Playing with shadows, deep in the heart of scary ol' Brampton. All photos by Jeff Campagna.
I wanted to write at least 500 words about how difficult it was to track down the Brampton Batman. I wanted to write about having to lurk in dark alleyways. Spending my free nights scanning suburban rooftops for blurred silhouettes of a cape and cowl. Asking locals about sightings much like the awkward, four-eyed journalists from the comic books. But finding Brampton, Ontario’s homegrown version of Batman wasn't that difficult at all. As it turns out, a modern-day Batman requires only a Facebook page to keep his gloved finger on the pulse of the sleepy burbs. I just had to message him. No bat signals or bat phones needed.
It's 10:30 on a Saturday night. I'm waiting to meet the Brampton Batman (who prefers to be called The Dark Knight) at the corner of Steeles Avenue and Dixie Road in the bowels of Brampton, a gnarly notch on the commuter belt northwest of Toronto. If you haven’t been to Brampton, you’re probably better off. Imagine an abandoned theme park taken over by thinly-veiled rub ‘n’ tugs, roti shops and dystopian police stations. I feel uneasy, but I shouldn't. I grew up not far from Brampton. I've passed this intersection countless times before, though not in this context. Relatively normal things suddenly seem sketchy. A woman steps off a public bus and scurries into the darkness, looking over her shoulder as she goes. A drunkard sleeps on the boulevard. Colorful characters in low-hanging jeans and backward hats with the stickers still on glare at me as they pass. East Indian party music pounds from a nearby strip mall. I start to feel as though I'm in a watered-down, still-born recreation of Gotham City.
At 10:39 I spot him from maybe 100 yards away. As soon as I confirm my sighting I get really excited. But I’m still apprehensive. My wife is certain I'm going to get raped. Batman is walking with purpose. It’s more like he’s marching. So fast, I can imagine him toppling forward ass-over-ankles. I meet him in the middle of the road and shake his hand. I compliment him on his killer suit. He apologizes for being late in a voice so deep it's goosebump inspiring. He sounds like the guy from movie trailers. Or like God. I'm happy he doesn't sound like Christian Bale. He’s black, which makes sense in the melting-curry-pot of cultures that is Brampton.
The Dark Knight, waiting to cross the street in the middle of suburbia.
By 11:00 we're marching together up Dixie Road against the heavy flow of traffic. Batman demands that I walk on the inside so that he is between the speeding cars and me. "For safety," he says, establishing the strong superhero/helpless citizen relationship… it's kind of weird because I am pretty certain that I am older than him, though not by much. His concern for safety supports the rumor that he is an off duty cop. I ask him about his bat suit. "My previous suit was a bit more of a hands-on project," he explains while cars rocket past and honk at him. "But one of the best things, of course, is the realization that being Batman is not just the suit. You really do have to be Batman on the inside. Those who know me with my cowl off still call me Batman." He tells me that he has three police citations for civilian bravery. If he’s not a cop, he certainly has a real hard-on for justice.
Batman’s current suit is the real deal. Thirty-two pounds of boots, chest armor, a utility belt, cape, cowl and gloves. It's an exact replica from Nolan's The Dark Knight. Batman won't tell me where he purchased the suit or how much it cost but a strikingly similar suit is for sale from UD Replicas for $1,564. A constant drip of bat sweat beads off the tip of his rubberized nose armor like a leaky faucet and he continually dabs it dry with a shredded paper towel.
A crowd begins to amass around The Dark Knight out front of Bramalea Mall.
Around 11:30, at the corner of Dixie Road and Queen in front of the hulking mall known as Bramalea City Centre, he attracts the first crowd of Bramptonians. They pour out of a nearby bar called All Stars that looks suspiciously like a shawarma joint. Batman shakes everyone’s hands, poses for Instagram pictures, and utters "Good evening,” "Pleasure to meet you,” "You got it” and "Stay safe,” with Tickle Me Elmo consistency. I end up taking photos for everyone with their smartphones and it's getting annoying. "Are you Robin?" people ask me with drunken slurs. A young dude smelling of smokes and cheap beer tells Batman his friend lost his license because of an altercation last week when The Dark Knight chased down a car that was driving on only three tires and called the cops. Apparently the driver was covered in coke: classic Brampton. Batman seems unfazed by the story.
