Batman 'geek' spends time between the US Senate and Gotham City

Washington (AFP) –


This Batman mega fan calls himself "a bit of a geek," but everyone else calls him senator -- as in US Senator Patrick Leahy, a veteran Democratic lawmaker.

The 77-year-old Leahy is such a fan of the Caped Crusader that he has made cameo appearances in five Batman movies, including "Batman Forever" (1995), Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" (2008), and most recently in "Batman vs Superman" (2016).

At one early film shoot, he even got to meet the late Batman co-creator Bob Kane -- and like any self-respecting fan, he asked him to sign some of the comic books in his collection.

"Batman doesn't have any superpowers. He has to use his brain and his courage. That's what always appealed to me," Leahy told AFP.

In an interview in his office on Capitol Hill, Leahy explained how he discovered Batman's adventures at the age of five at a library in Montpelier, in his native state of Vermont, which he represents in the Senate.

His hero was created in 1939, just one year before the future senator was born.

And thus a fan came to be.

- 'Teasing' from Senate colleagues -

Batman has been by Leahy's side during his long political career, which began with his successful 1974 Senate run, in which he won in a three-way race.

One of his opponents? Bernie Sanders, the future senator and presidential hopeful. Leahy was just 34 at the time.

Today, even if the tall lawmaker is slowed a bit by age, he is forever young at heart -- a Batman logo adorns his agenda, visible on his desk.

Leahy says his passion for the hero of Gotham City has made him the target of some "good natured teasing" from fellow senators over the years.

Leahy is actually a serious comic book fan and collector.

His favorite author is Frank Miller, best known as the author of "The Dark Knight Returns," a mid-1980s series portraying a gritty, middle-aged Batman in a violent future, and the comic book series "Sin City" (1991-1992) and "300" (1998).

- Encyclopedic knowledge -

In 1992, managers at DC Comics, which publishes the Batman books, asked Leahy to write the foreword to a special collection of the first four Batman comic books.

The senator displays a quasi-encyclopedic knowledge of his hero's adventures: he remembered that, contrary to popular belief, Batman used firearms to kill his enemies in the early days.

"I told them the date and gave them within a page or two where it was and where the frame was," Leahy said.

"They said, 'Yeah, right.' They were not going to argue and wanted to humor a senator. But they found out that I was right."

Four years later, while in the midst of a congressional debate on banning landmines, Leahy reached out to DC Comics for support.

He asked if they could come up with an issue on the horrors of using landmines.

The result? "Batman: Death of Innocents" (1996), a comic book in which the Caped Crusader faces the real-world threat of children being killed by the devices in war zones.

Leahy ended up writing the preface to "Death of Innocents." Later, his proposal on banning the export of landmines was approved by the US Senate.

"The day we voted on it, a copy (of the comic book) was on every senator's desk," Leahy said. "Some even asked me, 'Do you have another copy of that? It's a collector's item!'"

- Facing The Joker -

Leahy's most notable screen appearance was in "The Dark Knight." In one memorable scene, he comes face to face with The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for the role.

Ledger threatens the shaken Leahy with a knife at his face, and then violently throws him towards a henchman.

The scene, shot more than a dozen times by the meticulous Nolan, was especially grueling for Leahy, who was knocked around several times.

Leahy had introduced himself as "Patrick of Vermont," so the Australian-born Ledger had no idea who he was throwing around.

Actor Michael Caine, who was also in the movie, only told Ledger after the film was wrapped.

"I'm not sure someone can come to the US and throw a US senator around," Leahy remembered the British actor as saying jokingly to Ledger.

"I didn't know that!" Ledger replied. "I'm here on a visa. Am I going to get into any trouble?"

If Leahy could be anyone in the comic book world, he said that he'd be Batman's billionaire alter ego.

"I'm not in good enough shape to be Batman," the senator said, smiling. "I'll just be Bruce Wayne."

During the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Leahy remarked that several of the candidates seemed to have escaped from Arkham Asylum, where Batman's bizarre and crazed enemies are locked up.

If that's the case, then who would Donald Trump be?

"Hmm," said Leahy.

He comes up with two villains -- a psychiatrist who uses fear as a weapon, and the infamous psychopathic clown portrayed by Ledger, Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto over the years.

"Trump would either be the Scarecrow or the Joker," he said.