Dennis O’Neil: Batman’s Lethal Force
It is one of the universe’s pointless ironies that the horror in Colorado happened at the showing of a Batman movie. Despite the grimness in the Batman mythos, the character has neither been an advocate of violence, nor an apologist for it.
Not that I think it’s necessary, but let’s put out a few reminders anyway:
The only time Batman used a gun was in a very early story when the character was still in the process of forming.
Similarly: the mature Batman has eschewed lethal force of any kind.
A couple of decades ago, John Reisenbach, the son of a colleague, was shot to death on Jane Street in Greenwich Village – one of those senseless urban crimes that will probably never be solved. At the urging of Jenette Kahn, and under my editorship, John Ostrander wrote a fine Batman story about city streets and guns in reaction to our coworker’s tragedy. The story, titled “Seduction of the Gun,” was later credited with helping to pass anti-gun legislation in Virginia.
A final example: In the movie that was showing in Colorado, Batman has a line forbidding another character to use firearms.
So it wasn’t our fault, and, happily, the only press I’ve seen tying the massacre to comics was in New York’s Daily News, which cited a Frank Miller story in which similar gun violence was committed. But even that piece quoted Brad Meltzer’s observation that Batman has been vocally anti-gun for these many years.
So it wasn’t our fault and it wasn’t the fault of anything the gunman read or saw or played. All extant evidence indicates that normal, psychologically healthy individuals and not prompted to atrocity by anything in the media. And the unhealthy? That’s scary and I’ve experienced occasional momentary uneasiness when I’ve had a hero in something I’m writing use lots of physical force to solve some problem. Was I setting a bad example? I don’t think so. Like it or not, we humans have aggression in our nature – that ol’ devil Evolution again – and if that weren’t true, we probably wouldn’t be entertained by depictions of warriors doing their thing. The earliest stories we have – and a good bit of what’s known as Scripture – are full of bloodletting.
Maybe the tactic for us modern storytellers is not to glorify the violence. Sometimes it’s necessary to use force in defense of self or other, sometimes the skills of the warrior are valuable. And, arguably, warriors are legitimate heroes. But, in our stories, let’s not glory in our characters’ infliction of pain and death. That glorification might be the line between heroism and sadism.
None of this is of any use to the people in Colorado and I’m too cynical to say that some good will come of it all. I don’t believe that much good came from the Columbine massacre or the Gabrielle Giffords shooting or the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan or the murder of John F. Kennedy or the million gun death that have happened in our nation since the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
Maybe the best we can hope for is that we will stop blaming movies and television for these indescribably sad events and have the courage to begin investigating the real causes. It is a forlorn hope, but it may be the best we have.
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases