Batman as Christ-figure?

(Contains Dark Knight spoiler.)

In an earlier post, I reflected on the differences between Batman, Superman, and Spider-man. At that time, I was of the opinion that Superman most vividly reminded me of Jesus and that Spider-man was the strongest of the three because he most clearly embodied the tensions of being human. However, after seeing the Dark Knight, I realize that Batman exemplifies aspects of Christ in ways that Clark Kent never could.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a multitude of ways in which Bruce Wayne is not like Jesus: violence, ruthlessness, willingness to lie, moral ambiguity, and such. But in his chosen calling, in his self-sacrifice, and in his humanity, Batman is much like Christ.

Batman was born as a sort of reverse incarnation. Rather than God becoming man, a man becomes more than a mere mortal by virtue of his choice and the actions that choice necessitates. His commitment to his calling overrides all of his other rights and needs. He became a legend. [That was the point of Batman Begins.] If Batman is the greatest of the superheroes, it is because he is super not by chance but by choice.

Likewise, Batman’s sacrifice of himself which defines him and makes him Christ-like. Beyond sacrificing his own personal safety, comfort, and well-being, Batman in the Dark Knightsacrifices his reputation. By defining himself as legend and nonetheless sacrificing his reputation, Batman has sacrificed his very self. Rather than allow the name of justice to be smudged and the hope for peace to be darkened, Batman took upon himself blame for actions that were not his. He became the ultimate superhero as a scapegoat.

Like Christ, “He was despised and rejected by men…. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Simply because Batman has not yet physically sacrificed himself to the point of death does not mean that he wouldn’t… or that he won’t. (Side-note: The Dark Knight provides the perfect set-up for a sequel to capture the essence of The Dark Knight Returns, storytelling genius Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel.)

Superman has often carried with him a certain stoicism. Batman, too, could often be accused of the same. However, in Christopher Nolan’s latest contribution to the Batman story, he struggles, cries, and nearly gives up. (There’s a man I can relate to!) But he goes on anyway. (Now there’s a man I can praise!) He will do whatever it takes to save Gotham, whatever the price, whether for criminals or for himself.

So what?

Do all great stories mirror the greatest story? Do we need reminders of who we are and of who we should be? Or is this merely for entertainment’s sake?

Hellboy vs. Spawn vs. Ghostrider vs. Batman

hellboy 2

Includes a review of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” without blatant spoilers.

There have been other heroes who are caught between heaven and hell. Spawn: “Born in darkness. Sworn to justice.” Ghostrider: “He’s the only one that can walk on both worlds.” Batman, in a less literal sense, is equally torn between the forces of light and of darkness. But they have a way of taking themselves way too seriously, to the point of being silly (Ghostrider), or lame (Spawn – there’s a reason there hasn’t been a sequel). But not Hellboy.

It’s not just that he knows how to crack a good joke. It’s that he integrates action, comedy, and supernatural suspense, while wrestling with his own humanity (or lack-therof). Batman has become super by becoming more than merely human.

Yesterday, I finished reading Frank Miller’s graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” In the introduction, he describes a bar far beneath the streets of Gotham, a place where the old heroes go to tell there stories. They laugh and drink and reminisce. But there is one hero whose name they never mention, the thought of whom makes them all shudder, who in sheer force of will bested them all: Batman. But his glory came at a price: the sacrifice of his humanity.

Hellboy, on the other hand, has become great by becoming human. Sure, he struggles to find acceptance and to embrace humanity. He is a demon. But not in the biblical sense.

He’s a bumbling sort of hero. When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, his favorite catchphrase: “Oh, crap.” He gets into trouble, makes a big mess, and usually only manages to get out with the help of his friends.

He’s a bad boyfriend/husband type. “I would die for her… but she wants me to do the dishes!”

Yet, somehow, in the midst of such ineptitude, his dedication and wit shine through, and he reminds me of what it means to become a better man.

Don’t get me wrong. Hellboy II is no Schindler’s List. It’s a great movie, but not a deep movie. Fun has always been Hellboy’s strong suit. Nonetheless, there are moments of depth (why has magic faded from the world?) and, paired with Del Toro’s stunning visuals (creatures galore!), this should be the new summer blockbuster to beat.

But I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen a movie in the theater since April. Then again, I haven’t wanted to. This might be the first movie in the summer so far truly worth seeing.

X-Men vs. Heroes

I’m sure this has been done to death elsewhere, but what the heck.  It hasn’t been done by me.  Now that there have been three X-Men movies, with a slew of prequels on the way, and now that the second season of Heroes is very done, I think we can step back and assess.

(*I rely both on the X-Men movies and on my reading in late 1980s/early 1990s of The Uncanny X-Men, issues #201-301; I ignore the recent Heroes spin-off comic.)

Which is better, the X-Men or the t.v. show Heroes?  Let me count the reasons.

