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A Dark Knight for All Occasions

Stew Shearer | 24 Oct 2013 18:00
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When I was younger, I never questioned Batman. I will admit to bending my brain trying to figure out how a bunch of cat kisses saved Selena Kyle from falling out of a skyscraper in Batman Returns but my consideration of the caped crusader was fairly limited. He was a superhero who showed up to beat criminals when they did bad things. He wore a cool costume and had a Batmobile. When you're five years old, that sort of simplicity is all you really need.

Twenty some years later and the web is now filled to the brim with opinions on what Batman is supposed to be and mean. Following the release of The Dark Knight Rises, for instance, there were more than a few voices proclaiming the film's version of Batman as a conservative hero whose efforts amounted to nothing less than oppression of the poor and a denial of the ideas espoused by movements like Occupy Wall Street.

I can see where those sorts of claims are coming from. I'd hardly be the first to point out, that Batman, for all his vaunted skills, really only gets to do what he does because he has Scrooge McDuckian sums of money at his disposal. The street and drug crime he fights so hard to stop, in turn, can be linked to the sort of poverty that he has no real experience with. The Nolan films actually touch on this directly, painting Joe Chill, the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents, as little more than a desperate man trying to make a quick buck during the height of an economic depression. When you look at it that way, it's not hard to see how some might look at Batman pummeling some street thug and see it as nothing more than a rich man beating up a poor person for not having all the same advantages he's had.

A rich man beating up a poor person for not having all the same advantages he's had

It's not a baseless argument, but it's also one I don't give particular credence to. Some of my dismissal comes from how easy it is to argue in the opposite direction. The Dark Knight Rises, for instance, might have Batman restoring the rich-on-top status quo, but the film also leaves him dirt poor and ends with Wayne Manor being turned into a group home for needy children. It's hard for me to watch that and summarize the film as "successful businessman screws over the poor." Stepping outside of that movie there are even more examples. In Batman: The Animated Series the episode Heart of Ice primarily blames corporate greed for the origins of Mr. Freeze. Appointment in Crime Alley likewise sees Batman foiling the plans of an entrepreneur trying to force the denizens of a poor neighborhood to abandon their homes so he can buy up and redevelop their property. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the Dark Knight is as much a foe of capitalist exploitation as he is of the anarchic redistribution of wealth.

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