The Batman symbol is arguably as famous as the most prominent brands of Western culture. It is perhaps as recognizable as the McDonald’s ‘M’, the Nike tick, and even the Coca-Cola sign.
But unlike those examples, the Batman symbol is more than just a logo that reminds us of a brand.
The Batman symbol represents something hopeful, powerful, and essential with regard to our deepest desires.
So what is this something that the Batman symbol represents? To answer that, we must first understand what has made Batman the icon that he is.
To understand what is special about the Batman symbol, we must decipher what is special about Batman.
A Different Kind of Superhero
As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.
There are two core things that separate Batman from most other superheroes.
Firstly, he doesn’t have any actual superpowers. He’s just rich enough to be able to pay for his collection of impressive gadgets and is extremely well trained in combat.
Secondly, and unusually, the conception of Batman is borne out of fear and darkness. Bats literally live in darkness and are averse to light.
Batman’s appearance, all in black and working in the darkness of night, could make give the impression of him being a villain rather than a hero.
But this is all part of Batman’s appeal. He isn’t the ‘chosen one’, selected by some divine chance to utilize powers that he didn’t even ask for.
No, Bruce Wayne chose to be a hero. He chose to train himself, to acquire his gadgets, the Batmobile, and to stand up to crime in Gotham – and there’s a case to be made that Bruce’s choice to be Batman is actually a bad one … but we’ll get to that later.
In any case, Batman is different from other superheroes because he started out like a normal person. And it wasn’t a spider bite or some deity that gave him his powers … he claimed his power for himself.
And perhaps these human characteristics are the reason for Batman’s popularity. When we dig beneath the surface, we find that Batman is not much different from us: Batman is, first and foremost, a man. And his achievements symbolize the potential in all of us to become ‘superheroes’.
In this sense, Batman is a superhero that we can identify with. The Batman symbol, then, represents the superpowers within all of us.
Batman Symbol & Darkness Within
But the Batman symbol doesn’t only represent our power and potential. It also represents our darkness and our imperfections. Bruce Wayne wasn’t inspired to become Batman from his love for the people of Gotham … Batman was borne, instead, out of Bruce Wayne’s anger and hate.
After witnessing the murder of his parents from the gun of Joe Chill, Bruce Wayne grew bitter and resentful. He desired so much to avenge their deaths, that he even bought a gun to kill the man he so despised.
Delivering justice to Joe Chill, Bruce Wayne believed, meant murdering him – an eye for an eye!
As it transpired, though, Bruce did not kill Joe Chill. And he eventually overcame his bitterness and resentfulness, as a result of his training in combat.
Nonetheless, it was Bruce Wayne’s complex combination of anger, hate, and guilt that inspired the beginning of Batman.
(Psst! As a side note, there actually are incarnations of Batman that DID kill Joe Chill. Read this article about Thomas Wayne Batman to learn more.)
In any case, everybody feels negative emotions at some point in their lives. If we don’t find a healthy outlet for emotions like anger or hate, then those emotions will build up inside us – like a pressure cooker, ready to burst.
In Jungian psychology, the parts of our personality that are hidden or not fitting with our social image are referred to as our ‘shadow’.
And Jungian psychology asserts that our ‘shadow’ will needs an outlet. If it is not given a means of expression, it will eventually express itself without us being conscious of it – and it might express itself in ways that are detrimental to us.
Batman, then, is an example of how to properly integrate our ‘shadow’. Batman proves that positive action can come from our inner darkness.
The Batman symbol, then, represents the fact that we all experience darkness and that darkness inescapably exists within all of us … but that that doesn’t make us bad people.
Then again, what do we mean by ‘bad people’?
It seems natural to assume that Batman is a good guy, fighting the bad guys – such as his nemesis, the Joker. The Joker is clearly a ‘bad’ person.
Then again, in spite of the awful things Joker has done, he has also provoked and brought the best out of Batman over the years. Moreover, the Joker – as well as other villains – often challenge Batman’s moral stance, making Batman wiser as a result.
A prime example of this is the character Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins (depicted by Liam Neeson). Take this quote from the first of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy:
“Only a cynical man would call what these people have “lives,” Wayne. Crime. Despair. This is not how man was supposed to live. The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years. We sacked Rome; loaded trade ships with plague rats; burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance.”Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul, in Batman Begins.
