Comic-Con 2009: The Nasty, Brutish and Short Life of (Bat)man

By Eric Wolff | July 26, 2009 10:45 pm

cclogo.jpgThe great thing about Batman, is that anyone, if sufficiently dedicated and wealthy, could become him. He doesn’t have any superpowers, magic rings, or radioactive rays turning him into a hero. He’s just a dude with an extremely narrow-minded focus on the martial arts and law and order.

Dr. E. Paul Zehr, a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology at the University of Victoria, presented his analysis of the possibility of developing Batman skills at Comic-Con, and he concluded that most of what Batman does can be achieved through long years of training, a fair amount of cash, and the right genetic traits promoting excellent coordination and strength. But getting there will take a long time:

  • 3–5 years of physical training (meaning, weight lifting, increasing bone density by punching heavy things, acrobatics)
  • 6–12 years of skill training and refining. This is Batman’s wide and deep mastery of numerous martial arts. Zehr showed comic panels depicting batman performing moves from judo, kung fu, and what he called “basic fisticuffs.” He also showed scenes of Batman taking out whole groups of ne’er-do-wells and engaging in long fights with single foes, demonstrating the breadth of his ass-kicking knowledge.
  • 6–8 years of poise, experience, seasoning. If you ask me this period could overlap with the start of Batman’s crime-fighting career, but Zehr argues that this still counts as training, and he’s an expert in the field.

So, to sum, that’s a minimum of 15 years, and a maximum of 25 years, before Batman ever hits the street.

And once there, Zehr basically gives him a maximum of a three-year career. Zehr argues that Batman’s life of crime-fighting would just put so much on abuse on his body that he would eventually be unable to defend himself fast enough—too much repetitive stress (like bloggers, but with your whole body instead of a couple fingers), too many concussions, not enough time to heal. Batman goes out most nights, so his body wouldn’t have time to heal. And Batman’s suit wouldn’t be enough to protect him. Even if the suit prevented penetration by knives and bullets, it can’t protect him from the sheer blunt force of the punches he receives and delivers. (“Delivers”? Yes: Zehr had some excellent video showing the stress on the arm and fingers of a punch.)

But what will really limit Batman’s career, Zehr said, is that he can’t lose. A martial artist can lose a bout in the ring and live to fight another day. If Batman loses, he’s dead. Just another reason the citizens of Gotham should be damn glad to have the guy.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Comics, Conferences
MORE ABOUT: Batman, Comic-con

Comments (9)

  1. You forgot the Alfred factor. It’s Batman’s butler who manages the Batcave, does emergency first aid (including minor surgery), and generally manages Bruce Wayne’s dual identity. Considering that Alfred also acts as Wayne’s chauffeur, cleans that big mansion all by himself (do we ever see any other staff there?), and still has time to dust the Batcave. You’d think he’d burn out faster than Bruce does.

  2. Gadfly

    His analysis is incorrect. There is no reason martial arts training cannot take place at the same time that weight training does. Millions of martial artists do it all the time. Poise, experience, etc also could, and probably would, run concurrently. There is no reason he couldn’t accomplish all of the above in the 12 years listed for martial arts training. Since he witnessed his parents’ murder as a child he could easily have determined his life’s direction and begun training in his teens and be ready to hit the streets in his late twenties.

  3. Thank you for attending my talk and for posting your summary. I think you definitely captured the major take home message. However, I would like to comment that I think it might be useful for people to actually look at my analysis before concluding that it is incorrect. Or, for that matter, concluding that it is correct. I tried very hard in the book to provide the background that is needed for understanding my own conclusions– or for the reader to consider and perhaps formulate a different opinion. Despite that, one thing I have found interesting since writing my book last year and seeing it subsequently discussed on thousands of blogs around the world, is that many people are keen to express opinions without actually even knowing what is said in the source! I am not trying to pitch this at people to please buy the book (although that would be nice, of course). Get it from the library or borrow from a friend if you like, but please read it before making sweeping conclusions.
    In my book, I don’t actually say that Batman wouldn’t do martial arts training from early on in his progression. (Mr. Wolff indeed correctly identified this when he mentioned above about “punching heavy things”.) However, I do emphasize that the specific technical focus of Batman’s training changes over the years. In many ways this is somewhat similar to concepts such as periodization of strength and cross-training in sport science but applied to the whole pursuit of Becoming Batman.
    Best wishes,

  4. MartyM

    and he forgot about the engineering expertise, time, and resources to develop all those techno-toys. I don’t think you can go to any GM dealer and buy a bat-mobile.

  5. Actually, MartyM, Zehr specifically sidesteps the techno toys. Not that he doesn’t like them, but they’re not a part of his analysis. I suspect if you added in the time needed to get the necessary PhDs in electrical engineering, computer science, and materials science, Batman would become impossible. But let’s figure, as Romeo Vitelli does, that Alfred does that work (ignoring the comics that show Batman programing stuff).

    And Dr. Zehr, thanks for pointing that out. I plan on finding a copy of your book, even if only to find out how you came to the conclusion that Batgirl would defeat Batman, in a best of 7 matchup.

  6. sgMarshall

    Dr. Zehr, I agree with you in principle. Though it shouldn’t be shocking that dedication and training leads to success.

    When I was a kid, way back before ‘Dark’ became the defining and perhaps now the only perceived trait Batman needed (other than toys and leet ninja skills), he was billed as the World’s Greatest Detective. I wonder how many years you would suggest for that skill and how you would break down the training.

  7. I am having problems trying to do the Bench exercise. It produces problems with my muscle fibers the following day. Any recommendations? Ty beforehand and superb post.

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