Batman takes on Police brutality, racial inequality and un-restrained capitalism
In the latest issue of DC Comics’ Batman series, the legendary comic throws itself into two of the most important and divisive conversations The United States his having right now; racial and economic equity. The “caped crusader” must tackle systemic racism with in the police department at the same time his alter ego of “Bruce Wayne” must come to terms with the consequences of “corporate progress” Batman #44 which is a flashback story, is about a 15-year old black teenager named Peter Duggio who is shot in the stomach by Gotham police veteran Ned Howler. Duggio is shown frightened, emerging from a fight in his father’s bodega with a local gang, and before he can respond to Howler’s demand to lie down is shot by the officer. The story begins with Duggio’s dead body lying in the street while wearing a hoody which is an obvious juxtaposition of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin.
The normal go to line “I feared for my life” was used by Officer Howler but it was Peter’s cousin who piqued Batman’s curiosity and set him on a mission to investigate what really happened. One of the main story arcs used throughout the run of the Batman story has been police corruption. The Fox hit TV show Gotham focuses on just that, however the corrupt aspect of Gotham PD has always been its ties to organized crime but never the systemic racist and classist issues that have plagued police departments for more than a century.
Often times in Batman stories Jim Gordon would look the other way while his partner Harvey Bullock would take a little drug money for himself or beat up a suspect. The rationale being the “greater good” but one wonders how many black teens Harvey abused or killed and if Jim would look away at that point.
The story also deals with Bruce Wayne’s company Wayne Industries plans to “revitalize” the poor neighborhood where Dugglo was killed. While getting the proverbial “lay of the land” Batman as both his vigilante persona and as Bruce learns first-hand about the unintended consequences of progress. How gentrification forces long time residence out of the community as well as the inability of small businesses to compete with large chain stores. This made Batman look at the situation from a more macro level and take measure on how much good he is actually doing as Batman and with the philanthropy of Bruce Wayne.
Comic books have always tried to take on delegate issues but always used metaphor instead of direct engagement. Stan Lee’s X-Men is a perfect example of the attempt of comic books dealing with racial tension and inequality. DC comics as well has long dealt with government and military overreach and shredding of civil liberties but again this was done under the guise of protection from “Alien aggression” . Batman #44 marks the first time a major character deals with a contemporary issue in its most realistic of narratives. This latest issue of Batman appears to be signaling a shift to more realism in our comic books.
This makes sense with comic hero based shows and movies become more popular the literature that is the source material for Hollywood should raise its bar and offer readers something more compelling.