It's time to cancel Batman — for good

Yes, I was once a big fan. But Batman hasn't been good for Gotham, and it's time we admit it

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 26, 2022 9:00AM (EDT)

A batman cosplayer and a lego batman cosplayer in conversation during the MCM London Comic Con 2017 held at the ExCel on October 29, 2017 in London, England.  (Ollie Millington/Getty Images)
A batman cosplayer and a lego batman cosplayer in conversation during the MCM London Comic Con 2017 held at the ExCel on October 29, 2017 in London, England. (Ollie Millington/Getty Images)

The news about "Batgirl" shocked fans of the DC Extended Universe: The $90 million feature had been scrapped by Warner Bros. — permanently shelved, written off, reportedly never to be seen by the public, neither in theaters nor on HBO Max — even though the film was nearly complete. 

"Querida familia! On the heels of the recent news about our movie Batgirl, I am proud of the love, hard work and intention all of our incredible cast and tireless crew put into this film over 7 months in Scotland," actress Leslie Grace, who played the title role, wrote in an Instagram post. "I feel blessed to have worked among absolute greats and forged relationships for a lifetime in the process! To every Batgirl fan - THANK YOU for the love and belief, allowing me to take on the cape and become, as Babs said best, 'my own damn hero!' #Batgirl for life!"

A film starring an Afro-Latina Batgirl sounds amazing, and I truly feel bad for the actors and crew, who I imagine worked extremely hard and may never see the finished product. Fast on the heels of this news came the headlines about J.J. Abrams' new animated "Batman" series being dropped from HBO Max, though that series will reportedly be released elsewhere. The ultimate fate of "Batgirl" — secret screenings are said to be happening on the Warner Bros. lot, according to a scoop from The Hollywood Reporter — remains to be seen. Batman franchise fans are understandably confused and upset. But maybe it's time to rethink the whole Batman thing all together.

OK, I'll say it. I hate Batman. I don't even like him a little bit. Batman is not a hero. 

Bring on the hate mail and death threats and 10 million-word thinkpieces to each and every one of my public email accounts. And please, cue the violin as you share the stories of those dark, cold, lonely nights when you thought about giving up, letting it all go, if not for the story of Bruce Wayne and his commitment to Gotham City that gave you the little spark you needed to last another day. I don't care. I don't like Batman.

I don't like his uniform, I don't like Alfred's retirement plan, I don't like the way he speaks in disjointed, inaudible phrases, and I especially don't like the fact that he thinks covering 40 percent of his face adequately shields the identity of a wildly popular public figure who also happens to be a billionaire. You telling me that if Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet covered their eyes, we wouldn't be able to pick them out of a lineup?

I hate Batman. 

Batman is not a hero. 

It wasn't always like this. As a tyke, I thought Batman was amazing. Young me spent countless hours sketching images of the Batman breaking his enemies into pieces on the front of my notebook in ink. I even created my own Black Batman, who whipped ass in Air Jordans instead of those knee-high Aldo-looking boots. I saw the mysterious caped crusader, who always had a cool car and never hesitated to stick his foot clean up the business side of the kinds of bad guys who were probably itching to hurt little people like me, as a hero. I saw the action, the fighting, the BOOMs and BAMs and how, when his city flashed that bat symbol in the sky, he was always there. It didn't matter what Bruce had going on — date night, fundraiser, dinner party at his favorite chow spot — he would stop everything to protect his city. The Batman I knew could have been in the middle of lovemaking, and if he saw that bat symbol, he would throw the woman off and head out, because Gotham needed him. I thought we needed a guy like that in my neighborhood. Like many inner city kids, I wanted to be like Batman. I didn't dress up and play vigilante, but I watched all his shows and films with extreme excitement. 

A Brief Batman Origin Story

In case you have been in a cave for the last 80 years, I would like to present you with a Batman origin story, constructed solely from my memory. 

A young Bruce Wayne was walking through the alley with his rich parents Thomas and Martha Wayne after enjoying a night at the movies. Now I have no idea why super rich people would walk down a dark alley in a violent city, but that's where the trio was confronted by an armed robber who gunned down Thomas and Martha Wayne right in front of young Bruce. This extremely violent and traumatic scene is also why I connected with Batman so strongly. I have lost people to gun violence and fully understand the trauma that accompanies that kind of pain. 

