Ever since I was a kid, I've loved Batman. He appealed to me probably for all of the same reasons that he appealed to countless other little boys…because he was just so darn cool. Sure, there was always Superman, who had every possible superpower under the sun and was virtually indestructible. He was a godlike being, removed from common humanity and swooping in at the last minute to save us all. But Batman…Batman was different. He was one of us, and he fought for us.
Batman had limits…he was no superhuman being like the other superheroes. Sure, he had more money and status than most of us, but he was still human. He personally crafted all of the gadgets that he used fighting Gotham City's villains, and exercised his detective skills by tracking those bad guys down. He was also trained in martial arts and quite adept at physical combat. While he did have a pretty strong suit of body armor, it would not protect him from everything. He was driven by a painful loss, as both of his parents were shot by a mugger while he was still a child. But rather than turn inwardly after this tragic loss, he chooses to fight the evil that plagues Gotham.
Batman was an important part of my childhood. While his actions labeled him as a "vigilante", he was committed to a cause much bigger than himself. As a kid, I had all of the Batman action figures, including his famous rogue's gallery of villains, perhaps the best collection of baddies of any comic. How can you beat the likes of The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, and The Riddler, just to name a few? I would stage massive battles which by necessity included not only Batman heroes and villains, but GI Joe characters, Star Wars characters, and any other action figures I happened to have lying around. These had to be EPIC battles! The Joker would find an ally with Darth Vader (ridiculous, I know), and they would conspire to stop Batman by any means necessary. I read the Batman comic books, I watched the excellent Batman animated series on FOX, and I wanted to BE Batman if only for one day.
The dark, mysterious nature of Batman, that always watchful protector hovering over Gotham City, still captures my imagination. As The Dark Knight Rises approaches this Friday, I can't help but get excited. While I'm sad that this will be Christopher Nolan's last Batman film, completing his trilogy, I'm quite glad he was committed to telling a Batman story that honored the character's true nature. His movies are gritty and realistic, and they broke away from the silly, campy nature of the 1960s Batman TV series and the Joel Schumacher films. Batman's story must be dark by nature, but just because it's dark doesn't mean there's no hope. The darkness of Gotham, a world consumed by twisted villains, necessitated a dark hero who could face fear and turn that fear against his foes. His one rule, not to kill, separated him from psychos like The Joker who got a laugh from the pain of others. Yet there was always that moral line, and the question lingered about whether Batman would cross that line. The same line exists for all of us, and no human story is fully honest if it fails to address our struggle over that line.
The line represents whether we will take the easy or more satisfying way, throwing morals and ethics to the wind, or if we will truly honor our beliefs. I admire Batman because through it all, despite the violence and tragedy he faced in his past and continued to face throughout his crime fighting career, he didn't give in. He took the harder, more difficult, and therefore more honorable path. Regardless of what you think about fictional comic book heroes, that is a character trait that we can all aspire to.