Why Does Batman Have A Secret Identity?

Secret identities are a big deal in superhero comics, and they have been since the inception of the medium, since its primordial days in the form of pulp magazines. While secret IDs have not played a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of the best moments in DC movies (the classic, pre-DCEU ones anyway) have involved our heroes’ identities either being revealed or their efforts to maintain their secret. Superman II has a whole storyline predicated on Clark Kent’s double life being erased from Lois Lane’s memory, and one of my favorite scenes in Tim Burton’s Batman is when Bruce shows up at Vicki Vale’s place to tell her his truth.

Those secret IDs make sense for some of the characters – Spider-Man has a vulnerable Aunt May and later Mary Jane to protect from vengeful enemies, and Superman needs the downtime of being Clark Kent to keep his head straight – but it’s harder to unpack why Batman needs a secret ID. First of all, it seems like half of Gotham and his villains know who he is, and depending on which iteration of the comics you’re reading, many of his fellow superheroes and Justice League buddies know that Bruce Wayne is the Batman. It’s often a poorly kept secret.

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The End Of The DCEU Phase Zero

Marvel set up their cinematic universe in phases. The first phase was leading up to The Avengersthe financing deal the then-fledgling studio got would allow them to make The Avengers pretty much no matter what, although they had contingency plans in case the solo movies bombed (there had been talk of releasing the movie as an Iron Man sequel, for instance).

Since then the phases have been largely delineated by the Avengers movies, with the solo films swirling around and leading into the next team-up movie. It has, to put it mildly, worked. The planning has not been impeccable, but it has been strong enough so far to overcome director changes and the vagaries of public interest.

The DCEU (DC Extended Universe, what the fans call the DC Comics Movieverse) has not been so lucky. The DCEU has seemed like a cinematic encapsulation of the phrase “Man plans, God laughs.” Looking to compete with the MCU, DC’s parent company Warner Bros in 2014 announced an ambitious slate of superhero films… and the wheels started falling off almost immediately. Two of the films from that slate – Justice League, Part Two and Cyborg, are functionally gone. Another, The Flash, is supposedly happening, but has been plagued with the kind of director turnover that can only be attributable to the production office being built on a cursed burial ground. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was savaged by critics and came up short at the box office. Justice League was destroyed by critics and audiences, and was essentially a bomb, not only failing to crack the gold standard one billion dollars worldwide, but actually earning less than every previous DCEU film.

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TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES: Disrespecting DC, And It Works

Here’s the great yin and yang of our time: DC’s movies are terrible, while their TV shows tend to be rather delightful. Marvel makes the best movies, but their TV shows lean towards the very bad. Weirdly the only place where this dichotomy is broken is when it comes to animated DC movies – they are actually really great, better than the live action DC movies and stake out their own weird space in the superhero universe.

Lego Batman was a blast, and I think was one of the better Batman movies ever made. It really got to the heart of the character, while also poking a lot of fun at the character. And now Teen Titans Go! To The Movies has arrived and is a better DC Universe movie than any of the live action DC Universe movies, and it accomplishes that while being wildly irreverent and disrespectful… but in a truly loving way.

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Retro Review: THE DARK KNIGHT

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the release of The Dark Knighthere’s my original review, unedited. This review was seen as so negative at the time that I received death threats serious enough to report them to the police.

Someone get the Batman a lozenge.

Of all the improvements that Christopher Nolan has made from Batman Begins
(and there are many), Batman himself (and his stupid, stupid raspy voice) seems to have gone unfixed. If anything, Batman has taken a step back from his center stage role in
the first film and allowed much more interesting characters like The Joker, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon to claim the spotlight. And in many ways, that’s an improvement in itself.

Nolan’s second Batfilm almost doesn’t even feel like a sequel – it feels like a reboot. Gotham City, presented in Begins as the only major American city ever founded on a soundstage, now has an outdoors. It feels like… a real city, which makes sense, since it was all filmed in Chicago. And that realness extends beyond the exteriors; for the first time in a Batman movie I felt like I understood what being a Gothamite was like, and I felt that the city was a once glorious place in a bad time, as opposed to the almost Boschian depiction in previous films, including Nolan’s first. This is Gotham City by way of The Wire.

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JUSTICE LEAGUE: Crisis On Infinite Not Giving A Shits

I vividly recall watching Batman v Superman at a press screening. It was the first screening, a showing at the IMAX at Universal City Walk, and there were maybe nine of us in the audience. Twenty minutes into the movie I was ready to give up; the film was assaultive, obnoxious, almost physically painful to sit through. Watching in that environment felt like getting beat up. Going into Justice League I figured that if this film didn’t evoke a fight or flight response in me I would have to say that it was at least better than BvS.

And… it is. Yet at the same time Justice League offers us a new perspective on the disaster that was BvS, a new way of looking at that film. For all its flaws, for how bad it was, BvS was the work of an author. It was a movie with a point of view and a style, and even if I hated everything about that POV and everything about that style as presented, it at least had them. To quote a great thinker:

I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

Justice League has no ethos. It’s an empty, bland motion picture product without a personality or anything to make it feel special beyond the fact that it’s using different intellectual property than other comic book movies are using. It’s a dutiful exercise of corporate art in the service of advancing a larger franchise that the studio hopes will make money. The movie has no reason to exist, and I mean that from an internal, in-universe way.

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