“Batman” is a Brand, Not “a” Character
(This article is not covered by the OGL)
I enjoy a lot of Batman stories. But I am ever-cognizant of an important truth.
Batman is not “a character.” Batman is a brand. This has been true for at least decades, and has likely been true since Detective Comics #32, published August of 1939.
Now, a LOT of characters owned by corporations are brands rather than cohesive individual characters. Maybe even “most” such corporate-owned characters are actually brands. But I’m going to stick with Batman in this essay, both because it’s easiest to cover this concept with a single specific example, and because Batman is one of the Brands I most see fans and even professional writer’s treating as a single, unified character. Analysis of the totality of such characters is best done as an analysis of Brand Management, rather than as analysis of the fictional traits of a single person.
The Batman brand happens to include a lot of characters who are all presented as “the” Batman, who may have the same origin stories and costumes and names and rogues galleries. But a character named “Batman” in a Justice League Comic is not the same character as “Batman” in Detective Comics, or “The Batman” in a live-action movie, or “Batman” in a cartoon about super-pets.
Oh, Warner/DC will often pretend it’s the same character. That’s part of the Brand Identity of the Batman Brand.
But universal questions about a theoretical “Batman,” as if every Bruce Wayne Dark Knight character was part of a single unified characterization, are pointless. You can analyze a specific Batman character, calling out the character within the Batman brand as presented in a specific story with a unified medium and creative team, and analyzing what the expression of the Batman brand was like within it. But discussions about Batman as some kind of consistent entity across even all of one medium (say, comics) is a waste of time. There is no one true ur-Batman we can use as a point of universal comparison.
That’s actually a really freeing truth. The claim “Batman would never do [some specific thing from some specific story]” is pointless. Batman is fictional, his corporate owners are the only ones that can say whether an official Batman(tm)-branded character would do a specific thing, and if it happened in an official source, there’s no debate to be had. “Batman” would do that thing… he just did. But, there is legit criticism space to discuss both “I feel this specific, ongoing Batman-branded character (who happened to be named Batman) is not a good fit for the Batman brand.
Imagine, for example, if McDonalds added floats to their menu, and to kick it off ran a TV commercial where Ronald McDonald lurked in a sewer with a red balloon, and promised children “We all get floats down here!” There’d be no one claiming “Ronald McDonald doesn’t live in a sewer,” because it’s accepted Ronald McDonald is corporate mascot rather than attempt to faithfully portray a specific clown’s life, fictional or otherwise. But there would be a LOT of people pointing out (correctly) that it was VERY “off-brand” for Ronald, and a terrible choice for the McDonald’s corporation.
I picked on Batman for this essay in part becaue discussion of what Batman would or wouldn’t do, or could or couldn’t do, come across my social media a lot. Perhaps more than any other corporate brand that happens to focus on a series of fictional characters. And those debates often seem built on media consumers claiming they understand “the” Batman character, and acting as if they had some ability to veto the inclusion of a Batman element they dislike from the “real” Batman they portray as existing in some combination of media appearances.
Now, if someone wants to discussion their “personal head canon,” I’m all in favor of that. And if they want to discuss what are good or bad specific portrayals of Batman, that’s a reasonable analysis of the Batman Brand, even if not couched in branding terminology. Trying to form some universal singular “correct” view of Batman as a character which anything that violates should be
Not that there’s ever much point to pointing that out to people invested in such arguments. The purpose of this essay is not to call out or shame any specific Batman fan, or even their view of what “Batman” is in modern media. Batman, and his corporate owners and his fans and even his critics, are just useful specific examples to illustrate a different way of viewing some creative endeavors that it’s tempting to see as specific characters (or worlds, or ongoing stories, or game brands, or even the output of specific creators) rather than as a Brand, with all the implications that branding brings as a concept.
This blog, and making most of the posts freely available to the general public, is a big part of my personal brand. If you’d like to support that brand, please consider joining my Patreon.
Posted on February 6, 2023, in Business of Games, Musings and tagged Business, Essays, Geekery. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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