It’s February 22, 1993, two days before “See No Evil,” so see that post for charts and news.
We have here a challenging episode to write about. “Blind as a Bat” is visually impressive, as the team of director Dan Riba and Studio Junio almost has to be. There’s a particular chase sequence, in which a car full of teenagers flee a suspension bridge under attack by the Penguin in a stolen stealth helicopter, that’s absolutely thrilling, from the menace of the silently hovering helicopter to the writhing of the support cables it severs, right up into the final shot of the sequence as we watch the bridge collapse.
At the same time, well, we pan right from the collapsing bridge to the car full of teens watching the collapse from an impossible distance, followed by a cut to a news announcer, whose line includes the statement “Amazingly, all those on the collapsing bridge escaped with only minor injuries.” It’s not that people survived; it’s that there’s no indication of how they survived, just a flat declaration that the bridge collapse was an empty spectacle devoid of real cost.
Empty spectacle is the name of the game in this episode, a bizarre decision given the premise, that Batman is temporarily blinded by an explosion just when the Penguin is terrorizing the city in a prototype helicopter stolen from Wayne Industries. There’s a host of fruitful ground contained in questions the episode brushes aside with an offhand comment; for example, since when does Wayne Industries develop weapons? (Wayne comments that he’s “uncomfortable” with it, but then seems satisfied when the helicopter demonstrates its destructive abilities.) Given that the helicopter’s stealth capabilities are shared by the Batwing, was it simply developed as a cover for creating the Batwing? If so, shouldn’t Batman feel some sense of guilt or responsibility? Yet there’s no indication of such, beyond “the city is in danger and I’m unable to help.”
Alternatively, his blindness could be read as a metaphor for his failure to see the dangers of creating weapons, and in particular for creating a weapon called “Raven” and not expecting the Penguin to try to steal it. Wayne’s visible satisfaction with the weapon–that he finds its clearly demonstrated ability to destroy the U.S. military’s enemies something that apparently alleviates, rather than deepens, his discomfort–is evidence of a “blind spot” he has demonstrated before, namely that as a supporter and beneficiary of Gotham’s structures of power, he is unable to deal effectively with abusers of legitimate power. He is a “captain of industry,” and hence complicit with the military-industrial complex.
Remember, this is 1993. Communism, at least as a justification for the existence of a state of perpetual warfare, is over; the Soviet Union collapsed years ago. We’re still more than eight years out from terrorism taking over from communism as the new eternal enemy, the spread of which must be contained by transferring large amounts of tax money to war profiteers and attempting to conquer whatever nation happens to catch the U.S.’s eye. In between, in the absence of justification, the only options are to end U.S. aggression and imperialism, or to carry on as usual while ignoring the question of why.
Historically, of course, we went with the latter, and clearly in the DCAU matters are little different. Even if we assume the Raven is a by-product of developing the technologies involved in the Batwing, that still means Batman is deploying military hardware in his (now revealed as distressingly literal) war on crime. This is a pure expression of the Bat, a raging beast out to kill the enemies of the status quo, rather than a protector so full of hope that he keeps putting his villains in a cardboard prison so that they can have a chance to reform.
Which brings us to a metaphor that is, perhaps, truer to what the episode actually depicts, albeit a disappointingly ableist one: Batman’s blindness is an expression of helplessness and despair. It renders him unable to fight even his least menacing and most ridiculous foes, in a scenario that forces him to deploy military technology on the streets of Gotham. It is a surrender to the Bat, a giving up on the idea that is hope for his criminals or for himself.
So, perhaps, it is telling that the episode contains a handful of references to Star Trek, a series often espoused as epitomizing hope, and in particular as embodying the hope that our present social ills are resolvable, that humanity in general and Western culture in particular are potentially redeemable. They’re mostly subtle: the Raven’s stealth capabilities are not referred to as such, but rather as a “cloaking device,” on a craft named after a bird (just as, in Star Trek, “birds of prey” and “warbirds” are the two types of ships that possess cloaking devices). Later, the Raven’s laser cannon fires with a sound effect used many times on the original Star Trek series for various futuristic weapons. And of course, there is the solution to Batman’s blindness: a sensor package, worn in a mask, that communicates directly with his optic nerve to produce a visual display rather distinct from normal vision. It’s bulkier, more primitive, and needs an external power source, but Batman and Leslie Thompkins appear to have just invented the VISOR device worn by blind character Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
There is still hope. Things may seem dark now–so dark as to render vision impossible–but there may yet be a way forward. But that way is not to be found in the normal worlds in which Batman resides, the worlds of noir and street crime, violence and capitalism, but in a more fantastical, science-fictional direction.
But that means change, a massive upheaval to the world and its structures. It’s time, in short, for an apocalypse–and as a superhero, it’s down to Batman to defer it.
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