Batman & Kerouac: Brothers From Another Mother

Posted by David Goodman

One is the Dark Knight, a vigilante hero that fights to bring sanity to his world and peace to his life. After watching the brutal murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne made the decision to dedicate his life to bringing the scum and insanity that had taken over his home of Gotham City to justice. Along with Robin, the Boy Wonder, he operates in darkness and calls himself The Batman.

The other is the King of the Beats, a writer who helped create a new way to write and a new way to live. He spent the bulk of his life traveling cross country, on the road with assorted fellow travelers who helped him to shape his prose and populated his novels, all becoming part of his legend; the legend of Jack Kerouac.
At first glance, these two icons of literature would seem to have absolutely nothing in common; one of them isn’t even a real person. But upon further inspection, you would be very surprised to discover that Batman and Jack Kerouac are much more similar than you would ever begin to imagine.

The first (and most obvious) similarity is the fact that both Batman and Kerouac had some big family issues, And it’s safe to say in Batman’s case, “big” is an understatement.
First, poor Bruce Wayne watched as his parents are gunned down in front of him during a robbery, walking home from a movie he wanted to go see. I would say that’s enough to give a kid a bit of a complex right there. So it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that he took his family fortune, spent years training his body and mind to fight crime and then put on a black rubber bat suit and started jumping from buildings.
And that wasn’t even the end of it. It was recently revealed that Bruce has a brother he never knew existed, Thomas Wayne Jr. Now, do you think it was a happy reunion and they went and had coffee and pie? No, instead Batman discovered that his brother was also Owlman and had been trying to kill him for weeks, turning himself into Bruce’s twisted reflection in the mirror.
Ironically, it was a brother that was the catalyst for most of Jack Kerouac’s problems with his own family. When his brother Gerard died at the age of nine (when Kerouac was only four), it was the first domino in a chain of events that affected him till his dying day. Kerouac had always felt that his brother was a Saint and that he should have died instead of his brother, a belief that was constantly reinforced by his mother. It led to Kerouac always looking for and needing his mother’s approval. In many ways he became a surrogate husband to his mother, acting more as spouse than son, which might explain the many marriages, divorces and the strained relationship Kerouac had with his only daughter, Jan.
Another likeness is that when you think of Batman or Jack Kerouac, you almost always think of someone else, a sidekick or friend that was forever linked with the other. These people became part of their legends and, in a way, helped to define them both.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows about Robin, the Boy Wonder. Usually the other half of “Batman and…” the character has been at the Dark Knight’s side since 1940, when he debuted in Detective Comics # 38. It has been said that the creation of a light hearted, colorful sidekick was a necessary counterbalance to the grim nature of the Batman himself. Whatever the case may be, Robin has been a part of the Batman mythos ever since. But it’s not just Robin; the world of the Batman has become a veritable sidekick convention over the years. There is also Batgirl, Nightwing (a Robin that has out grown the Robin suit and into his own identity), Batwing, Spoiler, Batwoman, Red Hood (a formerly dead, now resurrected Robin) and Red Robin (see Nightwing), not to mention the ever-present Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. That doesn’t sound like much of a “grim loner” to me.
In Kerouac’s case, if it wasn’t for his large array of friends and acquaintances that were an integral part of his life, most of his most popular novels might never have been written. Neal Cassady, Alan Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, name almost any member of the Beat Generation and you can probably find a reasonable facsimile of them in one of Kerouac’s books. Much like Batman needed Robin to bring some levity and humor into his life, Kerouac needed his fellow Beat Generation writers to bring adventure and a new way to think and write into his.
Kerouac and Batman are similar in one more key way: the masks they both wear to deal with their damaged lives.
Depending when you saw Kerouac, he was either the King of the Beats, or the despondent struggling writer, or the handsome athlete, or a pathetic mama’s boy, or a raging alcoholic, or the latent homosexual, or the proud American patriot. His image would change depending on whom he was with and what he was doing. The might have been to deal with all the expectations that had been pushed onto him over the course of his life, from his mother, fans, lovers and even fellow writers. Or this could have been because deep down, Kerouac was still trying to figure out who he was and where he belonged. It’s ironic that a man who spent so much time on the road was still trying to “find himself” up until the day he died.
As for Batman, the masks in his case are much more literal. Wayne felt that in order to fight crime and avenge his parents, he needed to wear a true mask and dress as a giant bat to combat crime on a much more personal, hands-on level than by just becoming a lawyer or philanthropist. But most fascinating, over time it has been theorized that Batman is in fact his true face, while Bruce Wayne is the mask he wears during the day, in order to blend in with regular people.
In either case, it is obvious that both Kerouac and Batman had their issues with identity and who they were.
And there you have it; three example of why Batman and Jack Kerouac are more alike than anyone ever assumed. It should at least give you something to think about the next time you read On the Road or check out the latest issue of Batman.
Next time: how Daredevil and John Grisham are secretly related.