Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Warner Bros. and DC Comics
The primary plot driver of The Batman is the Riddler, a mysterious serial killer terrorizing Gotham City and leaving cryptic messages for Jeffrey Wright to read aloud in a befuddled yet sultry purr. Some of these are “Little Orphan Annie” decoder-ring-level goofy (just wait until the first act when Robert Pattinson searches the mayor’s car for a USB port). Others are Ted Cruz–level abstruse. Director Matt Reeves is a bit of a Riddler himself, filling the movie with symbols for us to interpret, including signifiers of present-day unrest. The city’s police are crooked, a mayoral candidate promises real change with shades of AOC, and internet conspiracies radicalize men in a way that feels all too familiar. Like the Riddler, Reeves uses this symbology to warn us about the future. If you can piece together the clues, The Batman is an accurate predictor of 21st-century America’s worst-case scenario.
It predicts a civil war of incels versus furries.
Wait, wait, wait, wait. Come back! I swear these aren’t the fevered ramblings of a Riddleress (the zoological term for a female Riddler). First, let’s establish the obvious: Paul Dano’s Riddler and his radicalized followers are clearly incel-coded. He is lonely and geeky and resentful and extremely online. He feels cheated by life. Just look at how they cast one of Hollywood’s most chinless actors as the Riddler and positioned him in contrast to Pattinson’s very prominent jawline. Pattinson has the kind of bone structure that incels obsess over, and the camera treats it like its own supporting character. The Riddler, meanwhile, channels a near-libidinous energy into his obsessive superhero fanboyism in lieu of human connection. (One of the film’s most daring decisions is to cast this type of Batman-obsessed nerd as its sweaty, crazed murderous-incel antagonist. Note that all of the Riddler’s messages to Batman are literal valentines.) He fills ledgers with rambling manifestos, livestreams to a captive audience, disseminates conspiracy videos, and amasses fans and copycats through forum posts.
And not that I should have to explain this, but Batman and Catwoman are obviously furries. For however cool and aloof Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz try to make these characters, they’re still adults with extreme affinities for specific animals, dressing up and role-playing in their little costumes. In the movie’s darkest and most violent moments, I couldn’t stop looking at those doofy bat ears. Furries are a fan community of people who pick species with which to align themselves that they believe reflect their innermost or idealized personalities. Selina Kyle’s fursona is a cat. She wears woolly cat ears to go out and do her burgling. In the most perverted scene in the entire three-hour film, she — an adult woman! — straight up drinks a full glass of milk like some kind of freak … or some kind of person who role-plays as a cat. Pattinson’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, is a resoundingly honest depiction of the emo-to-furry pipeline.
And these two aren’t just any furries; they’re clearly active in Gotham’s kink community. One of the movie’s main locations is some kind of secret orgy club run by — are you noticing the furry agenda yet? — the Penguin. Like furry-adjacent pup players, the main characters’ costumes are made of leather, and when Batman gets intimate, the mask stays on. None of this is to kink-shame Bruce and Selina but rather to champion them as people’s heroes who probably got their costume inspo from gender-swapped Rouge the Bat DeviantArt.
The Riddler, meanwhile, amasses an online following of disaffected young white men who, frustrated with their lot in life, channel their doomerism into violence. The Batman understands that these men are often motivated to be part of an in-group, to feel heard, and to carve out some perceived status by targeting and terrorizing other groups. They claim alienation on a micro level despite their relative privilege on a macro one. And like QAnon, which furnishes conspiracy theories about wealthy, high-profile liberal politicians and public figures, the Riddler comes armed with bombshells about the mismanagement of Wayne trust and the hit that mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne took out on a journalist. (The film’s politics get fuzzy here, though, as these revelations definitely should be public knowledge.)
Bruce Wayne’s role in The Batman is to represent a real-life diverging path for this type of young man. The character always functions best as a shadowy mirror: the darkness to Superman’s light; the code-following, vengeance-driven violence to the Joker’s randomized chaotic violence. The Batman constantly draws parallels between Wayne and the Riddler; the two are a call-and-response act. Both are reclusive introverts with personalities and worldviews shaped by their orphan backgrounds. Pattinson’s version of Batman is especially weird compared to past ones, coming across more socially awkward and out of place than coolly distant. Like Riddler’s clue about being the “same seed,” these are two men who could have gone down very similar roads. Both are obsessive, lonely sad boys, but one became a libertarian tech bro while the other was black-pilled. One channeled his passion and intensity into alter-ego role play and tricking out his fur-suit Batsuit, while the other mostly got into explosives.
The Batman gives us an eerie vision of the young men who mobilize online to turn their sexual frustration/misogyny/racism into violence — and in some cases try to accelerate civil war. But it also gives these men an exit route: Just do some push-ups, share a tender kiss with your partner in crime, and get really into your dorky anthropomorphic OC instead. These two 21st-century Types of Guy may seem similar to the offline observer, and, indeed, they can even intersect. But furries are overwhelmingly queer and into social justice. They’ve got Batman and Catwoman on their team. And, you know, they actually fuck.
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