Police Abuse

Even Batman Addresses Police Brutality in Latest Issue

The billionaire vigilante who takes the law into his own hands is still a hero, of course.


"The Dark Knight"

The latest issue of Batman, the comic book about a billionaire vigilante who dresses as a bat to inflict violence on street criminals he catches in the act, follows Superman, the other flagship DC Comics superhero series, in addressing the issue of police brutality within its pages. 

If it seemed a stretch to shoehorn issues of police brutality in Superman—a story about an alien who uses his superpowers to nanny over the world—it's doubly so for Batman, a story about a vigilante who takes justice into his own hands. The criminals Batman pursues don't get due process. No one really questions whether Batman uses too much force. He bristles at the idea of oversight from police officers, let alone the kind of civilian oversight seen as one of the policy solutions available to limit police brutality. 

Eight years ago, The Wall Street Journal drew a comparison between Batman and George W. Bush, specifically vis a vis the war on terror and in regard to the movie The Dark Knight. Both, wrote Andrew Klavan, displayed "fortitude and moral courage" for confronting enemies "in the only terms they understand." For both the fictional billionaire vigilante and the very real U.S. president, wrote Klavan, emergency conditions trumped certain civil rights concerns, and you could trust both to restore civil rights when the emergency passes. 

Not everyone appreciated the comparison. By 2008, Batman may have been more popular than George W. Bush. But neither was the comparison baseless. Batman has always represented the ability of an individual, with sufficient resources and skill, to demand justice and extract something like it, through the force of will alone. It's not a stretch, I think, to call him a fascist. And I write that as someone who, pressed to pick a "favorite superhero," would almost certainly pick Batman. 

In the "very special" issue of Batman, the vigilante finds an unarmed, hooded black teenager who has been shot fatally by a long-time Gotham police officer. Spencer Ackerman provides a synopsis and talks to the lead writer of the comic. Via The Guardian

What begins as A Simple Case – the title of the issue – becomes a meditation on the meaning of a rich, white vigilante who attempts to solve intractable urban problems by beating up bad guys. 

"This issue is meant to be a thesis about what our Batman is," lead writer Scott Snyder told the Guardian. 

"We've tried to be pretty relentlessly on-point about him being a symbol of inspiration in the face of tremendous fear, as opposed to a symbol of punishment, or a symbol of revenge, taking the city away from criminals. Here is where he begins to learn [the limits of] the methods that he thought would work: finding a criminal, making an example of the criminal, throwing the criminal in jail … Instead, what he has to learn is that the problems that he's facing in today's city are much more humbling, are much more complicated." 

Will he learn that Gotham's problems are not problems one man can solve, whether he's at the head of a government or a government onto itself? Probably not. The "great man theory" is pretty essential to the contemporary superhero tale. We consider superheroes heroic in part, I think, because that's what we've been primed to do. But often they're not. Mark Millar's Superman: Red Son made that point starkly. In Red Son, Kal-El, the alien better known as Superman, lands as a baby in the Soviet Union not the U.S., making him a "bad guy" from the American perspective. But all the inclinations the Soviet Superman displays—to control people, for their own good, of course—are shared by the "American" Superman as well. 

The same goes with Batman. While Batman makes a thing out of never using deadly force, the Batman stories also make clear that Batman is an extraordinary person, not an ordinary one. While seeing Batman respond to contemporary policing issues is interesting, and I'll probably pick up #44 to see what they do with the story (the writers promise it won't be a "one-off.")  

But in the end, I find it difficult to see DC Comics agreeing to a story that might not only tarnish Batman's image as a hero but add an asterisk to it forever, not just until the current run is done. That would be the far more interesting story for tackling issues of police reform. Batman is a hero, in the fictional city of Gotham, and in the real United States, because he takes justice into his own hands, because he appears to be trustworthy, someone whose on the spot decisions about criminals will almost always be correct. 

