by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD
In the early 1940’s while I was jerking sodas in Canar’s, a skid row drugstore in Omaha, one of my ancillary responsibilities was serving as guardian of the rack displaying comic books. I was to prevent the teenagers who frequented the store from reading the magazines on display without purchasing them. One of the perks of that role was my opportunity to do just that. It was there that I became acquainted with The Phantom, the ghost who lives, Batman, the grim avenger of Gotham City, and Superman, the extraterrestrial protector of truth, justice and the American way.
The Phantom was not actually immortal; he was a role secretly passed on from father to son. He had no super-powers beyond his wit and strength and his mythic immortality. Superman, faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, was, as claimed, super-human. But Batman, the socialite with a hidden life, brooding gargoyle-like over the evils besetting Gotham City, Batman had the noire appeal of a frightening creature of the night.
The Phantom, so far as I know, never made it into the cinematic world. Superman did, but his dalliance with Lois Lane got frankly boring. But Batman continued to fascinate me; I have seen the half dozen or so films that constitute his oeuvre. The Batman, a 2022 Warner Brothers film, was not something I wanted to miss.
Over-all, the oeuvre is not perfectly internally consistent, but its key elements are Bruce Wayne, the son of a wealthy billionaire benefactor of Gotham City running for mayor, who with his wife, Bruce’s mother, is murdered as their young son looks on in terrified horror. Bruce is, of course, traumatized by this event and by a later experience of being trapped underground in the caves below the family manor where he is buffeted by Chiropterae, bats. As an adult, Bruce becomes aware of a criminal element in the city, and begins a secret life of seeking out evil doers there.
Kohutian self-psychology would expect that the trauma of an early loss of parental protectors might produce an on-going narcissistic flaw, a sense of insecurity. That may explain Batman’s reliance on prosthetics. Though he seems adept at martial arts, he also wears armor, drives super cars, and makes heavy use of high-tech weapons.
The new film is dark in every sense. At one point, we hear Batman say, “I am the dark.” As this film unfolds, Batman becomes very much a detective searching for clues to the identity of a serial killer and to the Holmesian Moriarty at the center of the web of crime in Gotham City. He learns that his father may have, in the course of his reform efforts for the city, made a Faustian bargain, dealing another blow to the son’s sense of certainty.
This tale describes an early stage in Batman’s career. There is a plan for at least two sequels, and one might hope for a reappearance of one of Batman’s most redoubtable enemies, the Joker.
The film ends with Gotham City’s being catastrophically flooded, barely surviving, and Batman’s coming to see that compassion trumps vengeance, an outcome that seems a bit forced. And at he end of the three hours of screen time, I was both glad to see the curtains closing—and ready for the first sequel