Uncovering the Truth: Infiltration, Interrogation, & Intimidation
Detectives trade in information, and there are various ways they collect this information. Detectives cross-examine suspects, often in coercive and even violent ways. Detectives pick locks and discover further ways to break into spaces that others would want to keep hidden. And finally, at least since Sherlock Holmes, detectives can specialize in disguising themselves, taking on different personas, so that they can interact with a particular social environment where they could gather the necessary information.
Batman, of course, frequently intimidates, interrogates, infiltrates, and disguises himself. He holds suspects up against the wall or hangs them off the side of the building to get them to talk. He excels at stealth, breaking in, and locating the missing pieces to the puzzle he is trying to solve. He disguises himself as Matches Malone and other personas to move around the seedy side of town, and he even has turned his identity as Bruce Wayne into a facade (reminiscent of Don Diego/Zorro) as a way of discovering valuable insights into the privileged side of Gotham.
Bruce’s choice to adopt a persona and costume in a totemistic reference to bats ultimately serves his purpose as detective. The famous line in his origin is Bruce’s observation that criminals are a superstitious lot and that he should pattern himself after an image that will frighten them. If Batman can intimidate, then he will not have to engage in direct combat as often, and those moments when he does can have that much more significance among the social network of criminals:
The aura of fear that I project is my most potent weapon. It triggers panic, giving me the advantage in my attack. It acts as a barrier, warning the innocent and curious to keep their distance. Even those who fixate on challenging the ‘Bat-man’ recoil in horror when I confront them” (Dini, WC 8-9).
Detective work often involves intimidation; theatrics are often required to head off trouble and necessary to provoke the guilty into revealing clues that are necessary in their prosecution. Intimidation assists in the central role of a detective, the gathering of information that one’s opponents seek to keep hidden from public knowledge.
Paul Dini’s and Alex Ross’ Batman: War on Crime effectively displays how Batman gathers information in different social settings. In this story Dini carefully contrasts two figures with whom Bruce identified: (1) a wealthy playboy, Randall Winters, whose business practices exploited others and (2) a lower-class boy who, after his parents’ murder, flirted with theft, drugs, and violence. As fellow playboy Bruce Wayne, he discovers Randall’s self-serving plans for a run-down neighborhood and manipulates the situation into a more charitable direction, while as Batman he patrols the neighborhood and discovers a boy, who could get lost in a life of crime. The night patrols allow him to foil crimes and gather information on the boy. Batman’s work as detective allows him to uncover the playboy’s crimes, bringing the police to his doorstep, and to help the boy to turn away from a self-destructive path. Information gathered from his personas is crucial to locating the crimes and designing ways to subvert them.
One of the comic books that made the most impression on my imagination as a young boy, an over-sized 1976 Batman: Limited Collectors’ Edition,(N8) a “special all-mystery issue,” showed Batman pursuing clues and infiltrating a villain’s home. “Paint a Picture of Peril,” by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, began with Batman trying to stop an art theft. When the criminals escaped, he discovered that they had only stolen one painting, one that seemed to be the least valuable of the exhibit. Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce remembered seeing glowing seaweed underwater and deduced that some sort of power source, like the nuclear engines of a submarine, would have left such a trail. Returning to the bay, he uses an infra-red scope to follow the radiation trail to the submarine and the estate of the wealthy recluse Orson Payne. Trespassing and entering into the home uninvited, Batman confronts Payne: “I enter any place where the law is broken!” Avoiding a deathly trap, Batman captures Payne and turns him over to Commissioner Gordon to be sent to a mental hospital.
The story is simple, but it does show Batman involved in putting together clues that led him in the direction of finding where the criminals went, breaking and entering the man’s home, facing off against the insane villain behind the thefts, and turning him over to the authorities. As we can already see, the gathering of information is not enough; detectives must be able to analyze, interpret, and piece together small clues that help to expose the true plot.
Batman largely succeeds by outwitting his opponents. Like Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes before him, Batman notices little details that others overlook. At crime scenes he will collect items for later forensic study. Ed Brubaker’s 2003 Dead Reckoning portrays Batman’s search for a mass murderer in Gotham. Batman appears at the crime scene, inspects evidence, and converses with the police detectives (Montoya and Allen) about various theories, sharing with them his assessment of various criminals’ methods. Batman locates and interrogates various peoples, including Arkham residents, to uncover the perpetrator.
Various writers/stories have shown Batman picking up apparently insignificant pieces of physical evidence at the crime scene and taking them back to his Bat-cave, to his fancy instruments and computers. He then constructs what he thinks occurred. Such deductive work is essential to Batman’s quest for the truth. It becomes perhaps his greatest weapon/power against the criminals he is trying to stop.
This quest for knowledge allied with the desire to be prepared for all contingencies has had some darker consequences, though, in the comic books. When contrasted with the fellow members of the Justice League, Batman might look like the one who would fall first in any sort of conflict, since he is only a human being and does not possess the powers of his colleagues; however, insider knowledge can be a powerful weapon, as Mark Waid shows in his JLA story “Tower of Babel.”
The story opens when the theft of his parents’ coffins pulls Bruce Wayne/Batman away from the rest of the Justice League. Then one by one various League members fall to traps set by a mysterious opponent. At the end of the story, we learn Ra’s al Ghul is responsible and that he was able to take down the League members because he stole from Batman files that contained profiles of the League members and “emergency” strategies to contain these individuals if they ever went rogue. When all this information comes to light, the League divides over whether to keep Batman as a member on their team. Knowledge is power to Batman, but when power falls into the wrong hands, it becomes destructive. Batman must guard against those who misuse such knowledge and power.