No doubt many of my readers have read both of my blog series “Countdown to Avengers” and “Road to Rises” and know full well that I love comic book Superheroes. They also know about the recent post on the Aurora shootings. In the days since that posting and the tragic events like many of you, I have heard all the news stories about the incident. Among them are the many questions that are bound to come from such a tragedy.
Among them is the question of what role that Batman, and the rest of the costumed superheroes played in the tragic events, if indeed they played any roll at all. Specifically, do these characters create or inspire tragedies like the one in Colorado. It’s an important question to ask, and it is one that has been asked since the 1950’s. I had wanted to post this earlier, but I wanted to wait until the time felt right and a cooler head could address the topic. It is very easy in the wake of such tragedies for ones personal feelings on a topic or issue to take center stage, and logic and reason to be sent on a one way trip to Palookaville.
First: let’s be brutally honest. Superheroes, by the very nature of their occupation, rely on violence to save the day. There is no getting around that issue. I would love to gloss over the truth and say they don’t but it is simply not the case. When any one of these makes a fist or throws some kind of gadget like a Vibranium Shield or a Batarang, some one is going to get hit. It is part of their plot line, and I would challenge any one to name a superhero movie that does not contain at least one fight scene. Even Joss Whedon’s musical/comedy Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog had fight scenes, while the Christian video series Bibleman would featured something akin to lightsaber duels from the Star Wars films. Superheroes fight bad-guys. It’s a truth of the genre.
After all, how exciting would the Avengers have been if Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and company just sat down with Loki and his army, talked through their differences, worked out a peaceful solution and then came to some form of agreement? A Batman movie wouldn’t be as exciting if he just scolded the Joker for his crimes. They might be more politically correct, and less controversial with out the fighting, but no one would go and pay to watch a two hour debate on the philosophical nature of good and evil with both sides seated at a table, sipping warm tea. Debates such as these are usually on PBS, not your local cineplex.
Because of the violence inherent in their respective mythology do these characters create individuals like James Holmes? My answer, is quite simply: no. At least not deliberately. Yes, he shot up a midnight premier of a Batman movie. Yes, he claimed he was the Joker. But there are several things to consider before banishing all superheroes to the Phantom Zone.
The first is that while he shot up the midnight premier of a Batman movie, he could have easily chosen another big movie like The Avengers, The Hunger Games, The Amazing Spider-Man, Twilight, or The Hobbit and we would still be having these conversations. In fact we have been having these discussions for decades regarding movie violence. It happened after Columbine with The Matrix, and it will happen again after the next tragedy.
It must also be remembered there have been far bloodier and more violent films than Batman. Typically in a Batman movie the camera will be diverted durring a more intense moment, like Batman’s back being broken by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. In contrast the film Robocop featured a scene with a police officer getting brutally murdered in the line of duty, with no such attempt to sheild viewers from the scene. The Terminator films are about a robot whose sole purpose is to do exactly what his name says on his action figure packages. I doubt Skynet built Terminators with hopes they’d plant flowers, help old ladies cross the street, read to orphans, feed the hungry, and pet kitties.
Or consider films like the Saw series, Nightmare on Elm Street series, the Friday the 13th series, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and other slasher flicks where it is pretty much a given that most, if not all, of the good characters in the film are going to be dead before the end credits roll. When it was released back in the 1950s their were even questions about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Yet there was never an incident like what happened in Aurora during the screenings of any of these films.
Based on what we currently know, it has nothing to do with being a fan of the Batman, or the movie itself, and everything to do with him being angry at the world and trying to make a statement. Now, a report did say he had a Batman mask in his apartment. However, that means he missed out on the entire point of not only Batman, but every single superhero. Batman, and most superheroes in general, will not kill, and if they do it is only because they exhausted every other option. When they do, it gives them a deep feeling of regret and remorse.
