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A Dark Knight for All Occasions

Stew Shearer | 24 Oct 2013 18:00
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Recent events have shown that your fine-suited executive at a desk in a skyscraper can do more damage to the world than even the worst members of Batman's rogues' gallery. The Joker might have lethal laughing gas, but Wall Street has the derivatives market and the willingness to abuse it. Where does justice come into play when a CEO can hire a cabal of lawyers or argue that their company is "too big to fail," regardless of what it's done? Whether or not it's true, there's a perception that people like that get to walk away from their crimes scot free.

We want real crime to be subject to ideals of right and wrong that it often isn't.

Batman's foes, in turn, occupy a stratum of criminal simplicity that's actually attractive. The mere sight of the Joker is enough to tell us that he's up to no good. A goon with a gun doesn't really need much of an explanation. Even when Batman stories focus in on someone from the business sector, ambiguity rarely comes into play. When the businessman in the aforementioned Appointment in Crime Alley attempts to blow up an entire block of homes, we know he did it and that someday Batman is inevitably going to take him down. What we want is for the world to work that way. We want evil schemes to be stopped with a batarang and a few cracks to the jaw. We want real crime to be subject to ideals of right and wrong that it often isn't. Batman serves as something of a blank canvas upon which writers and fans alike are able to express these desires.

There's a quote from a recent issue of Scott Snyder's ongoing and fantastic run of Batman that stuck with me. Coming at the end of the recent Year Zero story, Alfred is telling Bruce why he thinks the public will accept the newly unveiled Batman. "[They want to be] transported to a world where bigger truths are at work, and anything- anything- can happen. A world where the impossible is possible... [Batman can be] someone who defies every damn rule of logic that governs their lives."

As much as this applies to the fictional citizenry of Gotham, I think it also very much extends to us. We're willing to set aside the character's contradictions because we want, more than anything, for the world to reflect the same sort of idealism that he represents. It's funny but, in many ways, I think I might have had it right when I was five. Batman, for all the complex situations he enters into, isn't a figure born of complexity. Rather he's one born from our inherent desire to keep things simple. He's the easy solution we all wish existed to the dark and dangerous problems that confront us. He punches the world's problems so we feel better about the fact we can't do the same to ours.

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