Science says, "It sucks to be Batman"

This chart describes the key problem with being Batman — it doesn't take a serious injury to seriously disable you. Your body can rack up big damage over years of repeated small stresses and strains — jumping from roof to roof two or three times a week, for instance, or slamming your knuckles into a bad guy's face every night.

Neuroscientist and kinesiologist Paul literally wrote the book on what it would take to create a non-superhuman superhero, like Batman. In a post at Scientific American blogs, he explains the major physical impacts of being the Dark Knight. His big conclusion: Nobody could be Batman for very long. And even after they retired, they'd feel the echo of what they'd done to their body every day for the rest of their lives.

It’s hard to gauge the long-term effects of being exposed to these harsh occupations. Looking at NFL players provides another way to get at long term effects. In fact I used the very short average career—3-5 years—of NFL players as a way to estimate Batman’s longevity in Becoming Batman.

Skilled writer Peter King provided an in-depth expose on football players in the Dec 12, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated. This piece was a follow up look at 39 members of the 1986 Cincinnati Bengals—25 years later—and spanned all forms of injury. But it’s the bodily injuries I want to focus on. In the category of “residual injury” over 70% had at least one surgery during their careers with ~40% having a post-NFL surgery for an injury related to football. Thirty percent had an upcoming surgery. More than 90% of the players said that they had lingering issues arising from an injury derived from their NFL careers.

Probably the most telling “statistic” is that on average these players reported 3 parts of the body that experienced pain each day. That’s a lot of injuries and a lot of discomfort.

Basically, Batman's inner pain isn't just about his dead parents.

Read the rest of the story


  1. Interesting — if you guesstimate the actual amount of time Batman spent crimefighting in the Nolan movies, it doesn’t add up to more than a couple of years, three at most. I thought this was odd given the longevity of his career in the comics, but I guess it’s actually pretty realistic. It’s unlikely that the Batman films would run with this and make “Batman” a role that changes hands every 2-3 years, but it would be cool.

      1. It would be a hard spot; the bone thickens up in response to pain and injury. And the soft tissue would he hardened by scar tissue and calcifications. He probably has a big knot back there.

  2. I’d’ve posted this to the Scientific American article, but I’m sick of registering for single-post access.
    I haven’t seen any versions of this meme that addressed the extremely important issue shown, so I figured I was just the guy to do it.

  3.  Good idea to compare Batman to NFL players. Rodeo clowns have pretty short careers too. But I think Jackie Chan’s medical history might be the best thing to compare to Batman’s medical history.

    1. You could compare him to an MMA fighter, since if Batman was real he’d probably do the same training they do. And he’d also have a big fight a few times a year just like they do.

  4. Batman gives better than he gets: he’s not a killer…but he seriously #@$!s people up.  Still, the poor guy has been kicking ass and taking names for almost 73 years…and he’s taken his fair share of lumps.

    All that Scarecrow fear dust, the umbrella stabbings, Catwomans’ scratches: they have got to take a toll.  And adversary injuries notwithstanding, his knuckles must ache like a sumbitch when the barometer drops.

    Still, he brushes his (bat) shoulders off and rejoins the fray…I admire that.

    Even if Gotham City is a craptacular cesspool of scum and’s nice to know somebody cares.

  5. This has been at least partly addressed in the comics (besides the ones mentioned in the article). In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a middle-aged Bruce who’s been retired for an unknown number of years and kept fit almost immediately starts suffering injuries when he comes out of retirement, at first just the strain of sudden, intense exertion, but quickly piles up serious trauma (especially after fighting the Joker). In Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, elderly Bruce has been so traumatized by his crimefighting career that he has to wear an exoskeleton, complete with neck brace, just to walk.

  6. Helio Gracie, the patriarch of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu family, lived to 95, spent a big chunk of his life fighting, and openly accepted challenges for several years.  And his gi probably had less padding then the batsuit.  He was training/teaching right up until his death.

  7. Regarding football injuries, I’m sure this situation exists for many college players, too.  Those guys serve us, like gladiators, are not compensated (equitably dispersing the billions that their labor generates would sully the sport, quoth the NCAA), and then have wounds for the rest of their lives.  But, hey, enjoy the game.

    1. Given the cost of a four year Big Ten college degree, it’s not fair to say that college players are entirely uncompensated. 

  8. I’m continually wondering why Jackie Chan doesn’t walk with the aid of sticks, given the number of injuries he’s sustained over his career.

  9. If you’re a fan of DC/Batman and haven’t read “Kingdom Come” id highly recommend it.  Its the story of a future setting in the DC universe in which Bruce Wayne, after decades of abuse to his body, has to wear an exoskeleton to stay mobile.

  10. Has the author not seen Batman Beyond?  Old Bruce Wayne can barely get around with a cane.  He’s well-broken.  But he still manages to find a way to kick ass and fight the evil-doers.  Why?  He’s Batman.

  11. Amazing Spider-Man #600 started off with a recap to Dr. Octopus’s first appearance, followed by a montage of him getting punched in the head repeatedly for 50 years.

    Then cut to Ock at the doctor’s office being told he’s dying from the head trauma.

    I don’t buy a lot of Spider-Man comics but that one was awesome.  (And has actually led into the current story that started in #698, which starts off with him on his deathbed barely able to speak.)

  12. Wow, a Batman exceedance curve!

    When structures engineers calculate the durability of a structure that is loaded to very different amounts each time it is used (such as an airplane that will see varying amounts of turbulence, gusts, some good landings and some hard landings and the occasional really really hard landing), it’s not enough to just focus on the “average” load (because any fatigued structure must still withstand the largest loads) and it’s also a bad idea to just conservatively pretend that the largest load is experienced every time (because the airplane would have to be built like a tank if it actually had to take nasty storms and really hard landings every day and still last 20-40 years). So what is done is: Research goes into developing exceedance curves (1, 2, 3) that tell you how often each load level is encountered, as a function of intensity. An exceedance curve may say that, for level flight at 40,000 feet, you’ll hit a minor bump a few times an hour, a major bump about once every 10 hours, and some really serious turbulence maybe once every 500 hours. Then for level flight at 20,000 feet, the curve would be different, with worse turbulence happening a little more often. And even more often for 10,000 feet. You can also have curves for, given a typical hour of a fighter mission, how many 7g maneuvers are performed, how many 6g maneuvers, how many 5g, etc… Then for a bombing mission, you’d get a different curve. Etc. So you can calculate the durability of your structure by integrating the damage it is likely to encounter over 20 years (or 10,000 hours or whatever) of performing the mission you predict.

    In any case, I’ve been involved with work that requires an understanding of how flight-test data led to the exceedance curves (i.e. to our knowledge about how often a typical airplane encounters this or that kind of event) and of how to sum up that data so as to come up with an “effective average per flight” (and when it’s a bad idea to do so)… and I found it hilarious to see that kind of analysis method applied to superheroes. Very cool.

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