But we don't live in a world of superheroes. One component in the problem of policing in the United States is how much of the public is willing to give how much deference to law enforcement in the course of their performing their duties. A good chunk of the public, and many police officers and their boosters, see the cops as heroes if not superheroes. And "traditional" superhero stories have taught us superheroes don't make mistakes. In the last year, the issue of police brutality has rocketed to center stage in the national discourse. But the problem of police brutality isn't new, it's just been ignored. That's a fascinating question I think comics like Batman can explore.

To me it's no coincidence I've seen far more cops in my life with Batman decals (or fetishes) than Superman ones. Certainly it's not a stretch to connect the Batman story to the idea, shared by many police apologists and advocates of reform, that policing would get better if only better people were cops. That's a dangerous contribution Batman's made to the discourse on policing already, long before Ferguson brought it to the attention of comic writers and executives.

There's promise in a story about Batman investigating the excessive use of force by a police officer and the broader implications of it, even if we know which answers are going to be trotted out (systemic problems difficult to fix) and which ones will be ignored (laws providing for different standards for criminal cops than plain criminals)  But there seems to be more promise in a story investigating Gotham's, and our, misguided conception of Batman as a hero in the first place.

NEXT: The Confederate flag, the First Amendment and public schools

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  1. a billionaire vigilante who dresses as a bat

    wait wait wait

    He thinks he’s dressed like a bat?

    1. It’s dark in that cave, he couldn’t see what he was doing.

      1. Quick, Boy Wonder! The Bat Vision? goggles!”

      1. No, no – those are TIRES!

    2. What about his outfit is not batlike?

      1. Well he’s not covered in fur for one thing. He’s clearly dressed up like a superhero for another.

        1. Superheroes wear colorful costumes to draw attention to themselves and inspire hope. Batman dresses in dark colors to conceal himself in the shadows and inspire fear.

          1. and inspire fear

            I thought that’s what the nipples were for.

            1. That might just be your nipples.

          2. That’s ok because Batman is NOT a superhero. He’s a normal human with no super powers.

          3. Tell me that Batman would inspire more fear if he was furry…and still had nipples? You would shit your pants the moment anything even resembling a nude, winged Sasquatch dropped out of the sky on you.

            1. er!….wouldn’t…I meant wouldn’t.

        2. Shouldn’t Daredevil be Batman? He has radar powers.

  2. A lone vigilante acting on their own is far less of a problem than a systematic pattern of corruption and abuse by government employees. And vigilantes can be arrested and charged with crimes whereas cops (apparently) cannot.

    1. “Look – get the thing right. The police aren’t there to create disorder – the police are there to PRESERVE disorder.” – Mayor Richard M. Daley the elder

  3. The true, original Batman wasn’t a fascist. He worked closely with the police and would often only break out his KAPOWs in self-defense. And Batman used to dance. Remember the Batusi?

    1. + Land of 1000 Dances

    2. Heh. Nice meetin’ ya… Just keep moving, don’t make eye contact?

    3. Yeah, in the early days he was more like a private detective. His first appearance was even in “Detective Comics”.

  4. So, does reason agree with batman or not? Sometimes I see quick dismissal Mises et al here.


  5. He’s not the hero we need, but he’s the hero we want.

    1. These aren’t the heroes you’re looking for.

  6. And “traditional” superhero stories have taught us superheroes don’t make mistakes.

    Needs moar scarequotes. Superheroes have been flawed fuckups since at least the Silver Age.

  7. Many iterations of the Batman mythos make it clear that before his rouges gallery of supervillains developed Batman primarily fought both the mob and corrupt police officers/city officials.

    The Gotham PD depicted Batman: Year One is only a slight exaggeration of how corrupt and brutal urban police departments can be. The story even references the infamous case where the Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on a building.

    So in short I don’t see Batman as having, at least in the grittier imaginings, avoided the topic of police malfeasance.

    1. All the supervillans wore red?

      1. After Batman got done with them, yes.

      2. No, heroes wear primary colors. Supervillains wear secondary colors

        1. That pattern fails to hold true.

          1. Now, perhaps, but back in the Silver Age, it was pretty consistently adhered to.

  8. “The latest issue of Batman, the comic book about a billionaire vigilante who dresses as a bat to inflict violence on street criminals he catches in the act,”

    I’m not familiar with this Batman.

