The second story in DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes is Batman: War on Crime by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. My next few paragraphs might strike you as an odd way to introduce this comic, but I had the idea of referring to a personal experience and decided to go with it.
Last week, I mentioned that I had been jumped and that, in the process, my jaw had been broken. Six individuals were responsible, and I could have been even more seriously hurt if one of my friends (who had some martial arts training) hadn’t pushed them off of me. That was on the second to the last day of the spring semester during my freshman year in high school. I spent the first six weeks of that summer sucking baby food through a straw since my jaw was wired shut. Almost two years later, I was jumped again, but the consequences weren’t as serious on that occasion. Someone approached me in the school restroom and hit me in the forehead, just above one of my eyes. He then grabbed a janitor’s drum and threw it at me. He was shorter than I was, and I blocked it back over his head, whereupon he ran out the door. As in the first case my assailant was not from my high school. He had entered the building without a visitor’s pass.
Without prolonging the story with unnecessary details, the identity of my attacker was discovered, and he was turned over to the juvenile authorities. My father was a state legislator, and he accompanied me to the hearing where I was asked to testify briefly. I was looking face-to-face at the young man who had accosted me without provocation. The questioning board was familiar with him to the point of addressing him on a first name basis.
Something bothered me about the hearing. Although I hadn’t been seriously hurt, he could have done serious damage to someone smaller. What bothered me wasn’t that I shouldn’t have pressed charges. It was that, in a situation where it was my word against his, there was no other evidence. I’m white (at the time, politically connected because of my father), and he was black. Since the board was already familiar with him, and since I was unlikely to have known him due to the fact that we went to different schools, I seriously doubt that the authorities in this case were racist. I know juveniles are handled differently by the legal system, but at the age of sixteen, I was asking myself about the precedent of someone being found guilty on nothing but the testimony of one witness.
This was my most intimate exposure to our system of criminal justice, and it gave me a hint of the enormity of the problem. Let me make an awkward attempt at a transition here. Although a skilled and highly-trained man instead of an all-powerful being, Batman’s challenge is similar to the one faced by Superman in the previous story about which I posted. He can only save individuals. There are too many individuals to control and protect, and it would be totalitarian to attempt controlling all individuals. This thoughtful character is studious, dedicated, and astute, but he can only do so much. His efforts have left him baring scars, more so than gratitude, for his efforts at intervention.
After a back story which includes the murder of his parents, we find him during a regular visit to their place of burial. I found this imagery compelling. The picture I found was of a French translation, but the original is obviously in English.
This treatment of Bruce Wayne/Batman strikes a good balance between the original character as created by Bob Kane in the Golden Age of Comics, the version with which I grew up during the Silver Age of Comics, and the more currently pervasive approach of The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.
There is one sequence which shows Batman attempting to talk a young man out of pursuing the wrong path. I found the monologue a bit stilted and unlikely, but I am reminded that I have thought from time to time about the seven guys (six first, one two years later) who jumped me. Are they still alive? Did anyone reach them before it was too late?
I think it is appropriate to end with the following image of Batman surveying Gotham below him. Not only is it a beautiful illustration – it also conveys the magnitude of what he faces.