Martha Thomases: Where’s My Batman?
Ever since I moved to New York in 1977, I wondered what it would be like if there was really a Batman.
Sure, Superman lived in a version of New York as well. So did the entire Marvel Universe. But Batman is the one who felt most like the way I lived, in my tenement apartment. Batman belonged in a city with fifth floor walk-ups.
I don’t mean that I looked up at rooftops for someone to fight crime. Even then, I didn’t normally feel physically threatened on the streets. And Batman was not going to stop the men who made disgusting comments to me as I went to work, did my chores, or met with friends. I might have been in my naïve 20s, but I knew that Batman wasn’t real.
My 20s were not only naïve, but pretentious. I hung out at CBGBs and The Mudd Club. I went to art openings at downtown galleries because I knew the artists. I stayed up all night and wore black, even though I had to be properly dressed at my very proper day-job at 8:30 AM. I knew the kinds of people who could help me stay up all night and get to work on time.
This was a different New York. There were local banks. There were local stores. There were local donut shops. Everything wasn’t part of a chain. Rents were, if not reasonable, at least affordable for someone working an entry-level job. There were bands forming and breaking up and reforming. There were alternative weekly newspapers, alternatives to the alternative weekly newspapers, poetry ‘zines and underground comix. There were community gardens and the beginning of the Green Markets.
In short, it was the kind of city where Batman would be noticed. Even the version of Batman that was then current, the urban legend thought to be a myth by most, known only to Commissioner Gordon and a few others.
I mean, this was a city where punk bands wrote songs about Bernhard Goetz and Gary Gilmore. Certainly, rumors of a giant bat (or a man dressed like a giant bat) would capture the creative imagination. Patti Smith was writing songs about Rimbaud and Verlaine; of course she would have comments on what flew through the streets at night.
As would the Dead Boys. I bet if I look closely, I can find myself in that video somewhere.
And then there is Bruce Wayne, reclusive billionaire. He’s like the opposite of Donald Trump. What would Spy Magazine have made of him? Would they send someone to dig into his affairs the way they did with Trump? Would he have a Spy nickname, like Trump did (“short-fingered vulgarian”)?
I like to imagine that New York-based fashion designers would include a lot more capes in their collections.
It’s more difficult to imagine Batman in present-day New York. While we have gang-related crime, it’s a much smaller part of our lawlessness than you’ll find in corporate boardrooms. The artists and musicians have been gentrified out of town by the international trust fund kids and their investment-minded parents. We have lots of problems, but they aren’t the kind can be fixed by someone bursting through a skylight.
We need a new kind of hero. Has anyone ever seen Elizabeth Warren and Batman in the same place?