  9. “The latest issue of Superman, the comic book about an orphan from another planet with a red cape and red fuck me boots fighting crime despite his upbringing in a libertarian diamond mine…”

  10. Know what the Aqua in Aqua-Man means?

    And wait until you find out who Spider-Man is!

    1. Aqua means his color-scheme is light blue.

      And Spider-man is any one of a cadre of multi-ethnic clones created during a stint when the Jackal caught a progressive flu before his death.

    2. you misspelled Aqua Buddha.

  11. “billionaire vigilante who takes the law into his own hands”

    Oh noes, that’s a job for professionals and TOP MEN.

    1. Izzis another damned Trump story?

  12. The reason so many libertarians are conflicted here is thus: They do not understand what Justice is.

    Justice is not what you find most times in a courtroom, rarely ever in a criminal one. Justice is repayment, simple repayment. If someone steals, they repay with interest. If they assault, they are beaten; if they murder, they are killed.

    The victim is the one who has say over if some or all of the repayment is required, not the magistrate. No third party has say to determine that the repayment must be less than what was taken, only if there actually is an aggression (we call this third party a “jury”).

    This is why you like Batman but can’t defend him. You think he’s good, but he does violence. Well yes, he does. He’s good when he does violence in proportion to violence done. The only issue with vigilantes is that they skip the jury, not that they are violent.

    In fact, in pursuit of actual justice, the vigilantes do better than the government, they don’t demand repayment for what was never stolen!

    1. Problem with vigilantes is that they can become a mob, they end up looking for offenses to punish and let the Mob mentality take over. At this point they are no longer in the justice business, but the oppression business, Targeting people who probably don’t deserve it.

      1. Problem with vigilantes governments is that they can become a mob, they end up looking for offenses to punish and let the Mob mentality take over.

        Fixed it for you.

        (You are right, but governments do it every time. Vigilantes don’t.)

        1. You don’t think the SJW doxers, harassers and bomb-threaters could be characterized as vigilantes dispensing “social justice”? Yes government courts are less than ideal. Government under-produces justice. Whereas vigilantes over-produce justice and for similar reasons, they are disconnected from bearing the costs of the factors of production. A rational justice system would still have third parties acting as arbitrators at the very least. But a rational system would also feature ‘outlawry’, which makes a place for small-time vigilante producers of justice to have their seat at the table in the production of this good.

          1. You don’t think the SJW doxers, harassers and bomb-threaters could be characterized as vigilantes dispensing “social justice”?

            Social “justice”=/= justice. You have to have been a victim of aggression for your violence, sanctioned or not, to be justice.

            1. A vigilante doesn’t need to be on the moral high ground to be a vigilante. If a man is wrongfully accused of a crime and someone murders him for it, it’s still an act of a vigilante. It’s about perceptions of justice. You can’t deny that SJWs view social justice as a species of justice, wrong as they certainly are.

              1. If a man is wrongfully accused of a crime and someone murders him for it, it’s still an act of a vigilante.

                Hence the inherent danger in it. That’s why most are not vigilantes. (Also, the fact it was made illegal by those who claim to be the only “legitimate” initiators of force.)

                You can’t deny that SJWs view social justice as a species of justice, wrong as they certainly are.

                It’s about perceptions of justice.

                Which is why it would be helpful to define the word precisely, yes.

                1. I accept your half ass concession. Righteousness or legitimacy, does not, a vigilante make.

    2. I’d like to think the human race’s understanding of justice has evolved a little bit from the Code of Hammurabi.

      1. I’d like to think the human race’s understanding of justice has evolved a little bit from the Code of Hammurabi.

        If by “evolved” you mean “devolved”, then yes, you’re right. In fact, natural evolution isn’t even considered “progressive”.

        But to ask the question directly, what is justice if not repayment? Quid est Aequitas?

