Posted by: Doc Comics | July 20, 2012

Dark Knights of Summer Cinema and Superkillers amongst us

A lot of looking downward in shadowy darkness, both literal and figurative.

The summer cineplex has been bursting with comic book characters like Men in Black, John Carter of Mars, and others, but its the superhero that commands as blockbuster summer zeitgeist. The SPIDER-MAN reboot to Sam Raimi’s celebrated films was a darker re-telling of Peter Parker’s origins, but the runaway summer hit was Joss Whedon’s AVENGERS that parlayed Silver Age superteam fun into record-breaking success. Yet its an exception that proves the dark-and-gritty rule that has been etched into public consciousness by Christopher Nolan’s brooding Batman franchise. THE DARK KNIGHT received both critical acclaim and box office bonanza, but it also generated controversy over its political allegory that evoked heated debate about Bush Doctrine practices and vigilante violence. Nolan’s trilogy finale THE DARK KNIGHT RISES continues this trend of modern myth-making even before its premiere.

Radio hyperbolist Rush Limbaugh blovates that the supervillain Bane is a liberal conspiracy to smear Bain CEO and presidential candidate Romney even as supporters cheer Bat-Romney, likely because Nolan’s ambivalent allegory evokes themes and anxieties over economic inequality that fueled Occupy Wall Street. But discussion of our capitalist superheroes and political supersaviors was quickly eclipsed by a Colorado rampage at the movie’s premiere. The shooter remains a  mystery, but already media wonders “Does Batman have blood on his hands?” While the predictable hysterics blaming Liberal Godlessness or parents or lax gun control rage, there’s little doubt that Nolan’s film (inspired by Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities“) is intentionally both provocative yet ambivalent as our best mythologies are. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon nails the stakes:

“Whether or not Holmes had any particular interest in The Dark Knight Rises, he saw correctly that in our increasingly fragmented culture it was the biggest mass-culture story of the year, and one of the biggest news stories of any kind. Shoot up a Kentaco Hut or a Dunkin’ Donuts, in standard suburban-nutjob fashion, and you get two or three days of news coverage, tops. Shoot up the premiere of a Batman movie and you become a symbol, and provoke a crisis of cultural soul-searching… James Holmes has become the latest villain in a long-running violent movie for which we are all responsible, and from which we can’t turn away.”

To dismissively label an enemy or individual as “evil” (or “crazy”) often dismisses an account of motives, causes, and indeed our societal culpability in making it easier to attain guns than adequate health care, compassion, and counseling. Most frightening is the predictable regularity of such sprees.

The problem with killing monsters is it may turn us into monstrous superkillers on a crusade against perceived evildoers.

As we’ve explored in class, the redemptive violence in this Superhero Monomyth necessitates that we examine our cultural ideology and deliberatively reflect upon its causes and consequences, its payoff and price. While American filmgoers flock to consume this vigilante crusader, previews of the upcoming Superman film elicited snickers, taunting profanity, and cynical snark. Darker SuperAntiheroes reign, yet THE AVENGERS also suggests audiences are hungry for superheroes who can overcome and inspire during uncertain times, to show us how we might rise from our existential ennui. Like Nolan’s film, we must look into the dark night of our collective soul to contemplate the heroes we need… and the monstrous villains we may unwittingly help create.

For those searching for meaning and consolation in the horrible wake of such tragic violence, we can do no better than revisit the incredible eulogy for MLK Jr. given by Robert F. Kennedy on the evening of King’s assassination. This message is eternal, and needed now more than ever.



  1. Dark Knight Rises was awesome and can we finally get a Superman that kicks someones arse!! So far looking good

  2. “We tell our children they’re trapped like rats on a doomed, bankrupt, gangster-haunted planet with dwindling resources, with nothing to look forward to but rising sea levels and imminent mass extinctions, then raise a disapproving eyebrow when, in response, they dress in black, cut themselves with razors, starve themselves, gorge themselves, or kill one another….
    We live in the stories we tell ourselves. In a secular, scientific rational culture lacking in any convincing spiritual leadership, superhero stories speak loudly and boldly to our greatest fears, deepest longings, and highest aspirations. They’re not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark. They’re about as far from social realism as you can get, but the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative. They exist to solve problems of all kinds and can always be counted on to find a way to save the day. At their best, they help us confront and resolve even the deepest existential crises. We should listen to what they have to tell us.”

    ~Grant Morrison, SUPERGODS (2011, pp.xvii)

  3. that is deep and i couldn’t agree more. I was able to see comic con footage for man of steel and holy crap that could be awesome. Mr. Cavil seems like a great choice, til next summer!

  4. i just shared on my facebook the Morrison quote, just to show my friend and family your class is more than just reading comics…

    • The Morrison quote just felt right, Ryan, I’m glad you shared it. Both Batman and Spider-Man have their origins in violent tragedy, and seem to powerfully remind us that heroism and courage can rise from the ashes of existential despair.

      • yup couldnt agree more. Ive seen Dark Knight rises 3 times since then. Probably one of the only ways you end have end the series without literally killing anyone

  5. Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Gotham City” | Slavoj Žižek on ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

    “The rise of such a figure changes the entire constellation: for all participants, Batman included, morality is relativized, it becomes a matter of convenience, something determined by circumstances: it’s open class warfare, everything is permitted to defend the system when we are dealing not just with mad gangsters but with a popular uprising…. This is why the film deserves a close reading: the Event – the ‘people’s republic of Gotham City’, dictatorship of the proletariat on Manhattan – is immanent to the film, it is its absent center.”

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