What Batfleck Can Learn from Batman: The Animated Series

Comic books truly are the modern analog to the gods of ancient Greek and Roman myths. Villains use incredibly potent powers to wreak havoc on us mortals, while heroic gods, demigods and mortals whose strength, intellect and skills enable them to take on villains. These stories help us cope with a world filled with random tragedy, consistent injustice and terror. These stories help us retreat to an imaginary world filled with saviors in odd attire, they remind us of what it means to be a hero, and help inspire us to sacrifice for the greater good of humanity.

Like the ancient heroes in the myths of old, modern comic book heroes have through various changes to appeal to their current audience. Superman has gone from being able to leap large buildings in a single bound to being able to fly at the speed of whatever-the-eff-he-needs-to-go-at-any-given-moment, to being able to lay bricks…with his eyes, I guess?

Likewise, Batman/Bruce Wayne has gone from a pipe-smoking vigilante who couldn’t give to flips for criminals’ lives, to a hero with one rule, to a campy spandex-wearing dancing parody, to a brooding complex hero.

One of Batman's darker covers.

By the time I got into Batman in the 90s my main exposure to the hero came from the 90s animated series on the WB channel. Said series portrayed the Caped Crusader a sleuth first, bruiser second. More importantly, Bruce Wayne clearly demonstrated his love for the city of Gotham, compassion toward those criminals who merit it, and a genuine, if subtle spirit of caring for his allies.

By the time I was in high school I had read a couple of the classic Batman graphic novels like The Dark Knight Returns and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth so I had seen a decidedly darker side to Batman. However both novels still stayed true to Batman’s moral code. He had compassion for Harvey Dent, despite all he has done in Arkham Asylum and *SPOILER ALERT* in The Dark Knight Returns the Joker plays the ultimate prank on Batman by essentially killing himself, with a little help from injuries he sustained at the hands of Batman.

This was also the time when Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy started coming out. Said trilogy featured Batman’s no-kill rule as one of his defining characteristics, and as a major source of conflict in all three films.

In 2011 the game Arkham City highlighted the problems Batman’s rule can create in its closing scene. It is the reason so many criminals are left to roam the streets of Gotham reigning chaos on the streets. Batman catches them, puts them in Arkham, they escape, and the whole process repeats itself. By giving Batman a “no kill” rule, it allows writers to bring popular villains back again and again, thus building a history that gives meaning to each encounter.

A man dressed as a bat holding a man dressed as a clown. It should be stupid, yet 75 years of history make this artwork striking.

That’s the Batman I grew up with. It’s the Batman I love. That’s the Batman that was almost realized in Batman v. Superman: Brothers from Other Mothers Who Happen to Have the Same Name, if only they hadn’t indulged in this crap.

That dude is dead. Batman literally crushed his head in. What happened to the merciful Batman who spared the lives of criminals, consigning them to a fate that is arguably worse than death, being paralyzed from the neck down? In all seriousness this is a major departure from the character of the Batman I love so much. Moreover, it kind of creates a major plot problem for the DCEU.

Why hasn’t Batman killed the Joker?

In this universe Mr. J has killed Jason Todd, and it’s pretty heavily implied that that event was a major contributor to Bruce’s darker, more lethal methods of fighting crime. So why hasn’t he hunted the bastard down and killed him? Come to think of it, why are any of the Suicide Squad members still alive? To be fair this can be explained away in various ways. From villains on the lamb, evading the Dark Knight’s grasp. Perhaps most of them were incarcerated before Jason Todd was killed, before Batman’s descent into cruelty.

I know I am not alone in feeling troubled by Batfleck’s apparent disregard for human life. I also know there are a lot of people who are totally down with a more jaded, more violent Dark Knight. Neither side is wrong. It all comes down to personal preference and that’s fine.

The good news is that every other facet of Ben Afleck’s Dark Knight is on point. He makes a great Bruce Wayne and a surprisingly intimidating Batman. In fact I would go as far as saying the scenes with Bruce and Alfred were the best parts of B.v.S:D.o.J. if the no-kill rule had been left in place, and if the Dark Knight had shown a little more compassion to criminals, I would have gone as far as saying that Batfleck is the Batman of my dreams.

But I haven’t lost hope. The end of the film saw Batman’s faith in goodness restored through Superman’s actions. It was one of the few rays of hope for the DCEU that existed for me by the end of the film. I believe Warner Bros. have the chance to restore a Batman who is compassionate toward his enemies, who sticks to a no kill rule. I believe Batfleck has the opportunity to encapsulate what made the Animated Series’ Batman work so well. And that is something I can get behind.