The Obsessive Detective: The Quest for Justice Is a Quest for Truth
Why did Batman become a detective? Many of us know the dark origins of his story. Batman was a victim of one of the most severe crimes; the murder of his parents fueled his ambition to become one who opposed such evil. Writers over the years have consistently reminded readers of this formative experience, often in melodramatic ways. Although DC has changed the basic myth (with the various “crisis” plotlines) over the years, leaving the death of his parents an unsolved mystery has been one of the more poignant, haunting renditions of his origins—it is the case that can never be laid to rest.
Some have portrayed Bruce’s heroism in his overcoming his past, while others, like Sam Hamm, have offered a more sinister interpretation, claiming that Bruce luxuriates in his own tragedy in a way that the “Batman persona would function both as the symptom of, and justification for, his madness.” Despite which portrait we choose, though, the deaths of his parents leaves Bruce Wayne a heavily scarred orphan and fuels his later decision to train himself, mentally and physically, to oppose those forces that stole his childhood.
As a detective he would require skills in investigation, pursuit, and confrontation; he would need knowledge of criminology and forensics; he learned the skills of surveillance, deduction, disguise, and infiltration. He possessed the wealth to incorporate the necessary technologies to accomplish these purposes. In addition, he would need to train his body as soldiers would for combat and evasion; he became a student of martial arts, an escape artist, and an acrobat.
A number see Batman as the “dark knight,” as a chivalrous hero fighting enemies, but this identity is intertwined with his pursuit of justice. The fighting, the intimidation often inform the larger context of his pursuit for the truth. Detectives seek to learn who performed the crime so that they can bring the guilty to punishment. Ultimately detectives oppose those forces that would undermine social order.
Criminals most often work covertly; they prefer to keep their crimes hidden. Detectives seek to uncover these activities and the networks that often develop to sustain these activities. Detectives risk their lives as they oppose people who have power and little, if any, reluctance to use violence to maintain the wealth and influence they have accumulated. Exposure ideally means that the criminals will be brought to justice in the judicial system. Batman’s quest for justice seeks to free victims and potential victims from corrupt accounts of what has happened. The quest for justice becomes a quest for truth.
Those who are more philosophically minded might ask the obvious question, “What is truth?” What is Bruce Wayne’s world-view? Is there a religious element to Batman’s quest against crime? Batman’s sense of justice does draw upon a compassion for others. He does not want to see other innocents suffer in the way that he has. A number of storylines highlight, despite his frequent gruffness and rude individualism, his concern for others.
There is some debate about Bruce Wayne’s religious connections, largely depending upon which writer is characterizing him. There has been evidence over the years suggesting that he was either a lapsed Episcopalian or Catholic. Belief has not been a central concern in the stories over the years, but the concern for others and the desire to bring criminals to justice reveal echoes of a suggested Christian upbringing. On the other side, some writers see Batman caught in an obsessive quest to enforce justice on a world where chaos reigns–that he is doing what he thinks God should be doing.
The world of Batman does raise questions about God’s presence and justice. The world of crime is a dark world, yet Batman has chosen as a detective to enter it and to help sustain justice amid such chaos. In Batman’s world, the pursuit of “truth” is his attempt to oppose those unjust self-serving plots of villains. His opponents, engaged in theft or murder, often seek to cover their tracks, leaving victims of their crimes in their wake or passing the blame on to still other innocents. Batman seeks to clear away the smokescreen and to bring to justice those who deserve to be punished according to the laws of our society. This quest, of course, hinges on the gathering of information.