Thursday, July 31, 2008

Batman Little

Is Omar Little the "Batman" of The Wire? This is fresh in my mind since last night I attended a panel discussion "The Making of The Wire" at the New York Times building, sponsored by the Museum of the Moving Image, where cast and crew discussed the epic HBO drama. (The panel included David Simon, Richard Price, Seth Gilliam, Clark Johnson, Wendell Pierce, and Clarke Peters.)

Back to my question, though. Omar, by his own admission, is "all in the game" whereby his life revolves around his participation in Baltimore's drug trade. From a law-and-order standpoint, Omar is a villain because he is quick to kill, steal, and sell drugs. From a heroic standpoint, however, Omar operates by a strict code: Stealing a line directly from Bunk Moreland, Omar says "A man's got to have a code." Omar never puts his gun on a civilian or non-participant in "the game." Omar flips out when the Barksdale crew breaks the longstanding sabbath ceasefire and nearly kill his grandmother on her way to church. For most of the series, Omar is also a vigilante driven by revenge -- revenge against the Barksdales for the death of Brandon Wright, revenge against Stringer Bell for setting him up, revenge against Marlo Stanfield for his attempted framing of Omar for murder, and so on. In addition to his vigilante status, he is also often working in cooperation with the Baltimore police, or doing what he can on their behalf as he lurks in the shadows of the drug corners pursuing his own agenda.

The portrait painted above, for me, draws some clear parallels to our friend Batman. Batman has an agenda of vengeance, though he operates by a strict code. That code generally means Batman only comes into contact with those who are willfully involved in "the game." Batman colludes with the police, but generally only on his own terms and, again, within his own code of conduct. (Omar is occasionally persuaded against his will to cooperate with the police, but more often than not, when the Baltimore detectives need Omar's help, they are forced to appeal to Omar's own sense of justice and morality in order to persuade him to do what they need him to do. Please recall the fucking brilliant scene between Omar and Bunk to illustrate this point.)

Like Batman, because of how he operates, Omar is often without friends, or friends he can trust, and he must live in hiding. Omar's headquarters, like the Bat Cave, are usually in abandoned row houses or tenements. Omar doesn't have an elaborate array of computers or gadgets, but he does have the best and biggest guns in town, and he usually travels by way of an unmarked vehicle (see point #3 of Gavin's primer on the Bat) such as a utility van or taxi cab. Omar also conducts his business under a cloak, whether it's something immediately evocative of Batman, such as his black duster jacket, or something more simple as a hooded sweatshirt. (Or sometimes Omar's disguises become more complex, like when he dresses up as an old man in a wheelchair in order to gain access to a Barksdale drug house.)

Additionally, toward the latter stages of the series, just saying Omar's name on the streets of Baltimore would incite immediate fear and chaos as small-time drug dealers would immediately run in the opposite direction or just throw their drugs into the street if they heard or saw Omar coming their way. How many crooks has Batman defeated simply by evoking his name or image? Both Omar and Batman learn to use their enemy's fear against them, usually to the point where all they have to do is arrive on the scene to decide the outcome.

And what about Omar's many sidekicks, or Robins? (See Gavin's point #5.) The death of his first Robin, Brandon Wright, is what first sends Omar over the edge. But Omar can't last long without a sidekick, so in subsequent seasons, he recruits "Brandon replacements" -- Dante, Renaldo -- who fill the same sidekick role, but never quite fill Brandon's shoes. And Omar's sexual relationships with his sidekicks further complicate his relationships with them. And we also learn that Omar, like Batman, usually has a plan to kill them all if need be -- see Dante.

The more I think about, the more parallels I begin to see. What did I miss?


Tim said...

1) In a city filled with citizens afraid of the different crews, Omar is the only figure outside of this system who is not only unafraid, but the criminals are afraid of him. This is why he can testify against Bird in open court, and why the corner boys simply throw down their drugs when Omar comes around.

2) Omar is equally content to work with the police and to foil them, to put people in bars or submit them to his own justice.

3) Omar survives an impossible fall from a multi-story building in the middle of a shootout, and completely vanishes. Later we see him piecing himself together, with a broken leg.

4) Butchie = Alfred.

5) Omar's second-best Batman moment (after his daring fall) is his attack on Stinkum and Wee-Bay in Season 1. After he comes literally out of the shadows to kill Stinkum when Stinkum is intent on killing another corner dealer, Omar shoots Wee-Bay in the leg, and vanishes again. All you hear is him whistling "the cheese stands alone," and then his disembodied voice: "Hey, Bay -- when you come at the king, you best not miss."

But 6) Omar isn't Batman. He's Achilles.

Tim said...

I did miss the most important point: Omar is the best detective in Baltimore! When we first see him, he and Brandon and John are casing the Barksdale stash, which he identifies before the police. They also figure out that the police are surveilling the Barksdale crew before the crew does, and that they're using Bubs as a snitch. Later, he figures out that the drug dealers are colluding in a co-op and stakes out their main stash. As McNulty says, "he sees the street like we wish we could."

Tim said...

I don't think Batman would stab a prison assassin in the rectum though. Even if they both wear Kevlar vests, hoods, and black capes.

Brandon said...

Omar going to prison is a lot like Batman going to Arkham Asylum. Sure, Batman wouldn't shiv any of the Arkham inmates, but there Batman must encounter all of the criminals that he's helped put away. When Omar goes to prison, he must also come face to face with every dealer he's stuck up and otherwise fucked over.

Gavin said...

If Omar Little is the Batman, then the Joker is Tyler Durden. (And thus also the Batman? "I don't want to kill you. You complete me.)

After all, the Joker's men have infiltrated every level of society, through which the Joker moves seamlessly, and they blow shit up in humorous ways.

"The first rule of working for the Joker is you don't talk about working for the Joker."