Warrior Profile: Comparing Batman and Spiderman
batman comic books movies spiderman superheroes warrior
I talk a lot about Batman as an inspiration for training and following ideals, so just for fun, I thought I'd write a post on how exactly the Path of the Warrior can be discerned from his life. To make things more interesting, I will be comparing him to another popular superhero: Spiderman. I picked these two because a) they are very nearly opposites without one being a villain, and b) there were recently made several movies about each. Because I am not a comic books fan, I will be referencing the movies, and I understand that the depictions of these two heroes in the recent movies may not be 'authentic' to their comic book characters, but for my purposes, it should be fine.
Much of who Batman's character was defined by his backstory. At the most basic level, his determination to fight crime arose as the result of his parents' murder at the hands of a petty criminal, Joe Chill. Chill is arrested, but after Bruce returns from college, he finds out the criminal is set to be released in exchange for testifying against a crime lord, Carmine Falcone. Driven by anger, Bruce plans to kill Chill, but is beat to it by one of Falcone's assassins. When he confronts Falcone, he realizes just how unprepared and naive he was to try to take on his self-accepted mission. In response, he sets out for seven years to study the criminal mind, acquires awesome ninja training, and forges himself into a superhero without superpowers.
There are several points I would like to highlight in Batman's character that relate to Warrior Spirit. First, his mission, to eradicate crime from Gotham, was one he was uniquely positioned to pursue. While he did not make it up, he was not forced into it either, and the choice to take on that burden is an important aspect of the Path of the Warrior. Furthermore, it was certainly a gigantic task, the magnitude of which required someone willing to dedicate their whole beings to complete. Only a true Warrior would suffice and so Bruce, not one to give up, made himself into a true Warrior.
Second, Bruce was open-minded enough to see he lacked the necessary skills and experience to complete his task at first. When he could do nothing in response to Falcone's control of the city, he did not waver and immediately set out to learn what he needed to learn. This ties in with the Warrior qualities of Excellence and Humility. Batman had to be up to the task, and Bruce had to be willing to accept his limitations in order to surpass them. It also helps to have a mysterious ninja master offer to train you.
The third, and possibly most significant aspect, is that Bruce Wayne never wavered from his newly adopted principles. After attempting to kill Joe Chill, he vowed never to kill again. And when he completed his training, he was asked to execute a criminal, with all the sanction of someone else's standard of justice and the support of his trainers. He refused, holding fast to his own personal standards.
Peter Parker's journey to become Spiderman was considerably more roundabout. Bitten accidentally by a bio-engineered spider, Parker soon found himself the possessor of amazing superpowers, but not the maturity to handle them. At first, he simply uses his powers to try to earn money to buy a sports car to impress a girl, but quickly learns that "with great power comes great responsibility" when his uncle is killed by a criminal Peter could have stopped. After that, Peter decides to fight crime as Spiderman, and he is fairly successful until the appearance of the Green Goblin. It doesn't take very long for the Green Goblin to exploit Spiderman's weaknesses, wreaking havoc in an attempt to draw Spiderman into a confrontation. When he eventually succeeds, he presents Spiderman with a moral dilemma: save the girl he loves or a tram full of children. Spiderman saves both, and defeats the Green Goblin, finally accepting the full responsibilities of being a superhero when we rejects Mary Jane's love.
In contrast to Batman, Spiderman did not choose his mission and in fact resisted it to a large extent. Even in subsequent movies, he remains reluctant, actually renouncing his role as Spiderman for a period. We cannot blame him; he did not choose to get bitten by a spider, but his refusal to see his own limitations and live up to the requirements of his new role led to trouble for a lot of his loved ones and the city at large.
I think the most interesting point of comparison between Spiderman and Batman occurs when villains attempt to make it costly for each hero to be a savior. The Joker entire mission is to reveal Batman and destroy him by turning the city against him. Basically, he endeavors to present Batman with impossible moral dilemmas, the most striking of which is forcing him to choose between saving Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. Unlike Spiderman, Batman actually fails to beat the Joker at his game. He also questions whether being Batman is actually helping him accomplish his mission, but he never takes off the mantle.
There is an important distinction here between the two. While Spiderman questions whether he should be Spiderman for personal reasons, Batman's questioning is motivated mostly by a commitment to his larger mission to fight crime. The Green Goblin knows he can cause Spiderman pain by appealing to his personal well-being - he attacks Peter's Aunt May and Mary Jane - while the Joker's only access to Batman is to make him question whether or not his mission is best served with him in the picture.
Furthermore, a huge distinction between Batman and Spiderman is the order in which they acquired their powers and their responsibilities. A Warrior, for his very existence, requires a higher cause. Without his cause, he is simply a fighter or a vigilante. Spiderman is reminded, "with great power comes great responsibility." This advice from his uncle can be interpreted to mean, "great power requires great responsibility." This phrase would not apply to Batman. Instead, we might find ourselves offering young Bruce this advice, "great responsibility requires great power." Bruce had to become Batman in order to fulfill his mission. Spiderman had to find a mission in order to have purpose.
I find it interesting that so much of the plot of the Spiderman movies was concerned with Peter/Spiderman's personal problems. Crime fighting was for him a hobby, often getting in the way of his life as he wanted to live it. I do not fault him for that. I would actually congratulate him for his willingness to use his powers where they were useful, despite his inclinations to do otherwise. Nevertheless, he never fully committed, nor did he ever subsume his personal issues to the degree Batman did, as evidenced by Spiderman's vulnerability to the Venom symbiote in the third movie. It was too easy for him to abuse that power. Batman refused power he knew could corrupt him, as when he had Lucious Fox destroy the device he'd developed to map the city using cell phones.
Ultimately, only Batman can be said to embody the traits of a true Warrior. Only he had a definitive mission, to which he was committed fully in spirit and form. He put himself at the disposal of his chosen mission and never wavered from his values (though he did neglect to save Ra's al Ghul in the first movie, he refused to kill the Joker in the second, even after all the personal paid he had caused). The entire plot of Spiderman revolves around whether or not he can live up to the requirements of the mission forced upon him. There is never any question that Batman is as good as anyone can be. The question in his case is whether the mission is just too great for anyone to accomplish.
So that's my semi-serious analysis of two modern depictions of two timeless superhero archtypes. I am clearly biased in favor of Batman, so I'd love to hear arguments in favor of Spiderman. Post your ideas to the comments.