My uncle is a former soldier with the US Army Reserves. He was activated for the War on Terror and stationed in Germany. He told me he never had to use his weapon and he is glad of that. Two of his friends in the army did and they admit that it is something they deeply regretted. For a good soldiers, honest cops, and yes, even a fictional superhero like Batman, to take a life, any human life is something that can and will eat them up inside.
One must also consider that Batman, has almost always avoided the use of guns. His life was utterly destroyed by a man with a gun. In many comics, and cartoons he’ll growl, “I don’t like guns”. In fact in the TV series Batman Beyond, it is revealed that he finally gave up because he almost used a gun. There was a brief time during his early years of existence in 1939 (approximately 15 issues out the thousands he’s been featured in)that he used a gun. However the publishers decided that it would be in the characters best interest not to use a gun, primarily because he was a victim of gun violence himself.
Further more, Batman and all superheroes are not going to be the ones out to take lives, but save them. They are the ones willing to land on the grenades, take the bullets and stay behind while others get to safety. Captain America is willing to plunge bellow the depths of the arctic circle with deadly weapons to save his country. Superman is wiling to battle Doomsday knowing full well it will claim his life. Iron Man is willing to risk his life to stop a nuclear weapon from destroying New York. Batman is willing to risk his life to save Gotham City, even if it means he may not survive the battle.
Sound familiar? Think of the boy friends, a few who had even returned from tours of duty with the military, and shielded their girl friends during the shooting. Think of those who helped carry the wounded to safety. Think of the minister who stayed behind to offer, peace, hope and comfort to those who were dying, even though he could have become another victim. Think of this same minister who is willing to forgive the shooter, even though the two may never meet in this life, but rather then be controlled by pain and anger, he chooses peace and forgiveness.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Commissioner Gordon quotes Charles Dickens’ immortal character of Sidney Carton as he climbs up the stairs to the guillotine. Those words revealed the very reason heroes will give their lives for anther. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before; it is a far, far better rest I go to, than I’ve ever known before.”
That is the very essence of the superhero. Holmes, however, was the very essence of the supervillain. If he did indeed say he was the Joker, then he picked the wrong character to emulate. Any Batman fan, be they 5 or 65 ill tell you that the Joker, and other supervillains, will lose. Some may wonder why the villians in comic books even have to exist. After all, the stories would be better for kids with out them. They could just hand out parking tickets, and lecture people on jay walking.
However, George MacDonald once said that Fairy Tales were important because they told children that dragons could be defeated. So to is it with superheroes. As much as we try to protect our children from the horrors of this life, there are “monsters” and “bad guys” out there. Superheroes remind us that here are people out there who will catch those bad guys, and that those villains will always lose. It may look like the hero is down for the count, but then when things are at their worst, the hero will always find the strength and courage to save the day. The hero reminds us that right will always prevail in the end.
But doesn’t the use of violence make them just as bad as the villains they face? No. At least no more so then, the likes of Hercules, Beowulf, the original Norse version of Thor, King Arthur, and other heroes of yesterday. No one would consider those heroes to be as bad as the dragons, giants, trolls and ogres that they fought. Even the cowboys of the old Westerns would have too brandish a six shooter to dispense of the outlaws in the West.
The Supervillains are but the children of those monsters, just as the superheroes are but the children of the knights and heroes of old. As we saw in Aurora, and in what we see every day, what makes heroes and villains, is not the violence, but how they respond to in the face of tragedy. Superheroes are heroes because, first and foremost, they risk their lives to save the world every day.
Did the Batman create the Aurora tragedy? No. Not in the least. After all, there have been other tragedies in human history, many that occurred before the coming of superhero comic books. However, I’d like to believe that the spirit of what all superheroes stand for, resided in the heroes of that tragedy. They didn’t have the mask, cape and gadgets, but when the call to action came, they rose to the occasion. Superheroes are symbols, symbols of the moral greatness that we could accomplish and heroes that we could be, if only we chose to follow that path. The heroes of the Aurora tragedy chose the path of the hero. I can only hope that could be said of all of us. This world could use more people like that.