Yeah, I know, I just started a blog post titled “The Batman Complex” with a beautiful picture of Superman. In my defense, I’m going to get to Batman in a roundabout way. With Man of Steel having just released and my unabashed love of all things Superman in full force, I’ve been focused a lot lately on dissecting and analyzing the Superman character. Superman has three identities: Clark Kent, his human name and persona ascribed to him via the Kent’s, Kal-El, his alien name and persona ascribed to him via the House of El, his Kryptonian heritage and his superhero identity, Superman, which is his “face” for the world as a beacon of hope and inspiration.
Which brings me to an oft-cited quote from Kill Bill: Volume 2:
“Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”
At first glance, that quote seems applicable to the Superman mythology (as well as that of Batman and Peter Parker). However, upon further contemplation, I would argue that it really only applies to Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Let me first start with Superman…
Superman is all of those identities. He is Clark Kent, he is Kal-El and he is Superman. He just subtlety adds nuance to each one depending on the circumstance, but in reality, I don’t think Superman has a “mask” per se or an alter ego. He’s just a damn good person, whether he goes by Clark, Kal-El or Superman. His Clark Kent persona isn’t how Superman views us; his actions are. That is, he is good and thinks we can and ought to strive to be good as well, whether we’re the “human” Clark Kent, the “alien” Kal-El or the “superhero” Superman. Because Superman is not just a beacon for humans, but has been in the comics and elsewhere a beacon of hope for other aliens and other superheros, especially as the leader of the Justice League.
On the other hand, Batman most certainly does have a mask. “Batman is actually Bruce Wayne” is inaccurate, as I see it. To me, Bruce Wayne died with his parents in that dark alley and became Batman as a coping mechanism, which eventually manifest into something bigger (justice, truth, goodness). Bruce Wayne is most definitely his “mask,” as he plays up the billionaire playboy persona to deflect away from the fear incarnate that is Batman. In contrast, Tony Stark is Iron Man is Tony Stark; Tony Stark is the billionaire playboy persona that happens to have an Iron Man suit.
In Arkham Asylum The Joker exemplifies this point. All the other inmates want to take off his mask to see his “real face” and The Joker says to them, “Don’t be so predictable, that is his real face.”
For fun, check out this brilliant fan-made trailer mixing together various films together for a coherent spin on the Batman mythology:
First off, that is highly commendable editing. Anyhow, I don’t think Batman is schizophrenic or anything, but I would pay big bucks to see a film explore this idea, as it’s quite fascinating and if anybody could pull it off, it’s Christian Bale.