Dark Knight Shift

Monday, July 14th, 2008

In Dark Knight Shift, JR Minkel of Scientific American interviews E. Paul Zehr on why Batman could exist — but not for long:

How would Batman get enough rest?
The difficulty for Batman is he’s going to be trying to sleep during the day. He’s going to be really tired, actually, unless he can shift himself over to just being up at night. If he were just a nocturnal guy, he would actually be a lot healthier and have a lot better sleep than if he were doing what he does now, which is getting some light here and there. That’s going to mess up his sleep patterns and duration of sleep.

Wouldn’t fighting Gotham’s thugs every night take its toll?
The biggest unreal part of the way Batman’s portrayed is the nature of his injuries. Most of the time, in the comics and in the movies, even when he wins, he usually winds up taking a pretty good beating. There’s a real failure to show the cumulative effect of that. The next day he’s shown out there doing the same thing again. He’d likely be quite tired and injured.

Is there any indication in the comics of how long Batman’s career lasts?
The comics are really vague on this, of course. In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, he deliberately shows an aging Batman coming back after he’s retired, and he highlights him being tired and weaker. Somewhere around age 50 to 55, he should probably retire. His performance is going down. He’s always facing younger adversaries. That is well at the end of when he’s going to be able to defend himself and be able to not have to deal that lethal force. This was actually shown in an animated series called Batman Beyond.

Oh right. It’s the future; Batman is old and he trains a kid to replace him.
You’re familiar with that one? What we learn is that Batman, when he was older but before he retired, actually picked up a gun against a thug because he had to. His skills had let him down so that he wasn’t able to defend himself without harming another person. So that’s when he decided to retire.

How would all those beat-downs have affected his longevity?
Keeping in mind that being Batman means never losing: If you look at consecutive events where professional fighters have to defend their titles—Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Ultimate Fighters—the longest period you’re going to find is about two to three years. That dovetails nicely with the average career for NFL running backs. It’s about three years. (That’s the statistic I got from the NFL Players Association Web site.) The point is, it’s not very long. It’s really hard to become Batman in the first place, and it’s hard to maintain it when you get there.

I believe Dr. Zehr has overlooked a key aspect of being the Batman — he doesn’t fight fair. Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, and the Dark Knight plays on their fears, while choosing the time and place of his attack.

I can’t say I agree with Zehr’s training advice either:

What’s a realistic training regimen?
I didn’t give a training manual in my book, but he’d want to do specialized weight training to build up an ability to work at a really high rate for maybe 30 seconds to a minute (the maximum time period associated with his fights). One of the early comics shows him holding an enormous weight over his head. That’s not the right kind of adaptation toward punching and kicking. He’s got to make sure he’s doing all the skill training at the same time so that he’s actually using the (physical) adaptations he’s slowly gaining. In conventional martial arts, when people take weapons training, you’re doing a kind of power-strength training.

What effects would all that training have on Bruce Wayne’s body?
I looked up what DC Comics and some other books said (about Batman’s physique). I settled on the estimate that Bruce Wayne started off at about six-foot-two and 185 pounds. I gave him a body fat of 20 percent (slightly below average) and a body mass index of 26. Let’s say after 10 or 15 years, after he’s become the Batman, he’s weighing about 210 pounds and has a body fat of 10 percent. He’s probably gained 40 pounds of muscle. His bones will actually be more dense, kind of the opposite of osteoporosis.

Are we talking freakishly dense bones?
The percentage change is actually quite small—maybe 10 percent. In judo, where people do a lot of grappling and throwing, you’re going to have more density in the long bones of the trunk. In karate and other martial arts where they’re doing a lot of kicking, there’s going to be a lot higher density in the legs. Muay Thai (kickboxing) is a great example. They’re always doing these low shin kicks. They try to condition the body by kicking progressively harder objects and for longer.

Lifting an enormous weight overhead — i.e. doing a clean & jerk — is excellent training for building up the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments of the legs and core, which are used extensively in judo — and in jumping from rooftop to rooftop. But Zehr is a Chito-Ryu karate-do practitioner who, I suppose, rarely jumps from rooftop to rooftop.

What Batman needs is a cross-fit routine with an emphasis on judo/jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, and parkour.

Also, I’d hardly say that Bruce Wayne was 185 lbs. at 20 percent body-fat before training. First, he started training as a teen — his parents were killed while he was a child — and, second, even a mildly active young man can be, say, 8 percent body-fat without really trying.

Leave a Reply