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It’s totally legal for Batman to punch the Great Gatsby and yet I’m still waiting

It’s been TWO YEARS

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Good people of the superhero comics community, I’ve kept quiet for 23-and-a-half months and I can remain silent no longer. It’s been almost two years since The Great Gatsby entered the public domain and yet — despite being absurdly overqualified for the job — Jay Gatsby is still not a Batman villain.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic of the American canon, entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2021. Which means that it has been totally legal to write him into one of the major superhero universes for 710 days of human history. Despite that, no one has done it.

Public domain characters show up in comic books all the time. We’re most familiar with mythological superheroes and their allies, like Thor or Zeus. And while they’re less prominent, you’ll also find a few idiomatic cultural figures, like Santa Claus or Uncle Sam, bouncing around superhero settings.

But it bears repeating that there are also many examples of comic book superhero characters who hail from the modern era of copyright and can be credited to a singular source and author. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a historical figure in Marvel Comics. DC’s Frankenstein, aka Mary Shelley’s modern Prometheus, is gonna be in his own cartoon produced by James Gunn. Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula menaces both universes.

Why not Jay Gatsby?

Jay Gatsby is a perfect Batman villain

Robert Redford stands by a yellow car in an image from The Great Gatsby (1974). Everett Collection / Everett Collection

How many times have you read or watched a story in which Batman finds himself at odds with a shady rich guy, either as the Caped Crusader or as Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s favorite idiot philanthropist? This is a subplot of Batman: Returns, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and innumerable episodes of Batman: The Animated series. Not to mention classic comics like Batman: Hush, and villains like Lex Luthor, Tommy Elliot, Rupert Thorne, the Court of Owls, and most recently Vandal Savage. Now imagine if that rich guy was Jay Gatsby, a literal textbook millionaire with a shady past.

Consider:

  • He built his fortune just to get a woman to like him (overbearing, good long-term schemer)
  • He is willing to cover up who did a murder (crime)
  • It’s strongly implied he’s in bed with organized crime (crimes!)
  • He harbors resentment for those who were born into money (like Bruce Wayne)
  • He’s tormented by visions of judgement, inadequacy, and failure (pathos, very important in most Batman villains)
  • He even drives a flamboyant car

Gotham will always need a new evil rich guy to make Bruce Wayne’s use of money seem reasonable by comparison — so why couldn’t it be an old rich guy? Out with stories about Gotham citizens who suspect Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman, in with stories where they suspect Jay Gatsby is secretly Batman.

But this doesn’t have to stop at the benefits for Batman stories. Think about the benefits to American education. There are two ways this can go: Greater student attention and interest in reading The Great Gatsby in high school — or teaching The Great Gatsby becomes impossible due to an impenetrable wall of student-created Batman tomfoolery and we finally move on to teaching works that teenagers actually care about.

Not that I have a bone to pick here.

Please let Batman and Jay Gatsby punch each other, for the good of the culture

The superhero genre has been vilifying the rich who prey on the poor since the moment Superman leapt onto its pages a mere 13 years after the publication of The Great Gatsby and about half a decade before the book actually became popular. Comics have racked up 85 years of rich villains after rich villains — and I think they should get a whack at the quintessential rich asshole of American literature.

If DC Comics doesn’t get its act together, Marvel Comics is welcome to step in. Jay Gatsby as Daredevil’s next untouchable crimelord target. Jay Gatsby goes to war with Wilson Fisk. Even Dark Horse can get in on the party: Hellboy meets Jay Gatsby in hell.

Or everyone could get in on Gatsby fever! Let 2024 be the year when we finally get what we deserve: A comic book where Jay Gatsby, the public domain character, is socked in the mouth — canonically pummeled — by a man dressed as a bat.

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