-family. “Batman is all of us,” Zack Snyder wrote on Twitter on Batman Day 2020. “He is our rage at injustice… he stands alone, as we all wish we could, in the face of a corrupt system which wishes to oppress and exploit… he is that broken child, searching the dark alleys of the human soul to bring balance to the world.”
It was a poetic comment, but unfortunately it was also a little clumsily worded, and consequently it led to some controversy online. Some fans focused on the word “alone,” arguing that Batman is never truly alone; he simply believes he is. By their reading, the best Batman stories are the ones in which the Dark Knight is forced to learn he cannot do it alone, but instead has to accept the importance of others in his life. This, they argue, is key to understanding the Bat-Family. They’re right to make this point, as is confirmed by a close look at the comics. At the same time, though, they’re also unfair in their criticism of Zack Snyder. The sentiment they express is one which he would completely agree with – and one he has already incorporated into his films.
The Bat-Family Are Batman’s Greatest Strength In The Comics
The original Batman cut a solitary figure, but it didn’t take long for him to begin to gather friends and allies to his side. Commissioner Gordon was created in 1939, Dick Grayson’s Robin in 1940, and Alfred Pennyworth in 1943. Since then, for all Batman may like to pretend he works best alone, he has seldom done so; he has an ever-growing band of companions, sidekicks, students, and even lovers who fight alongside him. They have become affectionately known as the “Bat-Family,” and many of them – such as Robin and Batgirl – have become iconic superheroes in their own right, adapted for both the big and small screens. Meanwhile, Batman has been a constant member of the Justice League, operating as part of a wider family than he sometimes likes.
Batman is a fascinating character, a flawed man who doesn’t really understand how to play well with others. He has profound trust issues, to the extent he created strategies to take down all his closest friends, and he’s clashed with Superman many times. Grim and foreboding, controlling and manipulative, Batman has a habit of pushing people away. And yet, as hard as he tries, they keep coming back. They sense he needs them in his life, and that without their influence he would lose his very humanity. This was best expressed after the death of Jason Todd’s Robin in the epic story “A Death in the Family,” in which Joker brutally murdered Batman’s ward in order to torture him. To Bruce Wayne’s surprise, he soon found himself sought out by Tim Drake, a young genius who had recognized Batman’s suffering and realized a new Robin was needed to ground the Bat. This is a truth Batman will only acknowledge occasionally, whether in a rare moment of weakness or emotion. But it is a truth nonetheless; he needs his family around him. It’s a lesson he is learning right now in the comics, with the Bat-Family finally reuniting to bring the “Joker War” to an end.
Legendary Batman scribe Scott Snyder recently suggested Batman is DC’s most hopeful hero. In Dark Knights: Death Metal #2, Wonder Woman told Bruce she had once asked Alfred why he had chosen a bat.
Early on, I once asked you, why bats? You gave some answer about cowardly lots and so on, but afterward, Alfred, he told me “because bats are the only mammal that flies. Batman is about teaching people to aspire past what seems possible.”
Viewed through this lens, the Bat-Family are the proof Batman works. Inspired by Batman’s example, they are others who soar through the skies of Gotham.
Every Batman Incarnation Has A Bat-Family
This pattern holds for every incarnation of Batman, including on the big screen. Tim Burton’s Bruce Wayne may have been a solo vigilante in the 1989 Batman film, but even he started out with an Alfred, and the dynamic between Batman and Catwoman was central to the sequel. As those films continued, they introduced the first Robin and ultimately Batgirl, granted not quite so successfully. Christopher Nolan’s iteration of the Dark Knight was the most isolated of all, but again he inspired others to work alongside him, with Commissioner Gordon becoming increasingly key to Batman’s victories as the trilogy continued. What’s more, even Nolan chose to give Bruce Wayne a “Happily Ever After” that involved a relationship with Catwoman. Finally, the DCEU’s version is the most interesting of all, because it essentially suggests that a Batman without his family becomes a monster.
The Bruce Wayne of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a man who has broken off almost all human contact after the Joker murdered his Robin. The experience broke him, more thoroughly than even Bane could, because the lack of human relationships led Batman to lose hope. That is the reason Batman has abandoned his “No Killing” rule in Batman V Superman, the reason he cuts a bloody swathe through Gotham’s criminals and even begins to brand them. It is even the reason he assumes Superman must be killed as a threat, because he can no longer believe the best of people. Superman’s example shows Batman there is another way, and begins a redemption arc in which he becomes the one who forms the Justice League. To suggest that Snyder doesn’t understand Batman should never be alone is to allow the clumsy phrasing of one tweet to obscure the actual content of his storytelling.
In the comics and in Snyder’s movies, Batman is a hero who is at his worst when he’s alone. Thankfully, the Bat-family – whatever form it takes – means he never truly is.