The Boneyard: How Writer's Bone Would Fix Gotham City

The Boneyard features the best of Daniel and Sean’s daily email chain twice a week. Yes, we broadened the definition of “best” to make this happen. 

Daniel: During a recent podcast recording session, Sean went on a little bit of a rant about Bruce Wayne and Batman. Listen to him argue his case on why Bruce Wayne should fake his own death so Batman can get more done:

The best part about this clip is that it incited a #nerdoff between me, Sean, and Writer’s Bone contributor Dave Pezza. Over/under on the word count of installment of The Boneyard: 3,000.

Dave: Bruce Wayne could do more as Bruce Wayne than as Batman. Wayne could literally hire and train a whole new non-corrupt police force. The best non-superpower wielding super hero could do waaaaay more as a philanthropist than Batman could ever do by putting one single bad guy away at a time, which never works anyway because Gotham prison has a breakout every year.

Sean: Dave has a valid point but I still don't agree. Bruce Wayne could buy a lot of things to help the city of Gotham, but that would never change anything. Bring in a new police force and they will become corrupt regardless what you pay them. Batman is more than a crime fighter, he is a symbol. He lets the people of Gotham know that no matter how bad things get, there will always be someone there to protect them. The Bat signal shines in the skies above Gotham warning the crime element that their evil deeds will be punished. Bruce Wayne, regardless of how much money he has and what he does with it, will always be a man. Men come and go, they die and crumble, but a symbol lives forever.

Daniel: My thing is that Batman is more human than any other superhero because he actually is human. Yes, he's a symbol, but men can be symbols too. That can happen even after they’re dead, much like they tried to make Harvey Dent in the recent trilogy. I don't know if Batman has superpowers like Superman his symbol means as much. I think part of what people like about Batman is that he's one of them, rather than an alien or mutant. The Bat signal is effective because people feel like there is a person out there who isn't corrupt protecting them. I think his humanity matters more than you think. And I think Bruce Wayne keeps him grounded in the real world. Think about how brooding Batman is already. If that's all he is, he might actually blow his brains out or end up in Arkham.

That being said, I agree with your point that Bruce Wayne essentially buying a new system for the city isn't that realistic.

Dave: I would disagree. He creates a symbol to rally a city around a vigilante. Batman just assumes that the city is too broken to fix, so he decides that he can fix it one criminal at a time. False. Gotham city doesn't need another person operating outside the law. It needs sound investors. It needs new infrastructure. It needs Woodwards and Bernsteins. It needs money to be literally thrown at it. “Why does Batman need Bruce Wayne” should not be the question. The question should be, “why does Bruce Wayne need Batman?” Why does Bruce Wayne dress up and get the shit beat out of him just to prove a point and fight a personal battle? He could prove it better bankrolling an ailing city and getting involved in proper politics and political change.

Batman first appeared in Detective Comics in 1939, a year after Superman, as a grittier more human superhero. Obviously, he was a response the monopolistic Superman, but his eventual story showed how broken the U.S. economy had become. It was a mirror to how badly the country had sunk financially and criminally ran rampant, i.e. the Great Depression and Al Capone. Batman's metaphor actually fits our contemporary model better. An American billionaire should use his money to fix a failed American city and give back to the roots that made him, but not as Batman. We need a less vengeful and more fiscally responsible Bruce Wayne. We need a corporation not to hide funds to bankroll a vigilante but to give back to the city by not investing overseas, creating new jobs, and supporting non-corrupt politicians. Gotham, in actuality, needs Wayne Enterprises to cut the city a check like J.P. Morgan did in 1895 for the U.S. Why not invest in a better city than kick the shit out of an old one?

Daniel: I'm slow clapping over here. Nicely done.

Dave: Also, and this is partially borrowed from, Superman is quite different when it comes to disguises. Superman is not a masked alter ego like Batman is for Bruce. Bruce Wayne hides his identity as Batman, however Superman hides his identity as Clark Kent. Clark Kent is a fiction made by Superman to hide his real Kryptonian identity. I am sure there is a metaphor about humanity's inability to accept change or something, but I'm too tired from the Batman post to flesh that out.

For the record, I love Batman. He is by far the most interesting and badass DC superhero. I just like to argue.

Daniel: There are times when I get really into Batman, and there are other times I can't. My favorite is the Batman in Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns." Everything felt right about the character in that comic. The stakes were higher, it wasn't completely gritty, and there was an epic fight with Superman who had turned into a lackey (which is totally possible; which may be one reason Clark Kent remains a journalist. He wants to stay a little bit cynical). I don't mean to say that the stakes aren't always high considering that Gotham has the most realistic set of problems in the DC universe, but nothing elevates stakes like the gunslinger going after one last bad guy. I can't help but think of “High Noon” whenever I re-read that comic.

Sean: You know what, Dave is right.

I can’t think of an argument against the fact that if there was more investment in Gotham that would lessen the street crime. Andrew Carnegie even said that a man spends half his life gathering wealth and then the second half giving the wealth back. Dave made me think of another good point. Why didn't Bruce ever get help after his parents were murdered? Did he ever seek medical attention after witnessing his parents being murdered? Or did Alfred just handle it how I would handle someone asking, "Who wants pie?"

