So I’ve spent the better part of the last week holed up in a cabin
somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, without the Internet, about as far from Gotham as you can
get. The Movie was playing in town on the local one-screener, of
course, since we’re still talking about planet Earth, but we skipped it
in favor of fly fishing and hiking from ski lifts to waterfalls.
Until today, that is, when we caught a plane to Seattle (and a smaller
one from there to central WA) and, within a couple hours of dropping
off our bags, hit the theater.
(as Cyrus pointed out earlier) its simultaneous invocation of Chicago
and NYC, though I think a well-placed reference to the Bridge and
Tunnel crowd tipped the balance in the latter’s favor.
The above poster, in circulation at least since last April, should have
signalled that this installment had Big Things to say about the Age of
Terror. It’s an image, though, that strikes a certain ambivalent note:
the skyscraper’s gash certainly aims to invoke the North Tower on 9/11;
what to make of it, then, that the apparent sign of a terrorist strike
comes in the shape of our hero? Is he standing in the foreground to
confront the folks responsible, or is this his own doing?
The movie delivers in spades when it comes to wartime contextual
references, though the ambivalence foreshadowed in the image above
carries over enough to have provoked conflicting readings. Is Batman Bush,
that is? And if so, how are we to feel about it? Or does the tagline
about “a world without rules” align the current administration with the
Joker instead? (I should have known I could count on EOTAW to come through when it came time for Bat-blogging: a more nuanced version of the latter argument holds that “The Joker isn’t a stand-in for terrorists, then, but what clenched
conservatives assume terrorists to be — without plan, without
complaint, without decency, without humanity.”)
Students from Writing New York will recall where we stand when it comes
to aligning Batman’s arch-enemies with our own gang of war criminals.
(Our AV for that lecture, which accompanies our reading of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns,
contains a more subtle rendition of the image to the left.) But they
will also recall the difficulties posed to Miller’s influential
rendering of the Batman myth (which stands behind Nolan’s films even
more than it did behind Burton’s) by Miller’s own ambivalence toward
New York, whose crime-ridden streets he fled for sunny LA in the early
’80s, prior to working on his Batman graphic novel. The context for
Miller’s Dark Knight prominently included Bernie Goetz,
who gets name-checked in the novel. In other words, the best retellings
of the Batman story have to come to grips with the cowboy equation of
vigilante justice with Americanism.
To the degree the recent movie succeeds (and I think it might be the
best Batman film yet), it does so because it doesn’t let its hero off
the hook, though I’m willing to concede that bad readers (that is, the
nation that somehow elected both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush for
two terms — well, not so much “elected” as acquiesced to the fiat in
the second case) might miss even the less subtle points of the film’s
UPDATE: A former WNY student emails us with a link to an article looking back at Batman’s gay past … which ties to another section of our lecture quite nicely. Thanks!