Batman's Word is His Bond... His Stupid, Stupid Bond

Bloggified by Jake on Thursday, August 28, 2008

There is no adage about writing older, simpler, or truer than "Write what you know." On a certain level, everyone's first fictional work will be autobiographical. That's because when you strive to describe what your main character is thinking and feeling, you will fall back on your own thoughts and feelings in a similar situation.

Even more so, for a character's actions to feel right in a situation, you need to understand how that situation would unfold. If you are writing about a brain surgeon doing brain surgery, you should observe a brain surgery, read books by brain surgeons, interview some brain surgeons, or maybe even be a brain surgeon to begin with. These simple precautions can prevent an author from writing something like:

Time was against Connie, the world famous brain surgeon, but pressure was nothing to her. "Dr. Graham," the nurse shouted in a panic, "what are we going to do?"

"Calm down, nurse," she breathed out soothingly. "Give me that little sharp metal thing and the skull-cracker-opener."

The nurse's hand reached over the patient, offering the small chrome thing that looked kind of like an Xacto knife, but different. The guys on
M*A*S*H used them all the time. Dr. Connie Graham sliced into the patient's scalp, exposing the skull beneath, which looked exactly like a decoration from a Halloween display. Using a large wooden mallet and a prybar, she opened the skull and found the pink brain inside.

"I see the problem," Dr. Graham announced. "It's his periopisitis lobe. I'd better take it out. Nurse, hand me the brainsaw."

Unfortunately, Bill Finger wasn't a millionaire playboy who dressed up as a bat to fight crime in an attempt to find a modicum of vengeance for his parents who were slain before his eyes as a child. This made it difficult for Finger, who wrote nearly all of Batman's adventures for the first thirty years of the character, to "write what he knew."

Further complicating matters is that for Finger to write all of Batman's adventures both in Batman and Detective Comics, to co-create Green Lantern, and to write various other scripts for All-American Comics all while being a notoriously slow writer (according to Jim Steranko), it doesn't seem likely Finger was ever able to leave his desk in a windowless six-by-six room. In other words, he wouldn't have been able to know anything about the outside world, making "writing what he knew" an even more impossible task.

This resulted in the majority of Batman stories from the 1930's through the 1960's making little-to-no sense whatsoever, having plot holes large enough to drive a Batmobile through, and generally being built around the premise of "Batman's got a new gadget."

In "The Flying Bat-Cave," Batman gets a new gadget--I won't tell you what it is yet because I don't want to ruin the surprise, but I will tell you it flies and allows Batman and Robin to carry on all the duties they normally would in the Batcave. I suspect I may have said too much already.

In the story, some mobsters set a trap and ambush Robin while he's on his nightly patrol of Gotham City rooftops and abandoned handball courts. Commissioner Gordon gets a letter demanding Batman come to a bathhouse (not to be confused with a Bathouse) to hear their demands.
For those expecting Batman to swoop into the bathhouse and start hyperextending bad guys' joints until they beg him to go get Robin from the secret hideout, screaming those pleas so as to be heard over the sickening cracks of bones shattering, this is a different Batman. A Batman that knows nothing about contract law or public relations.

Instead, he signs the contract and treats it like a big puzzle for him to solve.
Oh, Batman, are you going to honor the letter of the law and not its spirit? You incorrigible scamp!

Clearly, Batman is trying to find a way around the agreement he signed, but can't think of any way to "keep from setting foot in Gotham City" that doesn't involve several metric tons of helium. Just off the top of my head, I'm guessing he signed the contract "Batman," which is not his legally binding name. It might be argued that for the purposes of this agreement, "Batman" is his legal name, but if he violates the contract, what recourse can the mob possibly have? Are the crooks going to go court and sue Batman for breach? A contract signed under duress--such as telling someone "sign this or we're going to kill this kid"--is not legally binding. Furthermore, you can't have a contract that protects your right to commit crimes.

Batman doesn't let all that get in his way--or rather get out of his way since he's really taking it upon himself to make stopping crime for the next week as difficult as possible just so he can show off his new toy.
This panel made me think of the scene in Dark Knight where Batman drops Eric Roberts off a fire escape and shatters his ankles. The stark contrast of the intimidation that Batman used to keep criminals in abject terror versus the total lack of trepidation on the part of these crooks who seem to think a piece of paper is going to be their ticket to armored car robbing paradise is startling.

Of course, Batman has something up his sleeve... or at the end of a long towline.
Technically, Batman doesn't violate his contract and saves the day, but the gang has another plan. By going underground, into the sewers, they can commit crimes and the flying batcave won't be able to see them. Being complete idiots, though, they accidentally cut through both a water main and power cable while breaking through the wall of a fur storage warehouse. Batman and Robin see the big dark block with no running water from the sky and tell all the cops in town to stakeout the manhole covers.

So the crooks, loaded down with dozens of fur coats, jump into the storm sewer to escape to the river. Fur coats are kind of passe these days, so I don't know much about them, but I would have guessed that a fox stole or a mink coat would drop precipitously in value once soaked in sewage and river water.
Finally, the mob decides to stop committing crimes in spite of the flying batcave and instead commit a crime against the flying batcave.

Atop the post office, Diamond Lang and his boys are seen stealing sacks and sacks of mail. But once Batman and Robin fly closer, it's revealed that the sacks are just camouflage for an anti-aircraft gun. How they were able to get an anti-aircraft gun atop a government building when they can't even cut a hole in a warehouse wall without knocking out power and water to several city blocks is not explained.

The flying batcave gets bombarded and Batman and Robin have to parachute to safety. At a time like this, with explosions all around and your helium-filed helicopter dome thing about to crash, what thoughts does a teenage boy have about his own mortality?
Yes, Batman, better to die here than to be known as a liar. A man's word is his bond! What will the people of Gotham think if they find out we foiled a criminal organization's use of a military weapon to kill us and crash an aircraft into the middle of the city, and in doing so we captured several dangerous criminals who were responsible for a string of robberies in the last week, but that was only accomplished by violating a promise you were forced to make only to save the life of an orphan boy who's only now beginning to blossom into manhood and which was only violated because death was the only other option?
Wouldn't you think the people of Gotham City would be more upset if they were told, "Hey, I know the mafia has been robbing and killing for the last six days, but at least you know you can trust Batman to keep his word"? I tend to think they would, but then again we're in an election season where people say things like, "Sure, he'll cut my taxes, provide my family with health care, renew America's diplomatic standing in the world, revitalize the middle class, and get us out of Iraq so we can focus on Al Qaeda and other real threats... but why isn't he wearing a flag pin? I better vote for the other guy."

In the end, though, Batman has yet another technicality up his sleeve. A post office is property of the federal government and therefore not part of Gotham City. Not having violated the contract, Batman and Robin wait five minutes for the one week time period to end and take the bad guys to jail while maintaining the trust of the masses.

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