Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Op-Ed Article - Why Doesn't Batman have a more rabid fanbase?

Batman – The Fickle Franchise

By BRIAN HEATON

As a whole, the Batman franchise tends to be a “what have you done for me lately” affair with fans.  Unlike the fictional worlds of Star Wars, Masters of the Universe and various others, which maintain a devoted following, Batman fandom seems to ebb and flow depending on what film or cartoon series is making a big splash at the time. Unfortunately for the Caped Crusader, I believe the character's uniqueness is also likely the reason behind its fickle fan base.

Let's face it. The reason why most of us like Batman to begin with is his humanity. Sure, we're not all billionaires that are smart and talented enough to lead a double life and fight crime in the middle of the night. But at its root level, the origin story of Batman is plausible. It's human. When you combine that with the darkness and realism of Gotham City, the stories aren't uplifting or fun. They are closer to reality and therefore not as attractive on an everyday basis to most fans.

Don't get me wrong, Batman is obviously fiction and an entertaining trip through a world that is
absolutely compelling. But unlike the franchises that are fairly predictable and generally enjoyable to escape to, Batman isn't a pillar of light. He's a haunted man with enough skeletons in the closet to fill a graveyard. The world hits too close to home when watching or reading a Batman story and there is only so much reality and seriousness a person can take before they need a break.

Now, I know there are people out there that will vehemently disagree with that explanation. Hey,
I admit, hardcore fans such as myself actually like that element of the character and it is the core
reason why I am a 24/7 Bat-fan. But riddle me this, fellow devotees. When you look at all those
more successful franchises that exist, what is the one thing that 99 percent of them have, that Batman typically doesn't?

Comic relief.

The most successful fictional world toy line (and as we well know, toys are where the money is at) in history is Star Wars. You can argue until you are blue in the face how the action and story is exciting and that is what made you a fan. That's fine. I share that sentiment. But the reason why that toy line and ultimately the franchise has been so successful is the crossover comic-relief of R2D2 and C-3PO. That's what took that story from a sci-fi geek's paradise into the homes of almost every person in the world. It crossed genres by throwing in humor and appealing to a more lighthearted audience.

Batman has none of that. And because it doesn't (and in my opinion, rightfully so), you don't have as large of a crossover base of fans as other franchises. I can hear some of you now saying: “But wait, Superman doesn't have any comic relief. Spiderman really doesn't either. So how does this make sense?” Easy. Those worlds are based on non-realistic characters. As much as a person may love the Man of Steel and Spiderman, there is not an ounce of reality in either of those worlds. Everything, while written as serious, really isn't something that could happen.

Batman is. And while for people such as you and I, who love the serious and gritty tone of Batman, for others, the darkness and realistic bent is too overwhelming. They need to check out of the scene for awhile, content to follow some “less-heavy” stories.

Flashback to 2008. The Dark Knight and Iron Man were released that year. After being asked multiple times what he thought of The Dark Knight, Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. criticized the film for (and I'm paraphrasing here) not being any “fun,” and forgetting what a comic book film should be about – something with lighthearted moments. While I personally laughed at that and chalked it up to Downey clearly not being in touch with the Batman story, in retrospect, he hit the nail on the head in regard to why Batman experiences a degree of fan fickleness.

Obviously, there is nothing to be done about this dynamic. The Bat-Universe is what it is. The success of the Batman character is based off the very factors that keep it from being a crossover smash. But, if it takes Batman throwing out bad one-liners and drinking booze in order to get more attentive mainstream fans and collectors, I'm quite content with things just the way they are.

Brian Heaton is a regular contributor to Legions of Gotham. When not opining on Batman-
related news at LoG, he works as a music journalist and communications professional in Northern California. His work covering the world of hard rock/heavy metal music can be found at The Breakdown Room – www.breakdownroom.net.

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