The Difference Between Batman and His Villains is Batman Learns
by Nick Marino
There’s a line in Cougar and Cub #1 where our titular hero says, “You can’t MAKE JUSTICE without ME and U!”
I’ve been thinking about that catch phrase a lot lately, about the nature of justice and heroism. For Cougar, justice tends to be about the extremes, punishing someone more than they would be punished by traditional law enforcement. In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that she might not have any inclination towards true justice but instead towards ethically ambiguous self-interest. That’s a little scary!
But is that really so different from most superheroes? Batman is often blamed for creating the problems he’s fighting to solve, namely villains. Iron Man often borders more on supervillain with some of his conspiratorial choices and controlling motives. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spend very little time enforcing laws and the vast amount of their lives battling bad guys related to their own mutation and bizarre origins.
The list goes on and on of superheroes who have the “super” part locked down while the “hero” is up for debate. That troubles me, not because I feel like these characters need to suddenly fit some moral agenda but because we spend so much time culturally revering them as righteous when they’re actually more likely to be self-centered comets of chaos.
However, though this lack of true heroism can be argued regarding a large portion of our most famous comic book champions, I think I accidentally stumbled onto the core value that separates superheroes from supervillains. It’s not a love for justice and it’s not a righteous conviction. It’s a lot simpler than that.
I was talking to my nephew about superheroes as we walked home from school not long ago. We were talking about guns and how Batman used one at first. But, I explained to him, “Batman learned that he didn’t want to use guns anymore. So he stopped.”
That’s when my brain began to improvise and an unconscious truth slipped out. “That’s what separates him from supervillains,” I said. “Batman learns.”
I instantly went silent, thinking about the veracity of that statement. I began to scan my memory banks to see if it was really true. Lo and behold, in the vast majority of cases, supervillains seem bound by their own unchanging assumptions and internal rules. Superheroes, while often struggling, seem to find the resilience and flexibility within themselves to grow.
Even anti-heroes seem to embody this in their own way. They’ll learn at times, but often shockingly revert to old practices and philosophies when they’re seeking control or victory. Magneto and Catwoman are terrific embodiments of this burden to only learn on a temporary basis, leaving themselves prone to villainous relapses.
Cougar struggles to learn throughout the five issues of Cougar and Cub. After a one night stand with her sidekick, she slips into a depressive regression, seemingly unable to accept her mistake and the consequences of it. I don’t want to spoil her character arc, but I will proudly say that by the end of the story she’s become a (possibly questionable but most like genuine) avatar of my philosophical stance regarding learning and its ability to separate the heroes from the villains.
Wealthy heiress Minerva Manx is the courageous Cougar, Megaville’s premier crimefighter. Billy Bobtail is Cub, Cougar’s loyal partner and a senior at the Sidekick Academy. A slow night on the prowl results in an exchange of passion between our heroes as one of Cougar’s rogues watches from the shadows!
Nick Marino is part of the creative team behind the new series Cougar and Cub out January 4th. Final order cutoff is this Monday.