He Was Not The Joker

Comic-book panel of Batman saying, as he breaks a rifle in half, 'This is the weapon of the enemy. We do not need it. We will not use it.'

Nor was he Batman.

He was (is) 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 early Friday on Twitter. “I don’t want him to gain any kind of notoriety. He should vanish from history.”

Like a lot of people, 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 outlet between the shooter and political movements on both sides of the 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 preceding article is that of Jessica Ghawi, a sports fan and aspiring journalist who wrote as 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 only 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 an icon of my childhood, 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 #Oxford
” Yes, God bless her soul, Jessica championed the Oxford comma.

Last night my mother, a compassionate mental-health professional, bristled when I characterized the shooter as insane. Not everyone who has psychological struggles, whether situationally or biochemically induced, is violent — of course — yet someone who methodically plans mass murder is surely not in their right mind.

Which is perhaps the single thing that this man had in common with The Joker, except that one is a fictional homicidal maniac. He’s a storytelling vehicle, an antagonist, at the very grayest an agent of chaos whom a reader 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 tactical 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 earliest appearances, influenced by pulp-novel characters, it’s been a notable trait of Bruce Wayne’s for decades that he (to a pathological extreme, during my childhood) rejects the instrument of easy, impersonal death that took his own parents’ lives. So
the shooter in Aurora wasn’t emulating 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 Spider-Man for Marvel Comics, expressed feelings very similar to mine on the issue of gun moderation in an extended posting linked from Twitter yesterday.

Although the timing wasn’t intentional, I joined Twitter right when buzz started to
build for 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 absolutely, incontrovertibly horrific; the shooting, however, 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 folks and creative folks in general are easily among the most tolerant, heart-on-sleeve beings I’ve met.

Current writer of DC Comics’ monthly Batman Scott Snyder reposted a suggestion on Twitter that all who go 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 demonstrably — can be at least as important.

The panel seen atop this post, 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 pieces of freely adapted source material for The Dark Knight Rises — was sent to Twitter by illusionist and voice actor Misty Lee, whose husband Paul Dini served as writer/
producer of perhaps my favorite incarnation of Batman. I’ve since noticed it elsewhere in the blogosphere; whoever first excerpted it as a response to either the tragedy or the media analysis of it or both gets a totally unironic gold star.

Since I began writing this last night, The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan has released a statement.

Panel from Batman: The Dark Knight #4 (“The Dark Knight Falls”) © 1986 DC Comics. Script,
Pencils: Frank Miller. Inks: Klaus Janson. Colors: Lynn Varley. Letters: John Costanza.


  1. That was so thoughtful and insightful, Blam. I wish I wuz as good with the words as you so I could reply in kind. Gold star for you too!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Well said.

    My sentiments echo your own, though I've found it difficult to coherently express myself regarding this tragedy, in part because the mixture of rage/sorrow/frustration and grief stems the flow of words, and in part because I fear whatever I say will end up trivializing or politicizing the tragedy and it's aftermath, something I don't want to do as the act of both on the part of the media adds to my frustration.

    So thank you for saying so eloquently what I've been struggling to say myself.

  4. I'm just so out of my head on this thing. Most of the time talking about it with people out loud turns political or trivial, like Teebore said, when of course it's ultimately about lives senselessly lost — yet also, I think somewhat importantly, about (not really) trivial and (not really) political things like how/if pop culture prompts violence and what to do about gun proliferation. You raised some great points here, like the lines that you excerpted on your Twitter feed, but instead of re-reading to quote them back I have to get to work.

    Nice job, though!

  5. I hope you've been getting lots of hits on this, because I've been forwarding it around. Well, that's more "and" than "because"; I hope you've getting lots of hits on this because it deserves to be seen, and I've been doing my part by forwarding it around. Yeah.