(Mild spoilers ahead for some Batman comics.)
We’ve all heard the saying “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.” And it sounds true, right? Who wouldn’t want to be the personification of awesomeness, running around on rooftops, driving a cool car, and beating up bad guys? Who wouldn’t want to be Batman?
I wouldn’t. And if you knew everything being Batman entailed, you wouldn’t either.
Think about it…
Let’s start with the basics. I don’t know if you’ve heard, it’s a very subtle part of Batman’s mythos, hardly ever mentioned, so possible spoiler alert, but … BATMAN’S PARENTS ARE DEAD. Gunned down right in front of his ten-year-old eyes. That’s enough to cause some serious trauma, maybe even PTSD. He probably deals with survivor’s guilt, blaming himself even though there was nothing he could have done to stop his parents’ killer. Sure, it was the spark for a crusade against crime so no child would ever have to experience what he did, but no matter how tough or scary or cool he may seem, some part of Batman will always be that kid in Crime Alley, kneeling beside his dead parents. He’ll never be able to move on from that moment.
In fact, Batman’s so caught up in his parents’ murder that he’s obsessed with them. He vows to fight crime at their graves, the key to entering the Batcave is the time of their death, and any slur upon their names upends his whole world. Even the moment Bruce decides to become Batman includes him talking to–almost praying to–his dead father. He is Batman, not for himself, but for his parents, and any psychologist can tell you that letting your parents, dead or otherwise, control you is a great way to mess up your mind. Even Batman can’t be himself because he can’t let his parents, or rather his idea of his parents, go.
And speaking of losing people, Batman loses even more people all the time. So far, at least three Robins have died under his tutelage (although they have a tendency to come back), and plenty of his other allies have been killed or tortured or maimed, from Batgirl to Orpheus to Alfred. And forget keeping a girlfriend; if they’re not murdered by villains or being villains themselves, they get out while the getting is good. It’s a dark and lonely world Batman lives in; his trauma makes him nearly incapable of trust, and the few people he does trust, he pushes away to keep safe. I can’t say I blame him, given his friends’ usual fate, but it makes for an isolated and miserable life.
That life isn’t exactly a life well lived. Half his time he spends wearing the mask of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, slacking off and running around with models and lavishly spending money and pretending not to care. It sounds fun, but it’s an empty life, especially considering the pain beneath the surface. And when he’s Batman, he only gets three hours of sleep a night, and Alfred would be the first to mention his erratic meal schedule. He’s a workaholic, exposing himself to massive amounts of life-or-death stress and injuries galore. Athletes work themselves out of a career early on in life with injuries not even half as bad; at this rate, Bruce will be old in his thirties. It’s an unhealthy life, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Why does he do it? To make Gotham City a better place, where innocent people don’t die and don’t have to be afraid. And yet, over the years, Gotham has gotten steadily worse, going from a city of crime and corruption to a city of homicidal maniacs. That’s not all Batman’s fault; people like Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter, and Mr. Freeze probably would have shown up in Gotham anyway, and Arkham Asylum’s questionable policies don’t make things any better. But Bane wanted to test Batman’s strength and will, Riddler wanted to test Batman’s mind, and the al Ghul family would probably leave Gotham alone if Batman weren’t there. And let’s not forget the Joker, Gotham’s deadliest villain, whom Batman created and who has a massive obsession with the Dark Knight. Whether or not it’s Bruce’s fault, Gotham has gone to the asylum inmates since he showed up.
Yes, Batman’s feats are impressive, and he makes a great symbol, inspiring us all to be heroes. But that doesn’t mean we should all be Batman, suffering from trauma, obsession, loneliness, and physical stress, all for little to no return. The man behind the mask has serious issues. So, given the choice, always be yourself.
And if you can be yourself wearing a Batsuit, even better.
Batman and all related properties are owned by DC Comics.