Dennis O’Neil: Wonderful Bat-Toys

batmobileWhere does he get those wonderful toys? the Joker wonders in the 1989 Batman and it’s a pretty good question. Where did the Batplane come from and how does it happened to be equipped with exactly the hardware Batman needs to thwart the Joker’s mass homicide? And that line-shooting gadget Batman totes: a device that stores a cable (or something similar) able to reach several stories into the air and whatever propels it, all crammed into something the size of a handgun. And the Batmobile… nobody notices it on the highways in and out of Gotham ad figures out where it must come from? Nothing in Tim Burton’s movie tells us that Bruce Wayne, bright guy that he is, has the kind of engineering/scientific smarts to devise such stuff and get it past the prototype stage virtually overnight. He just has what he needs when he needs it and we, sitting and watching in the darkness, don’t wonder how that can be. We’re being entertained, and entertainment is what we paid for.

We don’t ask how the gangster the Joker used to be mixed up some disfiguring chemicals and snuck in into (presumably) thousands of retail packages. Nor do we ask where Wiley E. Coyote gets those heavy objects he drops onto the Road Runner when they’re in the middle of nowhere, either.

Which is why, maybe, that I don’t have a name for the kind of screenplay Burton’s Batman is. It has to be a hybrid of crime story and cartoon and it works as what it is and, while we’re on the subject, the cartoon aspect is why we shouldn’t worry about collateral damage. Batman blows up an industrial plant and fills Gotham’s air with toxins? Does he poison his home town? If not, why not? Go away! You want hard facts, seek them elsewhere. That’s not what we’re selling here. And neither are we here to let you pick holes in a story that, really, doesn’t claim not to have those kind of holes. Fact is, in this context, they can’t be called holes. What, then? Narrative tropes?

Do we really care?

Later Batman films do, in fact, fill some holes. The wonderful toys are supplied by a genius who works for Bruce Wayne’s family corporation and he’s had prototypes of them in storage because the company’s number crunchers couldn’t figure a way for them to turn a profit. But in The Dark Knight, Batman and his resident genius put together an apparatus that allows them to monitor every electronic transmission in a city of 7,000,000 and have it up and running in a couple of days. Even if the technology preexisted…a couple of days?

We don’t live in Silicon Valley, we lovers of the strange and unnamed fantasy-melodrama we’re discussing. No, find us in the disembodied realm of myth and fairy tale. Very sophisticated myths and fairy tales, to be sure, but nobody says these things can’t be sophisticated. Today’s Batmobile might have been a horse-drawn pumpkin in times past and… we still don’t have a name for it, do we?

Aw, who cares?