He Was Not The Joker
Nor was he Batman. He was (is) just a horrifyingly real person, this deranged individual who took a dozen lives during a 12:01 a.m. screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado.
"I don't want to know this man's name," Dan Slott posted on Twitter early Friday morning. "I don't want him to gain any kind of notoriety. He should vanish from history."
Like a lot of folks, I'm with Slott, and I won't be referring to the perpetrator by name here. Even the least sensationalized news of the shooting has to do just that as a matter of factual reporting, of course — the kind of reporting, sadly, that was in short supply early on, leading to erroneous associations on the part of more than one news organization between the shooter and political movements in both directions along the left/right spectrum.
We too often promote, albeit with infamy, the violent actors instead of the victims and survivors. I've been glad to see something of the reverse happening in this case. The Denver Post has an article online written by Karen Augé memorializing all twelve dead; scrolling through the names, here a student, there a serviceman, my heart stopped as I read the first line of an entry on a grade-schooler: "Veronica Moser-Sullivan will always be 6 years old."
A name that I knew prior to seeing the article is that of Jessica Ghawi, a sports fan and aspiring journalist who wrote under the name Jessica Redfield. She was mentioned frequently on TV and Twitter in part because of the almost unbelievable fact that she'd narrowly avoided harm in a shooting spree while visiting Toronto just last month. Roger Ebert linked to painfully touching remembrances of her online, and Twitter was abuzz with posts in her memory upon news that her mother, noting how Jessica loved social networking, had asked for the hashtag #RIPJessica to "trend". As frivolous as that may sound at a certain remove, it's one aspect of the new normal in our 24/7 technologically connected world, and I obliged — indeed, seething with even greater quiet rage after reading about her than I had over the mass slaughter in the first place and the fact (trivial in the big picture but no less true) that it had tarnished by association one of my childhood icons, I posted that I wanted "the scum" who took those twelve lives, and directly endangered dozens more, "to feel exactly what we humans feel" upon reading those remembrances. "He should be branded with empathy," I wrote, "over the loss of @JessicaRedfield and the others. #RIPJessica #OxfordCommasRule" Yes, God bless her soul, Jessica championed the Oxford comma.
On Friday night my mother, a compassionate mental-health professional, bristled somewhat when I characterized the shooter as insane. Not everyone with psychological struggles, whether situationally or biochemically induced, is violent — of course — yet I don't know how else to describe someone who methodically plans mass murder but "crazy" by definition. It's not possible to be in one's right mind and do that.
Which is perhaps the one thing that this man had in common with The Joker, except that The Joker is a fictional homicidal maniac. He's an antagonist, a storytelling vehicle, at absolute grayest an agent of chaos whom some readers might admire cathartically for his inventiveness knowing that the "people" he's hurting on the page or screen are not real. The Joker also didn't have red hair, and he didn't outfit himself in black commando gear; some incarnations of Batman have done so, after a fashion, but they — as seen in The Dark Knight Rises itself — don't use guns. While Batman did carry a pistol in his very earliest appearances, influenced by pulp-novel characters, it's been a notable trait of Bruce Wayne's for decades that he (in some stories, to a pathological extreme) rejects the instrument of easy, impersonal death that took his own parents' lives. So the shooter in Aurora wasn't emulating anything about Batman through a direct lens; those who threw themselves on top of others as shielding from a madman's bullets, they were Batman.
You don't have to be a fan of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies or of Batman in any form to reject the notion that Batman films or comics are responsible for the Aurora tragedy. Generations have grown up reading and watching Batman's exploits since his 1939 debut. Millions upon millions of people have watched this latest trilogy of films since 2005. Hundreds of thousands showed up at midnight screenings as Thursday became Friday across the USA. One solitary sociopath opened fire in a crowded theater, and if The Dark Knight Rises had not been the touchstone of his unhinged mind then something else would have. He corrupted Batman — to whatever extent he did — not the other way around.
Movie theaters nationwide were on alert for copycats throughout the weekend. I can't really blame exhibitors for asking patrons to forego masks and costumes given the events in Aurora, but when someone amasses an arsenal, ducks out of a movie to dress up, and returns to attack the audience, it's a little strange to fixate on the dressing up and the movie rather than the arsenal. Dan Slott, quoted above and writer of The Amazing Spider-Man for Marvel Comics, expressed feelings very similar to mine on the issue of gun moderation in an extended posting linked from Twitter on Friday.
Although the timing wasn't intentional, I joined Twitter right when buzz started building about this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, and it was fascinating to experience the preamble, the convention itself, and the aftermath in that way (especially knowing what it's like, or at least what it used to be like, to attend). I hate to sound in any way clinical about this, because what happened in Aurora is incontrovertibly terrible, but the shooting was the first sudden, galvanizing, viscerally affecting news story that I've experienced via Twitter, a lens interesting especially for the cross-section of folks I follow. Comics people and creative people in general are easily among the most compassionate, heart-on-sleeve people I've met.
Current writer of DC Comics' monthly Batman Scott Snyder reposted a suggestion on Twitter that everyone who goes to see The Dark Knight Rises match their ticket price in a donation to the Colorado chapter of The Red Cross. I really like that idea. Perhaps those struggling financially could see a matinee and donate the difference between their ticket and a full-price one; the money is important, of course, but sometimes the gesture — for its own sake or adding to the sheer number of people making a point of caring — can be at least as important.
The panel seen atop this piece, illustrating my earlier point about Batman rejecting guns, from Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight miniseries — popularly known by its collected-edition moniker The Dark Knight Returns and one among many bits of freely adapted source material for The Dark Knight Rises — was sent to Twitter by illusionist and voice actor Misty Lee, whose partner Paul Dini served as writer/producer of perhaps my favorite incarnation of Batman ever (animated or otherwise). I've since noticed it elsewhere in the neverending blogosphere; I don't know who first excerpted it as a response to either the tragedy or the media analysis of it or both, but I say whoever did gets a totally unironic gold star.
Since I began writing this on Friday night, The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan has released an official statement.
Panel from Batman: The Dark Knight #4 © 1986 DC Comics. Script, Pencils:
Frank Miller. Inks: Klaus Janson. Colors: Lynn Varley. Letters: John Costanza.