A Tale of Two Batmen
in Brazil and Slovakia
When all else fails in Gotham City, there’s just one thing to do: to fire up the bat signal. The enduring masked hero, created by two New Yorkers in the eve of WWII, has the distinction of being a human, among his contemporary superheroes, albeit a very weird one. He still gets the job done, though, even if only in comic stories, animated TV series and blockbuster movies.
Now two impoverished towns, separated by a world of continents, languages and cultures, find themselves united by a single idea: why not fight real street crime each with its own flesh and bone avenger? Unlike the fictional character, neither may be enough to instill fear at the heart of petty criminals, but, at least for a while, they’ll help bring to the spotlight both their communities and their own personal sagas.
Just don’t expect neither Brazilian nor Slovakian self-made enforcers be anything like Christian Bale, or Michael Keaton, or Val Kilmer or, heaven forbid, George Cloney. Even though no one will ask about Robin, ‘the boy wonder,’ long left to homoerotic fantasies anyway, don’t go raising your hopes of seeing the new impersonators emerging from a Batmobile, or sport any of those wonderful toys.
Which is just as well. As directors Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan have realized, the particular background storyline of Batman is so complex, so dense with hidden meanings and symbolism that the presence of a companion was more or less universally shunned. Besides, who are we kidding? These two would be so lucky to have their definitely non-bullet proof ‘uniforms’ even washed every once in a while.
SAMBA AND CRIME FIGHTING
Former soldier André Luiz Pinheiro knows well what he’s getting himself into. Born and raised in Taubaté, a small, and very poor, city in Brazil’s São Paulo state (about 200 miles from Rio de Janeiro), he’s perfectly aware of the risks he’s exposed to, even though his role may be closer to a liaison between the local police and the community than gung ho law enforcer.
It couldn’t be any different: those involved in murder and drug trafficking are usually an unafraid bunch, and wouldn’t be easily intimidated by someone they know by name and where he lives (and naturally lacking any of the precious high-tech help that billionaire Bruce Wayne provides to his own alter-ego). But he does count with, and will definitely need, the support of his friends in the force.
This being the age of YouTube and over-exposure, the Brazilian press was the first one to unwittingly undermine Pinheiro’s new role as a crime fighter: an old video of a TV program was already uncovered, showing him dancing in character before a live audience. After that, it may be hard for law-breakers to keep a straight face whenever they spot ‘Batman’ (on foot) doing his rounds.
GOOD INTENT BUT HOMELESS
Life for Zoltan Kohari, the Slovak Batman, has been, oh dear, way harder. As of now, he lives alone, in an abandoned building without water, heat or electricity, in Dunajska Streda, some 30 miles of Bratislava. And unlike Pinheiro, Kohari’s only prior experience with crime was on the other side: he spent eight months in jail last year.
It’s quite possible too that local cops won’t have any part on this former house painter’s new venture, who actually made his own Batman leather costume (and it looks it). He does, however, have something going for him: people in his community seem to appreciate his helping the elderly and cleaning up streets. Donning such legendary uniform is his latest attempt at being part of society.
It may take more than that, though. His town, as Taubaté, has its share of poverty and crime-ridden areas and no one knows how long he’ll last before getting into trouble. Even though he has no intention in getting into physical altercations with anyone, just the act of calling the cops can look like an unacceptable threat to no-good folks, who may decide to teach him a lesson. Heaven forbid.
THE BURNT PHOENIX
There’s something admirable about Pinheiro and Kohari, though, who despite difficult conditions, still think they can be a force for good in their communities. After all, regardless personal motivation, they’re out there, risking their lives as if possessing Wayne’s secret identity.
Something to that effect can also be said about self-proclaimed Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones, who broke his nose and was arrested last year, accused of using pepper spray to stop a fight. Jones, whose real name is Benjamin John Francis Fodor, had to unmask himself in court last year, and hasn’t been visible since. But YouTube videos showed that he was far from being up to the difficult task he set himself to.
What these three gentle souls have in common is the fact that they’ve decided to fight crime, or at least, try to prevent people from doing the wrong thing in one way or another. The story could be much worse had they decided to operate as some deranged vigilantes, as militia or cult members, for instance, do sometimes, and go on a rampage, doing harm to bystanders.
TWO OTHER SCREEN BATS
We’ve mentioned above the glamorous movie stars who have been portraying Batman on movies in the past 20 or so years, but we haven’t forgotten, or rather, we almost forgot those who came before. No, we’re not talking about Adam West and Bruce Ward, from the 1960s camp TV series, because they belong to a class of their own, along with the nipple-enhanced Batsuit and the old ambiguity of Robin’s role.
Five years after the 1939 publication of Batman‘s first comic, Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft appeared as the Dynamic Duo on a black and white movie serial, fighting their first villain, which this being 1943, was a Japanese spy. In 1949, Robert Lowery replaced Lewis in another serial, the first with a Commissioner Gordon and Jane Adams as Vicky Vale, a role Kim Basinger would play 40 years later.