By midnight, we're patrolling down Queen Street toward central Brampton. I ask him why he's parading around as Batman in the first place. He says, "I've been Batman since I was 14. Putting on the cape and cowl was just for me. It's about going out and being who you are. It just ended up that who I am is a recognizable symbol. For a regular person to be able to bring joy to people is addictive." I am starting to think that Brampton Batman is simply a really nice guy. Polite, mannerly and hates (as he puts it) the N-word. He oozes political correctness like Canadian propaganda which adds to the weirdness because the real Batman is kind of a brooding dick.
Then, a robotic voice from somewhere within his suit says "Incoming Message" and he bends his forearm out to check an iPhone embedded in his bat glove. It glows brightly and has an old-school bat symbol as its wallpaper. "Twitter is alive," Batman says, "they are looking for me." At this point, I realize that he takes this shit very seriously. He’s committed to really being Batman, albeit a nicer, Canadianized version.
An hour and a half into our patrol and I'm feeling it. My thighs are burning. My feet feel like I've worn them down to nubs. And even though it's cold outside I'm getting hot. And if I'm hot, he must be dying. I can smell sweat and hot rubber.
The Dark Knight contemplates his order at Sonny's Drive-in.
Sometime around 12:30 AM we end up at Sonny's Drive-in, a Bramptonian landmark of late night drunken eats. "Are you allergic to anything?" he asks before entering the dive. It's lit like an operating room. Suddenly I can see the flaws in his suit. It all feels a bit garish and a little fake. Like when the house lights are turned on in a strip club and you look at the girls and feel slightly duped. Batman orders a double bacon and cheese banquet burger and two Vitamin Waters. I realize he is ordering the burger for me and I'm slightly bummed that I won't get to see Batman eat a cheeseburger. I leap to pay. Batman beats me to it by pulling bills out of yet another hidden pocket in his bat glove. "Yo. Why you guys chargin' Batman?" a drunken girl in tight leopard spandex asks the cashier. "Batman comes in here too often for us not to charge him," the tattooed cashier responds. There's at least five people in line. They all have their phones out snapping pictures and video (most of which I see later that night online with the #BramptonBatman hashtag). I feel like Alice plunging further and further down the rabbit hole of awkward suburban fucked-up-ness.
The Dark Knight jacks up a Pontiac Grand-Am for some Bramptonians in distress.
Shortly after, I am greedily mowing down on my banquet burger in the parkling lot. Across the street an old Grand Am sits lopsided with a flat tire. Four young Bramptonians stand beside it calling out for Batman. Before I know it he’s already across the street,down on his haunches jacking up the car. The four suburbanites in distress are a sight to behold. Girls with pink hair. Shirtless guys with faded, indiscernible tattoos. Cigarette smoke. Cheap booze breath. And enough slang and street talk to fill a DMX album. Again, I feel as though I am in a semi-retarded Canadian version of Gotham city where Batman changes tires with help from a flashlight app and two shirtless dudes. "Be quick and be very careful,” Batman barks. “Who’s got the light? Give it to me. Well done. You got it. Secure it quickly. Who is smoking a cigarette near me? Secure the tire. Do you guys have it from here? Stay safe."
We continue our patrol toward central Brampton. Batman’s rampant jaywalking has me reconsidering the cop angle. I feel an exercise-induced headache coming on. By now, all of Brampton is sufficiently intoxicated. Cars slow down or screech to a halt mid-traffic to catch a glimpse of Batman. They veer off to shoulders, cut sharply into parking lots and passengers hang out of lowered windows screaming "No fucking way! It's Batman!" or "How many people did you save today, Batman?" or "You get the Batmobile yet?" or "Yo, Batman! What a' gwaan?" Batman is posing for more pictures than ever. I can tell that this is the highlight of the night for these plastered, tucked-away suburbanites. It’s all a little sad.
Around 1:30 AM we reach the Rose Theater in the heart of old Brampton. "This is one of my haunts," Batman tells me. "I like to come here and reflect, looking at the theater. It gives people the chance to catch a glimpse." Standing eerily still in the empty square, he cuts an imposing figure. But where was all the crime fighting? The only person left battered and bruised at the end of the night was me. But, I guess that's a good thing.
The Dark Knight and Jeff Campagna.
After some small talk and a few more photo ops, I get the feeling that Brampton Batman wants to head back to his Brampton Batcave. We say our goodbyes and I leave him there standing tall, cape and cowl outlining a dramatic silhouette in the early morning suburban air, like a monument to himself. I wonder if he took the bus home.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @AWUTI
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