Uncle Reyes, Batman is NOT a Fascist

An exploration into the ongoing debate of Batman politics through the lens of the Blue Beetle trailer

About a month ago, Warner Bros. premiered the first trailer for Blue Beetle — a DC Extended Universe film. The DCEU started with Zack Snyder’s 2013 Man of Steel and may very well end on August 18th when Blue Beetle is released exclusively in theaters nationwide.

Cobra Kai’s Xolo Mariduena plays Jaime Reyes, a teenager chosen as host for the Scarab – an ancient relic of alien biotechnology. The Scarab gives Jamie powers and protection. While Blue Beetle is a member of Teen Titans and the Justice League in DC Comics, the trailer for the film appears to offer a self-contained narrative. Jaime is paired with the Scarab, and chaos reigns down on family and friends fueled by a jealous antagonist with a dubious claim on the tech.

The trailer closes with a quip from Jaime’s uncle Rudy Reyes (played by George Lopez sporting a Duck Dynasty/Rip Van Winkle beard), exclaiming, “Batman’s a fascist.” The line delivers, gets some chuckles, and could not be more wrong.

The Batman Uncle Reyes references is not the latest iteration of the character, appearing in 2022’s The Batman, and played by Robert Pattinson. Rather, he’s referring to the Batman played by Ben Affleck, first introduced in 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and ending his tenure as the Caped Crusader in this June’s The Flash. What initially distinguishes Affleck’s Batman from his big screen predecessors and contemporary is he initially plays the title character without hope. His brand of vigilante justice is nasty, meeting the vilest predators at their level: branding a sex trafficker, killing countless henchmen in hand-to-hand combat, and using assault rifles to kill countless more. Affleck’s Batman does not advocate for justice, working to right wrongs, as much as he vindictively punishes predators.

It’s understandable to mistake Affleck’s Batman as a fascist. BVS director Zack Snyder has cited Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead as a formative text, and one he’d like to adapt into film. Then again, Affleck/Snyder’s Batman is also based primarily on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns — a limited series published in 1986, critiquing Reaganism, where Batman functions more as a terrorist against a fascist leaning state than a superhero.

The debate about whether Batman is a fascist has long been a contentious issue in pop culture and academic circles. While some argue that he embodies fascist tendencies, others suggest that he is a symbol of justice and empowerment. There are aspects of Batman’s character that could be interpreted as fascist, his underlying commitment to justice and his deep moral code distinguish him from a fascist dictator.

It’s important to note that Batman is not a political leader seeking power for himself. He is not motivated by greed or a desire to consolidate power, but by a need to protect and serve his community. In this sense, he is more like a firefighter or police officer who risks his life to protect others. Furthermore, Batman’s morality and strict code of ethics set him apart from fascist dictators who are known for their disregard for human rights. He is guided by a deep sense of justice and a desire to protect the vulnerable and marginalized.

Neither Batman, nor his proxy, Bruce Wayne, have political ambition. Wayne is a billionaire; one of the wealthiest people in the world. He could easily run for political office and likely win and push a right-leaning agenda, or he could fund fascist candidates. He does neither. Since 1966, in Batman: The Movie, the first feature length Batman film, Batman and Robin foil a Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler plot to eliminate the United World Council — a substitute for the United Nations. Then, in 1992’s Batman Returns, Batman foils a right-leaning fascist plot to subvert electoral politics by recalling the mayor and seating none other than the Penguin. While Bruce Wayne does hold a fundraiser for DA Harvey Dent in 2008’s The Dark Knight, Dent’s politics are unknown, and Wayne’s motivation for hosting the event is not political, but personal.

One of the main arguments for the idea that Batman is a fascist is his vigilantism. He operates outside the legal system and takes justice into his own hands, using violence to achieve his goals. This kind of authoritarianism is anti-democratic and raises questions about the legitimacy of his actions. Additionally, Batman’s use of surveillance could be seen as a form of totalitarianism, where he is the sole arbiter of justice and order.

Again, in The Dark Knight, the issue of surveillance is addressed. Batman uses surveillance to stop Joker, but he does not trust himself with the technology. Rather, he asks a close friend to use it. Once it’s used, the technology self-destructs. Yes, the technology is used, but Batman (1) does not trust himself with it, and (2) understands the danger of such power and eliminates it after its single-purpose use: to stop a domestic terrorist attack. Giving up power is antithetical to fascist ideology.

Often absent from this debate, which tends to be linear, is the inclusion of trauma. Batman is a trauma survivor. When Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, Bill Finger and Bob Kane introduced a superhero with an origin story that is primal — one that anyone who has experienced loss or trauma, and anyone who fears it but has yet to experience it, can relate. “…[Six] powerful panels out of a tale barely a page and a half long already told readers everything they needed to know to understand what propelled the Wayne son into his crusade against crime”, explains Travis Langley in Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.

Langley goes on, explaining just how powerful losing a parent is for a child, especially when the loss is murder, when it’s both parents, and the child witnesses the crime. “Many evince debilitating post-traumatic stress symptoms,” writes Langley. “When you’re a child, losing your parents rewrites your world.” Hauntingly, Langley adds that the grieving process for a child may be “incomplete.”

For as long as Bruce Wayne transforms into Batman, his grieving process is incomplete. The cape and cowl are donned nightly in an effort to prevent what happened to him, a billionaire child with all the resources of the world, to as many people as he can. His intent is compulsive and self-soothing at its core. Yet, it’s also constant. There’s no larger goal other than to soothe his pain by preventing others from experiencing it. He is an open wound whose empathy overwhelms.

A fascist does not wrestle with empathy, and if he does, empathy is not the constant winner of the bout. In addition, fascists often take from the most vulnerable within a society. They do not dedicate their whole self to protecting the most vulnerable amongst us. Yes, there’s legitimate debate as to whether or not Batman is justified in taking the law into his own hands, in being judge, jury, and at times, executioner. But he is no fascist.

Ultimately, the question of whether Batman is a fascist is one of interpretation and perspective. While some may see his vigilantism and authoritarian tendencies as a threat to democracy, others view him as a hero who embodies the best of humanity. There are certainly aspects of Batman’s character that could be interpreted as fascist, his underlying morality and commitment to justice, his unyielding empathy, set him apart from authoritarian dictators.

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