There are multiple versions of the story floating around. One deals with Bruce instantly beginning to hone his skills as a detective and training his body in an effort to avenge his parents' murder and end crime in Gotham. Another version is similar, except young Bruce spends 12 years abroad after the murder, comes back with that same advanced skill set, sees a bat fly through a window and decides to take to the streets as the Batman. 

The Batman would go on to form a secret partnership with Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon, as they are both sick and tired of crime and willing to do anything to solve the city's problems. During the Batman's crime fighting journey, he discovers that the person who murdered his parents is a small-time crime boss named Joe Chill. The Batman uses his advanced detective skills to locate the culprit, and while he could have easily murdered Chill with any of his gadgets or exotic killing toys, instead he chooses to take the high road, telling Chill that he will be watching him closely, and that if Chill makes one mistake, he will be sent to prison, which is another oppressive system that doesn't work, but that's a different article.

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Chill has a meeting with a group of other gangsters in Gotham City, making them aware of the Batman's threat. The gangsters are so upset that Chill's crime had created the Batman they decide to gun Chill down. Chill's death did not stop the Batman from being the world's top vigilante­­, though; he's dedicated his life to fighting crime ever since. 

From the outside looking in, this all seemed pretty honorable. I thought it was great that a person so rich, with access to so many resources, dedicated his precious time to making the lives of the people of Gotham better. Yes, Batman is a billionaire, just in case you didn't catch that. Here's a list of companies that are housed under Wayne Enterprises: Wayne Aerospace, Wayne Airlines, Wayne Automotive, Wayne Aviation, Wayne Biotech, Wayne Botanical, Wayne Chemicals, Wayne Construction, Wayne Electric, Wayne Electronics, Wayne Energy, Wayne Entertainment (parent company of The Daily Planet newspaper), Wayne Foods, Wayne Healthcare, Wayne Industries, Wayne Manufacturing, Wayne Medical, Wayne Mining, Wayne Oil, Wayne Pharmaceuticals, Wayne Records, Wayne Research Institute, Wayne Retail, Wayne Securities, Wayne Shipping, Wayne Stage, Wayne Steel, Wayne Studios, Wayne Technologies, Wayne Television, Wayne Weapons, Wayne Yards. (Is there anything in Gotham Bruce Wayne doesn't own?) 

We don't do snitches where I'm from. 

My big disconnect from Batman initially came from his relationship with Police Commissioner Gordon. I didn't mind police when I was a little kid, but by the time I got to sixth grade, police officers had become the most oppressive people in our neighborhoods. By 11, I had already heard or witnessed countless stories of people being beaten, harassed and sometimes even shot by our local police. And yet the Batman, who was hated by many police officers, maintained a relationship with Commissioner Gordon. It seemed like he was siding with the people who historically had taken a stance against me. Why did Batman have to work with the commissioner? He was a master detective with access to unlimited resources, including the best gym membership, and with a workout schedule that allowed him to grow the biggest muscles in Gotham, plus all kinds of crazy weapons. He wouldn't even be needed if police officers actually did their jobs. Yet he still chose to work with cops, which essentially makes him a snitch. We don't do snitches where I'm from. Pretty soon, aside from my fondness for Marvel hero, sometimes anti-hero and super asshole Wolverine, a character who actually has superpowers — unlike the Batman — my love for any type of comic hero began to dwindle. 

No more Batman sketches, memorabilia or need to see the TV shows and movies. I became more addicted to my girlfriends, Nikes, and playing basketball all day. I left Batman, but Batman refused to leave me. The old Adam West "Batman" series from the '60s stayed on reruns. There was a Batman cartoon. Stores stocked the shelves with all kinds of Batman merch and five Batman feature films were released during my school years, between 1989 and 1997. The endless supply of Batman content available meant other kids brought him up all the time. 

"Yo, Batman is everything," my friend Jake said during a break at our 12 and Under basketball summer camp. "He really do whatever he wanna do!" 

I guzzled some Gatorade and spat. "He doesn't have any power, he just rich!" 

"That's all you need, boy," Jake laughed. "To be rich." 

