December 16, 2014 by Devin
I have become increasingly disillusioned with Batman. While the millionaire superhero is undoubtedly cool, more and more his character has been simply about beating up criminals. This is especially apparent in the most popular Batman games, the Arkham series, where after the first one they go out of their way to create an elaborate playground where you can beat up criminals without any remorse whatsoever. These games are some of the most popular forms of Batman in public perception, and they make it clear that Batman is completely in the right to beat up every single criminal simply because they are criminals.
For all the dark and grittiness that is inherent in Batman, the closer you bring his situation to reality, the more messed up it seems. Here is a guy who spends his elaborate wealth to beat up on the lower class. In reality, most criminals are not just normal middle class folks who wake up one morning and decide to rob a bank.
Criminals in real life go into a life of crime for many reasons. They may have grown up in a bad neighborhood and fell in with bad groups. They may have been truly desperate after losing their jobs and having to deal with a tough economic situation. (But They probably aren’t mentally ill, as most of Batman’s villains are).
That’s not the case in Gotham. The super rich Waynes have no blame in any of the criminal activity, despite living in extreme wealth. Almost all of Batman’s villains went into the life of crime out of their own free choice or because they are mentally ill. If Batman were a real life hero, it would be really disturbing how this super wealthy guy was beating up a bunch of less fortunate people.
On the other hand, I recently started watching Arrow, the CW show about the Green Arrow that took a lot of cues from Batman Begins. It is about a rich millionaire who decides to use his super awesome crime fighting skills to make the city a better place. Sound familiar?
I was not really interested in the show for a long while because of its apparent Batman mold. I frankly have had quite enough of the character, partly because of his overexposure and partly because of the problems detailed above. But watching The Flash (which is still in its first season and absolutely excellent) made me want to give Arrow a try, so I did, and I realized something completely unexpected about Arrow.
In the show, Oliver Queen is a crazy rich party boy who, while on a yacht with his dad across the world, gets shipwrecked on an island. His father dies, but before he does, he gives Oliver a book with a list of people Oliver needs to take care of to fix his father’s mistakes (mistakes which have left Starling City in a terrible place). So after Oliver comes back and adopts the Green Arrow hood, he begins to take down these names, by killing either them or their fortunes and businesses.
That is the key to why I actually love the class politics in Arrow. The people on his list are not the lower classes. They are not the people who are messed up in the head. They are not the people who have turned to crime because it was their only option. They are the wealthy people who use their influence to get what they want. They are the people who live glorious lives and have every opportunity in the world to help others. They are the reason crime exists. Even Oliver’s own wealth is implied to have been to the detriment of others.
It is this kind of social awareness that makes Oliver Queen’s crusade for justice so much more engaging to me than Batman’s. Batman’s fight against crime seems to be, at its most extreme, more about his own therapy than the benefit of others. While that makes for an interesting case study, it is not a compelling motivation. He is not a hero, per se. Oliver, even though he has few moral qualms about killing people, still seems to be more aware of how his actions affect others.
Case in point, in episode six, Oliver has to deal with people who are not on his list: a group of bank robbers who happen to be a family. Oliver does not even want to deal with them because they are a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. And when Oliver does finally have to deal with them, he does so first by attacking the real issue head on: he offers the father a job.
So, to recap, Batman solves crime by beating criminals up and putting them in prisons where they interact with other criminals and stay criminals all their lives. The Green Arrow solves crime by beating up rich people and stopping them from controlling cities while also giving criminals a way out of the system.
After seeing so many superhero stories seemingly out of touch with what makes their heroes heroes, it is nice that Arrow seems a little more aware of this fact.
1. It’s also worth noting that a major theme in the Batman universe is that criminals don’t get better. The Dark Knight Rises, one of the most popular Batman graphic novels, features at least two examples of supposed rehabilitations that Batman sees through, which is a really disturbing trend. This kind of thinking works to dehumanize people with mental illness.
2. I am still on the first season, and so far it is truly stupid. So many moments are taken so seriously but are so ridiculous that it’s incredibly laughable. I can see the seeds of it getting better, but a pinch of humor would go a long way for its early episodes.