Gotham City: Hall of Mirrors
by Scott Summers
Batman created the Rogue’s Gallery by virtue of his very existence, they say: If Batman didn’t exist, Gotham’s misanthropes would never have been provoked or inspired to put on their costumes, hire their goons, and break out the evil plans. Plainly, they always had super-villains lurking inside in a kind of spore form, waiting for the right catalyst to trigger their hidden criminal instincts. And once they caught sight of Batman, they knew they had found exactly the right audience.
Which seems to be de rigueur for Gotham’s colorful crooks: needing an audience. Every last ne’er-do-well in the whole murderous crew, from Baby Doll to Maxie Zeus, lives for attention. They came shrieking out of the sewers, pointing lethal umbrellas or freeze guns or mutant ficus trees in every direction, casually co-opting local media to nab Batman’s eye. Look at me, Mom—I’m evil! The Penguin never arrives at the scene of a would-be crime in anything less than black tie. The Joker loves to broadcast his green-and-white grin citywide; he’s snatched more air time than most local anchormen. Even Bane, dressed in shy, modish black, concedes to vanity with a Mexican wrestler’s mask.
Given that these guys and gals have something in common, and that this particular something tends to get in the way of a quiet, normal life, one might gingerly suggest that the whole lot might are be suffering from serious personality disorders. This kind of problem takes shape as a person grows up, when rigid, self-defeating, character traits develop. You can sum up a personality disorder with the report-card phrase “does not play well with others,” in that PDs lead to severely screwed-up interpersonal relationships. (By contrast, major psychiatric disorders deal with big disturbances in the ABC’s: affect, behavior, and cognition.)
So what do we call the desperation to be noticed, to be publicized in Gotham’s water-cooler conversations, newspapers, Jumbo-Trons, and police blotters? That would be narcissistic personality disorder: the overpowering desire and motivation to see oneself affirmed by other people—reflected as if in a mirror, just as the original Narcissus fell in love with his watery reflection. Someone with NPD would treat others as if though they existed to validate him, repeatedly feeding his ego in some way. Narcissists don’t respect the feelings of others; they require endless adulation; they feel entitled to do and say whatever they wish. And they often take advantage of others to achieve their own goals. Seen in this light, Gotham’s baddies are nothing short of living monuments to narcissism.
Okay, then, what about Batman? He’s got a mask, an identity, and a costume, and he’s often the talk of the town. But there’s one big difference: when Bruce dons the cape and cowl, he seeks the shadows. He keeps quiet. He created the costume to frighten criminals, not to make a name for himself. Batman’s whole modus operandi depends on silence and darkness. He can’t work in the spotlight that the Riddler, or Two-Face, are demanding with their high-contrast color schemes and love for bursting into crowded rooms spouting bon mots. There’s plenty more to say about Batman, whom no one would mistake for normal, but a narcissist he ain’t.
As for the rest of them, the malignant, narcissistic horde pressing out of Gotham’s cells and sewers and tenements: they, too, are more complicated than they seem. Each one of Batman’s enemies has a unique psychological dimension and a personality structure—or disorder—that sets him or her apart from the mad madding crowd. During the time each one spent (or should have spent) in Arkham, a good shrink could make a career-defining case study out of everyone anyone in the maximum security wing. They’re flagrantly, delightfully, viciously, and believably nuts.
General diagnosis: 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder
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Dr. Scott Summers holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and works at a Gotham—i.e. New York City—hospital with the criminally insane, the non-criminally insane, and the merely ill. If necessary, he could be trusted with the strange secret of Bruce Wayne.