Feature The Real Batman July 23, 2008 Ever wondered how easy it would be to become the Batman? We look at the real science in becoming the Caped Crusader. He’s the most real of all the superheroes: he’s no E.T., a radioactive spider never bit him, he has no mutant gene and yet, the caped crusader can do it all. But how realistic is Batman’s transformation from ordinary man to the caped crusader? This is the subject of Paul Zehr’s latest book ‘Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero’. All you wannabe Caped Crusaders – take note! Q:How realistic is the Batman? You could train somebody to be a tremendous athlete and to have a significant martial arts background, and also to use some of the gear that he has, which requires a lot of physical prowess. Most of what you see there is feasible to the extent that somebody could be trained to that extreme. We’re seeing that kind of thing in less than a month in the Olympics. Q:And what’s less realistic about him ? A great example is in the movies where Batman is fighting multiple opponents and all of a sudden he’s taking on 10 people. If you just estimate how fast somebody could punch and kick, and how many times you could hit one person in a second, you wind up with numbers like five or six. This doesn’t mean you could fight four or five people. But it’s also hard for four or five people to simultaneously attack somebody, because they get in each other’s way. More realistic is a couple of attackers. Q:How long would it take to go from regular Joe-so to the Batman? In some of the timelines you see in the comics, the back story is he goes away for five years-some it’s three to five years, or eight years, or 12 years. In terms of the physical changes (strength and conditioning), that’s happening fairly quickly. We’re talking three to five years. In terms of the physical skills to be able to defend himself against all these opponents all the time, I would benchmark that at 10 to 12 years. Probably the most reality-based representation of Batman and his training was in Batman Begins. Q:Why so long? Batman can’t really afford to lose. Losing means death-or at least not being able to be Batman anymore. But another benchmark is having enough skill and experience to defend himself without killing anyone. Because that’s part of his credo. It would be much easier to fight somebody if you could incapacitate them with extreme force. Punching somebody in the throat could be a lethal blow. That’s pretty easy to do.But if you’re thinking about something that doesn’t result in lethal force, that’s more tricky. It’s really hard for people to get their heads around, I think. To be that good, to not actually lethally injure anyone, requires an extremely high level of skill that would take maybe 15 to 18 years to accumulate. Q: What’s a realistic training regimen? 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. Q: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. Q: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. Q: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. Q:There’s research suggesting that concussions might cause depression in NFL players. Could that be one reason why the Dark Knight is so brooding?I went through a lot of comics and graphic novels and I only found a couple of examples where some of those blows to Batman’s head had the effect of something like a concussion. Whereas in reality, that would be a very likely outcome. He’s able to offset some of the physical damage to his head because of the cowl-it works a bit like a helmet. But these things would definitely add up. Since they don’t admit that he has concussions, you can’t really ascribe repeated concussions as the reason why he’s brooding. Q:Do you think Batman would take steroids to heal faster?No. There is one comic where he did go on steroids. He went a little crazy and he went off them again. Q:How many of us do you think could become a Batman?If you found the percentage of billionaires and multiply that by the percentage of people who become Olympic decathletes, you could probably get a close estimate. The really important thing is just how much a human being really can do. There’s such a huge range of performance and ability you can tap into. The Dark Knight is in Irish cinemas July 24th.