Debate Club: Batman HAS Super Powers, No Matter What You Choose To Call Them

Although The Chi-Scroller primarily deals with video games, we do occasionally dip into other facets of geek culture, as we have this week with our comic book-based Debate Club topic.

I’m a big Batman fan. In fact, he is one of my favorite comic book characters. For all of the reasons I like him, though, it never really occurred to me that he’s just a “regular guy”, and it never quite sits right with me when people give that as their primary reason for considering him their favorite.

For starters, he’s far from just some normal dude. He’s a normal dude with a seemingly unlimited supply of money, which he conveniently inherited from his murdered parents and he has to do almost nothing in the way of a “day job” to maintain that wealth. At least Clark Kent shows up to a job each day. It also just so happens that his family’s company makes basically EVERYTHING, so he has at his disposal a built-in factory that makes pretty much anything he could ever need. Oh, and he’s also incredibly smart and is basically a genius scientist and master detective rolled into one. Sure, why not. Additionally, he’s an extremely skilled fighter, which of course technically anybody can learn to be with enough time and training, but lucky for him he has all that unlimited money which affords him years to disappear and get awesome at ass kicking (and whatever else he needs to learn to get awesome at).

Which brings us to the ultimate result of all those resources, which is his batsuit and accompanying gadgets. It varies a bit from fiction to fiction, but essentially, Batman can “glide” (which usually looks an awful lot like flying), scale buildings effortlessly, withstand bullets, survive a fall from great heights, see through walls, breath underwater for several hours, create a type of fire that is hotter than magma and is more or less impossible to extinguish, summon a swarm of live bats, and he’s also know to carry around a chunk of Kryptonite which suddenly turns this supposedly normal guy into a guy who can take down the otherwise invincible Superman.

None of that makes him seem like he has superhuman powers, right? And why not, because it’s all gadget- and science-based and doesn’t come from Gamma rays or a radioactive spider bite, or he wasn’t just born that way? I’m sorry, but the difference there just feels pretty superficial to me. Let’s take Spider-Man. What if all of Spider-Man’s abilities came from his costume? His ability to scale walls, to shoot webs, his increased strength and agility, even his “Spidey Sense” – what if it all was somehow tied to his suit and his suit alone, and not “super powers?” Would that REALLY make a difference? I just don’t see how it would. It’s all semantics. The end result is exactly the same – an array of skills and abilities beyond what human beings are actually capable of. What’s the difference where it comes from? Why is it SO important that a superhero be supposedly more “real” than another?

We’re dealing in fantasy and wish fulfillment here. So Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are just real – but absurdly wealthy and absurdly brilliant and absurdly athletic – people who built their own super powers. And other characters have similar powers but they are just built into their bodies naturally or through some type of genetic enhancement. Maybe this all comes down to personal preference, but for me, I don’t need to keep my fictional heroes as grounded in reality as possible. I want to fly just because I can. I want to shoot lasers out of my hands just because I can. I want to deflect bullets just because I can. Does the why or how really matter THAT much when we’re dealing in such exaggerated terms anyway? If you truly want your heroes to be “normal guys”, go for James Bond or Indiana Jones or Sherlock Holmes or heroes of that ilk. Only slighty stretching the limits of human and scientific ability, but more or less just regular guys who are really good at what they do but never exceed the reaches of realistic human ability (moreso than what is typical of fictional characters anyway). That’s where you should be looking if you truly want heroes that aren’t “super”. Once you get into seeing through walls and stopping bullets and breathing underwater and flying without calling it flying, you’re dealing with a character with superhuman abilities, no matter what you choose to call it that helps you feel less nerdy for being a fan of it. There’s enough “realistic” fiction out there that I don’t see why there is this need to both smugly embrace Batman specifically for that reason and scoff at all of the other silly comic books and their silly, outlandish – and not “believable” – characters. It’s all just different origin stories but the same end result. Same block powers, different house explanation.

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