    3. You clearly have it all figured out. Do you, perhaps, have a newsletter to which I might subscribe?

      1. I can define one word that most others cannot. That’s not really all that impressive and I’m not claiming it is.

        Quid est Aequtias?

        1. Justice = Revenge is not compelling and is also not correct.

          1. What is justice?

            “Revenge” is sometimes justice and sometimes isn’t. If someone murders your kid and you murder his kid, that’s revenge and not justice. If you kill him, that’s justice.

            Justice = repayment of what you’ve taken. If you haven’t taken anything, you have nothing to repay. If

            1. A Jack Vance character described the purpose of justice as an act to “persuade others to refrain from committing a like misdeed.”

  13. To be honest, I didn’t like this issue. However, that was because it was a “prologue” side-tale distraction from the current story arc of Commissioner Gordon filling in as Batman after Bruce Wayne’s “death”.

  14. It seems hard to imagine Batman resolving systemic problems in police policy, practices, administration and self policing. Will this be Batman merely rooting out the few bad apples?

  15. Batman is not a superhero, he has no super powers.

  16. No one gives a shit about your asinine pussy-tastic ideas on what should constitute a hero, Ed. Or much else of what you write.

  17. As mentioned, Batman was for Justice not Law. Most places, maybe every place, in the world you get Law that is not expected to be Just. Law is about order and carrying out the State’s will regardless of whether the people have any control over the State. Justice is about protecting us and probably our unalienable Rights.

    The sad part of Batman is that his Justice is incomplete. He still uses the system and their punishments which means the system gets the final say. In that way, sad to say, Batman is a stooge for the system. Bad guys may get roughed up more from Batman than the cops on most days but they still get put into an unjust system. If he also fought the unjust system each time an injustice was about to be made he would be a better example. Of course, he would need to defeat a super villian with a cloning machine so he could make a lot more Batmans.

    But there is hope for Batman. In the Dark Night series (spoiler alert), after his faked death, Batman becomes the leader for the next generation of wouldbe heros. With that many resources maybe Batman can begin to replace the unjust system and replace it with one that is not. Beyond changing the police they might be able to revision the Law so that it is about protecting us and our Rights and not about controlling us, for our own good and for the State’s.

  18. Most cops are assholes!

    1. Cops are hired by DemoGOP looter politicians to kill people as examples for enforcement of moronic prohibition laws. You were expecting what? What party did you vote for?

      1. Exactly. Cops love to fuck with people, regardless of the issue at hand.

  19. Comics have changed a lot since I was buying them off the comic racks in the late 70s. I’m not against more realistic, more adult stories within the graphic storytelling format. But with any long-term character, and especially with superheroes, it’s important to remember that they, too, have changed, and Batman in the 1940s and 50s isn’t the same character as Batman from the 70s, or Batman from today. Personally, I like my superheroes to be fun, usually, and heroic. But it’s hard for them to be “heroic” if you make them too realistic. Superheroes are fantasy characters. Realistic vigilantes are just action heroes or more likely anti-heroes, superpowers or no superpowers.

  20. These vigilante media figures, beginning with Dick Tracy and Batman during Prohibition–the War on Victimless Crime, were based on actual events. Honest cops would have nothing to do with imposing Mohammedan Sharia Law on America. So Herbert Hoover backers organized The Secret Six, a band of vigilantes who created the witness protection program to hide Capone accountants in Brazil and on the Canadian border. All the good guys in Boris Kaloff and Barbara Stanwyck movies were bootleggers. Vigilanteism revived the Invisible Empire.

  21. Remember when the Weathermen opposed Nixon and the Republican Moral Majority by blowing stuff up? Then the LP was formed and all of a sudden the draft was repealed and the US quit bombing Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Since then all kinds of looter politicians have been keenly aware of the anti-coercion movement with enough political teeth to make their ku-klux kandidates lose elections. Look at “America Still Trending Libertarian” and there is your inductive proof. Losing elections is winning freedom when you vote with the Party of Principle.

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