As you know, a murderer opened fire in a cinema in Denver, Colorado. Twelve were killed in the attack, including children and infants, many more were wounded. The gunman had no apparent motives, (and he doesn’t deserve any more bloody coverage than that), but the audience were viewing the latest Batman film by Chris Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises. For many fans and families alike, the grief this tragedy inspires is overwhelming.
As a writer and fan of pop culture, I had been intending to write about the flawed glory of the film: the subtext of social and economic unrest, the ensemble characterisation, the plot holes, the sunning set pieces, etc. However, given recent events, I suspect the film is more than the sum of its parts now. The film, like Batman itself, will become a symbol.
Back in 1939, cartoonist Bob Kane was approached by Detective Comics with the task of creating another ‘caped-hero’ to cash in on the success of the depression-era strongman ‘Superman’. So Bob Kane referenced pulp vigilantes like The Shadow and Zorro, and reimagined them in a noir context. Then, illustrator Bill Finger designed the stygian figure we know today, (though Kane screwed him out of copyright). Detective Comics #27 was published and the rest is history. Batman happened.
The comic book told the story of a wealthy bachelor Bruce Wayne, who witnessed the murder of his parents as a boy. Haunted by the injustice, Wayne commits his life to fighting crime as a costumed vigilante named ‘Batman’. Batman forsakes the use of guns but chooses skill and wit in his quest to protect the innocent.
However, within popular culture, Batman has often been seen as a questionable figure. Comic book critic Fredric Wertham argued that the character was gay. Roberto Giammanco, Umberto Eco, Andy Warhol and Grant Morrison have admitted as much. ‘The Dark Knight’ has also been accused of sadism or right-wing fantasy (the bourgeoisie using its riches to beat down working class crime). Over the years, similar to the citizens of the haunted Gotham city, many audiences have questioned what Batman might truly represent.
Right now, as the people of Denver face this tragedy, they will be asking a number of very different questions. They will be asking how to raise children struck by grief. They will be asking how to overcome anger and the desire for revenge. They will be asking how to live with courage and without guns. While many may now find The Dark Knight Rises traumatic, I suspect that we may need this story more than ever. For what is Batman, but the lesson that an innocent marked by murder can indeed rise to become a hero.
There is a season for everything- a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance. These are dark times, but it is also a time for blockbusters and popcorn and comic books and hope. Now is a time to tell the tale of how victims of violence can rise to overcome grief. Now is a time for heroes. We need such stories in this season, and our thoughts and prayers are with those mourning families…
Now is a time for Batman.