This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I lost my youngest cat, Ramona, yesterday to an entirely unknown but abrupt cause. I'm still dazed and will be for awhile. I spent the evening digging her final resting place and then trying to console Muffin, my elder surviving cat. (Josephine, oddly, seems fine.) This, on top of following the upheaval across the country in the wake of the events in Ferguson. To put it mildly, I needed sleep. Sleep did not come, though, and so around midnight I gave up and decided to finally watch Batman.
I'd heard that it was racist, but for some reason I didn't anticipate that it would be as racist as it is, from start to finish. In the very beginning of Chapter 1, "The Electrical Brain", the narrator says of abandoned Little Tokyo that "...a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs", referring to the appalling real-life internment of Japanese-American citizens.
The villain, Dr. Daka, is consistently referred to by underlings and foes alike as "a/the Jap", which he seems to take entirely in stride; at least, until damsel-in-distress Linda Page uses the slur. He advises her that "Nipponese" is the preferred term for the conqueror-to-be. Batman himself uses the invective several times in their face-to-face encounter in Chapter 15, "The Doom of the Rising Sun". Yeah, I know he's the villain of the story, but it's tasteless just the same to hear so many pervasive slurs. (Yes, I am similarly put off by the use of slurs about Arabian/Persian/Islamic characters in today's movies.)
In Chapter 8, "Lured by Radium", the racism is extended to Native Americans in the form of a character who operates a roadside shop where both Daka's underlings and Batman (traveling as Bruce Wayne) stop. He speaks in broken English ("me no...") and is clearly looked down upon by all those who interact with him. Daka is at least the boss villain so he's not very sympathetic on that level; this guy is just trying to eke out a living and is looked down on by everyone for it. Appalling.
Not that I think anyone actually reads my diary entries, but in case for some reason someone has read this far and is tempted to write a lecture about not judging works from the past by contemporary standards, save it. I earned my degree in history. I'm trained in the value of context. I can counter any lamentations of "that's how things were in those days."
If not for the ugliness of the serial's racism, I would almost certainly have rated Batman a full star higher. As superhero movies have become so ubiquitous, it's refreshing to see Batman not as that kind of character, but rather as a pulp detective. He goes undercover a few times, and is constantly doing the kind of mundane legwork that contemporary heroes don't have to do because they're written as being brilliant enough to deduce everything from a couple of conveniently found clues. It's nice to see Batman and Robin traipsing across town, pulling on one thread to reveal another.
The real winner throughout the serial, though, is Alfred. He features prominently in just about every chapter, even openly aiding Batman in the field. He chauffeurs not only Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, but Batman and Robin as well! He dons a disguise to assist in a sting operation, and it's Alfred who is responsible in Chapter 15 for leading the police to Daka's secret base. So striking was this characterization that comic book Alfred was given a makeover to resemble his screen counterpart, in every way from personality and skill set to bearing a physical likeness to actor William Austin.
I'm glad I finally watched this serial, because Batman has been such an important character for the last quarter century of my life, but watching it has only served to underscore how little progress we have collectively made on matters of race in the United States over the last 71 years. Internment camps have hopefully been forever consigned to the annals of history, but we're still plagued by factions who seek to find ways to isolate, and to segregate, whole communities...or worse.
How Batman Entered My Flickchart
Batman < Jurassic Park III → #1654
Batman < Young Mr. Lincoln → #1654
Batman > The Wizard of Oz (1933) → #1454
Batman > Speedy Gonzales →1350
Batman > Observe and Report → #1298
Batman < What Women Want → #1298
Batman > Comic Book Confidential →1285
Batman < Men Against the Arctic → #1285
Batman > Strange Invaders → #1281
Batman < All the Boys Are Called Patrick → #1281
Batman entered my Flickchart at #1281/1661