Superheroes Begin (Dark Knight Rises + Spoilers)

Nolan’s done. Who’s up next?

Rumors are already flying about JGL starring in his own Nightwing/Robin/Batman 2.0 series.

Another rumor suggests the next Bat-flick will merely serve as a ramp-up to some presumably dismal Justice League movie, much like the Marvel characters did with Avengers.

My favorite rumor (which I may have started…) would bring back Michael Keaton for a proper third film, possibly based on Frank’s Dark Knight Returns.

Keaton is still my favorite Batman and his two Bat-flicks are pretty nearly perfect. Still, I am quite enamored of Nolan’s trilogy.

Opinions aside – onto the point! Assumed by all of this chatter about a reboot is the idea that Nolan finished his story. He’s not just said that he won’t be making any more, but that his version of Bruce Wayne’s Batman story is completed.

Has it really ended?

Not, “Do you think they’ll make another one anyway?” But, “Did we really get an ending to a superhero story?”

I ask because I’ve never actually read or seen an end to a superhero story. Not ever.

They start.

They start beautifully.

And then there’s the middle.

In the middle, they fight the same bad guys over and over. Sometimes something really dramatic happens. Like Robin dies. Or Superman gets a long-lost cousin. Or Superman himself dies. But those events don’t really serve as a conclusion to a character’s story. They conclude individual stories within the characters’ lives.

But not his story; not Batman‘s story or Superman‘s story. Their stories don’t ever end.

Nolan gave a version of Batman’s end. So let’s take a look at his movies and superhero story construction, shall we?

Superhero stories have great beginnings.

Peter Parker’s new-found self-confidence breeds apathy which relieves of him of the responsibility of stopping the crook who will then use his freedom to murder Peter’s very own uncle. Great opening.

Superman’s father feverishly launched the ark which carried his only son away from their home and in the middle of a strange country where anyone can be anything. The immigrant’s tale doesn’t end, but its beginning ends with him becoming a symbol of the virtues of his adopted nation. Another great opening.

We know these stories. I’ve probably read  twenty comic book versions of each of them. We’ve all seen the movies and whispered the basic outline of the origin to our strangely misinformed girlfriends during the sequels. It’s not just part of our culture, but part of us.

The best parts of the Superman movies are the origin scenes on Krypton with Marlon Brando and in Smallville with Phyllis Thaxter, Jeff East, and Glenn Ford. The majesty, scope, depth of emotion, cinematography, dialogue – it’s all head and shoulders above anything else in the series. Why is the best stuff in the movie crowded into its first hour? Superman’s origin is his best story. Foiling a real estate scheme is just not very interesting after seeing baby Kal-El put into his little space-ark and sent to hopefully-somewhere-safe by parents he’ll never know; seeing young Clark grow up in a Norman Rockwell painting is just more compelling than the lame romantic comedy he’s shoved into when he grows up.

Superheroes specialize in beginnings.

Not-so-secret origin stories

We know the origins so well because we’ve lived them. Yeah yeah, we get reboots in the movies and comics every couple years too. So we know the stories pretty well because they’re told to us all the time. But the reason we keep revisiting them and the reason we know them so well at a deep level is because we’ve all been there.

Maybe you didn’t come from another planet, the last survivor of your species. But you may have been adopted. If you’re a Christian then you are adopted. Superman’s story should make a lot of sense to you.

The seed of our life, the genetic code we can’t help but be imprinted with, is of a distant and exotic place. We have a Father – like Jor-El – who has a vision for our lives. We’re not raised in that place, but here, among people that look like us. And when our Father’s voice calls to us, we might swing at Him with a shovel at first. But eventually it makes sense. All these images of a distant world swirling in my head, all this hope for something meaningful to happen, all this passion for justice and peace. It’s not coming from Smallville. It’s coming from somewhere … else.

It’s a call from my old home, my first home that I left when I was too young to remember. And if I would just surrender and listen, I can have it all back. My life can make sense.

No One Knows What It’s Like, Behind the Mask

The story of Batman makes sense to us. Abandoned, angry, bitter. With our back against the wall, all we can do is try try try to force some order on this stinking world. And no matter how hard we work, or how committed we are, or how much we give up to make things right, the world will just keep on sucking. People will just keep on stealing from each other, taking advantage or each other, killing each other.

Batman’s origin resonates with us, not because of his tireless battle against crime. I’m no crimefighter. The story is so familiar to us because it’s all about this one man trying really hard to do it all himself. It’s righteousness earned, not granted.

The other reason – the main reason – we love to hear and tell the origin story of Batman: he’s given a reason for the way he is. Batman’s weird, his lifestyle is weird. And his origin offers an explanation for that. We’re not just born weird – but every single one of us is formed by our experiences.

And having an explanation, there is a suggestion of justification for Batman’s strange lifestyle. And justifying ourselves is one of our favorite pastimes. Bruce isn’t just angry. He’s angry because he witnessed something horrible and personal.

I don’t discipline my kids because my parents were too hard on me.

I don’t put any money in the offering plate because I grew up poor.
I only holler and yell because I wasn’t given the space to express myself when I was younger.
You can’t tell me what to do! I’m an only child.
I’m full of anger and rage because I never dealt with a traumatic event in my childhood. And I refuse to ever think about it in any other way.

Our experiences shape us, make us weird. We defend our right to be weird. And then spend the rest of our lives trying to save ourselves from being weird.


Bruce Wayne is shaped by his parents’ murders. He voraciously defends his right to be shaped by that event. And then he spends the rest of the movie series trying to save himself from that weirdness. Almost like its a yoke around his neck. Only he allows it to weigh him down.

Batman’s origin story makes sense to us because we do the exact same thing!

Something bad happens -> It makes us hurt -> We demand that we have a right to be hurt -> Then we work ourselves stupid trying to remove this hurt all by ourselves.

We’re stuck under the law. The law of our own invention.

So have you been fighting to keep your hurt, only so you can get rid of it on your own terms?

I think we all have.

But if you’re a Christian – you do not have to do this. You should not be doing this.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

If you jump back into the pool of nurturing your pain, you’re just inviting the law right back into your life.

And remember this is the law that you invented, this is the law that says you have to make your own salvation from pain. And this law denies that Christ already took your pain! So what place does this law have in your life?


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