Since we are talking about heroes, who do you think is the best anti-hero? Not just within comics, but in movies, television, comics, and books. Who do you think best defines the anti-hero?

Dave: Oh man, Punisher all the way. He’s the quintessential anti-hero. Ex-cop goes all rogue murder spree after his family gets massacre. You can't blame him, but he is still going around messing people's shit up. Granted those people are raping murderous thugs, but still.

Sean: Agreed. Frank Castle has to be the best anti-hero. The whole Garth Ennis run was awesome. I know people hated the first Punisher movie, but the major issue I saw with it was that the location was all wrong. Tampa? Castle has to be in New York City or somewhere urban. Otherwise, and the fact that it was PG-13, that was a good Punisher movie. A close second to the Punisher would be Snake Plissken from Escape from New York.

Daniel: I actually like the first Punisher movie as well. Mickey Mantle did a serviceable job as the wounded lead character and, hey, any movie that has John Travolta being dragged across a parking lot while he's on fire is a great one. There are so many fictional characters that are great anti-heroes, Tony Soprano, Andy Sipowitz, Dexter, Hannibal Lecter, the Dude, Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver.

My personal favorite might have to be Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies. His arc gets more tragic every time I watch the films (which is often). He starts out as a war hero with a young girlfriend, and then he's sucked into his family's criminal world somewhat reluctantly. You start to see him embracing the darker side of his persona when he kills the police officer in the Italian restaurant. But it hides it by seeming to be really happy on the lame in Italy. A naked Apollonia helps I'm sure. Once she blows up, I think he's 100% evil. It just clicks. It's all about power and his family. For me, the most haunting scene with him isn't when he kills Fredo. It's when he slams the door in Diane Keaton's face when she comes to visit her kids unannounced. He was shunning her because she had an abortion. Keaton's face when he nonchalantly pushes the door closed is heartbreaking. It's a great moment where you think "why exactly am I rooting for this guy to stay alive?" And then he kills his brother. At least you know he'll be haunted more by that than by anything Kay did. His heart was never really with Kay. Family man Michael wasn't his true character. He was a bad guy at his core and I think he would have been led to it no matter what. I could go on, but I think I've made some kind of a point.

While perusing the Internet to narrow down my pick, an intriguing name popped up that makes a strong argument for a real-life anti-hero: Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe he doesn't have the characteristics of a classic anti-hero, but he may be this generation's real-life version of one. You're not going to see guys like Hunter S. Thompson take that mantle like they once did. Do you think the Millennial generation might get tired of the anti-hero trend and explore other fictional pasts, or do you think that it reflects society overall too much to deviate any time soon?

Sean: This was an awesome short they made a couple years back. It's awesome and really showcased that Thomas Jane could play this part.

I would have never thought of Michael Corleone. I know there is a cut scene where Michael returns to the U.S. and he finds the bodyguard who planted the bomb and kills him. There is a picture of it somewhere, and it shows Michael holding a double barrel shotgun at the hip. It showed how he went full dark side. One thing that they didn’t mention in the movie was the fact that Sonny was really well hung. They hint at it, but it's not brought up. Then again, I don't know how you could bring that up in a movie, no pun intended. The anti-hero, in one shape or another, will always be with us. The anti-hero is a reflection of the darker side of humanity.

Mark? Really? Does he count as an anti-hero? Hmmm, he did do things his way. I don't know if he counts.

Daniel: Well, there is the scene early in the first Godfather where Sonny is plowing one of the bridesmaids. I think it's implied. The bridesmaid actually has Sonny's kid who turns out to be Andy Garcia's character in Godfather III.

Yeah, I agree on what you said about Mark, but really, who else is there. Mark Cuban the basketball owner? The owner of the Brooklyn Nets who spends his time globetrotting and banging supermodels? Snowden? Snowden is an interesting case. I don't think I'm as inclined to support what he did now as opposed to when I was in college because I think he leaked all that stuff for motives that we're wholly patriotic. If they were, I think he'd stand up in court and be a badass instead of running away. Easy for me to say since I'm not the one that would spend time in prison. But you also don't keep lobing grenades into the whole you made. Leak it all out at once and get it out there. Anyway, yeah, I don't know about real-life anti-heroes. I think being human means that all heroes are flawed, and it's tough to even define what a hero is.

Dave: Our generation replaced cowboys, the original U.S. pseudo anti-hero, with bad guys cast as protagonists. I'd like to see us get back to the real old school western anti-heroes, like Eastwood in the “Man With No Name” trilogy. Millennials have mistaken gritty characters who struggle with their own morality in the wake of their actions with "bad guys" who simply accept the villainy free of an appropriately written conscience.

Daniel: Grimly nodding. Why can't anyone get Westerns right anymore? Did every see "Unforgiven" and say, "Well, that's it. It's over." Instead we get fighting robots in "Pacific Rim." Are movies like that this generation's Westerns? Or have superhero movies replaced Westerns and war movies?

There are no good answers to these questions. That bums me out.

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