Batman has been an American icon for well over fifty years. He has spawned countless comic books, movies, cartoons and television shows. Everyone knows Batman, and while they may not have watched the shows or read the comic books, they know that he is the rich playboy Bruce Wayne, who likes to dress up as a bat at night while he fights crime in his hometown of Gotham City.
Batman has always been my favorite comic book hero. I grew up watching the live show of Batman starring Adam West. I enjoyed watching Batman chasing the Joker, lusting after Catwoman, and sharing boyish banter with his sidekick Robin. I cheered for Batman when he bagged the bad guys, and I loved the goofy special effects that happened during the fight scenes. The show had a campiness about it, but, in my opinion, it only added to its charm. As I grew up, I remained connected with Batman. I devoured any comic book that I could lay hands on. I sat raptly for hours on end watching Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and childishly cheering at the screen when I saw Batman save Vicki Vale and put an end to the Joker. We had a dry spell for a few years, but thanks to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the bat is once again large and in charge.
I enjoy the Batman character because he is a superhero who isn’t really super. He doesn’t have powers that he was born with, a la Superman, or bestowed by a spider bite, a la Spiderman, and he isn’t the victim of some genetic mutation, a la the X-Men. Batman is an average guy who can suffer horrible injuries and even die in heated battle. Yet, to me, something about his averageness makes him stronger than the man of steel, more adept at fighting crime, and more willing to sacrifice for what he believes in. Batman is just a man, but he is a bad ass just the same.
Batman is the way he is because his parents died in a horrific tragedy that left him an orphan under the care of the family’s butler Alfred. He was forced into a realm of anger and darkness with the loss of his parents and as he grew into a man, he was horrified with the wrongs and injustices that were being perpetrated by the criminals on the innocent. He channeled his anger that was raging inside him, and harnessed it into a higher ideal to fight crime, bring down the bad guys, and instill a sense of hope in those suffering in Gotham City. Batman is a masked vigilante; a presence in the night offering a safe harbor to those who are lost, suffering and in danger, and most importantly, Batman is a symbol that strikes fear in the hearts of the criminals. Batman accomplishes all of this, and so much more, by sacrificing himself to a higher ideal. He is a symbol of greatness, a bright beacon shining in the dark night; a symbol that offers hope to all. Batman is the Dark Knight, who ironically, shines a bright light into the darkness of which he is a part of.
Batman is relentless in his quest to stop injustice; he fights his nemeses with every shred of his being, and even when it was clear that he is outmaneuvered or not going to win the contest, he somehow always does because he never stops hoping. Hope is what makes Batman the best superhero there is. With his sacrifices, Batman gives the people of Gotham City hope; to me this is what Batman truly represents, hope persevering and rising from the darkness that surrounds us.
I recently watched the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I have watched each movie and been emotionally moved. Nolan portrays the dark side of Batman. He reveals the true darkness that lurks in the world, and demonstrates the inherent goodness that exists within all of us. He portrays Batman as a true symbol of goodness. With these movies, Nolan was successful in returning America’s icon to his rightful place, and most importantly Nolan depicts Batman as a mere man struggling under the weight of tremendous forces, but never giving up hope.
I wish that Batman wasn’t just a comic book character; I wish he was real, made of flesh and bone. I think we need a real Batman to be that symbol of hope in a chaotic dark world. Batman is known for swooping in in the nick of time to save the day, and I wish that he had been there on that terrible day in Connecticut to save the 27 souls who needlessly lost their lives, but then again, maybe Batman was.
After all, what about the school principal who lunged at the gunman to try to stop him and lost her life, what about the survivors who remained calm in the face of a madman, what about the teachers that barricaded themselves and their charges into closets and corners and kept them focused on coloring to provide a buffer from the living nightmare surrounding them, and what about the small boy who was brave enough to tell his teacher that he knew karate and it would be okay. Yes, I have to say that the essence of Batman was there that tragic day because somehow they never gave up hope that the good guys were on their way.
Batman is an American ideal, a symbol. To me, Batman represents truth, vigilance, relentlessness, justice, honor, empathy, compassion and loyalty. Batman may not be a real man dressing up as a bat to fight crime, but the spirit of Batman, the ideals he represents most certainly do exist. As said by Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, “I’m going to show the people of Gotham that the city doesn't belong to the criminals and the corrupt. People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. I can't do this as Bruce Wayne. A man is just flesh and blood and can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol... as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting.”
The ideals that the Batman symbolizes reside in all of us, we just need to be reminded of them, and believe in ourselves. We stand up for what we love the most, fight for ourselves, our families and our friends, we trust in those who deserve it, we honor our ideals and morals, and we respect each other even if we may not agree. Evil and the darkness will always be around us as unfortunately that is part of life, yet what is most important about what Batman symbolizes is hope and goodness, and that hope is something that we must never, ever lose. We must have hope in the goodness of ourselves and each other.
As long as we have that, then just maybe this world could become a little more secure, a little more calm, and most of all, it could shelter and encourage the highest and best that is within us. Like the survivors from that horrible day, they never gave up hope in the face of the gates of hell that had opened around them. Batman was there that horrible day, as he is each day when darkness encroaches in our lives. And much like the tag line from the Dark Knight Rises, hope has been temporarily lost, our faith may be broken, but a fire has risen in us. Like Batman we must rise above the darkness, surround ourselves with goodness and love, and most importantly we must never give up hope in believing in something bigger than ourselves, a symbol like Batman, one that stands for inherent goodness and a belief that light will always overcome darkness. Rise!