Why Batman? Where medium, message and reality merge



(Image courtesy of Reuters.)

Why Batman?

I was all set to write a wonderful piece on the deeper meaning inherent in the character of Batman. Then the horror of Aurora happened and, as if a scene from the film jumped off the screen, a memory of carnage now forever mars the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

With twisted irony, the sick mind of the alleged gunman, James Holmes, chose to carry out his evil act, while fictitiously, one of the greatest super heroes ever created was trying to rescue Gotham City from another psychotic villain—Bane.

Batman, unlike so many other super heroes, was one of the purest, as he has no actual super powers aside from a dedication to fighting evil. But perhaps in this period of mourning and reflection, it is worth noting the nature of his strength and fortitude. Perhaps the essence of Batman is precisely what we need.

Indeed in “Wisdom from the Batcave”, author and rabbi, Cary Friedman points out how “Comic book stories can play an important role in the process of moral education.”

It was after all, at the same time that Batman was being drawn in his creators’ minds, Jews were being murdered on the streets of Europe.

Originally debuting in May of1939, Jews led by Bob Kane (born Robert Kahn) and Bill Finger and soon joined up by Jerry Robinson (born Sherrill David Robinson) created a character orphaned by violence. By November of that same year, readers learned the motivation and inspiration of why and how Bruce Wayne felt compelled to don his alternate identity of the “caped crusader.” His parents, murdered before his eyes by a petty thief trying to steal his mother’s necklace, made him vow to avenge their death. It’s no coincidence that at the time on the global stage, children Bruce’s age had to witness their own parents killed in front of them.

Bruce Wayne was now filled with a void in his life and a sense of loss and rage. According to Friedman, his parents’ murder is what defines him.

Yet here and now, observing reality reflect art with the horror of the Aurora killings, and the family members sharing their grief and pain with us, Batman is again a metaphor and a powerful symbol due to this twisting of fact and fiction.

Between the sick mind of the murderer, Bane on one screen and the alleged killer, James Holmes rarely off the news on another there’s a frighteningly thin, tender line that is hard to ignore and avoid.

Grounding this horror show in reality, we watch and witness multiple families affected by Holmes’ actions.

This gossamer connection between storylines, like the delicate celluloid movies were once carried on, contain correlations that bind them.

Just as the victims wish they could rewind the actual nightmarish events, in “Perchance to Dream,” an episode of Batman: The animated series, the Mad Hatter captures Batman and places him in an imaginary dreamworld. What does he dream about? Nothing more than to be with his family.

In another story, in 1994 the DC comics universe experienced the “zero-hour” phenomenon which caused a series of time anomolies. Briefly and in that world, Martha and Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s parents) were alive and Bruce overcoming every obstacle in his way, in order to see them, rushes back to them. In another classic Detective Comics #500, the Phantom Stranger offers Batman a chance to travel to another, alternate reality to actually prevent the murder of his parents.

In each of these examples, the metaphysics of time travel and an imaginary world overcome the heavy burden that lingers in the heart of Batman.

The depths to which that pain is apparent is evident in “The Dark Knight Rises” as Director Christopher Nolan digs deep into the despair that haunts the soul of Batman. Moreover, he broadens it and extends it, by making it manifest across all of Gotham City. As one reviewer wrote, “The epic-length movie (two hours and 45 minutes) contains a long and surprisingly grim stretch in which Gotham is overrun by anarchy and civilization breaks down. The film plunges into the abyss instead of just peering into it…”

Nolan even remarks about this plummet, “We’re testing the characters in this movie, and we’re also testing the audience’s relationship to them. You want to mine the depths of despair and push the story to an extreme place, so the heroic figure of Batman is needed more than he has ever been needed. His symbol achieves an even greater stature.”

To be sure, now and forever, this film will be associated, not only with the dystopian storyline on the screen, but will be perceived through a hall of glass mirrors on every screen where news and entertainment are conjoined and spliced together. But it’s behind the cool masked veneer of media, deeper in the storyline, where an inspired character based on integrity, fortitude and moral principles exists.

Anne Hornaday, film critic for The Washington Post writing about the tragedy soon after remarked, “the act of watching a movie is one of voluntary surrender, of letting go of our daily psychological defenses and allowing our imaginations to be colonized by the enveloping sounds and images on the screen.”

In a very real sense, just as a virus needs part of itself to create the antibody, the essence of who Batman is, can help provide solace and a direction out of the darkness that shrouds this all too human, all too real phenomenon.

Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at abebuzz.com.