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A Knight in Gotham

© 2005, Aaron Duran

"Tell us Mister Wayne, what do you fear?"

It has been a few weeks since Batman Begins opened all across the country and world. The film is, by all rights, a ringing success both financially and critically.

Like Clyde Lewis, I am a huge fan of comic books and the concept of the costumed superhero, the mythical figure that does the deeds that mere mortals cannot accomplish. Yet, out of all the superheroes that exist; is it Batman that holds a place of love and wonderment within my heart and soul.

It is this fallible man, this mere mortal, which I am inspired by and look up to.

As I left the theater on that cool Wednesday night joy filled my mind. Finally, my hero portrayed on the big screen, as he was intended to be; as followers of the Dark Knight have always pictured him to be. The final lines still playing over and over within my vivid memory:

"I never got a chance to thank you." – Jim Gordon

"And you'll never need to." - Batman

That was the Batman that I knew and loved. This Batman was not some grim and violent vigilante that took pleasure in beating the crap out of crooks and murders. No, this was the man that took the symbol of the bat to strike fear into the very people who wanted to cause fear and pain. This was the Batman that wanted to inspire others to rise up against injustice, to do what is right for rights sake... Yet, never compromise your own morals; never give up your humanity in the name of justice, for that is simply revenge.

"I seek the means to fight injustice." – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins.

This was Batman.

Once my initial fandom waned I found myself thinking of other themes running within the Batman mythos, in both film and comics. The theme of hope surviving on the streets of desperation. Freedom striking out at tyranny from the shadows. Turning the powers of the nihilistic forces upon themselves. In the case of Batman Begins, those forces exist in the name of The League of Shadows and there charismatic leader Ra's Al Ghul.

To those who are unfamiliar with the film or the comic, Ra's Al Ghul is the leader of a global organization (in the film, the League of Shadows, in the comic, the League of Assassins) who wishes to cull the human heard so that the earth may heal itself of the sickness that is humanity. He does not wish however for the death of all humanity, only those he feels are a threat to peace and stability. In Ra's paradise only those whom he deems worthy may continue to survive. In his mind Ra's Al Ghul truly believes he is doing what is right. Claiming to know Earth's future he has made it his crusade to destroy all those whom he believes to be the root of evil, death, and hate. Nothing shall stop him in his most holy of quests; no life is above death if it means furthering his goal.

Ra's Al Ghul, the demon's head, has been there since the dawn of time. He is the criminal element within all governments. Ra's is the virus that infects those who have given up on hope and freedom for false security and narrow-minded morality.

"The sacking of Carthage was the League's doing. When Rome fell, we were there. As London burned, the League was the cause. Plague, war, famine, these are the tools of purification. These are the tools of the League of Assassins." – Ra's Al Ghul, The Birth of the Demon.

I couldn't help but see parallels between this fictional world and our own. There it was, in glorious widescreen, Luciferian forces revealing that they have been there since the dawn time trying to force their own dark desires upon humanity in the name of peace and stability.

"What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing?" - Rachel Dawes, Batman Begins

Ra's Al Ghul tells Bruce Wayne that Gotham must be destroyed so that the world may enter an era of peace. Destroy the sick rather then cure the sickness; that is the goal of Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows. Give up your freedom so that you may be kept safe by your eternal and everlasting masters. They have been there since the beginning of time and so shall they be there when you die. Your life matters not. Only the League matters. Only the Demon's Head is right.

Yield to your lords or face death.

"Gotham isn't beyond saving." – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins.

For all his darkness and brooding, Batman is the symbol of hope and justice in a corrupt and sick world.

I know that most people find the above statement to be strange. How can a hero who thrives in the darkness and uses fear as his primary weapon against his foes be a symbol for hope and justice? Does not that image fall within the realm of DC's other iconic hero, Superman?

From a symbolic stance absolutely, in one of my earliest articles, What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? I made the argument that Superman as a symbol represents the power and influence that America has within the modern world. Like Superman, we as a nation can strike out with violence and destruction with little care and thought. Although the tide is slowly turning America is still the last great global superpower, just as Superman is the comic world's most powerful superhero. I asked what the future of America would hold. Would we follow in the path of Superman's darker future in which he appoints himself our ruler, our eternal Rex Kryptonian?

