So I rewatched Batman: Mask of the Phantasm last night, which is still probably my favorite Batman movie. Certainly its Batman is the closest to how I see him. But watching the film, seeing the flashbacks to when Bruce met Andrea, I started thinking about the Animated DC Universe. Justice League, Batman Beyond, the Timmverse stuff.
It's how Bruce and Gotham end up. By the time of Batman Beyond, Bruce is a bitter old man living alone with his dog in a largely shuttered mansion. Tim Drake stays away from him, Grayson wants nothing to do with him, Barbara only comes to see him once Terry dons the costume. If Superman shows up, Bruce is hostile towards him. This isn't totally surprising if you've been reading Batman comics over the last 20 years, but in the cartoons, he seemed to have accumulated lots of people around him that cared for him, and that he cared about. But even in the cartoons, Batman was often obsessed to the point of damaging his relationships with people. He can't find the balance between fighting crime and having a family, even when that family helps him fight crime.
What's a little more disappointing is the state Gotham's in. It's kind of a dump. There are Joker gangs running amok, people using what's left of his company for nefarious deeds, the cops aren't openly corrupt as far as I can tell, but they sure aren't very effective, lots of people living in poverty on the lower levels. I know it's necessary to show Gotham has problems as sort of an impetus to convince Bruce to let Terry keep using the suit. At the same time, it kind of makes Batman look futile. Not just as a crimefighter, but all those dollars, all the philanthropy Bruce Wayne was involved in, did any of it do any good?
You could probably ask the same question of The Dark Knight Returns universe, which looked worse in some ways than Batman Beyond's, but maybe not across the board. I know Batman's goal, as created when he lost his parents was, "stop crime", and that's probably completely unrealistic, so maybe a true happy end for Batman is out of the question. But is the end result of that necessarily that Batman lives to see it all come for naught? That his options are to either try and throw the suit on again and hope his heart doesn't give out, or find some other poor, angry kid he can aim at the problem?
I'd like to think all that work he put into being the Night and rebuilding Gotham would have helped a little, but it's hard to tell. If Batman is as obsessed with an unattainable goal as he appears to be, there's no reason he couldn't continue to fight what crime, even as crime dwindled because he was actually having success in improving Gotham and addressing some of the causes of crime. There would still be a few crimes, a few criminals, and he's still be obsessed with stopping them, because even one crook is capable of stealing away some child's parents. But things would be better, overall.
Maybe that goes against Batman, somehow. He's not a source of hope, like Superman, he scares criminals rather than inspiring people. And fear only goes so far. But then how do you account for Dick Grayson, the boy Bruce Wayne raised specifically so he wouldn't end up like Batman, and who did, indeed, prove much better at sustaining interpersonal relationships? Although, he didn't come out so well in either of those futures. Frank Miller in particular did him no favors, which I can't say surprises me. So Batman's own nature, his obsession, undermines the very goals he hopes to accomplish?