My Hypothetical Batman Reboot

My Hypothetical Batman Reboot

July 23, 2012 11:00 pm 9 comments

I saw Dark Knight Rises yesterday. I liked it, but the politics don’t sit well with me. As Grant Morrison has pointed out, Batman is a very odd sort of fantasy – a billionaire who wears a rubber suit and goes around beating up poor people.

I’m not going to spend time over analyzing the newest film, and the Batman mythos in general. Instead, inspired by Aaron Diez’s Hypothetical X-Men Reboot and China Miéville’s Rejected Iron Man Pitch, I decided to think about what I would do if I were to give Batman a complete reboot. Here’s what I came up with. This is, of course, not authorized by DC Comics or Warner Bros or anyone else.

##

Thomas Wayne was born to a long line of Polish-American longshoremen (his great-grandfather had changed his last name when he emigrated to Gotham City). His mother was a Chinese-American immigrant. They worked hard to provide for young Thomas, who was lucky enough to have a good union job when he graduated high school.

Martha Wayne, born Martha Fox, was the daughter of an African-American mechanic. Her mother was a Cacausian women who worked at a diner near her father’s garage. Martha grew up to be a school teacher, teaching in one of Gotham’s inner city schools. The family lived in a nice apartment in a safe working class neighborhood.

Their son Bruce Wayne turned out to be a prodigy, and his parents encouraged the importance of both education and physical fitness from a young age.

When Bruce was 10 the longshoremen went on strike. One day Thomas stopped to pick up Martha on his way home from a strike. He was pulled over by a police officer who opened fire, killing both Thomas and Martha when Thomas went for his license and registration. The officer claimed he saw a gun, but no gone was ever found. Several other longshoremen, including in many cases wives and children, were killed under similar circumstances that week. The police were never disciplined. [[I think this needs to be reworked -- Bruce should be present when his parents die, and the murder shouldn't be premeditated]]

After the death of his parents, Bruce went to live with his childless uncle Lucius, who owns an autogarage in the neighborhood. Bruce became angry and cynical. He saw that even if you worked hard and played by the rules, the system would find a way to keep you in your place if you stepped out of your bounds. He dropped out of school and worked in the garage. He spent most of his time outside of work at the local boxing gym.

On his 18th birthday, infatuated with the Parkour videos he’d seen online, Bruce took his savings and bought a one-way ticket to Paris, France. There he studied Parkour while earning a living as part-time mechanic, under the table, and as an unlicensed bare-knuckle boxer.

After an altercation with the police during the Paris riots of 2005, Bruce went to Warsaw, Poland. By this time Bruce had saved up a good deal of money in Paris. In Poland he tracked down Rahm Gal, one of the greatest living teachers of Krav Maga. Gal had studied under Imi Lichtenfeld and had been a trainer for the Israeli Defense Forces before returning to Poland. Bruce also enrolled at the University of Warsaw, double majoring in mechanical engineering and psychology. He also found himself madly in love with Gal’s daughter Talia. School was easy and he was able to spend most of his time studying Krav Maga or with Talia.

After about two years, Bruce found himself bored with school and his relationships with both Rahm and Talia were deteriorating due to their increasingly radical politics. Talia broke it off with Bruce and returned Israel to found an anti-Palestinian militia. Bruce, heart broken and nearly out of money, spent the last of his savings and bought a plane ticket to Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio he volunteered at an NGO, building and improving housing in the slums. He got only room and board in return. In his spare time he studied Brazilian Jujitsu and Capoeira. It was at the NGO that he met Alfred Pennyworth, a British expatriate and Harvard Law graduate who had donated his entire inheritance to charity. He was 30 years Bruce’s senior, but the two became fast friends.

Bruce was eventually deported from the country and returned to Gotham. Bruce went back to work for Lucius at the garage, and also quickly became Gotham’s welterweight champion MMA fighter. Soon bored he decided to take up writing. In the space of a week he’d written his first novel, a fictionalized account of his time as a prize fighter in Paris. To his amazement, he had a book deal almost overnight. The book was soon optioned for film, and Bruce had more money than he’d ever had in his entire life. He donated half the money to the NGO in Brazil, the other half to charities in Gotham.

He spent more time on his second novel, a long sprawling Russian-style book that explored his family history. Race and class were heavy themes. The book was rejected.

