Batman Day: Do You Have What It Takes To Be Batman?

E. Paul Zehr E. Paul Zehr

September 14th, 2016

I'm a neuroscientist, author, and martial artist. Comic books got me into martial arts, martial arts got me into science. In my day job my research helps to improve function and empower people with stroke and spinal cord injury. I want to empower everyone with knowledge so I also write about science and superheroes. My first 3 books are "Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero", "Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine", and "Project Superhero". My 4th book, "Creating Captain America" will be out in 2018. I live in Victoria, BC, Canada, where I work at the University of Victoria and teach martial arts.

Batman Day: Do You Have What It Takes To Be Batman?

Batman Day. That one 24 hour period every year where we all get to imagine ourselves as the Caped Crusader. Here, in his first post for ComiConverse, Dr. E. Paul Zehr asks whether or not any of us has what it takes to be Batman.

Batman Day: Do You Have What It Takes To Be Batman?

Lots want to be Batman, but how do we measure up with the demands of Batman's job? The Dark Knight remains chief amongst a fairly small group of comic book superheroes that have a veneer of "reality". Superheroes who are humans in special circumstance. Iron Man and Captain America are in that group. So is the rest of the Bat-family, like Batwoman, Batgirl, Robin and many of their friends. But could we join that group too?

But what are the demands of Batman's job?


On this Batman Day, let's look at the Batman job description and consider.

Wanted: Supremely Skilled Vigilante To Dispense Nocturnal Justice

We require a martial artist with enhanced skill as an acrobatic gymnast, a Cirque du Soleil performer, an emergency services provider (police, fire or ambulance), a NASCAR driver, and, Houdini.

The nature of this job requires that the successful candidate be willing to work long and obscure hours and push to the point of complete physical and mental exhaustion (then push a little more, please).

We expect you to have complete emotional control at all times, be in fantastic all-around physical condition. You must be skilled to defend against attacks meant to maim or kill but use only non-lethal force in combat.

You must be committed to train, train, and train. And then do more training. For over a decade. This must be combined with have a genetic windfall that helps you train, perform, recover from injury and we don't want anyone who is too worried about "concussion protocols".

 The successful candidate be willing to overcome any fear of heights, darkness, enclosed spaces and open spaces. Basically any fears--except maybe fear of intimacy (we will overlook that). You must enjoy (or at least tolerate—through gritted teeth is fine) working in an occasional team environment.

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We do not want anyone with a desire to be paid (our compensation package is "spartan", and by that we mean that just like Sparta there isn't one anymore) and an aversion to physical violence. Also, no peanut allergies. But we're willing to negotiate on the latter.

Finally, you must be able to correctly finish the sentence "…criminals are a ________ _______ lot" and be firmly quite all right with burning out rather than fading away. There is no retirement package on offer.

Please submit application in confidence to: A. Pennyworth, c/o Big Brooding Mansion outside of Gotham City. Leave at the main gate.

DO NOT attempt to enter the grounds.

Clearly "The Batman Job" requires discipline, resilience and dedication. It demands a very broad skill set with a heavy emphasis on martial arts skill and agility. Batman is at the very pinnacle of human performance and since there is nothing supernatural about his abilities—he is a human just like you or me—it seems like maybe any of us might actually be able to become Batman, if we could only do all the bits required.



The great Dennis O'Neil (DC Comics Editor and Batman writer) said it best:

There isn't a great stretch between Batman's world and ours: he is the most "realistic" of the great superheroes. To be blunt: the guy isn't very super. He didn't gain his powers by being lightning-struck, nor bathing in chemicals, nor by dint of being born on another planet, nor by the intervention of extraterrestrials or gods. To paraphrase an old commercial, he got them the old-fashioned way—he earned them…He wasn't bequeathed those abilities; he sweated for them.

My book "Becoming Batman" was all about the science of behind what would really be required to go from Bruce to Bat. The bottom line is it's all about nature and nurture—genetic potential unlocked with training and nutrition. But do your genetics match the Batman job description?

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DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, and genes are terms that permeate our culture. The physical bit that we think of as genes is formed from those tiny nucleotides that are put together to form chromosomes. In your body you have around 3 billion pairs of these nucleotides. Put all together you have between 25,000 and 50,000 genes all arranged on 23 pairs of chromosomes.

It's a very efficient packing job. Each strand of your DNA is about six feet long but we manage to have them all stuffed into nuclei of cells you cannot even see! This occurs with the help of proteins called histones. They are the "Neat Nellies" of molecular biology and help keep your genetic material as organized as possible.

It is the collections of those genes in your chromosomes that allow you to be the person you are right now with all the physical attributes you possess. Another thing to be aware of is that genes can be slightly altered to take on different forms called alleles. The sets of alleles you have in your genes are what give you your specific genotype.

The environment you grow up in and the experiences you have had, are having, and will have, are all shape the expression of your genetic material, your genes and your DNA; meaning who you are, what you can do and how you react in the environment. However we still get a certain set of genetic material when you are born.

Since the early days of the Human Genome Project, molecular biologists have been busy searching for candidate genes contributing to a range of human abilities. The work of Claude Bouchard is of real relevance to genetics needed for Batman. Dr. Bouchard and his group from the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre at Louisiana State University is in the vanguard of "exercise genomics". They publish annual updates on "Advances in Exercise, Fitness, and Performance Genomics" that summarize the best work identifying candidate genes for exercise performance.

Bouchard suggested to me some of the key gene targets that we would expect to see in someone at the level of Batman. The list of gene "SNPs" and associated proteins grows longer every year. It also becomes more and more complex because most of the characteristics of interest are due to the action of a single gene but more often the interactions of the products of many genes. Now we have gene targets associated with: endurance, strength, response to exercise "trainability", tolerance for exercise, connective tissue repair, and more.

This is just a tiny sampling of the many candidate genes for exercise performance now well identified and characterized and more are discovered all the time. But what if you don't have the genetic profile Batman would really need?

Is it no Batman for you?

Well, now that we are learning more about what is found where in the human genome to produce key performance-related proteins, we might be able to combine some of this with gene therapies for enhanced performance.

This idea takes us perhaps a bit away from becoming Batman and closer to creating Captain America.

But that's a story for another Batman Day, or perhaps a July 4th.

Ciao for now.


© E. Paul Zehr (2016)


How are you celebrating Batman Day? 

What does Batman Day mean to you?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments sections below.


Dr. E. Paul Zehr is a published author and a Contributor for ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @E_PaulZehr

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