DC produced four Realworlds comics in 2000; each comic told the story of a "real-world" person influenced by DC’s most iconic characters. Realworlds Batman was the first and the strongest.

Writers: Christopher Gordon and Tom Sniegoski. Artists: Marshall Rogers and John Cebollero.

Charlie Duffy, a young "special needs" man has a life-long obsession with Batman. He watched the campy 1960s show faithfully and seriously, and played “Batman” with a neighborhood girl until she grew older and lost interest. In the story’s present, he sleeps in a small apartment crammed with Batman paraphernalia and counts down the days to the release of the 1989 Tim Burton film.

His landlord and caretaker is Mike, a retired firefighter. Charlie helps Mike perform routine maintenance around the old building, and also works full-time making deliveries for a local grocery store. He carries his goods by bicycle, usually humming the Batman theme and imagining he’s out to rescue Chief O’Hara or strike a truce with Catwoman. DC gives us a somewhat softened view of New York City’s East Village, but it’s not entirely implausible. The cast of neighborhood characters with whom Charlie interacts have been depicted realistically, but affectionately. Even a group of tough local kids who tease our intellectually-limited protagonist aren’t all bad; they’re capable of feeling shame when Charlie’s boss calls them on their behavior.

The days count down to the Batman movie. Then by chance, Charlie sees Clarissa.

Years ago, she had been Robin to his Batman, and shared his lively fantasy world. As she grew older she found the games grew tiresome, and her parents disliked that she played with a "retard." She stopped associating with him, and when she was twelve, her family moved away.

Charlie grew up, in a fashion. He still fantasizes he’s Batman, but he holds down a job. Clarissa also grew up, but her reality grew more brutal, and less responsible. Charlie sees her engaging in petty theft, and we soon learn that she associates with a loose group of low-rate drug dealers and thugs.

Charlie becomes convinced that "Robin" has turned bad, and that she must be rescued from "the Joker." Of course, his attempts to interfere in the manner of his idol prove disastrous, and nearly get him killed. Costumed superheroes don’t quite cut it in the real world.

Still, Charlie perseveres. He contemplates, such that he can, the darker version of Batman he sees in the new movie, and he continues to believe that "Robin is good" and can be rescued.

Realworlds Batman is a gem of a comic. In a subtler way, it handles the debate about heroism and darkness in comix better than DC’s vaunted Infinite Crisis series. It's also one of the few pieces of media with a developmentally-challenged hero. Through Charlie, it lampoons those who haven’t entirely lost faith in four-colored heroics, while at the same time affirming the inspiration the traditional hero can provide. Charlie may look ridiculous at times, but he wants to help others and his example encourages the people he meets. The story’s ending may be as contrived as any traditional comic book’s, but contrasted with the reality Clarissa has chosen to enter, it’s refreshing.

Compared to some of the alternatives, I’d rather live in Charlie’s world.

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