Hello all you happy people! Josh Stoodley with the final post on whether or not Batman should be armoured.
In the first post (here) we discussed how armour works in the real world. In the second post (here) we discussed Batman’s origins, how he evolved, and why he isn’t DC’s knock off of Tony Stark, no matter how much modern writers want to make into one.
Today, we are going to sum up everything and lay out the final conclusion: that Batman should be unarmoured. That by going around and tanking bullets, he’s stepping on other characters toes and betraying a fundamental aspect of his character. That armour would in fact impede Batman’s style of combat and make him more vulnerable, not less.
However, before we get there we have some housekeeping to do. In the process of outlining Superman, Wonder Woman and Fantastic Four, I realized that I had half-finished chapters for all three of them. So I’m going to finish up and polish those chapters than post them sometime within the next two weeks. Work on No Blood for Business has also started extensively this month, and will be released in 2023.
Now on to the controversies!
Armour Is Still Heavy
Going back to the first post, I want to reiterate this point: armour is heavy. It’s not as heavy as sometimes depicted (looking at you, Mark Twain), but even still. Modern armour weighs in at around 20kg.
That’s a lot of weight to move around, especially when you’re trying to be stealthy. My backpack in school frequently weighed 13kg and there’s a reason I have back problems today. Okay, the fact that I spend all day at a computer doesn’t help, but still. Lugging around 13kg worth of books was hard on me. Lugging around 20kg of armour while you’re jumping and sneaking around is going to be worse.
I don’t want to oversell this point. Armour is designed for maximum mobility: armour designers and military types in general are aware of the trade-offs inherent in armour. Heavier armour means less mobility, generally. But it means much greater protection. So armourers take great care to armour the points that really need protecting (head, chest) and cheat everywhere else. This is why you occasionally see medieval warriors missing the back plate: it’s heavy, probably isn’t necessary because you’re surrounded by all your friends, and if you need back protection you’re probably screwed anyway.
Related to this is why almost all pre-modern fighters wear their helmets up before battle, such as when marching. Helmets, especially things like the Great Helm, were heavy, hot and uncomfortable. Soldiers knew when and how to take them off and when to put them back on again.
Now, that’s all for people who are meant to march and fight in line, who are meant to take the brunt of the fighting and not jump around like a cat on acid.
Which brings us to the second point:
Batman Is A Detective Ninja
This is the salient point, really: Batman is not supposed to be tanking bullets. That’s Superman’s shtick. He isn’t supposed to be dodging bullets either; that’s the Flash’s job. So how does Batman fight guys with guns?
This is where the Arkham series really shined, in my opinion. In those games, you play Batman as he’s supposed to be: attacking from stealth, relying on mind games and fear to defeat his opponents. Good tactics, rather than brute strength, are key to winning (most of) Batman’s fights here.
That’s how Batman is supposed to fight. We are told, constantly, in the comics that Batman is a tactical genius with no superpowers. And yet, all too often, Batman is treated as a bruiser. As a poor man’s Tony Stark, running around like a damn fool in power armour.
And that’s when they even bother to give him an explanation for tanking those damned hits! All too often, Batman is out there fighting guys he really shouldn’t be, and the only explanation is ‘he’s got mad martial arts skills, guys.’ Or, and this drives me even more nuts than the power armour thing, because of ‘prep time’.
Batman is a detective. This goes all the way back to his earliest incarnation by Bill Finger. How do detectives fight? Even the most hardboiled detectives, guys like Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Archie Goodwin, fight with their brains as much or more than with their fists. Batman should fight more like Marlowe or Spade: relying on surprise, deception and baiting the bad guys into revealing their plans. The end of The Maltese Falcon is a master class in how detectives ought to deal with their problems, and more Batman writers need to read that book rather than Tony’s latest adventures.
“But wait!” You say. “Batman isn’t just a detective! He’s also an action hero! Kicking ass is what he does!”
You have a point. Which brings us to the other half of that equation:
Batman is also a ninja.
This is admittedly a newer addition to the mythos, dating from the seventies and Denny O’Neil’s Asian fetish. However, it has seeped into Batman’s character. And why not? It makes perfect sense: ninjas strike from the shadows, use mind games, prey on their enemies fear and (stereotypically, anyway) dress in black, dark blue and grey.
What they don’t do is tank. freaking. bullets. Though they do sometimes dodge them which is also BS.
The point is, as we’ve discussed before, neither of Batman’s key character concepts are oriented around taking the kinds of hits that Tony or Superman are. Batman is fundamentally a mental character: a thinker, a strategist, a chessmaster. And also a fundamentally agile character: sneaking around, swinging from tall buildings, that sort of thing.
And armour doesn’t really tie into either of those concepts. It’s downright detrimental to being an agile character and it’s not really a thing for most chessmasters either.
Batman should be unarmoured. Really, that’s it, in the simplest terms.
Look, I get the appeal of the armoured Batman, I do. And in some contexts, it makes sense. Batman should probably invest in a suit of powered armour or two based on some of the things he fights. And, as armour gets more advanced, incorporating some light armour in his costume makes sense.
But no amount of light armour is going to let him tank bullets. The kind of bullet-resistant vest that stops rifle rounds still requires steel or ceramic plate inserts! There is no way Batman is doing any of his crazy gymnastic stunts wearing 20kg of armour. It just ain’t happening.
And besides, making Batman reliant on powered armour just turns him into Tony Stark. We don’t want another Iron Man; dude already has enough knock-offs over in his own books! What we want, fundamentally, is for Batman to be Batman: the detective-ninja, sneaking around rooftops and disappearing silently into the knight (pun very much intended).
Making him a hulking bruiser like Miller did, or some other later artists, is doing a fundamental disservice to the character. Making him heavily armoured is no different.
At least if, you’re going to armour Batman, give him a damned helmet.