The first reviews of The Dark Knight are in, and they’re really positive. As a long time fan, this makes me very excited. Batman Begins was a triumph, after all, and this one is supposed to top it.

In preparation I’ve been thinking about what makes Batman so compelling. What keeps us coming back? Is it simply that he’s the superhero who doesn’t have superpowers? The guy we can all relate to? That’s part of it but not all. After all, Spiderman is much more of an everyman, even considering his powers: he’s no billionaire, his private life’s a complete mess, he’s insecure about his career, etc.

No, the Batman mythos captivates us because it appeals to our fantasies of self-empowerment. It is a parable of Control and Justice, par excellence. Bruce Wayne is a man who, through sheer force of will (and a whole lot of dough), has harnessed the enormous pain of his childhood to achieve near God-like power over himself and his fellow citizens. He has become the judge, jury and hangman of Gotham City, a righter of wrongs who never compromises and always gets his man. And he does it all with incomparable style. Bat-a-rangs, anyone?

Yet Batman is clearly no Christ-figure. Unyielding and extremely violent, he is tortured by a past that never seems to pass (W. Faulkner). There’s loneliness and anger and lots and lots of darkness (and bats), all of which make him just human enough to be interesting. If Jesus speaks to our inner child, then Batman speaks to our own inner control freak.

Theologically speaking, Batman could be seen either as the ultimate affront to the First Commandment, or the final expression of works righteousness. That is, if there is no other authority/power out there besides our own – or if there is, and we are to be judged according to its standards – becoming Batman might be the most logical solution. And what is a vigilante if not someone who has taken the Law into their own hands?! Batman is a walking, talking Superego – “Just Do It” never had a better spokesman:

I suppose you could say that Batman represents the Anti-Gospel in all its seductive glory. A fantasy, to be sure, but a thoroughly engrossing one, certainly worth counting the days until July 18th.

Six Great Batman Comics:

  1. Year One – Frank Miller & Dave Mazzucchelli. Miller only has a few tricks but uses them all here, to great effect. And Mazzucchelli’s artwork is just that – a work of art.
  2. The Long Halloween/Dark Victory – Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale. A thoroughly satisfying, epic tale that manages to incorporate the entire Rogue’s Gallery.
  3. The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller. A lot of folks think this story of Batman’s return from retirement in the Reagan-era is overrated, but I don’t agree. A great ending.
  4. Gothic – Grant Morrison & Klaus Janson. There are a number of great Batman horror stories, and this is my favorite.
  5. A Death In The Family/A Lonely Place Of Dying – Jim Starlin & Jim Aparo. A little silly in parts but still the ultimate Robin story line.
  6. Honorable Mention: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore & Brian Bolland. This one doesn’t really count, as it’s actually more of a Joker comic. Still, it’s definitely worth your time.

Best of Batman on Screen:

  1. Justice League Season 2/Justice League Unlimited Season 1. I’m not kidding. This Cartoon Network project from a few years ago “gets” Batman better than anything I’ve ever seen.
  2. Batman Begins. Some people might consider it sacrilege but I think Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne ever.
  3. Batman: The Animated Series. A ground-breaking show in every sense, it significantly outflanked the comics’ version of Batman for its entire run, not only presenting the definitive Dark Knight in a children’s time-slot, but also telling some of it’s heroes most original and compelling stories in any format.
  4. Batman Returns. Darker, artier and much campier than Burton’s first outing, I consider it the second best Batman movie. And Danny Devito is the Penguin!
  5. Batman TV Series (1966-68). It’s criminal that this is still unreleased on DVD.