Checking against human corruption? Restoring balance? These don’t seem like the desires of an evil villain. Ra’s al Ghul clearly has good intentions, reminding me of a potent proverb:
“The road the Hell is paved with good intentions.”
Nevertheless, in spite of flaws in his logic (which requires another article entirely to explain), Ra’s al Ghul exposes genuine flaws in Batman’s logic.
For example, what is Batman trying to achieve by enforcing ‘justice’? And who is Bruce Wayne to judge what justice actually looks like?
Is it, in fact, Bruce Wayne’s good intentions that pave a road to hell?
Can’t Have One Without the Other
Regardless of what the right thing to do is – something only a hypothetical God could know – Bruce Wayne continues to fight for perceived justice.
More accurately, Bruce fights for what he believes in, and that’s something he will never compromise on. Such assuredness is an admirable quality.
Another interesting and challenging point-of-view, though, comes from Batman’s best-known enemy, the Joker. The point he makes is that, in spite of being in direct conflict with one another, he and Batman actually need each other.
Heath Ledger’s Joker delivered this excellent bit of dialogue on that subject:
“Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You are truly incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”Heath Ledger’s Joker, The Dark Knight.
When you think about it, it’s actually difficult to argue with the Joker’s logic there.
He and Batman fuel each other and encourage one other to continue acting the way they do.
After all, without criminals like the Joker, there would be no need for Batman!
Equally, without a Batman – or any avid advocate of social justice – nihilistic and purposeless criminals like the Joker would not get the thrill that they seem to get from rocking the boat of moral uprightness.
This relationship shares similarities to the concept of ‘duality’ proposed by the Ancient Chinese Yin and Yang symbol. In this duality, it is shown that knowledge or understanding of ‘light’ is impossible without also having knowledge/understanding of ‘darkness’.
The same goes for ‘good’ and ‘bad’; ‘black’ and ‘white’; ‘happy’ and sad’; ‘male’ and ‘female’. You can’t have one without the other!
Similarly, could we possibly know the Batman without the Joker (or any other source of opposition)?
People as morally-driven as Batman couldn’t exist without heartless people with different concepts of morality.
In a way, then, the Joker is right. Batman needs him.
However, in spite of being confronted by such intellectual challenges, Batman is almost always focused on his mission to deliver justice.
He may be flawed in his perception of what justice is; he may even be part of the problem! But Batman believes in himself, and he does what he believes to be good and proper action. This is a key point
There are struggles within Bruce Wayne, of course. For example, he sometimes questions whether or not his father would be proud of him for the life he is living (such as in the 1992-95 Animated Series’ episode, ‘Nothing to Fear’).
But he is fairly consistent in his sense of righteousness. Batman is almost always clear-headed and focused on delivering his perceived justice whenever and wherever possible.
He believes in himself, and trusts his own judgement.
So what does the Batman symbol represent?
There are a few things:
- The ‘superhero’ power and potential that exists within all men and women.
- Our ability to use the innate, inner darkness within for the sake of positivity, and ‘good’.
- The freedom to choose, as Bruce Wayne did, to do what we believe is righteous.
The Batman symbol transcends mere darkness and alludes to something more all-encompassing. Representing both darkness and light, it is akin to Yin and Yang.
It is represents a spiritual message as much as it represents a mere comic book character.
Batman Symbol: What Can We Learn?
How can we apply a complex web of concepts to our quest of becoming more like Batman? How can we use these meditations to increase our Batman Factor?
Asking difficult questions to ourselves about what kind of person we really want to be is an essential step in becoming more like Batman.
If we don’t really and genuinely believe in what we are doing, then our actions will always be half-baked and disinterested. Therefore, truly understanding ourselves and what we believe in is vital in increasing our Batman Factor.
The more you know yourself, the more assertive you can be in your decisions. If you have full knowledge of who you are, and what you want to achieve, then you will be able to perform tasks with vigor – unlike so many people who work in jobs and live in places that they hate.
The Batman symbol, and what it represents, is a powerful concept – and holds importance beyond simply trying to be Batman-like. It encourages self-knowledge, intelligence, and a conscious balancing of your inner light/darkness.
The Batman symbol should not be taken for granted. Use it wisely!