I used to be the biggest Batman fan. When I was a little boy, Batman: The Animated Series re-runs were on my television as often as I could catch them during the day and as I continued to grow, I began to watch new series like Batman Beyond and The Batman. I survived the years of Schumacher’s Batman films and dove into analyzing Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy with every fiber of my being with The Dark Knight being my favorite movie, switching places with The Lion King depending on my mood. I own The Dark Knight Returns, The Long Halloween, Killing Joke, Kingdom Come, I even enjoy Ben Affleck’s interpretation of the hero in the DC Extended Universe. I’ve always loved Batman and have seen him as an awesome example of transforming your personal trauma into a triumph.
But recently, my love for the character has waned.
It isn’t necessarily because of his overwhelming exposure to the world with nearly every DC Comics marketing campaign from ads to t-shirts placing him front and center or there being more Batman films than there are films of the first superhero, Superman. My beef with Batman is one of my own shifting consciousness and self-awareness as well as the current political climate that I find myself in while writing this.
Currently in the highest office of power (that we know of) outside of the Pope, is an entitled seventy-something white billionaire who has used his influence to bully his way into power by scaring the masses into believing he was the best and only choice for change to happen in the country while also targeting and labeling certain groups as criminals, outright thus creating the fear of the other.
Now, initially, the thought may be that this sounds nothing like Batman, but it kind of does. Bruce Wayne, at his core, is an entitled child who takes responsibility for the entire city of Gotham and makes it his duty to use whatever means to scare, bully and personally police criminal activity with displays of violence and by creating a clear black and white binary between criminal and victim, with no amount of grey morality in between. You commit a crime, Batman breaks your arm, sends you to Blackgate Prison where you’re reluctantly recruited by one of a dozen clinically insane super-villains who want to poison the city’s water supply or blow up some police stations.
There is a cycle of violence that is created through fear and desperation that Batman perpetuates and that his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, has the potential to stop. In movies and comics, Gotham is depicted as an impoverished cesspool of crime where the poor are completely isolated from the one billionaire shining jewel of a family that the city has to offer. The Narrows are, initially, run by mob bosses that do what organized crime leaders do and in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy there is an implication that Bruce Wayne gives up his Batman persona because organized crime is finished because of the Dent Act.
Obviously, this isn’t comic book Batman, though he generally doesn’t fair much better in my eyes, where instead of investing money to rebuilding Gotham’s economic infrastructure by offering jobs, educational opportunities and scholarships for impoverished and at-risk youth and families, Bruce Wayne uses those billions to make new toys for himself and the Justice League. Granted, in the comic book world, alien threats like Darkseid and his parademon hordes are ones that a man like Batman must be invested in preparing for, but looking at it from a pragmatic point of view, if the man held his city to such a high-level of esteem that he’d put his life on the line, night in and night out, to save a few people, why wouldn’t he ensure that he covered every base by investing in Gotham?
The King In Me
With his race, economic status and my own growing political concerns and understandings considered, I found myself looking for something new. The nerd in me wouldn’t be satisfied until I had another fictional hero to fixate on (I have issues, yes). Then it clicked for me while searching a few forums that Black Panther was the hero I needed.
T’Challa reflected my own black consciousness and the way I viewed the world, especially reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ current run, depicting Black Panther as a man and king struggling to find the balance between serving his people and doing the right thing. What was also so essential about Black Panther as a character was the representation of power and royal that he and his country of Wakanda have always symbolized.
An African country, unaffected by the horrors of whiteness and colonization (whiteness being the pushed fallacy that being white is superior to any other color or ethnicity) that held onto their traditional beliefs and clothing while also being the most scientifically advanced nation in the Marvel Universe. This beautiful “what-if” scenario is both amazing and inspiring and makes me wonder what would happen if black people did create their own sovereign nation.
Revolutionary views aside, I found myself entranced by the idea of Wakanda, the idea of a king who placed the welfare of his people far above the concerns of the outside world and a leader who dealt with all invaders and assailants personally.
Everything from Wakanda’s Dora Milaje, female warriors that served as bodyguards to the Black Panther, to their cultural views and traditions screamed REPRESENTATION, something I definitely find extremely important for young people coming up. While I’m past the age of being impressionable enough for superheroes to be my moral guide, I do see why they exist and I recognize the essential nature of the hero.
So my journey to wokeness, the trek to realizing that I had been sleeping on myself can be summed up in my shift from being fascinated by Batman to being enthralled by Black Panther. Two figures, while similar at the base, but representing different things to me.
All hail the Haramu-Fal.