In the X-Men‘s favor: they were first, they have solid leadership (especially under Professor X), Magneto is a compelling villian, Wolverine captures better than any other the wild side of the male soul, Storm makes a solid heir to the Professor’s throne and makes Hallie Berry look like a decent actress again, and only this franchise could pull together Patrick Stewark vs. Ian McKellan.

In Heroes‘s favor: Noah Bennett might be the most-bad-ass-dad of all time, the show has brought non-initiates (i.e., non-nerds) to the superhero table, the first season  was amazing, Hiro Nakamura  is like the best-Japanese-friend I never had, and the show is just plain fun.

To the X-Men’s discredit: the third movie was terrible, the uniforms are silly, and — maybe it’s the school — but teen angst keeps peeing on my fun-fire.

To Heroes‘s discredit: Peter Petrelli is a dumb-ass many times over, Mohinder Suresh waffles more than a bad senator, the little girl (what’s her name?) is creepy, Alejandro, and — let’s face it — much of the cast is very annoying much of the time, when you stop to think about it.  Claire!  Monica!  Nathan!  Can’t y’all get your act together?  Plus, the second season was only so-so.

What they have in common: a grasp of moral ambiguity, the importance of teamwork, and of “family” in all its forms.  Oh yeah, and good and evil mutants with superpowers.

The Verdict:  More heroes = more fun.  I’m glad we have both franchises, but, at the end of the day, I’m happy saying that Stan Lee is a genius.  Kring has yet to prove himself.  Go X-Men.

Your New Super-Power

What If You Had a Super-Power?  Wait… You Already Have One.

I can’t tell you how many small group ice-breakers and conversations I’ve had centering on the topic of super-powers.  And this isn’t just a conversation for the boys.  Everyone loves this one.  Who wouldn’t want to choose their super-power?

The sticking point in the mythos of any super-hero is that the hero never chooses his (or her) power.  The power chooses the hero.  It is never asked for.  It is often rejected, neglected, and misused.  Shoot, if you’re Spider-Man or the Hulk, your power doesn’t even work on command.  “With great power comes great responsibility,” and responsibility is something our culture deals with poorly.

You have great power.  You probably just didn’t know it.  Blogging.  At the push of a button, you can listen in on any number of people’s deepest thoughts and desires.  You can do so without the interference of corporeal existence (it’s without your body, dude!).  More importantly, you have effectively unlimited time to meditate your response.  No more not listening.  No more putting your foot in your mouth due to lack of forethought.  Your words have the power to give life or to take it away, to encourage or to discourage.  Choose them wisely.

Superman vs. Batman vs. Spider-Man

The Superhero as Mirror of the Soul

“Excuse me, while I geek-out on you,” as Dean would say.  This essay is for a chosen few, but chances are, if you’re still reading, you’re one of them.

This is not a classic fistfight between the three most popular superheroes.  The outcome of that would be obvious.  Batman would win, because he would wait until Superman had trashed Spidey (see attribute #1, below), then he’d wail on Superman with Wayne Enterprise’s stash of kryptonite (attribute #2).  Neither is this a match-up of DC vs. Marvel.  I won’t even go there. 

My question: which of these superheroes is a better reflection of human nature?

Superman

To say that Superman is invincible and powerful would be an understatement.  He’s practically omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  He is also all-loving.  He refuses to kill his archenemy because, well, everyone deserves a fifth chance.  The man has no dark side, and not so much as a character flaw, unless you count his decision to be nerdy at his day job or the fact that he is simply too good.  Superman doesn’t remind me of me, he reminds me of Jesus.  Did I mention that he’s an alien?  Sorry, Man of Steel, I like you but you are not like me.

 

Batman

Batman is the opposite of Superman on almost every level.  He is completely devoid of any super power.  However, he is made super by two attributes (see application above).  Attribute #1: Batman is possessed of the “will to power” (Nietzsche).  He ruthless and occasionally psycho in his drive to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.  He has embraced his dark side.  Attribute #2: Bruce Wayne is obscenely rich and can purchase whatever technology and training necessary to kick maximum ass.  Sorry, Dark Knight, but I’m too poor, too soft, and too sane to walk in your shoes.

 

Spiderman

Enter Spider-man.  He’s not very super.  His personality is all wrong.  Sure he has the powers, but he occasionally loses them in a fit of insecurity and self-doubt (Spider-Man 2).  Or he attempts to augment them by embracing evil powers from outer-space (Spider-Man 3).  He is in love, but he consistently fails to do what it takes to woo, win, and keep Mary Jane.  He might succeed for a time, but he immediately botches it in the next movie.  He ends up killing most of the bad guys he faces, but it’s usually on accident.  The first one wasn’t, but that has haunted him ever since.  He has unique gifts, which he is uncertain how to use and often neglects, but gifts nonetheless.  He is a man at variance with himself, darkness and light conflicting within him.  Peter Parker reminds me of me.

 

In conclusion, Tarantino’s thoughts on superheroes, spoken through Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 2:  “Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

 

Clark Kent is the image of Peter Parker.  And they wonder why everyone loves Spider-man!