Alternatively, do we as a nation embrace the future that Superman holds dear, one in which he understands that it is the "man" and not the "super" that makes him a hero. A future in which humanity grows as a species and no longer needs this alien force to guide us, so that he may live with us as equals.

As you see, as a symbol Superman represents America as we wish it to be. As we wish our leaders to act. Men and women of principle that act out in the name of truth and justice, not tyranny and destruction.

Yet in this era of terrorism, ID chips, have and have-nots, fear, hate, paranoia, intolerance, and false security the symbol of Superman as the soul of America's ideals has been corrupted into a tyrannical ruler, a General Zod. Kneel before Zod and you will be safe. Defy Zod, defy your government and you will be destroyed.

The symbol of America as the land where all may speak their mind and live freely is slowly dying.

Just as a young Bruce Wayne watched powerlessly as his mother and father, the good and just Martha and Thomas Wayne were gunned down in the streets of Crime Alley, so too are the young and small of America watching their dreams and future being killed by forces that steps from the shadows and cause death and destruction.

"As a man I can be stopped, I can be killed. But as a symbol I can accomplish much more." – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins.

"What kind of symbol?" – Alfred Pennyworth, Batman Begins.

Enter the Bat.

Bruce Wayne: "Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible... a... a..."

Caption: "As if in answer, a huge bat flies in the open window!"

Bruce Wayne: "A bat! That's it! It's an omen... I shall become a BAT!" – Detective Comics, axiom.

Batman understands the tools of oppression used by those who would rule us. He knows that to use that power against the forces of darkness is to take that power away from them.

Batman knows that the strongest weapon against those who use symbols to enforce obedience, be it terror, power, money, or religion is to take back those symbols. To make them your own so that they may never again be used against your will.

There are those who see Batman as nothing more then a revenge-obsessed fascist in a cape and cowl. As a violent prone psychotic who takes pleasure in the pummeling of criminals and those who do not bend to his will. Indeed, he has been known to tell his allies that they will solve problems his way or no way at all.

This explanation is an over simplification of the Dark Knight.

Batman enforces his rules on others because for all his desire to see justice prevail, he dreams of the day where his harsh tactics are no longer needed. Never once has Batman taken a life, for to do so would mean that his quest for justice and freedom has entered the realm of vengeance and this is a concept that Batman finds both abhorrent and destructive.

He has looked into that abyss before and in his early days almost walked freely into it.

His symbol of the bat is a symbol that all can identify with. When that great bat is projected into the night sky, the people of Gotham know that dark times are ahead but justice will prevail; hope will be returned to the people of Gotham.

Batman knows that his task is a daunting one. A task that in the end may claim the life of man who wears the mantle of the Bat. Although in the end it doesn't matter. There will come a time when Bruce Wayne must rest the mantle of the Bat, but the symbol will continue still.

The symbol of Batman. The symbol that stands for justice.

"I want to show the people of Gotham that their city isn't beyond saving" – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins.

That is why Batman represents the goodness of the people who wish to stand against those who would repress and use fear for their own tyrannical goals.

It is interesting that in all the tales in which heroes are aged and thrust into future events, only Batman and the symbols he represents remains true to his original quest.

Only Batman stands forever against the powers that would strip our freewill under the guise of protect and security. Only Batman takes the power of the symbol and gives it back to the people.

Batman is the moral hope of a people who wish to see true freedom returned to America and the world at large.

Batman is not na´ve; he knows that we will make mistakes, that freedom is risky. It is a risk worth taking though. Stability without freedom is simply another prison. Another dark alley in which we are powerless against the Ra's Al Ghuls of the world.

That is the image and symbols one must seek out when they read a Batman comic or view the latest version of the Dark Knight on film.

When our leaders tell us that we must kill to be free, that we must fear to be safe, that we must submit for security, there is only one option for the free willed... For the agents of the Bat...

Strap on our cowls, and give them hell!