Holy Dawkins, Batman! The Dark Knight is now officially an atheist! At least, according to the recently released Batman #53, by writer Tom King.
Predictably, hand-wringing over this fictional character’s lack of faith has already ensued. “Is this part of the entertainment world’s not-so-subtle jab at religion in general, and Christianity specifically?” wailed Fox News, ironically clutching their pearls, when every ardent Bat-fan knows pearls are only to be used for falling in slow-motion over Martha Wayne’s still-twitching corpse.
But this latest announcement raised an interesting idea in MEL’s writers’ room: Does this newly proclaimed atheism mean Batman has finally gone full Reddit bro? Must we assume that the iconic pointy-eared cowl will soon be replaced with a Dorito-dust-coated fedora? (Pedant alert: That hat you all think is a fedora is actually a trilby.)
You could certainly make a compelling argument: After all, with his batcave nestled snugly beneath stately Wayne Manor, Batman literally lives in his parents’ basement. He is, in many of his better-known appearances, a socially maladjusted, rage-filled asshole, a man who relentlessly presents himself as superior to all others, the ultimate ackchyually mansplainer whose raison d’être is simply to prove that he’s better than you. He even does goddamn CrossFit!
This is the Batman we saw with Zack Snyder’s intriguingly murdery take on the character in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, itself based on perhaps the most famous Bat-book of all time, The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank “I am kind of not-so-secretly in love with the idea of fascism” Miller.
But you know what? Fuck that Batman. That is Batman as seen through the lens of endless adolescent rancor, a worldview where the only definition of maturity is the one presented as a warning on video game boxes and comic book covers (“For mature readers only! Contains graphic violence, cursing and sideboob!”) In the hands of a truly mature writer — Grant Morrison, say, or Mark Waid — the driving force of Batman isn’t revenge or rage but the desire to protect his fellow man, to stop the bad thing that happened to him from ever happening to anyone else. He can, and should, be a truly inspirational character.
Of course, it’s undeniable that all superheroes, Batman included, are a bit of a conservative wet dream, regularly doling out brutal street justice to a motley assortment of the impoverished, the desperate and the chronically mentally ill. Certainly, “vengeful billionaire with daddy issues who frequently breaks the law to further his own goals” sounds like a less appealing piece of escapism when you consider the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But again, in more capable hands, we do see Batman do more than beat up “thugs.” In recent years, the comics have been at pains to show that Bruce Wayne spends far more on charitable trusts than batarangs, using his influence as a high-profile leader of the business community to effect change at a societal level, to prevent people needing to turn to crime in the first place. Batman: Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
So with all that in mind, no, I don’t think Batman’s gone full Reddit bro. His methods may be questionable, but his intentions are laudable.
There is another, more obvious way in which he now fits the Reddit bro mold, however, which is his total refusal to let facts interfere with his beliefs. Think about it — Batman doesn’t believe in God! Batman! The same Batman who — quite apart from having personally beaten the ever-living crap out of multiple pantheons of New Gods, Greek Gods and the dark Bat-God Barbatos — has served on the Justice League with a literal angel and the all-powerful spiritual manifestation of God’s wrath! Bruce… buddy… you’ve spent decades hanging out with God’s actual entourage. Who do you think is paying those bills if their boss isn’t real?
Ah well. At least the cowl will mostly cover that neck beard.