A 26 year old impoverished Slovakian man named Zoltan Kohari lives in an abandoned building, wearing a Batman costume he made himself. He hopes to help the police and recently was the subject of series of photos published by Reuters.
Police in Brazil have officially hired a 50 year old Batman impersonator to fight crime and to serve as a figure of hope and justice, particularly for children in poor neighborhoods.
A street performer in Toronto walks around in a full Batman costume, shouting “WHERE ARE THEY?” at startled passersby.
Perhaps this is most reminiscent of the moment when Bruce Wayne told Alfred, “That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people” about the gun-carrying Batman copycats roaming Gotham in The Dark Knight. Or maybe it closer parallels the efforts made by Bruce Wayne to franchise the Batman name and logo in the Batman Incorporated comics series.
The question is, who can be Batman? Is it only the wealthiest, the strongest, the smartest? If those were the qualities required, surely it would not be any of the three men currently dressing as Batman. Zoltan Kohari does not have the money, resources, or skills of the Wayne heir. Andre Luiz Pinheiro does not have the youth (bringing up the obvious comparison to Frank Miller’s depiction of an aging Wayne) and, unlike Batman, he has the cooperation of the police. The Toronto Batman does not have any real drive beyond a sense of humor.
Finally, none of these men have the anonymity of the Caped Crusader.
Is it his wealth alone that makes Bruce Wayne into Batman? Wayne is perpetually a child of privilege and wealth, and he knows it. When one of the Citizens for Batman in The Dark Knight asks him “What gives you the right? What’s the difference between you and me?” Batman responds with “I’m not wearing hockey pads.” It’s a funny moment, but a telling one: Bruce Wayne is Batman because he can be. He has the money, the skill-sets, the privilege, the status, and even the butler to make it happen.
I have often thought that, while Superman is in many ways the American Dream – an immigrant, born overseas and raised in Kansas, with large ambitions and an incredible work ethic – Batman is the Child of the American Dream. Batman is the child of those who worked hard for generations, only to be orphaned and alone, with no family, no friends, no peers. His only father figure is a man who works for him and will do whatever he asks. His friends, in both the comics and the films, are repeatedly killed, estranged, kidnapped, betrayed… or they betray him. The public figure of Bruce Wayne ultimately becomes only a mask, a playboy spendthrift facade used to hide the tragic character who hopelessly tries to clean up the streets, night after night.
And so, if there are real Dark Knight equivalents in this world, would they be wealthy and good-looking and privileged?
I’m afraid not. No, the defining characteristic of Batman is not his money, or his skills, or his costume. It’s his tragedy. Which is why Zoltan Kohari, in his abandoned building and costume made of rags and leather, might be the closest thing to Batman that this world ever sees. Superman might be unbridled optimism and idealism, but Batman is a creature of a less hopeful obligation.
The truer question might be whether or not we would ever want a real Batman. If a masked vigilante with unlimited resources, driven by his own notions of justice and vengeance, could actually make this world a better place.