Batman, Detective: Part 1

With the launch of the new Gotham series on Fox, now is as good a time as any to pull out an unpublished essay I wrote a few years ago. I’m breaking the essay up into a series of six posts, so look for the other sections in coming days. Enjoy!

Batman, Detective (Or Does Batman Have Anything in Common with Scooby Doo?)

Walking into the room where my children are watching television, I have difficulty believing what I am seeing. Is that Batman and Robin guest-starring on Scooby Doo? Yes, it is in their campy 1970’s Saturday morning cartoon form. My children are crazy about Batman and crazy about Scooby Doo, and this episode seems to offer the best of both worlds. Purists who are skeptical about such apparently bizarre crossovers may wish to forget such renditions of Batman. Most of the time I would classify myself in that group, but for the joy of debate, I decided I’d tackle the seemingly insurmountable task of justifying such a pairing. What is it that Scooby Doo and Batman share in common?

When most of us think of Batman, we usually think about other superheroes, specifically his Justice League counterparts: Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and the others. Or we might jump companies and start thinking about the “competition”: Spider-man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the X-men? If we were to pursue these associations, we probably would see very little to connect Batman to Scooby Doo. However, if we pushed back into our memories, recalling that Batman did not have “powers” like the other superheroes (that bunch of aliens, mutants, and mythic figures), we would remember his dark origins and his obsession with justice. As a crime-fighter, he has excelled at observation, disguise, infiltration, and investigation. Perhaps we should take our cues from one of Batman’s most insightful nemeses Ra’s al Ghul, who did not settle on calling him “Batman” or “Dark Knight,” but instead chose to name him “Detective.”

If we were to find one essential characteristic that remains relatively true across the various incarnations, we would see that the most enduring portrait is Batman at a crime-scene filtering through the clues to determine the true culprits. Batman is a superhero, a vigilante, and a dark knight, but above all, he is a detective. And yet, what does this title tell us about Batman? What moral vision is affirmed in this enduring and essential strain of the Batman mythology? To answer these questions, we must tie the origins of detective fiction to the creation of Batman and then list those characteristics that often appear in detective fiction which also apply to Batman. We will see that Batman, like other detectives, intimidates criminals, gathers information, pieces together clues, confronts vindictive villains, maintains a rigid moral code of honor, and works with the current social order, despite his vigilantism. Above all, Batman is a detective in his admirable, yet obsessive, search for truth, opposing villains who seek to hide or distort reality to their own ends.

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