Sure, he gets all the cool toys, gets to slap people around with near impunity, has a "Plan B" for his own "Plan B," and has more money than Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates combined… but is there a deeper reason we all want to be, or at least relate to Batman? Dr. Travis Langley, the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight seems to think so.
Aside from meeting Greg Capullo – another Batman-related panelist – Dr. Langley’s panel "Batman and Psychology" was one of the more fascinating and interesting panels I attended at Wizard World New Orleans Comic-Con 2012. For Dr. Langley, the core of every interpretation of Batman, from the campy Adam West version right down to Christopher Nolan’s grittier version, has inspiration.
Batman isn’t someone out for simple revenge. In fact, revenge isn’t his gig – it has been, and has always been about avenging his parent’s death, and the victims of all crime, everywhere. But, his quest goes deeper than just putting on a mask and punching bad guys in the face. In every story, Batman is trying to inspire people, either by giving them hope, or instilling fear in those who would do harm to others.
As an example, Dr. Langley pointed to the most recent Christopher Nolan trilogy. According to Dr. Langley, the first movie is all about fear; how it is caused, how do you instill it, and how do you overcome it. If you look at the development of the Batman persona, Bruce Wayne states, he is using his fear to instill fear in others. His entire crusade, on some fundamental level, is driven by childhood fears.
This concept of childhood fears is, in Dr. Langley’s view, one of the touchstones that make Batman relatable. When Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman’s oft-forgotten co-creator, originally devised the concept, they decided nothing is more traumatic than seeing your parents murdered before your eyes. This is the most primal fear of all human beings – our parents will die.
To quote Dr. Langley, "We all know we’re not going to discover we were rocketed to Earth as a tiny baby. You probably know you will not get bitten by a radioactive spider and gain powers. Or, at least most of you won’t. We all know our parents can, and will die." This is basic human nature. Even people who don’t have a great relationship with their parents can still, on some level or another, relate to the fear, even if it is in our interactions with others. We "get" Batman.