A Crusader, An Avenger, and The Savior

Who is Batman?  This is  the immortal question that many of the rouges put away in Arkham Asylum wish to answer, but few have.  The Riddler answered it in Batman Forever, the Joker in Batman Beyond, Hugo Strange in Batman The Animated Series and Arkham City, Hush/Tommy Elliot in the comics, and Ra’s Al Guhl in Batman The Animated Series and  the Nolan trilogy.  Is the masked vigilante the mask, or is the billionaire, playboy, philanthropist the mask?

Concerning the true identity of the character, I once heard a pastor say from the pulpit that Batman is who the character strives to be, but that he spends most of his time as Bruce Wayne; that he is effectively Batman on weekends and Wayne during the week.  The pastor asked the question “What if he was Batman all the time, just without the mask, using his resources to fight crime and injustice all week long?”  While I understand his point – and the subsequent application of the idea to real life  – I don’t know if I agree.  In the Nolan films, Gotham Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes asserts that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman the reality.  Furthermore, in The Dark Knight Rises, the audience learns that for many years the Wayne Foundation has sponsored a home for boys in Gotham City and it is only in recent years that said contributions have dried up, as the coffers of the Wayne Foundation are filled via the profits of Wayne Enterprises and the company hasn’t been profitable because of Bruce’s sinking money into unprofitable green energy AND his absence from the company and public life following the events of The Dark Knight.   Additionally, the narrative of The Dark Knight Rises also states that Bruce Wayne has long supplemented public funding for law enforcement but it too has arrested for the same reason.  I’d argue that Bruce Wayne has been fighting the battle for the heart and soul of his city on two fronts all along (and that both Bruce and Batman are needed, one cannot be as effective without the other; I’ve argued the same in the past for the Man of Steel and his mild mannered reporter persona).  As an aside, in The Dark Knight Rises, an accountant DOES notice what Wayne is doing with his wealth and how he is merging and moving semi-clandestine lines of business that Wayne Enterprises has – “special projects” – and suspects that Wayne is Batman.  It is Lucius Fox who reasons it out with Mr. Reese that if Wayne IS Batman, it’s probably best not to blackmail him for money to stay silent.

Consider another heroic example:  a billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist named Stark.  While both characters are similar in that they are men, heroes, walked through near death experiences, have a great amount of money, and a good handle on technology (although the Nolan films downplay this by attributing most of the bat-gadgetry creation to Lucius Fox), there is less distance between Stark’s two identities – if any at all – than there is between Wayne and the Caped Crusader.  For one, Stark admits his superhero persona in Iron Man and goes a step further in Iron Man II and states that Stark and Iron Man are one and the same to a Senate committee so much so that to give the suit would be to give up part of himself.  In Avengers, Captain America asks Stark what he is without the suit and he answers “billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist” without hesitation but Iron Man III actually expands on this by depriving him of the suit and he still saves the day before coming to the realization that he is Iron Man with or without the armor (which stands in contrast to the Caped Crusader’s assertion that “it is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”).

As the pastor was using The Dark Knight as an illustration of how believers should act and live life (heroic – and at their best – all the time, not just on Sunday) I was surprised that the analogy wasn’t taken further to describe the Savior, Jesus Christ.  In one sense Batman is a “Christ-figure” in that he endures much and ultimately sacrifices himself to restore the city he loves and rid it of great danger and evil.  Furthermore Batman’s unexpected arrival on the scene in Gotham, preceded by Bruce Wayne’s return from a period of wilderness to embrace his mission indirectly reflects aspects of Christ’s life; both His birth and wilderness period prior to engaging in public ministry. (It could also be rightly argued that Batman more-so reflects Moses as Moses reflects Christ, much akin to how Anakin Skywalker reflects Samson as Samson reflects Christ.)  With Tony Stark, much of this is the same in relation to both Batman and Christ: a “wilderness experience” in the caves of Afghanistan, subsequent return with a mission to undertake, and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for others (in The Avengers).  Nevertheless one difference makes Stark more of a “Christ-figure than Batman: less of a dichotomy between identities.  With Christ on Earth there was never a “here He’s man and here He’s God” it was an all-or- nothing thing: God and Man at the same time, all the time – a singular identity.  Tony finally reaches that point with both his identities at the end of Iron Man III.  Bruce never does, it’s one or the other and eventually he relinquishes one entirely.

Are these comparisons perfect?  Of course not.  As Lewis and Tolkien advocated, myth serves as an imperfect window to Truth, a reflection of the Christian Story (or One True Myth as Tolkien sometimes called it).  Nevertheless, the fantastic is sometimes the most effective way to communicate certain Truth.  As you continue into the new year, one that will be filled with epic superhero tales on the silver screen – including X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, and another Amazing Spider-Man  – consider the beauty of Truth expressed through the fantastic and the heroic, for these characters – amongst others – are our modern myth.


Posted on by Aaron in Uncategorized

About Aaron

Author, Speaker, and Super Nerd. Aaron Welty speaks and writes regularly connecting the dots of life, faith, and science fiction. Originally from Michigan, he now lives and works in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.

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