I could not fully articulate it at the time, as I didn't have the language or understanding that would develop as I grew older, but if I could travel back to that moment, I would tell Jake that Batman's only power is white privilege, and that is why he began to seem so unimpressive to me by then. Batman could not fly, make himself disappear, or shoot lasers out of his eyes. He was just another white guy with too much money surrounded by people who were too poor to get by. 

Nobody has as much white privilege as Batman. Batman has so much privilege he can afford to hire people to run all of his companies while he works out 12 times a day and spends his nights fighting people he could instead send to therapy and eventually hire. 

Gotham doesn't need vigilantes; it needs wealth distribution.

Over the years, DC Comics expanded the Batman narrative, creating multiple philanthropic wings of Wayne Enterprises, as they probably expected people like me to take issue with Bruce Wayne the man. In one issue from November 2015, Batman is conflicted because the development wing of Wayne Enterprises is gentrifying a neighborhood, which causes a small, Black-owned store to become a target for investors, crime lords and gang members. The son of the store owner appeals to Bruce Wayne for help, because banks like the ones Bruce Wayne owns don't really listen to poor Black people. The kid is ignored, so he relies on gangs for protection, and is eventually murdered by a police officer with a shaky record. This incident forces the Batman to question his role in the events, see the error of his own ways and attempt to develop a relationship with Gotham's Black residents. The comic doesn't end with Bruce sharing his wealth, though, just an image of the Batman listening to gang members. Cue the small violin again. 

That's not enough, Bruce. Fictional Gotham is still an extremely dangerous city, and yet we keep getting films and comics and TV shows based on this wealthy grown man's obsession. Gotham doesn't need vigilantes; it needs wealth distribution.

Vigilante culture creates idiots who think they can solve economic and social issues with their pistols, and it empowers armed civilians to make split decisions about strangers that can get people killed. Like Trayvon Martin. Like Ahmaud Arbery. The glorification of this mindset continues to fuel a generation of empty-headed armed clowns posing as protectors. 

This flawed culture even made its way to the White House. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, then-presidential nominee Donald Trump referenced poverty, violence, corruption and destruction, offering himself, in true narcissistic fashion, as the solution, saying, "I am your voice, I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order."

Every time rich people go out to solve a problem, it seems they think of everything except spreading their money around.

The Batman came on the scene in 1939, which means Gotham City has been a messed up place for more than 80 years now, essentially making the caped crusader the biggest failure in crime-fighting history. I know, I know, we are supposed to reimagine the Batman in all of these different eras. But why, in each different reality and timeline, can we only imagine a f**ked up city? Can there never be progress?

Bruce Wayne would be more effective if he sold off all his toys, allowed Alfred to retire, for God's sake — lord knows how many years he has been on the job — and divided his wealth amongst the people of Gotham. If Bruce Wayne did that, then and only then will he be a true hero. Every time rich people go out to solve a problem, it seems they think of everything except spreading their money around. That makes no sense. Most people who commit crimes do so because they are poor. They are not bad people, they do not love to hurt innocent people, they are just poor. Batman has the power to save them from being poor, but instead he dresses up in costumes and beats their heads in. How can this guy be a world class detective and not understand how poverty works? 

We need something different. There is no time like the present with Warner Bros. rethinking Batman properties. Can I suggest reintroducing Bruce Wayne as Reparations Man?

Unlike Batman, Reparations Man would be a real hero. Like Batman, Reparations Man's real identity would still be Bruce Wayne, except he doesn't have to wear a mask over his 40 percent of his face. His identity could be public or private, his choice. Reparations Man's mission can be extremely simple: Bruce Wayne doesn't have a wife or children, so there's literally nobody to leave his money to but the people of Gotham, and he has so much of it he doesn't have to wait until he dies to give it away.

Bruce Wayne could create a fund that would allow the Joker and Two Face to get the mental health treatment and plastic surgery they need, mend his relationship with the Penguin, and even let the Riddler start an adult children's book imprint at Random House. Bruce could make it so that everyone in the city has a livable wage. He could create social programs for the people who suffered under many of his own oppressive businesses for years and use his political influence to clean up, reform or, really, delete the ineffective Gotham police department. Bruce Wayne could do all of that and more. 

But he won't. He's too busy dressing up, kicking ass and feeding his own ego to really be effective, and he's celebrated by legions of fans for it. And that is why I hate Batman. 

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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