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Posted at 03:38 PM ET, 03/30/2012

The Route 29 ‘Beltway Batman’ and the superheroes we deserve


Beltway Batman himself. (Jonathan Newton - WASHINGTON POST)
D.C. is a tough town for superheroes.

The buildings afford Spiderman nothing to swing on.

Wonder Woman can’t testify before any House subcommittees in that outfit.

Superman can’t fly over the White House without fighter jets materializing and demanding that he land immediately.

We only found out about our local Batman because he got pulled over for a problem with his license plates.

A man driving a black Lamborghini in a bat suit — the Route 29 “Beltway Batman” — was pulled over by cops, and of course he went viral. 

What was it they said about the heroes we need and the heroes we deserve?

We’ve got the Justice League, deliberating on the Affordable Care Act.

We’ve got the Fantastic Four running for the GOP nomination.

And now there’s Batman, on his own, zooming down the highway.

We’re all obsessed with the idea of superpowers.

It's the topic of conversation at cocktail parties. What would your superpower be? I've always said, “the ability to extract objects from vending machines without paying for them,” because the biggest trouble with superpowers is the tendency to misuse them.

The big discussion this week was the limits of power. A mysterious, black-clad group of superpowered individuals sat debating the fate of millions of Americans. What can the government compel you to do? What can it compel you to buy? If you assume that we will all eventually require medical care, if only for careless exposure to Kryptonite, how best to handle it as a nation?

What a convenient time for Batman to turn up.

“Be yourself,” reads an Internet meme. “Unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.”

He’s a perennial favorite, as American as apple pie.

In uniform, he always does the right thing.

And he dresses up like a giant bat. That speaks to us.

In general, your powers are in inverse proportion to the coolness of your outfit. If you look like a member of an 1890s Russian gymnastics team, nine times out of 10 you can destroy entire villages at a glance.

The actual Beltway Batman seems like a lovable chap who spends his time volunteering to put smiles on the faces of kids battling cancer — a noble calling indeed. My idea of a good afternoon is not donning pounds of heavy leather and interacting with children, so I respect those who do.

But his inspiration, the actual Batman, is exactly the superhero this city deserves — precisely because he has no superpowers.

The superheroes with the least impressive powers are the ones seated highest in the popular imagination. If you can fly like a speeding bullet and melt things with your eyes, what’s the point? Where’s the suspense? You just make us nervous.

That’s the appeal of Batman. You know that no matter how bad things get, he won’t melt your city with his eyes.

He’s just a guy with a problematic childhood who likes to dress up as a giant bat. He’s a 1 percenter with a lot of civic spirit. He drives a Lamborghini and knows his way around a salad fork. If he weren’t so busy buying bat gear, he could donate to a super PAC. He has a butler, for crying out loud.

His power is limited only by his access to money. Money, for Bruce Wayne, is speech, and he uses it to say, “I am the [expletive] Batman.”

It’s refreshingly direct.

In general, this town is unforgiving of spandex.

Sure, we have certain affinities with superheroes. We share the belief that there‘s nothing in this world a few panels can’t resolve. There are plenty of “super” things around. In fact, the word “super” has been the victim of insidious inflation. It's seldom a compliment. It prefaces “PAC,” “committee,” and “Tuesday.”

But we like our disproportionate, spider-like powers to be concentrated in the NSA, where they belong. We mistrust secret lives. Reveal that you’re Superman, and we’ll try to have you deported as an illegal space alien.

Beltway Aquaman? The last thing we need is another set of underwater building projects. Beltway Green Lantern? No one knows who he is or what he does, even the people who saw the movie.

That’s why we like Batman. We know where we stand with him.

Now we’re waiting for the other mysterious black-shrouded figures, disappearing into their evocative ensembles, to return a verdict. How much power is too much?

Spandex tends to oversimplification. Nuances melt away as you sharpen your throwing stars and your quips. Put on a suit of some sort and you can vanish into it. Uniforms have a time-honored tendency to swallow their wearers. When you’re in the bat suit, everyone knows how you’ll respond.

The Supremes have the opposite problem. One of the more frequent complaints about the current Justice League is that they too seldom disappear beneath the robes. For every 5-4 decision on partisan lines, the snazzy black ensembles lose a little of their magic.

The arguments this time have certainly been in-depth. The outcome is anyone’s — and everyone’s — guess.

But while we wait for the verdict, it’s a relief to know that Batman is out there, lead foot or no. He’s not the hero we need. But he’s the one we deserve. In a Lamborghini, no less.

By  |  03:38 PM ET, 03/30/2012

 
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