Now by antihero we don’t mean a villain, because Batman is obviously on the side of the good guys. But, is there a chance that he fits the definition of anti-hero, like Breaking Bad‘s Walter White or Mad Men‘s Don Draper? Well, he lacks the alliterative name, but what other traits does Batman share that makes him an antihero? And does this mean he gambles with the lives of the citizens of Gotham City?
An antihero is the ideal protagonist. We feel sympathy and likeability towards them, despite their often intolerable ways. They are not the antagonist whom we hate/love to hate. Let’s clear that up. An antihero is defined as the protagonist who lacks standard heroic attributes – such as idealism, courage, and morality. We follow their journey, but often they are not spurred on by ideals of selfless heroism like first responders or Superman. Superman is a classic hero – he’d juggle kryptonite if it meant saving a little old lady from a speeding train.
Batman’s first antihero characteristic is the fact that he is often implicit in criminal behaviour himself. There is a reason he wears a hood and mask and rarely makes direct contact with law professionals. The methods chosen to achieve some of his crimes are dubious – and he often kills his opponents to save the day, most notably The Joker in The Killing Joke comic.
Batman is solemn and surly – especially when modelled on Christian Bale. His gruff nature automatically gives him a prickly personality, common with those who do good, but don’t really want to be doing good. He’ll save the day, but he’ll let you know that he doesn’t really enjoy it. He does so because he can and has a lot of money and gadgets, not because he has a deep calling for heroism.
Batman frequently flirts with the enemy. Teasing the enemy often works, and this article on trash talking and its effectiveness in sport shows, with examples ranging from MMA champion Connor McGregor to poker ace Will Kassouf, that by goading your opponent, their anger may cloud their judgement, or their game may be thrown by the psychological warfare. For example, in the Mad Love Batman comic, Batman taunts Harley Quinn that The Joker would never believe she could pull anything off, letting her anger cloud her judgment and leading her to bringing The Joker to Batman, so eventually Batman could save the day. This is reminiscent of Will Kassouf’s trash talking to his poker rival following a particularly clever bluff that landed him the 2016 World Series of Poker main event against Stacy Matuson. The poker ace was both criticized and admired for “talking” another player into laying down a big pair to the board having invested a huge portion of their stack, while Will had a weak hand. But trash talking is not a very moral or idealistic thing to do. Real heroes succeed through vice and virtue, not through tricking their opponents into blowing up and making a slip up.
Of course, when a comic runs for so long and spawns so many films, different portrayals are required in order to keep him fresh. Perhaps we’re being too hard on old Bruce and he is indeed the pillar of goodwill. But his primary feature of anti-heroism is his manner. And his Manor. Bruce Wayne lives alone (almost), shut off from society with his money. His attitude alone paints him in enough light to be considered as antihero as his behaviour does.
There’s a reason they call him The Dark Knight. He’s not their knight in shining armour, he’s their flawed, reluctant antihero. He saves the day, but at what cost? As Commissioner Gordon proclaims, he is the hero that Gotham deserves (for being a cesspool of crime), but not the one it needs right now. Batman is the perfect antihero for a city that does very little to help itself.
*Main Image Source: Hayabusa on YouTube