Meanwhile he learned that the NGO had all its assets seized by the Brazilian government, and the local charities he’d donated to were so broke already his meager donations were barely keeping the lights on. Bruce was broke and he had nothing to show for it.

Bruce decided to try his hand at something more lucrative: a mainstream, Hollywood-style martial arts action screenplay, with only hints of race and class struggle. His agent was able to sell it immediately. Bruce then started a series of young adult books, again focusing on adventure and only lightly touching on the themes that had truly defined his life. The series was sold well and was quickly optioned for television. Bruce Wayne was rich.

He recruited Alfred to be his lawyer and the COO of the Wayne Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise funded by Bruce’s writing career. Bruce took to buying real estate in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and turning it into low income housing. The first building he bought was the apartment building he grew up with, which was about to be sold off as condos. He and Alfred move into two vacant apartments in the building.

As Bruce builds his affordable housing real estate empire he starts having trouble with the authorities. Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot wanted to develop Bruce’s neighborhood and was afraid Bruce’s low income housing properties would hurt his property values. He hired rent-a-arsonist Firefly to burn down one of Bruce’s buildings, and hired both police and street thugs to intimidate tenants.

Bruce realized that even money and a good lawyer wouldn’t be enough. He would have to take the law into his own hands. But he’d have to disguise himself – Lucius, Alfred and his tenants were in enough danger as it was. He adopts the mantle of Batman to protect his neighborhood.

But when things get really interesting is when the “copy cats” start to appear.

##

Batman Multiethnic, self-made millionaire. Mid to late 20s. He’ll wear a full face mask – he could be anyone underneath. Black, white, Indonesia – it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t wear a cape. He wears a black kevlar suit with the yellow bat insignia in the middle. Think Hunter Rose Grendel (see above).

Alfred I don’t like the master/butler dynamic between these two, but it’s an important relationship within the Batman mythos. In my reboot, Alfred is Bruce’s lawyer, business manager and best friend. He and Lucius are the only people who know Batman’s identity.

Commissioner Gordan An idealistic new police commissioner at the mercy of the police union. Sympathetic to Batman.

The Batcave Bruce discovers a forgotten subbasement in the apartment building he grew up in, probably added on as a bomb shelter. It can only be accessed by entering a special code on the freight elevator.

The Batmobile Built by Bruce and Lucius, it’s designed to be small, fast, nimble and stealth.

Firefly The first villain Batman squares off against. An arsonist for hire.

Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot A rich real estate mogel not used to not getting his way.

Catwomen The first Batman copy cat. Selena Kyle finds wealthy men and celebrities who have managed to escape punishment for domestic abuse and tortures them. She brings a feminist view point to the series, and presents a moral quandary for Batman, who doesn’t condone the extremes to which she takes torture. Still, she forces Batman to begin to confront the limits of his ability and the extent to which voiceless, marginalized people are victimized in Gotham. Batman’s mission is going to have to go behind low income housing.

The Joker Jack Napier [[On second thought I think this works better with Scarecrow]] is an orderly at Arkham Asylum who begins recruiting mental patients and homeless people into his terrorist cell. Like Catwomen, Scarecrow gives voice to a marginal group, but his methods (which include killing innocent civilians) can’t be condoned by Batman.

Rahm and Talia Gal I found out that “Raum” is the name of a demon in the Lesser Key of Solomon, so I thought that was a clever name for the new “Ra’s al Ghul.” Talia is a Hebrew name anyway. They become anti-Palestenian terrorists and end up tracking down a particular Palestinian target to Gotham and wind up bombing Mosques and so forth. An inversion of the Islamic terrorist motif.

Other villains would be introduced as well, usually as copycats of Batman who think they’re doing good rather than as masked criminals. Apart from billionaires like the Penguin, most of the people Batman encounters will be fanatics who believe they are doing good, force Batman to make some difficult moral choices and expose the inherent injustice of Gotham city.

So, that’s it – that’s my pitch. It’ll never get made in a million years. I could just make-up a new character to replace Batman, but that wouldn’t be much fun.

What do you think?

9 Comments

  • I think it’s bloody brilliant.

    There are so many aspects to the Batman myth that one could use for a reboot, but I like the inversion along the social axis that you’ve done here as per Morrison’s thrust. I’ve always thought that given the chance to write Batman I’d probably focus on the primeval mythic and psychological resonance (assuming I could do so without too blatantly following in the footsteps of Arkham Asylum). But I think you’re using the character to question things that are potentially very valuable in terms of using the medium of comics for actually, you know, helping the world.

