National Edition

Batman's true mission: The search for familial stability

Published: Wednesday, July 23 2014 3:45 p.m. MDT

"It's you, isn't it?" The boy says. After lamenting that the other kids won't believe that he has actually seen The Batman, Batman tosses the boy the gadget he was using to peer inside the house. The boy's face lights up, and for a second he realizes that Batman is within his grasp.

This little episode perfectly illustrates the appeal of Batman. He can be anyone, even a kid who comes from a broken home. Especially a kid who comes from a broken home. In 2008, the Daily Mail reported that children who come from broken homes are five times more likely to suffer from mental and emotional stress. Much of the frustration in the mind of the children likely stems from a sense of helplessness: Relationships crumble, people die, accidents and heartbreak happen. The sense of randomness can be debilitating, especially to a young mind. It only makes sense, then, that Batman's greatest foe, the Joker, is an embodiment of anarchy and randomness.

Batman is about turning tragedy into triumph, and for millions of children all across the world, the primary tragedy in their lives is the struggle for love at home, whether because of death, divorce or neglect.

"Years ago I became aware that a particular superhero, who has entertained millions of people, had special appeal to the traumatized children who visited my office," psychologist Richard A. Warshak wrote in The Atlantic last May.

Batman stories, according to Warshak, serve as a vehicle for emotional relief for many of his clients, precisely because they relate to them.

"The essence of psychic trauma is the experience of a sudden, unexpected turn of events," he wrote. "The rug being pulled out from under, plunging the victim into a nightmare that remains etched in memory."

Warshak believes Kane was himself traumatized as a child and "used his art to symbolically reenact his trauma." To those who feel they have lost control of their own futures, Batman serves as "the master who strikes terror" in those guilty of destabilizing our lives.

In the ultimate move toward balance and reconciliation, Batman has also taken on the role of father himself. Even though most superhero stories experiment with sidekicks, none have been as successful, or endearing, as Batman's relationship with Robin.

Since almost the very beginning, Wayne has acted as a father to the orphaned Dick Grayson (and later Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown, who herself is not an orphan but a victim of irresponsible parenting). Known as the Dynamic Duo, Batman's relationship with Robin provides another peek into why so many young boys and girls are enamored by the stories of Gotham. Robin is anyone who has ever needed a mentor, a father figure or even a mother figure. Imagining yourself as the rich, debonaire Bruce Wayne may be difficult for some, but seeing yourself as the orphaned boy or girl by his side isn't much of a stretch for many.

In celebration of Batman's 75th anniversary, Detective Comics released a "special mega-sized anniversary issue" containing original stories and some rewrites that explore the question of Batman's longevity. In the first story in the series, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" (which is actually based on the very first Batman comic by Kane and Finger), the writers depict a young Batman writing in his journal after a particularly stressful night of crime fighting.

"Why do I do this?" he asks himself. Batman then lists numerous reasons why he would subject himself to such arduous late nights. "Secretly it thrills me" he says. "I do it because I'm insane."

After listing numerous reasons why he "does it," Batman then briefly stumbles upon that part of his subconscious that harbors the heartache of his lost parents.

"I do it because it masks the pain ... because my father taught me the value of service. ... I do it to make my father proud."

His reflection hits on one other point, the point that gives hope to all the kids who wish their parents could get along better, those who strive for stability and a better life one day.

"I do it," he says, "because there is nothing more powerful than an ordinary person."

Lingering constantly in the dreams of that ordinary person is a boy who simply wished his parents could tuck him in at night.

JJ Feinauer is a web producer for Moneywise and Opinion on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere