Four Letter Nerd

Batman: Hero or Superhero?

Back in December I wrote about how Batman is more heroic, and therefore a greater superhero, than Superman (although he would still get completely destroyed one on one).  That argument was predicated on the idea that Batman is indeed a superhero, which is controversial among certain nerd packs (nerd packs are similar to wolf packs except viciousness is replaced by pretentiousness).  For some reason talking about whether Batman falls under which category of heroics is like discussing religion or politics; meaning that if you don’t think he’s a superhero, nothing I say will change your mind and vice versa (and there is a good chance that friendships will be destroyed faster than that one time you and your ex-friend played Monopoly).  I speak from experience, Stephen and I debated this for about three hours and got into some pretty complex philosophical issues concerning morality and ethics before just having to pat butts and say good game (metaphorically).

Below is a visual approximation of me before and after the debate.


HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary Fukunaga

Notice the silent confidence of a man who understands life as it really is.



“Time is a flat circle, man. What am I even talking about? More Lone Star Beer, please.”

Regardless, I would like to have some fun here and try to define why Batman should be considered a superhero.

Arguing the qualifications of a fictional hero might be silly, but seeing as how this is a blog centered on Nerd Culture, I think this is a bastion of this type of thought.

Lets get the definition of hero out of the way.  A hero is generally thought of as someone who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.  It describes a person of exalted moral or mental character who is worthy of honor or respect.

Batman has dedicated his life to fight crime and injustice in order to bring Gotham up out of it’s own depravity, which caused the death of his parents.  During his quest for justice he frequently puts himself in harms way in order to save others, while also operating under a strict moral code. Yes, Batman does operate outside of the law, but he also works alongside it in most iterations (there is a reason they have a Bat Signal on top of the Police Department).  This is the reason he would not be considered an “anti-hero” like other vigilante’s such as the Punisher.  Batman is a vigilante, but does not kill.  There is already a definition that exists for a vigilante who kills — a murderer.

Is it immoral that Batman operates outside of the law?  It depends on your philosophy.  Some would argue that the law being broken initially makes Batman just like the Punisher; that the initial immorality of breaking the law paints the following actions in the same light.  I think the law being broken out of necessity for a righteous cause is not immoral.  Remember, a lot of atrocities have been committed completely within the framework of the law, so it might not the best standard when it comes to differentiating hero from anti-hero.

The point of all of that is not to compare and contrast Batman and Punisher, but to differentiate the terms hero and anti-hero (per Stephen).  I am not trying to say that anti-heroes are inherently bad, just that the way they accomplish their goals is not a way that most would consider honorable or virtuous.  The two terms describe two different ways to bring about good, one just has a dash of rampant murder.

"What do you mean 'rampant murder?'"

“What do you mean ‘rampant murder?'”

So we are able to define Batman as a “hero.”  Now, what makes him a SUPERhero?

For something to be “Super,” it/he/she must go above and beyond that which we would consider “ordinary.”  So to be able to define Batman as a superhero, he must fit the definition of an “extraordinary.”

In order to take on the title of Vengeance, Night, Batman (later shortened to just Batman), Bruce had to spend years training in a multitude of subjects including: combat, espionage, detection, and mental fortitude.  He has become an expert in multiple forms of hand-to-hand combat, is considered the World’s Greatest Detective (which implies a genius level intellect), he is most likely in the top 1-2% when it comes to physical conditioning and endurance, and he has an extraordinary flair for the dramatic.  Nothing about Batman is ordinary.  Everything he does, he does is at an extraordinary level (excluding coping with loss).

The main argument against Batman being classified as a superhero is that he has no superpower.  He might not have a genetic mutation or an alien lineage that allows him to hurl planets, but is that really the sole requirement for being a superhero?  If it is, then we might have to rethink the way we use our words.

When we look at the origin of the words “super” and “hero,” it would appear that the main requirement would be extraordinary heroism.  I really don’t think it is a leap at all for one to think that Batman exemplifies someone that goes above and beyond that which we would define as traditional heroism.  Therefore, nerds and non-nerds, I think it is time to call Batman what he is — a superhero.

If that's not enough, here he is fighting a shark with a lightsaber.

If that’s not enough, here he is fighting a shark with a lightsaber.





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Cam Clark

Cam is a husband, father, and a fan of many things. In college, he wrote his senior thesis on Mythological, Philosophical, and Theological Themes in Star Wars, and now spends his days causally specializing in Star Wars, Tolkien, and cubical work. No relation to Bill Clark.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great post, but I think you are missing some key points about the comparisons to Batman and other superheroes.

    First, your comparison to The Punisher is quite unfair, as Big Pun KILLS badguys, and Bats don’t. It’s pretty cut and dry. Yes, they both defend justice where they perceive the “traditional” law-enforcers have failed, but Frank Castle sees the system as broken and has changed the ideal. Batman sees the system; the ideal; as perfect, but fights against those working inside the system who are twisting and manipulating that same system to their own ends. I agree that they are different, as you stated, but their similarities and the contrasts apparent when those similarities are explored, is much more important to defining Batman.

    Second, he’s a superhero in the same way ANY superhero is a superhero. I don’t think anyone would argue that the X-Men or Spider-Man are superheroes, and the only significance here, in the context of discussing the merit of Batman also being a superhero, is the lack of powers. Now, what exactly IS a “power”? In the context of the X-Men or Spider-Man or just about any other “powered” character, those characters all got their powers due to a specific and extraordinary occurrence in their life. I don’t see Bruce’s parents being killed in front of him, the event that led to there being a Batman, much different from any event that turned a scientist into a monster or a genetic difference that showed itself during a stressful moment. That makes Batman “super” on a level that most other character cannot even get close to reaching, simply because it was so much easier and understandable if Batman chose the low-road, like The Punisher did.

    And, as fun as it is to have the Batman vs. Superman debate, besides an out and out brawl (and Batman with kryptonite, obviously, balances this fight) Superman doesn’t win in any other sort of competition. It’s definitely an aspect of this long-debated discussion that requires further exploration.

    • I think the argument then becomes “Is Batman working outside the law?” and the answer has to be “NO!” If he were he’d kill The Joker, like Frank would, and not allow him to be kept by any form of the system. I’m not sure the anti-hero argument for Batman holds any water just because he’s wanted by the police from time to time. Wouldn’t that make Spidey and anti-hero? That doesn’t sound right… 🙂

      • Only if that “law” is within the realm of being a system of justice. I guess it’s true that Batman does not follow the letter of the law, but he certainly follows the letter of justice. I think the distinction is relevant, but does allow for the fun of the anti-hero discussion in the context of Batman.

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