    I’d read the shit out of it.

  • This has to exist.

    HAS TO

    Seriously, as an Elseworlds or something. Pitch it.

    • Thanks!

      DC doesn’t take unsolicited submissions from writers (http://www.dccomics.com/submissions), or I’d consider tightening this up (I’ve gotten some great feedback as to what doesn’t work) and pitching it as an Elseworlds book. From what I can tell though even if they did accept unsolicited pitches, they probably wouldn’t consider ones that deal with the Batman franchise.

      But hey, maybe someday I’ll be a Somebody and I’ll have the chance to pitch this.

  • brett burton

    I am all for rethinking things, but 20 paragraphs in, I gave up while Bruce was building affordable housing and there was still no sign of Batman. Yawn. As for the whole self-made millionaire thing, I think you miss the point of Batman. He has everything handed to him and still chooses to help the innocent. That’s sort of the point. He could be just a spoiled rich kid, but he decides to risk his life helping the less fortunate. This was a strong theme in the Nolan films. As for your comment “a billionaire who wears a rubber suit and goes around beating up poor people. ” Not exactly. He targets criminals, some of whom are poor, but many of whom are corrupt business men, police officials, and mafia bosses. Maybe you need to rewatch the films. The new movie ends with him penniless and donating his mansion to serve as a home for underprivileged orphans.

    • “I think you miss the point of Batman.”

      Well, to me the point of Batman is that he has a singular obsession, fighting crime in Gotham, that is the result of a single event: the death of his parents. What’s important to Batman to me, and this doesn’t really come across in my pitch, is that obsession and rage. In either version, mine or the traditional, he’s willing to basically give up everything else in life, and spend his fortune, to pursue this one passion. My version of Batman isn’t obsessed with crime per se, he’s obsessed with injustice, so this opens up the possibility to address more issues like gentrification, domestic abuse, mental health and homelessness.

      I probably did spend too much time on setup (this was in the back of my mind: http://www.quora.com/Superheroes/Given-our-current-technology-and-with-the-proper-training-would-it-be-possible-for-someone-to-become-Batman). I wanted to figure out how he could get the right level of training, even as a man of modest means, and how he would end up deciding that the best way to fight injustice would be to wear a costume and go around beating people up. So he goes from channeling his rage in boxing matches, to rioting in Paris, to building houses to the poor, to writing novels about class struggle, to actually buying up property and finds “the man” trying to smack him down at each turn.

      I do think the Nolan films do their best to rehabilitate Batman/Bruce Wayne as a progressive do-gooder, but I still have a lot of issues with the films and I’m not sure if they come down to the filmmakers’ own politics or the limitations of working on a mainstream Hollywood action flik or what, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion. In short: they managed to skirt having to really address any major serious issues, even if they’re occasionally brought up. For example, wealth disparity is raised as an issue in the last film, but the filmmakers manage to avoid taking a real stance on it. And don’t get me started on the police in those movies =)

  • This retelling goes right to the heart of one of the fundamental problems with mainstream superhero storytelling– the genre’s baked-in discomfort with dealing with political and social issues in an honest, coherent fashion. The corporate ownership doesn’t want to take any sort of strong stand that might alienate their readership, and particularly doesn’t want to promote an analysis that reflects poorly on capitalists like themselves. And the sort of people who create superhero stories are rarely well-equipped, either intellectually or morally, to explore these matters. Thanks, Klint, for an audacious rethinking of this iconic hero.

  • Thom Smith

    Batman isn’t a rich guy who beats up poor people.

    That is offensive to all ‘poor people’. Because it basically suggests all poor are criminals. He is a rich guy who uses his money and dedication to restore justice the best he can. Not by beating up thugs but by targeting anyone who exploits vulnerable people and giving the people of Gotham hope.

    I do like your idea but I think it would be better served as it’s own character rather than a spin on Batman. Because I personally believe it takes away a lot of the nuances about Batman that make him so special and intriguing.

    Specifically the fact that he dedicates his life and money to making the city the better. There is a nobility in his character that comes from the fact that he is almost entirely selfless. He needs that ‘rich kid’ background to highlight that. He is the opposite of the other rich, privileged people in the city. He isn’t scared or corrupt or cruel. He is brave, valiant and full of hope and belief in his city.

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