Working in the System: Truth, Justice, and Cooperation
Fundamentally, the project of tracking and trapping these criminals is too great for Batman to complete alone. Despite his reputation and demeanor as a loner, Batman’s effort as detective is a communal one. Truth and justice need a social grounding. In addition, Batman sometimes makes mistakes and needs help in uncovering the extensive deceptions in Gotham city. Many Batman comics present the hero in entirely solo adventures; some writers have sought to advance the lone-wolf image. But many more stories show that Batman frequently does need help from an extensive host of characters (even Sherlock Holmes could draw on the legwork of the Baker Street Irregulars).
His ongoing relationships with the “Bat-family” (Alfred, Nightwing, Robin, Oracle, Batgirl, etc.) reveal they help him to stay on task and that they reflect back to him the moral code he has passed onto them. To make stories more interesting, certain writers have shown Batman is fallible (even Sherlock Holmes had his failure in “The Adventure of the Yellow Face”). Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween tells the story of Batman’s pursuit of a serial killer named Holiday. Batman inspects crime scenes, follows leads, and interrogates various figures from his rogues’ gallery and the crime-lord families. Loeb presents a Batman near the beginning of his “career,” just discovering what it means to be a detective, and in the end of the story, Batman presumably wrongly accuses Harvey Dent of being the Holiday killer–The Long Halloween ends on an ambiguous note.
Since Batman seeks social justice, it makes sense he would also have a working relationship with a representative of that social order. Although some have pushed his character in this direction, Batman is not really an independent vigilante who sees himself as judge, jury, and executioner. His ongoing friendship with Jim Gordon, during the various stages of his career, proves that he sees himself as part of the system. In terms of Batman’s role as detective, there perhaps is no more important a relationship than that which he shares with Jim Gordon.
Greg Rucka’s run on Detective Comics in 2000, after the monumental Batman: No Man’s Land, offers a significant point in the relationship between Batman and James Gordon. At the end of No Man’s Land, Joker killed Gordon’s wife. In Rucka’s succeeding story, Batman seeks to help Gordon cope with his grief. In “The Honored Dead,” following the death of another police officer, Gordon becomes dangerously aggressive in his treatment of suspects, and Batman is there to help hold him back from doing something that he would regret. Their friendship is one of mutual respect: “James Gordon is the heart of the GCPD. His heart aches, but it will never quit. And like mine, his will remember.” In the next issue, Jim asks, “It never goes away, does it?” Batman returns, “No. It never goes away.” Rucka suggests the two characters connect through the bond of shared grief.
Rucka further explores the relationship between Gordon and Batman in Officer Down. When Gordon is shot and taken to the hospital in critical condition, Batman sends the rest of his troop (Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and even Oracle) out to investigate while he remains standing at Gordon’s bedside. Devin Grayson’s contribution in Nightwing 53 shows Alfred scolding Batman for standing there, not contributing to the investigation and not being able to help medically. Rucka dramatizes the important conversation between Batman and Gordon after Gordon’s recovery and decision to retire. While waiting for Batman to show, Gordon tells the new commissioner Michael Akins, “You’re going to want a friend like him. Let him be your friend…He’s the best one I’ve ever had.”
When Batman appears, he is upset with Gordon for not checking with him before deciding to retire; the encounter does not go well. Later, Batman offers something close to an apology, admitting he feels he failed Gordon after the shooting and now with the retirement. Saying that the issue is his age and timing, not Batman’s influence, Gordon consoles him and reinforces their friendship. That friendship has been a tether for Batman, keeping him from wandering too far astray as a vigilante; it has been a place for information and encouragement. Batman would not have been as effective without Jim Gordon. The relationship with Gordon has also given Batman’s efforts more legitimacy; it suggests that even though Batman is out there “doing his own thing,” that he is in conjunction with his society’s justice system.
Batman obviously belongs within the world of mystery. Crime leads to distortions and illusions; it scars the lives of the victimized. Batman as detective seeks to uncover that very victimization. The darker versions of Batman face the horrors in our world and admit to the ambiguity in Batman’s obsessive quest, while the lighter versions, as in the Saturday morning version, exaggerate Batman’s heroism. Throughout the various incarnations, we frequently see Batman intimidating, infiltrating, deducing, profiling, confronting, and working with others who share his vision to bring the truth to light.
We can now see how we might reconsider in whose company we would place Batman. Instead of Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the X-men, perhaps, we should first be thinking of August Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marpole, Cadfael, Lord Peter Wimsey, Sam Slade, Perry Mason, and other detectives of many different stripes. And, yes, if we suspend the gravitas of the Batman mythology for a moment, we might even, as children enjoy, pair him with that sleuth of sleuths Scooby Doo, who with the other members of Mystery Incorporated, also investigates, gathers clues, deduces nefarious plots, and build traps to catch villains of various stripes. Thus, Batman and Scooby Doo become two sides to the same coin: Batman is dark, brooding, and obsessive while Scooby Doo is light, whimsical, and silly, yet both are detectives solving mysteries each in his own distinct way. So is the Scooby Doo and Batman crossover so wrong? I’ll leave that to you, Detective, while I’ll go read some vintage Denny O’Neil stories or Scott Snyder’s current run on Batman or re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
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