The idea of the superhero shrink is ripe for comedy, yet the inner workings of the Dark Knight's mind would be no laughing matter
For all pop culture's shamelessness, one comic opportunity has yet to be exploited. I could see it as a Saturday Night Live sketch, or an entire Jack Black film: a psychiatric service for superheroes.
Catwoman could celebrate her liberation from dowdy secretary to latex black nightwalker, then prank call Halle Berry and upbraid her for having wrecked her mythos. The X-Men would arrive together, saying how lonely they felt before discovering their commonality. Superman could debate the conundrum of being a virtually indestructible alien.
But the toughest nut to crack would be Batman.
All superheroes experience pain as they suffer the initiations that the genre demands. They have to be brought low before rising up again through sheer will. They also need a chip on the shoulder big enough to sustain a multi-film production, comic books, novels, video games and intense cultural analysis.
But Batman's the only constant self-hater. Wealth, worldliness and acclaim as Bruce Wayne do nothing for him: his own pain is his fetish. He reminds himself of his trauma every time he dons his wetsuit, because he's chosen as his emblem not something which provides strength and inspiration, but the sign of his misery. The black bat looms like a fascist stamp over everything he does, a constantly reinforced link between the grieving kid and the angry man.
Batman doesn't want to get over it. Bruce Wayne's money enables Batman to indulge his own chagrin and vindicate his desire for confrontation. His vast wealth could easily be rerouted into the institutions of the great and the good. That would improve the world. But what Batman really wants is to get off on his own grudge.
Unlike many other superheroes he doesn't have extraordinary gifts, not even (like Cassandra) those of prophecy and intuition. He didn't become super by accident (like Spider-Man) or force (like Nikita), and he's no Potterish Chosen One either. Batman's suit and vehicles are weapons loaded with gadgets. They let him pick and win fights. Like actual medieval knighthood, the chivalric ideal is an excuse to satiate the desire for violence.
And yet for all his angst, Batman has only one real foe: himself. It was the young Wayne whose fear of bats, brought on by a childhood tumble into a cave, caused his parents to leave an opera performance early and fall victim to a random street thug (at least in Christopher Nolan's version). While the Dark Knight's vigilantism is focused upon a vain effort to retrospectively right that wrong, the fact that he dresses in the guise of the creature that brought on his own moment of greatest failure suggests the larger part of his anger is directed inwards. The bat represents everything Wayne hates, regrets and fears - and he's in love with it.
Nolan's Batman Begins was a return to Bob Kane's original invention in 1939, and it utilised another heroic reworking: Mary Harron's reinvention of Christian Bale in American Psycho. American Psycho is one of the most impressive, coldly seductive films of the last decade. It showed the previously nondescript, now rebuilt Bale as an Aryan uber-paragon, his perfect form taut with contempt. It was this identity which Bale carried into the rebooted Batman.
In The Dark Knight, out next week, Batman confronts The Joker, a peculiar self-hater just like himself. The faceoff will be a tortured duel between two pathologies but in true Nietzschean form, Batman's pain is our pleasure - and his own. [blogs.guardian.co.uk]